My note read: “To whom it may concern, my name Is Ben Holcomb. By the time you read this, I will either be dead or found. I am missing from Colorado Springs, Colorado. Please call the police and my wife, Shelby Holcomb, at 933-4188. I am hurt and afraid and being held against my will in a cabin above Saints John-Please send help!”
I hoped whoever found it will be able to read it as my handwriting was shaky and weak, emphasizing my un-sharpened pencil, and torn paper. I had kept the note in my underwear for days before putting it in a beer bottle I had found down by the creek. I rolled up the cardboard cover of my journal to create a makeshift cork, and prayed.
I launched the bottle when I was helping my capturer carry water back from the creek. After 12 days, my sprained ankle and twisted knee had healed well enough to hobble back up the hillside, although I had to carry two old buckets with a severely injured hand and elbow. The pain suggested that I had broken three fingers on my right. The elbow made a terrible popping sound and then became useless when I picked up the bucket, and my fingers are bent backward and will need a surgeon's good graces to fix.
I had thought of myself once as a good, well-stocked hiker. I like to hike the rugged mountain tops of Colorado in September as the Aspen leaves are showing their intensity. My wife who wanders with me sometimes, decided to stay behind this time. She gave me the personalized backpack I carry on my shoulders. A lovely birthday present last year on my significant 50th. If I got lost as our dog did a few years back, it might help someone find me.
One might think nature is the villain in this bizarre adventure of mine. It is, and it isn't. It's the particular aftermath of a history of wrath mankind implicated on this rugged ground in their search for fortune. In this case, then the silver boom of the 1800s. The EPA never cleaned it up sufficiently. The unknown horror it created has now shown its ugly face in my tormentor and his carefree hate against everyone, tourists and locals combined. Especially hikers who unknowingly step foot on his private property as I did. I didn't see the arcuate barb-wire protecting his cabin nor the cleverly covered hole that swallowed me on the edges of his compound.
One may not believe me as I tell you, my capturer is a man-beast who stands near seven feet tall. I am six feet two and he towers over me. His body is covered with fine blonde hair except for his face that is strangely childlike, with large round Nordic blue eyes. His humpback and strange posture gave me thought of the dreaded werewolf like the one I had imagined that lived outside my childhood window. But this man-beast was no hallucination. He was here with me to serve as my captor, my tormentor, and my nightmare.
As a Geologist by trade, the exploration and history of St. John's ghost town brought me to the area. It sits above Montezuma, Colorado, and is unheard of by most, a ghost town in its own right that sits above the tourist-ridden Keystone ski area. Unlike Keystone and the bustle of Dillon, there is no country store or welcoming faces, nor the one stoplight proudly boasted by most small mountain towns. There is a wooden town sign hanging from a wire strung across the main road that is hand-carved that reads founded 1864. A few dwellings give a wanderer a hostile vibe with several "Keep-Out" private property signs primitively nailed on trees.
I thought it might be the ATV enthusiasts that made the locals bitter or perhaps the lost tourist asking for directions, but it was far more than that. It was strangers in white jackets always looking at their water source; a once lovely creek with water now the strangest baby blue color, something like a blanket swaddling a dead male infant. The surreal, whitesilk on surrounding rocks and bank gave an eerie whitewashed effect, almost a glow of toxic waste.
Mongoloid-like creatures live in the rocky hills above the town, obviously the offspring from a community raised on toxic ground. Children with no use of a book or a bible, never attending schools, some just knew cages. Each generation had a new intrusive physical problem. Catlike nocturnal eyesight and ravenousness craving meat was common. In my tormentors case, it was his profound spinal deformities that kept his humanity at bay. If I were a swearing man, I would say his mother was part Wolf.
Lying in my cage in the early morning, I remembered the occurrences that put me in this position. I organized my thoughts and put them in my notebook when this creature would leave. I know his name is Isaac, as when I first awoke after my fall, I couldn't move my jaw to speak and tried to write on the soft dirt floor of his cabin. He had taken all my possessions, including my notebook and pencil, hidden in the side compartment of my backpack. It's all I could do. I wrote out B-E-N; he growled and flashed his sharp fangs at me and wrote as a small child would I-s-A-C. He took his hair-covered hand and swept away my name. I only guessed that he was telling me his name.
He would bring back a couple of Hares to eat and throw his leftovers to me. Mostly snowshoe hare, I think; however raw warm rabbit has never been on my menu. I could tell by their large back feet and thick dark brown coat they were snowshoe hares. I would imagine if I were still here by January, the hides would be a thick white coat. To get the flesh to stay down in my gullet, I had to imagine and use my mind to visualize watermelon. I sank my teeth into a lovely red watermelon, not a recently dead hare whose body had been savagely ripped apart. It was blood, not juice, that was dripping off my chin.
I played to my strength, he acts like a canine, and I'm a dog lover. I knew I could make a bond with him if I tried. After all, he didn't kill me in my first month there. I gained hope.
I started speaking to him higher-pitched, saying, "Good boy Issac, come here, boy, and you are doing a good job."
He seemed to respond by laying down closer to me. He would circle and scratch the ground like Pooka, my Dachshund, waiting for me at home.
I remembered the strangers I met along my hike before my strange abduction. There was something off with the blonde woman with the ratted-up wild hairdo and the man with the bourbon bottle who was accompanying her. I had asked them if the creek was named Peru for a reason. They both looked at me with panic on their faces. Then their dog came running towards me from the trees. The dog was the strangest dog I have ever seen. It was big, about 100 pounds, covered in white fine long hair. Its face was like a nightmare. It had eyes like a human, and its nose was not elongated but more like a cat with a defined chin. It looked at me and then hid behind the couple, somewhat as a coy child might. The strange trio never answered me.
Could it be in my wanderlust that I have stumbled upon a town of lost souls? A hell-like place created by the seven deadly sins of man. It was no doubt the capital vices that brought the Miners of bygone days here to the quiet of the Utes Rawwah wilderness. Their behaviors gave way to the rise of their immoralities. They did build this town on pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth. Especially sloth as they cared, not at all about the future outcome. It was not only the dog-like humans I noticed but the queer blind albino deer foraging around the cabin and the freakish six-legged rats that slept with me for warmth—creations of man's perversive nature.
As time went on, I believe I-s-A-C considered me his pet; he fed and watered me and let me out of my cage for bathroom trips at my request. He did give me the hides of his kills to arrange as a bed so as not to freeze during the frigid nights. I found a strange comfort in his care. Loneliness plays the most bizarre game with a man's psyche. I must admire how this boy-man-beast put in hours of supererogation due to holding me captive. I must have served as a deterrent from his endless loneliness in these short cold days and long-frozen nights of late fall.
As winter came on, I missed my wife terribly; I would daydream of her attempts to find me. Always the same, I imagined she and a posey of lawmen, just as if they were searching for Frankenstein's monster, was scouring the countryside with baying hounds and torches to light their way. But they always go right by, not seeing this cabin nor compound behind the sharpness of the rolls of razor-sharp barbed wire.
It was during those cold winter days that I grew a sense of compassion toward my Isaac. I genuinely believe that he could not help what he had become. I found he could learn. I taught him about the virtues of fire. We built a makeshift fireplace out of the rocks, neatly piled in two heaps near the rear of the cabin. At first, Isaac didn't want me to touch the stones as I thought he feared I would use them as a weapon against him. He was right as I did think about doing that; however, my wounds healed in a way that disfigured my arm, and I doubt I could have thrown them with any accuracy. Instead, I began to bond with this strange, unlikely boy.
Life was better with fire and cooked food. We melted the snow to drink, and I became a schoolmarm for my unlikely student, Issac-boy.
We used sticks to practice penmanship on the soft dirt floor of the cabin. I tried to introduce numbers, but they became frustrating to Isacc, and he hit me. Without knowing just how strong he was, he hit me with such force that I flew across the cabin walls and hit my head hard on the board that he had brought in as a table of sorts for me. I was bleeding badly. I could feel the warm blood as it made its way down my face and gathered in my now ragged parka. When I awoke from my coma, I was in my Isaac's arms. He was sitting on the floor, rocking back and forth, cradling me as if I were an infant. He had been crying. I had not only taught him to write archaically, but I had also taught him to use a tiny bit of his deep-seated compassion. He was part human, after all.
It was the following spring that I had my opportunity at freedom. Isaac had taken me with him to hunt. He used a simple bow and arrow device that looked like a relic from the Ute when this land was theirs. He carried a spear across his broad back as a final blow if the arrows did not penetrate a vital organ on his kill. It was primal yet highly efficient.
The elk that were wintering in the creek's valley were large and aggressive. Isaac positioned himself in a blind of tall spring grasses. His arrow flew accurately at the largest of the bull elk that stood in protection of his companions. As the sharp needle-like arrow deeply penetrated the beast's shoulder, he charged at Isaac. With his head to the ground and his cloven feet stampeding, he hit Isaac like an out-of-control freight train hitting an old model T in a silent movie. I took the spear and lunged it into the side of the bleeding elk. In my mind, I can still see the scene. The bloody large animal lies dying beside a gravely wounded Isaac.
My conscience would not let me leave my friend there. The capture and tormentor that he once was had become my friend. I built a soft bed for him from the long grass and collected water to moisten his dry lips. He was heavy, but I managed to pull him along and move him to protect a nearby tree. I built a fire in the open and used Isaacs's spear to dig our chunks of meat to eat from the dead elk. When Isaac came to, he was surprised that I had not run away. He saw the elks carcass, the fire, and his circumstance.
His wounds were immense, and I could not properly treat them with what I had on hand. And I could not carry him further. He pointed towards the gates of his compound and made a grunting noise insinuating he wanted me to go for help. Or at least that is what I thought. I grabbed his hand and stroked his forehead to give him comfort and security because I would go for help and bring back some form of medical aid.
I made it down the hillside and across the murky water of Peru Creek and started pounding on the locked doors of Montezuma. No one answered. If it hadn't been for a tiny twitch of a curtain with a brown eye quickly peeping out, I would have thought the town uninhabited. It was fifteen miles downstream to the rangers station just west of Keystone. The spring thaw had well begun, but there were still mounds of snow to climb through, and I tired quickly due to my injuries not healing correctly and the lack of calories I had consumed in the last 72 hours. The last three miles to the station were brutal. I staggered and moaned with a mouth so dry I thought I might have forgotten myself and had eaten sand. When Len Goodman, the senior ranger 30 days past his retirement, stood before me, I fell to my knees.
"Please help me," I moaned in a nearly illegible voice and started to tell him my story of injured Isaac lying in the tall grass. As delirious as I was, everything I said came out jumbled, making no sense.
"Oh christ," he spoke firmly over me, "I am sick and tired of you people who come up here to take your drugs and bother those of us trying to work. Another crazy is all I need. You sit on that bench for a while, man, and I'll call someone to help us both."
I asked if I could use the bathroom still using the sign language I had made up for Isaac. I lapped the water running from the faucet like a dog. As fast as I could move my tongue, I drank and guzzled the clean water until the front of my tattered jacket was soaking wet. I looked in the small cheap mirror hanging there, and I couldn't believe my eyes. I had become unrecognizable, with hair thick and filthy. It stood upright in uncombed tangles. My beard and eyebrows were full and bushy, making my eyes protrude like a crazy man in a pulp novel. I walked with a limp, and my hiking boots were near in pieces as I had been wearing them consistently since last fall when I had first set out on my fateful hike. A younger, more aggressive police officer from Dillion named Phillip Peters arrived. He escorted me to the back of his squad car, nearly throwing me in it, almost as hard as Isaac had done a few months before so I could handle it.
As I started to tell him my story, he yelled from the other side of the bars, caging me into his back seat."Shut up, freak, I'm taking you to the station, and you can tell the boys all about it. I'm sure they'll get a kick out of you."
It was an entire three days later I pleaded to send help to Isaac, but they felt my delirium spoke the request, and no one went.
I pictured childlike Isaac lying there dying from his injuries as I was pampered here by my wife. It was too much for me to bare. Evan Pooka's gaiety of running around with his favorite dog toy in his mouth could not calm my depression. I sank into deep despair, worse than being held captive for those long five months with Isaac.
On the first day of June, the snow had melted entirely, enabling my access back up to the cabin. Doctors had managed to heal my mangled leg and recreated my arm enough to get around. Although my hiking days are behind me now, I returned to Saint John's with Shelby to see what became of Isaac, to apologize for never sending him help.
I made it close enough to the compound that I could see the barb wire and gate. The gate was open, and the property was in further dispair as it had been long abandoned. I felt joy in the possibility that Isaac may have moved on. That was until I took the short hike to the spot where he had fallen to the rage of the mighty bull elk. In the place where he once lay, a pile of rocks stood. The same sort of pile that Isaac and I had used to build the makeshift fireplace on that cold winter's day that felt so long ago. Someone or something had cared for their own, and I wept as I wrote his name in the soft earth, I-s-A-C.