The stranger in the bothy had been largely quiet up to this point. The rest of us had been bouncing stories off each other, stories of ghosts and vampires, of weird happenings in lonely bothies, the traditional stories we knew and loved that gave the familiar smiling shiver on each telling. These were stories best told by the flickering bothy fire, tales for whisky fuelled good humour and forgotten in rational daylight. The stranger was not really with us. He sat slightly apart, preoccupied.
"And what about yourself?" we asked indulgently. "Do you know any good stories?"
He leaned forward, facing the firelight. Focused on something else.
"I had a boat. I ran cruises for people who paid. It was a good business."
"One day a girl hired me. She wanted to take pictures of her boyfriend surfing. Action pictures. We followed him in the boat."
"We did a couple of runs. On the last run she set the camera on automatic motor drive. She would get a good action sequence. Each shot less than half a second apart."
"She chose her moment and fired. Suddenly he seemed to be in trouble. He fell off the board into the sea. I stopped the boat. We were all worried. I know that a few people have - disappeared off this bay. The undertow we thought. We searched around for a while but couldn't see him. I called coastguard."
The stranger made eye contact for the first time.
"They never found his body."
The atmosphere was quiet, tense. This was not a ghost story. This was real.
"The girl was put in an institution. I am not allowed to visit her. No one can see her. There is nothing wrong with her, I'm sure of that. At least, there wasn't."
"But.......?" The stranger saw our incomprehension. It was time to finish his tale. I wish I could laugh off his story as ridiculous invention, oh, how I wish! But when faced with the evidence of the stranger's eyes.....
"When she showed me the pictures - the last one - the pictures of the surfboard..... he was surfing along, and then there was nothing but waves....."
He leaned back. All we could see were his haunted flickering eyes. The bothy was an uncomfortable place. His final words were just sinking in.
"The last picture of the man on the surfboard. The edges of the board were surrounded.... hands.... grasping hands, coming out of the sea........"
May 1 on the Pacific Crest Trail, 35 Years Ago
6 hours ago