On Friday, August 12th, 2005 the Associated Press ran a story about a 400-foot waterfall discovered in a remote wilderness in Northern California. Doug Masterson, after fourteen failed attempts on foot, found the falls while searching a global satellite imaging system on his computer. He called a fellow wildlife biologist and friend, Mark Ferrier, who had six hours to live.
The phone rings insistently in the dark. Mark, still drunk, nearly tumbles off his bed reaching for it. His wife doesn’t move.
What the hell?-
Call me later.-
Doug, they aren’t there. I’m not going out again. Stay in San Diego ‘cause I’m not answering the door.-
What, right now? No, I’m out man. Sorry.-
Satellite? You’re kidding right?-
We covered that ridge, more than once. Falls just don’t appear, man.-
What are you drinking?-
Okay, okay. Must be me. Settle. I’ll go out tomorrow. It’s a Saturday. Jill and I can make a day.-
Listen, bud, if I get my sorry ass out of this bed right now and go searching for your magic falls…-
Okay, okay, I’ll go. E-mail me the satellite photo and coordinates. I think my GPS is charged.-
An hour. I need an hour to wake up. I just went to bed.-
Very funny. Up yours. You owe me big time, jerk.-
Mark is in the shower. Jill is packing a bag for him. His girls, Andrea, who is six, and Mannie, who just turned four, are still asleep.
I don’t know, Jill. He’s my guy. I owe him big time.-
Yes, forever. That’s how it works.-
This job, the job before this one. Work is slim, baby.-
Hey, you want me to keep you in diamonds, right?-
Well, it’s a good thing you love me then.-
Pack ‘em yeah. I should be back tonight though. My sleeping mat too.-
Would you do me a favor, lover, while I’m gone.-
Get started on the backyard.-
Just do the prep stuff. I’ll paint tonight.-
Just wash it down. Make the girls help. It’s for them anyway.-
I smell coffee.-
Mark has just pulled off the main highway onto the dirt road, which leads to a trail, which leads to a spring, which is about six miles away from his destination, which may or may not exist. His head is hammering from the beer he drank the night before and he’s not looking forward to hacking through acres of stubborn manzanita. Mark gets out of his oxidized ’74 Chevy and picks up a green phone hanging from a sugar pine.
This is Mark Ferrier, George.-
Oh, fine, fine. They’re all fine. You?-
Andrea’s lost more teeth than you by now.-
Yeah, both growing like weeds.-
Jill’s good to. She’s been working long hours at the hospital lately.-
Yep, going in one last time looks like. Doug’s idea.-
He’s got a global imager on his computer now. Thinks he knows right where they are.-
Hell if I know. I’m just following orders. Doug’s the genius. He just picks on me ‘cause I’m close.-
Sure sure. So anything I need to know about? Bears? Lions? Rabid squirrels?-
No no, but I gotta ask.-
You know the answer to that, George. Nothing but my machete.-
Alright. I’ll give you a ring when I get back to the truck. Might go overnight, but probably not.-
Take care George. Tell Mary hello for me, okay?-
Mark is moving well on his first leg, which runs down the dirt road that his colleague Doug Masterson calls Alladin’s Alley. Mark never gets the joke, but Doug sees it as the gateway to something enchanted. Nothing more than an old logger’s trail, it is the quickest way to get close to the sectors where the legendary falls are said to exist. Mark is making notations in his digital recorder.
The kids have been out in force this summer. I found three party spots on my way in. Jill packed a bag for me though, so I’ll get the cans and bottles when I’m done. Guess I can’t blame them, but I sure hate the mess.
It’s quiet out here. Already pretty warm, near eighty-five, I’d guess. But the birds should be doing their thing. My headache is starting to ease up, thank God. It’ll probably come back when I start the climb.
Why did I agree to this? I should turn around and tell Doug I found nada. But the pic definitely showed white water, or something like it anyway. I’d hate for someone else to find the damn thing before me.
I gotta pee.
Mark is breaking at the spring, taking refuge under the towering old pines. The sun is getting high now and it’s getting hot. The water is fresh and cool, coming out of the ground and trailing down to Whiskeytown Lake. His lack of sleep and abundance of alcohol are affecting him. He’s winded.
I could drink this stuff all day. Jill needs to try it.
I just thought of something. If I find these falls, they might name them Ferrier Falls. Wouldn’t that be a kick? I wonder if there’s any money in that. Probably not, like most things I do. It’s not for the bucks, baby. But I could help build a trail out here. That might be profitable. God knows Jill shouldn’t have to bring home the bacon forever. Maybe I could write a book about the falls. Nah, I can’t write my own name.
Doug, if I give this to you unedited, just forget all this, would you? I don’t need any questions about my financial situation. We’re doin’ just fine thank you very much.
Guess I should make some observations. Let’s see, still very quiet. I don’t even see insects around the spring. That’s strange.
What else? Well, according to mister GPS here I’ve got about an hour to go if I hurry. Two, is probably more like it with the terrain and my brain feeling like a Ziplock full of old oatmeal. That’s pretty funny. Maybe I should write a book.
Another few sips of sweetness and I’m off.
Mark’s voice is breathy as he climbs the ridge. He’s close to his destination.
I forgot to make any more notations and I’m almost there. Just a few more seconds…here on the ol’ GPS.
I thought I heard something…earlier. Like maybe some running water. There is no running water…up here. The falls are supposed…to come right out of the ground, like the spring…and then disappear again. That’s the legend anyway. So I’m at least a bit hopeful. I think I’ll break here just a bit.
I found it! Them. The Falls. I can’t believe it. They run about forty-five degrees right up the ridge and drop a good seven or eight meters at the bottom. They’re frikkin’ beautiful. About five meters across. How did I miss this before? They are so loud.
I just realized I forgot to bring a camera. What a dumb ass. No one is going to believe it. Well I’ve got the coordinates right here.
What the heck? Looks like my GPS is fritzin’ out. I knew the charge was almost gone. Damn.
It’s cold here, ice cold. Not just the water. The water is positively arctic. I’m up to my ankles in it right now. But the air is cold too, almost icy. I think I can see my breath. Weird because the sun is right there, right above me.
Mmm. The water is delicious too. Better than the spring. It’s so cold it hurts my teeth. Mmm.
Looks like there’s a small cavern behind the drop. Either that or black slate, I can’t be sure. Damn it’s cold. I gotta get out of this water.
Wait. I think I hear something…
It’s a voice. Someone is talking, or maybe singing?
It’s behind the falls.
Hey. Somebody back there?
Hello? Oh God.
That was the last of it. My friend Mark disappeared after that, leaving behind his equipment, his pack, his shoes and his clothes, right down to his underwear. I found them Sunday after flying up from San Diego. Jill had called me Saturday night to complain about the job. She called me Sunday morning in a panic. I never told Jill I found his wedding ring, but it was right there, resting on top of his clothes next to his watch, recorder and GPS unit.
My name is Doug Masterson. It’s been six months now since Mark’s last recorded words. I’ve been up the ridge at least a hundred times and have found no trace of what might have happened. The police are clueless. The best they can give me is he became delirious.
Jill and the girls still cry every day.
And there is no sign of Whiskey Falls.