By Edward Lamarck
All over the world, there are myths and legends of strange beasts lurking in places that science has yet to explore. In the Pacific Northwest, there is Bigfoot. On the Texas border, there is the Chupacabra. West Virginia has the fearsome Mothman, and even upstate New York has the infamous Champlain lake monster. A belief in cryptids is almost as old as mankind’s fear of the dark. That fear is entirely justified.
The media moguls at the Binghamton Review, after marathoning several seasons of History Channel shows about rednecks chasing Sasquatch, decided to boost their ratings by organizing a monster-hunt of their own. Their objective: to capture the mythical Baxter Bearcat alive. Sightings of Baxter have haunted the Binghamton University campus for decades, but few are willing to speak of their encounters with the beast. They describe him as a large quadruped with light gray fur, a long tail, whiskers, and eerie green eyes. Curiously, Baxter is also said to wear a B.U. basketball uniform, believed to have been taken from a player unfortunate enough to cross his path.
They also mention his razor-sharp claws and fangs. In hushed whispers, some will even mention the names of students (too numerous to list here) that have disappeared shortly after a Baxter sighting. In official records, these students have “graduated.” Much like the government has acted in regards to Area 51 or currency inflation, the university has insisted that Baxter Bearcat is not real. A local mascot designed to lure in tourists and high schoolers, others will claim. The 2021 expedition into the Nature Preserve was intended to discover the truth of the bearcat’s existence, and by extension, unravel a dark conspiracy theory. It was to be a hunt for the ages.
The moguls at the Review carefully selected three undergraduates to venture out into the Nature Preserve and document any proof of Baxter. To protect the identities of all involved, the names of these brave explorers have been altered. Drew Dotson was a hiker and knew the winding trails of the preserve like the back of his hand. Peter Moreno was an expert in environmental studies, and hoped to capture Baxter for scientific research. Lucy Hart was a photographer and simply wished to document the many species of birds living in the preserve.
The first day of the expedition was largely uneventful. A base camp was established near the intersection of Ridge Trail and Saddle Trail. A net trap was set up on a nearby tree, but nothing took the bait (implied to have been Tully’s chicken tenders). Audio recordings recovered from College-in-the-Woods reveal the conversations the crew had that night, and also a faint rustling in the bushes at 1AM, which Drew assumed to be a deer.
On the second day, the trio took an unexpected turn onto Oak Trail. An argument broke out between Drew and Peter, each accusing the other of getting them lost. Lucy broke them up before tensions got out of hand, but she noticed that the compass Drew carried in his hand no longer pointed north. They spent the next hour reading a map and plotting their next course. Base camp was relocated along Pond Trail, where Lucy took pictures of frogs and turtles. The trio reached a consensus that nature is beautiful, but dangerous as well.
Sleep did not come to the explorers easily. The rustling heard the night before was louder, startling Peter. By sunrise, it was revealed that Lucy’s tent was torn to shreds. She was nowhere to be seen, although her camera was left perfectly intact. An hour’s worth of recording mysteriously skipped by, as if it were deleted. Panic overtook the two remaining explorers, and they began to run. A follow-up expedition later found some evidence that Drew and Peter had mistakenly ended up on Field Trail, distancing themselves from safety or any hope of rescue.
They shouted Lucy’s name, but were met only with the sound of approaching footsteps and a low growl. Peter tripped over a fallen branch and his screams filled the air, but Drew kept sprinting farther and farther away. Peter was heard calling out for help, but the growling became even louder. Closer. Unable to run any more, the last man standing proceeded to climb the tallest tree that he could find. Drew then does the only thing he can think to do in this situation.
While holding onto a branch for dear life, he pulled out Lucy’s camera and took a single photograph of the predator hunting him. The picture is blurry, but a long, gray body can be seen at the base of the tree. The audio then jumped to the sound of sharp claws cutting into wood, and Drew’s last words before his disappearance are heard: “If anyone finds this, tell the Review that Baxter is real! Baxter Bearcat is real!”
Drew, Peter, and Lucy were never heard from again. While the Review attempted a number of rescue missions into the Nature Preserve, only the gear brought along by the expedition crew was recovered. The lone camera was found dangling off of a tree branch by its strap. However, the purported photograph of Baxter was swiftly confiscated by order of Harvey Stenger. It is rumored to have been locked away inside the Couper administration building.
It is unknown why the university continues to deny Baxter’s existence. The current theory is that he is an experiment gone horribly wrong, a monstrous genetic hybrid between bear and cat. Other theories suggest that Baxter is extraterrestrial or the product of mass hysteria. All that remains certain is that he continues to serve as an essential piece of Binghamton folklore.
And like all legends, there may be some truth to it.