|Apr/May 2015 Fiction|
Photograph by Rus Bowden
She left me with more questions than answers. I have to go, she'd said, and then she was gone; simple as that. I woke up and brushed my teeth with the last of the Captain Morgan Rum left in the bottle. I tripped over my diploma, still in its cardboard packing slip, wedged between the couch and the coffee table. The smallness of the studio apartment was oppressive and suffocating. My head hurt. I took two aspirin and looked in the mirror, my face flush with shame and the remnants of my hangover. The "Asian Glow," as some of the production assholes called it.
Lindsay was a thousand miles away, just like the lingering hope that my life might start to make some sense. I flipped open my Macbook and scoured travel sites for the cheapest flights to Hawaii I could find. The lowest fare was twice as much as I had in my checking account, and my bills hadn't even hit yet. If I was going to get to her, I knew I'd need some money, and fast. I took a gamble on Craigslist; not much need in Nor Cal for a film student with a good eye for shot composition, but it was all I knew. That's when I found the posting: Wanted: Skilled videographer for "nature" documentary. MUST HAVE YOUR OWN HD CAMERA. Location: Arcata, CA. Pay: $1,000.
I didn't know where Arcata was, or why the hell "nature" was in quotes, but I didn't care. The price point was enough for me to send over a reel and a resume. A thousand dollars would get me to her, to the truth. I sent the email and waited, drank more rum, ate some Ramen, slept, and drank again. My phone pinged that I had an email: I'd gotten the job. It happened fast, and I needed it to. She'd only been gone a week, but I knew time was running out. I plunked the paltry remains of my checking account into an online rental car reservation and got my Canon XF100 out of storage. The email gave me directions to Arcata, six hours north. The wording was broken but friendly. It promised the chance of a lifetime, the opportunity to discover something magical, foreign, and... radical.
The signature read, "Keep Searching. Jimbo."
I drove up the 101-North in a tiny Kia Forte, the cloth seats still holding onto the smell of its previous passengers. The further I drove, the clearer the sky got. It was like a version of Berkeley that hadn't been tainted yet. I imagined what the drive would be like to Hawaii, if such a thing were possible. Endless ocean in every direction. Driving through infinity. Five hours up the road, I passed through Eureka. A young guy standing near the interchange held up a sign saying, "Your destiny just ahead," with his thumb outstretched. Sure enough, Arcata was the next turn-off. I try not to believe in omens, especially ones that flip you off as you drive past them, but I guess it gave me some hope, something I'd been in dire need of lately. Jimbo had told me over the phone to meet him in Arcata Plaza, in the center of town.
"You know, for security purposes," he'd said in a gruff Southern California accent. I wondered if what we were going to be doing was illegal. Some sort of political activism, deep into enemy territory, real Greenpeace shit. I wasn't opposed: Lindsay had taken me to a rally or two back in undergrad. UC Berkeley, she always said, is the epicenter of social progress. She said it the very first time we met, way back in our Sophomore year. We were at my buddy Russell's house, and she'd been picked as my beer pong partner. She was a Peace and Conflict Studies major. I told her she should have picked a real study, something that might actually be useful out of college. I can't tell you how hard she laughed when I told her I was a Film major.
The plaza reminded me of the Universal back lot, frozen in time, like modern society had made its way up from San Francisco and simply passed over Arcata on its way to Portland. There was a homeless camp formed on the grass, blue tarps and pup tents and a line of black army boots next to sleeping bags. Further down, a small group of teenagers congregated in a circle, smoking. Next to them, a quiet family was having a picnic, the child throwing a Frisbee for their pit bull. In the center of the plaza was a bronzed statue of President McKinley. Standing underneath it was a large oaf of a man with a messy mop of blonde hair, wearing a mesh trucker hat. He looked like he was dancing to a song only he could hear. People walked by and waved at him, and he waved back. A kid high-fived him, and he pumped his fist like he'd just won something. Surely, this guy must know a thing or two about a thing or two.
"Hey, I'm looking for someone," I said. He turned and smiled.
"Aren't we all?" he asked. Then he laughed, heartier than a stranger should. "I'm just messing with you, dude. It's me, Jimbo." He said it like he was wearing a mask and I couldn't see his face. "You know, like, from the phone."
Well, this was it. If I was going to get paid, I'd have to start off on the right foot, regardless of whether or not this guy looked like he was two bananas short of a bunch. So, I shook his surprisingly soft hand.
"Jun," I said.
"Welcome aboard, John," he said, of course. Not like I'd written my name in my e-mail, or anything. Or on my resumé. Fuck me. I should get a name tag. "Are you ready to be part of a top-secret mission that could alter reality as you know it?" he asked earnestly, this scorching look of determination in his eyes.
"What are we going to be doing, exactly?"
He put a hand on my shoulder and leaned in to me and said, just above a whisper, "We're gonna find ourselves a bigfoot."
We had to stop off at the Ace Hardware across the street and pick up some camping gear before we headed up to Blue Lake. He decided on a small tent, not unlike the ones I'd seen in the plaza. Fits up to three people, it said on the box. I wondered what that converted to in Jimbos. He'd brought a small cooler from home, and we loaded it up with some beers, canned beans, sausages, and other campfire clichés. Clearly, this expedition would not be purely academic. He grabbed some candy bars and a kazoo while waiting in the checkout line.
"Old Blue loves junk food. And loud noises," he said, giving the kazoo a blow. Everyone called it the Blue Lake Bigfoot, this creature the locals had been talking about since he was a kid. "Of course, those who really know him call him Old Blue," he told me on our drive up through the mountains. "He's pretty famous around these parts, but only a few people know him like I do." I thought back to when I saw Jimbo in the plaza, everyone appearing to know who he was. How when we left the hardware store, even those smoking teenagers stopped to wave at him, then laughed to each other after we passed them. I imagined I wasn't the first person to accompany Jimbo on one of his "quests."
"When did you first see him?" I asked in the car.
"When I first moved back here. That's when I knew it was my destiny to find him. I was up near the Mad River, where my dad and I used to go fly fishing. He nearly came right up to me, pow!" He slammed his fist into his hand. "I thought I was a goner. But he just stood there, and we, like, stared at each other. I had so many questions, and I knew he did, too. Like, we were connected somehow. But before I could say anything, he ran off. I've been trying to find him ever since." The highway carved a path into the hills, trees and poppies lining the sides of the road. An old shambling diner was at the end of a dirt turnoff. A faint neon OPEN sign flickered in the window.
"Why did you come back? Here, I mean."
"Family," he said, and left it at that. Sometimes the answer is simple, I guess. It made me think of the day Lindsay left me. I was lying in bed in my underwear. She was fully dressed by the door, a suitcase at her side. The sound of her rustling had woken me.
"I'm going home," she said.
"Why?" I asked, as if a question like that could ever be answered simply.
"It's my family. I have to go." I remember the conversation lasting longer than that, but I don't remember exactly what else was said. All I remember was the next day my bed was colder. The day after that, her Facebook account was deactivated. The day after that, she wouldn't even respond to me, no matter how many times I tried calling her or texting her. Then time blurred, and suddenly I was here, driving through a remote part of Northern California on the hunt for a mythological creature who liked Milky Ways and plastic flutes.
"I hope we brought enough beer," Jimbo said.
We pulled off the highway and into the Trinity National Forest State Park and were stopped at the entrance booth by a yellow and black security pole. A park ranger exited the booth and walked up to our car with his hands in his belt. When he leaned into the window he glared at me, his lips tight behind his bristly Wilford Brimley mustache. But then, when he recognized Jimbo's face, his lips parted into a toothy smile.
"Jimbo! How are you doing, son?"
"Just fine, Fred. This is John." He shook my hand. I wasn't about to correct anyone.
"You here to help him find that Bigfoot up there?" he asked me, in a tone like he was talking to a child about the Easter Bunny.
"I got a good feeling, Fred," Jimbo answered for me.
"Boy, I hope you find him this time, Jimbo," he said. This time? How many times were there? I jolted when the ranger hit the side of the car with his palm and hooted. "Hot damn, that'd be something. Real mystery, that thing. Well, you boys have fun out there, alright? Call my cell if you need anything. And, hey. Good luck." Toothy smile. He lifted the gate and waved us through.
We parked near the camp grounds, and I unpacked my gear. I'd somewhat forgotten I'd actually have to do some work, my mind fogged with all of the information Jimbo had been unloading on me as we drove. Did you know that Old Blue is close to 70 years old? and He looks like a man, but don't be fooled, he's a monster, and Old Blue hates technology. That one was particularly interesting to me: I'd pawned off so much of my stuff trying to pay off my student loan debt that my camera was really the only thing left I could call my own.
"Man, that thing must be super expensive," he said as I took out the Canon. It wasn't. Maybe a grand or so, used. That triggered the thought I'd had while driving up: why not just use the money he was paying me to buy a camera himself? Why bother paying me to come all the way up here? It couldn't have just been my background. Maybe he was paying for the company. Maybe he was just lonely.
"Sure was," I said. "Takes a lot of skill to use it properly."
"That's what I'm paying you for," he said, dragging the cooler out of the back of the car. "That, and I can't legally drive a car." He slammed the trunk gate closed and looked up to the sky. "Shall we?"
Carrying a camera case through the woods isn't exactly a walk in the park. I nearly hated myself for thinking that awful joke, but I was hungry, and my legs were tired from walking for close to an hour on a rocky, dusty path. I used my free hand to wave away the wisps of dust emerging from Jimbo's shoes—sandals, mind you—as I tried to at least admire the surroundings. The air was humid and cool, and the sky was a bright pink color as the sun continued to set, faster now, the day nearing night. The pine trees bristled in the light wind, raking their needles against their branches. It sounded like the ocean, the waves crashing in lightly from the tide. Birds whistled and called in the distance and above us. A woodpecker banged out a rhythm against a tree somewhere.
"How much further?" I asked.
Jimbo turned and walked backwards to face me.
"Did you know this forest is the largest in California? It's over two million acres wide, with over 450 indigenous floral and fauna." I felt like he was guiding me on a nature tour.
"Why are we out here? I thought it was called the Blue Lake Bigfoot."
"That's just where he's been seen. He doesn't actually live in Blue Lake." Jimbo chuckled and turned away from me. I readjusted my backpack, agitated by the feeling I wasn't in on the joke.
"How do you know so much about this Old Blue? Relative of yours?" I laughed. He wasn't the only one who could make jokes around here. Jimbo stopped. I tensed up, half-expecting him to clock me.
"Look," he said, and dropped his gear onto the ground. He ran over to a spot near a fir tree and bent down. "Get your camera," he said in a near-whisper. I put down my stuff and opened the case and quickly turned it on, white-balance be damned, and ran over to him. "It's a print."
I leaned over his shoulder and through the viewfinder could see what looked to be a large footprint in the dirt, like it had been there for some time. To me, it looked like a bear print, but hey, I wasn't the expert.
"Look at the arch in the back," he said, pointing. "And check out the gnarly pattern of the toes." Again, they looked like bear toes to me. But something in Jimbo's voice had me tentative and frightened. I didn't believe it was Bigfoot, mind you, but it was hard not to get swept up in the excitement. "Are you getting this?"
"Sure am," I said. I stepped back and caught him in the frame, bending down near the print. He turned to the camera with a serious face (I could tell because he was squinting and his lips were pursed).
"We just found a real, live Bigfoot print. It's not fresh, but it hasn't been damaged yet in any way, so that must mean it happened fairly recently. This definitely proves there's a Bigfoot lurking somewhere in these woods, and maybe..." he paused, probably for effect, "...it's Old Blue." He nodded and smiled into the camera. "Cut," he said. I turned the camera off and he stood up. "Wow, a fresh print, right in front of us. Man, can you believe it?" he said, astonishment in his voice.
I could not.
With the excitement and the sun both going down and the blisters on my feet rising up, I was relieved when he announced we had reached the clearing where he had planned to set up camp for the night. I kicked off my shoes and sat down for a moment. My socks were bloody from walking. I hadn't been mobile much in the past few months. My stomach had gotten looser. My muscles had retracted. I wasn't the same physical specimen I had been pre-graduation, that's for sure. But she wouldn't leave me over that, would she? She wasn't that type of girl. No way. As I caught my breath, Jimbo kept moving, already unpacking the tent and setting it up.
"So, how many times have you come out here?" I asked.
"Lots of times." He hammered a metal stake into the ground.
"And you only saw him that one time?" I asked. Jimbo nodded, bent a metal rod and slid it through a pocket in the tent. "What keeps you coming back?"
"Beats staying inside all day," he said, hammering another stake. Sun peeked through the cracks in the trees, and the beams of light spun dust in spirals. The pine needles danced in unison like the leaves of a hula skirt. Birds called one another, awaiting an answer. He had a point. He stopped, rested back on his calves. "And, I guess it's like, faith, you know? Like, believing in fate, or God." I didn't expect him to be the religious type.
"Did you really just compare searching for Bigfoot to believing in God? That's pretty rich," I said, my years of Catholic upbringing unearthing from under my skin. I half-expected my barb to sting him a bit; hell, I'd half-intended it to. How could someone blindly believe in something when all evidence points to the contrary? But I was surprised when he laughed and tilted his hat back.
"You're right," he said. "I've actually seen Bigfoot. Now, are you gonna just sit there and grill me? Or are you gonna set up your camera?" I tried to hide a smile but couldn't. In that moment, I sort of admired the guy. Hell, I might have even liked him. I went over to our gear and started unpacking. "Oh, and while you're over there, can you toss me those Abba Zabbas we brought?"
"Careful, or you'll spoil your dinner," I said with a laugh, tossing him the chewy candy.
"Oh, they're not for me. They're for Old Blue," he said, taking them out of the bag and placing them gingerly on the ground just outside of our tent. "He loves these things." He took a bite out of one and smiled a big, taffy grin. I imagined a bear entering our camp and swiftly mauling us to death and then feasting on Abba Zabbas as a dessert. It suddenly came to my attention that I was in a remote section of the woods with a person I'd just met who believed in a mythological half man, half ape creature with an affinity for taffy. This was pretty much how bad horror movies started.
Then again, he was the one cutting the check. My literal ticket to Lindsay. Even if I didn't really believe in his quest, I still had to join him. Every Quixote needs a Panza, after all. As he set up the traps, I got the fire ready. The lumber cackled and hissed like a witch as the embers spun up towards the sky, which was growing darker, the sun nearly down. I checked my phone. I don't know what I was expecting; maybe she'd have called or texted or something, a long shot, but I felt the urge to check anyway. I got lost in the bright digital screen, watching the words of past messages scroll by, looking for clues.
"Whatcha doin'?" Jimbo asked, plunking down onto a log he'd rolled over from beneath a tree.
"Nothing," I said, shoving the phone into my pocket. "So. What's for dinner?" Jimbo smiled, the word eliciting a Pavlovian response. He spun around and opened up the cooler, sloshing through the ice.
"We got Pork 'n' Beans, Spam, corned beef hash..."
"Anything edible?" I asked. He pulled a can of beer from the cooler and tossed it to me.
The beer didn't take long to work its magic. I know, a lightweight Asian, har har. But Jimbo was getting a good buzz on, too, and he was about 30 times my size, so I'm guessing this Hop Ottin' IPA was nothing to mess around with. My belly was full of half a can of Pork 'n' Beans and some cornbread, and my eyes were getting tired. I had no idea what time it was, refusing to look at my phone again. We'd been sitting around the fairly robust campfire just talking about nothing, really, and I gotta say, Jimbo was an onion of a man. He had more to him than his surfer dude persona let on.
He was rolling back and forth on his log like that bear on the Splash Mountain ride at Disneyland. I kept waiting for him to tip over to the sound of a slide whistle.
"And we had these ten foot swells, no joke, and the rain was just coming down like a bitch, pardon my French."
"I can't picture you surfing," I said.
"I've never seen a surfer in a trucker hat."
We both laughed.
"You got me there," he said. "Still, the ocean life, that's the life for me. All day at the beach, smelling that salt air, riding gnarly waves, passing out in the sand. Just wish Old Blue felt the same."
He stopped rolling and stared at his feet for a moment, then snapped out of his trance, finished his beer and reached for another one. "You ever been to Hawaii?"
His beer crackled as he pulled the tab to open it.
"Yeah, couple times."
"I love Hawaii. So many babes there. You have a special lady?" he asked.
I suddenly became aware of how cold my hand was around my beer, so I put it down in the dirt. A million images raced through my mind at once. I shook my head.
"It's a long story," I said. I think he waited for me to say more, but I didn't.
"Well, we got plenty of time, if..."
A loud bellow came from somewhere deep in the woods. Jimbo's head perked up like a hound dog. He dropped the beer and shot up, tilted his head back and forth. It sounded like some sort of animal calling from far in the distance, but it was this deep, resonating sound I hadn't heard before. I started to ask what it was but he held up his hand.
"Get the camera," he said, and I obeyed. I ran to the tent, turned on the Canon, flipped it into night mode. I hit record, pointed it at Jimbo, and the world turned black and neon green through the viewfinder.
We waited. The only noise was the crackle of the fire and a few horny crickets.
The sound happened again, further away now. It echoed throughout the woods and bounced among the trees. It sounded like a foghorn meant to warn oncoming ships.
When the sound died, Jimbo cupped his hands to his mouth and tilted his head back. He sucked in air and then let out a loud, full bellow, not unlike the one we'd just heard. It rose up in volume and in pitch but remained low and dark. He ceased the sound and waited. I waited. We waited.
There came no other sound, though.
I thought about saying something or, even better, grabbing my beer. But I knew any sound or movement I made would ruin whatever the big guy was attempting to do, so I just stood there with the camera pointed at him like a gun.
Jimbo startled me when he quickly turned and pointed at me.
"That, right there, was a Bigfoot," he said with a smile. He nodded. I turned the camera off and lowered it. He quickly plunked down onto his log with a thud. It sounded like dropping a weight onto a gym floor. I sat down with more consideration, placed the camera behind my log, and waited for him to say something.
He exhaled deeply, then stared intently into the fire.
"My dad never believed in any of this stuff," he said.
That's it? My heart was still racing, my palms were sweaty... I might have even had a slight erection from the excitement. And that's all he had to say about that?
"Was that really a Bigfoot?" I asked, because someone had to.
All he did was nod and poke at the fire with a stick.
"He always told me I was making stuff up. That I had a wild imagination, or something. But you heard that, didn't you?"
I didn't nod back. I didn't have to. We both knew I'd heard it, whatever it was.
"If he was here, he'd know." He poked at the fire, kicked some of the embers around with the edge of the stick. He grabbed his beer with his other hand, drank from it. He sure as hell wasn't rushing off into the woods to claim his bounty.
This made me frustrated. It's not often you're out in the woods in the black of night and you hear something like that. Something violent. Crickets and maybe an owl, sure. But something capable of pulling your limbs out of your body? Hardly.
I sat up and squared off at him.
"So, what do we do?"
He didn't answer me. That didn't make me too happy.
"Hey. Are we just going to sit here?"
He turned to me. "That thing's far from here, moving away from us. We couldn't catch it."
"So... that's it?"
"What's the point, then? We hear that thing, and we just sit here with our thumbs up our asses and don't do anything? We gotta get out there and find that thing, shoot some video, get some proof, get some answers!"
He stared at me like I was speaking gibberish. No smile, no look of acceptance, nothing. That's when I threw my beer at his feet. The can sprayed liquid as it skipped in front of him and out into the woods. I stood up.
"I'm going to bed," I said.
He nodded, his eyes transfixed on the fire. I stormed into the tent and immediately grabbed for my phone. My throat went dry as I hit the button to wake the screen up. No new messages. I exhaled and almost felt like I might throw up, but I persisted. I opened my text messages. She was my only contact; 20 messages, all of them from me, and not a single, goddamn response. I curled into my sleeping bag as if it might protect me from what I was about to do. I texted her. I asked her why she left me. I asked her why she wasn't responding to me. I asked her why she was doing this to me. Why. Why. Why.
My eyes stung with tears, and I dropped my phone like it was a smoking gun. I rolled away from it, closed my eyes, tried to ignore it. I could feel my heartbeat in my neck, my body tensely waiting for the phone to vibrate to let me know she had responded, that I'd finally get what I wanted. But what would that be? Maybe it was my fault, maybe I'd done something she'd never forgive me for, or maybe there was someone else.
I didn't want to think about it anymore, so I thought about movies instead, which always calmed me. In my mind I pictured a film reel spinning, projecting an image onto a screen in a dark, ornate theater. The film was about a man and a woman meeting at a bar, years after they'd been separated, talking to one another like they'd just met, wondering how time could have slipped away from them. They seemed so different now...
I woke up with a startle. I didn't know how long I had been asleep. The night was still. My bladder pressed against me. I remembered what I had done, and my stomach felt sick again and just made my urge to pee worse. With a lot of deliberation, I decided to actually get out of the tent. I looked over and saw the sleeping bag next to me was empty. Maybe I'd only dozed off for a few minutes. Maybe she hadn't gotten my texts yet.
My spine shivered. The air was cold, so I grabbed a sweatshirt, wrapped myself with it, and slid on my shoes. When I emerged from the tent, I saw the fire was still going, barely. A large mass of hair and shitty clothes was lumped next to it: Jimbo, asleep, quiet as a lamb. I wandered out past the campsite and trudged through the bushes. I could have stayed close, but I was notoriously pee shy. Lindsay had always made fun of me for it. I'd come back from the bathroom and she'd ask if I'd gone, and I'd have to sheepishly tell her about whatever it was that had made me unable to piss. I found it embarrassing; she found it endearing. I guess that's love.
The fallen branches cracked and crunched under my feet. It was damn cold out, and I hugged myself to keep warm. I looked over my shoulder and saw I was far enough from the fire to where I could barely make it out. This would be a good spot to do my business. I unzipped and peed through the hole in my jeans. No way was I submitting my guys to the elements.
I closed my eyes and thought of Lindsay, an autonomous response any time I had my dick in my hands. I tried to think of happy things to distract me from the nagging thoughts about my texts. The sound of my stream hitting the branches reminded me of when it would rain on our rooftop. Us, bundled up in our cold apartment. Holding each other. Kissing, touching. Her bringing herself close to me to stay warm. Her naked body...
A sickening crunch not far off startled me just as I was finishing, thank God. I quickly zipped up and waited.
"Who's there?" I asked, before my brain could tell me that was a dumb idea. It was probably just a branch falling, or some small animal like a squirrel or a rabbit. Either way, nothing that would respond to my question.
But then I heard the sound again. And again.
I tried to turn and head back to the camp, but I tripped up on something and fell backwards. I hit my head pretty hard, and my vision got all fuzzy, and I panicked. I scraped at the ground to help myself up, but I couldn't get a good grip and fell back again. My body felt weak, and as I lay there, I closed my eyes and tried to think of beaches and palm trees and mai tais.
A voice grumbled.
I opened my eyes, and standing before me, not much farther than from where I had pissed, was a large, ape-like creature, dark and tall. It moved awkwardly through the trees, using its arms to push the branches out of its way, stepping gingerly over the ground so as not to step on anything jagged. I couldn't see it well, but its face looked bushy and misshapen, its brow very high and long, its entire body covered in coarse hair.
I froze. I held my breath in, tried to remain as still as possible. The creature moved closer, its heavy breath coming out in warm white clouds through its nose. I suddenly became aware of my own breathing and tried to cease it.
But I failed. I let out a heavy exhale and then immediately sucked it in, but it was too late. The creature turned, and our eyes met. Its eyes looked hollow, sunken in, like they were miles behind its face. It stood there and stared at me, its chest heaving as I tried to hold my breath, as I tried to remain unmoving as it peered into me and through me. The creature stood upright, and I could see it was much taller, towering over the nearby bushes, its lanky limbs dangling at its side.
I waited for my inevitable demise. I'd seen the monster face to face, and now it was going to kill me, and I didn't even have my camera. Worst of all, Jimbo had been right: the damned thing was real, and it was terrifying. This whole trip would have been for nothing as it feasted on my bones and played hacky sack with my testes. Here lies Jun, or what's left of him, destroyed and eaten by Old Blue. Did you know Old Blue likes Chinese food?
I closed my eyes and thought of Lindsay. It wasn't conscious this time. She just popped in there. The last thoughts of a dying man would be of his estranged girlfriend. I pictured her wearing my sweatshirt, the one I had on now that still smelled like her. She was curled up next to me on the couch, looking inquisitively at me, her green eyes shining like polished jade. "What do you want in life?" she asked. You, I thought now.
The creature took a deep breath and spread its arms out. I awaited death with a heavy heart.
"Are you lonesome tonight? Do you miss me tonight? Are you sorry we drifted apart?" the creature sang, in a high-pitched, jangly vibrato.
I opened my eyes.
"Does your memory stray to the bright summer day? When I kissed you and called you sweetheart?" It kicked its legs out in different directions to the rhythm, like it was in a chorus line. Its fingers danced wildly. I recognized them as jazz hands.
Something was very, very strange about this creature.
A sudden chorus of voices surrounded it as it continued to sing, and from behind some of the branches, wearing very dark, nearly invisible clothes, emerged a few teenaged-looking boys, mimicking the creature's movements in unison.
"The fuck?" I finally said out loud.
"Is your heart filled with pain?" the creature continued, but I could hear his voice crack with laughter. The two boys started stumbling through their routine and could barely stop themselves from giggling.
I stood up.
"Hey," I said, because I had a way with words. The boys grabbed each other in mock terror.
"Watch out, Brian," one said.
"He might pee on you," the other said.
To which Bigfoot laughed, and removed his head, which wasn't really his head but a mask that fit over his head, under which there was a pockmarked teenage boy with matted hair and a lip ring.
"Sorry, bro," Bigfoot said. At this point Detective Jun knew it was a costume. I could clearly see the zipper popping up from near his neck. "It's just too easy."
"Sound. You. Make sound," I said in caveman-talk. I was still in shock I guess, and it was late, and I was half-asleep, so cut me some slack.
"Okay," one of them said with a smart-ass grin. He curled one arm to his armpit and put the other one on his head and made monkey sounds, danced around, kicking his feet out. His voice was high-pitched, squeaky. His balls probably hadn't even dropped yet, the little shit. The other teens followed suit, dancing around, their cracking voices sounding like a chorus of rusty door hinges.
I was still a bit frightened, and was now a lot more annoyed, so I bent down and ran my hand through the dirt until I came across what felt like a rock. I threw it at them, not intending to hit them at all, but trying to scare them like they'd scared me. It kicked up dirt in front of one of the boys, a shorter one with a jagged chin, and he lifted up his leg to protect himself.
"Hey," he said. I responded by fiddling around for another rock and when I found one, I repeated the action and threw it at the other boy, who responded just like his friend.
"Go!" I yelled. "Get out of here, you fucks! Get out of here!" I scrambled to find more stuff to throw. Whatever fit into my hand, branch or dirt or rock or whatever, I threw at them as they tried to defend themselves.
"Hey, fuck off, bro," Bigfoot said as some dirt kicked up in his face. The other two boys tried to say stuff but were too intent on protecting themselves. As my attack got more intense, the boys retreated, and soon they were running away from me at a quick pace.
"Fuck you, faggot," one of them yelled. They muttered some other stuff, but it wasn't important. Soon, they had disappeared into the night, and I was alone. The world around me resumed its quiet slumber. I caught my breath, patted myself down, made sure I was real. I turned to where the faint glimmer of the campfire was and made my way back there, slowly, my body aching.
When I got back to the campsite, Jimbo was sitting on his log, poking at the fire. "It was those kids from town, huh?" he asked without looking at me.
He poked at the fire with a stick. "Yeah, those guys have messed with me a bunch of times. I think they like, live out here, or something."
I sat down on my log across from him. The orange flames danced across his face. He looked sad. I felt like I should say something, but I didn't have anything to say. I was still processing everything that had happened, still wondering if I was really awake or if this was some shitty waking dream. The space around us felt like an ocean of pitch black water that could swallow us up in any minute. We were surrounded by nothing, and everything, all at once. I suddenly felt very lonely.
And then, I laughed. The damn song the kids were singing popped into my head, and I pictured Bigfoot dancing with his merry bandoliers, jazz hands and all, and I couldn't help it. I laughed some more. I kept laughing, my voice growing louder, my breath coming out in gargled bits of hysteria. I was overcome with it, and instead of fighting it, I just let it take me over. I could feel the dryness in my throat and the wetness in my eyes, but I couldn't stop.
Jimbo started laughing, too. It was infectious and debilitating. Soon, both of us were in an uproar, the sound of our laughter exploding outwards into the vast unknown. I bet those fucking kids could hear us. I bet Arcata could hear us. I bet our laughs could carry across the fucking ocean if we tried. The lonely feeling I had disappeared, and the space we filled felt less daunting, the entire universe existing around this fledgling campfire.
Rogue hiccups of laughter sputtered out, then turned into satisfied sighs as our laughter died down. I looked across the fire at Jimbo and reached out my hand. He understood, rifled through the cooler, and tossed me a beer. I opened it and took a long, refreshing pull. He pulled out a beer and did the same. We sat there for awhile and embraced the quietude, the fire crackling and warm.
Finally, he broke the silence. "You know something? Sometimes I think, maybe I already know the truth. Like, maybe there really is no Bigfoot, or even if there was, he's long gone by now. That's what my dad would tell me, anyway."
"So?" I asked.
"Why keep looking, then? Why hire me to come out here and film for you if you think you already know?"
He took a long time to respond. When he did, he shrugged and said, "I guess I'd rather keep asking the questions, you know?" He looked at me to see if I understood. Maybe I was tired, or drunk, or both, but I think I finally did. "Besides, we still don't know what made that sound out there."
"It was those kids," I said with authority. But he just looked at me, and suddenly I wasn't so sure. "Right?"
He smiled. "Guess we'll have to find out."
The next day we continued our hunt. We had a long trek through the mountains to get to his planned film site, so we were up and out early. My feet, head, and tailbone were all sore from walking, drinking, and falling on my ass, respectively. As we walked, Jimbo told me more about Old Blue. He can fish better than any man ever can and He has huge, lumbering hands, but they're soft as cotton and Old Blue was never fond of teenagers. The blue skies above us seemed to stretch on forever in every direction. The wind picked up and made the pine needles dance again, but this time they didn't sound like waves.
A pinecone as big as my head, bigger than I'd ever seen, dangled from a branch above me. I wanted a photo, so I reached into my pocket to retrieve my phone. The little green light in the corner blinked, indicating I had a new message. I turned on the screen and saw I had six new texts from Lindsay. She must have responded to me sometime this morning or maybe late last night. Are you lonesome tonight? Are you sorry we drifted apart? I stopped and stared at my phone. Jimbo noticed this and came to a halt.
"You find something?" he asked.
I pictured the projector in the theater again. Interior bar, night. A man and a woman, years after being separated, talk to one another like they'd just met. They wonder how time could have slipped away from them. They seem so different now. They have so many questions for one another. The film goes on and on and on...
I clicked a button, and the phone asked me if I was sure I wanted to delete the messages before reading them, and I clicked another button to say yes.
"Nope. Let's keep looking," I said, and so we did.