About seven miles into North Country Trail, I encountered a fellow hiker headed in the opposite direction. The man’s name escapes me now, but had I known the events that would follow, I would have made a point to remember it. The man was in good enough shape, but older than you would expect to see alone in the woods. I thought it strange that he didn’t carry a pack, considering he was headed back from the trail quite far from any civilized establishment, though he did have a rifle slung around his back. When I stopped to ask him the condition of the trail he seemed strangely skittish. Perhaps my memory has blended this in since, but I do remember his eyes were cloudy, a milky mix of blue and cataracts. I noticed an unsightly scar under his right eye and a peculiar tear from the neck of his shirt that wrapped around his left side. Still, anxious to get the most miles for my day, I put it out of my mind.
“Hey there,” I said. “How’s the trail look? Many hikers?”
He stopped a long time to think and it was then, I’m sure, when I began to feel uncomfortable. “Trail’s fine. Saw one group of kids setting up camp about four miles back. Heard the weather’s going to be nasty, though. Maybe you should turn back and give it a couple of days.”
The weather report in the local newspaper showed five solid days of good weather. “I’m pretty well equipped for the weather,” I replied. “Plus I have a time schedule to keep. Got a pickup waiting at the other end. Back to the grind in a couple weeks. You know how it is. Got to fit it in while you can, rain or shine.”
He thought long about this too. “These woods ain’t nothing to take lightly when nature gets angry. Can’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“Thank you for the warning, friend. I’ve encountered my share of Mother Nature’s wrath. She and I have an understanding, I think.”
The man stood there silent. For a moment, I thought he’d fallen asleep. Suddenly he spoke. “It’s not Mother I’d worry about,” he said making, if possible from beneath the cloud, sustained and menacing eye contact, “it’s her children.”
I smiled and shook his hand. “We are all her children,” I said. I thanked him again, wished him safe travel, and we parted ways.
After speaking with the old man I quickened my pace with the intention of putting at least twelve miles on the first day. I hoped to surpass the group the man spoke of before setting up camp, for I knew their sort. The early sections of the trail, particularly in this part of the forest, are popular with young men and women in search of an obscure place where they can freely drink alcohol and partake in other illegal substances without the risk of running into authority. Rain or shine for them too. Once a boy told me, “If you can’t stay dry, stay high.” It’s not that these youths are ever dangerous; it’s just that they can get loud at night and be heard for a mile through the ravine, and it was solitude that I was after.
In my hurry and deep contemplation of the beauty of my surroundings, the misty grays of boulders and browns and greens of pines in the primitive forest, I didn’t realize that I had wandered off of the trail until the path I was following came to a dead end of creeping cinnamon ferns. I checked for my compass to get my bearings only to find that I had either dropped it or forgot to pack it. Both seemed unlikely, considering it is a very important piece of equipment on the trail. Frustrated, I decided to attempt to retrace my steps and hopefully rejoin the correct trail, but when I turned around it appeared I lost the trail entirely.
With dusk closing in and against proper deep woods procedure, I chose to navigate by my own sense of direction. I must have put on a few miles and became even more so disoriented than before. I made up my mind to set up camp in the next clearing and to get better bearing by the stars, mark the north and south before going to bed, and use the sun as my guide in the morning.
Luckily enough, there was an unusually brilliant full moon rising early and shining down so brightly through the treetops that getting out my headlamp was unnecessary. As I came near a clearing I made out the silhouette of a tent, but no fire. I approached with caution so as not to startle the owners, since Pennsylvania’s firearm laws allow for weapons on the trail. I suspected that this was probably the group the old man told me about, and found validation in the empty Budweiser cans and Doritos wrappers strewn about the site.
Normally, as proper etiquette proclaims, I would have called out to the campers before getting too close, but something about the site seemed unusual. As I came closer I realized that the site was in shambles. Four backpacks were scattered around and the tent had been torn from the side. I crept closer to inspect the tear. It looked as if it had been shredded, perhaps by the claws of a native black bear or possibly the antlers of a deer. However, there was no trace—well, besides the trash—of people. I concluded that the site had been abandoned and the wildlife tore it apart in search of food.
It was so eerily quiet that I was startled when I heard the cashhh sound of an opening can. I whirled around and saw, sitting against a tree facing in the opposite direction, a silhouette of a man, with his arm on a case of Budweiser. Relieved, I called to him. “Forgive me,” I said, “I didn’t see you sitting there.” My voice surprised the shadow and it stood quickly rising to roughly seven feet tall, but not before effortlessly hoisting the case of beer onto its shoulder. I stumbled backward a little and we two froze. “I’m not here to take your things,” I said, my voice shaky with fear. There was no answer. “I’m more of a hard liquor guy, myself.”
Neither of us moved for a while. “Where did you come from?” he said in a deep glottal voice, putting me a little at ease. It at least sounded like a man.
“I lost my way on the NCT and stumbled onto your site. I’ll be on my way, if you would be so kind as to point me in the right direction.”
The shadow relaxed and set down the case. “Well, you’ve seen me now,” it said, “You must be an exceptional dude. I didn’t hear you come in. It’s late, man. Camp here with me and have a king of beers.”
It occurred to me then that I was exhausted and hadn’t stopped to eat all day, but I didn’t want to intrude. “Thank you, friend, but I’m sure you, as I, have come to this place for solitude. I wouldn’t want to impose. Now, if you would just show me…”
“Dude, don’t be silly. Solitude is all I’ve known. Please, it’s no big deal. It’s cool. I could use the company. Here.” He reached into the case and tossed me a beer. I lost sight of it in the moonlight and it hit me in the jaw. I yelped, but stifled anything more. “My bad,” he said, “I forgot your night vision is wack.”
“No no, it’s my fault,” I said, picking up the beer. I tapped the seal and opened it, slowly walking toward the shadow. “I didn’t expect you to throw it.” I took a drink from the can and looked up. The shadow stepped toward me into the moonlight and I was instantly stricken with fear.
The enormous creature was completely naked, and, despite what I had been foolish enough to assume, was in fact male, but not a man. I dropped the beer and wanted to run, but I was so frightened by its hairy form and exaggerated features that I was frozen there before it. “Whoa, chill out man,” it said, “I’m cool. I’m not going to hurt you.”
“You’re a…” I could not find the words.
“Bigfoot. Yeah. I don’t like that term though. I find it derogatory. I mean, my feet aren’t that big. ‘Sasquatch’ is cool.” Sure enough, his feet were actually small for his frame, forever putting to rest the foot/genitalia myth, at least for the Sasquatch species.
He was freakishly tall and hairy, but not the kind of hairy you’d expect from a Sasquatch. He didn’t look anything like the hoaxes would have you believe. In fact, he looked more like a man than an ape. Albeit a hairy man, one of Eastern European dissent maybe, and not thick and clunky as in the videos, but thin and agile, much more so than any professional basketball player of his stature.
“I’ve been chilling in these woods my entire life and dudes have come to hunt me. They are so stupid when it comes to the natural world it was easy to avoid them. I know your people have been looking for me for a long time. I know you probably have tons of questions. Please, stay with me. I am as harmless as you. I see you’re not packing heat. You are a cool man. Stay. We’ll catch a buzz and rap.”
“What about the kids who all of this equipment belongs to? How do I know you didn’t hurt them?”
“Come on man. Don’t hate. They saw me and split. I just wanted to hang.” He held up another beer. “Sides, think about it. I’m a freaking Sasquatch.” He tossed another beer to me and this time I caught it. Sasquatch crushed the can with his hand and retrieved another.
Though I’d never heard of anyone actually dying from Sasquatch attack, I took his word for it. Who wouldn’t? The logic was sound enough. I opened the beer and took a long drink. “Come, chill with me.” Sasquatch motioned with his arm and started into the woods with the beer. I remained for a moment, finished the beer in a couple of gulps, and followed him through heavy undergrowth, the sort I hadn’t seen yet the entire trip, to the top of a boulder in a rare clearing near the creek. “Not many people bother to look for this pad,” he said, sprawling out on top of the mossy rock. “Check it out.”
I looked up at the sky and millions upon millions of stars had appeared. It was strikingly beautiful and I felt a sudden sense of insignificance, but contentment as well. Sasquatch handed me another beer and I sat down next to him, not too close, for I was still a little unsure. From my seat I could smell him, and I distinctly remember the fragrance of that of a new car. The full moon allowed me to see him clearly. The hair covering his body reminded me of my father’s chest. It was patchy and mangy in places and I imagined what he would look like in human clothes. His hair would, like my father’s, probably tuft out of the collar of a t-shirt and show up in odd places around the house. His face looked no more primitive than a Neanderthal, with deep set eyes, a boxed jaw, and a surprisingly well kept beard. I decided that waxed, he would look almost human except he had no nipples or belly button as far as I could tell. Plus he was extremely tall, of course.
We began to talk and Sasquatch told me a brief family history, that his kind had been around for as long as humans had, but were a more peaceful and solitary race. He said there were very few of his kind, which made breeding a difficult endeavor and his life a lonely one. To avoid inbreeding, he was required to travel hundreds of miles every few years to see “this chick” he’d been “banging,” but since human urban sprawl limited his territory, his species was dwindling. Sasquatch also told me that he learned to speak English by watching and listening to the youths who come into the forest and party loudly at night, which explained the strange dialect and awkward slang he spoke.
In turn I told Sasquatch my family history, that I descended from immigrants to this country, and my father worked in a dry kiln. I told him that I moved to a city to find a better life and instead found that I needed to come to the forest as often as possible to try to find some sort of balance. He laughed and said he’d been to a city once, though I’m not sure how big of one, or which one for that matter. He told me he modified some “duds” he found in a pack but was unable to find a pair of “kicks” that would fit because, though his feet were small for his frame, they were still rather large. He said that whenever he went into a building, they made him leave because of his bare feet. Then he looked down at the feet with disgust.
He told me that by nature his kind is shy. They prefer not to be known. But this Sasquatch was different. He yearned for more of a connection, for companionship. Once he confided this in his “baby momma” and it scared her. She said that he must have human blood in him. This was a terrible insult, he explained, because his kind view humans as wasteful, stupid, and violent creatures. He said his ancestors witnessed human destruction from the beginning of man, especially that in his home land, where scores of humans killed scores of their own kind. When they weren’t killing their own kind, they were killing something else, their very livelihood, their homes, killing themselves.
Despite his negative experiences in the city, and the human destruction and desecration of his home, Sasquatch believed humans should be judged on a human-to-human basis. He was a radical among them, a free thinker. Sasquatch felt that his kind had a lot to teach Man. He felt that, given the opportunity to communicate, the Sasquatch kind and mankind could coexist peacefully and be respectful to each other’s ways.
Sasquatch voiced this opinion at a family reunion that occurs every ten years in Lebanon, Kansas, the exact geographical center of the continental United States. His own father, who, if I interpreted it correctly, is actually the Chief of his clan, told him in front of everyone that, “As it is our nature to live free, peacefully and alone, it is man’s nature to consume one another and everything around him. Go Son, and tell man of your vision. He will murder you, and in doing so will murder all of us as well.”
“Have you considered talking with your father in private?” I asked.
“Nah. Dude is too uptight. A real downer.”
“I had a similar conflict with my father. He wanted me to work at the kiln. I wanted to go to college.”
“We talked a lot about it. I was eventually able to convince him.”
“You’re lucky, man. There’s no talking to this old bird.”
We sat silent for a moment but kept drinking heavily. Sasquatch claimed that he was proof that his father was wrong. If it was his nature to live alone, then why did he desire companionship and harmony so fanatically? Weren’t the Sasquatch kind, with their present course of standing by silently, already allowing themselves to be “one-eight-sevened”? But he kept those thoughts to himself. Had he not been his father’s son, he might already have been excommunicated from the group. He was lucky to find a mate after that.
Anyway, Sasquatch was hurt deeply by his mate’s offense and did not go to meet her on their decided rendezvous time, which was supposed to be that very night. Sasquatch sat up abruptly and said “I got to piss.”
“Yeah, me too.”
We both stood up and urinated into the creek. Sasquatch’s stream sounded like he was pouring out a bucket.
“You know Sas,” I said over the sound, “may I offer you a little relationship advice?”
“Sock it to me.”
“Sometimes, well, in my experience, all a woman needs is a little genuine attention. Let her know you care about her.”
“Sure. She probably just wants attention.”
“Yo,” Sasquatch said, “I’d rather have met you, bro. Conversating with you’ll probably do more for my kind than burying the baby leg with that skank.” I began to think that Sasquatch was right. I thought maybe we could co-exist, and maybe it was true that I could be the one to convince the rest of the human race.
Then again, maybe it was the beer. We’d nearly finished the case and the only words my mouth could form were a disappointing, “I love you, man.”
Not far in the distance I heard the report of a rifle and quickly following it something whirring past my head and ricocheting off of the rock at our feet. “Shit!” Sasquatch howled. Another shot, and then another. “Quick!” Sasquatch was already moving. I crouched down, my head swimming in beer. “Get on my back. You’ll never outrun him alone.” Before I could consider my options, Sasquatch flung me over his shoulder like a sack of flour and was off in a dead sprint. Another shot rang out, and another, but the sound was already much further away. Maybe it was the alcohol, but it felt like he ran for twenty minutes before his breathing became heavy and another ten before his strength gave out and his legs buckled. We tumbled into a dip in the earth and I was flung through the brush onto my back in a bed of ferns.
I pulled myself up and frantically searched for Sasquatch. I felt my pockets for a flashlight and fumbled with it, finally turning it on and shining it on the shadowy ground all around me. I whispered his name for fear that the shooter would hear me. I soon found myself in the dip where we collapsed and still, no sign of him. I heard rustling behind me and spun around aiming the light in the direction and found the barrel of the rifle brandished by the old man from earlier aimed at my head.
“Jesus, son, I almost blew you to pieces,” the old man said. “Did I get him? Son of a bitch. Did I hit that sucker? That’s Bigfoot. Been hunting him all my life. Said I was crazy. Goddamnit, I was this close. You really slowed him down. I could have swore I hit that mean old thing. Did you see which way he went? Well, speak up, boy.”
“What? Yeah. Whatever.”
“Sasquatch. He’s sensitive about the size of his feet.”
“Whoo hoo!” the old man danced in a circle. “Right here. Blood right here. I hit him.” He shouted into the forest. “I got you now you hairy devil.”
“You hit him?”
“Look, blood right here. It ain’t you is it?”
I felt my body for bullet holes. “No. Not me.”
“Good. Lucky I didn’t brain you. You two was close. You ain’t lovers now are you? Haha. I’m going to be rich! We’re going to be rich. I’ll split the spoils. twenty/eighty. Eighty for me. I mean, I shot him, but you distracted him. That’s worth something. Come on now. Bring that light over here and we’ll follow this blood trail.”
Sasquatch’s father was right. My human nature took hold of me and my blood ran hot with anger. This Sasquatch was a conscious objector to all of the hate and prejudice in the world. He was the new voice of harmony, of co-existence. The voice that could end all of that for man and Sasquatch kind. My hands shook and my vision went red. As the old man scoured the earth for Sasquatch’s blood, I snuck up behind him, took him by surprise and grabbed him. The old man dropped his rifle and we struggled with each other, but I was much stronger than he and ended up pinning him to the ground with my hands around his throat. As what I thought was his attempt at breath came from his lips the old man stopped struggling, pointed, and mouthed the word, “Bigfoot.”
I loosened my grip, turned, and saw Sasquatch towering over us. “Man,” he said, “you’re really bumming me out.” Sasquatch turned and walked, dejected, into the forest.
I let go of the old man and called after Sasquatch, but he had already disappeared into the undergrowth. “Sasquatch. Sasquatch. No, wait. I’m sorry. I thought he killed you!”
The old man got up and searched for his rifle. “You fool. Are you out of your gourd? We almost had him. We were rich!”
I fell back onto a pine and sunk to the ground.
“We could have been famous. Son of a bitch. Why would you do such a harebrained thing?”
I looked up at the old man and realized it was I who ruined our species’ chance at peace. The old man was still waiting for an answer.
I replied, “We are all Mother Nature’s children.”
Tobin F. Terry is an Instructor of English at Lakeland Community College in Kirtland, Ohio. He is a graduate of the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts program and recipient of the Alpha Omega Dukes Memorial Promising Fiction Writer Award.