Let me unspool this story a little more—she was comet and car crash and all things about to burst, my Gillian. You might know the tale so far, my mission shat upon by the ill omens, scandalous logic, and cruel outcomes afflicting all those with pluck but no punctilio, with hearts that run on gasoline: Gillian, my then-soon-to-be-betrothéd, had hit the high seas with legendary giant squid hunter Jacob Jacobi, in hot pursuit of her life’s dream, unorthodox though it is, to be the first ever Sapien-cum-Homo to net a living giant squid—and yes, to hell with our nuptials, my gasoline-powered heart, and every hope, wish, and blueprint I had been storing in my genetic strands since I was a boy. Providence said: Move. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: the love a man feels for his lady can be downright debauched.
So I overreacted. I presented myself to her and Jacobi on the dock before they were to set sail, and in my arms I held a weapon called Mayhem, a fully automatic rifle of the military-killer sort, given to me by a Navy SEAL friend who wants me to stop naming him in the stories I spin. Today in our America you can’t discharge an automatic weapon and not go to prison for it, and so I crouched for six months in a no-security state facility mostly for men with wily checkbooks, after crouching the first three months in a county lockup, luckless and well-read because neither I nor kin could produce the bail bond to spring me. I didn’t shoot anybody. Yes, I perforated Jacobi’s titanic vessel but not even enough to stay their departure never mind sink the bastard. In prison, I read a study of the USA and its many guns by a bespectacled scholar, and I felt no shame: without a Detroit automobile and a firearm an American is just a Frenchman. I prefer Dodge.
Upon my release from the concrete ennui of the pen, I flipped open a national newspaper in a coffee shop and felt the bolts and belts in me shiver and snap. Gillian and Jacobi had fished out their giant squid in the dark-deep Antarctic Ocean—alive. The adult female mass of slime and stink measured forty-five feet and weighed nearly a ton; there was its picture beneath a headline boasting world’s largest invertebrate captured. That celestial orb Gillian calls a face wolf-grinned at me from the photograph, and her eyes said satisfaction and saved. My kidneys were making a noise like chunk-chunk-chunk, but I read on: they had trolled for the squid with deep sea lines 2,000 meters long, each one equipped with some 10,000 baited hooks. Below deck sat an enormous tank designed to house the stink till landfall. A hatted henchman wielded a pump-action twelve-gauge in case the monster began snatching seamen and flinging them towards its snapping beak. The whole scene sounded very HBO.
More information: The species of giant squid remains so rare it wasn’t identified till 1925, though Jules Verne, effeminate Frenchman, had much to say about the goo and gas it is. Zealous experts the world over, especially some squid humper from the Earth and Oceanic Research Institute at the Auckland University of Technology, were right now in the process of hailing Jacobi and my Gillian as heroes akin to Achilles or perhaps Indiana Jones. Breakthrough for science. Words like wonder and imagine and deification. I was, I think, sweating.
During one of our balmy post-coital nights so long ago Gillian told me that most of what was known about the giant squid had been learned from the cavernous bellies of unlucky sperm whales beached off the coast of New Zealand. Or from the ludicrous tales of ancient mariners too long above liquid. No more. Now Gillian had camcorder footage of the one-ton monstrosity writhing in the foamy waves just off the stern of Jacobi’s vessel. Pink and gelatinous, the squid and my heart—we were the both of us just calamari for Gillian and the other predators of earth. I swiped the newspaper aside and thought of Christ; I hear he too was crucified for love. My coffee tasted like copper.
A beneficent cousin had been keeping watch over my townhouse for the nine months I remained imprisoned, and I returned home to find operational heat, a barrel of mail, and ferns that were not dead. Gillian’s absence pummeled me this way and that; she had left in a hurry to join Jacobi and our place was pungent with her aroma, her doodads and knickknacks placed here and there. Jobless, womanless, formerly incarcerated for unwise discharge of an automatic weapon—I sat in the foyer of my townhouse for perhaps seven hours, unable to move and thinking about the derivation of melancholic. Somebody Greek had anticipated my fate.
I snoozed on the sofa that night because entering our bedroom would have forced a multitude of tears, each one an icicle. My dreams were callous and squid-filled; the fiend had me in his gooey grip and was attempting to choke the breath from my ribs. If I had clicked on the TV and scrolled to CNN I would have no doubt seen Gillian and Jacobi at the other end of an interview, and this I could not abide. So upon waking I called my friend, the Navy SEAL whose name I can no longer declare in my yarns. “Friend,” I said, “I am released, and in need of further counsel.”
“How was jail?” he said.
“Silent and static. When can you come over?”
“Give me five,” he said, and was there in four.
We perched at the kitchen table, and he wanted to know what went wrong when I took his rifle to the dock in order to deter my gal and her gent from microwaving my heart. “I’m fuzzy on the details,” I said. “I tried to perform as you advised, but once I arrived there and found them about to shove off in that boat, I think I just started shooting.”
“Not a bad strategy: when in doubt, shoot. Where’s my gun?”
“They took it when they arrested me.”
“No matter. They can’t trace it. Sorry your mission failed.”
“Friend,” I said, “we need a new mission. One that does not involve fury or frazzle and the possibility of further imprisonment.”
“I saw her on the news. Both of them. They’re still in New Zealand, displaying the beast for the eager eyes of science.”
“Yes. Do you think I should go there?”
“And what? Coerce her back with poetic lines and perhaps a daffodil? Negative. You need a vacation.”
A vacation? “How can I holiday with this bile loose in my sternum? Here, feel my hand. It’s putty. The rest of me too.”
“I’m off to Kabul in the morning. Taliban business. And then to Baghdad. I don’t know when I’ll be back. My advice to you now is vacation. I feel guilty enough for aiding you in your last mission.”
“But where do I vacation? How?”
I could see him thinking, staring at the wall as if a non-English sentence was scribbled there. Then he rose and sauntered down the hall to the latrine, at which point I stared bleary-eyed at my meaty fingers, all of them marvels of movement. When Friend returned he said, “Charley, what do you know of Sasquatch?”
“Friend,” I said, “I appreciate the sentiment, but this is no time for a woman’s genitalia. The only squatch I want to rub my face in is Gillian’s. Plus I’m hurt internally.”
“Sasquatch is Bigfoot. Half man, half ape. Eight feet tall, six hundred pounds. Undiscovered primate in the Pacific Northwest, Washington State.”
“Washington State. I think an old girlfriend of mine relocated to Seattle. Well, not girlfriend, really. You know.”
“Charley,” he said, “please stay focused.”
“In that case, Friend, I do not follow.”
And so he described: Before he was called to arms earlier in the week by the U.S. Navy, he had planned an excursion to the state of Washington with a comrade called Romp—the nickname would soon make sense—in order to uproot all varieties of flora and fauna and bag a Bigfoot. It was his idea of vacation: the purity of untouched wilderness along with the possibility of shooting a biped unknown to science. As I listened to him pour forth about Gigantopithecus—the extinct thing Bigfoot supposedly is—I wondered how much aspirin and whiskey was stowed away in the kitchen cabinets, and how much of them I would need to consume in order to know what life was like in the Crab Nebula.
When he stopped I said, “Pray tell, Friend, why would I want to fly to the West Coast to hunt a Sasquatch?”
“Charley,” he said, “you are dull and made of links rusted and obsolete. Why? Because if you nab an unknown primate, you too will be a hero to science and civilization alike, perhaps noteworthy to a folklorist or fabulist, and, more important, once again in the affections of Miss Gillian. The capture of a giant humanoid will dwarf by many yards the capture of that giant squid. CNN will summon you. Plus, it makes a good story. See?”
His language was for me just then akin to what apish Homo erectus felt on the African savanna when he tamed the first fire, the flame hip-hopping on the end of a log. After a long moment of my thoughts lining up in both alphabetical and chronological order, I said slowly, “Indeed I do,” and felt the soda-like fizzing of thrill move up my mangled guts, all those tubes and pipes rotted by loss. This here was possibility. Providence was once again proclaiming: Move.
“You are,” I said, “genius and messiah both. I’m certain I can find a race of giants in the woods. I mean, they’re giants. Men must not be searching very heartily.”
Friend passed me Romp’s card—Romp had a card—and instructed me to converse with him about the expedition. The card stated simply, romp: i bring it back dead, with a telephone number beneath that promise. Friend then advised me to search online or else trek to the county library for Sasquatch wisdom so I wouldn’t seem like such a hapless dolt when I dialed Romp.
“What should I know about this Romp?” I asked.
“Hunter. Scholar. Priest. Negro. Man of jazz and all items sacrosanct. Copulated with Diana Ross in 1976. He wrestled Bigfoot in 1980 at Bluff Creek in northern Cal, in the same creek bed where the famous Patterson footage was shot. He lost that bout but just barely, and managed to chomp off the hominid’s ear. Then he tried to fire his rifle or his camera before he passed out, but, sadly, could not.”
“How do you know this?” I asked.
“Romp told me. Plus he wears the ear around his neck. He’s been hunting Bigfoot ever since they grappled that day. Says it insulted his mother in a tongue reminiscent of Aramaic.”
I could see that I would need to proceed with gravitas and in all manner of doo-wop and pomp. Already in my cranium was a delirious slide show of my detaining the legendary North American ape-man, of my blesséd reunion with Gillian, and of Jacobi’s lava-like shame in the face of my achievement. The ceremonies, awards, and millions were ancillary but welcome, and I would show the proper meekness and thanks. Christ, too, was meek, and this people appreciated. He has done well for himself, and so, I thought, shall I. Far from any dour Jansenist who curses mankind as automatically cursed and eons apart from God’s polish, I was a real go-getter, found my own burnish on this blue dome of hurly-burly.
Upon leaving my condo that day, Friend said, “Go forth, and make sonnets of your sins.”
I said, “I shall. And keep your blood on the inside.”
Then began the stern Bigfoot research. I viewed online the infamous 1967 Patterson footage; the brawn and bulk of that beast swashbuckling across the creek bed caused lengths of electricity to hum over my bones. My Lord, it lived; that was no man in a monkey getup: the height and weight, the muscles stretching beneath the sun-soaked fur, the mellifluous locomotion, the creepy turn-of-its-head in a distinctly nonhuman manner. White-headed professorial experts with many letters after their names—Dr. Grover Krantz at the head of the pack—spewed forth with the facts of the case and presented an arsenal of evidence to choke all naysayers: footprints, hair and scat samples, sixty years of eyewitness reports by undrunk citizens, and the holy grail of Bigfoot fandom, this Patterson film, all of which could not be indisputably disproved, not even by those Mickey Mouse computer maestros at Disney. Why, I thought, would any maverick scientist plumb the seas for a giant squid when this hirsute beauty lay in wait out there in the Pacific Northwest? And as for those multitudinous naysayers: each one had a slum for an imagination. Most men are not bold, never mind valiant; they find safety in the status quo. Magellan is shamed; he smirks in his grave.
After nearly nine hours of absorbing online Bigfoot details I ransacked Gillian’s library because I remembered a hefty book on Bigfoot that once adorned her bottom shelf. Although it had a publication date of 1980, the photos were colorful and the diagrams informative. I felt ready to dial Romp; ours would be the repartee shared between those intergalactic explorers digitized into being by George Lucas, or that sane scientist Spielberg. I hadn’t really studied figures and available lore since college, not since becoming the carpenter I am—unless you count the tutelage I endured under Gillian’s giant squid blitzkrieg of info—and so I was proud of my scholar’s efforts. When Romp answered his cell phone I said, “Romp, I am Charley. Friend has put us in touch and I believe you could use my primate skills and also my proficiency in speaking to trees ancient and new. Let’s talk.”
And Romp said, “I’ve been watching you for the past six hours, Charley.”
“Come again? Huh?”
“Across the street, in your neighbor’s treetop. I’ve been spying on you.”
As I sauntered my way through the dining room to stand at the bay windows I said, “Sir, this causes me fear and the contemplation of space-time. Are you kidding?”
“Romp don’t kid. You’re at the window now. Look here, see the glow of my celly phone.” And by God, there it was, across the street, atop Mrs. Ruby’s sycamore, the small blue-green burn of cellular communicato.
“As I said, I am now afraid, and a fearful man is a dangerous man, so please explain your strange self.”
“Friend called me when he left your place this morning and dished me your chart. I needed to execute binocular surveillance before you contacted me. My partner on this expedition cannot be unholy or among the undeservéd. You should close your curtains.”
“Is it true about Diana Ross?”
“Affirmative. Plus, I have others. Famous sisters you’ve heard on radio waves. I once built an altar to Negress Aphrodite and made sacrifices of the Inca sort.”
“Friend tells me you’ve been to prison and know how to handle a rifle. He adds that you’re impulsive and reliable both, a hunter in your own right who embraces beatitude and has no qualms about homicide. You were prepared to massacre in the name of love. That’s sweet.”
“I’m not proud of these facts.”
“Plus, I’ve read your stories and know the score. You speak Shakespeare and have a fondness for sharp objects. You are, I think, ready for voodoo. Wait one. I’ll be at your door.”
What would you feel for that minute or more while a stranger named Romp descended from a treetop and made his leisurely way to your doorstep? Would you say to yourself: Self, your little life has reached a peculiar crossroads, á la Robert Johnson and the devil, and perhaps prudence is now in order. Or: Self, stop obsessing over a long-gone gal, giant squids, and Bigfeet; stop your communion with shady fellows of the night; perhaps rediscover Jehovah and his only boy Yeshua the Nazarene. Maybe you would; but I, on the other hand, for that minute or more it took Romp to appear on my porch, was an alien to thinking and the self-preserving hints one finds doing it. Rather, I was reduced to a primitive gizmo capable of feeling only, and what I felt spoke to me first of fright and then of deliverance. Gillian, my nerve endings proclaimed, Gillian.
Romp stood six feet tall and came equipped with the build of a boxer or prison guard; his blackness was the inky Congo kind, emphasizing all teeth and eyeballs, his smooth head sporting the gleam of a Tootsie Pop. When we greeted one another like men of civilized spheres, his vice grip swallowed my hand and, I feared, threatened to detach it from my wrist. And there, yes there, around his trunk of a neck, just as Friend had said, dangled the bitten-off leatherized ear of some half-deaf miscreant.
“Charley,” he said in that bass tone, “I think better in the bath, and we have plans to draw.” He brushed by me smelling of primeval musk, leaving me at the door, my hand on the knob.
I turned and said, “That sounds kinky in a way that makes my intestines quake. I’d rather you didn’t, sir.”
“It wasn’t a request; it was a demand. Lead the way and do it now. No malarkey.”
Lord keep me, I thought, and ten minutes later Romp lay soaking in my bathtub, me on the toilet top with my head in my hands. “For the love of Zeus,” I said, “cover that python with a towel please. My manhood is threatened.”
“Here’s how this will work, Charley. I quiz you on Sasquatch, and if you pass, you’re in. If you fail, I am gone and you never hear from me again. You are not part of the glory of capturing the anthropoid eyesore whose ear now adorns my throat.”
“But I must. I must net a Bigfoot. Gillian—”
“I know. Gillian, the squid woman. Friend told me, and I’ve read your magazine tales of glands gone wild. But our journey mustn’t be one of puppy love rekindling, only enchantment, annihilation, and everything ontological.”
Those purple scars on his chest looked as if some mad predator was trying to claw its way out from under his skin—the scars no doubt left by his historic grapple with the Sasquatch who insulted his mother.
“Question one,” he said. “Which of these men was not a legendary Sasquatch hunter: A, John Green; B, Rene Dahinden; or C, Joseph Smith?”
“That would be C, Joseph Smith. I know Smith as the illiterate sage of a goofy cult called Mormon.”
“Correct. Question two. Why did Roger Patterson film his footage in Bluff Creek: A, he just happened to be camping there; B, there had been reliable sightings there the previous week; or C, he didn’t film the Sasquatch in Bluff Creek but rather at the very base of Mount St. Helen’s?”
“The answer is B, he had gotten reliable tips from eyewitnesses. He followed the scent.”
“Correct. And now the million dollar question. Are you ready, Charley?”
“Ready I am.”
“The most convincing aspect of many Sasquatch tracks is: A, the shape, by which I mean length and toe formation; B, the depth of the prints, indicating the weight of the bitch; or C, the dermatological ridges?”
“C, the dermatological ridges. Those can’t be faked. Only a handful of people in the world know about them.”
“Charley,” he said, “you impress me. I can use you on this hunt. Our terminus is far into the abyss of the Pacific Northwest; we might not return. Be warned. But nevertheless we leave tomorrow at dawn. Arm yourself with hunger and the bebop of jazz. Also, bring a crucifix and anything you know about witchcraft.”
Romp’s enormous black form unfolded from my tub and then, towel in hand, strutted naked and dripping from the bathroom. Martin Luther once chucked his inkwell at Satan, who lurked behind him as he wrote by candlelight; and for a reason unknown to me, as I sat on the toilet lid that night, I had an identical urge. Don’t ask me to clarify it; our thoughts are lawless sparks.
Romp shouted farewell to me up the stairs and then, poof, was gone.
I will spare you, listener, all the minutiae involved in packing for such an excursion, the muddled thoughts in concert with such packing, the buzzing sleeplessness, how Romp collected me the next morning in the dreary drizzle, the garrulous Bigfoot-facts ride to the airport in Romp’s Chevy pickup, and then the six-hour-plus cross-country air trip courtesy of those grinning folks at Delta. Let’s ignore the narrative jolt in time and place and suffice it to say for the sake of yarn efficiency that eighteen hours after Romp left my bathtub, the two of us touched down in Bellingham International Airport in northwest Washington State, where we were then met by a clandestine associate yahoo who had prepared for us a 4×4 SUV swollen with cargo of both the legal and illegal variety, everything we needed and didn’t need for a two-week expedition in the mountainous forests of only God-knows-where. I didn’t meet this associate—Romp wouldn’t let me—and therefore cannot describe his garb or the sinister gleam in his eye.
Romp’s plan? From what I could gather during our six-hour cross-country gabfest—his gabfest; my eyes continually rolled back into my skull searching for the sanctuary of sleep—he planned to trawl the British Columbia border through North Cascades National Park, Okanogan National Forest, and over to Colville National Forest, all the while stopping at key points along the way to sniff-snort around and perhaps volley a fusillade of ammunition. I didn’t recognize any of his termini as Bigfoot hotbeds of activity and made the mistake of telling him so.
“Ignoramus,” he said, driving from urban to rural, “we need to avoid the retarded tourists and the infamous locales you see in books, including Willow Creek, the Blue Mountains of Walla Walla, and Skookum Meadows. Why? Because our prey avoids them. A beast he is but not a knucklehead. Some say he’s Muslim, knows Allah, and maybe jujitsu.”
Our SUV was so mushroomed with gear—guns and ammo, food and water, blankets and knives, clothes and tents, cameras and telescopes—I couldn’t recline my seat enough and this irked me. Romp’s musky cologne was unnecessary and nauseating, though he had told me earlier that he made it himself and doused his torso to lure the Sasquatch; its ingredients were part urine, part quote Negress menstrual blood unquote, and part freshly squeezed apple juice, not from concentrate. I wondered if Jacob Jacobi and my gal Gillian had used any scent for lure of the giant squid; snapshots of them swirled in my gray matter like those faulty fireworks you see shot off by drunken celebrants.
“Romp,” I said, “what do you know of the giant squid?”
And he said, “One monster at a time please.”
The day inched toward the purple gloaming while Romp navigated, and I munched on peanut butter crackers and nonperishable camping snacks. We were heading to a place Romp called Bitch Ravine “because the bitch was spotted there” by his crafty associate within the past ten days. I assumed Romp could erect a tent at moonless midnight with the same ease as another man finds the bathroom in the dark, and so I said nothing of the clock. Miles Davis oozed through the SUV’s speakers and the melody performed calming magic on Romp, who said that after he was finished slaughtering some Sasquatches in juicy retribution, he would also tame a few and teach them to tap their enormous feet to R&B. “I’m like Don Quixote,” he said. “I don’t trust men with ponytails,” and he did not explain.
We drove for well-nigh six hours into some serious green gloom; Romp was contemplative and oddly at peace. I slept in the bucket seat and my pilot was a gentleman and let me snooze, though my miniature dreams stirred the blackness inside my cranium and all the hurt I had stored up in my torso. Even in my sleep, I could feel the minutes stacking up into hours, the leaky passage of tick-tock, each one another heartbeat away from Gillian. When we finally stopped we were in the heart of the heart of some massive, man-neglected wilderness; the ravine made its monotonous gushing roar down to our left; and up above somewhere, unseen interrogative owls. The scent out there was piney and almost holy; a man could get pleasantly high on that untampered-with air; it reinvigorates the lungs and makes one feel born. So Romp kept the headlights burning, we both were kind to our ballooned bladders, and then he began unpacking. I zipped my jeans and joined him at the hatch of the SUV, saying, “I’ll take a rifle and be right back.”
“Pardon?” he said, stopping to glare at me askance. “Was that English?”
“I’m gonna walk into the woods now and bring back a Bigfoot. Then we dial Mr. Peter Jennings and his news crew.”
“You’ll have to excuse me,” he said. “That sounded like mathematics, or maybe Pekinese. I’ll be right here when your words once again make sense,” and he resumed preparing the tent for pitching.
“Romp, they are a race of giants, not ants. If a race of giants lives here in these woods, right out there,” and I pointed into the ink, “then I will nab us a specimen. Provide me with a floodlight and a weapon and I will do thy bidding.”
“Charley,” he said, “I’m gonna provide you with an ass whupping if you don’t shut your neck and help me pitch this tent. Let your tomfoolery take leave of you. Have respect for the hairy Wildman of this region, he who the Tsimshian natives called Ba’oosh. You are dealing with powers both ancient and Fortean. Here’s your sleeping bag,” and he thrust the softness of it into my chest.
Romp’s respect for the firmament and hinterlands was about as important to me as a Rolex is to worms; I, Charles Nesbit the Third from a midsize Connecticut suburb, had my own mission to accomplish irrespective of the stars or the lunacy loose in another man’s plasma. But the shine just then in Romp’s eye was cannibalistic and crazed; some self-control was in order, and so I mustered it. He seemed to me a combatant capable of roasting another man on a spit while considering the finer points of barbecue marinade.
You should have seen the two of us out there in that prelapsarian real estate, under those dime-sized stars, the forest noises like the chitchat Adam and his dame Eve first heard, our tents and weapons and various battery-powered doohickeys set up like a military HQ. Romp’s fire building talent would have impressed sad Jack London or some career arsonist; the blaze had girth and stature both, cracking into the cool mossy air beneath those canopies of colossal trees. We gulped water from canteens and wished we had had the forethought to include marshmallows among our cargo. Romp fondled the high-tech scopes, sniper rifles, radios, satellite phones, and gps tracking devices, and I mostly just sat slumped at the mouth of my tent, feeling opportunity flutter away, and visited by those same thoughts that had clobbered me in prison for nine months straight: my Gillian and her restless ambition, her skin in the mitts of that mustachioed scallywag.
And then the dubiousness settled in on me. “Romp,” I said, “there’s something that bothers me about Bigfoot and kin. Why hasn’t anyone ever brought back a corpse? The things must die of old age.”
“Nature out here takes care of decomposition: scavengers and microorganisms. Sasquatches bury their dead Neanderthal-style, if you ask me. You could count on one hand the found corpses of black bears or cougars. Don’t be a doubting Thomas or dullard, Charley. Their habitat is a mass the size of Europe. Plus they have cunning, like Huck Finn.”
Fall asleep, I thought. Fall asleep so I can prowl away, arrest the indigenous infernal brute with my own cunning, and quick call Peter Jennings to put me on television with a new haircut and designer threads from JC Penny.
But it was I who drifted into a weighted slumber of the sort every insomniac yearns for—the slumber that feels as if some invisible, benevolent force is pressing you down into the mattress, a generous paralysis. I snoozed that way for several hours and then was jolted awake by semi-human noises I could not identify. Romp was performing some tribal shamanistic boogey between the fire and my tent; his shadow gyrated on the orange fabric and had me worried. I emerged to find him bone naked, his phallus smacking against his muscled thighs, his face adorned with crimson war paint the origin of which I could not guess, and in his grip was a sharpened spear made from a surprisingly straight tree branch. Around the blaze he danced the dance of some savage, and from his throat emanated the primal hoots and hollers you hear on the Discovery Channel.
I think I wiped the sleep from my eyes. “Romp,” I said, “pray tell, what are you doing?”
“Out there,” he said, in a slow growling whisper, “past those trees. I see you!” He released a formidable shriek into the night, and, I swear on my own seed, a formidable shriek was returned.
“He’s there! He’s there!” Romp said. “Not pleased we’ve invaded his sanctuary.”
Pay attention, stranger; from this point on events unfolded speedily, as they are wont to do when courted by crisis and uproar. Just as I was about to glance around for a gun, fist-sized rocks began bombarding us from inside the dense bush. “Incoming! Take cover,” Romp yelled, and we both dived into the pine-needled grass near our tents. This Sasquatch had studied the throw of Roger Clemens; he could have no doubt won prizes from the dunking tank at any town bazaar. When the bombardment stopped not half a minute later, Romp got to his feet, unafraid of another possible projectile, and yelled, “Ba’oosh, my brother! I’m coming to get you. Ba’oosh! Attack, Charley, attack,” and he darted naked into the forest with the aforementioned hoots, spear, and primordial know-how.
Now, in such a predicament, one’s trusty neocortex takes a backseat to the simian brain that was our battery for about five million moons. That is to say, one behaves like a monkey instead of the cognitive humanoid he evolved to be and purportedly is. Instead of clutching firearms and machetes and flashlights, I impulsively darted after Romp into the wilderness with nothing but my idiotic nerve and the trouble-causing hormones we’ve dubbed adrenaline. If I hadn’t fallen asleep with my boots on, I probably would have given chase in my socks. So into the darkness I plunged, my thinking parts no better than oatmeal, my heart in riot, stray twigs stabbing into my shirt and scratching my skin, my feet stumbling over various forest-floor matter, and my voice beckoning Romp to halt, halt. Of course I couldn’t see where I was headed, but only followed the foliage-crashing sounds in front of me, Romp’s hollers and some ungodly snarl I took to be the distress call or battle cry of the Sasquatch we had upset.
In that thickness the ancient almost-full moon was about as much help as your elderly aunt in a motor vehicle accident. Branches and bushes whirred by my hair; my extremities flailed about in mockery of someone trying to run. When I landed on a not-so-trodden footpath, I gave chase in a more respectable fashion but still could not see Romp or the thing in retreat, my pulse in my ear like the tribal drums in Romp’s cranium he had been grooving to around the fire. Shouts and howls off to my left; then howls and shouts off to my right; then an irreligious wail right in front of me about fifty yards, Romp in ecstasy or peril, agog or defeated. Racing forth toward the twig-snapping and bush-riling ruckus, all I could ponder was the possibility that Romp, not I, would capture the hominid and thus spoil my only chance at regaining Gillian. This was selfish, yes; I should have considered his safety, his flesh being rent asunder by a woolly heap three times his weight. But—every man for himself, etc.
The pitiful footpath I raced along degenerated into more untamed depth as I shouted Romp’s name over the vile insults he and the beast were exchanging. I heeded Romp barking, “Take that, bitch, and that, and that,” and then his victim retaliating in a tongue I’ve been told the Assyrians used. But the cacophony seemed to be coming from all around me, and I spun like a blindfolded fool at a piñata party, trying to get a bearing. And then—the death yelp of one or the other, a blood-gurgling resignation—and silence. The quivering crutches my legs had turned into didn’t plan on motion for at least a minute or more, and so through the lemon in my throat I called out Romp’s name and received no reply, nor could I locate him once my limbs decided to cooperate again. He was, as they say, disappeared.
What would you have done had you been in my boots that night? Forge on through that unkind but lovely turf and attempt rescue? Perhaps return to camp and implement one of the satellite phones to dial assistance of the firemen or park ranger or Smokey the Bear variety? Maybe curse the asinine impulses that landed you in such a jam? I did indeed return to camp after half an hour of searching for it, and I sat vigil at Romp’s ample fire till daybreak with a Beretta 9mm pistol in my hand. I thought about venturing to find the disturbed patch of forest Romp and Bigfoot had used as a wrestling ring; perhaps clues would be there, sprays of blood on the leaves, a chomped off ear from one of them. But dread had parked itself in my guts—light years from home, Gillian no closer to my loins—and I said, “Charley, take a drive now. Leave this madness. Seek the calm of Buddha or some Zen derivative. Monsters and guns cause allergic reactions.”
Yes, I wanted to estrange myself from all that rumble that sits in the sternum and turns, turns. And I’m here to tell you that that’s exactly what Charles Nesbit decided to do: I abandoned all Romp’s gear to the critters of the wild and drove away in that smooth rolling SUV towards a Shangri-La I knew not where. I felt mildly yellow for ditching Romp, and shuddered at the thought of telling Friend that I had done so, but a person has minimal powers on this earth we’ve made. What could I have done? I no doubt would have ended up a man sandwich just like Romp, and my aspirations said nay to that.
Behind the wheel, some miniscule vestige of data long locked inside my braincase leaked to the fore, as if on cue: A woman I had once known and French-kissed the tongue of, pre-Gillian—the very woman I had attempted to tell Friend about—had relocated to Seattle last time I checked, just she and her poodle named Puff. Sandy McDougal, divorced, yes, and infertile, but a masterpiece of pith. Maybe I would find a computer and start punching keys, present myself on her porch with a bundle of sunflowers and hair combed to the side. Would she welcome the likes of me, a man badly in need of anything not giant squid or Sasquatch related? Would she bake me a casserole and tell me I’m an OK human, despite some proof to the contrary? Think about it. Would you?
William Giraldi’s essays and stories have appeared recently in The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, The Antioch Review, The Believer, Shenandoah, and The New Criterion. He is a regular book critic for The Common Review, and senior fiction editor for the journal AGNI at Boston University, where he teaches writing and literature.