Four of them went down into the woods that spring night, all loaded into Billy’s van. They were supposed to be five, but Jacob had caught a stomach bug that had him shitting nonstop so they’d left him at home on the toilet. It was bad juju, Big Randy had said — not the sickness so much but the fact that it left just four of them for the trip. Didn’t they all know that the Chinese thought the number four was the unluckiest damn number there was? AJ laughed at the superstition and told Big Randy he read too much bullshit but Billy just told the both of them to shut their damn traps as he cautiously rolled the van down the narrowing dirt paths that cut through the trees. Branches started to scrape and whine against the windows and the old chipped green paint. They were running out of road and would have to get out and walk soon. Billy’s nephew Thomas, in the back with Big Randy, checked over their supplies and said you know them Mormons think bigfoot is Cain from the Bible? Well then, AJ said, one more reason to smoke that sonofabitch.
Billy switched off the ignition and parked the car and everything went real quiet for a moment. From inside the van they couldn’t hear or see much of anything til Thomas switched on his flashlight and they piled out around the back to load up. They had hatchets and machetes and shotguns and a few high-powered handguns and extra shells tucked into the pockets on their vests and the pouches around their waists. Big Randy opened up a little vial full of white powder and tipped a little onto the back of his hand then horked it up his nose and Billy shot him a look saying Randy you ain’t snortin’ that meth again are you? And Big Randy shook his head and said nah this here is ketamine. Puts me in touch with the spirit world. Makes me walk a little funny but I get on his wavelength, lets me track him better. AJ said ain’t no such thing as the spirit world, bigfoot’s just a big dumb animal and shone his light off into the dark night with spindly trees growing up into the air like an endless graveyard and they started walking into the brush, feet crushing down layers of dead leaves and dirt.
With Billy in the lead, Thomas, the youngest, was in the rear. Uncle Billy, Thomas whispered as they pushed through a dense knot of branches, I never thought to ask ‘fore now, why is it that y’all wanna catch that sarsquartch anyhow? We ain’t gonna catch him, Billy said, checking the moss and root-covered earth ahead for tracks. We’re gonna kill him. Why’s that though, Thomas asked. Because that bigfoot’s one slippery fella. Can’t be caught by any trap yet devised by man. He can displace himself, see. Just disappear and reappear in someplace else, that’s why nobody ain’t ever caught themselves one before. Only way to get him is to catch up unawares and put some lead in him ‘fore he ever gets a chance to pull his teleportation trick. AJ scoffed, saying nothing on God’s earth can’t just up and disappear like that. Maybe he’s fast for an ape but he ain’t magic or nothing. Alright but, Thomas said, gripping a stout jagged branch to keep his balance over a rough patch of ground, none of that explains why you want to hunt the bigfoot in the first place.
They came to a little gully where the bare roots of the trees poured out the edge of the earth and they shone their lights down into it. A few critters scattered but not much of anything else moved. It’s like this, Billy said as they edged along the side of the drop-off, you heard them stories about people going missing in the woods? Yeah, Thomas said. Well some of them just tripped and hit their heads on a rock, and some of ’em got too close to a mama bear and ended up lunch. But that don’t explain all of them. The rest, those were bigfoot’s doin’. Thing’s been snatchin’ people up since time immemorial. God knows what it does with ’em. Maybe it eats ’em whole, but could be some more nefarious purpose. Reckon it might work for aliens. Grabs folks and delivers them to its masters up in the sky.
AJ, what do you think about all this, Thomas asked. I think bigfoot’s a wily SOB, AJ said, checking his shotgun, and he sure as shit’s up to no good, but he ain’t no psychic alien. Some kinda quirk of evolution if you ask me, some kinda missing link. Either way, Billy cut back in, we’re doing a public service by putting him down.
The four of them followed the gully on, stopping occasionally to listen for any sounds but all they heard were the hoots of an owl out on the hunt or the far-off howls of a pack of wolves. Hey uh, does the bigfoot make any sounds anyway, Thomas asked. He burbles like a mucky river, Big Randy said, snorting another hit of the ketamine. He reverberates on the astral plane beyond the normal realm of human sensation. Dogs can hear it and theys get too spooked to follow. Just keep an eye out for tracks.
The gully dipped and veered and the four men came across an empty rusted oil tank. Thomas looked up to the stars through the weave of branches and wondered if there really were aliens out there and if so why they’d bother coming down and messing with normal folk through a big hairy ape man. A twig snapped off to the east and they all whirled, guns pointed but they couldn’t spot anything, just those finger-trees reaching up, up into the night like they were trying to reach God. They paused for a moment and took in the clean, pine-tasting forest air then pressed on and trudged deeper into the world of animals and plants than most of them had ever been except for AJ who was a big-time hunter.
So is bigfoot just one fella or a whole species of creature, Thomas asked. You’ve got a whole lot of questions tonight, huh, Billy replied. He’s a singular, like I said before. He works for the aliens what are interested in colonizing our world, so they’re abducting people and animals and learning about ’em that way. AJ shook his head. Ain’t possible. Bigfoot sightings go back a century at least and occur all over these United States, from the Pacific Northwest all the way to the eastern seaboard. So how, I ask you, could one creature live for that long and be seen in so many different places? I reckon it’s a whole group of em that go way back to the prehistoric days only they’ve been forced into the places man don’t spend too much time.
You know, Big Randy interjected, in the ancient past some of them old gods could be in different places at once. Like some of them Greek gods, they split themselves up into multiple personas but they was all still the same person, you know what I mean? Them Greek gods ain’t real, Billy said. Jesus Christ is the son of the only real God, you know that Randy. Well sure, Big Randy replied, sure he is. But maybe them other gods used to exist and Jesus got rid of ’em, ever think about that?
Jacob thinks it’s stockpiling guns, Billy said to change the subject. Stealin’ them from the folk it nabs or scares off. God knows for what purpose it wants our firearms. Maybe it’s preparing to wage war on all o’ mankind. Leading a vanguard of its alien overlords to enslave us all or carve us up for food. Well, I ain’t gonna be no alien’s dinner. No gray bastard’s gonna be eating me on his couch while he watches the goddamn alien nightly news, that’s for certain. Thomas just nodded.
Big Randy honked another hit of the white crystals off a key then sniffed at the air and rubbed his nose. I’m on his level, he said, his mouth twitching. I’m on his level. I’m tapped into the psychic matrix. Come on. Come on, we’re gonna get him. He stumbled forward and Thomas wondered whether a man like that should be using a shotgun but was too meek to say anything. The three others followed Randy, figuring that in the absence of any signs of the creature that his chemically-induced intuition was no worse than walking in any random direction in the endless sea of bristly trees and little streams diving through the sedimentary rock formations that jutted and stabbed out from the earth like angry teeth.
They’d been marching around for hours when hunger started to growl in Thomas’s belly and exhaustion began to settle into his bones and he said uncle Billy we’ve just been going around in circles why don’t we head home and have a drink or something and try again tomorrow. Billy who was getting tired himself was about to agree but then something darted out between the slender trees in the distance, a silhouette illuminated by the beams of their flashlights and chopped up into vertical strips by the woods. It seemed big, bigger than a man, with a gait unlike any movement any human being they’d seen had ever demonstrated. AJ raised his shotgun to fire but Billy pressed his hand against the top of the barrel, shaking his head. Wait til we get in closer, he said, don’t wanna spook the bastard.
You see how that thing was moving? Big Randy said dreamily, it was like he were dancin’ or something. You see that, Thomas? Thomas nodded politely at the man. Certainly didn’t look like he was movin’ like a man, that’s for sure. Billy turned to them and put a finger to his lips scowling. We’re closin’ in now, he said, so keep yer damn trap shut Randy. We gotta be real quiet-like to get the drop on him.
The four men crept along as stealthy as they could, still making a bit of a ruckus pushing their bulk and gear through the trees but quiet enough that after a few minutes they got another glimpse of the thing as it drifted by again, a little closer this time. You hear that, Big Randy asked, looking up in the air in wonder, you all hear that music? And AJ said Randy you asshole put the powder down and get your head in the game. Randy just blinked in a daze smiling but stumbled on with the other three.
A bit further on and they came to a parting in the trees opening up into a little clearing where they could see the moon shining down full on them and the weedy grass. Just then Randy started rocking his head back and forth and even lifted a finger up into the air like he was conducting an invisible orchestra to an unheard tune. Sasquatch is here, he whispered, and he’s making the most beautiful music I ever heard. Shut the hell up Randy, Billy said, bigfoot don’t make no music. He don’t have the human knack for creation bein’ an alien abomination and all. Big Randy didn’t even reply though just kept swaying and getting a little faster and faster and Thomas started to notice that his big pale head was starting to sweat and his expression of glee was changing bit by bit.
What’s wrong Randy, you alright? Thomas asked, but Randy still didn’t reply. The three of them tried to hold him still but he was shaking then, shuddering and teeth clattering in the grip of some awful panic. It’s the goddamned ketamine, AJ spat, he’s freaking out. Billy said I ain’t ever seen him get like this on it before, can’t be, it can’t be that I don’t think. Randy shrugged off the others then and his mouth dropped open as if to scream but no sound came out and a look of cold terror spread across his face like windowpane frost on a November morning.
Randy buddy, calm down, everything’s fine, we’re about to get that sumbitch, AJ said but Big Randy was somewhere else entirely and the look on his face scared Thomas half to death, like Randy wanted to run somewhere from something but everywhere seemed just as bad so he froze up like a rabbit staring down a snarling wolf. Randy started tearing his clothes off and when his clothes were done he started clawing at his skin with his huge meaty hands, ripping long bloody furrows and getting redder and redder as the blood started to cover him and strips of flesh started to peel off and show the angry pulsing muscle underneath, pushing the boys away when they tried to stop him and always with that look of absolute fear on his face. Thomas couldn’t stand the sight and doubled over to hurl and AJ in a fit of desperation hit his buddy over the back of the head with the butt of his shotgun and the big man crumpled to the forest floor unconscious.
They were panting and wheezing but then Billy whispered there he is, the bastard, and pointed across the clearing to a rustling in the bushes out of which leapt a big bipedal creature covered in hair only not so much on the top half. Shoot the fucker, Billy urged and Thomas shakily raised his shotgun after hearing two blasts sound from beside him, both Billy and AJ’s shots going wide and splintering wood. The thing looked like it couldn’t decide whether to double back or cross the clearing and in that instant Thomas squeezed the trigger and sent a slug straight into its torso but what burst out wasn’t blood but a chaotic whirl of leaves so that for a second Thomas thought he might have missed after all but the creature spun and collapsed to the ground. They held there trembling for a second before Billy said we did it, we actually goddamn did it and started edging forward into the clearing. Thomas and AJ followed temporarily forgetting their downed companion.
What they saw as they crossed the moonsoaked field was the twisted up body of a being unmistakably inhuman. Wait a second, AJ said, narrowing his eyes. That thing’s got hoofs for feets. Bigfoot ain’t supposed to have that. We hit some kind of mutant deer or something? But then the thing rolled over and the dark eyes set back in its huge shaggy head bore into them, malice no animal could produce. The smell, too, was foreign to all of them, some deep spiced musk that seemed to come from another time and place. As it shifted in the dirt they realized its upper body was hardly hairy at all save for the head with its mass of tangled curls and overgrown beard. It had horns, too, little horns that poked out of the bushes of its hair and made Billy gasp when he spotted them.
Christ, Billy said, he looks like the devil himself. Maybe them Mormons was right after all. Thomas squinted at the thing and it snarled at them, coughing and instead of blood more leaves came swirling out of its body. Then its scarred lips contorted and it spoke to them, only it was speaking in a language none of them could understand. I told you it was in league with the fuckin’ aliens, Billy said. That ain’t alien talk, AJ said, I think it’s some kind of Greek, only it don’t sound like no Greek I ever heard. The thing kept on talking and they couldn’t understand anything it was saying but they got that it was cussing them out. Uncle Billy, Thomas said, I don’t know if this is bigfoot at all. Looks like some kinda goat man. Billy scratched his chin and said I never heard of no goat man round here. Boys, I think we shot Satan himself. The thing laughed then, a hearty laugh that seemed all too human, then it filled its belly full of air and bellowed out a yell that filled them with fear the likes of which they’d never felt before.
They wanted to run but found their feet rooted to the ground like the wild grass had reached up and snared them to the spot. Panic reverberated down their spines and they had to get out, to get away and suddenly they all knew what Randy had felt and why he’d done what he’d done. Thomas noticed the thing start to drag itself away and tried to reach for his shotgun but it hung flaccid at his side and his arms wouldn’t listen to his brain. Instead he felt his hands start to reach up and unbutton his shirt and he knew what was coming then was what they’d seen Randy do and the terror of that knowledge only added to the liquid fear that had driven out the water in his body as he realized he’d pissed himself. There was only one way out of the panic and that was to tear and rip away the skin that locked him in his world of fright and he started to scratch at his pasty lean body before a terrible thunderbolt rang out in his ear and he staggered to the side. When he regained his balance he saw Big Randy all bloody and raw and his smoking shotgun looking down over the thing’s ruined form.
Jesus motherfucking Christ, AJ cussed, and the thing hissed at him. The fight was out of it though, and it laid there hacking up sod and plant matter. They watched as it sputtered and shook, and all the while no blood or bone showed, the body just seemed to dissolve into leaves until there was nothing of it left at all, nothing to show it had ever been there in the first place. What in the mother of God was that thing? AJ asked. I never seen nothing like that in my life and I doubt if I ever will again. Billy gawped at the flattened patch of grass where the creature had been and began talking to himself, saying it had hooves and horns and it hated to hear the name of God, did you notice that? It must’ve been the devil like I said, it was the devil.
I’m not so sure Uncle Billy, Thomas said, I just don’t know. You’d think if that was the devil he woulda put up more of a fight. And I didn’t see any fire or brimstone. I just don’t know. Whatever the hell it was, AJ said, I’m sure as shit glad it’s gone. And I don’t know about you boys, but I could use a beer or three. We oughta get Randy patched up too, looks like he scratched himself up something fierce on account of all of those drugs he took. What do you say, Randy?
Randy looked up into the sky, blood caked in his nails and dried to his face. The great god Pan is dead, he said, and the three others just kind of looked at him as the wind picked up the leaves and scattered them into the night.
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