Nicole has the distinction of being the last person to volunteer for the Lazarus taxon Project, and being the last story published. She’s one of the most passionate writers I’ve had the privilege to know, and “The Beast Within” is the perfect example of that. In a way, the story feels like “the cryptid Narnia.” It’s a novel waiting to happen. The best thing about it is how Nicole’s personality shows through. She’s one of the funniest people on Twitter, especially the conversations she has with fellow taxoner R Scott Whitley. You will be thoroughly amazed by what you read here. You can follow her on Twitter @nicsigni.
The featured creature, Mokèlé-mbèmbé, is a staple of the Congo River Basin. It is believed to be a sauropod of some kind, who’s name means “one who stops the flow of rivers.” The first documented sightings go back to 1776 by French missionary Abbé Lievain Bonaventure. Since then, countless expeditions have been founded to find the creature, led by the Smithsonian Institute, and countless others by Roy P. MacKal, who would later write a book on the creature that is extremely hard to come by these days. The creature has been featured on many television programs, including Monsterquest, Destination Truth, and Beast Hunter.
And now “The Beast Within” by Nicole Tersigni:
I arched my back a little, to make my boobs look bigger.
“Why do you look so weird? Are you farting on my towel?” Mia, my best friend in the whole world and the most embarrassing person I know, climbed out of the river and stood over me.
I scooted over to give her room on her bright purple Disney towel. She plopped directly on Mickey’s face.
“No. God.” I checked to make sure Drew hadn’t heard her, but he was still swimming. Not paying any attention to us. Of course.
“Drew thinks you’re hot, don’t worry,” she said.
“How do you know? He hasn’t even looked at me.” I adjusted my bikini top. “Maybe if I had boobs like Jill.” We both looked across the river where Jill Sanderson and the biggest set of cans in school were lounging on the bank.
“I don’t know,” Mia said. “Having big tits is probably exhausting. Back problems and whatever. Your body is fine.”
“My boobs are nonexistent. Practically concave.”
She shrugged. “Yeah, but your face is gorge. And your hair is awesome.”
That was true. My hair was awesome – a black bob with a streak of purple. I sighed and relaxed. I knew I was good looking, even without the great rack. But the past couple weeks I’d been trying to get the attention of Drew Hayes, the cute new neighbor, and I wasn’t having any luck.
“I have to go anyway. My mom’s…” I trailed off as Drew climbed out of the water.
Mia looked at me over her sunglasses. “Your mom’s what? Going to murder you? Got a present for you? Pregnant?” I wasn’t listening. I was laser focused on a particular pair of glistening shoulders.
“I thought you had to go.” Mia poked me and I blinked myself back to reality. Sadly. I stood up and stretched.
“See you tomorrow?” I asked.
“Tomorrow,” agreed Mia. She laid down and closed her eyes.
I was halfway to my bike when I heard footsteps behind me.
“Hey, Sarah. Wait up,” Drew called. I looked around. Sarah, me?
“Uh…yeah?” I said when he caught up. Smooth.
“I’ll ride home with you.” Still shirtless, he straddled his bike. I could feel my face getting red and cursed teenage hormones.
“Okay,” I said with a shrug. Inside my belly there were butterflies, but outside I was cool as a cucumber. Except the splotchy red skin. And the fact that I almost rode into a tree when he laughed at something his friends shouted. But in my defense, it was a great laugh.
“I didn’t see you in the water,” he said.
“Oh, I don’t swim.” I quickly changed the subject, hoping he wouldn’t ask any more questions about the water. I didn’t really feel like getting into the weird, recurring nightmare that had plagued me since…forever. The one where I die in the water. Each time I feel myself drown and I wake up covered in sweat. It was enough to put a person off swimming for life.
“I don’t see your parents around much.” Actually, I’d never seen them.
“Yeah, they don’t get out much.”
“I guess they don’t need to. You guys always have so many visitors.”
“What?” He looked startled.
“I mean, whenever I look at your house out my window there’s at least three or four cars in the driveway.” I realized I was beginning to sound creepy. “I don’t like, stare at your house or anything.” Nope, no way to recover from that. Change the subject.
“So what do you think of the neighborhood?” I winced at how lame that was. Better than sounding like a stalker though. Probably.
I managed to keep up the small talk until I got to my driveway.
“Okay, well. See ya,” I said, giving him a little wave. Because of course, I’d spent the whole day trying to get him to notice me, and once he does I don’t even make a move.
He smiled, showing off a really cute dimple.
“Do you want to hang out tonight?” I blurted.
“Sure,” he said, tossing the hair out of his eyes. “That’d be cool. I’ll meet you at the river?”
“Yeah. Like 8 o’clock. We should be done with dinner by then. It’ll be an easy dish night because we’re just ordering pizza. And it will give me time to shower and get cute.” I winced. God. One half naked boy with dimples and I turned into rambling weirdo.
“You’re already cute,” he said, dimple winking.
“Right. Well. I’d better…” I trailed off as the oldest woman in the history of the world came walking briskly down the sidewalk. She stopped directly in front of me and peered up at my face.
“Can I help you…?”
She stared for another second, then reached up and pulled a strand of hair out of my head.
“Ouch! What the hell?” I normally don’t swear at old people but seriously, what the hell?
She didn’t answer, just walked away.
“Who was that?” asked Drew.
“I have no idea,” I said. “Maybe I should call the cops.”
“What would you tell them?”
“I don’t know. Random old lady just stole my DNA, possibly for cloning?” He laughed. I laughed too, so he would think I was in on the joke.
“I guess you’re right. Still, that was super weird.”
There was an awkward pause.
“I should go inside,” I said finally.
“Right. See ya.”
I watched him ride the very short distance between our houses. He got off his bike, looked over and waved. Shit. Yep, caught me staring. No big deal, just a normal wave between neighbors. You’re waving too long. He probably thinks you’re going to murder him now. Stop waving. Seriously. This is the longest amount of time anyone has ever waved. You are an idiot.
I bolted to my room after dinner. I had an hour before I met up with Drew. He might think I was already cute, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t put on a little lipgloss. And change into my pink tank top that made me look extra tan. And do something with my hair. Without looking like I had put any extra effort into what I looked like, obviously. Jesus. Being a girl is tough.
I opened my closet door and reached in the back where my tanks were hanging. Instead of soft fabric, my hand met soft skin.
I screamed and stumbled back.
“Oh, stop that,” said the weirdo old woman from earlier, stepping out of my closet. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“What the fuck are you doing in my closet?” I really and truly don’t normally swear at old people but what the fuck? I yelled for my mom and turned to run.
My foot met dirt and my shout disappeared into the trees.
I was outside.
Not just outside, I realized. I was in a completely different world.
There were plants and trees everywhere, but not like any plants or trees I’d ever seen. Everything was so big and green. I could feel the wildlife teeming around me.
It was some kind of jungle.
“Correct. The Congo River Basin, to be exact,” said a voice from behind me. I turned to see the old lady standing there. And a few feet behind her, the biggest river I had ever seen.
I felt a strange, gravity-like force pulling me toward the water, so I took several giant steps back.
“What’s going on? Why are we in the jungle? How did we get here? And can you read my thoughts?” I wasn’t sure which was the most disturbing.
“Yes.” She rolled her eyes. “Don’t worry, they aren’t nearly as exciting as you think.”
I told myself to keep my mind perfectly blank, but for some reason a clown with penises for feet popped into my head. The harder I tried not to think about it, the more penis limbs he grew.
The old woman stared at me like I was the one with dicks sprouting all over my body. “What is wrong with you, girl?” She shook her head in disgust.
I was almost embarrassed, but then I remembered I wasn’t the one pervving on someone’s private – albeit slightly disturbing – thoughts.
“What’s wrong with me? I’m not the one who broke into someone’s room and teleported them or whatever to some scary jungle where they’ll probably get eaten by a lion!” I tried taking a deep, calming breath, but I was too worked up. “Tell me what is going on right now.”
“All right, don’t give yourself a heart attack,” she said, eyeing me warily. “Does any of this look familiar to you?” She gestured to our surroundings.
“No,” I said, despite the fact that for some reason it felt very familiar. I probably read about it in a text book or something.
She walked over to stand at the water’s edge. “Are you familiar with the legends of The Loch Ness Monster? Bigfoot? Chupacabra?”
“Yeah. So?” I wanted to see what she was looking at, but I wasn’t ready to get closer to the river.
“Those stories are real. Those creatures exist. Just…not the way you might expect.”
Ohhhhhh great. She was insane. Probably going to chop me up and use me as Bigfoot bait.
“Okay. This is really exciting and I’m having a super time, but maybe we should get back to my room now.” And get you back to whatever home for magical old ladies you escaped from.
She shot me a look. Right, the mind reading thing. Sorry.
“Come here.” She held out a hand. I stayed where I was. She sighed.
“Look, the sooner we get through this, the sooner I can get you back home.”
I slowly walked to stand beside her. I peeked into the water. A massive dark shadow swam by, just below the surface. Instead of screaming and running away like I would normally do, I was drawn to it. I wanted to touch it. Whatever it was. I held out my hand as it swam past again. When my fingers broke the surface of the water, the shadow disappeared.
I stepped back from the edge.
“What was it?” I whispered.
“Mokèlé-mbèmbé. River Monster.” She sat on the bank of the river and motioned for me to sit beside her.
“A long time ago, the creatures of the stories were free to do as they pleased, including Mokele-mbembe. They lived in harmony with early man.”
A short distance from the bank, the river monster broke the water’s surface in a happy little flip. The splash almost reached us. I smiled, feeling relaxed and peaceful.
“But that harmony didn’t last.”
Clouds began to roll in, bringing darkness and cold with them. I shivered as goosebumps popped up along my bare arms and legs.
“Humans learned to be afraid of the creatures, as they’re afraid of anything different, anything they don’t understand. They began to hunt them.” She looked out across the water, nostrils flaring. “Fortunately, they were poorly organized, and the creatures had skills of their own. But the humans were clever and began to work together. An informal society formed. A group with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing the creatures.”
She gestured down the bank where a group of people were huddled around a fire.
“Stupid sons of bitches,” she spat, glaring at them. “They really piss me off.”
I couldn’t say why, but I was suddenly angry too. Just picking up on her vibes, I told myself.
“Over time, they grew more organized. More prepared. The creatures had no choice,” she continued. “They were able to draw on what was within them, and change forms. They chose humans, of all things.” She stopped, probably to get my reaction, but I was too wrapped up in what she was saying, and all the things I was feeling for any coherent thoughts.
“Every time their human form dies, they take another. And when they are born again, their Guardian,” she pointed to herself, “shows up to show them the ropes.”
“Why are you telling me this?” I asked, surprised at the hoarseness of my voice.
She looked at me and smiled a little. “I would have been here sooner, but I got some mixed signals. You’re not always easy to track down. Last time you were a Vietnamese man.”
I started shaking my head. “No. I don’t know what you’re saying.” My brain was screaming this was bullshit, but something inside of me was nodding along like everything made perfect sense.
“Sarah. You are Mokèlé-mbèmbé.” She gave a small bow. “You are the River Monster.”
“River Monster?” I nodded hysterically. “Sure that makes sense. I hate the water and can’t swim. Yep, I’m definitely part water creature.”
She put a hand on my arm. “Shh. It’s happening.”
“What’s happening?” I looked around nervously. The group on the beach were climbing into a boat. “What are they doing? Stop them. You have to stop them.” I couldn’t explain the panic that was suddenly choking me.
“You have to see.” She looked into my eyes. “You have to know.”
I watched from the bank as the boat came to a stop. Several of the people were holding torches, but a few more were holding spears. Large ones. And a net.
There was shouting as they heaved their spears into the water. And horrible, inhuman screams from the water. I watched, tears rolling down my cheeks as the water churned red and the people cheered and cast their net.
I felt a hand on my arm once again, and I closed my eyes as sensations and images washed over me. Fear. Unbearable pain. Chanting. Pain. Running. Stumbling. Pain. Fire. Shouting. Tired. Crying.
And through it all, a symbol that sent fear and adrenaline coursing through my veins. A flaming spear piercing a heart.
I opened my eyes. We were back in my room. I could feel the carpet beneath my feet. I could hear my sister watching cartoons in the next room. It all felt as real to me as what I had just seen on the banks of the Congo.
I collapsed on my bed, closing my eyes. It was all a nightmare. A hallucination.
I opened one eye, and there she stood. Rolling her eyes at me.
“Now what?” I asked.
She smiled a little. “We get you ready to fight.”
“Fight?” I came up onto my elbows, incredulous. “I can’t fight. I have no upper body strength, and I cry when my feelings get hurt.”
She sighed hugely. “We just have to train you so you can be prepared. The War hasn’t come yet, and it might not even come during your span.” She stared at my motivational kitten poster, her eyes unfocused. “Something’s coming though. Soon.”
“Oh, well, that doesn’t sound ominous at all.”
She shook herself a little. “You’ll be fine. Let’s go.” She started toward the window.
“Now? I can’t go now.” I looked at the time on my phone. It felt like we had been gone for hours, but it had only been a few minutes. “I have to — I have a thing in like thirty minutes.”
She stared at me. “Everything I’ve shown you and you’re worried about some boy?” She sighed. And how did she know about Drew? Stupid question. Magical old ladies who can teleport people around the world probably have ESP or something.
“We’ll be quick. First lesson. Let’s go.”
We climbed out my window. It was a lot harder to keep up with her than I had anticipated. By the time we got to the ground, I was breathing heavy. Oh yeah. I would definitely be an asset in whatever war was brewing.
I had to run to keep pace with her, wondering where she was taking me now.
“I can’t,” I said for the seven thousandth time. We were standing at the edge of the regular old New Bedford river, and the looney toons old lady wanted me to turn into a sea monster and swim away.
She said concentrate. I concentrated.
She said envision yourself as Mokèlé-mbèmbé. I tried super hard.
She said jump in the river. I refused. I couldn’t even swim for god’s sake. At least not in “this form” or whatever. If I suddenly turned into a scary water beast, sure, I’d take the plunge. But I wasn’t about to trust that this old lady was CPR certified.
“Sarah. You have to try harder,” she said for the seven thousand and first time. I glared at her. She glared back. I sighed and tried so hard I thought a vein in my head was going to burst.
“Look, maybe you’ve got the wrong girl.”
“I haven’t got the wrong girl,” she snapped.
“Well, I don’t really want my date to show up and see me standing here with the crypt keeper, looking like I’m trying to take a dump beside the river. So…let’s just call it a night and we’ll try again tomorrow okay?”
She frowned. “It’s never been this hard before.”
“Guess I’m just special,” I said, looking around for Drew. “See you tomorrow.”
I really thought for a minute she was just going to stand there all night. Or maybe shove me in the river. But then she turned around and stalked off into the trees. Did she live in the wild? Probably. Wouldn’t surprise me.
I checked my watch and realized I had about one minute to mentally prepare myself for Drew. Forget river monsters, I told myself. I tried to ignore the nagging sense of disappointment that I hadn’t been able to change. And the sad feeling that maybe she really had the wrong girl. Wait, why was I sad? Being a river monster would make senior year like a thousand times harder.
Pushing all of that aside, I sat down in the moonlight to wait. And think. And mope.
“Hey,” said Drew, plopping down beside me ten minutes later.
“Hey.” Relax. Be cool. No thinking about monsters.
I smiled at him, and he smiled back. There. Butterflies. Focus on those.
“Sorry I’m late. I had to talk to my dad,” he said.
“That’s okay. I got here a little early to…do some thinking.” Nice save, ace. “What’d your dad want to talk to you about?” I cringed. “Sorry, that’s really personal.”
“No, it’s okay.” He shrugged. “He just wanted to talk about my future and stuff. The family business.”
“Oh. What’s the business?”
“Ah, taxidermy. I’d rather not talk about it, honestly.” He smiled apologetically.
“Sure, I get it.” Though I had a thousand taxidermy questions I never knew I wanted to know all of a sudden. How do they stuff the animals? Where do they get them? What’s the weirdest thing they’ve ever taxidermied? “So…how do you like New Bedford?”
“It’s a lot different than Boston, that’s for sure.”
We chatted about life in a small town, school, our friends…anything that came to mind. Eventually, I was able to relax.
Then he leaned in.
The butterflies in my belly started doing somersaults when his lips touched mine, just for a minute. Then he leaned back and smiled.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small object. He started twirling it through his fingers.
“What’s that?” I asked, trying to play it cool. Yeah, cute boys kiss me in the moonlight all the time, no big deal.
“This?” He held out his hand, a coin laying face up in his palm. “Family heirloom. I mess with it sometimes when I’m nervous.”
The symbol on the coin was one I’d seen before. A flaming spear piercing a heart. Drew was saying something else, but all I could hear was the roaring in my ears. The screaming of the beast within me. And I jerked back.
“What’s wrong? What…” He trailed off as he stared at me in surprise.
“It’s you?” He whispered, incredulous.
“You’re one of them.” It wasn’t a question. I knew he was. One of those people on that river bank. In that boat throwing spears into the water. A murderer.
“You’re a monster,” we said in unison.
The fear and anger swelled inside of me until I could barely breathe.
“I have to go.” I turned away but he grabbed my arm.
“I can’t let you.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Sarah. I really am. But…” We both looked at the coin in his hand. It was glowing red. “They’re coming. They’re all coming. There’s no way out of this for you. I’m sorry,” he said again. I couldn’t tell if he meant it or not, and I didn’t care.
“Let go of me.” With the strength of all my rage and terror, I shoved him. He stumbled back, tripping over a rock. Before he could regain his balance I ran.
I could hear tires squeal, doors slam, and feet running. But I felt the river calling me, felt it flowing through me, and I ran to it. As fast as my legs could carry me.
I stopped at the water’s edge, but not in fear. Not this time. I stopped and looked over my shoulder at the angry swarm of hate behind me.
My eyes met Drew’s panicked ones and I grinned.
Then I dove into the water.
I was home.
In knowing Louise, and talking with her, we’ve had to have discussed every fandom on the planet. On Twitter, she has the best header and if ever I’m in need for a hug, she’s one of the first people I look to. Not only that, but she’s an amazeballs writer. In fact, she has a book out called In Stone, and prominently features gargoyles. Who doesn’t love gargoyles! The tale below is amazeballs on its own level. Louise sets this creature in the backdrop of high school, the perfect place for beings that don’t quite fit in. The heart tug is there and you’ll feel it. You can follow her on Twitter @Rock_andor_roll.
The Minnesota Iceman is a human-like creature discovered in Siberia. Promoter Frank Hansen was the first to display the creature in the 60’s, and was lauded as being genuine by a number of cryptozoologists. The creature changed hands a few times before being sold on eBay in 2013 and is on display in Austin, Texas. The sale was featured on A&E’s Shipping Wars.
And now “How to Get Grounded… Forever” by Louse D. Gornall:
“Mom, your weird creature thingy is hiding in the freezer again.” It stares at me and flashes a rotting smile. The second its lips part, all I can smell is dead body and festering feet. I slam the door shut because ew. Gross.
“Don’t call him weird, honey.” My mom sails into the kitchen, her lab coat flapping behind her. “You’ll give the poor guy a complex.”
“Are you kidding? He has one eye, a porthole in the back of his skull and 95% of his body is covered in thick fibrous hair. At this point, I think a complex is mandatory.”
She sighs like she’s bored then opens the freezer door. The creature makes this throaty chortle sound when it sees her and she offers it a smile that makes me think of meth addicts a thousand miles high.
“Hey, big guy, how’s it going?”
“It doesn’t understand you.” I tell her because despite a collage of qualifications decorating her study wall, this thing makes her lose her mind.
“Robin, please, he’s not an it. You know full well his name is Martin.” The woman is bat-shit crazy. Taking mad scientist to a whole new level.
I roll my eyes. “Whatever. I can’t get to my frozen yoghurt and I’m going to be late for school.”
She slaps a frozen raspberry frome into my palm and I make for the door.
“Hold it.” I stop. “Aren’t you forgetting someone?”
“No.” I don’t turn because fighting with her is futile when she initiates eye contact. “Robin, we talked about this.”
“I didn’t think you were serious.”
“Well, of course I was serious, sweetheart. How else is Martin going to learn to assimilate if we don’t involve him in our everyday lives?”
“Um, I don’t care.”
“Well, you should. Martin can teach us a lot.”
“Maybe we could teach him basic grooming in return.”
“Enough with the sass, young lady. Martin’s coming with you.”
“No he’s not.” I make for the door, can feel her on my heels. “Robin Margaret Chase. You stop right there.” I freeze in the front yard, halfway up the garden path.
“Look at me.” She’s tap-tap-tap tapping her foot on the concrete. I lift my eyes, take in arms tightly folded across her chest. “It’s been six months. The whole town is learning to accept Martin. What is the big deal?”
Splat. From nowhere a strawberry shake hits my shoes and goes off like a grenade, covering me in sticky pink milk. I smell like baby sick.
“Freak.” Travis Clayborn and his mustang full of muscled miscreants speeds away from my house laughing at the tops of their lungs and making monkey noises that echo around the houses of our neighborhood. I die inside.
“You were saying?”
“That boy is a bully, who doesn’t appreciate science.” That boy is king of my high school. No one gives a shit about how much science he knows.
“I don’t care,” I say, snatching the rag from her. “I’m not taking that thing to school and you can’t make me.
“Quit ruining my life.” I scream as I walk out of our yard.
“What’s that smell?” My BFF Nate slams his back into the locker beside mine.
“Hostility and self-loathing,” I reply, snatching a stack of books and slamming the door.
“Uhh. It’s pretty.”
He links my arm and we both sloth to Biology, shoulders butting each other until we take our seats at the front of class.
Mr. Clarke starts talking about fungus or plants or some B-movie horror he watched at the weekend while Nate attacks me with a bottle of cologne. It doesn’t mask the sick smell, just mingles with it and makes it sweeter.
“Oh-O. Don’t look now, but your mother just showed up with the Iceman.”
“What?” I almost fall off my stool. Sure enough my mom is stood at the door, the creature hiding behind her, unable to standstill, like the floor is made of fire. I bury my face in my hands, can feel myself shrinking.
“I still think you’re overreacting.”
“I’m just saying, the poor guy looks kind of skittish and lost. Like a hairy, grotesque kind of kitten.”
My mom and Mr. Clarke start chatting. The creature lifts its head and we make eye contact. It smiles and I can see mites moving between its teeth.
“Look. He recognizes you.” Nate tells me in a tone that should be reserved for puppies in a pet shop window.
Travis Clayborn takes this opportunity to shout from the back of the room about it suddenly looking like a zoo up in here, and the whole class. Think. It’s. HILARIOUS. I can only assume that most of their lives are tragically devoid of Kevin Smith movies and 30 Rock reruns.
“Aw. He’s waving at you.”
“Nate, can we please cut The Wonder Years commentary.”
He fake zips his lips.
“Robin,” Mr. Clarke’s booming voice startles the skin off me. “Your mom tells me Martin is going to be joining us today. Maybe you could pull him up a chair.” I’m being told, not asked. My mom uses goo goo ga ga sounds to coax Martin out from behind her back, and with the caution of a tightrope walker he makes his way over to our bench.
My mom offers me an apologetic smile and a quick wave before leaving the room. I take a small amount of solace in the fact that one day, I get to pick which nursing home she lives in.
We spend the rest of the lesson being pelted by wads of spit-balled paper. The creature just sits there, staring at its hands while a mass of white balls collects in its fur.
It follows me around all day, walking ten paces behind, looming like a shadow. Everybody wants to touch it and talk to it. Miss Graves, my drama teacher, even asks me if it would like a role in the school’s Spring production of Romeo and Juliet. She thinks it will bring in a crowd. I tell her it doesn’t speak English and she spends the rest of our drama lesson with a wilted lip, sulking. The whole town has gone fucking crazy.
I walk the back roads home because after hours of whispers and staring, I’m craving some anonymity. The thing tails me. I dream up scenarios in which it loses sight of me, turns to the woods that boarders our walk and gets lost.
I’ve barely rounded the corner at Bridge Park when a car pulls up beside me. I don’t speak to strangers so I ignore it, but the car persists, crawling along the curb, keeping pace. It’s a limo, all black, with tinted windows so I can’t see inside. Maybe it’s someone famous.
“Hey, you. Green hoody, black jeans, what’s your name?” It’s a man’s voice. I keep my eyes on the ground and don’t stop walking.
“What’s it to you?”
“I want to buy that thing from you?”
He calls it a thing. Not Martin, not big guy, not The Iceman. A thing. Just like I do. That’s why I stop. Maybe this whole town isn’t crazy, maybe there is one other person here that thinks like me. I turn, look at the guy. A grey moustache crawls across his top lip. He’s wearing a top hat and glaring at me through a monocle. Maybe not.
“It’s not for sale. Sorry.”
Millions of dollars have been offered for the creature over the last six months. I don’t get it. I mean, I don’t get why you’d want to pay for it, or why you wouldn’t want to take the money. Mom says it’s because you can’t put a price on learning. I look back at the monkey. Its neck is craned, its nose twitching toward the limo.
“I’ll give you 5 million dollars,” the man tells me. His cheeks twitch when he smiles. He’s really excitable and starting to look a lot like a comic book villain.
“China offered us 10.” I shrug and carry on shuffling along the street.
“12,” the man says.
“Dude, honestly, if it were up to me, you could have this thing for a buck and a licorice whip. But it’s not. I think there’s some kind of process you can go through, apply to have it shipped to your house or something…”
“I want it now,” he interjects.
“Yeah, well, get in line,” I mutter. He’s starting to irritate me.
The monkey growls and I turn to see a black van has pulled up, can’t see inside its windows either. My stomach swims. I suddenly feel very unsafe.
“Hey.” The creature looks at me. “Get over here.” It starts waddling toward me just as the side door of the van rolls open.
I see a gun, hear the shot whip through the air, then the creature is moaning. It’s loud enough to wake the dead. It reaches back over its shoulder and its thick, clumsy fingers try to grab the dart poking out of its back.
“What the hell are you doing?” I rush over as the monkey collapses to its knees. Three men jump out of the van and grab it. The creature keeps wailing, it causes pressure behind the back of my eyes.
“I said what are you doing?” I tug on one of the jackets of the men, but he produces a gun, pushes the cold metal barrel against my nose and slowly shakes his head. I step back, try to keep control of my bladder as my body starts shaking.
No one says a word as the monkey goes quiet and is bundled into the back of the van. The gun stays on me, even as the guy holding it takes his seat behind the wheel.
“You should have just taken the money,” the guy in the limo tells me. The vans engine growls to life. They’re leaving.
“Please, you can’t take it.” I can see my mother’s face. Who the fuck is going to believe that the Monopoly guy pulled up in a limo and kidnapped the giant monkey? She’s going to think I did this on purpose. There is nothing I can do as the guy’s window crawls to a close and both vehicles drive away.
I just lost one of the greatest scientific discoveries known to man. I swallow down a golf ball. I’m in serious trouble.
Welcome to the last week of the Lazarus taxon Project! This week we have a trio of stories from a fantastic group of writers.
First up this week is Megan Paasch’s take on the Yeti. Megan was one of the first to volunteer herself for this project, and at the same time, her enthusiasm made me excited for it. She’s someone I highly respect in this trade, because she’s hard on herself, and that’s one thing you need to be to put out great stories. We’ve shared countless laughs and Supernatural based gifs, and our fandom for various shows and such to be considered family. In many ways, I think of her as a sister.
The Yeti first gained fame in 1921 when Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Howard-Bury led an expedition up Everest, and found large tracks. From this expedition, The Yeti was coined “The Abominable Snow Man.” Through other cultures this creature was worshiped, especially in the Himalayan areas as a god of the Hunt. The interesting thing about Yeti is that there are far less sightings of this creature, than there are footprints in snow. If the Yeti does exist, what features make it so adaptable to higher elevations?
Megan’s story here is a wonderful capture of character and what it means to believe. It’s an examination of how the mind works and the lengths we will go to justify what we have experienced. It’s a beautiful story.
And now “My Annie” by Megan Paasch:
I looked for her. I looked for her everywhere, my little girl. My Annie. Don’t know what to do without my Annie. Wandered into the woods this morning and disappeared.
She’s always been right fascinated with those woods. Says her friend lives there. Now I’m no parenting expert, hell I’m probably one of the worst when it comes to knowing how to bring a child up proper, but I know about pretend friends and fostering imaginations and all that psychological stuff. And besides, it’s down-right lonely out here in the boonies – no playmates around, just her old, bearded hermit of a pop to have a conversation with. And I ain’t got much to say most of the time. So I indulge.
People in town, down off the mountain, they’ll tell you: I ain’t nothing but a gruff old bastard set in my own way of doing things. And they’ll be right. But when it comes to my little girl, my little Annie, I’m as big a pushover as they come. I let her run around the yard, playing games with her rag doll and Sal, our old, arthritic pup, and I listen to her go on and on about the tall furry man in the woods who comes down to watch her play now and again. A yeti, she calls it – just like she seen in Old Joe’s book. Now everyone knows there ain’t no such thing as yetis, but I don’t tell her that. Let her imagination run wild. She’s a young one now, she can worry about truth and reality when she’s an old son-of-a-gun like her pop.
When she sees it, when she’s playing, she says she pretends it ain’t there. ‘Cause if she looks, she says, if she lets it know she seen it watching, it goes lumbering off, scared as an arctic hare in a field full of foxes.
But I guess pretending weren’t enough. I guess she reckoned she’d go looking for it this time. And then the snow came and she didn’t come back. I tried to take Sal to help me sniff her out, but the damn dog took one look at the woods and went limping back to the cabin, tail between her sorry little legs. Sal ain’t never liked those woods.
So I took up my rifle, just in case, and went after her myself. Because I ain’t got nothing without my Annie. She’s all that keeps me here. I checked all the trails, and I checked in between them. I ran and got Old Joe – he’s better with the townsfolk – and told him to get up a search party.
Now Old Joe, you know what he says? He looks at me and he says: “You need some help.”
“I know I need some help,” I told him. “That’s why I came to you.”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it.” And he refused to go to town. He refused to help me find my Annie. “Ain’t nobody,” he says. “Ain’t nobody gonna help a crazy hermit find a little girl that don’t exist.”
So I got mad and turned Old Joe’s picture to the wall so he couldn’t talk to me no more. Because he’s wrong. I keep to myself and I keep my Annie to myself. I do it for our own good. And just because you ain’t seen something doesn’t mean it don’t exist.
But you see now? Now that’s got me to thinking. Maybe that friend of Annie’s ain’t so imaginary after all. And just as I’m thinking that, I hear a crunching in the snow. Long, heavy steps. And my blood runs cold like an ice cube and I freeze right then and there. Whatever it is, it circles the whole of the cabin and then it takes off again, crunching on back into the woods.
Once it’s gone, I hear a small knocking at the door and a sweet little voice calling: “Papa!”
And wouldn’t you know it, but there, right there on the porch is my little Annie. She gives me the biggest hug and smiles. My world came back to me. My whole entire world, right there on my doorstep. Behind her in the snow I see some tracks leading from the woods, then going right back again. They look like a man’s, a barefooted giant of a man, and it gets me to wondering again. But I can’t make nothing of it, and my Annie’s back, and that’s all that matters. I hear a howl a-way in the distance as I bring my Annie in and close the door – mournful sounding thing like nothing I ever heard before, like a wolf and a bear and a man put together.
And Annie, she turns to me and says: “That’s him, Papa. I went looking for him and I got lost when the snow came, but he found me and brought me back. And do you know what he is, Papa? Do you know? I seen it in your big book. The one Old Joe gave you when you was a boy. Papa, he really is a yeti.”
“Oh Annie,” I says. “That imagination of yours is something else, but don’t you let it run away with you again. You could’ve got yourself lost forever.”
She wants to argue, but I won’t hear no more of it. She let her pretending get too far out of hand. And that’s a dangerous business. And besides, I may not have the best handle on what’s real and what’s not these days, but there’s one thing I do know and that’s this: yetis don’t exist.
A ghost story to most is just a story. To me, they’re an experience, because every one I tell is based in truth. Sometimes they’re life changing. Whether you chose to believe in this story or in my experiences is up to you, all I can tell you is that it happened, because I was there.
I’ve been a paranormal investigator for over six years now. My foray into this pseudo-science began about a year after my father’s death. My family has always believed in ghosts, and there’s never been a shortage of deaths in the family to bolster this belief. Often, my mother would tell a story about seeing my grandfather in the garage shortly after his death. I’ve always believed it. An aunt of mine used to tell me that my uncle, before he died, was sensitive, and the spirit of my grandfather would pay him visits frequently. Even my father used to make his presence known: I woke up one morning in my apartment with a voice in my head. It said, “well are you going to sleep all day?” This was a common expression my father used to wake me up throughout high school and college. Needless to say, I got up that morning with a smile on my face.
Part of my pursuit in the paranormal is an extension of certain childhood experiences I had. (I’ll save those for another time.) The other part of it stems from the personal belief that my father had to live on. Some how, some way, there had to be a spirit and it had to live on. It sounds selfish, but he’s my dad.
I’ve also been a Christian all my life, but my views of the paranormal are not informed by my spiritual feelings, instead it’s the other way around. My belief in the paranormal has informs my Christian beliefs. I’m not your average kitchen.
Since I started investigating, the group I’m apart of, The Adirondack Society for Paranormal Research, has gathered countless hours of evidence. The most important thing we do though is help the people experiencing paranormal phenomena, to understand it and what’s happening to them. We also help spirits move on to where they need to be.
Last year our group investigated a tiny cemetery on a backwoods road, and from that investigation comes my favorite ghost story. Well, story to you, but an experience to me.
It was a moderately warm evening in early August when we pulled up to the cemetery in bum fuck nowhere. I say bum fuck nowhere because we got lost on three different roads before stumbling upon this cemetery… the cemetery we weren’t even looking for. Really what we were looking for is a field with a small cemetery attached to it, where a man supposedly murdered his wife and kids and drug them across the field to the cemetery.
The ride over was full of banter. We were trying out a couple of new members, and humor is always a good ice breaker to ease tension.
“Yeah, Vin Diesel looks tough, till you realize Vin is short for Alvin.”
Roars of laughter erupted from the car on all sides. Sure, Vin isn’t short for Alvin, but the idea is fucking hilarious. Combine that with banter designed to attack our driver’s navigation skills, and you’ve really got something.
When we finally arrived, the days last light was beginning to die down. It would be a clear night, filled with enough stars to light our way, not that light is your objective when you’re looking for spirits. When spirits manifest, they appear darker than darkness. They look like deep dark shadows, moving against walls. How scary is that? Oh, hey, don’t mind us. We’re just trudging through a cemetery, looking for shapes that are darker than the darkness. Most people would be locked up in the loony bin at Syracuse if they were to admit that. Luckily, we were secluded enough where passing cars weren’t likely to pop up. At one point during the investigation, though, one truck drove by, coming from the dead end of the road. We all wondered what was going down, but just let it go.
Investigating cemeteries is about as amateur as you can get in this field. Most of the time we don’t have permission, or just can’t get permission in time to do a proper investigation in certain places. The phrase “Hey, turn off your flashlight, a car’s coming” is one muttered often in our circle. That’s not to say we don’t investigate homes, it’s just, sometimes, you get no takers on a particular weekend. And considering that I live about three hours away from the group, we have to do something.
Ryan, our fearless driver and dreadful navigator, pulled the car, a red Pontiac Sunfire from the companies’ glory days, just inside the cemetery. About a hundred yards away from us is row after row of grave stones, extending back about twenty feet from the start of each row. The length of the cemetery is about 500 yards in total; it’s a young cemetery and we didn’t expect to get much.
We popped the trunk, pulled out our equipment, and started to educate the greenies on the how-to aspects of the tools of our trade. Our group has what you’d call the basics when it comes to equipment. EMF (Electro Magnetic Field) detectors (including K-II meters, made in the great state of New York!), used to measure spikes in the electro magnetic field, which spirits are said to give off and manipulate; temperature guns, digital voice recorders for capturing EVP’s (Electronic Voice Phenomena), flashlights, and the ghost hunters most important piece of equipment, themselves. The human body can detect the slightest changes in atmosphere, the subtlest change in temperature, and you learn to trust your body on each investigation, and sense these changes.
Before we even had a chance to investigate the cemetery, our EMF meters started spiking right by the car. Just as soon as they started, they stopped. We chalked it up to the natural EMF that can appear in nature. (even the believers can be skeptics) We broke up into two groups and set off to either side of the cemetery.
The groups investigated for about an hour, eventually meeting up in the middle. From there we would switch up the groups and sides.
Dave, our resident goofball and conspiracy theorist, headed back to the car for batteries. One of the meters had been running out and we decided to let it ride until the last minute. When he finished putting them in, Dave turned on the meter and immediately began to get colorful spikes. He hung around the car for a little while, and returned to investigate with me on the side he was familiar with. During our time in the cemetery, we never got a shred of evidence. All was quiet throughout the stones. In fact, the best evidence we did get was an EVP of Dave saying: “fart in 3…2…1…EXPLOSION.” We still say it’s our best evidence, but you’ll never hear it. Got to maintain that professional edge.
Dave and I investigated the western end of the cemetery for about forty five minutes before we got the wild idea to head on over to the car. Really, the car was it, the only area that we got anything. I placed my digital voice recorder on the roof of the car, and turned on my K-II. Dave did as well. Immediately, we started getting spikes like before. And then, they would stop. We moved forward. They came back. We kept this up until we followed the spirit around the car.
The K-II meter can be used as a question/answer tool. We can only ask yes or no questions, but for a yes answer we ask the spirit to light up the meter. When they do, a series of green, yellow, red, and orange lights will come alive. For a no, we ask them not to light up the device. We began to ask questions. “Are you male?” Response returned with lights. “Did you serve in World War II?” Response returned with lights. “Are there multiple spirits here?” Response returned with lights. The spirit continued to move around the car as we asked questions.
Along with the new recruits, we were testing out a new piece of equipment called the Spirit Box. The Box scans AM/FM stations, and spirits use the white noise generated to communicate, usually with a single word. We called over to Ryan for the Box, which he had used somewhere else in the cemetery with his group. He handed it over and we told him to get out of the area until we were finished. As soon as we turned on the Box, we started getting answers.
We began by asking the spirits name. At the time, we couldn’t make it out. If I hadn’t had the presence of mind to move my voice recorder to the back of the car, we never would have figured it out. We asked the same questions we had when using the K-II meter: “Are you male or female?” Response came back male. “Did you serve in a war?” Response came back yes. “Is there more than one spirit here?” Response came back yes.
We asked a few more questions before packing it up for the night. Dave and I had felt like we really connected with the spirit, that we tried to understand who this person was and really still is. The next morning, we decided to review our evidence. Throughout the cemetery itself we got nothing. No EVP’s, no EMF hits… nothing. When we reviewed the voice recorder during the Spirit Box session, there was one EVP, a response to a question I had asked. “Can I ask you a question?” I said. Response: “yeeeeeees.” It was soft, but very clear. EVP’s can often be discerned because the spirits voice is below the normal range of human speech. If you listen to yourself whispering and an EVP of a spirit, the spirit sounds like it’s speaking without breath, which it really is.
Further, we got the name, and on the recorder you could hear it clearly: Jeff. During the Spirit Box session, we asked it three times, and each time we got the same response, Jeff. Each piece was marked as great evidence in my handy dandy notebook, and the archived the digital files. We also archived Jeff himself, at least for a little while.
Two months later, our group appeared at a meet and greet arranged through the local Chamber of Commerce. We had a table set up with some of our equipment, headphones connected to a computer to listen to some of the EVP’s we had captured, and various paraphernalia, including business cards. The building this event took place in had been investigated by the famed John Zaffis for his program Haunted Collector. Another local paranormal group had been giving tours of the place was also there. Needless to say, our groups don’t get along. Our table received some pretty good traffic anyway.
As the day wore on, Ryan, our fearless leader and terrible navigator, pulled me aside at one point and told me about Jeff. Jeff had been in the back of my mind. He never fully left.
“Dave looked into Jeff. He was asking around about him and he got some interesting stuff.”
“Really? What kind of stuff?”
“Well, he found out that Jeff is Jeff ___________, and that he hung himself at the end of the road the cemetery’s on.”
“Holy shit.” A typical response from me when people drop knowledge bombs on me.
“That’s not all. He also found out that his daughter had a red Pontiac Sunfire.”
If I could have taken a shit right there, I would have. That evidence still haunts me.
I firmly believe that we’re all connected somehow. I’ve always believed that. It just took a spirit to prove it to me. I think about Jeff often. I wonder if he needs help, and when will we be going back.
First, a confession: This project would not exist if it wasn’t for J Pope, the man, the myth, the social media shapechanger. The World’s End, at least for me and many others, is the spawning of the story blog. Since then, I’ve been a part of two of them and have spearheaded this thing. So, to Pope, we all owe him thanks.
Secondly, Pope is a more talented writer than he’ll ever let on. Case-in-point: he wrote the story you’re about to read in less than two hours. He writes with a distinct southern style, but embedded deep within is a heart, a bleeding pulse that draws the reader in, and leaves the reader in a state of wanting, not ready leave by the time you’re finished. I got that feeling reading Lessons in Life and Love, his rough novel that I still don’t have the heart to remove from my Kindle, long after finishing it. It’s my greatest hope that I see that book on shelves or available as an ebook.
Pope is constantly changing. Right now, he is Jayne West, which is like Kanye, but better and with way more smack talk. You can follow him on Twitter @the_j_hewitt.
The Dover Demon is an anomaly. It was sighted by a handful of people within a two day period in Dover, Massachusetts, in 1977. It has never been sighted again. Theories as to what it could be are many, the most obvious being of the Gray Alien species. Whatever it was, it’s now infused into this story!
Now, “Listen, Mr. DJ, and Keep Those Records Playing” by J Pope:
Miss some of the stories? That’s okay, because they’re all collected here!
“The Redemption of Sandra Mansi” by Beau Barnett
“Scene 3” by R Scott Whitley
“Mothman: Harbinger of Doom” by Angi Black
“Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp” by Andrew Shaw
“I Will Rise” by Anya J. Davis
“The Fall of Nguoi Rung” by Rob Kristoffersen
“My Annie” by Megan Paasch
“How to Get Grounded… Forever” by Louise D. Gornall
“The Beast Within” by Nicole Tersigni
Before we get to the story, first a confession: Nguoi Rung is a fictional place. It doesn’t exist. In fact, Nguoi Rung is the Vietnamese name for Bigfoot, translated as “Forest-man.” Secondly, I am not a Vietnam vet. I was born almost ten years after the war in Vietnam ended. I tried to do the Vietnam vet justice. If you feel offended by the way they’re represented in my story, I express my sincerest apologies. This is only me trying to understand. I also apologize for the length of this story. It’s long, but they tell themselves.
I present to you “The Fall of Nguoi Rung”:
“WE THE UNWILLING, LED BY THE UNQUALIFIED, TO KILL THE
UNFORTUNATE, DIE FOR THE UNGRATEFUL.”
– A Zippo Lighter, ‘Nam 71-72’
A hornet is meandering in my sister’s kitchen, trying to find its way back into the open, free air. It’s heavy body is clearly a hindrance, but it continues to fly in a recognizable, circular pattern, often breaking toward the window. I lose sight of the insect when it passes through the sun spots created by that window, looking out on to the back yard. The view is picturesque: a lush green field that extends for what feels like forever. From the back door is a step down to a modest deck populated with a glass topped table, and four aluminum chair frames wrapped in a thick nylon webbing around it. The chair’s colors are as bright as the sun itself; even those colors look like they extend forever like the field.
The hornet inspires a deep fear in me, a feeling that I’m surrounded by enemy infiltrators. My Area of Operations (AO) is about to be overrun. Come on, Charlie, you smug son-of-a-bitch. Show yourself! This ordinary kitchen that once was has fallen away into a dark forest, where the trees look like soldiers themselves, and the leaves are infused with death. They take the shape of rifles and bayonets. The sixth sense we all come to trust is now malfunctioning in me. There’s just too many of them for my body to make out. Conversely, I can’t see Charlie. The forest has picked sides, not ours, the American, and taught Charlie to move through the trees like a ghost in the wind.
A large bang I assume to be mortar fire, sends me behind a group of trees that has fallen near me. Hitting the ground parallel to the trees, I look up. These tall towers extend unto eternity, and carved out at the top is a tiny section of sky making the stars visible and through which my soul may travel when it is finally stolen from my body. As the bullets fly by, their dark shadows interrupt my field of vision and the light from those stars. I can hear my units cherry radio man, a replacement, giving an order. “Broken Arrow,” he says, “I repeat, Broken Arrow.” The code for being overrun. After he repeats the order, a bullet enters his throat, and I can hear the gurgle as he chokes on his own blood. The second shot goes through his head. I can tell because the sound of bullet hitting helmet was very familiar to me. I’ve heard the sound so many times that it makes regular appearances in my dreams. It’s the sound of my alarm every morning, not an annoying programmed bleat, but that metal on metal entering flesh.
Too little, too late now. Running low on ammo, I decide to stay low and pray that air support finds the unit soon.
“Oh, Buzzy.” A voice, low, in a caring tone comes from my left flank. The darkness recedes into the light of day again. The bullets stop, and I look up and over. My sister, Anne, is here, and she has a can of Lysol in her hand. She aims it high above her, and sprays the hornet as it makes another revolution. It instantly falls to the floor, dead seconds before it actually hits the ground.
I can feel a new terror filling my mind, and it brings forth a resounding chorus of “No’s.”
A pair of hands grip my shoulders. I look up to see Anne there, trying to fold her arms around me in a hug. My fear begins fading away. “Buzzy, it’s okay. You’re here in my kitchen. It’s 1972, you’re not over there anymore.” She always tells me the year. I don’t know why. Maybe she thinks I associate my time in Vietnam with the numbers 1-9-6-7, but I don’t. Very early on you learn that Vietnam isn’t a war about years passed, or ground attained, or anything like that. It’s a whose worth is judged on the basis of dead bodies. That’s it. If LBJ or Nixon told you otherwise, it’s bullshit.
“Anne, I’m sorry. I guess the hornet just brought me back.” When I look behind me, the kitchen table is over turned. I don’t like the damn thing anyway, so I’m not completely broken up about that ugly piece of shit. Anne helps me turn it back up right. I notice the body of the hornet as the table legs make contact with the equally ugly shag carpet it rests on.
“You were screaming ‘no, no, no, no.’ It scared the hell out of me.” She is stronger than me, able to work through her fears to get the job done. That’s something I wished I was, something I needed to be in Vietnam. Instead I was Buzzy the Horror, Buzzy the Coward.
“Sorry. I…” I don’t know what to say, instead thinking it more noble to suffer in silence
“It’s okay, Buzzy. Jessica’s at school right now. It’s only us and the house.” Jessica is my niece. A teenager now, she was just eight when uncle Buzzy shipped out to fight in the war. When we thought we could be like the heroes that our fathers were and still are on foreign shores and strange sand. I never knew my dad, he died on a small beach in the Palau Island chain of the Pacific known as Peleliu when I was two years old. Historians overlook the battle on Peleliu. The only person that didn’t was Eugene Sledge. He fought there too. He didn’t know my dad, but he knew about the wind of bullets, and the fires that mortars built.
“Good, because I don’t want her to see me like this.” I say, with a little shell shock still audible in my voice.
“That doesn’t mean you should hide when she’s home. She wants to know her uncle Buzzy. She asks me questions about you all the time, and I can’t answer them all.”
“I don’t want her to see me like this. I don’t want anyone to see me like this. The only reason I’m here is because the VA can’t do anything for me anymore. I can barely function, I can’t get a job, not that they’re hiring any of us anyway, but, just… fuck.” Fuck is the word that best describes this situation. I’m “fucked” because the government wanted me to “fucking” kill gooks. The war made it so I can’t “fucking” get it up anymore so I can’t “fuck” a woman; the lawyer is taking his “fucking” time with my disability settlement. (80% disabled, though my brain is 100% “fucked.”) So, yes, I’m FUCKED.
So what does somebody who’s fucked do all day? Sleeps. Tries to help out around the house until something sets him off again. Helps himself to food, which his sister doesn’t seem to mind, but still makes him feel bad anyway. And TV. Lot’s of TV.
I used to watch ‘nam coverage all day long, but I just can’t anymore. The TV ends up looking like one giant scab that needs to be picked.
Anne sees the sadness and guilt written on my face, but she doesn’t push the subject. Anne is gentle, like a pillow, and I’d rather be pushed with a pillow than artillery any day. Talking about Jessica is her form of pushing. It doesn’t hurt.
My days don’t change much, the only thing that does are my meltdowns. They occur at different times and for different reasons. The incident this morning, for instance, with the hornet: I’m not sure exactly what happened, but I’ve always had a fear of bees, for allergic reasons. And then to see it sprayed brought back too many memories of Agent Orange and what it does to the skin.
Vietnam turned the nature of my fears up exponentially, like the amp of a guitar. My attacks don’t happen every day, but they’ve been getting worse since the VA cut me loose.
Routine helps. I have a routine that seems to work for me. I sleep a good portion of my morning, until ten at least when I finally getting up at eleven, and start assuming a relatively normal life by twelve, random mental episodes permitting. I park myself on the couch and watch TV until Jessica is due home, stuffing my face with junk food all the while. When she does come home, I retreat to my room, bury my nose in some bullshit religious texts I think are going to help me, but never do. When the books eventually frustrate me, I throw it against the wall, and I fall asleep.
Anne says I should talk about my problems. She says her ears are always open. She says that talking to her and Jessica will help. I want to believe, but I don’t know if I can. More than anything, I wish I was a grenade. Not an active one, but a dud that can never be set off.
I take my place in an orange recliner with TV to entertain. A sure therapy after an episode is for me to eat, and I’ve made a monster of a sandwich. Turkey, ham, salami on rye with lettuce, tomato, onion, American cheese cut in friendly slices, topped with enough mayonnaise to trigger someone’s second heart attack. On the plate beside the sandwich are two dill pickles. A bag of chips completes this whole thing, and I sit down to watch Mysterious America.
“How can you watch all this crap?” Anne asks, with a paperback in hand. A large wooden shelf is adorn in paperback books behind the couch. I asked her once why she didn’t read hardcovers. “I don’t like the weight,” she told me. It’s that admission that makes me think I’m too much for her and Jessica. What weight do I bring? Is it too much for her to carry?
“What crap? This is some great Television.”
“Bonanza sucks.” In a single two word sentence, I feel for the first time, in a long time, like we are brother and sister again.
“Bonanza does not suck, miss 60 Minutes. And my God, every time PBS has an Andy Rooney special, I feel like I should give you two some privacy.”
She laughs for the first time since I can remember. I’ve almost forgotten what her laughter sounds like.
“Okay Mr. Mysterious America. At least Andy Rooney is real. Bigfoot and Nessie aren’t!” Mysterious America is a show that details “the unknown.” Bigfoot and Nessie sightings are a common occurrence here. So are other Fortean phenomena: raining frogs, UFOs, psychic events, the works. It’s my favorite program, partly because of content, but mostly because it’s hosted by famed actor Robert Stack. Guy freaks the shit out of me!
I firmly believe that there are people who are living ghosts, walking haunted. Whenever I look at pictures of Abraham Lincoln in Civil War texts, he looks like he he is haunted and haunting the living. Robert Stack gives me the same feeling. In his inflection and facial expressions, I mean, would it kill the guy to smile every now and then?
“Yeah, well… I got nothing.” I shoot back with. Ooh, burn!
“What’s this episode about?” She says, putting down her copy of Catch-22. I know the book well. It was heavily circulated among the platoons, good for laughs and introspection. Some say it helped keep the men sane, but I had no perspective about this. I never read it. Part of me thinks Anne is reading it to understand what I went through. Her copy is fresh and new from the looks of it. No creases on the spine or dog ears on the pages. She couldn’t possibly learn what I went through in the black words and the white pages. She’d have to see it in color if she truly wanted to know.
“The Patterson-Gimlin footage. It turned five years old! My, it’s growing up so fast.” I say, with false sincerity and imaginary tears.
“What is a Patterson-Gimlin?”
“It’s the best evidence for Bigfoot. Look, it’s back on. Watch.”
We both watch a lumbering humanoid creature walk across the screen, looking back briefly like it’s doing a photo shoot for some magazine.
“Oh, come on Buzzy. You can’t believe THAT is real.”
“I’d rather believe in that than…” I don’t finish the sentence, and it doesn’t matter because we both know what I’d say. And for a moment, in this ugly ass orange upholstered chair, I think about it. Through the swarm of green shapes in the equally ghastly carpet, I’m back in Nguoi Rung.
Nguoi Rung is a small, thick portion of jungle located about two and a half miles north of Saigon. The area was overrun with gooks left and right, as part of the southern tip of the “iron” triangle. It was the only VC stronghold in South Vietnam. My unit was called in to clear the area and hold it until they could get a permanent unit to hold it indefinitely. Later this area would be vital in Operation Cedar Falls to clear out the “iron” triangle permanently, well, until the Viet Cong overran our forces later.
My unit was attached to the 101st Airborne Division (”The Screaming Eagles”) as an Airmobile force. We were a liberating force that was inserted, via helicopter, into a particular area, and asked to repel enemy forces and hold it indefinitely. Come hell or high water, we’d hold it.
When our Slick bird made it to the Landing Zone (LZ), there was only twenty four of us: “Bingo,” our sniper, was a short, stout man, who called out bingo! whenever he hit his target; “Kickstand” had a hog, 60mm, and hot temper. He could fire it well and with accuracy; “Digger,” our only Australian brother was an infantryman. We called all the Australians diggers, but he was ours. Whenever he talked of Australia, he made it feel like home to all of us. “Blinker” was a young guy who always seemed nervous in the field. He wasn’t so bad that he’d get his own comrades killed, but whenever he was in a firefight, his eyes blinked rapidly. Sometimes you had to snap him out of it when all the shooting stopped. “Donut” was the ladies man of the group, and he’d go on and on about them if you let him. We named him Donut after the Donut Dollies he’d be pining over at rear base camp, though he never had any takers. He had a Vincent Price like mustache which we all pointed out and razzed him about. We all assumed that’s why the dollies never took the bait. It never creeped us out though, until he got the killing stroke in him, then it’d creep you the fuck right out. I’d known most of these guys since Ia Drang, the rest were cherries so green that their fatigues were still clean.
Intelligence told us that a small force was holding Nguoi Rung. They fled sometime before we were choppered in. Someone must have told them we were coming, or our Slick birds gave it away.
At the base of the trees were signs of a leftover camp recently abandoned. A fire reduced to embers surrounded by blankets lain on the ground and numerous bowls of rice and chopsticks resting within the circle. I bent over a small wooden box on top of a very thick blanket. I felt a nervousness overcome me, my blood run high, my heart beat faster. My nervous system completely shut down. It had to be a bomb or was it sitting on a mine. I threw it as instinct told me to. In retrospect, this was a stupid move, I could have killed everyone in my unit. I expected an explosion, but only heard the large thud of the box against the trees, and the sound of its contents raining out over the forest floor. The only ones who didn’t feel nervous were the cherries. They hadn’t spent night after night in the bush under constant watch of things you couldn’t see. Our nerves were shattered, our bowls let loose on their own.
After we made the camp our own, all twenty-four of us sat around a small fire brought back to life like Lazarus. In retrospect, the fire was probably a bad idea, and who really needed it? The heat was intolerable in Vietnam. It fell on you like a blanket. You wanted to pull it off you, but you couldn’t no matter how hard you tried. We wanted light, because even the darkness was swallowed here, swallowed by eyes that knew who you were and had a name of their own. We would talk in hushed tones, about where we were from. Kickstand talked about his days in a stamping plant in northern Michigan. How it wasn’t much, but it was something. One of the cherries, Billy, had just been married before leaving for this shit hole. Another was going to use the G.I. Bill to “get him an education;” he wanted to be an engineer, a noble field in this day and age.
Digger had us all enthralled. He talked about the morning sun that would shine in through his bedroom window. How the the morning glory of the days first glow made that bedroom feel right like Heaven. He made omelets from eggs that his own Chickens laid. He worked the fields of his own farm to grow what he needed. What he grew we grew in our hearts as we all ached for home.
When Digger finished his story, it all became white noise to me, and I drown out. My hand brushed against one of my side pockets, in the process of reaching for a cigarette. The pocket made a small crumpling noise, the kind that paper makes. I opened the pocket and pulled out a short snorter, 1953B series two dollar bill signed by the men of a unit that was supposedly killed in the battle of Ia Drang. Whether the story is true or not, I have no clue. I was there, but couldn’t recall the unit. I did know one thing: I sure as shit didn’t want this thing on me. Snorters are supposedly good luck, but if this one really did die with its unit, what chance did we have? How it got into my pocket is another mystery itself.
Later that night, when the conversation died down, I could see a pair of yellow eyes peeking out of the darkness. Through the crackling of the fire and the light cast on the trees, those eyes stood tall. Taller than anything I’d ever seen in Vietnam before. The owner of those eyes stayed just out of the lights reach, and the pair began moving in a large circular pattern around the camp, careful never to cross in front of the trees. As I dozed through the night, I would wake up periodically, and notice them in a different location around the camp. No one else seemed to notice, and I assumed it was some stupid VC tactic to draw us out, so I told no one. The eyes did nothing until the light of our fire began to die, when a guttural howl came from their direction. We all woke then, and didn’t sleep while there was darkness in the sky.
In the early morning hours, we were all pretty tired. Some cherries were dozing, as was I when the VC opened fire on our position. A kind of wind rose up, composed of bullets. We were still gathered around the fire as open targets. Our cherry radioman, Dennis, managed to get the order, “Broken Arrow,” over the radio before some gook put a bullet through his throat, head, and radio. I took cover behind a group of fallen trees near me. In my fear, I had thrown myself in the direction of the bullets. I just laid there while my unit bought the farm.
At one point, a VC soldier approached me. He put his finger over his mouth, urging me to keep quiet. He raised his weapon toward me with a sick little grin growing on his mouth. Before he could fire, one of our birds opened with machine gun fire, killing him instantly. The VC pulled back.
Intelligence later gathered that the VC fled into Cambodia. Truth is, we had no real intelligence in Vietnam. We were all dumb as hell.
When the extraction occurred, I was the only man in the unit that lived. I had no visible wounds. I looked upon the carnage and cried out for Digger and his slice of Heaven. I cried for Donut. I cried for them all. Then the government cried for me, ruling me unfit to return to combat. They sent me home on a Freedom bird.
I was back in my sister’s ghastly living room again. The TV, resting on a hand-me-down stand, still spoke of Bigfoot’s miraculous home movie. Anne’s nose was buried in Catch-22 again, at least halfway through the book at this point. A glint of light off of glass caught my view and I turned my head: on the wall were a series of photos. The first of our parents, Bud and Nancy from the late 30’s. Next in line, my father in his dress blues before he was killed on Peleliu in the Pacific. The image fades into one of Mom, Anne and I: me when I was 9 and Anne when she was 12. The final image is of a man in a green service uniform. That was Richard fucking Sherman. He died in 1967, replaced with a damaged doppelgänger named Buzzy.
The name came from my ability to place my head at just the right height so the bullets would fly right over it. They’d buzz by and buzz me, so Buzzy became me. I can’t function without it now. If you ask for Richard Sherman, you won’t get a response. If you ask for buzzy, you may not like the response you get.
That name, Buzzy, is less than a name, more of a ticket to a freak show. Look folks, right next to The Minnesota Iceman is the Frozen Soldier known as Buzzy. It’s become Alice and the looking glass, a portal to a personal nightmare played endlessly.
Anne has become so keen to my nightmares the last few months, she can see when my mind drifts to the bush. She reads people as well as she reads books. “You okay, Buzzy? Seem a little more “transported” than usual.” That’s what she calls my fits, being transported.
“What am I doing, Anne? These trips, especially today, I feel like I’m losing myself more with every one.”
“You need to immerse yourself in something. What do you like? What did you like before you went to war?”
“No seriously. What do you like to do.”
“I like Bigfoot. He’s like my white whale.”
“Technically, he’s a giant ape.”
“Metaphorically, Anne!” I blurt, with a bit of laughter in my voice.
“Sometimes, Buzzy, I swear you just have a one track mind. What can you do with Bigfoot?”
“Become a researcher? Go to school and get a degree in zoology or something.”
In my moment of insecurity, a proclamation comes across the television through Robert Stack’s creepy personage: “We’re asking for your help in finding this creature. If you have footage that you believe proves the existence of Sasquatch, send it to this address for a chance to win $100,000.”
A look comes on Anne’s face in response to a look that comes on mine. “You’re kidding, right?” she says innocently enough.
“You know me too well.” A wide grin becomes wider. I can’t help it, I have to do it.
In the weeks that followed, I couldn’t get Bigfoot out of my head. It became a kind of mantra: Bigfoot is my money, Bigfoot is my money, Bigfoot is my money. I checked out books on Bigfoot from the local library. The first day I brought them home, Anne rolled her eyes a little. She didn’t say anything though, probably because it was just books. What’s the harm in that?
Without the ability to get a job, what was I going to do? It was like Robert Stack was giving me a way out. A slim, but possible way out. I wanted to contribute around here, and start paying my own way. Anne never looked disappointed in me, and I’ll never know why. Maybe it’s because my own shame carries more weight than anybody else’s around here. Maybe shame wasn’t a currency Anne dealt in. The snorter I still kept in my pocket sure didn’t help.
I keep hoping that the damn thing is lucky, I keep asking for it. This wretched two dollar bill has never left my pocket since the day I was air lifted out of Nguoi Rung, and these last few weeks, I’ve been asking it for the fortune I felt I deserved. If a two dollar bill can save your life in the bush, surely it can bring you Bigfoot. That kind of flawless logic and religious faith keeps me on my feed.
About three weeks after Robert Stack uttered my cause, a comrade from ‘nam, “Butcher” Locke, injured while fighting in Ia Drang, gave me a call. How he got my info from the VA, I’ll never know, but he had a tip for me about some Bigfoot tracks he found near his place and if I’d like to come see them.
In the VA hospital, Butcher was the only guy I kept in contact with. Hell, after my entire unit was killed, he was the only one I really knew. In a letter dated 6 June 1968, I told him about the tall yellow eyes. How they circled our camp, and how I thought the eyes were responsible for the guttural howl the entire unit heard before being fired upon by VC.
He responded in a letter, saying I was “bug fuck nuts” and that I had “bush trauma.” Bush trauma is what we called it when a guy came back all fucked up in the head from ‘nam.
Was I nuts? No, I couldn’t have been. There’s nothing that tall in the bush, and two gooks could never be coordinated enough to pull that off. The sound… it was like nothing I’d ever heard, and nothing I’ve heard since.
I had to go.
And I begged Anne for the money to go:
“You want me to give you money so you can fly out to Washington and see Bigfoot tracks? You’re kidding me, right?” A look of concern washes over her face. She cares about me deeply. It shows on her face as it tries to shut me down. I’m the child I never wanted to be to her, and it’s how I’ll always feel living with her.
“If you’re breaking it down to the lowest common denominator, yes. But it’s more than that.”
“What more is it? What good do you think it will do?”
“I’m hoping it will help my portal err… close it.”
“Portal? What the fuck are you talking about?!” I don’t blame her frustration. In the service, the government forces a new language on you, and a new way of thinking. It’s similar to English, but a very bastardized version of it. They teach you a new way of learning, and ascribe names to situations or concepts that you’d never use in civilian life. Buzzy is a word for portal in my world, and it’s my portal, and it needs to be closed.
“Buzzy is my portal. That stupid fucking name has consumed all of me! I can’t look people in the eye and I can’t function properly. I can’t get it up to jerk-off, Anne. I know you don’t want to know that, but it’s true. I need to fix me, and I think visiting Butcher can help.” My eyes feel like a damn on the verge of bursting. I can feel the muscles in my face contort into a horrible mask. Anne’s face contorts in the opposite direction, one toward sympathy and caring.
“Do you really think this well help? Like, deep down, you think it could work? I need to know, Buzzy.”
“Please don’t call me that. I’m Richard Sherman. Buzzy needs to fucking die.”
“Rich, do you really think it will help?” She won’t let it go, and she shouldn’t.
I look up into her face, her eyes. For a moment, it’s like she can see into the portal too. She’s in 1967 Vietnam beside those trees praying for my life. “I do, Anne. I really do.”
A week later I was on a plane to Butcher Locke and Washington state. Anne gave me $500 and told me to make it count. I swore I would.
Flying into Trout Lake Airport in Skamania County, Washington, I could see a lush landscape of trees and mountains from my window seat. Butcher lives near Gifford Pinchot National Forrest, a “hot bed” for Bigfoot sightings.
When I go to retrieve my luggage, he ambushes me with a huge hug, and I almost miss my luggage on the conveyor belt. After surviving a war that still rages on, hugs never feels awkward, even for a couple of Screaming Eagles.
“How you doing, Buzzy? How you handling things?” He asks.
“I’m alright. Trying to pick up the pieces, man. And it’s Rich from now on.”
“You got it, buddy.” He says. I feel like he understands that I’m trying to kill Buzzy too, and resurrect my old self at the same time. Butcher helps me out to his Jeep, an M715. How he got it home from Vietnam, I’ll never know. We head out to the local McDonald’s for a quick bite and talk.
“So, what’s the story? Where did you find the tracks?”
Since I sent the letters, Butcher’s become an enthusiast himself. He keeps tabs on sightings which he says goes back hundreds of years, even before “the founding of America.” In a way that’s what we were looking for, the founders of America, which makes our founding fathers the hairiest mother fuckers you’ve ever seen. He pulls out a map and begins pointing at certain areas.
“We’ve been getting a lot of sightings this summer from Pyramid rock, Sturgeon rock, and over here on Little Baldy. But it seems like they’re migrating my way, or at least there’s just a shit ton of ‘em and they’re all throughout the woods. Think is, I’ve never seen this much activity before.” He pulls a photograph from his pocket and hands it to me. “I found this in the woods out in back of my house. I took a plaster cast, which I’ll show you at the house, but it’s 18.4 inches long.” His eyes light up.
“Holy shit, Butcher, this is amazing.” My face lights up too, and I think I’ve got him. I’m going to be a rich man. We’re going to be rich men.
“Please, if we’re turning a new leaf, it’s Bob.”
“Alright.” I offer to we new men.
“Do you have a camera, Bob? A video camera?”
“Nah, they’re expensive.”
“Know where we can rent one? I’ve got the funds.”
“Yeah, I think I do.”
That night we drank beer on Bob’s back deck. We reminisced about what we were like before and after Vietnam, if we thought America could win the war, and our passion for the Foot.
“There’s no way America is winning this war. Not the way the gooks fight.” Bob said.
“Goddamned right. Wish America would have used that pussy foot style of fighting. ‘Cept we’re not on good terms with Cambodia and all those other countries on the border.”
“Fuck, had they given us authority to run into them countries, we could have had ‘em. Fucking government. People dying over there for fucking nothing.” Anger rises in his voice, and it rises in mine too. We both take a swig of bear to calm us down.
The sky’s light is beginning to fade, as if the box that holds the sun is closing for the night, in a slow, swift movement. The crickets are producing a rhythm that our bodies sway to inside. Bob ducks inside the house for a moment to turn on some lights. Now we’re back lit against the house, a show for the forest and all who inhabit the woods.
A moment later, Bob returns and sits back down.
“Pretty sad when the people you’re trying to help aren’t even appreciative. Fuck them.” I say.
“That’s right, fuck ‘em!” He chuckles a little, and grows to a hearty laugh when I join in.
“So, when did you get hooked on the Foot, Bob?” I never used the term “the Foot” with Anne. Probably would have thought I was too far gone and never given me the money or the ticket to come here.
“Shit, been a few years. Your letters got to me. Not long after, I decided that I wanted to believe in Bigfoot more than I did the war in ‘nam. So, I just set out looking. Got a few prints here and there, though I’ve never seen one in the bush… I mean the woods.
“Those tracks are the closest thing I’ve seen to home. Been searching the woods but I haven’t found anything yet.”
“That’s going to change, Brother. We’ll find them.”
“You better believe it.”
Both of us lifted the bottle to our lips and sipped. Beer and the backyard felt more like home than Anne’s. I felt bad for thinking it, but I can’t help the way I feel anymore. I’m home with my comrade and among the hairy ancestors, the ones I believe are out there.