Written By: Joyce Riha Linik
Image By: Taty Lopez
Joyce Riha Linik has a Master’s degree in creative writing and English literature from Portland State University. She started her writing career as a “madwoman” copywriter at an advertising firm in New York City. She’s now based in the Pacific Northwest where she works as a freelance journalist, and was selected as a national EdPress Distinguished Achievement Award finalist for an article called “On the Road to Oz,” published in Education Northwest Magazine. Joyce has been nominated an won a number of writing awards.
She’s contributed this steamy short story to Publik / Private, and we’re so pleased to start off the new year with a sexy piece of literature. This is NSFW!!!
Jack’s eyebrows had grown together years before I met him, no doubt by the end of puberty, and hair now covered his back as well as his chest. It was as thick as fur in some places, something many of my female friends found disgusting. I, however, having grown up in a family full of hairy men, found it familiar, even comforting. Sleeping with Jack was a bit like snuggling up on a sheepskin rug. And having just moved out to this unfamiliar terrain from the East Coast, I welcomed his warm, if shaggy, embrace, particularly during the rains that fell for months on end here.
It was in the second month of my relationship with Jack when, awakening from the blinding sexual fervor common at the outset of many a union, I discovered his obsession. Jack had gone out for coffee when I, poking around in the chaos of his apartment in search of a book to occupy this soggy morning, discovered the box.
Jack had moved into this studio apartment the week before I met him, in transition from a buddy’s couch after the failure of his last relationship, a long-term one for him at thirteen months. The box was one of many opened, yet unpacked. It was the only one that held promise of reading material, a couple of well-worn tomes protruding from the top, while others were visibly stuffed with clothing or outdoor gear. Pulling out the top volume, its book jacket tattered from use, I read the title: The Search for Bigfoot.
That’s odd, I thought, remembering a video I’d seen once of a half-man/half-ape lumbering through the woods on some sensational TV documentary. I had been fascinated with this mythical creature when I was a kid, as I had been with grainy photographs of the Loch Ness monster and UFOs. I wondered why on earth Jack had kept a book like this and moved it from place to place. For someone who traveled lightly – and often – it didn’t exactly seem like a “keeper.”
What was even more surprising was to find that the entire box was filled with similar materials: books on Sasquatch tracking, pictures of blurry apelike monsters cut from newspapers and magazines, videotapes of TV programs covering purported sightings.
I was still poring through the contents, intently studying printed freeze-frames from a video taken by someone named Patterson in the 1970s – “the best footage ever taken of the beast,” according to an accompanying article – when Jack returned.
“What is this?” I asked, unable to contain my smirk.
“What’s it look like?” he replied, his jaw tightening.
“Sasquatch Lives?” I read the title off a particularly well-worn pamphlet. “Surely you don’t believe in these things?”
“I do.” His tone indicated how seriously he took the topic. “You believe in cows?”
“It’s not exactly the same thing,” I said.
“No? A few years ago, for the first time in decades, a major mammal, a new breed of cow, was discovered in the jungles of Korea. A cow about the size of a goat.”
“Really. The jungle was so dense they’d just never spotted one before.”
“But an ape –“
“Every other continent has a great ape species,” he said, making his argument. “Considering that a land bridge once connected us with Eurasia, it is entirely plausible that great apes once roamed the Northwest.” He paused. “I think a few still do.”
Had I not already slept with Jack, I might have nodded patronizingly and headed for the door.
But the fact was I had slept with Jack and, in the past month I’d spent in his embrace, he had seemed sane, intelligent even. So this handsome, rugged outdoorsman was a little eccentric. He believed in Bigfoot. Sasquatch. So what? After all, hadn’t I left New York for a change? Having quit my job to come out here and pursue a graduate degree in social work, wasn’t this the time to go a little wild, have a little adventure? Certainly, I couldn’t complain that Jack was another boring “suit”.
“The old growth forests here are extremely thick in places,” Jack told me. “In the 1980s, a plane carrying two politicians – two senators, I think it was – went down out here.” Jack looked at me to emphasize his point. “We’re talking about a plane, yet nobody ever found it. Metal detectors and all. And two senators, you gotta know people searched high and low for them.”
“Not necessarily,” I interjected. “They were politicians.”
He continued, ignoring my little joke. “I know they’re out there.”
I confess I found his fascination with the possible existence of a North American ape-man not just entertaining, but endearing. I humored him, asking questions, listening attentively to his responses.
And then I started to buy into his argument.
I began to believe myself, to entertain the possibility that such a species might have indeed existed until killed or driven out – in fact, might still exist in some remote Northwestern forest. There was, after all, that Korean goat-cow to consider.
When the weather improved, I accompanied Jack on his treks through the forest. I always loved the outdoors, part of my reason for making the big break with Manhattan and moving west, and was thrilled to find someone who loved it as much. Every weekend, we’d pack our camping gear in Jack’s Pathfinder and head for the coast or the Three Sisters wilderness area or some equally breathtaking place. I was enamored with the old-growth forests, in love with my new life, in love – so I thought – with Jack. I could almost forget about his obsession with Bigfoot as we discovered mountain after mountain, waterfall after waterfall, lake after lake.
Almost. For there was the constant reminder of all the equipment – video cameras, digital audio recorders, still-shot cameras – to record the inevitable encounter.
And there were Jack’s frequent reminders. We would hike through the hills, making our way through oftentimes dense underbrush, when Jack would point out a mossy overhang near a river, noting what perfect habitat this would be for our elusive friends. Or he’d stop to examine a particularly interesting pile of scat.
“They’d like it here,” he’d say next to a mountain stream where we’d seen two-foot steelhead jumping in the water. “Fresh water, fish, berries. Yup. This is the place.” And we’d camp for the night, me fixing dinner on the camp stove, Jack setting up his recording equipment. He’d give me instructions, just in case: “You go for the still-shots; I’ll man the video.”
After dinner, we’d sit in the dark and wait, our arms wrapped around each other, listening for unusual sounds, ready to spring into action should the opportunity arise. Occasionally we would hear something – an elk’s trumpet, a coyote’s howl, a dog’s distant bark. The son of a hunter, Jack was well-trained in distinguishing these outdoor sounds. If there was anything unusual making noise out there, Jack would know.
Once, near a place called Davis Lake, we heard a strange cry in the middle of the night. Jack was awake at the time. It woke me out of a deep slumber. It sounded like the howl of something half-human and half-beast. We both felt the hair on the back of our necks rise – in Jack’s case, this was of course more significant. We stayed awake the rest of the night, our necks craned to the stars, listening, listening, listening, but heard nothing else before the dawn broke.
After that, we spent a lot of time up at Davis Lake, hiking around looking for tracks, staying up at night, our ears tuned to the night sounds. But whatever we had heard that first night seemed to be gone. Jack was convinced we had encountered the beast; he was certain that Sasquatch knew we were there and left.
Wherever we traveled, Jack stopped to ask loggers and hikers if they’d seen anything unusual, if they’d heard any strange sounds. If they had, he asked them if the hair on the back of their necks had risen. Apparently, this was a common occurrence among those who claimed to have encountered the ape-man.
Surprisingly, many of the people he asked not only listened to his questions, but took the whole topic quite seriously. Having heard tales of Sasquatch their whole lives, many Northwesterners believed.
Several had tales to share of their own Bigfoot encounters. “We were driving along on a moonlit night when one crossed the road just in front of us. I saw its yellow eyes reflected in the headlights.” Or, “I saw a pair – a male and a female, I think, since one was larger and the smaller one appeared to have breasts; they were making their way across a clearing into a patch of old growth.”
There were stories about Sasquatch throwing rocks and beating pieces of wood against trees. Stories about eighteen-inch footprints on fresh logging roads and about thatched mattresses of grass where Bigfoot slept. Stories about lava tubes that served as their underground hideouts. It seemed there was a story for every outing we made that summer and fall.
Still, for all our determination and perseverance, we saw nothing. And we heard nothing beyond that one bestial call.
It was winter when Jack and I met Red. After a day of hiking in the Cascades, we’d stopped by a small town bar called the White Horse, when we saw a hulk of a man lumber up to the bar. He had a greasy burnt-orange and gray beard and matted shoulder length hair, as well as a belly that protruded a good foot from the dropped waistline of his stressed camouflage pants. He looked like he’d been living in the woods since the Vietnam War. It turned out he’d been a logger before the local mill closed and shifted his attention to hunting bear. He was grunting something at the bartender about “strange things” he’d seen on the day’s expedition.
“Strange things” got Jack’s attention.
“What kinda strange things you talkin’ about?” Jack asked in the colloquial manner he adopted when talking to “locals”. Jack assumed that this way of speaking, along with the red-and-black-plaid flannel shirt thrown over the seat in his rig, would disguise his city persona, make him one of them.
Red took a gulp from his pint of beer before slowly turning his head, a head that appeared to sit neck-less on top of his stuffed torso, to see where this question had come from. He eyed Jack for a good thirty seconds before his head slid back into its forward position. Staring straight ahead, he took another swig from the glass in his big bear paw.
Jack was not intimidated. “You say you saw somethin’ strange out there?” A pause filled with the clinking of glasses from behind the bar. “I couldn’t help overhearing. I’m a Bigfoot investigator – you heard of Bigfoot?” Another pause.
I hated when Jack did his “investigator” routine, as if he held some kind of official position. It sounded so ludicrous to me, like a cartoon character investigating floating-sheet demons on Scooby Doo. Yet, in some of these small towns, the act played astonishingly well.
Red slowly turned again to glare at Jack, as if at an insect that kept returning, insisting on burrowing in his hide. They he turned his face forward again. I was aware of someone playing pool in a room to the left of the bar, the click of a ball striking its mark, the drop of another in a pocket.
“Heard of him?” Red grunted. “I seen him.”
The conversation ensued, Jack asking questions, the laconic Red disclosing little more than he had already, that he had indeed seen “somethin’ strange” out there today, and he attributed whatever it was to the Sasquatch, a creature he had seen several times. Before the conversation was over, Red reluctantly consented to let Jack join him on his next outing.
This had me a bit worried. From the first glance Red had cast at Jack, I was concerned. It was a grizzly look, one that seemed to say he was contemplating making a snack out of what stood in front of him. I tried to talk Jack out of going, but he wouldn’t hear of it.
It took two weeks for Jack to prepare for the hunt. Red, a serious man when it came to tracking bear, had given Jack a list of rules to follow before Jack could accompany him on the expedition. Only clothing made of natural fibers – and earth-tone colors – could be worn. No camera equipment was allowed unless it was underwater gear, as the chemical smell of the film could otherwise be detected. For a week before the outing, Jack was to abstain from chemical additives in food, as well as from meat, alcohol, dope, and sex. Any of these could be identified by the bear’s acute sense of smell, Red claimed, as well as by “Sass,” the nickname he’d given his apish friends.
And so Jack prepared for the hunt, attempting to adhere to the rules outlined by Red. He bought cotton camouflage gear and underwater cases for his video and still-shot cameras. For a week before the outing, he ate only nuts, grains, and berries. And while not abstaining from alcohol, pot, and sex, he did at least cut back.
I was relieved when Jack walked in the door after his expedition with Red, particularly when he shared his tales of the weekend’s events. Apparently, Red had gone into the forest in search of bear, armed like a guerilla combat unit, a semi-automatic rifle and grenades among his gear. When Red asked Jack to walk into a frigid mountain lake to de-scent himself, Jack didn’t argue.
Stranger still was the story of their encounter with “Sass.”
“It was wild,” Jack told me that night as he foraged in my refrigerator for food. “We were hiking through a fairly dense area when Red grabbed me with that giant hand of his. We didn’t talk, just stopped dead in our tracks.” As Jack said this, his movements came to an abrupt stop, a clump of grapes swinging slightly from his hand, the light from the refrigerator casting a macabre glow on his intense expression.
“At first, I couldn’t figure out why we stopped,” Jack continued, his eyes shifting to the right without moving his head. “Glancing over at Red, I could see that his head was tilted slightly back, his nose in the air as if he’d caught the scent of something.” Jack sniffed the air in my apartment, as if he were reliving that moment in the woods now.
“Me,” he whispered, “I couldn’t smell a thing past the firs and the pines. But then I hear a faint rustling in the foliage just ahead, and it seems to be getting louder. I look over at Red who’s still frozen in his tracks, his eyes glazed, looking dead ahead. I follow suit. A few minutes later, these two guys – Indians, they look like, with long black hair – come walking out of a clump of ferns with these burlap bags and walk past us.”
Jack looked intently into my eyes. “The weird thing is… nobody says anything. It’s as if they don’t see us.” Jack stopped here for a moment, his eyes wide, waiting for my reaction, as if he had just revealed some truth with a capital T.
In the pause, I heard the start-up click and hum of the refrigerator, its door still ajar. I felt a tightening in my stomach.
“Then,” Jack continued, “Red turns to me with this crazed look in his eyes and says, ‘Did ya see ‘em?’ and nods. ‘Sasquatch,’ he says. ‘Now you’ve seen ‘em too.”
At this, I laughed nervously, half expecting Jack to join in, half fearing that he might not. Seemingly jarred out of his trance, Jack relaxed his stance and swung the refrigerator door shut. His face softened and he began to laugh, hesitantly at first, then more enthusiastically, as if he’d just gotten caught up in the drama of the story and was aware of how insane it all sounded. Tension dispersed in a bout of joint laughter.
That night we stayed up for hours giggling over Jack’s outing with Forest Rambo, then making love. Afterward, unable to sleep, I watched Jack in the light of the waning moon, thinking how good it felt to have him back.
But the truth was, after that, Jack was never quite the same. It was like he never came back from that weekend with Red. He seemed spooked somehow, as if he’d seen a ghost. While he made jokes about Red’s pending or arrived insanity, he seemed to have made some connection. He revered Red’s hunting tactics as “brilliant”, saying he’d finally gotten “the handle on the hunt”. When we went camping, he’d check my pack to make sure the clothes I’d packed were only cotton or wool, that I wasn’t sneaking in any synthetic fabrics. We stopped going out to dinner since we couldn’t control the additives that might be in the dishes we ordered. I became adept at preparing bland vegetarian fare.
Jack wasn’t as particular about beer and dope, staples on which he lived. And sex, there was no abstinence there; in fact, Jack had heard Native American legends about Sasquatch stealing Indian women and theorized that sexual activity might actually draw them out. I didn’t argue since my skepticism had returned and I really didn’t fear being carted off by some homo-simian in the middle of the night.
Jack became even more obsessed with finding Bigfoot, as if he were in some sort of race. While we still headed out to the country every weekend, Jack started to do solo overnight hunting expeditions mid-week. Gear packed in his truck, he’d leave Portland directly after work and return, sans shower, to work the next morning. He started to look tired.
It was in early December that Red called to say he’d seen a “pack of ‘em, what looked like a family,” he told Jack.
“Home for the holidays?” I joked.
Jack said, in all seriousness, “You never know. I think I may go out with him and check it out.”
“The man’s mad,” I tried to remind him, but this didn’t seem to have any effect. Jack began to talk about a Christmas expedition since he’d have a week off from work. I was less than thrilled about having to explain to my family back east that my boyfriend couldn’t make it after all, that he chose instead to spend his holiday searching for flying apes in the land of Oz.
Once, when we were arguing about it, Jack said, “You know, there may be something to what Red said.”
“Something to what?” I asked.
“I mean, those guys with the burlap bags – we were right there and they didn’t see us.”
As it turned out, Jack didn’t spend Christmas with Red. He didn’t spend it with me either. He spent a week trekking on his own through the Olympic Peninsula rainforest.”
When I returned from New York, Jack not only looked tired, he looked old. His solitary brow looked more furrowed. His eyes appeared to have sunk at least a half-inch into his skull. He reminded me of textbook sketches I’d seen of Cro-Magnon man.
Even his mannerisms were changed. He began to eat like something wild, forgoing utensils, instead using bread to shovel food off a plate or out of a can and into his mouth. His apartment became more disheveled than ever, a den of empty beer bottles and dirty laundry. When he was ready to sleep, he’d simply nest in the center of whatever happened to be piled on his bed at the time.
He quit shaving, which meant that hair now covered about ninety percent of his body. While he still showered, he had foregone soap. Even those advertised as “unscented”, he told me, could be detected by “Sass”. He stopped brushing his teeth with toothpaste as well, so I didn’t mind that we stopped kissing.
We made love only once after my return. But it wasn’t about love; he took me roughly from behind, satisfying his animalistic urges.
Having entertained my friends back east for months with Sasquatch tales, I joked about the demise of my relationship with Jack, telling them he’d left me for someone with longer hair. I told them I had simply been the transitional person between his previous relationship and “Sass.” I had just filled a gap, served as a temporary rest-stop on Jack’s quest. As perhaps he had on mine.
I last saw Jack when I bumped into him at the Portland airport. Diploma in hand, I was flying back to New York for a brief family visit before heading off to Namibia for a stint with the Peace Corps. Jack was on his way to Nepal where he planned to go trekking in search of the elusive Yeti.
At some point in life, I guess we all have to go searching.