Gerald cut through the forest like the yellow tang in the fish tank in his dentist’s waiting room. Quick. Silent. Every step carefully calculated. Slipping around bushes and under tree branches. Avoiding fallen twigs, rocks, even leaves. What if he supposed a leaf to be soft and then he stepped on it and it made an unholy crunch that bounced about the forest like a pinball in one of the pinball machines in the basement of Paddy’s? No good, no good. Gerald needed utmost silence. Even his breathing he kept soft and shallow.
It was here, in these woods. Had it been anyone else, he would have thought them a braggart and a liar. Who would believe it? Such a thing so far east? But he had followed tips from SassyBird on the forums twice before, and both times he had found what he was looking for. The others in the chat seemed to ignore or sometimes even mock SassyBird. Lord knows he had rolled his eyes when their first tip had come through. But there had been nothing going on for Gerald that weekend – Reese was gone for a work trip and his bowling league had been cancelled due to a catastrophic failure of the pinsetter whipping pins down the lanes and taking out a ten year old’s birthday party – so he had come out to the forest. It had taken a few hours, but by God he had found it.
Gerald came across a creek and sat down on a nice, flat stone. It was a hot day, the sun strong even through the trees, but the creek was mostly snowmelt and the temperature around it was refreshingly cool. Gerald could feel the sweat at the back of his neck icing up. With easy movements he put his backpack at his feet and took from it his battered book. His camera was already strung around his neck. He’d already botched one picture opportunity, snapping away without realizing the cap was still on, so today he was taking a chance and leaving it off. Another great reason to walk carefully. If he tripped and broke it Reese would have his head.
For now, he left the camera around his neck. His binoculars had been in hand the whole time, and he brought them up and swept across the forest and the creek lazily. A part of him had been feeling guilty about SassyBird as of late. Despite finding exactly what SassyBird said he would, he’d never responded on the forums to tell everyone they had been right. He almost had. He’d written it all out, and his finger had hovered above his mouse as his pointer hovered over the SEND button. At the last minute he gave up and just closed the whole page. Not out of shyness, no, he was very active on the forums. It was, unfortunately, something more craven. Selfishness. If he confirmed SassyBird’s stories, who else would be out here right now, traipsing through the woods, making a scene, ruining everything? Who else would get to the prize first? Probably BigBlueFoot, the piping hot jerk. He had money and no job, and was always quick to brag about it. That and everything else.
BigBlueFoot was an obvious jerk, but Gerald had become afraid that he had made Gerald into one, too. That was why he was going to get a picture today. He was going to post it in the forum, and show everyone SassyBird knew what they were talking about. They would be a Cassandra no more.
Something moving caught Gerald’s eye as he scanned the other side of the creek. He snapped the binoculars back and then froze. If this was it, he didn’t want to scare it off. Whatever it was moved closer and closer to the creek, finally stepping out of the thick brush. Gerald slowly lowered the binoculars, his grip loosening so he almost dropped them.
The man on the other side of the creek wasn’t quite a man. He was too tall, arms too gangly and feet and hands too big. He was naked and humming to himself, something Gerald thought he recognized. And he was covered head to toe in light brown fur and hair.
“Hamburgers!” Gerald muttered under his breath.
The fuzzy man on the other side of the creek noticed Gerald for the first time and did a double take. He stepped backward and nearly fell, catching himself on a sapling. Gerald sat on his stone, transfixed, until the fuzzy man was upright and composed and glaring at Gerald.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to startle you,” Gerald said. “I’ve been extra quiet today, although truth be told, I didn’t think I’d be quiet enough to sneak up on you. Can I hazard a guess that you are Bigfoot?”
The fuzzy man scowled and made a phlegmy sound in the back of his throat.
Gerald held up his hands. “Excuse me, how rude. Sasquatch, then?”
Sasquatch’s face smoothed over – as much as it could with all that hair – and Gerald would later swear to everyone in his knitting circle that Sasquatch nodded.
“My name is Gerald. I live in Gun Oil, down the mountain. Do you know it?”
Sasquatch again nodded before his mood turned as sour as one of the candies Mina Callaway sold in her general store. He pointed at Gerald…no, not at Gerald. At the camera.
“Oh, that’s not for you,” Gerald said, waving a hand. “I could never be so rude as to walk into a man’s home and just start snapping pictures of him. Oh, this is your home isn’t it? And you know it very well? Perhaps you could help me.”
Gerald picked up his book and crossed the creek, looking for stones to hop from to keep his boots from getting wet. Sasquatch stood in his place, watching with a combination of confusion and amusement. Gerald reached the smell before he reached Sasquatch and forced his face to remain neutral. He had real help, here, and he didn’t want to insult him. He held the book out and pointed to the page.
“Do you see that one there? That is called a garden plover. They are very rare around here, usually found further west, but I have it on very good authority that there’s one in these woods as we speak. Have you seen such a bird?”
Gerald had heard tales of Sasquatch, of course. Hadn’t everybody? Only, the stories were never consistent. He looked differently in each one, acted differently, and his intelligence varied from superhuman to nonexistent. Gerald watched as Sasquatch looked at the book page. It was impossible to read his face. Was he studying the bird? Or trying to decide if he could eat the book?
After what felt like hours but was probably only seven and a half seconds, Sasquatch turned around and began to walk away. Gerald’s shoulders drooped, and with a sigh he closed the book. He really thought he had something. He’d have to find the bird on his own then.
A grunt made him look up. Sasquatch was standing at the tree line, staring at him with a face and a particular way of holding his shoulders and arm that only meant one thing no matter who it was.
Gerald followed quickly, and kept close to Sasquatch as he led him through the forest. The grace and fluidity with which he moved through the trees was mesmerizing. As quiet as Gerald had been, Sasquatch was completely silent, his large feet not making a single noise as they padded softly through the underbrush. Gerald tried to mimic his steps and found that, compared to Sasquatch, he was as loud as that time the volunteer firefighters accidentally ingested those magic mushrooms at last year’s Fourth of July party and started spraying the cars parked downtown with the firehose. Sasquatch led him away from the creek long enough that he began to wonder if he was being lured to his death. But that didn’t make any sense, as Gerald was quite sure he had heard Sasquatch was vegetarian.
Sasquatch stopped abruptly and Gerald skidded in the mud to keep from walking into the tall man’s back. He put a finger up to his lips, and then pointed out in front.
At first, Gerald saw nothing, and waited for Sasquatch to hit him from behind.
Sitting on a branch, preening its green and gold feathers. The garden plover! Holding his breath, Gerald pulled up his camera and, once the bird was in his sights again, snapped picture after picture, using up the whole roll of film.
“Wonderful,” he muttered. “Beautiful. Stunning. They will never believe it on the forums.”
Sasquatch snorted, and Gerald patted his arm.
“I won’t mention you, my good man,” Gerald said. “Not a word, you’ve got my promise. Even if I did – which I won’t! – there wouldn’t be much interest in you on a birding forum. I’d have to go over to the forum for you and those people…”
He made the screw loose gesture next to his head, and Sasquatch laughed. Laughed!
“I’ll tell my husband, of course,” Gerald said as they walked back to the creek. “I tell him everything, but he knows snitches get stitches. Oh, and the knitting circle. They’ll think I’m just blowing air again. This bird, though…SassyBird is finally going to get their due.”