Somewhere deep in the trackless North Woods, amateur rock collectors — “rockhounds” — Frank Yontz and Bud Klassen made an unsought discovery, the biggest of their lives…
“Frank, we’ve got remains.” The lichen-encrusted rock Bud rolled away revealed a hairy skull, dried shreds of skin still clinging to its sunken cheeks and empty sockets.
Frank shuffled down beside him, into the limestone overhang shaded by towering pine trees.
He nodded his head and let out a low whistle.
Bud scrambled out and stood, dusting off his khakis. “Damn. Looks like we can’t go any further, Frank, until we get permission.”
“From who?” Frank still stared at the skull in the shadowed recesses of the rocks.
Bud shrugged. “What local tribe has jurisdiction here? Could be an ancestor of theirs.”
From the fold in the earth, Frank’s older, grizzled voice came back: “Tribes around here, they didn’t bury their dead. And Bud…”
“Conditions around here aren’t very good for mummification. This fellow’s not been here very long. Not more ‘n a couple, three years I’d guess.”
Bud grimaced. “Oh, hell. Then we’ve gotta contact authorities. Police, or FBI.”
“Or Canadian Mounties?” Frank chuckled. “I’m not sure which side of the border we’re on here. Hey, help me move a couple of these rocks.”
“Are you crazy?! This could be a crime scene. We shouldn’t touch anything else.”
The only sound that met Bud’s protest was the scraping of shifting rock.
Bud threw up his hands and dropped back into the crevice beside Frank. “Careful! You don’t want to damage it.”
It took both of them straining with all their might to remove a few more rocks, revealing more of the corpse.
“Must’ve taken more than one person to bury him,” Bud huffed. “These are some heavy frickin’ boulders.”
“Maybe,” Frank mumbled.
When they had gotten the torso exposed, Frank motioned for Bud to hand him the flashlight. He trained the beam on the ribcage, to which copious amounts of reddish-brown hair clung.
“Was he wearing a pelt?” Bud asked.
“That is its pelt,” Frank muttered. “Hairy son of a bitch.”
“Frank… What are we looking at? The skull’s not right. It looks… apelike.”
“Bud, slide on over there and remove a couple of those rocks down there, see if you can’t find the other end of it.”
Bud did so. “Got it, I’ve got foot bones down here.”
Frank pulled out his measuring tape and fed one end of it down to Bud. Then he read it off.
Bud let out a long breath. “Frank… Frank, this guy was eight feet tall.”
The men scrambled back out of the crevice and stood beneath the lengthening shadows of the pines, coming to grips with their discovery.
Finally, as if his mind had finally managed fully to digest it, Bud broke into a huge grin. Muffling his voice — as if there were any other living soul within miles of them — he whisper-shouted: “Frank, we’re the first men to find the remains of a Sasquatch.”
Frank’s eyes were slightly narrowed, thoughtful, as if he were still trying to piece something together. Then he raised his eyebrows and looked at his younger companion. “They bury their dead.”
Back at camp, Bud opened their bottle of bourbon and filled tin cups in celebration. Frank sat staring into the fire, staring at the middle distance, somewhere through and beyond the flames.
“A toast,” Bud said, “to, hmmm, well, our soon being famous, and rich, and our names in the history books. Who’da thunk a couple rock collectors would be the ones to happen upon proof of Bigfoot? Those guys, whaddathey call ‘em? Crypt — cryptozoologists, they’ve been turning up all the wrong stones. This must be the biggest zoological find of the past couple centuries.”
“Indeed it is.” Frank’s tone was neutral as he raised his cup to receive the clink of Bud’s.
Bud downed his bourbon. Frank took a swig of his own and squinted at the crackling logs.
“Frank? Something wrong — is it still sinking in?”
“Hmm?” Frank looked up. “No, no. I was just thinkin’.”
“Penny for your thought. Hell, a hundred dollars for your thought — we’ll be able to afford it.”
Frank looked up at the expanse of stars twinkling above the looming silhouettes of the pines, then fixed his gaze on Bud. “They’ve been elusive for centuries — avoided capture through sixty years now of dedicated Bigfoot hunters. They must know.”
“What a collision of their race and ours will mean. For them. Maybe not the specifics — but they sense enough to suspect. Put in cages, in zoos. Put on display, taken from their habitat and families and tribes or whatever it is they got. Poked, prodded, tested, dissected. Hunted down for trophy sport.”
Bud leapt on this last point. “I heard there are laws now protecting ‘em — laws passed just in case they did turn out to exist.”
“Such laws never stop poachers.”
“Frank, if we don’t come forward with this, someone else will — it’s inevitable. They exist. Someone else will find the proof.”
“Well,” Frank conceded, “maybe so. We could take some pictures, maybe bag a hair sample. That way, if anyone ever does come out with conclusive proof, then we can show that we found hard evidence first.”
“We’ll be just an afterthought,” Bud protested. “A footnote. Whoever goes public first will get all the glory.”
“Sure. But as elusive as these creatures have been, that may not happen during our lifetimes. It’s not just a question of being remembered — it’s what do you want to be remembered for?”
Both men lapsed into silence.
Then, as if struck by his own epiphany, Bud repeated something Frank had said earlier in the day. “They bury their dead.” He spoke it to the fire, the stars, the universe.
“M-hm. They bury their dead.”
Their eyes met, and the two men slowly nodded, as if silently communicating their thoughts. Frank broke the silence first.
“I’m thinkin’, at first light. Let’s rebury him.”
Nicholas Ozment teaches English at Winona State University. His stories and poems continue to appear in numerous magazines, book anthologies, and online zines. He is a co-editor of Every Day Fiction’s sister publication, Every Day Poets.