Dilbert Duggan stood in a small clearing of the Black Hills National Forest holding a pair of night-vision binoculars to his scowling face. Silently, he scanned the tree line for signs of movement … bipedal movement.
When he lowered the device, his octagonal wire-frame glasses and ushanka hat made him look vaguely like a Bond villain — or a constipated optometrist with a koala bear asleep on his head.
“Thermal!” Duggan barked, holding the binoculars in his outstretched hand.
His counterpart, Doug Spiner, took the green-tinted binoculars from Duggan and replaced them with a thermal imaging camera, all the while listening through headphones for any sounds picked up by a parabolic microphone.
“Did you hear that?” Duggan suddenly hissed.
“Shush!” Duggan scolded, then quickly cocked his head to the left. “Did you hear that?”
“What?” Spiner repeated.
“Wood knock, 200 yards west!”
Spiner swung the parabolic around just in time to pick up a hollow wooden sound, twice. “I heard that,” he said.
“We’ve definitely got squatches in these woods,” Duggan declared.
“Oh, isn’t that lovely,” Amelia Dearhart said. “Tea?”
She set down the needlepoint she was working on with the message, “Be the cryptid you wish to see in the woods,” and held out a thermos cup of elderberry tea.
Duggan curled the corner of his upper lip over a row of crooked teeth and snarled, “Not now, Amelia!”
“Oh, that’s a shame, Dil,” she said. “Elderberry is high in antioxidants, good for warding off a cold! It also has a laxative effect, which you could use about now.”
Sitting on an embroidered camp stool, the older woman took a sip of the tea. Picking up her needlepoint, she stared at it through her own night-vision goggles and resumed right where she’d left off.
Meanwhile, Duggan grabbed an ax handle and gave the trunk of a nearby tree a couple of sturdy whacks.
“Now, let’s see what they do with that!” he said, poking the air with a gloved finger.
When speaking to crowds, Duggan liked to brag that he’d been “tracking” Bigfoot for 25 years. As president of the North American Great Ape Preservation Society, or NAGAPS — pronounced “NAY-gaps” — he considered himself the world’s “preeminent expert” on Sasquatch.
While in college studying computer science, Duggan had been hired by Malcolm Jeffries, a professor of primatology and expert on animal morphology, to develop a database of Sasquatch sightings. Upon Professor Jeffries’ untimely death, Duggan abruptly declared himself president of NAGAPS, the fledgling organization Jeffries had founded.
Duggan might have as easily proclaimed himself “Oz, the first wizard deluxe,” but he had been promoting himself as a cryptid “expert” ever since.
Spiner — at 5-foot-4, the Jeff to the 6-foot-6-inch Duggan’s Mutt — took charge of the group’s ever-growing collection of gear, cleaning it and carrying it, as well as booking all their travel. He liked to refer to himself as NAGAPS’ “camp conductor,” a term he picked up in his weekend hobby of attending mountain man rendezvous.
Jointly, they were known in the Bigfoot community as “Dug-Doug.” In addition to responding to Duggan’s barks and yips that night, the thin-haired but thick-skinned Spiner also handled the digital recording equipment.
He lifted his eyebrows as a short howl drifted through the night.
“I knew it,” Duggan said excitedly. “Didn’t I say these woods were squatchy?”
“Slow your roll there, chief,” said Lark Alder, a forestry major from the University of Montana who was interning with NAGAPS. “That short howl that rises and falls in pitch is typical of the plains coyote, Canis latrans latrans. They’re plentiful out here.”
“You’re nuts!” Duggan spat back, pointing the ax handle at Alder. “That’s a squatch vocalization! This forest is one of the squatchiest places I’ve ever seen! Have you ever even seen a Sasquatch?”
“No,” Lark said, stuffing her hands in the pockets of her L.L. Bean barn jacket. “But I bet I’ve seen a lot more coyotes than you’ve seen Sasquatch.”
“I’ve been tracking the elusive Bigfoot for 25 years!” Duggan bellowed. “I’m the world’s preeminent authority on the habitat and behavior of the North American great ape!”
“Okay, habitat expert, what kind of tree were you banging on a minute ago?”
Spiner and Dearhart, whose heads had been wagging back and forth like the crowd at Wimbledon, turned all their attention to Duggan.
After a long pause, he said, “It’s deciduous. You can’t identify a deciduous tree in the winter when all the leaves are off.”
“Quaking aspen,” Alder said quietly but firmly. “Quaking …”
She kneeled to retie the lace of her Timberland hiking boot, stood up, and began whistling lightly while rocking back and forth on her heels.
“Well, we’re not going to find any squatches tonight,” Dilbert said. “All this racket has scared them off! Doug, break camp. We’ve got a symposium in the morning!”
“I’ll give you a hand,” Lark said, winning a smile from the thankful Spiner.
“Oh, really, Dil!” Amelia huffed as she folded her camp stool, picked up her thermos, and headed for the group’s Toyota Land Cruiser.
* * *
The NAGAPS Rapid Response Squad, as Duggan styled it, had traveled to South Dakota after receiving reports of a shaggy, two-legged creature being spotted in the Black Hills area. Some sightings had the biped brazenly strolling along scenic Highway 16A near Keystone.
The mere notion of Bigfoot taking up residence under the stony gaze of Mount Rushmore’s famous faces had been enough to set the news media agog. A Sasquatch Symposium was hastily organized at Rapid City’s Monument convention venue.
“I think it would be stupid of us not to have a slot on that agenda,” Duggan had said in his usual surly rumble, so Spiner had pulled a few strings. A call to an old college roommate teaching in the paleontology department at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology got them on the list.
Spiner had also worked his Travelocity points to score the group rooms at the Hotel Alex Johnson, widely known as South Dakota’s most haunted hostelry.
Taking the stage on the first day of the symposium, just after lunch — a menu of chislic, cheese curds, and a craft beer called Skunk Ape — Duggan ignored an elaborate PowerPoint presentation prepared by Spiner showing locations of Sasquatch sightings west of the Mississippi.
Decked out in duck boots, corduroy trousers, and a NAGAPS-logoed fleece vest over his button-down shirt and tie, Duggan launched into a lecture about so-called Bigfoot “nurseries.” He proposed that Custer State Park might be one of these areas, chosen by Sasquatch families as particularly safe for juveniles to roam freely.
Duggan completely ignored the high density of tourists, traffic, and buffalo in the park.
“We’ve even recorded the sounds of North American great ape mothers singing lullabies to their young, which are called kits,” Duggan lied, provoking a confused expression from Spiner and Dearhart and an eye roll from Alder.
Duggan looked squarely at two jewelry-bedecked older women in the audience and began imitating the so-called “Squatch-a-by” with a series of chortling coos, not unlike Bing Crosby singing “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral.”
“Oh, Mr. Duggan!” one of the women said as he stepped down from the stage. “Your interpretation of the Sasquatch lullaby was positively charming! How do you learn such things?”
“So moving!” the other sniffed, dabbing her eyes with an Hermés scarf. “I can just picture that mother, cradling that darling little monkey in her arms!”
“Years of painstaking research in the field, ladies,” Duggan declared. “It doesn’t come cheap, but there’s no substitute for it … if we hope to preserve the habitat of the North American great ape!”
Then he gave them his best steely squint — something like David Attenborough meets Clint Eastwood.
“Why, even as we speak, everything from logging interests to urban sprawl is reducing great ape habitat — threatening to put Sasquatch orphans on the street!”
“Oh, my!” the first woman said. “How can we help?”
“As a nonprofit organization, NAGAPS accepts donations of cash, negotiable securities, jewelry …” Duggan said. “There will be someone at our booth throughout the symposium if you feel moved by compassion to make a donation.”
As he walked away, one of the women pulled her checkbook from a Louis Vuitton handbag while the other began removing her diamond earrings.
The rest of the team clustered around Duggan as he walked out of the Monument’s theater and into the south concourse, which was crowded with booths and tables.
“That was quite a performance, chief,” Lark said. “I’ve never heard anything like that in the woods!”
Duggan stared straight ahead, stopping periodically to shake hands with admirers.
“You might have at least told me you had audio of Sasquatch singing,” a panicked Spiner said. “What’ll we tell people who come to our merch table?”
“This isn’t a Time-Life album, Doug, like Best of the Midnight Special,” Duggan said. “We’re a wildlife organization, not K-tel! Just sell them one of the other CDs of squatch vocalizations. If they’re listening for the Sasquatch lullaby, they’ll hear it.”
Suddenly, a tall, broad-shouldered woman in a tie-dye shirt and love beads, camouflage pants, and crocs blocked the group’s path. Her hair was woven into cornrows reminiscent of Bo Derek in the movie 10, with feathers interlaced here and there.
“Well, if it isn’t Dug-Doug … and friends,” she said, staring down Duggan and Spiner, her arms folded across her ample chest. “Are you kids thinking of starting a Bigfoot tribute band? The New Squatchy Minstrels, perhaps?”
“We’re not entertainers, Aurora,” Spiner’s nasally voice hummed out for the group, provoking a raised eyebrow from Aurora Borealis, leader of SquatchSeek. Spiner stroked his weedy mustache in a nervous gesture and added, “We’re a conservation group. Everything we do is based on science.”
“Oh, and that yodeling Duggan was doing on stage,” Aurora asked, as members of the news media gathered around them, “was that … ‘science’?”
“A lot more scientific than those Sasquatch-scented candles your medicine show is hawking,” Duggan snapped, his tongue lashing out like a cat-o’-nine-tails as photographers’ flashes popped around them.
“They’re really just patchouli,” Spiner said.
“Oh, that sounds lovely!” Amelia sighed, lifting a large candle from the SquatchSeek table and taking a big whiff.
“Not now, Amelia!” Duggan growled.
“So good for anxiety and depression, Dil,” the older woman said. “A touch wouldn’t hurt you.”
“SquatchSeek is in tune with the Bigfoot universe,” said Kitty, a 20-ish girl with braces and a nest of frizzy hair.
“The squatch is an interdimensional being,” chimed in Tommy, a man with a shaggy beard and round glasses, sitting in the SquatchSeek booth. “You’re more likely to find him with some good ’shrooms than any trail cam.”
Lark Alder, who had never encountered the rival organization, chuckled at the mix of woodsy wall hangings and new age crystals SquatchSeek was doling out, but she had to admit, they were getting a lot of traffic. She picked up a paperback book and read the title, Fallen Angels: The Biblical Basis for Bigfoot, before a footprint casting caught her eye.
“I cast that one myself on a yoga retreat in the Clatsop State Forest,” Borealis said, her face beaming.
“It’s a nice cast, all right,” Alder said, a TV reporter shoving a microphone into her face. “But it’s not Bigfoot. It’s black bear.”
With the cast in her right hand, she began tracing details with the index finger of her left.
“You see, when the rear paw comes forward, it overlays the print left by the front one, creating the image of a larger, more humanlike foot,” Alder said. “Here, you can make out some faint impressions of the claws in front.”
“That may be,” the wide-eyed Kitty said, “but it’s only because Bigfoot is a shapeshifter!”
“Are you saying that Bigfoot is some sort of extraterrestrial?” one reporter demanded.
“Could be, dude,” Tommy said, scratching his beard. “UFO reports and Bigfoot sightings … there’s a lot of overlay in that Venn diagram. Now, one time at the US Festival—”
“I am the world’s foremost authority on the North American great ape!” Duggan interrupted, grabbing the reporter’s microphone. “And that’s just what it is: a species of ape heretofore undocumented by mainstream science — not an exhibit in their supernatural sideshow!”
“Why don’t you put your money where your mouth is, Dug-Doug?” Aurora said, poking the big man in the center of his NAGAPS vest. “I bet you a hundred bucks that SquatchSeek will find conclusive evidence that Bigfoot exists in the Black Hills before you audio-visual club nerds do.”
“Make it a thousand!” Duggan said, slapping away Borealis’ hand. Dearhart sighed, while Alder chuckled and adjusted her U.S. Forestry Service cap. Spiner looked alarmed as an imaginary abacus totaled up the group’s finances in his head.
“The race is on,” one TV reporter intoned, looking into a video camera. “Who will be the first to find Bigfoot in our midst — the empirical North American Great Ape Preservation Society or the more mystical SquatchSeek?”
* * *
That evening at the Hotel Alex Johnson’s rooftop bar, Lark gazed past the buildings of downtown Rapid City to the hills beyond as the ice melted in her cranberry and soda. Seated across a bistro table from her, Amelia took a long sip of her Moscow mule through the stirring straw as she pored over a brochure detailing the hotel’s haunted past.
“Ooh, do you think we’ll see the Lady in White, Lark? What a thrill!” Amelia said, the mass of buns in her pale hair jostling as she bounced in her seat. “I wish I was staying in Room 812! At least we’re on the eighth floor, though.”
“Why did you join NAGAPS in the first place, Amelia?” Lark asked. “You don’t seem the type.”
Dearhart’s face, overpainted for the night out, rose from the brochure to look at the younger woman.
“Oh, that was a mistake! I thought it was a birding group.”
“A what? How could you mistake the North American Great Ape Preservation Society for a bird-watching organization?”
“I thought the second A stood for avian,” Amelia said, looking down again.
“But why do you put up with Duggan and all his nonsense?” Lark asked.
“Oh, the poor dear …”
“Dilbert Duggan? A dear?”
“No, the Lady in White,” Amelia said, holding out the pamphlet. “Imagine that, jumping out that window on her wedding night! Or was she …,” Dearhart gasped, “… murdered?”
Across the bar at a different table, Doug Spiner looked like he might jump out a window himself.
“You shouldn’t have made that bet, Dil! We maxed out our travel budget just coming here.”
“We can always pay it off in diamond earrings,” Duggan said with a guttural chuckle.
“But what if SquatchSeek finds evidence of Bigfoot first?” Spiner said. “Just think of what that’d do to NAGAPS’s credibility!”
Duggan knocked back a slug of Scotch and squinted at Spiner through his octagonal glasses.
“Well, we’ll just have to make sure they don’t.”
* * *
The elevator doors opened on the eighth floor, and Duggan gave Spiner a firm shove out. The smaller man stumbled forward and then turned to say, “I don’t know, Dil. Is this ethical?”
“It’s a reconnaissance mission!” Duggan said. “We need intel!” He pointed his finger down the hall as the elevator doors closed.
Spiner saw his image reflected in the shiny gold doors of the elevator. He looked at his receding hairline and teardrop glasses, his houndstooth sport coat and brown double-knit pants.
Spiner shrugged, walked down the hall, and knocked tentatively on the door of Room 812. Nothing. “Huh, maybe she’s not in,” he thought.
Just as he was breathing a sigh of relief, the door abruptly opened to reveal the 5-foot-11-inch Aurora Borealis towering over him in a white satin and lace peignoir, her cornrowed hair glowing in the soft light. She leaned one outstretched arm against the doorframe and raised an eyebrow in a look of amused expectation.
“Well, little Dougie,” she said, running the fingernail of her index finger under his chin. “What brings you here? Does Duggan know you’re out past your bedtime?”
“Ah … Aurora … I, I wanted to ask your opinion on something.”
Straightening up, Borealis ran her hands down the length of her body, from just below the lace cups of her negligee to her satiny thighs. “How curious of you,” she murmured.
At the sound of a ruckus coming around the corner, Spiner’s jaw fell slack, like a schoolboy caught stealing jam. Borealis grabbed his arm and flung him into the room behind her. Two women turning into the hallway caught just a glimpse of the statuesque figure as the door slammed shut.
* * *
Amelia Dearhart, her arm draped sloppily around the neck of Lark Alder, suddenly stood straight up. “Lark!” she gasped. “Did you see that?”
Lark, struggling under the weight of Amelia, wailed, “What?”
“Going into Room 812 … the Lady in White!”
“I think that’s the vodka talking,” Alder said. “We better get you back to your room.”
Lark steered Amelia to the door of Room 814, took her key card, opened the door, and dropped her friend on the bed.
“You sure you’ll be all right?”
“I shall,” Amelia said with a dramatic wave of her arm, her back flat against the duvet and her feet dangling off the end of the bed. “Unless the ghost of Alex Johnson, that frisky gentleman, pays me a visit in the night!”
She let out a girlish giggle.
“Good … night!” Lark said and closed the hotel room door.
Stepping into the empty hallway, she heard another giggle and detected the sound of a child’s footsteps but saw nothing. She felt a chill, and the hair stood up on the back of her neck as the footsteps trotted past.
* * *
Inside Room 812, Aurora Borealis slunk toward Doug Spiner as he dabbed perspiration from his forehead with a handkerchief. Standing just inches apart, she gazed down at the top of his head as she untied his paisley necktie.
“It’s quite the cute little bald spot you’ve got there,” she said.
Staring into her clavicle, he cleared his throat. “I, uh, normally comb over it. I guess I forgot.”
“Oh, I like … bare skin,” she said, swirling her index finger on the top of his head. “Now, Dougie, what was it you wanted to ask me?”
“About Dil’s presentation today … I know you weren’t buying the whole Sasquatch lullaby,” Spiner said. “What are your opinions of Bigfoot child rearing?”
“I’d much rather discuss … mating patterns,” she said, grabbing the lapels of his jacket and pulling him onto the bed.
* * *
An hour later, Amelia Dearhart sat bolt upright in the room next door, awakened by the most unearthly moans she’d ever heard.
“I knew it!” she said. “This place is haunted!” Then she fell back onto the bed and giggled again. Loud snores soon filled the room.
* * *
One floor above, Dilbert Duggan was awakened from a fitful sleep by the sound of drumming. Grabbing his glasses from the bedside table, he was startled to see the spectral image of a Lakota brave standing at the foot of the bed.
The phantom — dressed in buckskin shirt, breechcloth, and leggings, his long braids wrapped in fur — chanted in a native language. The chant and drumming reached a crescendo and suddenly stopped. He pointed a single drumstick and said, “Dilbert Duggan!”
Duggan jumped in his bed and drew up his legs, clutching the bedclothes around him.
“You mock the Chiye-Tanka, Dilbert Duggan!” the ghost said. “Do not seek our Big Elder Brother in our sacred forest! You pursue him at your own peril!”
The drumming and chanting continued, and Duggan hid his face beneath the covers. Summoning his courage, he fumbled about the nightstand for his travel alarm clock and threw it toward the foot of the bed. It hit the wall with a loud thunk and fell to the floor, ringing incessantly.
When Duggan peeked out from under the blankets, his tormentor was gone.
Out in the hallway, the SquatchSeek member with the beard and glasses was peeling five $10 bills off a roll and handing them to the “ghost,” who responded, “Hey, thanks, Tommy.”
“It was worth it, man,” Tommy said, “every freakin’ penny.”
* * *
The next morning, a ragged-looking Dilbert Duggan hid bloodshot eyes behind a pair of Vision Ops Viper wrap-around sunglasses, worn over his trademark octagonal wire frames. He didn’t recognize desk clerk Henry Two Lance — dressed in his hotel uniform rather than buckskins — when he dropped his key on the oaken reception counter.
Doug Spiner kept his eyes straight ahead as he stepped out of the elevator with Aurora Borealis, who turned quickly toward the hotel restaurant without a word. Lark Alder, however, wondered about the pink camo scarf jauntily displayed as a pocket square on Spiner’s chore coat and Borealis’ makeshift belt, which looked for all the world like a paisley necktie.
Amelia Dearhart held an ice bag on her head and sipped from a thermos cup of ginger and chamomile tea, laced with organic honey, as she sat in a leather armchair in the hotel lobby.
“Let’s get out of this spook house,” Duggan growled as Alder and Spiner picked up the team’s gear.
* * *
Heading south on Highway 16A, they drove through Keystone, where a purveyor of yard art displayed a 12-foot-tall Bigfoot statue reminiscent of the SkyMall Garden Yeti. Hastily erected roadside stands peddled everything from Sasquatch hair conditioner to Moth Man bug zappers in front of motels and gas stations.
A sign for handmade fudge caught Amelia’s attention, but Duggan — like an irascible father on a family vacation — refused to stop. “We’re scientists,” he snarled, “not a bunch of second-rate travel-writing hacks!”
He finally pulled the Land Cruiser into a small parking area at the head of Lovers’ Leap Trail in Custer State Park, where Knute Olsson, a local NAGAPS member, was waiting to greet them.
“This trail is a regular Sasquatch hotspot,” Olsson said, enthusiastically pumping Duggan’s hand. “I find tracks up here all the time!”
As Olsson led them down the trail, Amelia’s eye was attracted by the first blooms of the season — purple coneflowers and black-eyed Susans, wild blue flax and pasqueflower.
“Oh, they’re lovely,” she gasped, kneeling down for a closer look.
“That’s Anemone patens,” Lark said, “the state flower. South Dakotans consider it a harbinger of spring.”
As Amelia admired the wildflowers, something among the foliage just off the trail caught Lark’s attention — a deep impression roughly the shape of a human foot but wider at the heel. A line across the middle of the print appeared to be a midtarsal break, a feature common among primates but not normally seen in humans.
She kept the observation to herself and told Dearhart, “We better catch up with the others.”
About a hundred yards down the trail, Olsson was pointing to the ground and shouting, “Didn’t I tell you? Didn’t I tell you?”
Among the boot trampings along the heavily trafficked trail, some prints of bare feet led into the bushes. The NAGAPS Rapid Response Squad could clearly make out two sets of prints, one smaller than the other.
“We better cast these,” Duggan said. “Doug, break out the plaster.”
Alder stuck out her foot, hovering her boot just above the soil next to one of the smaller prints.
“About my size, 8 and half,” she said. “So what distinguishes these from human footprints?”
“What human would be wandering around barefoot up here this time of year?” Duggan said, accenting the word human as if he was saying, “Duuuuh!”
“They have to be squatches!” he added.
Spiner poked around the bushes with a stick and pulled it back with a condom stuck on the end.
“Did the squatches leave the prophylactic, too?” he asked.
“Maybe that’s why they call it Lovers’ Leap,” Amelia giggled.
“Don’t listen to them,” Duggan told Olsson. “I’m the world’s preeminent authority on the North American great ape! I certainly know Sasquatch tracks when I see them! Cast them!”
Spiner sighed, swung a backpack off his shoulder and reached inside for the casting plaster.
“This place looks pretty squatchy,” Duggan said, staring down the trail with a far-off look in his eye. “Surely, we’ll find definitive evidence of Bigfoot here. This is where we’ll do our night investigation.”
* * *
As nightfall shrouded the ponderosa pines, Aurora and her SquatchSeek team hung glow sticks in the trees along Grace Coolidge Creek west of the Coolidge General Store in Custer State Park. Lime green, blue, fuchsia, and orange, they gave the woods an eerie glow, like ghostly popsicles growing on branches.
“These should bring some curious cryptids around,” Aurora said.
“Especially if they’re hungry,” Tommy said, giving an orange glow stick a long slurp before hanging it in a tree. “Not much flavor, though.”
Kitty spread a Navajo blanket on the ground, sat cross-legged, and began chanting while playing finger cymbals.
* * *
At Lovers’ Leap Trail, Duggan paced nervously, like a high school boy waiting for his prom date to descend the stairs to her parents’ living room. The headphone-bedecked Spiner scanned the tree line with the parabolic microphone.
“Shh!” he said suddenly to the already silent group. Alder lifted her hands in a wordless “What?” while Dearhart just shrugged and took a bite of her homemade pemmican bar.
“What’ve you got?” Duggan demanded.
“Something to the west,” Spiner said, touching a hand to one covered ear, as if that would increase the volume. “It sounds like someone talking, but I can’t make out the words. It’s like … gibberish.”
“That’s them!” Duggan uttered in an exalted whisper. “That’s the squatches talking to each other! Be sure you’re rolling tape on this.”
* * *
Along the creek, Tommy put a hand on Kitty’s shoulder, and the chanting stopped.
“I thought I heard something,” he said, “like hissing, off that way.” He wagged his hand to the east.
“I’m going to try a call,” Aurora said. Taking a deep breath, she let out a long screech, adding a trill toward the end of the cry.
* * *
Back at Lovers’ Leap Trail, Dilbert did a fist pump as Amelia gasped. Doug pulled out his pocket square and dabbed his forehead with it. Lark leaned closer to get a better look in the pale moonlight. Were those … leg holes … in the pink camo fabric?
“Why don’t you try a response?” Spiner said.
Duggan tilted back his head and gave a long howl, which was followed by a couple of low grunts.
“The grunts were a nice touch, Dil,” Amelia said, “like my late husband first thing in the morning.”
“Grunts? What grunts?”
“She’s right, Dil,” Spiner added. “Those were great.”
* * *
The SquatchSeek team, who had been running their own tape recorder, suddenly broke camp.
“Let’s head that way,” Aurora said. “Keep your eyes peeled and your chakras open. With any luck, we’ll run right into them!”
“I can smell the squatch vibes already,” Tommy said, taking a few sniffs.
* * *
As Dug-Doug argued about the quality of guttural sounds the group may or may not have heard, Lark noticed something in the woods to the south — four spots glowing like red embers.
“Eye shine,” she said softly, ignored by the others. As the lights moved closer, she began to make out two rough shapes.
A crashing sound in the trees immediately to the west commanded the rest of the NAGAPS team’s attention.
“Get the camera ready,” Duggan commanded. “THIS … IS … IT!”
Spiner lifted the night-vision camera to his eye and …
… Aurora, Tommy and Kitty poured through the bushes and into the NAGAPS camp!
“Wh-what?” Duggan cried, his upper lip twitching until it seemed like it would snap off its roller.
“Oh, hi, honey,” Spiner said.
“Honey?” Dearhart said, twisting her head toward Aurora Borealis with an audible snap.
“You thief!” Borealis accused, shoving Duggan. “You stole our spot!”
“Whaddaya mean your spot?” Duggan boomed back. “I’m the world’s most preeminent authority on the North American great ape!”
“Aww, puddin’ pop, take it easy!” Spiner told Aurora, trying to step between her and Duggan and winding up on his can in the dirt.
Alder could now see the two figures plainly — both covered in dark hair, with long arms and conical craniums. The taller one, about 7 to 8 feet, had its hand (paw?) on the shoulder of the smaller one, about 6 feet tall.
“You see, son,” the taller creature said, “that’s why we don’t mix with them. They’re crazy!”
The smaller creature stared straight at Alder and said, “You can have ’em!”
“I’m not sure I want them,” she replied.
The two creatures just shook their heads, turned and walked back into the forest.
* * *
The next morning’s Rapid City Journal reported that the South Dakota Highway Patrol had arrested a man walking along Highway 16A. At night. In a ghillie suit.
Motorists had been startled when something covered in long fibers like Spanish moss suddenly appeared in the beams of their headlights. Two cars nearly hit him, and a busload of tourists returning late from photographing buffalo ran off the road.
Thomas “Truck” Murdock, 32, unemployed and recently drummed out of the South Dakota National Guard, told authorities that he hoped the stunt would draw more visitors to the Black Hills in the off-season. “Maybe I could get a job in a motel or something,” he said.
After that, the local press had the “Bigfoot” story all to themselves.
Lark Alder returned to the University of Montana but didn’t mention what she’d seen in her final report on her internship.
Although Duggan insisted he had won the bet with the plaster casts NAGAPS made at Lovers’ Leap Trail, he never collected the $1,000 from SquatchSeek. “Consider it a wedding present,” he reluctantly told Borealis and Spiner.
Featured image: Shutterstock
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