Bigfoot on the Beach
Morning again. The sand fleas were bad. But everything else here, the breeze, the good rough smell of the sea air, the way daylight wakes you slowly, was better than the forest. He stretched his massive arms, feeling his shoulder muscles expand against the sand, then groggily stood up to check out what the waves were up to today.
It was flat. Low tide. The water was licked with imminent sun.
He was readying himself to run toward it, to feel the cool black current, laced with stars, rinse the fleas from his fur, when he saw it —
A cluster of humans sitting in the sand.
He got down low, then peered up slowly, scanning through the blades of salt hay to discover that there were droves of them, little clusters of silhouettes dotted up and down the beach. Some of them surrounding small pits of orange fire.
What were they doing out this early?
Usually, the crowds, with their brightly-colored shade-makers and folding seat contraptions and rectangular mats and round balls and heavy boxes full of ice, didn’t arrive until late morning, at the earliest. It takes time to move such artillery.
He had a pang of missing Littlefoot and Mediumfoot, and all their artillery (banana peels, walnut shells, vine hammocks, bamboo husks), so he tried to diffuse it by looking back at the water. Its swirls of silver were just beginning to settle his nerves, when he noticed that one of the silhouettes, a tiny one, was looking in his direction. Her finger rising up toward him.
He dove back toward his nest, crouching low in the sand. He wasn’t too worried about them coming for him yet, a child the only one who seemed to have spotted him — and who believes a child?
But still. Why on earth were they here? He had a bad feeling.
Not only was it dawn, it was winter. Usually the only humans you got this time of year were the ones who wore dark bodysuits, who lumbered into the freezing water with big white boards upon which they tried, time and time again, to stand. Those ones never noticed him. He could walk out onto the sand entirely exposed, and they would mistake him for one of their kind, his fur looking like their bodysuits from that distance, if they noticed him at all. It looked fun, trying to stand on the water. He sometimes dreamt of swimming out to one and using his eyes and gestures to ask to borrow their board. He had a feeling, a hunch, he’d be good at riding it, knowing just when to stand, when to bend. But he knew that it was probably too grave a risk. Humans, even the ones so in love with the waves they seemed more peaceful than the rest, couldn’t help their natures.
He’d always wondered why his kind bothered them so. They seemed perfectly content with deer, with squirrels and raccoons coexisting alongside them. What was it about his species that riled them up so? He was almost entirely vegetarian, liked a good termite nest, if he could find one, the piquant crunch of a fire ant, but that was basically it. He would never dream of trying to consume mammalian flesh. The thought made him sick. He wanted only their friendship, or, less than that, a benevolent disregard, neighborliness. But they were never content to leave him be. The few times he’d been spotted, his presence had always brought screams, then the raising of objects — cameras, spears, nets, guns — which one, depended on the human. The bullet wound in his lower leg still ached most days, all these years later.
Sigh. He figured his only course of action was to crawl a half mile or so low in the dunes and make his way to the water once he was further from the hoards.
He was just about to sit up, to heave himself forward to begin the four legged crawl through the grass, when the tiny human appeared on the top of the dune. For an instant, before he registered her oddly tangy, chemical smell, he pictured it was Littlefoot. Poised high on a branch, about to bound on to his chest — their favorite game… Why had he left them? The answer wasn’t simple. He had come to feel encumbered by it all. The gathering, scraping, chewing everything for everyone. Finishing just in time to start it all again.
After leaving, he had initially tried living in the woods, a few woods over from their woods, but the branches were too dangerous, hung too thickly with memories. He’d find himself yearning. For the soft plunks of Littefoot, the gentle crackling of twigs as Mediumfoot sat nursing under a tree. A dangerous force, this yearning, for he knew, if he gave into it, it would pull him back to a life he did not want.
The foreignness of the beach, its flatness, its lack of trees, its waves, even its sand fleas, was his best protection. He was safe here, as long as he had those waves. Every morning rinsing off the memories that had accumulated overnight.
The tiny creature had drawn near. Her smells of vanilla, of cucumber, were overpowering. “Hi,” she whispered, waving her furless little hand.
Though he had no idea what the word meant, he grunted back, “Hunph.”
“Are you here to see the sunrise?” she asked.
Again, he could not understand the question, though he noted its tones of curiosity. He gestured at his nest. “My home,” he said, which came out like, “Hunnn, hun, hun. Hn hn.”
“It was my mom’s idea,” said the girl. “She came up with it a few weeks ago. She said we should all stay up late to watch the ball drop on TV, and then get up early and drive to the beach so that we’d be the first Americans to witness the dawning of the New Year! My dad said, ‘Well, technically, there are some beaches in Maine that are further East, who would see it before us.’ And my mom said, ‘Arg. Why do you have to rain on my parade?’ And my dad said, ‘Not trying to be mean! Just stating the facts.’ And my mom sighed and got gloomy. But they still woke us up this morning. It was pitch dark, and I was confused at first so they let all of us stay in our jammies, and we’ve just been sitting in blankets on the sand, waiting, waiting. Mom says it’s gonna be beautiful. A fresh start. Dad says it’s gonna look like an over-easy egg, cracking over the waves. Mom said we could go out for pancakes after! But dad worried nothing would be open on New Year’s Day. Or, that for those few places that were open, the lines would be too long. And mom said, ‘For chrissakes wasn’t your new years resolution to be more hopeful, Bill?’”
The girl got quiet, conspiratorial, whispered in Bigfoot’s ear, “Bill is my dad’s name.”
Bigfoot adored this. Being chatted with. He had no idea the meaning of any of her words but believed he could register the emotions beneath them. Namely, that she was confortable with him. He put his massive black palm out toward her.
Impossibly, she rested her tiny white starfish of a hand upon it.
The contact, he was helpless against it. He was awash in Littlefoot. In his divine, loamy smell. The memories swirling into him — the piggy back rides, the walnut fights, the time Bigfoot had defended them from bees, little bastards. The honey he had extracted from the hive, amber liquid dripping off his finger, and into Littlefoot’s mouth. Littlefoot’s copper eyes, warming wide. He wondered, dared to wonder, how old Littlefoot was now. Nearly a year, up to his shin, surely. How Mediumfoot would have been faring, without him around to gather food. Then he was slammed by a horrific image. Something he felt sure was the truth. Both of them dead. Eyes picked out by vultures, rib cages protruding from the forest floor, dangling with bits of meat and matted hair.
He took the tiny human into the crook of his elbow and lifted her to his chest. She giggled and reached her arms around his neck, her little fingers twisting and pulling at his fur in clumps. The warmth of her, the size of her, so like Littlefoot. He hugged her close.
She said, “uuuf.” Then, “ow.”
And he understood this to mean hold tighter. He complied. Hugging tighter and tighter, her breathing becoming labored, gruntlike, just like his.
He could feel it, her warmth, her breath, breathing life back into the skeletal images of Littlefoot, of Mediumfoot. An illusion, he knew, but a great one. Their skin plumping up nice, their fur prickling back into thick, shiny coats, their eyes alighting with gold. He hugged tighter and tighter until the wriggling in the creature’s limbs had stopped entirely. Till there was no more warmth to squeeze out.
He let the husk of her body flop to the sand and began his slow, achy crawl to those merciful waves, the hoots and cheers of humans resounding from just over the dunes.
About the Author
Lulu Miller is a Peabody award-winning journalist for National Public Radio. She is the Co-founder of NPR’s Invisibilia, a show about the invisible forces that shape human behavior. Before that, she was a reporter on the NPR Science Desk, and a founding producer of WYNC’s Radiolab. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with her wife and dog and writes stories when they are sleeping.