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“Death and Daffodils” by Tyrean Martinson

Before:
I had never seen death up close.

During:
Your chest stopped moving. Your fingertips turned blue, followed by your hands, your wrists…I tugged on my mom’s hand, but she was praying.

Just after:
Weeping, shouting. A flurry of nurses. Phone calls. Harsh words. A funeral procession.
Yellow flowers.

Months later:
Dust motes over the sage green couch at my grandmother’s house. A black, pink, blue, and white afghan throw. Dandelions in a water glass vase.
No. I don’t want to read a book. I don’t want to watch TV.
My grandmother leaves me be.
I stare through the dusty window at the dusky ripe plums, get distracted by the grinding whir of the mantle clock my grandpa loved: a sad clown in a dark suit whose arm moves up at down with a bottle in its hand. My grandpa didn’t drink, but loved that clock. It’s the only thing he owned left in the house. Even his favorite maroon sweatshirt was thrown out like trash.
I miss him.
But I begin to understand that he wasn’t nice to my grandmother or my aunts or my mom, or anyone other than my older cousins and I. We were children, and he was gentle with us.
I have the photo album he gave me. One picture of him standing by his garden.

Decades later:
Even knowing the pain he caused, even seeing mental illness shatter loved ones, even experiencing the legacy of family abuse, I miss his smile, his laugh, his hope that he had changed, finally, near the end. The last three months, he had hope in forgiveness, in heaven, in mercy he knew he didn’t deserve.

Last night:
I remembered again his favorite color was yellow. He loved daffodils. He admired male ballerinas more than football players; he would stop any program and change the channel to watch either a ballet or a football game. He enjoyed the beauty of movement. He loved horses and his garden.
I can accept that he was a broken man, as I remember the good in him.

Today:
I found that old picture of him, wearing his maroon sweatshirt, standing by his wheelbarrow, looking down at his garden.

Outside:
Daffodils unfold.

Tyrean Martinson (she/her) changes her bio nearly every time she submits a story. Why can’t she decide on the best one? Because decisions are hard. Life is too full of possibilities and wonder. Tyrean writes science fiction, fantasy, non-fiction, terrible poetry, song lyrics, devotions, and any idea that feels shiny with wonder. Her newest novella, Liftoff, was something she wrote to entertain herself during early quarantine, a “popcorn movie” style YA novella she hopes will be fun for readers, too.

“MILK//” by Laila Tova

Momo use’ta say,
coffee nee’ a li’l’ milk;
anyt’ing too Black no good
and ‘er second son-in-law
proved ‘er right by beatin’ ‘is chil’ren
for bein’
pure.

‘e and ‘is friends
raped
my father, one’ah th’ seven—
my father, eleven years ol’,
filled ‘im to the brim wit’ acrimony until
‘is richness spilt over,
displaced. then ‘n’ after,
somthin’ in ‘im curdle’
coffee got a li’l’ vinegar
sour cream made ‘im bitter’r

‘n’ watchin’ ‘im at dinner
I alway’ caught a grimace
when ‘e ate it,
swallowin’ ‘ard
to keep
‘is dark sweetness
a plain-sight secret
nex’ to th’ unused
mammy bottle of molasses
sittin’ on
our whitewashed fam’ly table.

Daddy use’ t’ say,
drink your milk
‘n’ I obey’d.

 

Authors Note: I am a Black biracial person. I don’t remember my father ever addressing his appearance directly; the church in which he was a Reverend was adamant about Christ being the only identifier he would ever need. But at dinner time, I paid attention. “Momo” is what we in my father’s family call his maternal grandmother.

old hiking partners by Bill Fay

oh shaman of the meadows
seer of the bear-grass
to light and dark the craggy crevasse
wizard of the wild-weary smile

beaming the macrocosm of the mushroom
the microcosm of the mountain
the quiet of the forming dew
after the deer go to dream
the opening of the glacier lily
the closing of the tent flap
the hissing of the camp stove
calling for the coffee
the border-line delirium of unnamed creeks
in crayon-colored canyons

glissading the golden glaciers of late afternoon
the ice-ax shining the “T” of tomorrow
shaping the snowfield with memories
down below bedspreads of lupin and paintbrush
above mauven-woven and steamed-green lichen
huddle beneath gnarled tree-fingers shaped by God’s sighing

where did the trail go
that converted so many christians to pagans?
finding scripture in brooks
prayer in scree-fields rocking underfoot
all written on the parchment of the douglas

when did the switch-backs end
in that forgotten moraine?
those melting ice caves
that curved an horizon
bluer than inside the sky of the mountain
and consumed the glacier forever
one bite of snow at a time



Bill Fay, retired engineer and published poet holds degrees in Fine Arts, Electrical Engineering, and Business Administration. He has had work published by the Virginia V Foundation, Creative Colloquy, Puget Sound Poetry, and the Haiku Society of America, among others. Bill resides with his wife Nancy and their two cats, Tucker and Annie, on Fox Island in Puget Sound near Tacoma.

Cantankerous Old Man by Chad Lester

Dad erupted into a coughing fit. He covered his mouth as my car bumped along the gone-to-hell asphalt road. The ride got a little smoother once we reached the town I grew up in. During its heyday I could envision its charming buildings as the backdrop for a Rockwell painting. These days it’s just another dying American town. Except for a few cars parked in front of the dive bar, the main street was devoid of life. Tall grass and dandelions filled the spaces between the empty downtown lots. The buildings that still stood were either dilapidated or had antique shops inside. I gazed upon the empty sidewalks and wondered how the hell they kept the doors open.

“Center Street would have been faster,” said my old man.

“Figured I’d take the scenic route,” I said.

“Nothing scenic here.”

We passed a row of vacant storefronts in sturdy, old brick buildings built to last the ages. The paint of an old-school J. C. PENNEY sign clung to a crumbling brick facade, and I made out the outline of some long-since-removed letters that spelled “WOOLWORTH” on the dilapidated building next to it. I smelled cooking oil and knew we were close to the only burger joint left in town. The last time we ate here didn’t seem so long ago—the place had changed. Given how few customers there were, I figured they would have been happier to see us.

I held my old man’s arm as he hobbled inside. I guess I’d never noticed it before, but his left arm had a permanent tremor. It once was the thick muscled arm that hammered nails and heaved lumber twelve hours a day, five days a week, for decades. Now it was skinny and frail. We sat down at our usual booth. The table had crumbs all over it, and the cherry-red vinyl seats were peeling. I felt the worn-out seat springs press against my ass after I sat. The unsmiling waitress threw down some greasy menus.

“What’ll it be?” I asked.

“It all looks like shit,” said my old man.

“This is what’s available around here.”

“I’d rather eat a plate full of assholes than this slop.”

My dad had a way with words. There’s only a single frayed wire that runs from his brain to his mouth. Much of my life has been spent keeping him on his best behavior.

“Jesus, would you keep it down. Do you want to go out of town someplace?”

“No. Just give me a number one.”

About an hour later we got our burgers with a side of lukewarm fries.

“You don’t have to stay there,” I said.

“Where else am I supposed to stay?” said my old man.

I didn’t say anything. I just chewed my burger and acted as if it was a rhetorical question. The burger tasted awful. The lettuce was wilted. The tomatoes soggy. I’m not even sure if it’s fair to call what was inside meat. I finished my burger and pulled out a few dollars from my wallet.

“Don’t leave that bitch a tip,” said my old man.

“I’ll give her a few bucks.”

“Christ, you’re soft.”

We got back inside the car. As I drove, I bumped over some abandoned trolley tracks that peeked out from beneath the crumbling asphalt. Flamboyant Victorians with wraparound porches and manicured lawns stood proud despite the decayed downtown.

“Did you pack Mom’s picture?” I asked.

“Yeah, I got it.”

“I miss her.”

My father didn’t say anything for the longest time. He just looked out the car window at the old houses that passed by. He responded in his usual monosyllabic way.

“Yup.”

We reached our destination just a few blocks from the burger joint—PINE ACRES REST HOME. I unfolded my old man’s wheelchair and wheeled it out next to the passenger seat.

“I don’t need that thing.”

Stubborn as always, my father refused to sit in the wheelchair and hobbled toward the entrance.

“Welcome, Mr. Davis, first time checking in?” asked the receptionist.

“Are you going to be the one who wipes my ass?” asked my old man.

I stood in front of him before he could make any more crude jokes. I smiled nervously and handed the speechless receptionist a stack of papers.

“Yes, first time. Here’s the paperwork.”

My old man ignored the wheelchair the nursing assistants put out for him and slowly made his way to his new room. I unpacked his luggage. I asked him where he wanted his things. He ignored me. He sat on his new bed and stared blankly out the window. I sat in the chair next to him.

“It looks cozy enough,” I said.

My dad grunted in affirmation. I rubbed my hands together—my gaze fixed on the blue-and-white vinyl floor. My father just sat there looking out the window.

“If you don’t like it, maybe I can find someplace else.”

“Someplace else?”

“Yeah, someplace else.”

“Where can I possibly stay?”

I scratched the back of my neck.

“I don’t know . . .”

My old man crossed his arms. “I don’t know either.”

I put Mom’s picture on his new bed stand. I caught him gazing at it out of the corner of his eye. His face grew flush. Tears worked their way down the hard lines of his face. My old man wiped his weathered cheeks with the back of his sleeve. He pretended as if he had allergies and gave a fake cough. The last time I saw tears out of his eyes was when Mom died. I was nine years old and had snuck over to his cracked-open bedroom door. I had caught him whimpering while he packed all of Mom’s clothes into boxes. After that, his fuse grew short.

“How are the grandkids?” asked my old man.

“Good. They wanted to come by, but school, you know,” I said.

“I know.”

“You know what, how about we play some cards—like old times?”

My dad shook his head.

“Remember that time you, me, and the grandkids caught that big muskie? The one at Spirit Lake. It was a Sunday. The sky was overcast in the morning and the sun peaked through come lunchtime. We were all crammed on my tiny boat. Remember what a monster that fish was? Its tail thrashing like a beast. And those teeth. And remember how it bit your hand?”

I looked at my hand. “I remember. It was a monster, wasn’t it?”

A slight smile cracked the stony facade of my old man’s face as he gazed outside. He gave a chuckle and then the smile left his face as quickly as it came. My father cleared his throat.

“I miss that boat.”

How could I forget that beat-up old boat? When I was a kid, my dad and my two brothers would go out every summer—usually to a different lake. When I had kids of my own, Dad didn’t get to use it much. It sat in the backyard for the longest time, and weeds had grown around it. After he shattered his pelvis during a slip on his porch, he gave that old boat away.

My dad pulled something out of his shirt pocket. He told me to hold out my hand. I did. Then he dropped a necklace into my palm. I recognized it. It was my mother’s pyramid-shaped pendant that she always wore around her neck.

“It’s yours now,” said my old man.

I was about to say something, but then my phone lit up. A message from my wife.

“It’s the missus. You need anything else?” I asked.

My father’s eyes met with mine, and his mouth parted slightly. For a moment it seemed as if he was about to say something, but then he closed his mouth and resumed looking out the window.

“You’ve got more important things to worry about.”

“Are you sure?”

My father didn’t respond, so I spoke louder.

“Dad?”

“I’ll be fine. Go on.”

My old man patted my shoulder, and then he stood up and began arranging his things, pretending like he was busy. After a long and awkward silence, I left the room.

• • •

The months ticked by. I kept telling myself that I was going to visit Dad on the weekend, but my wife and two kids and work kept me busy. My two brothers had flown into town. One came in from Savannah and the other from Tacoma to visit Dad. Recently, they had been texting me almost every other day to make sure I visited Dad. I wanted to. I really did, but life gets in the way sometimes. Both of them were upset and confused as to why our dad gave me mom’s old pendant instead of them. I told them I didn’t know. But maybe I did deep down. Out of the three of us, I was the most stubborn, so maybe Dad saw a bit of himself in me. I told myself not to worry, at least now he had people to take care of him around the clock.

• • •

I was at work and the noise outside was making it impossible to concentrate. I watched as a yellow excavator chiseled away at the facade of the old building across the street. A tall art deco structure with Gothic spires that climbed toward the heavens. Wrapped with figures meticulously carved into the limestone. I can only imagine how much painstaking labor it took to carve them. The stoic figures crumbled into fragments and dust while passersby looked on with indifference. I was about to return my gaze to my computer screen when my phone vibrated. I answered and recognized the voice. It was my dad’s primary nurse. Dad had gotten sick and wasn’t eating much.

There was a rustling noise as the phone was handed to my father.

“Hello?”

“Dad, the nurse says you’re sick.”

“Just a little under the weather.”

“Do you want me to swing by?”

The line was dead for a few moments. I was about to repeat myself, but then my dad responded.

“You know me. I’m a tough old son of a bitch. Just tell the grandkids . . .”

Again, the line was silent for several moments until I heard my father’s gravelly voice once more.

“Well, just tell them I’m thinking about them.”

I lay in bed that night unable to sleep. I woke up and wandered my house. I found myself staring into a bedroom. Only it wasn’t a bedroom. It was full of junk we hadn’t touched in ages. A waste of space.

It was morning, and I hadn’t slept all night. I put the entire family in the car. Instead of taking the freeway, I took the old highway. The cops didn’t patrol it very often and there was less chance of getting pulled over. My phone vibrated in my pocket as I drove. I refused to answer it. Instead, I pressed the pedal down harder. Tar-stained telephone poles, their wires long gone, zipped by in a blur. My wife told me to slow down.

My phone vibrated a second time—each staccato of my phone a cry for me to pick it up and answer. My heart pounded and my hand trembled as I reached for the phone. I pulled my hand away and put it back on the wheel. My car screeched to a halt in the PINE ACRES REST HOME parking lot. I noticed that the rental car my brothers were using was already there. The windows were all frosted over. They must have been there all night.

I unclenched my hands from the sweaty steering wheel. I prayed that God would wait. I needed to tell Dad something, something I had kept pushing aside.

I ran inside.



Chad Lester has a degree in Writing Studies from the University of Washington. His short story ‘The Lounge’ was a finalist in the 88th Annual Writers Digest Competition. He’s currently working on a novel which he hopes to traditionally publish.

When Trying to Find Yourself by Claire Haindfield

When you find that you’ve gone missing,
Grab your favorite sweater of loose threads and
Long-gone snaps.
Hug your mother.
Slip on your withering rain boots
In the hue you like most
And step out into the drizzle.

When trying to find yourself,
Search in every crack in the wall
And beneath every loose board struck of
Rusted nails for pieces of you.
Play eye-spy with your
Best qualities.
Observe footprints and fingerprints with care–
Pick around for every loose hair–
This is a crime scene now.
Search around every tree in the thicket and
Behind each sack of flour in the grocery store.
When you’ve finished one aisle, check more.
Find the tallest telephone pole in town and
Post a “Missing” flier.
Include a photo of
Yourself smiling big
So others will know who to look for
If you are seen.

Sort through dusted dictionaries
Forget the weight the books once held,
Seeming childish now that you’ve grown.
Filter through the thesaurus
For what you are and what you are not.
Cry when the pages do not know your name.

Question the cashier at the curbside coffee stand
Who cannot remember meeting such a man.
Show the trimmer at the pet store your flier when he
Insists he has not seen the description you describe.
Ask your neighbor, your co-workers,
Your sister,
Where they suggest you look to find
Who you have been missing.
Get angry when they shake their heads.

Retreat, hideaway, be alone.
Pout and hiss and yell at the corners of
Walls where you stub your toes on your worst days.
Talk bad about yourself.
Stop showering, eat poorly.
Let your hair grow long though
You’ve always liked it short.
Become someone you can no longer recognize,
When the missing and the found begin to blur.

When trying to find yourself,
give yourself a chance
In the moping and the sorrow.
Plant a seed and let it sprout
In the warmth of your barren chest
Where you may grow into the soul you yearn.
Do not spend your lifetime
Sifting the ruins of earth
For a man who never went missing.


Claire Haindfield is a junior at Mount Si High School in Snoqualmie, WA where she is involved with the Slam Poetry Club. Claire has work published in Disclaimer Magazine and will be featured at the Bellevue Arts Museum in early 2021. When she’s not writing, she enjoys hiking, playing soccer, and traveling.

“Cerebral Leper” by Sterling Warner

Cerebral Leper

A sad-eyed towhead,

photographer favorite,

epileptic outsider, my

Catholic baptism &

religious training did

little to mitigate ostensible

demonic possession amid

minds trained to discern

right from wrong, pain from

pleasure, evil from good;

they branded me a shaking

peer pariah—best kept at a

distance; while schoolmates

branded me the class spaz,  

teachers treated me an outcast,

labeled my affliction a mere

electronic brainstorm, cruelly

& calculatedly triggered by an

irascible child desiring attention,

planting lifetime seeds of self-deprecation—

sharing painful humor just to survive.

An author, poet, educator, and Pushcart nominee, Sterling Warner’s poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including The Flatbush Review, Literary Yard, The Fib Review, Street Lit: Representing the Urban Landscape, Shot Glass Journal, and The Atherton Review. Warner has published five collections of poetry: Without Wheels, Shadowcat, Rags & Feathers, Edges, and Memento Mori: A Chapbook Redux. Also, in August 2020, he launched, Masques: Flash Fiction & Short Stories, his first collection of fiction. Presently, Warner lives along the Hood Canal in Union, Washington and spends his free time writing, wood working, and salmon fishing.

“After Seneca Falls” by Bill Fay

Author’s Note:  The final quote is from Susan B Anthony as she was sentenced for violating the voting laws of New York-1873.

the “weaker vessels” drank-up
the Potomac potion wearing bloomers
hounded by misery, history, trickery
by men angered without whiskey
the emancipation proclamation in hibernation
bounded by chiaroscuro
the never bending color line
wound-up in blouses with bars
in lavender scented tombs
heavier than Alice Paul’s
three squares in the Pen.

the “better halves” carved-up
Washington’s monument bearing chisels
showered by pillory, injury, quackery
by men angered without masculinity
the franchise fricasseed sautéed then flambéed
hemmed by church picnic Madonna’s
the never breaking bible line
prayed in parades with placards
on back streets in the Bowery
lighter than the value
of Susan B’s rights

the “little ladies” swept-up
the steps of the Capitol with whisk-brooms
dusted by memory, victory, liberty
by men angered by blasphemy
the restitution constitution in resolution
penned by bearded prima donnas
the never moving legal line
votes crack vitro with voices
in stairwells and back benches
to finally end this
“high handed outrage upon my citizen’s rights”

Bill Fay, retired engineer and published poet holds degrees in Fine Arts, Electrical Engineering and Business Administration. He has had work published by the Virginia V Foundation, Creative Colloquy, Puget Sound Poetry, Poetry Pea, and the Haiku Society of America, among others. He is currently working on his forth coming book- Tongueless Bell. Bill resides with his wife, and their two bodacious cats on Fox Island in Puget Sound near Seattle.

“‘Is Bigfoot a Christian?’ and Other Questions About Life” by Paul Barach

Frozen in mid-stride, the Bigfoot gazed at us with wide curious eyes. Dan and I weren’t at all afraid. Despite its towering height and gorilla-thick bulk, there was an intelligence in its expression, a human softness beneath the ridges of its ape-like forehead. Coarse brown hair covered the rest of its body; a reminder that however much we wish to see of ourselves in an animal’s eyes, we lost that fur and that wildness long ago. We both knew it wouldn’t be wise to get much closer. Plus, we couldn’t. The doors of what until recently was Denver’s Premier (and only) Bigfoot Museum and Gift Shop were chained shut, decorated with a hand-written “Going Out of Business.”

All that remained of what must have been shelves upon shelves of irrefutable North American forest ape evidence was the Bigfoot statue posed on an AstroTurf box facing the entrance, made by whomever mass produces life-sized novelty plastic sasquatches. I rattled the locked doors.

“Much like the beast itself,” Dan lamented “The Bigfoot Museum can only be seen by the traces it leaves behind.”

I rattled the locked doors again. Nothing had changed in the last fifteen seconds. Shit. Visiting this museum had been on my to-do list for months. I should have come sooner.

I’d heard about the Bigfoot Museum a couple months back when I’d returned to the pot shop after my lunch break. My co-worker Matt, who looks like a rabbi that left to start a punk band, rushed up to me the moment I stepped in the door. Once he stopped laughing, he explained that just minutes before, one of Denver’s top-ten Bigfoot experts had sidled up to his register dressed in American flag pajama pants and a sleeveless undershirt. As proof of his esteemed position in this field of research, he handed Matt a Bigfoot Museum and Gift Shop business card.

While buying a strain that “Puts the lead straight into my pencil,” the expert leaned across the counter, too excited to keep his secret any longer. On his last Bigfoot hunt, his group of experts had discovered something monumental.

“We were following behind him a ways not to spook him, and he led us right into this clearing. There were these two trees that had fallen onto the ground, one on top of the other, and guess what? It looked like he’d put them like that on purpose to form the shape of a cross. Now, I’m not saying…but I think he led us there because he wanted us to know; he’s heard the Good Word.”

This, of course, raised many questions.

“Do I need to go to the Bigfoot Museum and ask about born-again Christian Sasquatches?” was not one of them.

From that day The Bigfoot Museum and Gift Shop became as legendary and ethereal in my mind as the beast itself, but with the added benefit of the museum actually existing. I’d get to walk through a real-life version of one of the Unsolved Mysteries episodes I devoured as a kid while in my favorite pajamas.

However, I hadn’t found the time to go until my friend Dan came into town. Tall with long, wavy, greying hair and owlish glasses, Dan’s overall black-clad appearance could be summed up as “Professor of Heavy Metal Studies.” He was in town to perform on some comedy shows that night and had a day to kill. Upon hearing of Sasquatch’s spiritual conversion, he cut me off.

“So we’re going to the Bigfoot Museum now,” he declared, ordering us a Lyft.

A short ride brought us to a mini-mall, where the Bigfoot Museum stood between a decaying Orange Julius and a dry cleaners that clearly laundered money. Only upon arrival did we discover that our destination had become yet another victim of the Darwinian economy for cryptozoological-themed museums and gift shops in major American cities.

I rattled the doors one last time and turned away, lamenting what could have been.

“Sorry man,” I shrugged. “Google said it was open.” Only later would I realize that a Bigfoot Museum in the middle of Denver not being open was far more predictable.

Dan shrugged back, pulling up the next destination on our Denver tour: a comic book shop.

“What do you think it takes to become one of the top-ten Bigfoot experts?” Dan mused as the Lyft icon slowly navigated toward us across his phone screen.

“Saying you are.” I replied. “But, like, with a lot of confidence. Especially if you’re claiming top-ten.”

A red pickup truck glided into the museum’s parking spot. A tan, round-faced man with a trim, grey goatee and brushed back hair hopped out with a fast-food bag swinging from his fist. A red sleeveless undershirt stretched over his barrel chest and belly with the acronym “S.I.R” emblazoned on the chest in black.

“Sorry guys. The Bigfoot Museum’s closed down.”

“Are you the owner?” I asked, a spring of hope welling up.

“Yes…” He replied with the caution of a man who hadn’t fully paid back a business loan.

“Can we go inside and you tell us about the Bigfoots?”

“Well sure!” He perked up, retrieving the shop keys from his jean shorts.

At age 53, Michael has spent over 25 years investigating Bigfoots. Tired of paying out of pocket for his groundbreaking research, he opened the shop to fund his organization, the Sasquatch Investigations of the Rockies or S.I.R.

Coming into the shop, I knew only a few things about Bigfoots:

1. They are easily heartbroken by John Lithgow.

2. The famous Bigfoot video everyone has seen of him walking through the trees is known as the Patterson Footage, which was filmed in the woods around Bluff Creek in Northern California.

3. In the 1990s, Yakima, Washington resident Bob Hieronymus admitted to wearing a gorilla suit in the Patterson Footage. If you watch the stabilized video it looks exactly like that.

Michael immediately informed us that despite what we had heard, Bigfoots are not confined to the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest. They are native to all seven continents and can be found across America, especially around mountain peaks. That is where Michael had his first encounter one fateful day almost three decades ago.

On a crystal blue winter morning, Michael was driving with his brother 14,000 feet up on Pike’s Peak. Upon glimpsing some strange tracks in the snow leading across the road, he ordered his sibling to slam on the brakes. The truck skidded to a stop on the frozen ground. Michael leapt from the truck’s cab into the crisp, dry air to find that his initial suspicions were correct:

These footprints in the snow were much bigger than normal feet.

Following the peculiar tracks 800 feet down into a canyon, Michael heard some rocks slide behind him. Whipping his head to the origin of the sound, he beheld his very first male Bigfoot from the corner of his eye. The titanic man-ape quickly blended back into the forest.

On his next day off, Michael returned to Pike’s Peak with a rifle to investigate further into the ravine. He fell several times descending into the ravine, banging his knee on a rock. Undaunted, he limped on through the snowy forest in pursuit of the Bigfoots. But soon he grew weary from his frequent stumbles. Sitting alone on a log, knee swelling, breathing heavy from his pursuit of this shadow that he’d glimpsed for only a second a week ago, Michael had a profound realization:

Despite their enormous strength and superior numbers, these goliath primates weren’t attacking him. Instead, they’d chosen to accept this vulnerable interloper into their realm. From that day forward, Michael vowed that the only thing he would arm himself with in his quest was a camera, curiosity, and compassion.

As Dan and I processed this touching story of trust between man and man-ape, I began firing off questions. I needed to learn as much about Bigfoots as I could before our Lyft driver arrived, and to say the word “Bigfoot” or “Bigfoots” as many times as possible in ten minutes.

Michael credited his enviable Bigfoot encounter success rate to only searching for Bigfoots in places he’d seen them before. Unlike the globe-trotting ways of Matt Moneymaker, the founder of the Bigfoot Field Research Organization (BFRO) and star of Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot (On air for twelve seasons), Michael stayed mostly in Colorado. Thanks to this constrained geographic focus, the Bigfoots had become used to Michael’s benign presence.

In fact, they’d taken to staring at him through the windows of his truck as he approached their sites. Out in the forest, it was rare for Michael to not hear their telltale “wood knocks,” which is how they communicated with humans. That and stacking rocks, or leaving rocks on stumps or beside trails, as I would later find documented in the S.I.R website’s evidence page.

When I asked why no one’s been able to get a clear photo of them, I was informed that these nine-foot-tall forest apes could move out of your field of vision in exactly 1.5 seconds or less (or, in scientific notation: 1.5s/FoV). That’s why you could only see them out of the corner of your eye before they’d vanished. Despite the Bigfoots’ familiarity with Michael, they’d continued to dash away before he could take a clear photo. However, the S.I.R had still managed to snap some convincing evidence, such as a Bigfoot giving birth behind a grove of shadowy aspen trees.

In Michael’s most recent encounter, a juvenile Bigfoot punched the wall of his tent as Michael lay inside. He knew they’d been circling the perimeter of his campsite for a while. The thudding footfalls of these 300+ pound creatures were unmistakable. Later that night, he got out of his tent to take a leak. One snuck up behind him and hooted in his ear before bounding playfully into the undergrowth at speeds of 1.5s/FoV.

A creature this powerful and quick would need to supplement their diet with protein, so I followed up with the next obvious question: What do Bigfoots eat? Are they gentle herbivores like the lowland gorilla, or predatory omnivores like our closest relative: the chimpanzee?

As it turned out, Bigfoots use their incredible speed to hunt down and kill deer.

“If you’ve ever found a half-eaten deer in the woods…” Michael winked, “It was a Bigfoot.”

A tip for Bigfoot hunters that Michael then offered us free of charge is to listen for the birds.

“Crows and ravens follow Bigfoots around as they search for prey, ‘cause they know they’ll leave them plenty of meat on the carcass afterwards. You can tell when a Bigfoot’s on the hunt because the crows and the ravens make different noises.” Michael turned around to see if there was anyone in the shop to overhear, then leaned in “Personally, I think there’s some kind of primitive communication between the two of them, like they’re talking.”

This of course led to a quick tutorial on the similar dialects between East Coast and West Coast Bigfoots, which included Michael doing his impression of their low, gargling Wookiee growls and hoots.

“What do baby Bigfoots sound like?” Popped out of my mouth without a second thought.

I’m treated to an adorable, high-pitched guttural growl performed by Michael. It left no doubt in my mind that I was glad I asked.

“How do they raise the babies?” was the obvious follow-up question.

“In nests. Just like gorillas,” Michael smiled. He has found ample evidence of this, including Bigfoot nests with hair in them. “Once I get the funding, I can send those hairs in for gene sequencing. That’ll be all the proof the world needs, and it’ll be the S.I.R that gave it to the world.”

This reminded Michael of the last pregnant Bigfoot he saw, which had been walking with her mate through Box Canyon. “…but then there was that big fire and the government shut down access to the canyon. I haven’t been able to go back and see if there’s a baby yet.”

“Do you think the Bigfoots burned up in the fire?”

“Aw, man,” His eyes grew wide. “I hope not. I hadn’t even thought of that.”

The thought of losing a family of Bigfoots to the flames was clearly devastating. I regretted asking immediately.

“I bet they got away. You said yourself they can outrun deer,” I encouraged.

“Yeah, they must have gotten away.” Michael nodded; his voice tight. Then his spirits lifted. “Yeah…you’re right. Even pregnant they’re still so fast. I’ll find them again.”

This entire time, Dan had been wandering around the empty shop, trying not to crack up at Michael’s earnest answers. He found this especially hard upon discovering that one of the last products waiting to be packed into the moving truck was for some reason a cardboard cut-out of Chewbacca. I’d kept my composure, even if I sometimes had to cover my grin with my hand and cover by nodding thoughtfully. Michael was too into his Bigfoot stories to notice and I was way too engrossed to stop him.

However, my Bigfoot symposium had come to an end. Dan broke in to tell me the Lyft was pulling into the parking lot. I remembered the final question I wanted to ask.

“What religion are Bigfoots?”

Michael’s face scrunched in confusion. The shop’s other top-ten Bigfoot expert, a lankier man who’d been loading boxes into the moving truck the entire time, must be the one Matt spoke to in the pot shop. Apparently, Bigfoot’s conversion wasn’t the consensus view of the S.I.R leadership.

I thanked Michael for his time and he thanked me for all my questions, then directed me to the S.I.R website’s FAQ page. As he walked us out of the shop, Michael glanced over the signage that would soon be replaced by the next entrepreneur.

“This shop was just breaking even anyway. That’s not worth my time. Me, I gotta succeed.”

We shook hands on that hopeful note, then Dan and I hopped in the Lyft and sped off, Dan already sketching out notes to open his comedy show that night.

I would later go onto the S.I.R website, and hear clear audio evidence of people genuinely believing that tree branches in the wind or rocks falling onto other rocks were Bigfoots. I poured over photos of shadows in the underbrush where they’d drawn rushed yellow circles and arrows around what are clearly not the feet of a pregnant Bigfoot giving birth. I looked at multiple photos of branches that were broken, 100% not by a Sasquatch. And yet, an envy rose in me with every exclamation point at the end of every caption.

Michael’s been at this for over half his life. If hiking into the woods and taking photos of rocks stacked on top of other rocks offered a pension plan, he could retire by now. And honestly, having never spent a quarter of a century on any pursuit (and having a bank account balance reflecting that fact), I would kill for that level of commitment. Imagine what that kind of passion and dedication could achieve at any other career? And instead of money, Michael chose something that gave him purpose.

So what if Michael truly believes that recently, a nine-foot tall forest ape hooted in his ear one night while he was peeing before it bounded into the underbrush?

If there’s one thing that I truly believe, it’s that I would kill to have that much certainty about anything in my life right now.

Paul Barach’s work has been published previously in Creative Colloquy, Litro, The Trek, and in the forthcoming collection Inaka: Portraits of Life in Rural Japan. Fighting Monks and Burning Mountains: Misadventures on a Buddhist Pilgrimage is Barach’s first book. He currently lives in Tacoma, Washington with his wife, Michelle.

“Stop, Drop and Roll” by Mercury-Marvin Sunderland

“Tobias. I hope you understand.”

Tobias looked up shyly. He was sitting on the kitchen floor, defenseless. His backpack was lying beside him. He was already getting picked on at school. Having to leave the classroom while everyone else got to learn something he didn’t was going to make him even more of a target, for sure. Though he was young, he knew that missing this knowledge was going to affect him negatively, even if he didn’t really understand why.

“Mom,” he protested, “I really don’t think it’s the Devil’s work. I just want to learn.”

“Honey, there are many things that you don’t understand,” Mary remarked. “But I can’t have you learning about things you shouldn’t be doing even when you’re an adult.”

Tobias stared at her, coldly.

“That’s why you have to give me the form,” she continued. “I need you to opt out of taking sex-ed.”

“No.” He grasped his backpack.

This was not how he’d wanted to spend his afternoon home from school. He just wanted to go to his room. But he knew his mother’s anger too well, and that would only lead to even more punishment.

Mary’s lips turned thin. She huffed.

“I knew it was a mistake to send you to public school,” she muttered. “They don’t teach good Christian values anymore.”

“Yeah, it’s illegal for –”

“I KNOW IT’S ILLEGAL. We’ve already had this conversation. I really thought I’d taught you better than this. This is a Christian nation and the liberal agenda is destroying God’s values. I thought you knew better than to give in to the Devil’s work.”

“What could possibly be so bad that they’d teach me at school?”

Mary snarled.

“Do you listen to anything that I tell you?”

Silence.

“The kids in my class don’t talk to me,” he admitted. “They say it’s because you’re a cult leader.”

The fire in Mary’s eyes was incendiary.

“You take that back,” she hissed. “I taught you better than to speak of our family in that way.”

She tried to snatch Tobias’ backpack, but he evaded. He got up and started running.

“GET BACK HERE.”

Tobias bolted out the door and ran as fast as his fifth-grade legs could take him. He’d never been the best at the mile run, but a kid can be fast in a matter of life and death.

A sharp object pierced his arm. He knew that feeling too well.

Quickly, he collapsed. Mom’s tranquilizer darts never failed.


Tobias woke up in the trunk of a car. Again.

He could tell it was his mom’s SUV, which thankfully meant that he wasn’t confined without windows. He wasn’t trapped in what could be considered a kidnapping-style trunk, but he was trapped there nonetheless.

He was used to this, but that didn’t mean he accepted it. Already exhausted, he banged one fist on the back window. It tremored slightly. He noticed that the air outside seemed kind of foggy. Though it was the end of fall, he didn’t think it was that cold outside. But Idaho weather can be weird like that.

He was also surrounded by packing boxes. That was new.

“Tobias?”

He ignored his mother.

“Are you awake now?”

He continued to ignore her. He knew it made her angry, but everything seemed to make her angry.

“You know where we’re going, right?”

Tobias picked at the upholstered floor. “When are you taking me back to the house?”

He knew the drill. She’d drive him to somewhere dangerous, make it seem like she was going to kill him, only to stop at the last moment. Then she’d launch into this big, babbling speech about how he needed to love his mother more because any moment could be his last, and how your dying actions affect your ability to get into Heaven and blah blah blah blah blah. He’d heard it many times now.

“I burned it down.”

“Yeah, right.” Tobias scoffed.

“You want me to prove it to you?”

She rolled down all the windows. The car was immediately filled with smoke.

Still, she might be making it up. Why on earth would his mother burn down the house? Wouldn’t that also destroy everything she owned?

He steadied himself and got a good look at the car seats.

Boxes.

Just like the ones with him in the trunk.

Oh.

This wasn’t a drill anymore.

This was the real thing.

Tobias searched for a plan. He knew that if he ran away, God’s heat-seeking missiles would come and kill him. He’d been told that for as long as he could remember. But he had to escape.

He’d never had to figure out how to work the emergency handle. But he pushed over a box and there it was. His mother was still babbling in the front seat of the car. He could hear the tires screeching. He could feel the boxes sliding. He could feel his life dangling.

Now his mother was screaming about the pits of Hell and how he’d already been claimed by Satan. He grabbed on the latch and pulled.

The door opened. He crossed his arms and rolled. He didn’t know if it would work, but he remembered being taught “Stop, Drop, and Roll” during fire drills and hoped it could still save him.

Tobias tumbled himself into the middle of a countryside road. He watched his mother’s car skid into the intersection, where it continued to spin out-of-control.

Without looking back, he ran.

Mercury-Marvin Sunderland (he/him) is a transgender autistic gay man from Seattle with Borderline Personality Disorder. He currently attends the Evergreen State College and works for Headline Poetry & Press. He’s been published by UC Riverside’s Santa Ana River Review, UC Santa Barbara’s Spectrum Literary Journal, and The New School’s The Inquisitive Eater. His lifelong dream is to become the most banned author in human history. He’s @Romangodmercury on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

“Ode to Orion” by Sandra K. King

Sunbeam footprints shimmer along the gravel road;

stardust shards of quartz are as twinkly-eyed

as were the gentleman’s whose resting place 

I’d hope to visit,

located just past the alfalfa fields and beyond the farmer’s fence

where they lie cradled by the roots of the tall tree 

into which shared soil he has been interred.

Hands and feet once dedicated to good works–

faithfully, but not flawlessly executed–

are perceived by many to be now stilled

yet believed by others to have transcended 

beyond our spectrum’s perspective.


As the aspen before me quakes

and the earth below its branches is quiet,

an arrow from the gentleman’s quiver is heard to speak

in the tongues of trolls and the speech of scorpions;

it is the voice of a son who traded his celestial inheritance

for an eternal feast of grief, bitterness, and blame,

like clingy pine-pitch fistfuls of sand,

sorry sustenance he’s hoarded in heaps.

The words warn: No one may pass 

to pay their respects to the gentleman at rest

without permission,

even if regarded by the mourner as a brother.


I see now the widow approaches,

apple-shaped in her coat of angry red;

the command is clearly dispatched that I must go,

but I dig in for one last long gaze at that magnificent tree,

thirsty eyes draw in deep the vision before I turn to leave.

Movement toward reluctant retreat shakes something loose–

a fluttery creature in my chest slips like an unbound bird

out through the back of my rib cage 

and flies up to the highest branches of the tree and sings a lullaby song, 

tender and ancient as an ode to Orion.

Through silent sobs, my own mouth shapes the melody, joins in lyrical duet.

As I walk away, benevolent tracks are covered by twilight.


Sandra King moved from the center of America’s Dairy Land to Central Tacoma where she enjoys writing poetry, short stories, and an occasional essay, and making oil pastel drawings. She has been published in Inquietudes Literary Journal “Spaces”, Wrist Magazine, the Tacoma Laureate Listening Project, Creative Colloquy Volumes 2, 5, and 6, and has been honored to be a featured reader for Tacoma City Ballet’s Mid-Winter Masquerade Ball Soiree, the Creative Colloquy Lit Crawl, and the Vision 2025 Literary Festival.