Hello again, Brothers and Sisters of the Psychotronic Video World. Today I’ve got a very special treat for you — a piece of original fiction that I penned years ago for inclusion in a Bigfoot-themed anthology. The anthology never materialized, and other places I’ve submitted the tale to for publication have dried up or faded away without printing this tale. And I’m sick of having this story not see the light of day, Brothers and Sisters! So I’ve decided to publish it here, at the Blood Sprayer, exclusive for you! I hope you enjoy this unorthodox tale.
The air was cold, damp. A thin fog clung tenaciously to the scrawny, denuded trees, straggly fingers of mist dancing amidst the roots and low-hanging branches. The very trees themselves seemed no more substantial than the fog that wrapped around them. They were thin, clawing trees, these Mississippi trees; an aura of sadness seemed to cling to them, though that may have been the November drizzle hanging over them. Regardless, they seemed so unlike the trees of the Adirondack Mountains; so familiar from the hunter’s early life. He stalked among them, alien and yet comfortable; a human thing, clad in corduroy trousers, sturdy boots and a military jacket, well-worn by comfortably-fitting across his broad shoulders. Though an outsider to this gloom-washed scene, he nevertheless strode across it firmly, assertively. There was an element of respectful awe in his bearing, but nevertheless the sense of, if not ownership, at least custodianship over the primeval gray surrounding him.
And why should he not experience such a sense of controlling assuredness? He was in the prime of life; forty-four years old, standing a proud and erect five-foot-eight; and weighing two hundred and fifteen pounds, give or take, not an ounce of it being the fat of soft living. He was a man who lived and breathed the philosophy of the Strenuous Life. He was Theodore Roosevelt, and President of the United States of America, the most powerful nation on the face of the planet Earth. He was in Mississippi at the behest of Governor Longino, for a bear-hunting trip. Politically-speaking, Roosevelt, an avid sportsman and hunter, could not have refused even if he had wanted to.
Irksomely, the hunting had not gone well for Roosevelt, and while the other hunters in Longino’s party had killed bears, Roosevelt had yet to see one. Hell, he’d not seen so much as a rabbit! His mustache bristled at the idea of what Hearst’s reporters would say about this. They’d have a field day, America’s Great Hunter coming home from a hunt empty-handed.
The President’s ruminations were interrupted by a rustling amidst the trees; the soft sound of a twig cracking, of a heavy body shuffling through the faded brown and auburn carpet of damp, fallen leaves. A crackle of dead bark knocked loose from a tree. The breath caught in Roosevelt’s throat, his eyes gleaming behind his spectacles. A coughing sound echoed through the foggy woods, sounding deep enough in the President’s ears that an inescapable conclusion was drawn. The only creature native to Mississippi big enough to make such a noise was the American Black Bear. Now where was it?
The Hunter’s Spirit arose in Roosevelt’s breast. His breathing steady, calm, and quiet, he stepped forward confidently but tenderly; he could not afford even a single careless motion. His steely eyes scanned ahead of him for any telltale movement that would disclose the location of his prey. His ears, long honed in the forests of New York and the Badlands of the Dakotas, searched the endless gray as attentively as those of a wolf or mountain lion might. He would find this bear.
As it so happened, such sensory finesse proved unnecessary. There came, from Roosevelt’s left, a loud grunt, the sharp crack of a bough breaking, and a shrill shriek of pain and surprise. The last sound took Roosevelt by surprise. He was a man familiar with bears; the high-pitched howl he had just heard was not a sound he’d ever heard a bear make, nor had he ever heard any reference to bears screaming in such a fashion. Curious.
Cautiously, Roosevelt stepped lightly in the direction of the sound, brows slightly furrowed, lips pursed, rifle at the ready. Twenty five feet from where he’d paused a moment ago was a small clearing, created when an elderly tree had died and fallen, probably six or eight months earlier. The moss-coated trunk now lay across the clearing, half-supported on other trees. At its base, the upturned roots, bleached white and washed clean, exposed something of a natural cave. Around the remains of this great tree, saplings had sprung up, new growth ready now for their first winter.
In the midst of this tableau, Roosevelt’s attention was captured by a shaggy creature, half-hanging from, half-clinging to the trunk of the dead tree. Roosevelt could see that its ankle was caught in a broken branch; likely the creature had been walking on the trunk, slipped on the wet moss, and gotten caught in the breaking branch as it fell. The creature was watching Roosevelt, hooting softly in what may have been fear.
Its identity was something of which Roosevelt was unsure. It looked like it would stand about four feet in height; its limbs were proportioned in such a way as to suggest a primarily bipedal lifestyle. Anthropoid in appearance, it was no monkey or ape that Roosevelt had ever seen, though the long, reddish-brown fur covering everything but its hands, feet, and face called to mind the Orang-utan of Borneo. It’s skin tone, where visible, was a kind of shiny gray-black. The creature’s hands and feet were more human-like than monkey-like, and the large gray eyes currently regarding him bespoke of a degree of intelligence invested within the beast.
“Hullo,” Roosevelt murmured, half to himself, as he advanced into the clearing. “Now just what are you? If I didn’t know better I’d call you a Chimpanzee or an Orang-utan; certainly you look a little like both. But your legs are too long, your arms too short, and your feet the wrong shape. No, I don’t know what to make of you. But you’re no bear, that’s for sure.”
Roosevelt had reached the creature’s side; he could see it shivering as it watched him, and its low hooting had taken on a slightly panicked tone.
“You know what I am,” Roosevelt mused, “and you’re afraid. Well, you’re a smart old boy, I’ll give you that. No, I won’t hurt you,” and Roosevelt laid his rifle carefully on the ground, “so no fear, right?”
Roosevelt clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth, wiped his spectacles on his shirt and regarded the creature once more. From some hidden recess in his mind, a half-remembered fragment of something he’d once read occurred to him. The legends of the Indians held many accounts of “Wild Men” who lived in the woods and, more often than not, were covered in a thick coat of hair. The Iroquois called them Stone Giants, and the Algonquin used the term Wendigo. Even the Dakota Sioux had their Chinha Tanka, “Big Elder Brother,” who haunted the lonely, empty spaces. These legends invariably gave the creatures a fierce demeanor and a hunger for human flesh.
Well, bully to that, thought Roosevelt. He’d faced man-eaters before, and could tell by the terror in the little wild man’s eyes that he was no man-eater. “I’m going to help you down,” Roosevelt told the wild man, in what he hoped came across as a soothing tone. Wrapping one arm around the wild man’s waist (causing him to scream again and dig his nails into Roosevelt’s arm), Roosevelt pulled back on the branch with the other, freeing the wild man’s ankle. Once it was clear, he put the wild man gently on the ground. The ankle did not seem to be broken, or even badly sprained.
A rustling caused Roosevelt to turn; emerging into the clearing was one of Longino’s men; damned if Roosevelt could remember the mousy little man’s name.
“Mr. President? We heard the shot, and…” the man trailed off mid-sentence, goggling at the wild man, who had now sat up and was massaging it’s ankle between it’s rough-skinned, black hands.
“There was no shot, man. What you heard was a branch breaking. This fellow had been walking on a rotting log and lost his footing.” Roosevelt replied gruffly, bringing the man’s attention back from the wild man.
“Er, well then, ah…Mr. President, what is that thing?” The man asked, half-raising his rifle. Roosevelt pursed his lips, not entirely sure how to answer.
“Well, man, whatever it is, it is no bear. Put the gun down.” Roosevelt commanded quietly. The man looked at the President, a look of incredulity spreading across his thin face.
“Are you generally in the habit of contradicting the President? Put the gun down.”
No sooner were the words out of Roosevelt’s mouth than he heard a long, low growl from the far side of the clearing. Turning, it dawned on Roosevelt that the wild man he’d found was in fact a wild boy; across the clearing stood what was likely his mother.
Similar in proportions and general appearance to the wild boy, the individual emerging into the clearing stood well over six feet in height; closer to seven, Roosevelt estimated, and her femininity well-established by a pair of pendulous, hairy breasts. Her lips writhed back across yellowy teeth, elongated canines that renewed the notion of man-eaters in Roosevelt’s mind as she snarled again.
At this, the wild boy stood up and hobbled over to his mother, hooting softly and gesturing excited at his foot, the tree, and Roosevelt. Bully, thought Roosevelt, he’s telling her what happened. The wild boy’s story coming to a conclusion, the mother gave one last aggressive grunt, and turned and strode back into the forest, leading her child away from humanity.
“What…what were they, Mr. President?” the man asked again.
“The press will have a field day if you don’t bring in a bear, Mr. President.”
“I know. We’ll think of something to tell them. I refused to shoot a trapped bear cub. They’ll eat that up, write glowing columns about my compassion and sense of justice. Let’s go,” Roosevelt said, and turned and strode away from the clearing.
On the trip back to Washington, Roosevelt allowed himself to become lost in thought. Clearly, these creatures were not lone survivors of the prehistoric age; he reasoned. No, there had to be a population. Populations, perhaps, scattered across North America, giving rise to legends from New York to California. He recalled the fear with which the young wild man beheld him; these were not creatures comfortable with the encroachment of humanity into their primeval domain. Perhaps there was something he could do for them – set aside land for conservation of nature, where these creatures could roam safe from human intrusion…