Guest of Honor
“You should enter that contest, Steve,” Nikki said, pointing at the flyer posted at the entry gate.
“Bigfoot calling? You really think one will answer with all this commotion going on?” her husband asked, sweeping a hand toward the rainbow of booths packed onto an open field that served as the festival grounds.
“Well, you’ll never know unless you try,” she said.
Derek Lopez snickered. “And so how, exactly, does one call a Bigfoot, Sis? Here, Squatchie, Squatchie, Squatch!”
Nikki giggled at his attempted humor, but Derek’s brother-in-law answered his skeptical question with a straight-forward response.
“We use calls and sounds that have been reported from first-hand experience,” he explained. “Like whistles, growls, and whoops.”
“Yeah well, that could be anything, you know,” Derek countered. “Some birds can make a right credible wolf whistle… many creatures growl…coyotes whoop.”
It was Steve Anderson’s turn to laugh as they approached the woman collecting the entrance fee at the gate.
“Yeah man, that true. And we still don’t know if the coyotes learned to whoop by mimicking the Bigfoot, Derek, or if the Bigfoot are mimicking the coyotes.”
A bright smile greeted them. “Anyone interested in signing up for the Bigfoot-calling contest?” she asked. ““First prize is $50!”
“There ain’t a Squatch within twenty miles of this place,” Steve mumbled.
“Dude, hear me!” Derek joined in. “I’ve been hunting here in the north-central part of the state since I was nine years old, been trapping in these woods since I was 13. I never saw a Bigfoot, or a Bigfoot print, or a tuft of Bigfoot hair or anything. If they exist at all, man, I’ll wager there ain’t a Squatch within five hundred miles from here.”
“Aw, come on, men,” the woman at the table said. “It’s just a friendly contest. Take a chance, have a little fun with it.”
“Yeah, lighten up,” Nikki added with a gentle nudge to Steve’s ribs.
His skeptical look gave him away even before he spoke.
“Honey! You know I can’t stand up in front of all these people! I get stage fright.”
Derek cleared his throat.
“Well hell, bro’! I don’t,” he piped up. “I got nothing to lose. Here, ma’am. I’ll compete.”
“Great,” the woman said. “Put your name right here. We’ll see you at the campfire tonight.”
As they walked off into the festival grounds, Nikki scolded her brother.
“Derek!” she exclaimed. “You couldn’t possibly manage to call any Bigfoot. You don’t even believe they exist.”
He looked over at his sister with a raised eyebrow. “Why should I believe in something I have no evidence for!”
“Because it’s fun!” she cried, in a tone of exasperation.
“So why are you here then, Derek?” Steve asked. “Nothing better to do on a beautiful fall Saturday?”
“Ummm,” he said, noncommittally.
“Because he’s got a crush on Ruth. That’s why,” Nikki said, snitching on her brother.
“Ruth Miller?” Steve asked.
“Well, see…?” Derek didn’t bother to deny it. “She works on Saturdays so she couldn’t be here today. I thought I’d impress her with some memento from the festival.”
“Well, that settles it then!” Nikki cried. “Let’s go shopping! The conference doesn’t start for another hour.”
She skipped off ahead of the guys.
“Ruth would probably be more impressed if you win the contest tonight,” Steve said, chuckling.
“Coach me! I have no idea how to act like I’m calling a Bigfoot.”
“Sure thing, be glad to!”
Nikki had already started down the first row of booths. Her first stop was under a bright blue canopy with a sign telling them they had arrived at Bigfoot Bling. The guys caught up with her moments later.
Sasquatches of silver and gold hung from velvet displays and graced black draped tables. A necklace with links shaped like silver pine trees leading to a Bigfoot pendant caught Nikki’s eye, but she told Steve that she was gonna let his wallet escape unscathed…that time.
Derek just rolled his eyes. “Our mom used to tell Nikki,” he said, “that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach. So, Mom warned her that she’d better get good at cooking and baking if she didn’t want to be an old maid. She told me that the way to a woman’s heart is paved with greenbacks, so I better make good grades in school if I—Hey!”
His face lit up.
“Look over there!” he cried, pointing. “It’s Dr. Squatch natural soap! Their YouTube commercials are the coolest of the cool, aren’t they? Let’s go see.”
Nikki laughed. “You don’t believe in Bigfoot, but you believe in Bigfoot soap.”
“Hell yeah, girl. Let’s go.”
Derek picked out two bars of soap, and as they turned to walk away, he explained, “See here? The Pine Tar is for me, and I’m gonna give the Cedar Citrus to Ruth!’
“Derek!” his sister cried. “No! That’s ghastly. You can’t give Dr. Squatch soap to a girl. It’s for men.”
“The advertising is for men, honey,” Steve clarified. “Of course he can give her a bar of Dr. Squatch if he wants to! It’s not like men’s and women’s skins have a different pH or something.”
“What are you guys thinking! You’ll hurt Ruth’s feelings.”
Derek put on an innocent expression. “Weeeel, if I was a girl,” he said, “it wouldn’t hurt my feelings any for someone to give me a good-smelling bar of natural soap.”
“You men are so totally exasperating,” she said, and turning, she sprinted toward the Farm Fresh booth. “Come over here, Derek. Come here and get something that you won’t offend her with.”
Laughing, they followed her.
“Here!” She held up a bottle of lotion. “This is natural too. And it makes a nice gift for a lady.”
“A lady!” Steve said. “Yes, but Ruth’s a bit of a tomboy too, honey. Remember? She’s an accomplished bow hunter and a softball coach.”
Nikki glared at her husband.
“I don’t know,” Derek said, shaking his head. “The lotion doesn’t say anything about Bigfoot.”
“Just smell this, Brother,” Nikki insisted. “Cherry almond.”
He did and without a word to her, he bought the lotion from the vendor.
“I tell you what I’ll do, Sis. If I win tonight, I’ll give Ruth the Dr. Squatch soap. If I don’t win, she gets the Farm Fresh lotion.”
“That’s a deal, because you know what, smartie, there’s no way in Kansas you’re gonna win tonight.”
Bigfoot was everywhere around them. The elusive creature’s likeness adorned shirts, caps, coffee mugs, glasses, and books. Life-size cutouts of the guest of honor made to grace gardens and front lawns kept silent watch over one booth.
“Oh look!” Nikki pulled them after her, past a booth of earthenware mugs and into one with calendars featuring sketches of Bigfoot creatures: male, female, young and old. “Shirley McDaniel! I love her artwork. I want one!”
“Yeah, it’s nice,” Steve said. “But do you really need a calendar?”
“I need one with Sasquatch on it.”
With a smile on her face, she let her husband carry the bag with the calendar safely tucked away inside, and the three moved on toward the next booth
“No, wait, honey! We better get over to the conference now,” Steve said.
“Yeah, okay. It’s under the tent over there.” Nikki pointed across the grounds. “Now, aren’t you glad I talked you into bringing chairs?”
“What would I ever do without you?” he asked and grinned.
“Whatever it would be, you’d be standing the whole time,” she said, and all three laughed.
They worked their way through the line waiting to get in to the pavilion. A stage was set up for the speakers and Nikki led them to the front where she dropped her chair nearby. Steve unfolded his chair next to hers, and Derek settled in next to him.
“This is a noted anthropologist,” Steve said quietly to his brother-in-law, as the first speaker approached the podium. “He’s going to do a review of the PGF.”
“The Patterson-Gimlin Film. A video of a Bigfoot,” he whispered. The speaker was about to begin.
Using blown up frames of the film, the professor pointed out the working of muscle groups evident in the limbs of the creature as it walked, emphasizing the impossibility that a suit could duplicate those movements even with modern technology. He drew comparisons between Patterson-Gimlin in 1967 with the best Hollywood could do in 1968’s Planet of the Apes. He discussed the flexing of the foot and how that related to the casting of tracks left by Bigfoot from various regions around the country.
“What do you think?” Steve asked his brother-in-law after the applause died down.
“He makes a good case, Steve, but you know me. I gotta see it for myself.”
A television Bigfoot hunter then recounted his favorite episodes, and the stories told to him at townhall meetings.
He led playful discussion of the difficulties of getting an elusive eight-foot tall hominid to follow the producer’s schedule and appear on cue, and even Derek laughed.
The final presenter, Brian Hulan, wound up the afternoon session with samples of his casts and a demonstration of how to cast tracks using concrete grout rather than standard plaster of Paris or Hydrocal favored by some.
The presentations over, the audience crowded around the speakers with questions. With time left before the start of the contest, the Andersons and Derek joined the group that lingered inside the pavilion. When the meeting finally broke up, they wandered back outside. The long shadows of approaching twilight stretched across the wide avenues between the booths where a large crowd still milled about.
The contest was still an hour away. They packed up their chairs, slung them over their shoulders, and followed their noses to the concession serving up smoked brisket sandwiches. The sweet smell of mesquite smoke permeated the meat, which was dripping barbecue sauce and slathered with grilled onions. They slowly made their way toward the platform facing the woods where the contest was to take place, feasting as they went.
Derek and the Andersons ignored those who had already gathered and pitched their chairs close to the tree line in front of the platform.
They were quickly joined by an older couple who introduced themselves as Bart and Tammy from Nebraska. Bart shared a story of an encounter he had on his property as they watched people trickle in from all corners of the festival.
“Wonder how they are going to determine the winner?” Nikki asked after a while.
“I overheard one of the organizers say they have three guys who are going to judge the contest,” Tammy said. “One of them is a Bigfoot Field Research Organization investigator.”
“Wouldn’t it be something,” Bart said, “if one of the calls was answered?”
“Yeah,” Steve replied, his voice filled with doubt. “But there’s way too many people around for that.”
“I don’t know,” Bart leaned forward to look at Steve. “I read a report of an encounter in a park on the edge of a town in Oklahoma on Halloween night.”
“Yeah,” Nikki said delivering a playful shoulder punch. “Quit being such a downer.”
“Maybe he’s just being a realist, Sister,” Derek said.
Nikki caught Tammy’s eye and mouthed the word downer behind Steve’s back. The women laughed.
Derek said something quietly to his brother-in-law, and with Steve announcing that they’d be back soon, they got up and left.
Finally they returned just as a man with a megaphone, wearing in a bright green tee shirt that bore the festival logo, stepped up on the platform. The buzz of the nearby conversation fell away. Every eye turned to the stage.
“Okay, folks,” he called through the megaphone. “It’s time to get this party started. We’ve drawn names from a hat to determine the order in which the contestants will give us their best Bigfoot call. Art Blackman, you’re first on the list. Come on up.”
A tall, heavily-built hulk of a man with long red hair and a bushy beard lumbered up on the platform and took the cone-shaped amplifier from the emcee.
“No fair, letting bigfoot’s cousin call,” Nikki said, and she and Tammy giggled.
The man cut loose with a low-pitched rumbling roar that brought a huge round of applause. After him, the contestants, one by one, offered up whoops, roars and mournful howls.
“Now for our final contestant,” he announced. “Derek Lopez!”
Derek walked over the stage and stepped up to take the megaphone. After taking a bow, he grinned and winked at his mentor Steve. He then took a few deep breaths, and sent a pair of sharp whistles, and some deep grunts into the air. He took a couple more breaths before following that with a series of whoops.
But his attempt to return the megaphone to his host stopped short. From the woods directly in front of the stage came a roar that reverberated over the grounds.
The sound shook Nikki, Tammy and Bart from their seats as an audible collective gasp escaped the crowd. It sent them, eyes wide with panic, stumbling away from the woods behind them as fast as they could run. Half of those sitting close to the platform joined the stampede that Nikki and her companions started.
The crowd was on its feet when the second Bigfoot let loose a howl from east of the stage that changed the course of the rout. Derek stood frozen in place beside the stunned judges as calls erupted from three sides, followed by the sound of a tree snapping.
Just as Steve finally got up out his chair and started toward his open-mouthed brother-in-law on the stage, a six-inch diameter branch came over the treetops, its roots leading the leaves in a high arc. It stuck quivering in the ground ten yards from the stage. The field was suddenly silent as the remaining crowd stared dumbfounded at the woods around them.
“Derek,” one of the judges finally managed to say. “I think you’re the winner.”
Steve rushed up then and joined him, slapping Derek’s shoulder and crowing with glee.
“I think I need a drink,” Derek replied and dropped down to sit on the edge of the platform. “Maybe, two.”
The next day’s headline read: Guest of Honor Shows Up at Local Festival.
And it seems that the startled winner won more than just the Bigfoot-calling heavyweight title. After charming his lady love with a bar of Dr. Squatch soap and a bottle of Farm Fresh lotion, he also won a great big yes when he asked her out for a date.