Sasquatch, Love, and Other Imaginary Things
“Sasquatch: a hairy human-like creature, most often spotted in the northwestern United States and Canada. The animal, which can be up to 10 feet tall, is also called Bigfoot.”
—“The Big Guide to Bigfoot,” published by the International Association of Sasquatch Enthusiasts
On a good day, my parents were just mildly embarrassing. The day the camera crew came to our house was not a good day.
I squinted at the bright lights illuminating our dingy living room, and turned to my older sister, Sophie. “Hunting Bigfoot in private isn’t bad enough?” I whispered. “Now Mom and Dad have to humiliate us on national television?”
Sophie shrugged. “You’ve been complaining for weeks. It’s time to suck it up.”
Colin, the producer of a new TV show called Myth Gnomers, stood behind our scratched-up coffee table shooting pre-interviews with my parents, me, and my two sisters. The awful title of this lousy reality show should’ve served as an obvious warning we were about to do something ridiculous, but nope, it sure didn’t.
Instead of running like hell, all five of us were squished together on our stained, saggy brown couch, smiles frozen in place. At least our butts hid the holes in the upholstery.
“Checking. Checking one, two. Your mics should all be on now.” Colin peered over the camera at my parents’ matching neon green shirts that read “Ohio Is Bigfoot Country.”
My mom’s smile tightened. She glared and gestured at me until I put on a Northern Ohio Bigfoot Society hat like my sisters. Each Sasquatch club designed their own logo. My tacky-ass trucker cap had a cartoon footprint and a motto on it in Latin—which probably translated to “We have nothing better to do.”
I pulled the brim over my eyes and slumped down, wishing I could join the pennies and crumbs hiding in the dark crevices of the sofa.
At first it made no sense why we were chosen for this show. My dad wasn’t the president of his chapter, or even the head researcher. He was the guy in charge of bringing snacks.
Glancing at my sisters, I figured that the producers didn’t care about my dad’s expertise. They saw his video application and were probably more interested in the fact that he had three fairly cute teenage daughters, which made for better television than the socially awkward dudes with old-fashioned facial hair in my dad’s Bigfoot society.
The way Colin hovered over his assistant producer who was checking and rechecking the sound and light levels, you’d think we were going to be on some fancy PBS documentary. Not even close. The show was destined for one of those travel and adventure channels that feature a lot of conspiracy theories about aliens and pyramids. Our three episodes about the search for Sasquatch would launch the series. Lucky us.
I sighed and stole a glimpse at my phone, wondering how long this ordeal would take. I had a buttload of AP biology homework. My family didn’t seem concerned with time, which was surprising considering how uncomfortable we were on the couch and how my dad kept rubbing his eyes, exhausted from teaching summer school and Driver’s Ed.
Dad perched his reading glasses on the end of his nose, patted the pockets of his safari vest and checked for the notes that he had
written on index cards. I had no idea why someone needed a safari vest in suburban Ohio, but that was the least of my issues.
My mom touched up her hot pink lipstick for the umpteenth time and yet, somehow, it still ended up on her teeth. Classy, Mom. She had splurged and gotten her hair highlighted for the interview, but they went too blonde, which made her resemble my dad’s daughter more than his wife. My parents thought it was hilarious.
Lyssa, my younger sister, gave her best pageant smile and twirled her own bottle-blonde hair. Her short skirt rode up her thighs. I motioned for her to pull the skirt down, but she ignored me and scooted the hem up another half an inch.
Only my older sister, Sophie, totally got how I felt. She had seen the miniskirt exchange and offered me a sympathetic smile. She was lovely, petite with wavy light brown hair and light blue eyes. I looked like a more intense version of her, curvier, with paler skin, deeper blue eyes, and darker, much curlier hair.
Colin’s assistant producer, Beth, tucked her mousy brown hair behind her ears and adjusted the camera for the final time. She glanced at her boss for confirmation.
Colin gave her a dismissive nod. “We’ll get started as soon as the show’s host, Jake Stone, gets here. Beth, do you have his ETA?”
“He was due fifteen minutes ago.”
Colin tilted his prematurely graying head to the ceiling and groaned. “I know when he was supposed to be here. Maybe you could try and find out when he’ll actually show up?”
Beth quickly riffled through the papers in her folder, no doubt searching for Jake’s number.
Colin tapped his clipboard with a pen. “Why is he always late? Actors have no respect for our craft.”
“Jake Stone?” Lyssa asked. “Wasn’t he one of the kids on that Nickelodeon show Ghost Grabbers?”
Colin nodded. “Yeah, right before he was in that failed tween boy band. I forget what they were called.”
“Boys Will Be Boyz!” Lyssa made the little squealing noise that I knew to be her cute-guy-alert sound.
“Oh, I know him,” Sophie said. “He’s the one dating the sweet girl from those teen movie musicals. Melody something.”
“Melody Wright. They met on the set of Teen Marching Band 3. So romantic,” Lyssa sighed.
Colin snorted and paced the length of the room, wearing out our already mangy carpet.
I used the extra time to take off my hat and smooth my hair, which was out of control, as usual. I was the only one of us girls lucky enough to inherit my dad’s kinky hair. He at least got to lose some of it, due to male pattern baldness. Mine just kept growing. I heard the camera added ten pounds. I hoped those pounds would go to my boobs and not my hair.
Moments later, Jake Stone made his entrance through the front door. “What’s up, party people?” he called out, flashing a toothy grin.
From behind the camera, Beth poked her head up, and raised an eyebrow at him. Lyssa sat up a little straighter and offered a wide smile.
“You’re late.” Colin made a big show of looking at the clock on our mantel.
“Dude, sorry. Relax.” Jake, who was probably my age and height, slid off his black leather jacket, revealing a tight-fitting, deep V-neck T-shirt.
I generally don’t like guys decked out in more jewelry than your average pirate, and Jake’s hands were encrusted in chunky silver rings. He even had a studded leather bracelet. This guy was trying way too hard to be a bad boy, when in fact he really just looked like a sweet little kid whose mom dressed him up as a punk rocker for Halloween.
Jake strode over to the hallway mirror and patted his overly gelled dark hair, making sure his quasi–faux hawk was still in place. Satisfied, he acknowledged Colin with a tilt of his chin.
“I’m ready, bro. Let’s do this,” Jake said.
Beth gave the thumbs up.
Jake smirked at the camera, which made me like him a little. I was glad someone else wasn’t taking the whole thing too seriously.
Colin put headphones on and stepped behind the camera. “Rolling,” he said.
I stuffed my hat behind a cushion, knowing my mom wouldn’t say anything in front of the camera.
Colin shrugged and kept filming.
“Deep in the heartland of the Midwest live the Bergers,” Jake began, in a game-show-host-type voice. “An average middle-class Jewish family, like any other, but with one very surprising exception. They don’t spend their time playing bingo at the synagogue. Oh, no, the Bergers are Bigfoot hunters. On the first three episodes of Myth Gnomers, Myron and Brenda Berger and their three lovely teenage daughters will work together to prove, without a shadow of a doubt, the existence of Bigfoot. Our cameras will be there every step of the way, as they face off against a team of some of the country’s best and brightest young science students, but first, let’s find out more about this family and their unusual hobby.”
Jake turned to my father. “So, Myron, tell us a little bit about the Berger Family Bigfoot Hunters.”
My dad straightened his spine and folded his hands in his lap. “Actually, Jake, we prefer the term Wood Ape over Bigfoot.” He cleared his throat. “I’m a middle-school science teacher, and I feel it’s important to give these creatures a respectful name. Also, we aren’t hunters, per se. We’re conservationists. Our mission is to conduct research, classify, and preserve the Wood Ape’s way of life.
It would be a shame if they became extinct because of our lack of knowledge.”
“Presuming they exist,” Jake said.
My dad blinked several times as if he didn’t understand. I hoped Bigfoot didn’t have a sense of humor, because if he did, my dad had no hope of being able to communicate with him.
Dad flipped through his index cards. “Just because we haven’t obtained concrete evidence yet, doesn’t mean that there isn’t an unknown primate species inhabiting the forests of America, and even the world. Science discovers new species every day, for example—”
“And Brenda,” Jake cut my dad off, and pivoted toward my mom. “What do you have to say about your family’s hobby?”
“Oh, Jake.” My mom giggled. “It’s more than a hobby. The Wood Ape is part of the family. I’m just so proud of my husband for being singled out for this show.”
“Let’s talk a little about the other team,” Jake said. “What makes you think your family has what it takes to go up against a group of students from one of the most prestigious prep schools in the country?”
“Well,” my dad said, cleaning his glasses, “we understand the way the Wood Ape thinks, right, dear?”
“Absolutely! We’ve spent weeks in the field and at conferences with our colleagues from other areas of the country. We’re ready for anything.” My mom flashed a winning smile. The lipstick on her teeth? Still totally there.
“Myron,” Jake continued, “where does your unusual passion for Sasquatch research come from?”
My dad chuckled. “Ah, that’s an interesting story. When I was about eleven years old I was wandering through the woods behind my house . . .” My dad launched into the saga of his one and only dubious sighting of Sasquatch.
Jake’s face froze in the kind of polite smile most people use to humor toddlers. I was used to it.
I leaned out of the camera’s frame, pulled out my crappy old phone, and tapped out a quick message to my best friend, and fellow outcast, Charlie.
Promise me you’ll cancel your cable subscription right about now.
No way! she wrote back. Then I’d be the weird girl who doesn’t watch TV.
I smiled, thinking of Charlie in all her blue-haired, pink-combat-booted glory. She was well past weird, which was why we were friends. Being the daughter of Bigfoot hunters didn’t exactly fast-track me to popularity. Far from it.
I snuck my phone back in my pocket before my mom could glare at me. But I had bigger concerns, like what was going to happen when the rest of the world found out about my parents’ obsession. Good thing I didn’t want to go to prom anyway.
“Okay, then. Let’s hear from the girls.” Jake’s mouth turned up in a wolfish grin. He swiveled toward my older sister. “Sophie, what are you most looking forward to during your time on the show?”
Sophie sat with both hands folded in her lap. “It will be wonderful to spend some time in nature.” Her face lit up the way it always did when she talked about the great outdoors. “The forests in the Pacific Northwest are so beautiful. And honestly, I hope the show inspires viewers to visit parks and forests near them and encourages people to help protect our natural resources.”
I wondered if Sophie’s Girl Scout uniform still fit and if there was a badge for hunting mythical creatures.
“Lyssa, how about you?” Jake ogled my little sister.
“I’m really glad you asked.” Lyssa tilted her head and beamed, an old pageant trick to look sincere.
She was pretty successful on the child beauty queen circuit before an ugly baton-twirling injury permanently weakened her rotator cuff.
“I’m most excited about spending time with my family and stuff,” she said. “Family’s super important, right? And I think it will be great to be on TV.”
She said all that with a slight Southern accent, which would have been fine except for the fact that we’re not Southern. We’re not even from southern Ohio.
I couldn’t take it anymore. My eyes rolled all the way to the back of my head and into the next freaking county.
“Samantha, you seem a bit skeptical about all this Bigfoot hunting. What’s your motivation for going on the trip?” Jake asked.
I figured if Sophie was the sweet one and Lyssa the sexy one, I could play the leave-me-the-hell-alone one, which wasn’t much of a stretch.
I slouched back into the cushion. “I offered to stay home and take care of the dog, until my family reminded me that we don’t have one,” I said, forcing a laugh, and ignoring my mom’s flashing eyes.
“Cute,” Jake said, with a fake chortle. “The producers tell me that you’re going into your senior year of high school and hope to be pre-med in college.” He seemed determined to get a real answer from me. “I bet the prize money would help with that.”
Prize money? No one had mentioned cash before this. I stared at my dad. He smiled and nodded like a bobble-head doll in a fast-moving vehicle. He knew how much I wanted to go to college full-time, and not just part-time like Sophie, who lived at home and worked two crappy jobs to help pay her tuition bills.
So much for playing it cool. My eyes widened and I leaned forward. “What kind of money are we talking about?”
Jake’s grin broadened. I was hooked and he knew it. “Enough to put all three of you through college. So, I’ll ask again, Samantha, how excited are you to go deep into the forest in search of the elusive Wood Ape?”
A smile broke out on my face bigger than a Wood Ape’s footprint. “I’m thrilled for the opportunity, Jake. If Sasquatch is real and hanging in the wilds of Washington State, he’d better make up the guest room, because we’re coming to find him.”