Missing Link by Mike Keller-Wilson

It was the memories that did it: My nap-heavy head on an impossibly wide chest. Dark curls—thick as fur—my toddler hand tangled in their sleepy heat. A wild, lumbering voice—a real voice, not a growl or a grunt—almost human. Fresh shampoo—lilac and lavender—and, below that, creek mud and wet leaves. Denim overalls—soft with wear—a poor, if durable, disguise. A steadying palm and a tickle of hair blanketing my back.

I’m not interested in finding Bigfoot; I want him to come back on his own. I want him to come back because he misses me, misses Mom. Isn’t that what any kid would want from their dad? That’s what brought me out here in the middle of the night.

Even if Mom won’t say it right out, I know he’s my dad. She doesn’t want me blabbing, attracting attention. I know better now. I learned my lesson last year—when I was only ten. I told Seth, my (former) best friend. Six months of answering to “Wookie Boy” was more than enough to teach me silence.

I’ve grown up since then: Mom’s doctor visits, selling the house, moving to an apartment across town. We’ve had a hard year. Lately, I can’t stop wondering what would happen if I let something slip and some scientist got to Dad first? What if I was the reason he got caught and caged? Stuck with needles and turned into some experiment? I’d never say anything now. I wouldn’t be able to stand it.

In the first place, I don’t think Mom meant for me to find out about Dad at all. When I asked her, it was supposed to be a joke. I’d gone to the basement for a Freeze Pop and caught her crying on the couch. It was those little choke-sobs, the ones that force their way out no matter how hard you hold them. She was watching “Bigfoot: The Missing Link” (a History Channel miniseries that I’ve now seen nine and a half times, mostly by sneaking the iPad after bedtime). I’d forced a grin, pointed at the screen. “Is that Dad?” Cheering her from her funks was my little-kid job, as I saw it then. I thought she’d laugh—snort through her tears and tell me to quit being a goober.

Instead, she kept wringing the edge of the knit blanket across her lap. She looked away and shut her eyes as if she was afraid of what might spill out. She didn’t make room or pat the open cushion at her side. She turned back to the TV—opened her eyes and fixed them to the screen without saying a word—I realized I’d found what hurt and I knew I’d never have the heart to ask again.

Still, I had to be sure. This wasn’t Santa or the Easter Bunny. I had to do my research. Ms. Knowles let me use the library computer, though I think she knew it wasn’t really for a school project. I found half a dozen sasquatch sightings reported to The Chronicle right around when I was born. One of them was just up the street from our house—in the woods behind Dollar General.

In the end, the research wasn’t what convinced me, what finally brought me out here, clutching my stack of handmade posters in the backwoods moonlight an hour’s walk from the nearest county road.

You can argue facts, but there’s no use arguing with memory. They’re clearest on the restless nights. The ones when Mom goes to bed early, sleeps late. Those nights, it’s like I can grip each memory by the edge, hold it to catch the starry light framed by my bedroom window.

It was the memories on those long nights that got me thinking: What if he’s still out there? What if he had to leave so I didn’t blow his cover? What if I let him know his secret’s safe with me? What if he came back?

“Dad, come home.” That’s what the posters say. It took a whole library afternoon to make them all. By the end, I was dizzy from the fumes off Ms. Knowles’s fat-tipped sharpie. At home, I spent half an hour looking for a staple gun, finally tucked the junk-drawer hammer and half a pack of nails under my pillow.

The night is colder than I thought, too cold for just jeans and my Mothman hoodie. Somewhere along the way, I walked through a burr patch. One pant leg has a string of them scratching through the denim. Still, it’s the quiet that’s most uncomfortable. That country quiet: silence filled with cicada screams and a barn owl in the distance. Son of Bigfoot, I whisper like it’ll help me feel at home. While hammering the first poster, I nearly drop the rest before tucking the stack under one arm. I do drop them when a wide swing misses the nail entirely and bashes my thumb against the pine bark.  From then on, the pages all have one muddy corner.

By the time I finish, the sun is nearly up. I tuck the hammer’s head in a pocket and wrap cold fingers around my still-throbbing thumb. Between the trees, I can glimpse my handiwork: white paper, corners curling over in the damp. I should’ve brought more nails, should’ve used two per poster. Still, it’s something. I think of Mom, tired in her bones. She’ll still be proud of what I’ve done. For a moment, I think it almost doesn’t matter if he sees them, almost doesn’t matter if he comes back.

 

Mike Keller-Wilson lives, writes, and teaches in Iowa City, Iowa. He is a founder & co-editor-in-chief of the newly-launched Vast Chasm Magazine. In his day job, he teaches writing and dad jokes to a captive audience of 7th graders. Find him on Twitter @Mike3Stars or at mikekellerwilson.com.

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