“Sasquatch Summer” by Erica L. Satifka
That was the summer the sasquatches came down from Mount Hood and put Papa out of a job.
It wasn’t their fault, not really. Sasquatches don’t need tools to work. When a sasquatch wants to tear down a tree, he doesn’t use an axe. He grips each side with his leathery hands and just pulls until the earth decides to let that tree go. When a tree falls on a sasquatch, the company doesn’t have to pay his family any compensation like they did to Jimmy’s family. That creature just rolls out from under the tree and keeps on walking.
Of course, most folks didn’t see it like that.
“Damn apes,” Papa said. He threw a beer bottle across the room and pointed to me. “Clean it up, Helen.”
I could have told him that the sasquatches aren’t apes. Not even the college types from Portland know what they are, because nobody’s ever been able to get close enough to study them. The last time I said something like that, though, I didn’t get to go to school for two weeks.
“And get me another beer.”
I fished another bottle from the icebox. All Papa did anymore was drink. “We’re out of bread.”
He shrugged, and tossed his head back. The beer flowed down his throat like a river. “Maybe your Ma can send you some food.”
“Very funny,” I said, sighing.
When Papa and my brothers were safely tucked in under the ratty Indian blanket that covered our single bed—one of the few things Papa wasn’t able to sell for beer—I snuck out to the woods behind our shack. The rain pattered in my hair and down my face. No use wiping it off, it just comes back.
And that’s when I saw the sasquatch.
Shivers ran down my spine all the way to my heavy socks, and I ducked behind the nearest tree for safety. It wasn’t the first time I’d been this close to a sasquatch, but I was all alone, and it was so dark.
He was down on all fours lapping rainwater from a pond, his slick black fur glinting in the weak moonlight. As I edged closer, I could feel a strange energy move through my body like the tension in the air before a rainstorm. The hair on my arms stood on end, and yet I moved closer. The creature didn’t shy away.
I looked back at the shack. The low rumble of Papa’s snores pounded through the thin planks.
Come closer, said a voice that seemed to emanate from all around, or maybe from inside me.
“Papa?” But then I realized it was coming from the sasquatch. He stared right at me, standing at full height on those tree-trunk legs, looking like a cross between a bear, an ape, and a man.
Closer, he repeated.
I felt a pull toward the sasquatch. I didn’t want to turn away from him, but I had to. I couldn’t leave Papa and my brothers alone, not yet.
“Later,” I said. “I promise.” And I swear, it was like that sasquatch understood me.
I can’t talk about the sasquatches without also talking about the union men.
I saw the first one—a union woman—in the square in front of the courthouse. She was dressed in bloomers and her hair was cut short, like a boy. She held a broadsheet in one hand and a hammer in the other.
“You can’t do that,” I said. “That tree belongs to the company.”
“Trees belong to the people,” the union woman said. She gave the hammer a few good whacks, then stepped back to admire her handiwork.
I squinted at the mimeographed paper. “Sasquatches don’t know what unions are.” I barely knew what a union was, only that I’d heard some of my dad’s friends talk about forming one before the company let them all go.
The union woman shook her head. “Savages.” I wasn’t sure if she was talking about the sasquatches or the townsfolk.
I scuffed the ground with the tip of my boot. It hadn’t rained in a few days, and the ground had returned to dry scrub. “Do you want to meet a sasquatch?”
She pointed at the sign. “We’re calling for a town meeting at the end of the month. All are invited, man and sasquatch both.”
“They’re not going to come to a meeting in town. They live in the woods. And work in the woods.”
She snorted. “You mean they’re subjugated by the company in the woods.”
I crossed my arms. “Whatever you say.”
The union woman reached into her bag and pulled out one of the broadsheets. “Tell your little friends. We want a big showing. We won’t let the company exploit these marginalized workers any longer!”
That was the first organizer I met, but she wasn’t the last. Over the next couple of weeks, they piled out of the passenger trains by the dozen. The courthouse square swarmed with Easterners handing out pamphlets and standing on soapboxes.
The organizers got offended if you called the sasquatches animals, even though that’s what they were. They called them the “undermen,” and they called the company a “ruthless force monopolizing the forces of nature for their own sadistic ends.” I had to look up some of those words in the big leather-bound dictionary in the schoolhouse.
At least the newcomers smelled better than the sasquatches. Mostly.
What does a sasquatch smell like? He smells a little like a dog dipped in beer left out in the rain.
We’d gotten used to the stench, but it sure bothered the folks from back East. They’d tied handkerchiefs around their noses and mouths, but that doesn’t do anything to mask the smell, not really. I wonder if they would have come here if they knew in advance how bad sasquatches stink.
“I thought they were like people,” said a man from New York who’d taken up a soapbox near the school. “Like Indians.”
“Indians don’t smell,” I said, raising an eyebrow.
“And they don’t even talk. You can’t reason with them.” He stopped to hand a pamphlet to a downtrodden ex-logger on his way to the bar.
I didn’t bother to correct him on that. It was true. “So I guess you’ll be packing up soon? Since they’re so hopeless.”
He shook his head, steel resolve in his eyes. “We shall not rest until a union is formed for these brave workers so victimized by the fist of capitalism.”
“You didn’t seem to care so much when it was people working for the company.”
He frowned. “People can take care of themselves.”
Almost overnight, our little town transformed. Our only hotel was stuffed four people to a room, while the whores abandoned the local men for the Easterners and their money. The bars ran out of beer in the first two days, and the fistfights started soon after. Papa hardly ever came home anymore.
Even with all the activity in town, the creatures worked through the night, the crunch of the trees keeping everyone up. I stuck paraffin in my ears to keep it out.
But wax couldn’t keep out the voice in my head, the voice like a distant rumbling from the heart of the Earth. The voice of the sasquatches.
Only a few days after the organizers converged on the square, they began to picket the company headquarters.
The house of Julius Price, the company president, sat on the banks of the Hood River less than a mile from the center of town. Sometimes Price would come out and smoke on the porch, his beady eyes facing East.
My brother Lou and I were walking through the woods when we saw the crowd.
“Free the First Men!” yelled a woman in trousers.
“Just because they’re hairy doesn’t mean they aren’t people,” whined a man in the back carrying a sign painted on a piece of thin wood.
I pushed Lou down onto a stump. “Stay there,” I hissed, as I fought my way through the boughs to gawk at the protestors. Price, dressed in his three-piece suit, pretended not to notice the dozen or so union men scoping out his riverside palace. I threw him a silent sneer.
“Oh, little girl!” I groaned when I realized I’d been spotted by the union woman I’d met the first day they arrived in town. It was too late to go back.
She picked her way across the stumps, a fistful of skirt in one hand and a fan of pamphlets in the other. Her shins were caked in mud. “Have you come to support the undermen?”
“They’re called sasquatches.”
She continued her rant as if I hadn’t said anything at all. “This noble race, victimized by that man,” she said, pointing at President Price, “has suffered for far too long! We’re going to break the chains of oppression today. Or at least this week.” She slapped at a spider that had alighted on her shoulder, and squealed.
“Have you tried talking to the, uh, undermen?”
The union lady from back East looked at me with the same expression the teacher did when I’d gotten too many right answers. “Precious girl, they wouldn’t talk to us. The undermen keep their own counsel.”
I thought of that low rumble-voice, that feeling of connection that happened whenever I peered out of the window of our shack and gazed into the forest. “The company isn’t just going to let you stay here forever, you know. Not with the ruckus you’ve been causing.”
She narrowed her eyes at the president’s fancy house, like she was the one who’d been wronged by him, and not all of us. “Fret not, little girl. We have a plan that will liberate the undermen for good.”
“I’m telling you, they’re not men.”
Finally, she looked at me, and I don’t think she liked what she saw. “Shouldn’t you be in school?”
“It burned down.”
The school didn’t burn down. The teacher left. I don’t know why I said it burned down.
He was from Connecticut, the teacher, the same place Mama ran off to. He hadn’t been a very good teacher, and of course he didn’t like having girls in his class. Or maybe he just didn’t like me. But he was still a teacher, and we needed him.
The teacher fit in pretty well for an intellectual stuck in the middle of logging country. He didn’t go drinking with the other men, but he would tip his hat to us in the street, and he even had a special lady. We thought we’d have him with us for a very long time. And then he saw a sasquatch.
I wasn’t there, but my brother Cecil told me what happened. The teacher had gone for a hike around Mount Hood, even though he must have noticed that none of us ever went there. He’d gone wandering into one of those gaping cracks on the mountain’s side, and had a fit.
The sasquatches had carried him back down, cradled in their arms like their own child, and deposited him on the steps of the courthouse. It was very kind of them, but the teacher didn’t see it that way. He’d gone back to Connecticut the next morning, job be damned, lady friend be double damned.
Papa said another one is on the way, but I don’t think so. Teachers talk amongst each other. They’re a lot like sasquatches that way.
I tried to look sad at the union lady after telling her the lie about the school, but she didn’t seem to care.
“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” She pressed a leaflet into my hand. The ink came off on my palm. “Come to the hotel lobby tomorrow at seven. We’ll give you an education.”
I sighed. “I’ll be there.” I scanned the stumps until I found Lou.
“Lou?” He was sitting where I’d found him. A baby sasquatch—or baby underman—was sitting on its haunches at his feet. I watched as Lou reached out his hand to the furry hand.
“Don’t,” I said. I looked into Lou’s pale blue eyes. “Don’t let him hurt you.”
Lou petted the sasquatch on its rough head. I smiled to see him with his new friend.
And that’s when that baby sasquatch’s mama lumbered out of the woods and took Lou away.
Papa didn’t even seem to care that Lou was gone, until I told him that a sasquatch did it. That wiped the beery glaze from his eyes and sent him flying out of the shack, muttering “damn beasts” and “we’ll show ’em.”
I tucked my other two brothers, Cyril and Gary, under the Indian blanket and turned down the light.
“It’s okay,” I said as I peeked past the curtains. “Papa will find him.” The moon was full tonight, but the rain pattered down. Almost no light was reflected off the pond in the back of our house. I couldn’t see if the sasquatches were out there waiting for me.
Of course they knew where I was, even with all the lights doused and the curtains drawn.
What are you doing with him? I projected the question with all my heart, that there might be a connection like there had been on that moonlit night not so long ago. But there was no reply.
Papa returned shortly before dawn.
“Did you find him?”
He scowled. “Shut your trap, girlie.”
The door opened again and two of the other ex-loggers entered, their axes slung over their shoulders. The three men spoke among one another in hushed tones. Every so often, Papa stole a glance over at me to make sure I wasn’t listening.
I couldn’t hear what they were saying exactly. But I got the gist of it. They were going to kill the sasquatches.
A town meeting convened at noon. The other ex-workers and their wives gave Papa their condolences. Clearly, everyone thought Lou was dead.
Is he dead? I thought out at the sasquatches. No response.
Tears shone in the corners of Papa’s eyes, but I thought he seemed more angry than sad. He hadn’t really wanted any of us to stay in Oregon with him. He’d especially tried to convince Mama to take Lou, who was only a baby. He didn’t know how to take care of a baby, he said.
I knew how to take care of a baby. I had to know.
“How are we gonna do it?” said Anderson, a man with seven fingers and an ever-present sneer.
“Smoke ’em out,” said another man. “They don’t like fire.”
“But that will spread!” a woman countered.
While the deliberations wore on, the union men appeared in the doorway, almost as if they’d always been there. Maybe they’d been listening in this whole time. The woman with the short hair and bloomers, Lorna, hoisted herself onto a chair, put her hands around her mouth, and hollered loud enough for people in Portland to hear her.
“Listen up!” When only a few of us turned our heads to look, she stamped her foot, almost falling off the chair in the process. “There will be no more oppression of these people by anyone in town. Solidarity!”
An old logger with missing front teeth started to titter. Then the whole meeting house broke into hysterics, except for Papa, who just looked pissed. While they were laughing, I snuck out.
The rain fell gently on the green earth, and the smell of moss hung in the air. I went across the dirt road and sat down on a flat rock. I needed some time to think.
I put my chin in my hands, tired from the sleepless night. As the meeting house continued to erupt in waves of laughter mixed with righteous indignation, I felt my consciousness slip under. I dreamed of an ocean of brown-gray fur lifting me up, carrying me away from the stench of booze and evergreens.
When I woke, I rubbed my eyes and looked around. I was in a cave. Why was I in a cave?
“Papa?” I said, sitting up. “Where are you?” I looked toward the cave’s mouth, but it was only a pinprick of light. I stood, but felt my head spinning. I plopped down on the bed, which I could now see was a thick mat of rough straw.
I scanned the room lit only by a single candle in the corner. I felt warmth. I reached out my hand and hit something that felt like a cow. I pulled my hand back. It wasn’t a cow.
Don’t be scared.
Too late. My breath caught in my throat and my hands began to tremble. I forced myself to speak. “Why did you take my brother?” I tried to make out the sasquatch’s face, but it was too dark. Sasquatches all look alike anyway. “You’d better give him back or they’re going to do bad things to you.”
He is learning.
“Learning what?” Paying attention, I could feel the forms and hear the voices of at least three of the brutes in the cave with me. I breathed in and out calmly. I couldn’t let them know I was scared.
He is safe.
“Then let me see him.” As I said that, a picture flashed in my mind: Lou on a pile of skins, naked, his face screwed up in intense concentration. Four-year-olds didn’t concentrate like that.
“Why should I?” I tried to stand up again, but the dizzies got the best of me. “You stole my brother. Now everyone in town wants to kill you.”
Let them come.
I balled my fist and struck out at the creature, but it was like hitting a slab of meat. “Give him to me! Maybe they won’t come after you if you give him up right now.”
They have always been coming. There is nothing to be done. That is why we have selected the envoy.
He will remember us when we are gone. When our bodies have been ground into bone and dust, he will remember.
I felt tears spring to the corners of my eyes. “But he’s just a little boy.”
Little boys grow up.
Suddenly, the suffocating weight of the combined sasquatches lifted. I rose for the third time and could remain standing. My eyes had adjusted to the poor light, and I found myself only three inches from the closest sasquatch’s beady black eyes. She, or it, was sitting on her haunches, massive paw-hands splayed on the cave floor. Her jaw was working, but as before, the words flew into my brain without the unnecessary formality of speech.
“What you’ve done to him, it can be reversed, right? He didn’t ask to be your envoy. He’s only four years old.”
When we are four we venture into the cone of the mountain and find the wisdom locked within.
I took two halting steps forward. My hands were still fists at my sides. “We’re not like you.”
The thick musk of the sasquatches was like a cloud about me. I looked around for Lou, but he wasn’t there. A square of pale light appeared before me. I stumbled out into the weak sun, my eyes burning. I didn’t turn around.
When I got back to town, three days had elapsed. Papa had been certain I was dead, and he’d drowned his sorrow with whiskey. My two remaining brothers ganged up on me, piercing me with angry eyes and fierce expressions.
“Where the hell did you go?” Cyril said. I could tell he hadn’t bathed in days. Nobody had been here to make him do it.
“Looking for Lou. Why weren’t you taking care of Papa?”
“You found him, didn’t you?” Gary said, sniffing the sasquatch musk that had attached itself to my dress and hair. “But you didn’t bring him back. Because you side with them.”
“Of course I don’t side with them, ninny. They stole our brother!” I shoved Gary into the cast-iron stove.
“Is he dead?” Cyril asked. “Did the sasquatches eat him?”
I thought back to Lou atop the pile of skins, his young-old face radiating the wisdom of the center of the mountain, like a little Chinese god. “He’s not dead.”
“Well, I’ll tell you who will be dead pretty soon,” Cyril said with a grin. “We caught ourselves some sasquatches. Just threw a net over them while they were out working. We’re going to have ourselves a barbecue.”
I sucked in air. “That’s not going to bring Lou back.”
“Maybe it will and maybe it won’t,” Gary said, “but it’s not gonna hurt. Well, not gonna hurt us.”
I didn’t have any love in my heart for the sasquatches, not after all they’d done to our family, but that didn’t mean I wanted to see them killed. “When are they going to roast them?”
“Tuesday morning,” Cyril said.
“Just burn them up,” I said. “Just like that.” I tried not to sound sad. I shouldn’t be sad over animals.
“We’re going to shoot them first, dummy. We’re not savages.”
I shooed my brothers out of the room and changed out of my filthy, fur-covered dress. I had to stop this, not for the sasquatches’ sake, but for Lou’s. And to do that, I had to talk to the union men.
I found Lorna in the square, right where I knew she’d be. She was holding one of her usual broadsheets, standing barefoot on a stump. I guess those fancy city shoes weren’t working out too well for her.
“Little girl,” she said with a frown, “what do you want?”
I sighed. “I need your help.”
Lorna stepped down off the stump, wincing. “It’s because of your family that the undermen are being shot this afternoon. Maybe if you’d have watched your brother better, this wouldn’t have happened.”
“Maybe you should shut your ignorant mouth. I’m coming to you in friendship.”
Lorna planted her hands on her hips, her broadsheets crumpled in one hand. “Fine. Spit it out.”
“Now, I got no love for those animals. They took my brother. They…” I trailed off, wondering if I should talk about what I’d seen in the cave. “But I don’t think they should die.”
“Stand up for them, then. Tell the mayor to let the undermen go.”
I stamped my foot. “I don’t control the mayor!”
“Then let them out yourself. It’s a small town and you’re a smart girl.”
I wondered why Lorna’s people didn’t free the sasquatches by their own selves. And then I realized. It was because they was scared. Just like the teacher. Just like Mama. “I don’t even know where they’re keeping them.”
“Where else?” she said. “The jail. Along with all the other oppressed people of the land.”
There wasn’t ever anyone in the jail except the occasional drunk sleeping off a bender, but I wasn’t about to correct her. “They’ll be surrounded. There isn’t any way I can do it by myself.”
Lorna raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps you should be employing a little solidarity.”
I kicked a little dust in Lorna’s direction and strode out of there. She was right, but I wasn’t about to let her know it. It was time to get some folks—human and craven beast alike—on my side.
I found President Price in the saloon, his walrus mustache drooping into a tumbler of whisky. The other men talked in hushed tones around the company man. They’d work like dogs for him if he asked them to, but no man in Oregon wanted to be his friend.
“What are you doing here, President Price?”
His face cycled through multiple emotions as if picking out which reply he wanted to use. “Who are you?”
“Helen Parker. My Papa used to work for you.”
“Everyone’s papa used to work for me.” Again, there was the cycle of expressions, from pride to shame to, finally, apathy. “You shouldn’t be in here, this place is for men.”
I perched atop a stool, hoping I didn’t look ridiculous. “They’re going to kill your workers.”
“There are other brutes in the forest.”
The bartender plunked a mason jar of water down on the counter. It was brown and sickly-looking, and I didn’t touch it. “They don’t deserve it.”
His mustache frowned. “The creatures stole your brother.”
“Not these ones. And anyway, where does it end? I’ve heard the men talking. They want to kill all the sasquatches. Even the women and the babies.”
“We don’t really need sasquatches.” He tapped a finger meditatively against his chin. “I guess I could just hire some Irishmen. They’re cheap.”
I dipped my finger in the dirty water and traced a pattern on the bar countertop. “Do you like it here?”
“Of course I don’t like it here. I came here to make money, girl.” He chuckled into his whisky. “And I will make money, even if I have to cut every corner. That’s why the creatures were so useful. They don’t get hurt, they don’t get sick, and you don’t have to pay them. If I could I’d ship a whole train-load of them back East, put them to work making pencils and battleships.” He sighed. “But they stick by that mountain of theirs.”
“It’s their home.”
His bushy eyebrows knitted. “I don’t know what you people want from me.”
“You could pay the men. A bonus. For all the work they’ve done for you all these years.”
He waved a hand. “Nonsense. That would eat up all my profits.”
I thought, long and hard. “I understand. Thank you for your time.”
Price sloshed the remaining whisky around in the glass tumbler. “You’re a queer little girl, carrying on about such things. Haven’t you got a mother to teach you how to sew and bake?”
“I’ve got more family here than you’ve got,” I said. “Enjoy your afternoon.”
I pushed the saloon doors open. I had to get to the schoolhouse.
Even though there wasn’t any school anymore, all the kids in town still hung out at the schoolhouse. Not on any sort of set schedule, mind. We were still needed at home most of the time. But when you were looking for friends to play with, you went to the schoolhouse. It was a ramshackle structure a few blocks away from the meeting house. One side of its foundation had sunk into the mud, and all the floors tilted aslant. If you dropped your pencil in class, you had to get up and walk across the room to get it.
Cyril was there, plus another boy and a girl. They narrowed their eyes when I came in.
“Oh great, your weird sister is here,” said the boy, Petey. “Where you been at for the past three days, anyway?”
I gave him a Look. “None of your business.”
“You were playing with those sasquatches.” Petey smirked. “Filthy animals.”
“You should know about filthy animals, being one and all.” His face turned red, but he didn’t dare hit a girl. Even one like me. “Listen up. I have a plan to get our fathers their jobs back, and get my brother back too.”
“He’s not dead?” Melinda said.
I shook my head. “Not hardly. He’s with the sasquatches inside Mount Hood, alive and well.” That was a lie. I knew about the alive part, but I wasn’t real sure about the well part.
“You know where he is, and you didn’t tell Papa?” The corner of Cyril’s eye twitched. “I say we just go in there and take him.”
“It’s not that easy,” I said, holding up a hand. “There’s sasquatches all over the place, and they’ve done something to him, changed him somehow. He’s like, their ambassador or something. But not dead.”
“And why are we letting this girl tell us what to do?” Petey said. “Let’s go save your brother, Cy.”
“They won’t let you inside. They don’t know you. We have to be gentle.”
“Maybe you should just go talk to your friends from the East,” Cyril said. “If you want to be gentle with them.” He said it like a curse.
“I’ve been inside their cave. They know me and they trust me.” I scanned the kids for a reaction. Cyril and Petey still looked skeptical, but I could tell Melinda was warming. Maybe. “I know how we can get Lou back and get rid of those Easterners. Let me do it.”
Petey scrunched up his nose. “Let’s hear the plan, Helen. Five minutes.”
My words tumbled over one another on the way out of my mouth. To be honest, I hadn’t expected the other kids to listen to me at all, and was coming up with this plan mostly on the fly. But they didn’t need to sense that. “The organizers want to put President Price out of business, right? And he wants to keep his operating costs down as low as possible, which is why he uses the sasquatches. Because they don’t understand what money is.” I reached for the next sentence like I was grasping straws. “So what if we taught them what money is? Get them to value it like we do? Then they could join the union, and our daddies could compete for the jobs again.”
“But the sasquatches are stronger,” Melinda said. “My Papa can’t pull a tree out of the ground with his bare hands.”
“Yeah, but we got more brains than them, and we can use tools.” The more I spoke the plan aloud, the more sense it made, or seemed to. “The union men are right. We do need solidarity with the sasquatches. But we can’t force it on them. They’re not going to march or strike. They’re totally different from us.”
Petey snorted. “What’s a sasquatch gonna buy?”
“But if he has to start paying the sasquatches,” Cyril said, “then President Price is just gonna leave. You know he wants to go back East anyway. His family is there.”
“So let him!” I said, kicking at one of the moldy old chairs. “Who says we need a president to run a mill? He barely does anything anyway. We have the trees, we have the labor, and if this works out, we even have the sasquatches on our side.”
I watched the other kids as they seemed to consider my proposal, turn it over in their minds like the river working over a stone. Finally Melinda spoke. “How are we going to do this?”
“We’re going up to Mount Hood. We’re going to talk to Lou.”
We set out for the mountain on the morning before the sasquatches were to be shot and roasted. The evergreens loomed above us like silent soldiers, screaming hawks nestled in their limbs. I gripped Melinda’s hand. The boys walked ahead, knives in their belts, but from their stiff body language I could tell they were more scared than we were.
The entrance to the sasquatches’ mountain home was subtle, unless you knew where to look. For dumb brutes, they had camouflaged their lair well. A false tangle of leaves and branches masked the cracks that marked the entryway, and I think the only way I could tell it was there was that the voices of the creatures became momentarily louder in my head, as if to say you’re almost there.
I looked over at Melinda, but it didn’t seem like she was hearing anything at all.
I touched the false front of the lair. Beneath it was cool, wet rock. “Here.”
Cyril and Petey ran forward with sticks with which to jimmy open the door, but they broke in the cracks. I dropped Melinda’s hand and ran to where the voices were strongest, where I could hear the gentle waves of the sasquatch hive-voice even through inches of prehistoric rock. There was a gap here, a place so close to them—and to Lou—that I almost felt as if I were inside, riding those waves of soft brown fur.
“Please come outside,” I whispered. “We need to talk.”
We must protect those parts of us which are left.
“The parts of you that are outside are in great danger.”
That is why we remain inside with our envoy. He is still in deep training. Until the envoy is prepared we cannot risk the loss of those which are left. We are sorry. I could almost believe that.
“The envoy is one of us. He belongs to me. To my family,” I said. “If we can learn to work together, we can save all the parts of you. And help you protect your forest.” I hoped the sasquatches couldn’t tell that last part was a lie.
I smelled the pungent sweetness of evergreens, and when I looked out of the corner of my eye, I gasped. Petey had set a bough on fire, and was stalking toward the mouth of the cave, swinging it before him like an axe. “You let him out of there, you filthy animals!”
“Stop!” I screamed. I lunged at Petey, but the bits of flame leapt onto my dress, leaving singe marks where they landed. I stepped back. “You’re not solving anything!” I looked for Cyril and Melinda, but they were hanging back, Cyril looking smug and Melinda on the verge of tears.
Petey dropped the bough. The flames climbed up the false tangle of weeds that partially hid the door into Mount Hood. I was too far away to hear the voices of the undermen inside, but I could feel their fear, their pain. I could feel them hiding it away, under their great cloaks of flesh and fur. I could feel their shared mind crumble under the weight of the fire.
And then the door rolled aside, and Lou stepped out.
We met the townsfolk halfway down. All the men and most of the women were carrying rifles under their armpits. Some carried torches. Everyone quieted when they saw Lou.
Two of the creatures knuckle-walked behind him. Even more of the beasts formed a rough semi-circle, their glossy black eyes focused on their envoy. Nobody, not man or sasquatch, made a sound. Until Papa stepped out of the throng of watchers.
“Lou!” He held his rifle slack, and his ever-present beer bottle fell to the ground. “Gimme back –”
“Father,” Lou said. His voice was hollow and gravelly, like an old man. Like he’d aged seven decades in a week. “Do not be alarmed. We have no wish to bring you to harm, though we possess the power to do so.”
Papa just stared back, open-mouthed.
Lou targeted his strange gaze at me. “My parts. Where are the parts that were taken from me?”
I shook myself into action. “They’re in the jailhouse.”
My brother nodded. “Yes. I can sense that they are hungry, but well. We shall go to them now.” The townsfolk dropped their torches in the mud when the sasquatch parade passed. One burly man went flying down the mountainside to the village square. I didn’t think anyone would attempt to stop them from releasing the captive beasts. Or even could stop them.
I slowed my pace to match his. My brother’s clothes were torn and covered with fur, and his once-innocent face was older, somehow. “What’s this all about, Lou? What have they done to you?”
“All will be revealed.” It sounded comical coming from a little kid, but I didn’t let on.
“Are you gonna blow up the mountain?”
“We would never destroy our only home, the place where our ancestors were forged in the fires from the underworld, where our energies return daily to replenish for the day ahead.”
Well, that cleared that up, I guessed.
Lou led the sasquatches—or maybe they led him—into the town square. The union men and women jumped up like rabbits when they saw the sasquatches, waving their little signs and shaking their angry fists.
“Freedom!” yelled a woman. “Liberation for the undermen!” One of the men started wrestling with an ex-logger for no reason I could tell.
Across the square, three sasquatches stood near the town hall, probably released by the union folks. They made a beeline for the mass of creatures at my back, and I could feel the relief of the sasquatches as their missing pieces slid into place.
Now we are whole, said the deep reverberations, the heart-voice.
“Halt yourselves!” cried Lou, and though his voice was still that of a child, it stopped everyone’s fussing. “Visitors from distant lands, we do not require your assistance. You are free to leave.”
A sickly pale man with a black mustache piped up. “But you’re slaves. We came here to free you!”
“It is not possible for us to be freed, since no man can chain us. Return to the cities which birthed you, and assist those of your own kind who truly suffer under the thumb of oppression.”
Cyril nudged me. “Lou knows even more fancy words than you do, Helen.”
I shrugged. Lou’s words were beyond me.
Lou and his sasquatch friends walked among the townsfolk until he met the stern gaze of Julius Price. “We chose to help you, for we believed that it was improper for men to suffer under hard labor when we could perform the work so much more easily ourselves. Why are the people still suffering?”
Price’s forehead wrinkled. “I don’t understand.”
“Why,” Lou said, the voice of the sasquatches flowing through him like lava, “are the men still suffering? We have taken away their work.”
“If the men don’t work, the men don’t eat.”
“But there is enough for all!” The creatures’ words flowed from Lou like a sonic wave, blowing President Price backward. “This valley is fertile. No man should starve here. No man should suffer here. To let your kind of beings, so strange yet so intelligent, die in a land of plenty is evil!”
The townsfolk just stared, but the union people started nodding and clapping. They quieted with a glare from Lou, or whatever sasquatch was talking through Lou’s mouth. I guess that was all of them.
“The ways of men are strange to us, and we are not certain we care for them. Yet, the men are here. We cannot cast you out, for you have stitched yourself into the pattern of the land. Our land.” Lou took a deep breath. It was a lot of talking for a four-year-old, especially one as silent as Lou used to be. “Fear not the rumblings of the mountain. We do not wish to harm you. But we cannot allow this strife to continue.”
Everyone paused, locking eyes around the muddy square. Nobody seemed likely to speak. Finally, Papa spoke up. “So what’s gonna happen, son?”
“We work together,” said the sasquatches. “Or we fall together.”
The air severed around us, the heart-song of the sasquatches breaking off. I let out a breath. Suddenly, Lou’s knees buckled.
“Lou!” I yelled, running to catch him.
His blue eyes stared into mine. “What happened, Helen?”
I turned my head. The sasquatches were lumbering away, toward Mount Hood. A few of the Easterners padded after them for a few steps, but none followed them out of the square. “I don’t rightly know,” I admitted. “But I think we’re all gonna be okay.”
The union men left town later that week, packing into the eastbound train like sardines in a rusty tin can. I watched from the other side of the station as Lorna hefted her steamer trunk into the baggage hold. Her bloomers were streaked with grime.
“You’re taking off,” I said, stating the obvious.
She sneered. “Hello, little girl.”
“You got everything you wanted. The undermen are unionized.” It was true. President Price had left on the previous train. Through Lou’s little-boy voice and big-city vocabulary, we’d managed to organize something like a union. The sasquatches did all the work, while the people managed the sasquatches and dealt with the companies. A lot of the men, and even a few women, patrolled the town with rifles in hand, waiting for the inevitable encroachment of the government on our patch of paradise.
“You’re not really working with them. You’re exploiting them,” Lorna said. “You’ve just replaced one set of chains with another. No matter what the undermen may think.”
Maybe that was true. The sasquatches worked as they’d always worked, pulling up trees with their big ropy muscles. They didn’t come into town. Meanwhile, the men of the town took care of the business side, selling the uprooted trees to investors from New York and Chicago. The paths of men and sasquatches still didn’t cross much.
Except when it came to my brother.
Lou was different now. Before, he’d just been a regular dumb little worm-eating kid crying for a mommy who wasn’t ever coming back. Now he was quiet and still as a lake. He split his time between our cabin and the main sasquatch camp inside Mount Hood. I walked him there and back, though he didn’t need my guardianship.
One night, as I walked my brother back from Mount Hood past the rows of rifle-sporting militiamen, I spotted a woman coming down the gravel path. “Lorna? I thought you left.”
Her round face shone in the moonlight. “Changed my mind. There’s a lot of space out here for women like me. More space than in New York City.”
“The undermen don’t need you, Lorna.” Of course, they didn’t need us, either. We had always known that the sasquatches could dismantle the village in one night if they had a mind to. Sasquatches didn’t work for men, they didn’t even work for themselves. A sasquatch was like a tool, you just pointed it in the right direction and it did what you asked. “And neither do we.”
Lorna grunted. “There’s still a lot of work to be done, Helen. Someone needs to make sure people don’t become complacent. Who knows, maybe I can spark a revolution!”
“Well, I certainly hope not.”
Lou tugged on my arm. I bent down and put my ear to his lips, to hear what he had to say. We always knew he would grow up to be a quiet man, but his time among the sasquatches had quieted him even more. I ruffled his blond hair and faced Lorna again.
“What’s he saying?” she asked, narrowing her eyes at Lou.
“He says that when the revolution does happen, none of us will see it coming.”
That wasn’t the truth. But it was close enough.
|Erica L. Satifka‘s short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Interzone, and the upcoming anthology Weird World War III, among other places. Her debut novel Stay Crazy won the 2017 British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer, and her rural cyberpunk novella Busted Synapses will be released in September 2020. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband/editor Rob and several adorable talking cats.|