My Name Was John
by Dan Dillard
We’d grown weary. The hunt had dragged on days longer than initially planned, but there was a twelve-pointer I was stalking, and my friend Todd was good enough to stick with me, even after the beer ran out. My feet and fingers were numb when I woke up that morning. I watched Todd’s breath steaming from his nostrils as he slept. My name was John.
I worried about the supply of water, but found it still liquid and took a drink to rinse the foul taste of a night’s sleep from my mouth. I shook Todd to rouse him.
“You ready to pack it in?” I asked.
“Nope,” he said, sitting and putting a wad of Skoal in his lip.
I popped open a pack of breakfast bars and started on some coffee. He unzipped the tent and stepped outside, stretching. I pulled out two packs of a chemical hand warmer and crushed them, placing them over my icy toes and felt the warmth rush through my body. I could hear Todd taking a piss outside.
“Can’t you do that somewhere else? I hope you’re downhill at least.”
Todd laughed and I could picture the satisfied look on his face. Anything to rile me up. We’d been as brothers for nearing thirty years as our fathers were. We had married a pair of best friends, and our families were close. Our children would grow up together, and so would their children. It was the way things worked in our small community.
I finished pulling on clean socks and my boots and went outside with the ingredients for our morning coffee to start the campfire. I saw Todd, standing mouth open and pointing. His face was at once a picture of shock, then his lip curled into a mischievous smile. I followed his gaze.
The twelve-pointer stood some fifteen yards down the hillside, chewing on greenery and looking about its surroundings. It hadn’t sensed us yet, or it didn’t care. I was double mad at my partner for pissing on the ground. Triple mad because I’d never get to my bow before the creature caught our scent, or the noise of a breaking twig under my heels and bolted. Todd zipped up, never taking his eyes off our target. He was working out a plan in his head. I could see the gears turning.
I managed to get to the tent and grab my compound bow, somehow without startling the buck. It was going to be my morning. The animal jerked, raising its head, eyes wild in anticipation…but it didn’t run. I could see its nostrils flaring, its ears twisting like radar, searching for us as I drew my arrow back.
I steadied my breathing and sighted, then corrected. Just as I was about to let it fly, the deer turned, then ran. Not away from us, but toward us.
“The hell?” Todd said.
It took two mighty leaps over the brush and leaves, clearing most of the distance between us when something enormous hit it from the side. I heard the buck’s lungs wheeze as the air was knocked out of them. The black-furred creature sunk teeth into the deer’s long neck, twisting its own and tearing a bloody hole in the flesh. A second beast appeared from the woods beyond where the buck had been standing. A bear? It had the length and coloration of a bear, but not the girth. It wasn’t a wolf. There was only one other thing I could think of.
“Squatch,” Todd said.
He ducked in and out of the tent, grabbing his rifle. He flipped the safety, loaded the chamber and leveled the weapon at the feeding animal in one swift motion. The sound of the bullet ripped through the morning air, echoing off of distant hills and rock outcroppings. The monster fell over top of the dead twelve-pointer and twitched. The second creature ran, howling like an ape, breaking limbs as it went. It was gone in a flash and we had no hope of catching it. What we did have, was a body—an actual specimen of the creature known as Bigfoot, Yeti, and many other monikers. We had it and no one could take that away.
I jumped back into the tent for my camera. We needed to snap shots in case the other came for it. Whatever their magical disappearing act was, I wanted proof. I tossed Todd his keys and told him to get to the truck, find a signal and call the game warden. He stared at the body which was still breathing, albeit a shallow, dying pattern.
“Todd,” I said. “Get going.”
“You want to be alone out here?” he asked.
“Leave the rifle. Take the pistol.”
“What if there’s more? What if there’s a pack of them things? You saw how it flushed that buck.”
“Fine. Let me get some pictures and we’ll go together.”
He nodded, pulling a cigarette from his pocket and lighting it, in addition to the dip. He readied the rifle for another shot as I walked down the hillside, careful not to slip in the cold muddy leaves. I snapped a couple pictures as I walked, knowing they would blur, but I was too excited to wait. I heard the last gasp of the creature as I approached, and stopped. Its massive chest lowered slowly to a position of rest and a slow steamy breath escaped. Then the body did something I hadn’t expected.
It convulsed, a death throe, maybe a nervous thing. I had no idea, but it startled me, backing me up a few feet. I approached with more caution, raising my camera and taking another picture, then another. When I was within ten feet, I could smell it, like a giant wet dog. There was a hint of rot, likely stained in its fur from hundreds of previous kills. But the creature was still moving. Obviously dead, it was as if something crawled inside it, rippling the skin. Like a balloon deflating, the muscles decreased in size, and the fur fell off and blew away in the breeze revealing pink skin beneath. I continued taking pictures.
In minutes, there was nothing left but a dead, naked, human man. He appeared to be my age or older, maybe as old as fifty. A large bullet wound glistened in the center of his chest. A perfect shot. Shot. Another shot was fired.
I turned and saw the second beast was on top of my friend, tearing at him as he screamed. He must have gotten one shot off before it hit him. Its teeth gnashed, stained with blood as it tore a large piece of meat from his chest, devouring it. His wails stopped. Then it jumped toward me. I was frozen in my tracks. I had left my bow in favor of my camera. It approached me with more caution, glancing at its dead friend between each bipedal step. I saw the bullet wound in its gut. Todd had hit it. Then it howled, a deafening roar filled with pain and anger.
I ran at the sound, hoping somehow I might escape the creature, that maybe its injuries were too great. Its footfalls fell heavy behind me. Then I felt its giant hands on my back, smelled the stench of wild animal, felt its teeth in my shoulder, blinding pain. Then it was gone, crunching sounds as it dashed into the woods.
I stared at the sky as it filtered between the leaves in the canopy above. I was afraid to look at my wounds, even more afraid of going back and finding Todd dead, although I knew deep down that he was. Then my fear intensified. How would I tell his family? My family? And worse…was I going to be one of them? Did I dare risk going home and putting them in danger?
The answer was no. I left Todd to be found, but took care of the deer and the dead man-slash-bigfoot. I searched through the woods until I found the one that bit me, his wound winning out and killing him. I made it disappear as well. I had come to an understanding that we hid our kind, our own evidence… kept the terrible brotherhood a secret.
My name was John. I tell myself that now so I won't forget. I wandered the rest of that day, deeper into that forest than I had ever been and found a hiding place, waiting for the change to come.