By TARA ROBERTS
for inland360.com I step to the side of the tree, facing the tiny Sasquatch chained to it. “Hey little guy,” I say, while Jamie snaps a photo of the sleeping creature and the strange, foul-smelling camp where, as far as we can tell, he’s being held captive.
She gives a thumb’s up to let me know she’s got a good one, and I speak louder. “Hey there, buddy.” He grunts and scratches his belly. One glassy black eye opens, then both snap wide in fear.
I crouch down and extend my hand. He doesn’t move, but his chest expands in rapid breaths. I think of threatened dogs biting. I remember how chimps are strong enough to injure, even kill, humans.
I remember I have a candy bar in my pocket.
I leave one hand outstretched and open while the other unwraps the chocolate. I hold it out in my palms. “It’s OK, buddy. It’s OK.”
He sits up, cross-legged — “criss-cross applesauce,” they say in my son’s kindergarten class. He plucks the candy from my hand with his thick fingers, sniffing it before stuffing it into his mouth and smacking his lips as he chews.
“Rose,” Jamie whispers. “We need to be quick. No one would leave this camp for long. They’re not going to leave him alone.”
I hand him another piece of chocolate and slip my fingers around the chain. He flinches but keeps chewing. Jamie tugs on the stretch of chain around the tree, looks at me and shakes her head — it looks thin, but it’s strong.
I find the clasp around his neck, and it’s not at all like the buckle you’d find on a dog collar. It looks almost handmade, tiny and intricate, puzzle-like. But my fingers are strong, and I’ve had plenty of practice disentangling my children’s yo-yo strings and cheap necklaces. I squeeze and slip and slide until, finally, he’s free.
Jamie springs to her feet and looks around, hearing something I don’t. “We have to go,” she says. “Now. Can you carry him? I’ll take your pack.”
I give him the last bit of candy bar and open my arms, still kneeling in front of him. He holds back a moment, rubbing the chocolate from his lips, before reaching out and grabbing my hands. I swing him up onto my hip like a baby, and he scoots around to my back, gripping my shoulders.
I tuck my hands beneath his calves and notice that his feet and toes are not like a chimp or gorilla’s, wide with a thumblike big toe, but more like a human’s, long and arched with stubbier toes all in a row. He would leave footprints like a barefoot person, like a little boy.
I haven’t carried either of my kids piggyback since I accidentally dropped my son during a gallop around the park a few years ago, but I don’t have time now to worry. Jamie takes off, bounding back toward the trail as fast as she can go on snowshoes, and I follow, the Sasquatch’s soft arms tight around my neck.
To be continued next Thursday with Part 7: The Cabin
Roberts is a writer and mom who lives and works in Moscow and is very slowly pursuing her master’s degree in English. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.