Nigel leaned over from the driver’s side and poked at the stereo. “Sorry, Doc,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate a little Nana Mouskouri first thing in the morning.”
Dr. Krentz squinted over at Nigel but then appeared to let this go. He hoisted his Thermos to his lips and returned his laser eyes to the road. Then silence, the rumble of tires, the ping of rocks inside the wheel wells.
We were four in the truck, an ATV in the back, our dry sacks and Pelican cases wedged into the leftover crannies. Camryn had brought her own music—I could see her iPhone glowing through the pocket of her cargo pants. She was Dr. Krentz’s intern.
“What are you listening to?” I asked. She took out one AirPod. I expected her to name some folk-emo band with a name like a nineteenth-century hardware store.
“Podcast about horse breeding,” she said.
Blonde ponytail, Patagonia rainwear, strawberry lip balm addiction. She was a human burro, even if she didn’t know it yet, paid just enough to keep the Equity Enhancement Office at bay.
“What brings you to this hot mess?” I asked.
“Needed a summer job.” She pinched out a smile and stuffed the AirPod back into her head.
Three days, I predicted. Then she’d fold up like a wet tent.
I wiped the fog off the window with my sleeve. Our route was a moribund logging mainline used by locals for recreational pursuits—rod-and-gun stuff, snowmobiling in winter. I jokingly referred to this place as Area 51, a backwater ransacked by forestry from highway to headwaters. It was mostly old clear-cuts grown over with weedy tangles, the odd strip of survivor trees towering above it all. We came every year to make a pilgrimage of sorts. Our Camino de Santiago, our El Capitan. Everything striving, greedy for the light, everything reaching hard.
After the spring semester ended at our little university, the anthropology department looked like a clearance sale at Staples. Even the admin was on vacation, and the overflow from the paper recycling bins whispered down our hallway. It was unbearably muggy.
I stood up, crossed the hall, and nudged into Dr. Krentz’s office without knocking. I saw that he was looking at a paper published by his nemesis, Dr. Neeti Kapoor. I could tell that from the header font—I’d read the paper myself but lacked the heart to tell him of its findings. As I entered, Dr. Krentz convulsed and closed the document, revealing his desktop wallpaper—an author photo from the glory days, in which he wore a turtleneck beneath a poncho, leading a pack horse up a terribly eroded trail.
I called him Dr. Krentz, never wavered from the dusty reverence, the protocols of the tower. He was my mentor. We were freaks, according to our university, but we survived on the endowment of an eccentric whose money funded our little budget. All I had to do was follow in Dr. Krentz’s footsteps and I might achieve my own little slice of stability—and, I hoped, a shot at his job once he finally retired.
Dr. Krentz insisted on hard copies of all his emails—for his archive, he explained. I watched his eyes creep back and forth across the page I’d brought. It was a message from some rando named Nigel. This person had great admiration for Dr. Krentz’s work. It was “underappreciated.” He wrote that he was hoping to plumb the depths of Dr. Krentz’s knowledge for a book he was writing on the undiscovered megafauna of North America. Was there the possibility of a ride-along?
The fan oscillated, levitating the wispy hairs on the top of Dr. Krentz’s head. “Thank you, Melinda,” he said, folding the page in two.
Dr. Krentz would arrange to meet Nigel at the commissary in the basement of engineering. Several times, behind my back. Supposedly, Nigel was experienced at backcountry orienteering due to a book he’d written on the ambergris hunters of New Zealand. According to Dr. Krentz, he’d make an excellent addition to the party.
I did not like this idea, not at all.
I knew how to read a map perfectly well and could drive a truck through a raging creek somewhat competently if pressed. In fact, I knew the precise location of every sample vial and AAA battery, every data point on every spreadsheet. I was our chief logistician, yet here I was in the back seat, three hours into our field trip, with Nigel at the wheel. We paused at a fork to consider the map near a dark, glittering lake where a fisherman in a dinghy waved slowly, as if mystified by our intent. From here, we took the road less travelled, the one with significantly more potholes.
Our first order of business in Area 51 was to attend to a test plot Dr. Krentz had set up last summer, laying a road-killed deer inside a ring of barbed wire. He’d hoped to find a snagged bit of hair, some dried blood. He sent Camryn and me into a thicket of serrated leaves and giant steroidal ferns, where we bashed around with the GPS for what felt like hours. We found the deer carcass totally gone and the barbed wire rusty but otherwise intact. When we returned to the truck, Dr. Krentz and Nigel were chawing Clif Bars and trading banter about the trips they’d made to the world’s exotic shitholes.
We climbed back into the truck and continued deeper into the jungle-like forest until the road grew terribly corrugated. We spun rubber, even with the four-wheel drive engaged. Nigel slung his arm over the front seat and looked me in the eye. “I think it’s time to free the beast.”
The truck had two gas tanks (I had filled them myself at the Gas ’n’ Go), and I could see from the gauge that we’d pretty much sucked the first one dry. If we wanted to make the return trip without walking for days with jerry cans banging our thighs, it seemed prudent to leave the truck by the wayside sooner than planned.
We spent a bit of time getting the ATV down from the truck on its ramps. Finally, Nigel climbed aboard it and turned the ignition, but nothing happened. He bucked forward and back in the saddle, trying to spur it. Camryn observed with her chin tucked inside her jacket flaps. Nigel dismounted and began kicking the tires.
“May I?” Camryn asked, gesturing to the seat. She mounted the ATV as if climbing astride her childhood pony. A couple of clicks and our machine was up and roaring.
“Well, well,” I said. “Just look at you go.”
Camryn shrugged. “My dad’s a hunting guide.”
Gigantopithecus, as it is scientifically known, is an ancient organism constructed from prehistoric DNA. It’s a painfully reclusive creature, favouring remote subalpine environments, much like the grizzly bear, although some researchers suggest it once occupied valley bottoms before being outcompeted or perhaps bludgeoned into obscurity. I’ve read anecdotal reports of specimens up to 800 pounds and ten feet tall. But size is subject to inflation. Based on my inferences about their diet, which would be pretty lean in their typical habitats, I suspected males would top out at 500 pounds, females slightly less.
The prevailing hypothesis suggests Gigantopithecus crossed into North America via the Bering land bridge in the wake of Homo sapiens. You can see this reflected in the myths and lore of Asia, where Giganto is known by various names: almasty, migyhur, meh-teh, dzu-teh, etc. Around here, the common term is a result of colonial mangling, a bastardization of a word from a Coast Salish language, Sásq’ets, or “wild man.” I believe the species originated in Europe as a Neander-thal offshoot before migrating into the Himalaya. That’s where Dr. Neeti Kapoor dug her famed mandible fragment from the receding foot of the Bara Shigri glacier, back in 2005. After that, Dr. Kapoor became the public face of our trade. She appeared on the cover of Squatchin’ Monthly and got a cameo on a reality TV show about big-game hunters.
Now, every Giganto researcher this side of the Pacific was out on the hunt, it seemed. Dr. Kapoor, with her drone scans and thermal imagers, was kicking Dr. Krentz’s ass, and he knew it. No tree-branch arrays, petroglyphs, plaster footprint casts, or even hair samples would make him happy now. Science dwells in the physical and rewards the brave. He wanted to go out with a bang. More than anything, he wanted a wet specimen, an idea that had me grinding my teeth at night.
We made camp on an old landing, a log dump from the bygone forestry days. We found it webbed with a weird, strangulating vine that reinforced my belief in nature’s ability to reclaim any decimation. Probably a good thing in the age of climate change (climate crisis, as our friends in environmental sciences liked to say).
We pitched our geodesic domes. It was raining at dusk, so we huddled in Dr. Krentz’s tent, the most spacious real estate due to all his bulky, old-school equipment—the telephoto lenses, the shotgun mic, the army surplus night-vision goggles. We sat cross-legged as Dr. Krentz distributed our freeze-dried dinners. The men chose the Turkey Tetrazzini and the Chicken à la King. I went for the Chili Mac ’n’ Beef, leaving Camryn with the Sweet and Sour Pork, which I knew from prior expeditions was a disturbing vermillion gloop.
“How is it?” I asked in my private glee.
“Not bad.” She chewed carefully.
Dr. Krentz spread the map across the tent floor and traced his finger along our path ahead. We’d waste little time in the valley bottom and head upslope as far as the road system would allow. We needed old snow, the keeper of all the scat and tracks. Over the winter, Krentz had procured the questionably antique map that lay spread before us. It showed routes penetrating even deeper into the backcountry, and it was here he set his sights.
“Permission to speak freely?” I asked.
Dr. Krentz frowned. “I know you have your doubts, Melinda, but this is virgin territory, unknown to Dr. Kapoor or any of her ilk.”
“Probably for good reason,” I argued. Back here, the bush was relentless. You could fall into a gulch and no one but future archaeologists would find you. Upon discovering your mossy remains, they might assume you’d gone on some kind of hallucinogenic wander or been cast out by your clan. I continued to express my reservations while Camryn studied me as if deciding something.
Dr. Krentz scowled at me and turned to Nigel.
“A sound plan, sir,” said Nigel, digging in his food pouch with a spork. I wasn’t sure he had the faintest clue what we were talking about.
“Good,” Dr. Krentz replied. “We leave at 0700.”
Camryn raised her eyebrows. Possibly she was wondering why I hadn’t put up a bigger fight. The fact was, I was short on alternative employment options.
After dinner, I stomped off to my tent to finish my daily reporting. Sunset: 20:45. Elevation gain: 450 metres. Light rain. Temperatures seasonal normal. No specimens collected. It was technically spring, yet I watched a cloud of my own breath puff up to the ceiling. Beyond my tent walls, I could hear Nigel and Dr. Krentz murmuring. I lay swaddled inside my mummy bag, unsettled, and popped a Zoloft, closing my eyes with my hand wrapped around my trusty canister of bear mace.
Nigel shook my tent. “Does the princess require her waking potion?” he asked. Then, without invitation, he unzipped the door and shoved his arm through to offer me a mug of coffee. Black. The way he liked it, presumably. But it was hot, and I had to admit I appreciated the gesture. When I emerged, Camryn and Nigel were ferrying gear to the ATV while Krentz puzzled over his clipboard. The sun struggled to punch through a gruel of high clouds.
While Camryn bungeed Krentz’s tripods together, Nigel seized the moment. “Better watch out,” he whispered, nodding at Camryn with his chin. “She’s coming for your job.” In truth, I’d been slightly worried about this very thing. My job paid barely enough to keep my lights on, but it served the purpose while I awaited the next batch of tenure-track postings.
“Why would she want it?” I asked.
“Same as you,” he replied. “Something to step on whilst climbing.”
From the moment of his arrival, Nigel had been watching for conflict, triangulating, presumably to find the “narrative” for his project. So I waited for my moment and hit back. “How’s it coming with the book?”
He’d confided to Dr. Krentz over sherries in the faculty club that he was a year behind his deadline. He’d talked to his share of bigfoot enthusiasts and had spent months trying to interview Dr. Kapoor, to no avail, but he still needed a climax, a culminating event.
Then our conversation took a surprising turn. Nigel confessed to me that he desperately needed this book to work out. He was broke. He’d already blown through his advance, and his agent had stopped returning his calls. Then he blushed and changed the subject. I wondered why he was telling me all this. Perhaps he doubted, as I sometimes did, the wisdom of chasing a mystical quarry.
Anyway, that shut him up for a while.
But he insisted on driving the ATV again. Krentz wedged onto the seat behind him. The ATV’s front and rear racks were piled so high with our stuff that Camryn and I were forced to trudge behind the beast, shouldering our backpacks. We continued along a series of upward-trending spurs, each narrower than the last. Eventually, the road transformed into a creek bed of jumbled stones.
As we trailed along in a wake of exhaust fumes, Camryn recited the names of all the plants and trees. She’d applied for Dr. Krentz’s internship not because of departmental ambition but because she was on her way to veterinary college—so not interested in replacing me at all. I wanted to ask if she believed in Giganto, but then she said, “I took anthropology as a blow-off course, but actually it’s sort of interesting.”
Eventually, we reached a split in the road that was not indicated on the map. I wondered if Nigel had led us astray. Camryn, who was almost perversely fit, volunteered to explore the lower road on foot while Nigel ascended the steeper one in the ATV. That left Dr. Krentz and me at the fork to triage gear in case the route became impassable. Dr. Krentz was convinced of his “undiscovered” route, but the landscape felt lonely and oppressive.
I expressed more doubt about the plan.
“Teamwork, Melinda,” Krentz said. “Preparation is key.” He took the occasion to reveal a new piece of equipment to me. It was a dart gun he’d bought online, a CO2 tranquilizer pistol designed for extracting bears from backyard trees and vaccinating big cats in zoos. This might have alarmed me, but in truth, it looked like a plastic squirt gun with a clownishly long barrel. I also knew from our occasional pool games in the faculty club that we both had terrible aim. And, besides, Giganto had eluded us so far.
The professor had stowed the gun back in its bubble wrap by the time Camryn came back. The road she’d followed descended for a kilometre and then dead-ended in a patch of brambles.
We waited for Nigel to return, which he did after a lengthy absence, looking windblown and slightly unhinged. He claimed that his path continued indefinitely, but he’d parked the ATV to take a leak, and in the stillness, he’d just gotten this feeling.
“What kind of feeling?” asked Dr. Krentz.
Nigel scrubbed at his head. He wasn’t cold, he explained, yet every filament of body hair had stood up in its follicle, the most terrifying case of goosebumps he’d ever experienced. “I felt,” he said, “not alone.”
“I knew it,” said Krentz bitterly. “She’s already here.” He began ranting about Dr. Kapoor and her posse of sycophantic nerdlings, which was often where his mind went when faced with small adversities.
Camryn turned to Nigel. “I thought you didn’t believe in any of this tosh,” she said, air-quoting the final word.
I wondered when they’d found the time to discuss Giganto—or anything in private. Dr. Krentz looked between the three of us, as if doubting his choice of companions.
We made camp two where the road ended—rather, where it just dissolved into the bush. We had to hack away just to make a place to set up our tents.
Dinner with Dr. Krentz again. Swedish Meatballs or Chicken Kiev. I chose the former as the lesser of two evils. We were all a little tired and dejected—the fog was unrelenting. Nigel tried to redeem himself by building a sad fire. The air, damp and heavy, seemed to want to extinguish it. We crouched around its phantom heat pretending to warm our hands.
I retreated into my tent to finish the day’s reporting, then flipped and rolled inside my mummy bag, trying to get warm if not comfortable. I didn’t exactly fall asleep, but my mind left my body for a time. I walked in the forest at dusk, and the air was thick with mist. I found myself reaching through it, as if to pull a curtain aside.
I arrived at the mouth of a cave. It was a dank, mold-prone place, yet I proceeded, drawn in by an irresistible curiosity. A figure was waiting for me inside, sitting by a small crackling fire. I approached with my whole body tensed, fearful of making a sound. But then he swept the earth with a hairy hand, brushing away the spiders so I might sit.
The creature, if I could call him that, regarded me apologetically. He had nothing to offer but a couple of skunk cabbage stamens, which he was roasting atop some dying embers. They were probably not to my taste. And, just like that, I came to understand that he was conveying meaning to me, precisely and fully, only not in linguistic form. He had no interest in doing me harm. He was a vegetarian.
I found him incredibly ugly, much less like Chewbacca than conventional imagination would have it and more like an extremely hirsute giant man. He smelled like a cross between a wet dog and a locker room, yet he possessed an intense physical charisma: I couldn’t look away from his huge forearms, his enormous fleshy earlobes, his monstrous genitals hidden away in a thicket of dark pubic hair. I felt, I’m not embarrassed to admit, completely drawn to him.
I knew he could crush me with one swipe of his massive arm. But there was a noble regret to his demeanour, as if he’d read my mind about his musky aroma. He was sorry for the state of his dwelling. Evolution had blessed him with opposable thumbs but none of humanity’s adaptations.
I felt a wavelet of guilt. Wasn’t I the one intruding in his moss-strewn bachelor cave?
It’s all right, he indicated with a gentle grunt. I invited you.
He slid a twig into the matrix of the fire, and we watched it catch and flicker. He’d observed our party since we arrived in his forest, selecting one of us in the hope of averting conflict. He’d chosen me, he clarified, because my thoughts were direct and unambiguous. Somehow, he communicated this preverbally, in the metaphor of consciousness. He painted for me an image on the canvas behind my eyes: a clear brook running straight downhill.
So you communicate . . . telepathically? I wondered.
All at once, I felt strangely naked and undone, just sitting next to him. It astonished me that two minds could cleave to each other so immediately, without any resistance. There was no way to hide, to deceive, no escape from being known. It was beautiful, but also utterly terrifying, to be thusly invaded. I found myself trying to slam the doors of memory to prevent his access, but it was too late, he’d already arrived.
He showed me a lone tree, bereft of leaves, no longer alive but still standing in a dappled, verdant forest. I knew he was showing me the space left by my mother’s death.
What is your name?
He didn’t have one, just an olfactory signature—unique, pungent—that told all his fellow creatures who he was, where he’d been, and how long ago he’d passed by.
He turned his roasting dinner and illuminated for me the ways of Giganto, confirming many of my theories. He’d spent most of his earthly existence alone. He did not have a “wife” per se, but there was a female companion—here I sensed the heavy weight of responsibility. His consort lived, one valley over, with their offspring. When these younglings matured, they’d set off to find their own stomping grounds, remote valleys where others of their kind had died out. He met his mate every summer, for conjugal purposes, up in the alpine meadows. I sensed no shame. It was a matter of bodily function and instinct, a duty to one’s own genetic material, like drinking or eating.
He had three children, but one had died of a fever: fire burning underground. He thought this to me without pain or emotion. In his eyes, love contained the possibility—no, the certainty—of loss. This concept had no name, just a smell. The bright green fragrance of vegetation in the spring. I detected reverence—a crude form of spirituality, even.
Wasn’t he lonely?
Human nature was to fight, to oppose things we didn’t understand, and to obliterate, the way an avalanche knocks all the trees flat.
It was his nature to be alone. Nature, nature, nature. As we communicated, he kept repeating this concept, the ruling principle of Giganto life. Human nature was to fight, to oppose what we didn’t understand, and to obliterate, the way an avalanche knocks all the trees flat. That’s why we needed language, to explain our benighted existence to one another. Again, he related this without judgment.
He’d come close to humans many times, had watched them from the blufftops or concealed in the greenery. He found our thinking, even from afar, tricky, muddy, a swollen river in back-eddy. He wondered if I found it difficult to live in such confusion. He was sorry that my kind was so incapable of restraint. We could not see the inevitable coming. The time of Giganto, living as they did among the glaciers and alpine tundra, would soon end. Extinct. Gone. A hot lump rose in my throat, and I tried to swallow it down even though my attempts at hidden feelings were pointless.
How many of you are left?
He showed me a night sky dotted with stars. Not many, scattered wide, separated by unfathomable distances.
Go home, he said. Don’t return.
I apologized. I acknowledged that he might be right about humanity. But I didn’t want to leave. I still had so many questions and no recording equipment of any kind.
Goodbye, female human, he said. I saw a lovely field of purple fireweed, the blossoms half-turned to cottony seed. I think he was referring to my place in the life cycle. Live well.
Inside my dream, my eyes fogged. I knew I’d glimpsed the wonder of a lifetime but come away without a whiff of evidence. I scratched around for my notebook and pen so I could capture a small fragment of what had been revealed to me, and in an instant, I was back in my tent, pawing the nylon floor. I was alone, returned to my familiar world.
That’s when Nigel started screaming. I jolted upright in my sleeping bag, my heart banging away like a piston. I always slept with my clothes on, in the field, but it still took me what felt like an agonizing amount of time to scramble from my mummy bag and shove my feet into my boots. I’d gotten halfway through my zippered screen when the sky cracked with a deafening boom. The echo rumbled around the valley.
Nigel appeared in the beam of my headlamp. He wore a T-shirt and pants and appeared to be glistening with sweat. Camryn and Dr. Krentz had also emerged in slow-moving bafflement.
“You brought a gun?” I asked.
The weapon dangled from his right hand. Nigel must not have had a clue how to use it. Camryn plucked it from his trembling fingers and reengaged the safety.
“What did you do?” Camryn asked.
“I don’t know,” Nigel said.
“Christ—the size of that thing!”
“It’s not a thing,” I said, my voice gluey with emotion.
He told the story in a jumble of words: It was dark. He was roused from sleep by the snap of a branch outside his tent. He emerged without a flashlight and came upon a large shadow, only he couldn’t tell what it was. There was fur and a bad smell. It stood up on two legs and huffed at him.
“So, a bear?” said Camryn.
Nigel had fired into the air to scare it off, or so he claimed.
“You’ve frightened the daylights out of every specimen from here to Alaska,” said Dr. Krentz, who was now terrifically vexed, an effect undone by the fact that he was wearing flannel pyjamas.
“Yes!” Nigel said. “That was the point.”
My adrenaline had fuzzed a little by then, but my eye was drawn to the gun in Camryn’s hands. Krentz was right: every sentient organism in Area 51 was now alerted to our presence. But still I felt an almost biological urge to run into the night, after Giganto, who had come so close, just within my reach.
“I thought you said you weren’t afraid of a little wildlife?” Dr. Krentz asked.
“Little?” said Nigel, pressing his palms to his thighs. “Christ—the size of that thing.”
“It’s not a thing,” I said, my voice gluey with emotion.
Everyone turned to me, blinding me with their headlamps, but I decided that I wouldn’t say another word.
In the morning, I discovered a trail of black drops in the grass. I crouched to swab them and the cotton came back smeared an oxidized crimson.
At the campsite, Nigel was sheepishly contemplating our extinguished fire, looking like he’d slept in his crinkled anorak. “You did this,” I said, brandishing my latex gloves. I struggled to keep my voice away from the cliff edge of hysteria.
“I couldn’t see!” he said.
“Optimal time for gunplay,” I replied.
“You’re acting like I shot your dog.”
He’d wounded our subject specimen. But the crime felt worse than that, as if he’d wounded some wild and rare thing of my imagination, and now it had escaped from my grasp. I scanned around camp: there was the ATV spattered with mud, our food barrel hung up in a tree.
“Happy now?” I asked. “Got your culminating event? You just shot our specimen.”
Camryn materialized at my side in a gesture of camaraderie that surprised me. She was wearing a little backpack and carrying what looked like a disassembled fishing rod. I admit I’d been a little bit wrong about her. Maybe a lot wrong. My compass needle was spinning.
“Where the hell is Krentz?” I shouted.
Camryn snapped her rod at the air and it assembled into a hiking pole. She pointed its tip at the granite headwall that loomed above us, the bluffs peeking out from the trees. “Up there,” she said.
Of course, I thought. He’d probably set off before dawn, with his outsize dreams of emeritus glory, hot on the trail of his limping beast.
We turned to Nigel, who folded his arms across his chest. “No way,” he said. “Not a chance.” The longer we gawked, the tighter the constriction of his limbs. I envied his ability to detach himself so totally from the expedition. I worried what we might find up there too.
We packed water, spare clothes, the expired cashew-coconut energy bars that nobody wanted, plus Nigel’s sidearm, which Camryn still had in her possession. “Just in case,” she said. A first-aid kit, that’s what I brought.
We followed the dark drops through the trampled foliage. Camryn explained that animals typically sought to bed down when they’d been wounded. They took the path of least resistance. But this creature had taken routes that confronted every obstacle. We bushwhacked under branches, over fallen logs, across creeks whose icy flow overran my boots. Inevitably, we hit the snow, where the trail continued in a Morse code of pink dots accompanied by Krentz’s footprints.
“Looks like a flesh wound,” said Camryn.
This was a huge relief to me. As was our silent agreement about the sort of beast we were tracking. We examined the prints in the snow, which looked as if they’d been made by a very large, shuffling human in thick socks. The tracks were indistinct. Whoever made them was dragging something behind, a log or a branch, perhaps.
“It’s left-handed,” said Camryn.
We post-holed through the snow and came out above the trees. Camryn was fit, and at her pace, I felt like an Everest climber who refuses to be left behind in the death zone. Then the clouds broke apart and we experienced a sudden blast of sunshine so intense I regretted my lack of sunglasses. I stripped off my jacket and tied it around my waist.
The blue square of Krentz’s coat appeared in the distance. He’d left it unzipped, and against the white slope before us, it resembled a lazily waving flag. We caught up to him easily; except at times like these, it was easy to forget that he was a senior citizen. He turned to me, his brow furrowed in determination. “Did you bring the binoculars?”
“No,” I replied.
He regarded me testily and resumed his fervent trudge. I fell in line behind him—it was my habit.
We made it as far as the ridge, but then the trail just disappeared, as if the maker of the dots of blood and the footprints had been raptured on the mountainside. Our little group gathered closer to make sense of it, but the tracks were confused, overlapped.
“Not as dumb as I thought,” said Camryn.
He’d been dragging a big branch to obscure the direction of his travel. It seemed my Giganto had climbed up, turned around, then retraced his steps downslope only to vanish again. I might have laughed at the clever-ness of this strategy, but something in me, oiled by my former ambition, locked up solid. I caught a vertiginous glimpse of the watershed below, like a little diorama of our recent adventures. Perhaps he’d led us up here to make some kind of point.
“An animal this big doesn’t just vanish,” said Dr. Krentz. Then he zipped up his coat, his old eyes watering, and shrugged himself deeply into his sleeves. He peered up at the surrounding peaks as if looking for somewhere else to go.
I slid the dart gun from my mentor’s hands. Then I touched his shoulder, the one and only time. “Dr. Krentz,” I said, “I’m so sorry.”
He’d never find his Giganto, not the way I’d found mine.
After my mother died, all those years ago, I took myself to the remake of King Kong starring Naomi Watts and that rubber-faced dipshit Adrien Brody. The love story was not between the two leads, Ann and Jack, but between Ann and Kong. I sat in the back row of the mostly empty theatre and wept into my sleeve. I understood that she loved the big beast, whose hideous form concealed an intelligence only she could discover. They were soul mates, doomed to oblivion by the fact of their mismatched bodies.
When it was over, I squinted out from the theatre. There was a strong, melancholic tug in my chest, as if some residue of sadness had lodged there. In a way, it was the beginning of my affection for Gigantopithecus, a similarly fascinating and misunderstood creature.
I never intended to become a hunter of gentle monsters. Live well, he’d said. Now, I felt pinned to the mountainside, sweaty, clobbered by deep fatigue. I wanted to lie down in the snow and wait to be swallowed by time, roaring forward through decades, through my own molecular disintegration into dust and peat. Just as Giganto would dissolve into the unknowable beyond. The valley would mourn and then resume its ancient genuflections. Birds and wind. Running water. Snow in the winter, melt in the spring, then the birth of violent, radical green. Stumps would become fodder for new trees. Everything would morph and revolutionize, but not to the naked eye.