In Search of the Nobility, TX Wildman
By Elford Alley
© Elford Alley 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. f you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.
I have quite a few people to thank. I would especially like to thank my wife, Katy, for always supporting me and listening to my thoughts on this story as it changed shape over the years. Completing this simply would not have been possible without you.
Initially, this started as a play. I would like to thank Kirin McCrory, Tearrance Chisholm, Kate McManus, Michael Stablein Jr., Jill Nastasia, Jono De Leon, Linda Alley, Christopher Domanski, Daniel Shea, and Allyn Weber for all of the help they gave in shaping this story. I would also like to give special thanks to Josh Mikel, who went out of his way to try and make sure the play version hit the stage. I would like to also thank Tori Keenan-Zelt, Steven Koernig, and Edward Whitacre of Panglossian Productions, as well as the cast and crew, who held a fantastic reading of the play in March of 2013.
Special thanks to Justin Frye and Tia Ayers for correcting my very outdated notions of how reality shows are filmed.
As the story became a book, Richard Fulco and Matt Barbot offered vital feedback and criticism, which helped me continue to improve the story. Chris Pearson not only helped deconstruct the story, but helped me understand how to write a novel. Hopefully, I did okay.
Thank you all.
Tom Bean, TX
“…James Cushing makes a poor host. He’s a humorless man with no charisma. At least the audience has the monsters to carry the day…” –Critic Kyle Cook on American Myths and Monsters.
“Show fuckn sucks.” –YouTube user DonovinMc69
“It’s a new show but it looks a lot like all the others. Not too bad. Excited to meet them.” –From the journal of Maverick Casey
James Cushing didn’t believe in monsters. For two and a half seasons, he’s hosted the former-hit television series, American Myths and Monsters. Right now, Mr. Cushing stands on a small sound stage, amid fake greenery and hot lights. The fog machines around him hiss, pushing wave after wave of crawling atmosphere along the floor.
His stomach felt tight. Cushing had long ago sworn off the craft services table but felt the call of the deli and cheese tray an hour before. He cleared his throat, held his hands in front of himself, and did his best Rod Serling.
“Every year, hundreds of people go missing in the backwoods of America,” Cushing said, forcing his voice to a lower register. “How many have fallen victim to the terrifying Wildman of Nobility, Texas? Good evening. I’m James Cushing, and this, is American Myths and Monsters.”
The director had him do it again.
Then the director had him do it again and again and again.
James played along, knowing full well the aging bastard would use the first take. A former indie darling who made waves in the late 80s, director John Alvarez now played Kubrickian mind games with his talent, allowing them the privilege of sharing his ignominious fall.
However, Kubrick delivered masterpieces. Cushing’s director delivered a show that filled the timeslot between OKC Noodlin’ and OCD at Large. The former detailed the lives of people who fished with their bare hands and somehow never suffered a single snakebite, and the latter was an unflinching look at the morbidly obese with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
In an ode to another one of his idols, John insisted on wearing suits to the set. He dressed better than the production manager or even the producer, both absentee parents for the dysfunctional program.
Lately, John Alvarez started dropping the formalities one at a time. The tie vanished, followed by the wing tips, the belt, and jacket. Today, Mr. Alvarez was in sweats.
James would judge, but where was he in his career?
James Cushing, basic cable shlock-fest host.
There were worse gigs, James reminded himself, watching now from the sidelines as a newly SAG-minted actress ran screaming from a man in a poorly constructed ape suit.
There are worse gigs.
Once again, the sound mixer’s bell rings. The actress hurries offstage and the ape removes his mask, stinking from the wilting effects of the lights.
“Great job, guys!” Cushing said, clapping his hands together. He pointed to the Josh, the man in the monkey suit.
“You! You. I really felt the primal rage,” Cushing said, shaking his fist in earnest.
Josh said nothing, flipping Cushing off and joining the actress to pick over the scraps on the craft service table.
Like a younger Cushing, Josh had goals. Like a younger Cushing, Josh sought to attain those goals by taking down his predecessor. For Cushing, this was the first host of American Myths and Monsters, Richmond Edison. For Josh, it was Cushing himself.
James watched Josh saunter to a bored Alvarez, whispering into his ear while the fallen director nodded.
“I hope I was more subtle than that,” Cushing sighed to himself.
The crew yawned and prepared for the next shot, while the director tried to wipe a coffee ring stain from the shooting script.
Another Bigfoot. The show ran out of good monsters the previous season. Every week, Cushing chronicled another ape-like creature in another rural, backwater town.
Cushing could have hosted one of those over-glorified talent shows, on actual network TV. Instead, he sighed while watching the effects team gussy up the ape-man, he worked here.
Tomorrow, Cushing would be heading with the team into Texas. There, they would once again try to find an interesting angle to take on yet another Bigfoot story.
“Come on James, you like traveling. Enjoy the fresh air,” one of the producers had said after revealing Cushing would be meeting another kook who calls himself a “cryptozoologist”.
The fresh air? James laughed. Fresh air? In Texas, where the fresh air climbs to the three digits in the shade? At least he won’t be looking at another dead mange-afflicted coyote someone decided was a Chupacabra.
There are worse gigs, an entire universe of them. In speaking with one of their guests, an expert in the unknown, James had been schooled on the Many Worlds theory. A real theory, by a real scientist named Hugh Everett, which had since been seized upon by all manner of poor writers and New Age spiritualists.
As he understood it, every decision creates a myriad of alternate universes, in which each decision is lived out.
While there may be a universe containing a very wealthy and very accolade-laden James Cushing, there could also be one where he is swapping head for crack.
There are always worse gigs.
“Mr. Casey? Yeah, he’s been looking for Bigfoot since…God probably the sixties, right? Better hurry, Lake Kenneth is filling up fast.” –Matt C, Nobility resident.
“God. It’s so embarrassing. We’re just getting things under control here. You know it’s been three months since the last OD? That’s the power of prayer, for ya.” Lyra S, Nobility resident.
“[* Who the fuck is Maverick Casey?” -Jason D, Nobility resident. *]
They damn near burned the place down. If Maverick Casey is surprised, this doesn’t register in the deep lines and patchy stubble of his face. He rubs his eyes, feeling the puffy flesh under them.
Sleep doesn’t come as easily at this age, and if it does, it comes at a steep price.
The roof of the trailer smolders, smoke rolling along the top before drifting into the oppressive air. Maverick fingers the thin red stick, it’s top wrapped in charred paper.
“Goddamn bottle rocket,” he muttered. They damn near burned the place down. Obviously the kids in town are still holding a grudge. Hell, it was an accident, even Sheriff Glaser thought so. An accident they brought on themselves.
He dropped the remains of the bottle rocket onto the ground. The grasshoppers briefly resting on the tall grass leapt from the blades and resumed their incessant hum.
Despite the danger, God forbid he had been asleep when the fire started, he preferred these tactics. Light a rocket and run. No names, no snickers.
The previous morning he went into town to pick up his mail, the inability to keep a mailbox standing and in one piece for more than a week made a post office box the sensible choice.
He felt the eyes, even before he stepped out of the Monstomobile. He cut across the road in a slight jog. The post office door squeaked and a blast of cold air hit his face.
Beneath the garage sale signs and family event reminders on the bulletin board was a yellowed piece of paper. Barely held in place with tacks, it asked if anyone had seen Franklin Casey, Maverick’s father, missing for several decades now.
Digging in his pockets for his keys, he heard the thin, breathless laugh. Dwyer and Sims, two men who knew Maverick’s father. Dwyer prodded Sims, Sims nodded, with a smile that was all gum and a mouth that seemed to sink further into his face each year. Suspenders barely kept their pants secured to their withering frames.
Even to two old and broken men Maverick was a joke.
“At least I can chew my own goddamn food,” Maverick said to roaring laughter wheezing from the men.
In his twenties, Maverick was a good kid with an odd hobby, hunting for a monster in the woods surrounding the town.
In his thirties he was a man with an obsession.
By his fifties, Maverick Casey became the eccentric, the blotch on the town holding back Nobility’s reputation more than the staggering rate of drug use, alcoholism, or teenage pregnancy.
His sixties did little to improve his reputation.
He was the nut. He was the prankster’s son.
He was the fuckup, the weirdo, and according to a few kids, the killer.
As with all passions, age and time chipped away the veneer until only obsession and failure remained.
Maverick preferred bottle rockets to the laughs and jokes.
They damned near burned it down, Maverick thought. Maybe they should have.
“Come on, I’m going location scouting!” Brian said, rubbing his hands together.
Cushing winced as the sunlight poured in from the open door, the heat already striving for agonizing heights. They arrived in Nobility the previous night, a two-hour drive from the airport.
The smell betrayed the non-smoking room’s smoking origins, and the flowery bed sheets and pastel green shower curtain betrayed the hotel’s 1970s origin.
Otherwise, ten rooms at fifty-five dollars a night each was a steal.
“Location scouting? There’s like 500 people here, max. It’s all woods! What do we need to scout?” Cushing asked.
Brian had been a cameraman with the show since the first episode. Unlike Cushing, Brian enjoyed the work, and traveling from small town to small town.
He also enjoyed location scouting, which was essentially exploring the day before the shoot. In reality, all the actual filming locations had been selected weeks before. Brian yearned to take in what experiences the town offered to outsiders. In bright red shorts and a sleeveless shirt, Brian looked like a middle-aged man on vacation, instead of the 27-year-old kid with shoulder length hair and beard and mustache meticulously trimmed, so he resembled a 1920s stage play villain.
“Fuck it,” Cushing shrugged. “Not like I have anything else going.”
“All right,” Brian smiled.
Nobility, Texas consisted of a tiny downtown square, which encircled a flagpole in the center of the parking lot. The flagpole’s base bore an engraving of the year of the town’s founding, 1847. The town did have a school, which managed to squeeze K through twelve in a couple of small buildings.
The nearest anything resembling “civilization” to Cushing would be Dallas, an hour south and on the other side of the nearest town, Marble Springs.
The town boasted two small restaurants, both housed within competing gas stations. The streets were sprinkled with patches of black asphalt, binding the crumbling roads together.
Brian sat behind the wheel of the van, the equipment rattling in the back. No one else in the crew opted to join Brian. The streets were devoid of life, with the exception of a single wandering dog sniffing a patch of grass growing through the pavement.
“It’s like a ghost town, where is everyone?”
“It’s a 105 outside,” Brian yelled over the static flavored classic rock. “They’re probably inside.”
“Not much to see anyway,” Cushing laughed.
A small town that, like most in Texas, had one school, two restaurants/gas stations, and five churches.
The town’s history, like most in Texas, was rife with bloodshed resulting from reconstruction, or the second Civil War. Unwilling to let the war die, veterans returned home defeated and determined to take their loss out on anyone of Northern birth or dark skin.
Nobility was a small town with a quaint history of riots, lynching, and country music.
During their location scouting, Brian took Cushing to a cemetery containing the graves of the leaders of the Robert/Louis feud. Lee Roberts, of Confederate persuasion, rested under a massive stone bearing an intricately carved Confederate battle flag. Louis, a Northern transplant sent to calm matters in 1870s Nobility, laid under a small plaque with his name and birthdate.
While Brian consulted his phone, calling out facts and tidbits culled from Wikipedia and a handful of historical sites with 1990s web design esthetics, Cushing took a seat on an overturned tombstone.
“Brian,” Cushing said. “What did you want to be when you grew up?”
“What?” Brian asked, snapping a picture of himself next to a cracked granite stone with his phone.
“What did you want to be, when you were a kid?” Cushing asked again.
“Happy!” Brian called out from the other end of the cemetery.
“You idiot. That’s not what I meant.”
“Why not?” Brian asked, snapping a picture of a stone that presumably glowed under the full moon, according to a local ghost-hunting site. “Why not be happy?”
“Okay, when you die, when anyone dies, you always have that one accomplishment, that one thing people put in your obituary. That defines you. That’s how people remember you. I don’t want mine to be Americans Myths and Monsters.”
“Gotcha,” Brian said. “I get it. I would just say you’re looking at it wrong.”
“You’re so young,” Cushing sighed. “What are you taking a picture of?”
“This tombstone glows under a full moon,” Brian smiled.
“No, it doesn’t,” Cushing said, rubbing his temples.
“That’s your problem, you’re too cynical to enjoy any of the cool stuff we do!”
“Cool? A cemetery. Then when we were in Oklahoma-”
“The Lake Thunderbird Octopus episode!” Brian exclaimed.
“You took me to a Volkswagen on spider legs. Then Graceland 2 in Mississippi.”
“You know why? Because I want to include you. Because you have no friends except me,” Brian said, sitting on the phosphorescent tombstone.
“We’re not friends,” Cushing said.
“Then you have literally no friends. Sad, sad, sad,” Brian said. “Well, I’m going to enjoy my time here and get the most out of it. We have a few days in a nice little town. I say no Internet! No phone from this point forward. I’m embracing a simpler way of life and I think you should, too.”
“Simpler way of life?” Cushing laughed. “This isn’t Amish country, they have phones and electricity. The only difference between this and LA is here you can have no shoes and no shirt and still get service.”
“I’m just saying, you can be satisfied, you can be happy,” Brian said. “Just don’t get in your own way!”
“You are so, so young.”
Cushing gave his face a once over in a small mirror before slamming it shut and shoving it into his pocket. He cleared his throat and smiled at the man to his right. A crewmember quickly miked him and his guest.
Maverick C. Casey. Well-past middle age and settling into old age, Maverick typically wore a t-shirt bearing the logo of a TV show he once appeared on. His shirt was always tucked into his jeans. White stubble coated his cheeks and chin, on his head wisps of gray and white bounced with every ebb of the wind. He shifted uncomfortably, pulling down his shirt so it clung less to his belly.
Today, he sports a white plaid shirt striped in red in lieu of his t-shirts. Cushing sighed. He should probably be a little friendlier to his guest, making innocuous conversation and so forth.
“Is it always this humid?”
“It’s summer,” Maverick said.
“You do have the accent,” Cushing laughed. Maverick smiled and moved his eyes to the ground.
“I didn’t mean that in a bad way. You just have an accent. Just trying to help you open up. Get loose! Anyway, we should move this shit show inside. Out of the heat.”
“Heat doesn’t bother me,” Maverick said. At least the Searching for Cryptids host feigned respect. Jessie, the production assistant, warned him about Cushing. She was currently pacing and texting between three different phones. Gray at twenty-two. She needs a vacation, Maverick thought.
“Nervous?” Cushing asked.
“No, I’ve actually done this-”
“Don’t be nervous, my friend. You’re working with a professional,” Cush smiled.
“Thanks. I guess I’m always worried I’ll say or do something stupid,” Maverick said.
“Like spend your whole life looking for Bigfoot?” Cushing laughed. “But it’s good to meet a fellow cryptozoologist.”
Deep inside, some small part of Cushing cringed. Before Maverick could respond, Tom, the field director called action.
“James Cushing, here,” Cushing said, instantly dropping the tone of his voice. “And we’re talking to Maverick Casey, professional monster hunter-”
Cushing saw Josh walk up to the director, in his ape costume sans mask, and whisper into Tom’s ear.
“Really, Josh? The field director too?” Cushing said, looking at Casey. “Professional.”
“‘Director’ will do just fine,” Tom said.
“Well, you’re the field director,” Cushing said. “For the field. And only the field. This field.”
Cushing motioned to the woods around them. He felt the heat from the director’s stare.
“Jessie, back me up here!” Cushing said.
“My dream is to fire you. With a knife. Or a small sword,” Jessie hissed.
“You’re the hardest working member of this team Jessie. If it had to be anyone, I hope it’s you.”
For the first time since joining the show, Cushing saw Jessie smile.
“Sorry, we’ll go again. James Cushing here, we’re talking with professional monster hunter Maverick Casey. He’s spent over fifty years combing the backwoods of-fifty years? Really? By year ten you weren’t seriously rethinking your life decisions?”
Maverick fumed while Cushing’s eyes were on the director and Josh’s smirk.
“I mean come on, after twenty years of daytime TV and commercials for ITT Tech you never thought, ‘Hey, I should give them a call.’”
“Look,” Maverick said. “If you’re just gonna make fun of me-”
“Relax, I’m kidding. Hey, I’ve only been doing this gig for three years and I feel like having the barrel of a snub-nosed .38 special for breakfast every morning.”
“Stop badgering the guest,” Tom ordered.
“I’m not badgering,” Cushing whined, smiling. “Am I badgering?”
The director took a deep breath, puffing up like an undersea animal. Cushing smiled. Deep inside, his sense of self-preservation begged himself to stop. Cushing refused. After all, Josh would have his job soon enough. Why not have a little fun until then?
Before Maverick could respond, Cushing pulled him close with his arm around his shoulder.
“See, Casey here says I’m not badgering. Tell you what, just tell your story and we’ll edit it later, okay?”
“Sure, sounds good,” Maverick muttered. If he didn’t need this, he would walk. Or better yet, give the sneering host one right across the jaw.
“Yeah, you know the drill, you’ve been on a million shows like this.”
Casey replied that he had actually been on fifteen shows similar to American Myths and Monsters.
“My God,” Cushing sighed.
“I got to meet Robert Stack,” Maverick shrugged.
“Terrific, let’s do this.”
In all, Maverick Casey told his story four times, allowing Brian and Abigail, the other camera operator, to capture the same tale he’d spun since the 1970s from a variety of predictable angles. At this point, Brian was lying on the ground, holding the camera up at Maverick, who concentrated on not looking into the lens.
“Um…my name is Maverick Casey. It’s an odd name, I know. Dad thought if he gave me a manly name, you know, I’d end up tough. Alcoholism runs in my family; I expect that has something to do with it. He was also a funny guy, too. Odd sense of humor.”
Brian scrambled to his knees, keeping the camera focused on Maverick. Abigail stood far to the right, keeping the shot steady.
“Anyway, I’ve been looking for Bigfoot since at least 1958. I was ten years old when I saw it.”
“Here’s where we’ll throw in a nice re-enactment,” Cushing whispered.
“It was huge,” Maverick continued, telling a story he’d told for decades, one so ingrained he wondered if was only remembering a memory of a memory at this point. “I mean, never seen anything like it before. It was massive, and boy it stunk. Some people say I’ve wasted my life-”
Cushing nodded in agreement.
“But they just haven’t seen it for themselves. It’s real. My dad, before he left, would tell me stories going way, way back before there was even a town here. People saw it then. That was how we bonded, you know?”
“Now, this is your last outing, correct?”
Maverick nodded. After decades, his search was coming to an end as the lands behind his home were filled to form a vast reservoir, allowing Dallas access to clean water. Of course, age also factored in.
“They’ve been threatening to make this reservoir for as long as I’ve been here. But now, people are clearing off the land, the creeks are already rising. Between that and being old as hell I’m running out of time.”
Cushing asked his age, desperate not to laugh when Maverick said sixty-two. In actuality, the fact made Casey want to laugh as well, for many of the same reasons.
“That is old. I’m forty-two. So, I have quite a few years left. To accomplish things.”
Josh snickered, crossing his arms.
“Go on,” Cushing said
“So, I’m going for the last time. Staying out there as long as it takes. I mean, sure I’d like to prove it exist. If I had, maybe they wouldn’t be flooding the bottoms. Also, kids might not be laughing at me or leaving as many bags of flaming dog shit on my porch either. That does get old.”
With that Cushing clapped a hand on Maverick’s back and the director sighed a flat “cut”. Cushing traded pleasantries with Brian, who began dismantling the camera and tripod while other crewmembers gathered up equipment and grabbed their mikes. He waved at Abigail, who responded with a middle finger. She does hold a grudge, Cushing thought to himself.
Tom yelled into his phone, telling John Alvarez to talk to the production manager again. Someone needed to fire Cushing or get him in line.
In the ordered chaos, Cushing called for someone to bring him a Sierra Mist while Maverick marveled at how quickly the entire set up folded away into the vans.
“That’s it?” Maverick asked, aware one of his last moments on tape slipping by. He thought he had more time. He thought they would be here for a full day, maybe two.
“Yeah,” Cushing replied. “Why? Did you want more face time?”
“Well, I mean, is that all the footage you’re going to get?”
“Of course we’ll throw in some re-enactments and get some shots of the woods before we call it good. Our guy in the suit is excellent, went to NYU, did you know that?”
“I didn’t,” Maverick said, watching the crew finish the load-out.
“You think you have regrets? Jesus. Hey! Any day now with that Sierra Mist!”
Maverick Casey needed to salvage this moment. How many more film crews would be by to document this? Dr. Hakimzadeh was pretty adamant about Maverick’s chances. Golf ball sized and growing every day, he told him.
Cushing started walking off, following the director and the man half dressed as a Sasquatch. Maverick jogged forward, grabbing his shoulder. Cushing wheeled around, brow furrowed.
“Sorry, look, I was kinda thinking you’d want to see me prepare and all,” Maverick said.
“Why?” Cushing laughed.
“Well,” Maverick said, tugging at his shirt, feeling like a child standing before an adult, despite having decades on Cushing. “This is my last search.”
Cushing looked around and chuckled. “So?”
“That’s a pretty big deal for me,” Maverick said, controlling his anger, tempering his impatience. The size of a golf ball, Dr. Hakimzadeh told him with a shaking head. Although not completely round. “This is my life’s work.”
“You want this preserved for history or something?”
“We all want something to leave behind, don’t we?” Maverick said.
Cushing, who had until that moment been prepared to tell the aging monster hunter before him to fuck off, stopped.
We all do, don’t we? He thought.
“Look, don’t take this the wrong way, Mr. Casey,” Cushing said softly, putting his hands in his pockets.
“Usually when people say that there’s no other way to take it,” Maverick said, chewing on his tongue.
“Look,” Cushing said. “Sorry things haven’t worked out for you. No one put a gun to your head and ordered you to waste your life chasing the stupid and impossible.”
“No one put one to yours either,” Maverick said, taking a minutiae of pride at the red filling Cushing’s cheeks. Cushing looked toward the crew.
“Where in the United States of fuck is my goddamn Sierra Mist!”
Cushing managed to the catch the bottle flying at his head.
“Thanks! Ugh. They’re like animals. They need discipline. Great, now it’s all shook up.”
“Just a day. Or a few hours,” Maverick said. “It won’t take much of your time. You can send me a director’s cut.”
“We have to be in Baja hunting giant squid in three days. Sorry, no time,” Cushing said.
They stood silent for several seconds, before Cushing smiled and tipped his bottle towards Maverick and started to walk away.
You’re running out of time, Maverick told himself.
“What if it wasn’t for the show?”
Cushing narrowed his eyes. Maverick explained the project could be a short. A documentary. He knew what people thought of him and his quest. People would watch that. They would watch a sad old man embark on a sad quest.
They’d call it brave. They’d call it insightful and tragic.
“You could take it around at festivals!” Maverick exclaimed.
Cushing recalled a similar documentary that was a minor hit a few years prior, one that followed a failed rock band on their latest sad tour. He explained the film to Maverick.
“And they keep going, long past they should have quit,” Cushing smiled, leaning in towards Maverick and talking just above a whisper, hiding his new project from the uninterested ears of the surrounding crew.
“Sounds familiar,” Maverick sighed.
“It will be huge,” Cushing said.
“And I get my legacy,” Maverick smiled.
“Yes…then I get my transition, Casey! I can start doing serious work, about oil and climate change and soldiers and all that shit people pretend to care about.”
“You’ll do it?”
“Yes,” Cushing said. “I’ll talk to Brian, he’s one of the camera people, he might be into this. The Last Days of Maverick Casey!”
“That’s a little dark,” Maverick said.
“Obsession: The Tragic Last Years of Maverick Casey?” Cushing offered.
Maverick recommended selecting a title that allowed him to hold onto a shred of dignity. Both combined their efforts, mulling over possibilities in silence.
“Kinda disheartening how difficult this is, huh?” Maverick said.
Cushing smiled. “In Search of the Nobility, Texas Wildman.”
Maverick liked it. So did Cushing.
“Well then Mr. Maverick Casey,” Cushing said. “Let’s get started.”
“You’re making your own movie?” Brian asked, unscrewing the cap from a bottle of water.
“Trying to,” Cushing said, sitting on the hotel bed, the springs screeching beneath him. “But I need a cameraman.”
“I don’t know,” Brian said. “We got to be in Baja in a few days. And Jessie seems pretty stressed.”
“That’s the best part! It’s taken care of, I can delay things, no big deal,” Cushing said. “Trust me, I’ll take care of it.”
“I don’t know man, this is their equipment…”
“You have a phone right? You always make those little videos with it, they look nice on YouTube.”
“You watch my channel?”
“You make me watch it. Every single thing that goes up.”
“Still, you remember,” Brian smiled.
“If I take care of it, will you do it?”
“All right,” Brian smiled, taking a swig of water. “We won’t have mikes or anything, but I can make it work. On one condition.”
“Whatever you want. Drugs, money, let me know,” Cushing smiled.
“I want you to promise you will embrace happiness. Try to be happy. Use this as an opportunity-”
“No,” Cushing said.
“You just have to change how you think-”
“Nah,” Cushing said, shaking his head.
“Not even for a friend?” Brian asked.
“[* We’re not friends. We’re barely acquaintances. I don’t know your last name and I’m only 20% sure your first name is Brian.” *]
“Well,” Brian said, inhaling sharply. “This is the kind of favor I only do for friends.”
“Are you extorting friendship from me?” Cushing asked.
“Yeah,” Brian nodded. “Pretty much.”
“Fuck, you drive a hard bargain,” Cushing said.
With the sun going down and temperature dipping slowly, Maverick examined the inside of the trailer house. The fire didn’t burn through the roof completely, but one rain would be enough to cave in the ceiling over the kitchen.
Maybe Roman could help him repair the roof. The heat inside the trailer choked him. Maverick never turned on the window units. Aside from grabbing food, he never stayed in the house very long at all anymore.
The terrors started after his mother passed. His late night visits from the rotting man. He knew he was asleep, on some level he had to be. But the acrid-sweet smell, the figure crawling into his room, they felt so real.
The fear rivaled what he felt the first time he saw the Wildman. Standing in the woods, looking down on him from a gap in the trees and brush. Like the rotting man, the Wildman was something that simply didn’t belong, not in this world.
While he felt relief every morning that broke without a glimpse of his phantom, Maverick spent most of his life in pursuit of one more sighting of the Wildman. He longed for that final confirmation, that proof that sometimes there are monsters in the dark.
He started sleeping in his truck, the monstomobile. The converted food truck was his command center, now home. He never saw the specter there.
Roman answered on the third ring.
“Hey there, buddy,” he said with a drawl.
“Hey Roman. Well, those kids about burned my house down.”
“The fuck you say?” Roman laughed.
“Bottle rocket. Left a big ass hole in the roof. Think you can fix it?”
“Shit yeah. I’ll stop by tomorrow or the day after. Soon as I get off work. Speaking of, these bastards better start treating me better or I fuckin’ walk.”
Roman threatened to quit his water department gig every other week, particularly in the summer months.
“How you doing? How’s the world doin’ ya, Mav?” Roman asked.
“Eh, fucking Dwyer and Sims. I guess I should be happy. I just bring a smile to everyone’s face,” Maverick said.
“There’s your problem, man,” Roman said. “You stew in that shit. Let it go, stop taking notes. They can’t hurt you.”
“They nearly burned my house down,” Maverick said.
“Not like you sleep there anyway,” Roman said.
“And! If I was keeping score and not letting things go, this call wouldn’t be happening,” Maverick said.
“See, see there, buddy. The fact that you say that says you’re not over it,” Roman said, the snuff packed in his lips exaggerating his accent.
“Oh, go home to your loving spouse, you fuck head,” Maverick said.
“Fuck you too,” Roman said. “I’ll check out that roof tomorrow.”
Maverick hung up. He tapped the box next to the couch. His accolades and newspaper appearances, some framed, others encased in plastic pages in photo albums. He thought of hanging them up after his mother died, instead they remained in the box, a shelter for the families of fiddle back spiders within.
Cushing better not be fucking with me, Maverick thought. I can’t afford it.
He knew his fate otherwise. How many other cryptozoologists and monster hunters died to no fanfare, other than a cursory mention on a couple of Bigfoot blogs?
Maybe he would be like Roy Mackal, dying unnoticed even among those with shared his passion for the unknown. Or Grover Krantz, remembered more for having his skeleton displayed with his dog at the Smithsonian than for his life long search for Sasquatch, or the dozens of others who went unnoticed into the ether.
Maverick would be them. He would be less than them, unless he found the monster, unless he left something behind for people to see.
“It has to work,” Maverick said to himself. “It has to.”
He crawled into the Monstomobile, turning on the window unit he rigged to the truck at night, powered through a tangle of extension cords running to the trailer.
Maverick grabbed his journal from a stack of yellowed notebooks. Habit made him keep up the journal, collecting his doubt and pity in barely legible script. Jet thought it was a good idea, maybe he could write a book on his quest for the Nobility, Texas Wildman, another thin tome for the metaphysical section of the bookstores.
Maverick wondered if she still thought that.
He should burn these soon. You don’t have to leave everything behind, after all.
In his pallet on the floor in the rear, he wrapped himself in nostalgia, watching snowy VHS tapes of either The Legend of Bigfoot or The Creature From Black Lake until hopefully, sleep overtook him.
With help from an attorney he kept on retainer following a stalking incident in season one, Cushing successfully delayed production of American Myths and Monsters for three weeks.
During this time, James Cushing would be undergoing treatment for an unfortunate heroin addiction in Ventura. While his unscrupulous lawyer forged paperwork, Cushing made accommodations at the hotel for he and Brian. They would use Brian’s phone to film and edit it, so the network would have no claim over the documentary.
Cushing was elated, as was the subject of his film, Maverick Casey. At the moment, Brian lagged behind Cushing and Maverick as the monster hunter led them to his home and base of operations.
Rain recently washed out the road, so they would need to walk up to the house. In his mind, Cushing pictured a small frame house, something rustic with a picturesque level of neglect.
On the walk, Cushing tried to keep pace and maintain a strong voice, suppressing the urge to wheeze and struggle for breath.
“So, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say this sighting changed your life?” Cushing asked, motioning for Brian to catch up.
“No, sir. It was life changing, you can’t have an experience like that and it not change you, you know? I saw something, Bigfoot or whatever you want to call it,” Maverick said, maintaining a walk that seemed relaxed yet always several feet ahead of Cushing and Brian, who carried the phone in front of him, which was encased in a pipe structure.
“You okay?” Maverick asked.
“Of course,” Cushing wheezed. “Let’s just keep going.”
“You sure a phone is all we need?” Maverick asked.
“Trust me,” Brian said. “I have the lenses. I have my little PVC pipe steadicam rig, we are golden.”
Kicking through the fallen leaves, brown and strangled from the heat, Maverick pointed to the crumbling mobile home ahead.
“Home sweet home.”
“Tell me you’re getting this,” Cushing whispered to Brian, who responded with a thumbs up from the hand not supporting the phone.
“It’s a bit worn out,” Maverick said. “The roof needs some work.”
“I’d say it’s seventy percent duct tape,” Cushing laughed.
The house’s back appeared broken, caving in the middle where the fire occurred. The paint was worn away, exposing the metal siding underneath. The house resembled a sick and wounded animal.
“It’s seen better days,” Casey admitted.
“Is the roof supposed to sink in like that?” Cushing asked.
“Well, there was a fire and all that. Look, I’m not a handy man, but the place keeps me warm and dry.”
“How?” Cushing asked. “Do you even have insulation or do the rats in the wall suffice?”
Cushing continued to rail against the home, suggesting with a smile burning it down or that a homeless person could wrangle up a sturdier refrigerator box.
“You done?” Maverick asked.
“It’s leaning!” Cushing cried.
“You ever live in a mobile home, Mr. Cushing?”
“No,” Cushing said. “But I’ve also never stepped in front of moving truck or drank lighter fluid.”
Ignoring Cushing, who asked in a low whisper if Brian managed to capture all of his one liners, as they could keep the best ones in editing, Maverick made his way up the creaking steps to the front door.
“Uh-oh,” Casey sighed. “Another one of these.”
Cushing glanced at the envelope and nodded for Brian to move in for a better shot. In Maverick’s hand was a plain manila envelope with the words, “Bigfoot Proof! Photos!!!” scrawled in sharpie on the front.
“Photos, huh?” Cushing said. “People send you stuff like this often?”
“Well,” Maverick sighed. “One person. And they aren’t Bigfoot pictures.”
Roman had been sending pictures of his dick to Maverick for years. Initially, they started as a chance to tease the local nut. Roman was a thin man with a shaved head. His arms were covered in a mesh of tattoos, always displayed due to Roman’s penchant for sleeveless shirts.
When Maverick finally caught Roman in the process of dropping the pictures off, they started talking. Comparing notes on their lives, they found a lot of common ground, including malaise at growing older and racking up failed marriages.
Maverick hoped this budding friendship would stop the stream of photos. Instead they arrived with greater frequency. Along with poorly lit pictures of his genitalia, Roman included a number of tasteless and potentially illegal images from the Internet.
“Roman’s pretty much my best friend,” Maverick said. “I mean, he watches out for me and more importantly, the guy believes me.”
Later, Cushing would enjoy the privilege of speaking to Roman himself:
ROMAN: So, you guys filming a documentary on his last search? All these shows like on History and Discovery are always coming down here, they act all interested but they usually make Mav look like an asshole.
CUSHING: But you keep sending him pictures of your genitals?
ROMAN: (Laughs) I send him pictures of all kinds of stuff. Yeah, I started sending them just to fuck with him; he caught me dropping one off one day. We started talking about work, ex-wives, the usual stuff. Realized we had a lot in common, knew the same people. He’s a good guy.
CUSHING: So, you believe him?
ROMAN: Do I believe him? Yeah, I believe him. He saw something, why else would he be doing this? He even said he shot it once, but it got away. He was so close. He got so excited, then come home to find his dad ran out on him. That’s Casey’s luck. Look, he’s not making money; everyone thinks he’s bat shit. I got a maintenance gig, I got retirement, I got bonuses. What’s Mav got? His wife left him and he makes scratch picking up trash on the square four days a week. Oh, don’t call him a trash man, he’s real sensitive about that. He changes his clothes mid-shift. Before he goes to empty the trash at city hall he puts on slacks, a dress shirt, polished shoes and what not. He just needs to be okay with who he is, you know. Find that center. (Points to chest) In here.
Roman and Maverick were lonely people. Maverick’s quest cost him the respect of the town and led to isolation. Roman, as Maverick explained, suffered from a horrific accident that caused him to become unpredictable and have issues with anger.
“Yeah,” Maverick said. “Roman is an odd guy. Mainly from the accident. When you see him, he has this scar on his head. When he was like 20 he was driving on this old country road, kinda drizzly, when a car slams into him. Nearly killed him. He spends all this time recovering; his head is all fucked up.”
CUSHING: Mr. Casey told us you had an accident in your youth?
ROMAN: Casey told you about that, huh? Yeah, I uh-the accident did some weird stuff to my brain. I couldn’t control emotions for a long time. I would just fly off the handle over nothing. Weird shit. I stabbed my brother with a mini-pick. We were arguing over who was a better Van Halen front man, Roth or Hagar. I was apparently a very passionate fan of Sammy Hagar. So, there’s that. But hey, Mav gets me. People may laugh, but I don’t know, he has plenty of reasons to hate my fucking guts. But he doesn’t. He’s good people, as they say.
Inside Maverick’s home, Cushing noted the house looked like a war zone.
“Close,” Casey laughed. “But I bet there are fewer stacks of old TV Guides in Syria.”
Upon entering, a guest was greeted with an open space, divided down the center by a change in flooring to separate kitchen from living room. On the left was a thin hallway that led to Maverick’s bedroom.
Around an empty recliner were piles of curling TV guides, forming a mountain range of mildewing paper. Until recently, Maverick lived alone here with his mother. She felt there was little purpose in obtaining new TV Guides as nothing was ever new on TV. She consulted them as one would a Bible, a gateway into her past.
Maverick did his best to avoid his home when possible.
“Cancer, huh?” Cushing said.
“I guess it gets us all at one time or another,” Cushing said.
Maverick didn’t reply.
They were alone; Brian elected to take a brief bathroom break in the bushes by the edge of the yard. Cushing admitted cancer tore his mother away as well. He said it to goad Maverick on, but the truth was, Cushing missed his mother. Even saying her name was enough to bring that small ping to the chest, a quiet voice that lets you know again and again: She’s not coming back. He missed her. But he had work to do.
“Cancer is something everyone has in common, I guess.” Cushing said.
“Near the end she pretty much slept around the clock. At least it seemed that way. I kept a baby monitor in my room in case she needed me. I got so used to the static that I kept the damn thing on for a month after she passed. Beth helped out, that was our Hospice nurse. She moved her, bathed her, the stuff I wasn’t exactly eager to do. But momma was a firecracker. Said whatever was on her mind. Used to say, ‘Maverick, you’re a god-damned trash man, not a monster hunter.’” Maverick laughed.
“Ouch,” Cushing said.
“I suspect it came from a place of love. She loved as well as she could, but her childhood was hard on her. My dad running out sure didn’t help.”
Another slice of common ground between Cushing and Casey.
“I guess that’s its own cancer. When I was younger, after he left, I would come home from school and she’d be sitting by the window, Pall Mall in hand. She’d ask me how my day was, I’d answer and she’d nod. She wasn’t listening. Then it was off for her evening shift at Julio’s… You don’t want to hear this-” Maverick stopped, knocking dust off the top of the recliner.
Cushing urged him on. He first asked whether Maverick would be able to repeat this all the Brian when he returned and maybe add a slight tremble to his voice.
“And if you gotta cry, that’s okay, too.”
“Seriously?” Maverick asked.
“Sorry,” Cushing said. “I’m just saying. A little emotional showcase will help this thing soar. Just saying. Sorry! Go on.”
“Fine, fine. Anyway, momma didn’t give up. At least not vocally, you know? But I mean, with every pound she put on and every pack of Pall Malls she left all crumpled up on the floor…it was obvious. Well, to me at least.”
Cushing understood. His mother, as little as he saw her between her two jobs, always strived for the brave face, unaware that there isn’t a child in existence who can’t see the fear and despair just beneath the surface of the brave face. The only real joy Cushing attained from the show, aside from the occasional recognition on the street, was the paycheck. For a short time at least, he felt he could pay his mother back for everything she lost caring for him. But only for a short time.
Cushing explained this, working the tremble in his voice, before stopping his monologue to explain how the emotion in his voice really sold the story.
“That was fake?” Maverick fumed.
“No,” Cushing said. “Not fake. But useful.”
Maverick shook his head and continued his tour.
“Well, it’s a mess but this is basically my command center. I got my poster from the Legend of Boggy Creek. Jet, my ex-wife, she got that for me.”
“Jet?” Cushing asked.
“She changed it after we got married. Her real name is Isis. Her parents were…different.”
“No, they were cruel,” Cushing said.
“They were also addicted to PCP. Her old man was busted for trying to punch his way through a McDonalds window,” Maverick nodded.
Maverick cleared off a spot on the couch, brushing the fast food containers on to the floor.
“Just hang here, let me grab something. Your show has been kind of uh…an inspiration.”
“Good to know we’re making a difference,” Cushing said.
The floor bounced as Maverick jogged down the hallway. Brian pushed open the squeaking screen door.
“Finally! What, were you setting a world record? Get the camera ready, guy,” Cushing said.
“It’s okay, man,” Brian said, sitting down next to Cushing.
“I’m paying you out of my own pocket, man. Come on! And hey, doesn’t this violate your simpler life thing?”
“No way, I have it on airplane mode. For now, this thing is just a camera. I’m still disconnected from the world and taking it in.”
An irritating screech echoed down the hall as Maverick returned dragging a large plastic tub over the linoleum. The tub hissed as Maverick pulled it along the carpet of the living room and dropped it in front of Brian and Maverick.
“And what is this?” Cushing asked.
“My gear. Everything. I worked pretty hard to get all this stuff,” Maverick said. He popped off the lid and pulled out the contents one by one.
“I got digital cameras, a couple of camera traps-”
“And all on a trash man’s salary,” Cushing marveled.
“Maintenance man. All on a maintenance man’s salary,” Maverick corrected.
“Let’s split the difference and call it a janitor’s salary,” Cushing suggested.
Brian recognized all the equipment, including the digital recorders and even an infrared camera.
“You got our set up, dude,” he laughed.
“Pretty much,” Maverick beamed.
“What has all this got you?” Cushing asked.
“Well,” Maverick admitted. “About the same as you. Lots of pictures of local wildlife. Deer, bobcats, and such. I thought I hit pay dirt once, but it was a picture of me checking the other camera trap.”
“Exquisite,” Cushing muttered.
“But the real pride and joy is the monstomobile.”
“I’m almost scared to ask,” Cushing said.
“It’s how I get around. I got a good deal on an old food truck and turned it into the ultimate Bigfooting mobile. Roman helped a little, too.”
“My God,” Cushing said. “Is “bigfooting” a real term now?”
“Do you want a documentary on my search or a documentary on a sarcastic asshole who can’t shut his damn mouth for five seconds?”
Cushing apologized. He nodded toward the box by the couch.
“What’s in there?”
“That,” Maverick mumbled. “Not much.”
Opening the box, Cushing saw frames and papers, tossed haphazardly into the box. One featured a picture of a younger, leaner Maverick on the front page of the local paper.
“Local paper, that,” Maverick said. “I used to be kind of a celebrity, you know.”
“Fortean Times, a couple more papers, a newsletter for the ‘International Society of Cryptozoology’…is that a thing?”
“At one time,” Maverick said. “Hey, this is boring, why don’t we check out the monstomobile.”
Maverick led them to the truck outside, spray-painted in streaks of green and brown.
“So, I converted the food truck, or ‘roach coach’ as they’re commonly known,” Maverick said. He looked at Cushing. “It’s killing you not to say anything isn’t it?”
Cushing nodded vigorously.
Maverick showed them his recordings for call blasting, in which he played yells into the wild to elicit a response. He culled the calls from tapes of their show. Cushing admitted the calls on American Myths and Monsters was a combination of bear growls and yodels. The floor of the truck was a pallet, with blankets and sheets piled on top of a twin-sized mattress. His closet was a pile of shirts and jeans in the passenger seat. The ovens and storage were gutted, filled with night vision goggles, spare tapes, and military MREs.
Maverick slept in the monstomobile. The house was filled with memories. But he still remained close, like the town he was permanently tethered to.
The monstomobile also provided respite from the bad dreams, of the skeleton held together with an old flannel shirt and weathered jeans, bones barely fused together with dried strips of tendon. His father’s clothes, Maverick always thought, resting on a demon that crawls in from the same woods where the monster sleeps.
“Why don’t you leave? Go up to Washington state. Better scenery, better Bigfoots,” Cushing asked.
Maybe even have a house, Maverick thought, a house where he doesn’t wake up from bad dreams that flood the room with the smell of decay and creek water, of only for a moment.
“There’s a reason to stay, at least for me. My mission. My monster. It was just mom and me for a long time. Dad left in ’60. Place is paid for, so that’s good. Ooh! I have some footprints, too.”
Maverick pulled two plaster casts from a box in the truck. One he considered to be real, the other a forgery. Maverick carefully explained the difference.
“The one on the right is fake, the toes aren’t splayed, which is what would happen if a real foot was stepping on muddy creek beds and leaving tracks behind. Plus, there’s no midtarsal break. See, the real prints have a break in the middle, where the midtarsal joint is. This means they’re flat footed, and their transverse tarsal joint has a way bigger range of motion than a human’s ever could. We have one, but theirs is very different, definitely not human. Plus, this one on the left has dermal ridges. Those are the little lines that make up your fingerprints? You have them on your feet and toes too. Which is nearly impossible to fake!”
“Where did you get the real one?” Cushing asked.
“Mail order,” Maverick said. “But I’m still looking. I’ve been reading a lot about primate locomotion so I can better recognize the real thing.”
“You know,” Cushing said. “And I’m honestly not trying to be a smartass, but if you put this much effort and study into literally any other field you probably wouldn’t be living in a trailer.”
“You sound like my ex,” Maverick sighed.
“She might have a point,” Cushing said.
“Guess we’ll see when all this is said and done.”
“Exactly. That’s the point of this documentary,” Cushing said.
Maverick returned the tracks to the truck and carefully locked it.
“Can’t be too sure,” Maverick smiled. “Well. You ready to get out there?”
“Out there?” Cushing asked.
“To the bottoms! Where I’m going to be searching. You can’t go with me on the actual search; a large group of people would just scare it away. So we should get out there now for some footage.”
“How far out there?” Cushing asked.
Maverick chuckled and slapped a hand on Cushing’s shoulder, leading him away from the truck.
Five years into his search, Maverick Casey took an old map of the city and divided the mass of wood and brush behind his home into quadrants. His search area increased, composed of seventeen quadrants, with certain areas containing territorial alcoholics and wannabe survivalists marked with an X.
He wanted to make history, not end up shot for crossing the wrong barbwire fence. Although to be fair, the member of the North Nobility Resistance Movement he encountered, wearing a camouflage jacket and Gadsden flag shirt, carrying an AR-15 slung over his shoulder, did end up filling Maverick in on the best places to purchase most of his Wildman hunting arsenal.
“They got MREs, they got night vision, they got guns. Shit, son they got guns. And if they get a good feeling about ya, they’ll show you the stuff they keep in the back. You not a cop, right?” The man said, narrowing his eyes, sweat running down from under his Harley Davidson bandanna.
“No, not a cop,” Maverick said.
“You’re all right. Just stay away from this fence, ‘kay?”
Maverick did, and forever avoided the dreaded quadrant five. Roman loved that story. Maverick thought his dad would have got a laugh at it, too.
“Well goddamn, Maverick.”
For today’s trip, Maverick chose quadrant eight. The dense brush was broken up by fields and flat spaces and crisscrossed with trails worn down by animal and man. He carried a rifle and a canteen that once belonged to his father. The fur on the hide wrapping the canteen was rubbed away; the metal canteen was now simply wrapped in a pale strip of leather.
Cushing felt his clothes cling to his back, his side sore from big steps necessary to move amid the tall grass. He felt like a character in a Monty Python sketch, following his comrades in long, high steps. Only the steady drone of the cicadas drowned out his heaves.
“How far…have we walked?” Cushing asked.
The walked even rendered Brian quiet, who sat down the phone rig for a moment and took in the scenery.
“I don’t know,” Maverick said. “Maybe half a mile?”
“You’re kidding. I might die,” Cushing gasped.
“You’re a decade younger than me,” Maverick laughed.
“More like twenty. Which makes it worse,” Cushing sighed.
“What happened to that walking stick I gave you?” Maverick asked, resting his rifle against a tree.
“It had a bug on it,” Cushing said.
“Right. That was a good walking stick. Just brush it off.”
“What if there were more? Hiding? They watch me kill their friend and are suddenly thirsty for revenge!” Cushing said, scanning the ground around for a bare spot to sit down.
“That is a completely logical thought process, Mr. Cushing.”
Insects and exhausted television hosts aside, the woods were quiet. They must not be working today, Maverick thought. No machines to silence the animals and run them off.
Maverick thought about marking quadrant eight off his search grid. At first, he assumed the noises would scare the creature away, driving him deeper into the bottoms, farther from Maverick’s reach. But he remembered that the first time the term “bigfoot” was coined, it was due to a similar creature sniffing around a construction site, leaving prints.
“How do you move through this stuff?” Cushing asked.
“Yeah, the growth is pretty thick down here. Closer we get to the deeper parts of the creek the worse the mosquitoes will get too, so heads up.”
“Lovely,” Cushing sighed.
“Just nature, boss,” Brian said.
“Fuck off, Brian,” Cushing said.
“Did you spray yourself?” Maverick asked.
“Yeah,” Cushing said. “We both did. I picked up the stuff for sensitive skin. Smells like summer rain, according to the bottle.”
“Awesome, better hope that shit has DEET. Ticks are thick out here.”
“Ticks?” Cushing asked, standing back up and examining his pant legs.
“Yeah. Don’t worry, just check yourself when we get back.”
“How do you check for ticks?”
“I’ll be honest, it’s going to get awkward. You want a drink of water?”
Cushing nodded and grabbed the canteen from Maverick. Cool water moistened his lips. He handed the canteen to Brian and considered telling him to film some woods for B roll footage, but the surrounding mass of limbs and leaves seemed squat and ugly. Even the grass around them refused to bob gently with the wind, as everything was bent and yellow.
Welcome to Texas, an oasis of ticks and mosquitos. Oh, and monsters, apparently. Cushing still questioned how he would bring the film together. Is his subject deluded or mad? Does he play up the mystery or remind the audience from stage one that monsters don’t exist, except in the fever dreams of a sad few?
In another universe, is he married to an up and coming actress and receiving a Golden Globe nomination?
Maverick looked at the same view and felt the presence of something ancient. When they moved into the dense thicket, the trees would entwine and block out the sun, as they had for centuries. Even the ground beneath their feet was packed with layers of twigs and leaves and debris, layer after layer, decade after decade. Only fire could remove them.
Everything around was older than him, older than his parents and their parents as well. Even the thing ducking into the brush, that unsettling blend of man and animal, was a newcomer as far as the woods were concerned.
Even when Lake Kenneth was complete, this place would remain, preserved in cold water and sealed with a calm, stagnant surface.
“In the 1800s, people would talk about the Wildman that lived in the woods. Indians said they were a lost tribe. Old stuff. Ancient stuff,” Maverick said, his back to his water guzzling companions.
Maverick repeated the Wildman claims, verbatim as his father had whispered them breathlessly decades before.
“I’m tellin’ ya, boy. They’re real. Not like when I said I saw that Mammoth on the creek. That was a fib.”
He had lots of fibs. Maverick also seemed genuinely surprised when talking to Jet years later that neither she, nor anyone she knew, ever heard about a Wildman before meeting Mav.
But he knew when his father was joking. His lips pursed as he struggled to suppress his laugh, especially if he felt Mav was falling for it. But when he talked about the Wildman he wasn’t joking. Maverick knew it.
“Yep,” Maverick sighed. “Ancient stuff.”
“Crazy stuff,” Cushing said, swatting at a gnat humming in his ear.
“Such a sad way to see the world,” Maverick said, snatching the canteen from Brian. Maverick could tell from the swishing inside they left none for the walk back. I should tell them to drink from the creek, Maverick thought. That will be fun.
“So, tromping through the woods sweating my ass off is enlightenment?”
“Could be. Works for me,” Maverick said.
“So, your dad believed all this stuff too, right?” Brian asked, hitting record and nudging Cushing with his elbow.
“Come on, buddy. We’re going exploring.”
“Yeah, he told me stories about them when I was little. When I saw the monster he wasn’t surprised. He always said if enough people saw it they wouldn’t build the reservoir. They’d just leave it alone. Leave us alone. But since he was kind of a joker people didn’t believe us.”
“Well, it took a long time. They’re just now doing it.”
“I suppose,” Maverick sighed. “Can’t fight progress, right?”
“They’re flooding all of this?” Brian asked.
“Yep. It’ll be one, giant lake. Lake Kenneth, actually.”
“Who was Kenneth?” Cushing asked. “Such a random choice. Kenneth.”
“Kenneth was a nineteen-year-old killed in Iraq awhile back. Word is, they named it after him so anyone fighting the reservoir would look bad.”
“If they named it Crying-Eagle-9/11 they could turn this state into a lake.”
Maverick smiled and nodded. Poor bastard, he thought. They used that kid over there and now they’re using him here. He reminded Cushing to watch for snakes. The recent rain brought out the snakes, chilled and looking for sun.
Copperheads were lazy, usually opting for cool garden to lounge in. As they moved closer to the creeks, they and their equally poisonous brothers would be slithering near the muddy banks.
Cushing now took each step as if the still-dehydrated topsoil was going to strike.
“I thought you would be used to this kinda stuff, from all that work you do on American Myths and Monsters.”
“Work?” Cushing laughed. “We usually set up in a park. Throw on some night vision filters, film me chasing our guy in a suit or have some intern hitting trees with sticks for wood knocking-”
“You fake that stuff?”
“Trade secrets,” Brian hissed.
“Seriously? Yes! You don’t think those close encounters are real do you? Every show like ours is fake.”
“Well, this is real,” Maverick said. All fake? He thought as much. Shows like Cushing’s offer too many close calls to never uncover anything of note.
“Serious question,” Cushing asked. “You think you’ll find it? No one’s ever found it before. Believe me, we’ve talked to everyone.”
“Hey, government already caught one,” Maverick said. “1999. Forest fire in Nevada. A fire crew found an injured one and next thing you know, big brother spirited it away.”
“That didn’t happen,” Cushing said.
“There were witnesses,” Maverick said.
“There always are,” Cushing said.
Approaching the tree line, Maverick stopped and fumbled with a shell, loading the gun with a click and snap.
“Are you allowed to bring a gun out here?” Cushing asked.
“Guns, not my thing,” Brian said.
“Keep recording you damn liberal,” Cushing said.
“Friends?” Brian reminded.
Cushing sighed. “I am sorry, friend. Please forgive and continue to do the job I am paying you from my dwindling retirement, friend.”
“Yeah, anyone can have a gun out here,” Maverick laughed. “Although, technically I’m not. There was an…incident…”
In a later interview, both Brian and Maverick would obtain more clarification regarding the “incident”.
Cushing: Tell me again, what happened?
Wes W: He shot me, duh. Yeah, like a year ago. My friends and I thought it would be funny to dress up like Bigfoot, you know, mess with Mr. Casey a little bit? Got shot in the leg. Hurt. Bad.
Maverick felt the entire incident was blown out of proportion. He barely nicked the kid, a worse injury could have happened falling off a bike.
However, he enjoyed how quickly the laughter in his direction ceased once the boy first screamed that he had been shot. Nevertheless, Maverick had to sign an affidavit saying he would never carry firearms into the bottoms again.
“Well,” Sheriff Glaser shrugged as Maverick signed. “Beats jail, right?”
He also earned his most loathed nickname, killer. The name stung.
Fortunately, Maverick was the only person, beside the construction crews, who ever went into the bottoms.
“But he started it! Running around the woods like that, what did he think would happen?”
“Apparently not that he would get shot by a trigger-happy monster hunter,” Cushing said.
“But I did get a shot at it. The real thing.”
Cushing urged Maverick on and Brian moved closer, framing a wide shot of Cushing and Maverick and hoping the camera battery wouldn’t die.
“It was the fourth time I saw it, and I got a shot in. It fell, and ran away.”
“How old were you?” Cushing asked.
“Just a kid, around twelve.”
Years later he marked off the quadrant where the shooting occurred, quadrant nine, never returning.
“Did you kill it?”
“I don’t think so,” Maverick said. “Never found the body. I was so close to proving it. I could have saved our land, made us rich. Proved I wasn’t crazy. Instead, dad left. Mom drank. And I stayed in the woods.”
“See you after work, buddy.”
“He just left?”
“Never heard from him again.”
There were the false hopes. The sightings in bars a few towns over, the potential John Does cropping up in morgues in Oklahoma and Louisiana. Once he had his driver’s license, Maverick would often spend his weekends chasing down leads, always returning home, always telling his mother the same thing.
“Not this time, momma. Sorry.”
Her face registered neither shock nor disappointment; instead she simply pulled a cigarette from a crumpled package and lit up.
She got down. That was how his father described his mood swings. Franklin could be jovial, likely to wake Maverick up in the middle of the night to go exploring or dump square hay bales in front of someone’s door.
Then he would be quiet, sitting on the couch like another piece of furniture. Until Maverick made a noise or set him off, then he exploded, as if every bit of laughter in his body was equaled by rage he buried until it roared to the surface.
Like her husband, Paula was down. And she would stay that way.
Cushing asked Maverick if he ever saw the creature again.
“I saw it again in 1993.”
He thought. He heard the brush, the snapping twigs. He swore the smell, urine and body odor, filtered into the air. There was a shadow, but no pause. No lingering look like before.
Cushing felt surprised that Maverick carried a gun and more so that he was willing to kill the monster. Most of these types he interviewed were firmly in the “no kill” camp.
“What if it’s the last of its kind? Or it has a baby or something?” Cushing asked.
“How else am I going to prove it? I’m not going to my grave with everyone thinking I’ve lost my fuckin’ mind. All I have are blurry pictures and a plastic tub of footprint casts. That don’t cut it.”
“Puts you on the outs with other Bigfoot hunters, right?” Cushing asked.
“Not around here. Hell, the Texas Bigfoot Research Conservancy, or whatever they call themselves these days, they’re all about it. March into those woods armed to the teeth, like they’re serving a warrant.”
“That’s messed up,” Brian said.
“What if nothing is out there?” Cushing asked, biting his lip in feigned concern.
Maverick didn’t answer. Cushing asked again.
“Then what did I see?” Maverick finally answered, watching the brush for a sign of movement, as if the creature would step into the open and greet them.
“A bear? Who knows? You said yourself you were just a kid.”
“Too late to stop now,” Maverick said. He thought of Jet. It was far too late to stop.
“That’s not true.”
“It is!” Maverick cried. “I spent too long in the woods, lost too many years in the trees and creeks looking for it.”
Maverick gripped the rifle firmly, his arms shaking.
“I understand, just calm down,” Cushing said.
“There’s no stopping.”
“Okay, calm down,” Cushing said. “You’re scaring Brian, he’s good people.”
“Afraid I’ll shoot you, Brian?” Maverick asked, gun in hand. “What about you, Mr. James Cushing? Afraid of the crazy man?”
“A little,” Cushing laughed. Behind him, Brian tensed, sucking air and holding his breath.
“We’re all friends, here,” Brian whispered.
“You seriously think I’m crazy, don’t you?”
Cushing opened his mouth, leaving it agape for several seconds as he perfected a reply.
“Is there an answer that guarantees you won’t shoot me?” He finally asked.
Around them, cicadas sang in a chorus and gnats made sounds in their ears like speeding cars. Maverick lowered the gun and walked away. As his footsteps grew quiet, Cushing turned to Brian.
“Did you get that?”
“Yeah man,” Brian said. “I got it.”
“Were you planning on intervening at any point when the crazy man was waving a gun?”
“When the moment was right,” Brian said.
“If I die, you don’t get paid, remember that, friend,” Cushing said.
“Then stop badgering the crazy guy,” Brian said.
“Speaking of which, we better find him. I have no fucking clue where we are.”
“Sure you do,” Brian said. “The middle of nowhere.”
What are you doing, Mav?
Maverick asked himself that again and again. Cushing wilts in the sun. He already has a plan for this film, one that won’t reflect well on Maverick.
Maybe he should’ve focused more on what his legacy would be, instead of just grabbing the first guy with a camera. Not even a camera, a damn phone. If he drops it in a puddle there goes the film, so much for legacy preservation.
He just wanted something to say it wasn’t for nothing.
Would Cushing do that? Probably not, Maverick thought.
Maverick almost calls Roman. Having someone sitting in the waiting room to walk out with him might be nice. He could tell Jet. He could tell her everything.
No. No, that would just net him pity.
There was a hospital in Marble Springs, larger and modern. A great square lined with rows and rows of windows and shining floors reflecting the fluorescent beams. But Dr. Hakimzadeh never asked about payment or insurance. He helped Maverick however he could.
At least that bit of pity didn’t bother him.
The waiting room was carpeted and lined with chairs. There was a fish tank, but Maverick never saw any fish. There were magazines, each pushing five years past their publication date. Not that anyone ever complained or even noticed.
The receptionist rarely looked up from her tablet, once Maverick stepped inside she addressed him coldly.
“Just go on back, Maverick.”
Maybe he was the only one to see Dr. Hakimzadeh these days.
Dr. Hakimzadeh towered over Maverick, and most people in this town. The years were starting to settle in his jowls. The doctor was tapping his pen on a set of x-rays.
“Look at that, Mav,” he sighed.
“That bad?” Maverick asked.
“Sure as hell isn’t good, son,” Dr. Hakimzadeh chuckled.
The doctor was several years younger than Maverick, but his baritone voice commanded respect, so few minded being addressed as “son”.
“So, what can we do?” Maverick asked.
“Pills. Radiation pills. Expensive, but I’ll see what we can work out. With the pills, we could try to stop the tumor’s growth and if we’re lucky, real lucky, shrink it a little.”
“Mav,” The doctor sighed. “You’re a good guy. I like you. But why in the hell did you wait so long to see me?”
“Just thought it was old age,” Maverick shrugged.
“You’re not that old. For now. But this,” he said, pointing to the x-ray. “This will take some time off.”
“Fine,” Maverick said. “I get it. Should have been here sooner. Especially after mom. I should’ve seen the signs.”
“I respect you too much to lie to you,” Doctor Hakimzadeh said, removing his glasses.
“You respect me?” Maverick laughed.
“Just listen,” Dr. Hakimzadeh said sternly. “These pills…they’ll slow it down. At best. This is mainly so we can be doing something you know? People just want to think they’re fighting.”
“Fight’s over, huh?” Maverick said.
“Fight was over months ago,” Dr. Hakimzadeh said. “If you take these, you’ll be sicker than you’ve ever been. They won’t do much. Then I’ll probably take you off them.”
“Then what?” Maverick asked.
“Then, you’ll feel better. You’ll have energy. You’ll be able to talk and maybe even hold down a small meal.”
“After a few days, there won’t be any more ‘then what’. Not for you.” He said, patting Maverick’s thigh.
“Well…shit,” Maverick said, staring down at the scuffed floor.
Dr. Hakimzadeh continued his talk, advising Maverick as honestly as he thought he could. Maverick heard little.
He was dead man.
Maverick sighed and stood up.
“If I don’t take them, how long?”
“Taking care of yourself? About two weeks. After that, you’ll fall apart, fast.”
“In all? Well, let’s just say, if you wanna find that damn monster, you better get out there.”
Leaving Dr. Hakimzadeh’s office, Maverick took in the humidity, so thick he briefly wondered if the air would suffocate him. He climbed into the monstomobile and drove a quarter mile to the Trip and Go gas station.
He didn’t see Jet behind the counter. Oh well, if she was behind that counter, bored and tapping a pen on the glass covering the winning scratch-offs from prior patrons, what would he say? What did he ever say? Hey Jet. Hey you, she would say back.
Instead of a burger, Maverick bought a bottle of grain alcohol. No brand name, simply a white label with the words “grain alcohol” in bold black letters. He had seen similar containers housing his food in the school cafeteria of Nobility, TX.
He twisted off the plastic lid and took a swig of sour fire. He crawled in the monstomobile, the battered shocks squeaking sharply. The air conditioner blew hot air until Maverick pulled onto the road. He looked in his rearview for Sheriff Glaser.
Maverick called him “sheriff” long before he earned the title. The man always stuck up for Maverick, as a child and even now. Maybe he started to feel a camaraderie as they were both old, fat men nearing the end of their relevance. Or maybe he just felt pity.
He was always the man who brought Maverick every rumored sighting of Franklin Casey or accompanied him to morgues several counties over to check out the John Does.
“We’ll find Bubba, son. Soon enough,” he said, again and again, on the long drive back in the cruiser, the armrests and interiors sticky with tobacco.
Maverick was fifteen when the sheriff, then just a local cop, picked him up. He had no leads. He just said he wanted to talk. He turned off the radio, the car gently bumping over the white rock and dirt roads.
“I’ll keep looking. You know that. But you remember your daddy. Franklin…had moods. A lot of people loved him. A lot of people didn’t. Mischief and all, you know?”
“But those moods, they put him in dark places. You know, more than once, your momma called me to talk him down from hurting himself. Or her.”
Maverick ordered him to stop the car. He complied. Maverick stated to leave the car, but the officer put his hand on Maverick’s shoulder.
“He was a good man. But he was troubled. You’re old enough to know. We might not find him. But if you obsess over this it will destroy you, kid.”
Maverick tried to stifle the sobs. But Glaser told him to let it out. He knew Maverick had to be a man at home, but here he could be a kid.
“Just go home. Live your life, like he would’ve wanted.”
He took Maverick home. He kept Maverick updated, reporting potential sightings that became more scarce over the years. But he never again picked him up to identify a body or visit another department.
The next morning, Maverick skipped school and went after the monster.
Decades later, Maverick knew he couldn’t search for the creature the way he once did. Just a few years prior, he noticed how the night before an expedition he would plot his day, planning on covering three or maybe even four quadrants, only to find his back stiff and legs aching after one.
His mind never caught up with his body, each morning he woke in the monstomobile, he felt genuine surprise as the muscles in his lower back tensed, causing him to wobble to his feet and brace himself against the plastic boxes surrounding him for stability.
This was even before the stomach pains.
The monstomobile had now become his true home, hadn’t it?
What did he need the other one for? Nothing, as it turned out. He wouldn’t even need the monstomobile soon, would he?
He thought about his dad. He was much older than his dad was when he left Maverick and his mother. No warning. Their last talk seared in his mind. His father sitting at the kitchen table, in overalls and nothing else, shoving burnt bacon into his mouth.
“Where you headed, son?” He asked.
“Exploring,” Maverick said, pulling the backpack over his skinny shoulders. “Gonna take the twenty gauge. Just in case.”
“Well goddamn, Maverick,” he laughed. “Not taking any chances, huh?”
“Nope,” Maverick beamed.
“Shouldn’t you be in school?”
“That’s some bullshit,” his dad said, feigning outrage. His father’s skin was tight and dark from the sun, his face appearing cracked instead of wrinkled and the parts of him above the elbows and under the neck a stark white.
“I say leave the gun behind,” his dad said, smearing the last piece of bacon in runny egg residue.
“You think?” Maverick asked.
“All you’d do is piss it off. My daddy told me bullets just make it mean,” Maverick’s father said, smiling and winking.
“Okay, I’ll leave it.”
“Well, enjoy your expedition, I gotta be at work soon. So, see you after work, buddy.”
Maverick said he would. Leaving the kitchen, he saw the gun by the door. Changing his mind, he grabbed the cold barrel and checked his bag again for his canteen and jerky. He shut the door and never saw his father again.
When Maverick finally parked the vehicle in front of his trailer, the headlights illuminated Cushing and Brian sitting on his porch.
“Hey fellas!” Maverick called, laughing and slamming the door behind him.
“Where you been?” Cushing asked.
“Just running some errands,” Maverick shrugged, gripping the neck of the bottle in his left hand.
“We were supposed to meet up three hours ago!” Cushing said.
Brian cleared his throat.
“Right, right,” Cushing sighed. “Look, sorry about before. I just got a little nervous with you waving that gun around.”
“That’s fine,” Maverick said, fishing in his back pocket with his left hand.
“To answer your question, no. Earlier, you asked if I thought you were crazy. No. I don’t,” Cushing said.
“But you do think I’m a joke, right?” Maverick said, finally retrieving the lighter from his pocket and dropping his wallet in the same motion.
“Look, it’s easy to laugh at people like you. But I think…after this film comes out, people will look at you differently,” Cushing said.
During their wait, Brian attempted to instill a little empathy into the cable TV show host.
“Come on, man,” Brian had said with a cough. “You’re both fuck ups trying to do something big. Have a little compassion. Here, last hit.”
“Fuck ups, huh?” Cushing had said.
“I mean that as a friend,” Brian laughed. “Remember, he has a purpose. You’re big on that, right?”
Cushing continued his speech to Maverick.
“They’ll see the dedication, the sacrifice, your tragic past…they won’t call you crazy.”
Maverick nodded. He looked at Brian, who gave a thumbs up with the hand not holding the smoldering joint.
“Then I wouldn’t film this part,” Maverick said, smiling.
Returning to the monstomobile, he took a grease rag from the floorboard. Opening the bottle, he shoved the rag into the top, the oil stained fabric hanging out like a ponytail.
“What’s that? Shine?” Cushing laughed.
“Funny,” Maverick said. “Hey camera guy!”
“Brian,” he reminded him.
“All right. Brian. Why don’t ya jump off that porch real quick?”
“Seriously, what is that stuff?” Cushing asked, pointing at the bottle.
Roman dropped off pictures, but he never bothered to check on the roof. In a few seconds it wouldn’t matter.
“You guys ever heard of a Molotov cocktail?”
“When did you buy that?” Cushing asked.
“After my appointment, while you and your camera man were getting baked on my porch.”
“I have a prescription,” Cushing said.
“No judgment here,” Maverick said. “Oughta be legal everywhere soon enough. Where you at, Brian?”
“Right here!” Brian said, jogging up with the phone rig.
With a snap, a tiny flame jumped from the lighter. Touching the flame to the grease rag, a plume of fire erupted.
“Wait, what are you-” Cushing started.
Maverick tossed the flaming bottle, Cushing yelled for him to stop as the bottle burst and spread flame across the wooden porch.
“Might as well save them the trouble, you know?” Maverick said.
“Jesus, what is wrong with you?” Cushing screamed.
“Don’t worry, there are plenty of nicer boxes out there I can sleep in.”
“We should call the police, the-the fire department!” Brian yelled.
“Eh, it will have burned itself out by the time they got here. Why are you so worried, Cushing? It was your idea.”
“It was a literal shack but I didn’t mean burn it down!” Cushing cried.
“You suggested it,” Maverick shrugged. He thought of the box in his room, the one with the framed articles and magazine cut outs and fiddle backs inside. The box that held newspaper clippings about the Bigfoot hunter who brought the town some much-needed attention in the 70s. When Maverick was a man with wife and friends and a mission.
“Please do not tell the police that. What is wrong with you?”
“Shit,” Maverick sighed. “Should have bought another bottle. One of you wanna drive me up to the store?”
Brian leaned into Cushing ears.
“I don’t think he’s doing so well.”
“You aren’t going to film this?” Maverick asked.
Cushing elbowed Brian.
“I told you,” Maverick said, watching the flames spread into the trailer through the open door. “This is it. My last time out. No going back.”
In Search Of…
“My family has been living out here for…over 150 years. The bottoms has always been here. Just…filled with life, you know? You hunt and run trap lines, you see animals that shouldn’t even be here. Cougars and such. Now, it’s gonna be Lake Kenneth. Wish that crazy bastard would have found that Bigfoot or whatever. Maybe we wouldn’t lose this place.” –Matt C, Nobility resident
“[* You know what they say about him, right? I mean, they can’t prove it because no one found a body…but still…” -Maria H, Nobility resident *]
“I keep thinking that if I keep my head up others will come forward. Just one person. That’s all I need. Just one person.” –From the journal of Maverick Casey
Cushing left as the volunteer fire department smothered the blaze. Both Cushing and Brian denied knowing how the fire started. Smoke still drifted from the charred half of the trailer house. One of the firefighters told Maverick the entire structure would collapse soon. They would call someone to take down the rest.
“At least you got the insurance check coming, huh?” A fireman laughed, nudging Maverick in the side.
The policy lapsed two years ago. After his mother died and he took up residence in his monster hunting vehicle, Maverick saw no need to pay for it. He only maintained the water and electric bills.
Showering would be difficult.
Before leaving the scene, Cushing tried to talk to Maverick. He seemed genuinely concerned. Maverick didn’t know how to respond, so he didn’t. He was standing in the same spot by his truck where he’d thrown the flaming bottle, the same spot where he watched the firefighters save half of a home he didn’t want or need.
Castle Casey, as his father had called it.
“Thin walls and a tin roof, sugar,” he would tease Maverick’s mother.
She would laugh. Maverick honestly couldn’t recall the last time she had laughed. She kept her distance. She kept quiet, wrapping herself in a heavy veil.
Once again, the woods were quiet. The popping and hissing of the final flames were silenced. Maverick sat in the driver’s side of the monstomobile. He took his phone from the cup holder.
She should be off work by now. Maverick could see Jet coming home. Discarding the Trip and Go shirt for something looser, slipping into pajama pants as soon as possible. Pulling back her hair, black, and rubbing at the circles under her eyes, purple. In her youth, she was lean, but the sun and the long hours left her gaunt and tired.
Maverick would give anything to be with her again.
She answered on the third ring.
“Hey Jet, just get off?” Maverick asked.
“Yeah,” Jet said. “But I have to be in early, what do you need?”
“Is he-?” Maverick asked.
“No Mav, he’s not here, just me.”
“Well, well, then,” Maverick said.
“Mav, please. I don’t have time for this,” Jet said. “Hey, I saw the fire truck heading your way, is everything okay over there?”
“Yeah,” Maverick said. “I mean, my house burned down.”
“Your house burned down? What happened?”
Maverick laughed at the stress in her voice, reminding her it was less a home than particleboard and sheet metal storage building.
“Well, I guess that’s not so bad. I still think you would be a little freaked out. You talk to the insurance company?”
“I will, Jet, I will,” Maverick said.
So, why did you call?”
“I’m gonna be on TV,” Maverick said.
“You’ve already been on TV.”
“No, this one is about me. Not Bigfoot,” Maverick said. “It’s a documentary, being filmed about my search for the Wildman.”
“Good. Good for you. I guess,” Jet said.
“So maybe, not everyone thinks it’s so stupid.”
“I never said it was stupid,” Jet said. “I was married to you for almost twenty-five years.”
“You gave up, though,” Maverick said. Maverick wondered if she was really alone or if he was there too, listening to one side of the conversation.
“Yes. When it became pretty damn obvious there wasn’t anything out there.”
“Jet,” Maverick sighed.
“Maverick, you saw the wooden feet,” Jet said.
“That wasn’t what I saw.”
“You saw them!” Jet said. “They were right there, in your momma’s closet.”
“No, no that wasn’t what I saw when I was a kid. It wasn’t what I saw in ’93. Or what I’m pretty sure I saw. Couldn’t really be him then, could it?” Maverick said, hitting all the familiar beats of this well-rehearsed argument.
“In all that time, you only saw it once after he left your mom and you. What does that tell you?” Jet said, her voice almost pleading.
Jet said Maverick was lying to himself. He accused her of never believing him.
“I did, Mav. Honestly, I did,” Jet said.
“What I saw wasn’t human! It wasn’t just a guy in a suit.”
“Aren’t you tired of it?” Jet asked. He said nothing, and she asked again. Isn’t he tired of being a joke? Kids asking for him to tell the story again so they can laugh or upload it to YouTube.
“Is that why you left? Because I was a joke to you?”
Jet paused only briefly. “Yes.”
He didn’t expect her to be so honest. She told him she couldn’t deal with the stares and the giggles and the laughter. She reminded Maverick again that she gave him a simple choice, his monster or her.
“If you wanted to stay you wouldn’t give me a choice.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Jet said. “Maybe I just needed an excuse.”
“If I stopped tomorrow would it help?” Maverick said, the smell of burning wood and insulation seeping into the truck.
“You couldn’t stop,” Jet said.
“I could try.”
“I’m married, Casey. And you can’t stop.”
“You’re right,” Maverick said. “I’ve been at it too long. I will find it, goddamn it.”
“Then what?” Jet asked. “Okay. You’ll find it. Then what are you going to do, Mav? Maverick?”
Maverick almost told her everything, laid out in detail what Dr. Hakimzadeh told him earlier.
Instead, he hung up.
Jet stared at the phone. She could hear the screech of the screen door and went into the living room to greet her husband.
“He needs help,” Brian said, following Cushing to the van.
“I know, and we’ll get him that. Remember, this was his idea,” Cushing said, climbing into the driver seat.
“My van. My camera. I drive,” Brian said. He pushed Cushing towards the passenger seat and slammed the door. “And, just because it’s his idea doesn’t mean it’s a good one.”
Cushing read the directions from his phone, Brian followed dutifully through the town of Nobility, TX. Finally, they arrived a small white house with a gravel drive.
“I can’t believe her coworkers just gave you her number. She knows we’re coming, right?”
“Yes,” Cushing sighed. “She knows we’re coming, just grab everything, okay?”
“Hope this actually works out,” Brian said
They had approached the town’s sheriff, who said he wasn’t interested in talking about Maverick. The mayor wouldn’t speak to them either and even the residents, after initially laughing at the monster hunter’s expense, suddenly clammed up when Cushing or Brian asked about Maverick’s childhood or his heydays in the 1970s.
“He’s got it rough enough. Why don’t you just drop it and leave?” Sheriff Glaser said, before ordering them out of the station.
Cushing knocked on the front door. He hoped she wouldn’t require a cash incentive. The hotel owner insisted on being paid daily, in cash, which was depleting his budget.
“I thought I paid when I checked out?” Cushing had asked him.
The man with sunken eyes and a shaking hand laughed. “I got bills son, that’ll be cash, thank ya very much.”
“Bills?” Cushing said. “Your eyes say meth…but your stomach says alcohol.”
The old man smiled. “Son, you ain’t ready to know what I do with those dollars.”
“Huh. Fair enough. Here’s forty bucks.”
From inside, a dog unleashed a torrent of barking while Jet screeched him into submission.
“You wanna help Maverick, Brian? Let’s find out more about him,” Cushing said.
Jet opened the door and ushered Cushing and Brian inside. The dog, a small gray and tan pug, snorted and growled, clicking its nails on the floor and following them into the kitchen.
“Hush it,” Jet said. The dog sneezed defiantly and waddled into the living room.
“Sorry about the mess,” Jet said, pointing to the sink and the dishes. “You guys kinda sprung this on me.”
“Not a problem,” Brian smiled.
“This is about Mav, right?” Jet said. “You can talk to my husband, too. He went out for a burger but he’ll be back in.”
Cushing asked if they could record the interview, Jet acquiesced. Brian quickly set the phone on a small tripod, aiming the camera at Jet. She looked at it as if bullets were going to burst from the lenses.
“Now,” she asked. “This isn’t going in, right? Because I just got off a nine hour shift and I look like hell.”
“You look perfect,” Cushing smiled.
“Then you are a goddamn liar,” Jet said, grabbing a cigarette from a pack on the table. She propped open the kitchen door, a wave of humidity pushing back the cool air.
“You guys mind?” She asked.
“Not at all,” Cushing said. “Now, Maverick seems…dedicated, almost obsessed.”
Jet laughed, shaking her head and taking a drag from the cigarette.
“Are you surprised he hasn’t given up by now?” Cushing asked.
“No, I’m not surprised he hasn’t given up. He won’t. He’ll lay down and die in the bottoms.”
“What happened between you guys?” Brian asked.
“I ask the questions,” Cushing said.
“Relax, we’ll dub you in,” Brian sighed.
“I don’t know, it wasn’t…it was a lot of things. What’s the word? Resentment! A lot of…resentment. I mean, of course there is that one thing, there’s always the straw. You’ll have to ask him.”
“He’s not exactly forthcoming about your relationship,” Cushing said. “Or anything to do with his family. Only his search. His quest, if you will.”
“You’ll have to ask him. If he wants to say something, he will.”
Jet took another drag, releasing the smoke with a tired exhale.
“Actually, ask him about the letter. Or the feet.”
“The feet?” Cushing asked. “You mean the casts he has?”
“No, not those,” Jet said. “He’d kill me for saying anything, but ask him about the feet. He’ll know.”
“Why don’t you tell us?” Brian asked.
“All I’m gonna say is the last time he saw the monster was right before his daddy left him.”
“His father ran off, correct?” Cushing asked, exchanging glances with Brian.
“Yeah, right after that time he said he shot at it or whatever. Just came home and he was gone.”
“Jet! Oh shut up, ya little bastard,” a voice yelled at the barking dog in the living room.
“That’s my husband,” Jet smiled.
“I didn’t know you were remarried,” Cushing said. “Does he know Maverick?”
“Yes,” Jet said, as Roman entered the room with a grease-stained bag of hamburgers. “They know each other.”
“Oh hey guys,” Roman said. He turned to Jet, giving her a kiss on the cheek. “I talked to these guys yesterday.”
“I guess it might seem a little weird,” Jet said.
“Hey, if you wanna catch Mav, I think he’s going down to the bottoms tomorrow,” Roman said, unwrapping his burger.
Jet tossed the cigarette and closed the kitchen door.
“Is there anything else?” She asked.
“What do you think she meant by ‘the feet’?” Cushing asked.
Brian kept his eyes focused on the road, the van bouncing along the uneven asphalt.
“I don’t know,” Brian said. “I don’t know if we should ask though.”
He waited for Cushing to laugh.
“You really don’t think so?” Cushing finally asked, drumming his fingers on the armrest.
“The guy is on the edge,” Brian said. “He burnt down his house. We didn’t find any insights meeting his wife, did we?”
“We found out his wife is fucking his best friend,” Cushing sighed.
“Not best friend. Only friend.” Brian said.
Cushing brought up Maverick’s dad. The man who vanished after Maverick shot the monster. The man even Maverick said was a practical joker. The man who said the monster was the key to permanently ending the threat of the reservoir.
“No,” Brian said. “I know where you’re going. One, no way. No way did that happen.”
“Look at what he said, it makes complete sense! It would be huge. He would have closure.”
“No,” Brian said. “He would be fucking shattered and you’d have a dramatic centerpiece. Come on, man. We got enough. I can edit this; I can make it great. Let’s leave the guy alone.”
“We don’t have anything yet! We need this, otherwise the film fails and so do we,” Cushing said.
“How does it fail? We finished it. We could make a great film. It’s no more a failure than Maverick.”
“Maverick Casey,” Cushing laughed. “Is a huge failure.”
“Why? Because he spent his life searching for something important to him?”
“Because he didn’t make money! He lives in a goddamn food truck,” Cushing yelled.
“Money is not the measure of success,” Brian sighed.
“It is in this country, buddy,” Cushing laughed.
“Come on man. Remember when we down in San Antonio for that Chupacabra episode. I took you to the toilet seat museum.”
“Yes. Icy outside and you took me to a barn filled with toilet seats an old man painted. An unheated barn, by the way. Yes, and I still hate you for it.”
“Happiest man I ever met and he made like no money painting and gluing stuff to toilet seats. You don’t need money.”
“For all we know he has a trust fund somewhere and is just slumming. Or crazy,” Cushing said, crossing his arms.
“You’re a sad and cynical man,” Brian said.
“Because I’m older than you. Because I’ve seen terrible things happen to good people, to great people. You’re a kid. Name one moment of adversity you ran into. One moment where things went horribly wrong and you could do nothing about it.”
“That’s not the point,” Brian said.
Brian stopped responding, concentrating on the road as if they were navigating a stretch of icy freeway instead of old dry asphalt.
The brakes squeaked as the van stopped in front of the hotel. Cushing felt the vibration of the phone in his pocket.
John Alvarez was calling. Cushing thought about ignoring the call, but feared Alvarez may be tempted to visit him in Ventura, where he should be ending his first week of rehab.
Cushing answered, Alvarez screamed into the phone. Brian stopped at his door, watching Cushing pace the parking lot.
“Where am I? Ventura. Rehab. They just now let me have my phone back.”
Brian couldn’t believe it. Cushing faked rehab to shut down production and make his documentary.
“How did you find out? You visited me? Seriously?” Cushing almost laughed.
Brian took vacation time. Vacation time he earned. So what if he was helping Cushing, he couldn’t get into trouble, could he?
“I know. I know we were supposed to be in Baja. But you have to trust me, I got something better! This is good stuff-what?”
Brian opened the door and turned up the AC unit. He closed the door behind him, watching Cushing add a little more frenzy to his pace.
“Replace me? You’re firing me? Who is going to take my place, huh? That asshat in the monkey suit?”
Brian shook his head. Brian knew this was coming, the constant antagonism, the lack of professionalism, it all caught up with the guy. Cushing was finally being canned.
“No,” Cushing begged. “This is better than squids, this is real! We’re talking cover-ups! Trust me, when you see-look, there are some major things that have happened here and I don’t think anybody really understands what’s actually going on. We’re talking murder, monsters, creepy southern people, everything!”
Cushing stood still, his head down, watching the pavement.
“Fine, then come get your shit yourself. I have a show to film. Wait? What about Brian?”
Looks like I’m being called back, Brian thought. Cushing will have to finish the film himself.
“Look, Brian had no part in this. He took vacation time and decided to help me out, you can’t-you son of a bitch. Well, fuck you too.”
Cushing stared at the phone before throwing it against the side of the van, where it shattered like an old bottle.
“Ah shit, my phone,” Cushing sighed.
Brian walked over the Cushing, his hands in his pocket.
“So, what was that about?” Brian asked.
“We’ve been fired,” Cushing said, kicking at the remnants of his phone.
Brian exhaled slowly and leaned back against the van.
“So, when you said you cleared it with everyone, the production was taking a break and I could help you…?”
“I faked a rehab stint. I hoped we could finish the film and I could show up a little late in Ventura. My lawyer said he could fake more paperwork,” Cushing said.
“So, I’m fired?” Brian asked.
“You really didn’t know about the rehab thing? How?”
“No Internet! Airplane mode! Simple life, remember?” Brian yelled.
“Wonderful,” Cushing sighed.
“What do I do? What now?” Brian asked.
“Sorry, Brian, really I am,” Cushing said. He started to put a hand on Brian’s shoulder. Instead, Brian withdrew a fist from his pocket and punched the side of the van.
His fist gave a thud and left a dent in the side panel. Brian slid to the ground and screamed.
“Why did you do that?” Cushing cried.
“Because it was that or cave your fucking face in!” Brian screamed.
Cushing leapt back. Brian pulled himself up and pushed past Cushing, pacing in the lot.
“I’m out of a job. I got fired from this, this…this shit show! I won’t work again. Who would hire me? Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck.”
“Hey,” Cushing offered. “Just breathe man, you know, try to stay positive and what not-”
“Fuck off! You know how hard it is to find a gig like this? Or any gig anywhere? Hell, I could apply to fucking McDonalds and have to go up against nine thousand seniors looking for the same job!”
“I know some people, okay,” Cushing said. “Plus! Plus, we got the film. This could help.”
“The film could help,” Brian whispered, rubbing his eyes.
“Yes!” Cushing said, forcing a smile.
“This film is everything,” Brian said. “We gotta talk to him about the feet. About his dad.”
“Wait, you said,” Cushing started.
“That was when I had a fucking job! Now? Now we gotta cut throats,” Brian said, teeth clenched and spittle flying from his lips. To Cushing, it seemed every negative or cynical thought Brian buried inside him came bursting forth, having waited two decades for a little push. Brian strode back to the hotel, moving to the left to push past Cushing.
“I’m sorry!” Cushing called as the door to Brian’s room slammed shut.
Cushing grabbed coffee and donuts. He knocked on Brian’s door, which slowly opened. Inside the room was dark.
He turned on the light. On the floor were a pile of ashes and burnt paper.
“My copy of the Bhagavad Gita. Also, a Gideon Bible. Fuck enlightenment, you know?”
Cushing jumped; Brian stepped out of the bathroom. Clean-shaven. Short hair.
“Did you get a haircut? How?” Cushing asked.
“I was doing some thinking,” Brian said, buttoning up a dress shirt.
“Are you wearing slacks?” Cushing asked.
“I was only content because I had money. It wasn’t the yoga or the Tao or innate sense of right and wrong. It was money that paid bills. Now, I have no money and I see the truth.”
“This is like a very mundane, but terrifying, horror movie,” Cushing said.
“We’re making a movie,” Brian said. He turned around and went to the dresser. There was a bottle of wine; he poured it into two glasses with spiders and webbing etched onto them. “Sorry about the glasses, this is all the dollar store had.”
“Plastic, huh?” Cushing said.
“We’re making a movie, James. It will be a success. But only if we do things my way.”
“Are you trying to look like Gordon Gekko or the Macaulay Culkin in The Good Son?”
“Cheers,” Brian said.
Maverick heard shoes scrape the gravel of his driveway. When Cushing neared the remnants of Maverick’s house, he found the monster hunter sitting on the ground with a bottle and a book. The bottle: whiskey. The book: On the Track of Unknown Animals.
“It’s a classic,” Maverick said, holding up the tattered paperback. “Bernard Heuvelmans’ masterpiece.”
“Just glad it’s not ashes,” Cushing said. He lowered himself on the grass next to Maverick.
“We used to have real scientists looking, you know? People like Heuvelmans or Grover Krantz. They took it seriously. In the 60s I knew they’d find him. If not them, then me, you know? Then the 70s. The 80s. The 90s. The 2000s. You get it.”
Brian insisted Cushing find Maverick.
“Get the fucking story, we need it or your little film is dead in the water,” Brian said.
Cushing found himself fondly reminiscing on the Brian who went location scouting and never said more than three words to him. Fuck, Cushing thought. I broke Brian.
“You know, we came close. The cripplefoot prints. Found in ‘69. They show a creature with a broken or deformed foot. The detail is incredible; you can see bone structure! Not enough. Patterson-Gimlin film. No one, even today, can replicate it. Not enough. You know, both of those guys, the one who filmed Bigfoot, wished they’d never seen it.”
“Do you think that?” Cushing asked.
“Not until yesterday,” Maverick laughed. “Maybe I should have had an image. Grabbed a cowboy hat or wore crazy clothes like Gerhard or Blackburn.”
The names seemed familiar to Cushing. He had probably interviewed or mocked at least a few of them. He knew that Coleman guy refused to appear on the show now.
“I could have hired a publicist! Maybe wrote a book like Jet said. My mom wouldn’t have died in a shitty trailer.”
“This place burned up quick, didn’t it?” Cushing finally said.
“It did,” Maverick said. “At least I got rid of all those fucking clippings.”
“At least you still have half a house,” Cushing offered.
“I’d say a third,” Maverick said, offering the bottle to Cushing.
Maverick seemed impressed that Cushing took his drink without cough or twisted facial expressions. Like most in the entertainment business, Cushing drank. Whiskey, for him, was attractive due to his connection to the westerns he devoured as a latchkey kid. The men, covered in dust and sweat, would saunter up to this rotted wood bar and get a drink. They pause, look it over, and down the hatch.
Cushing liked westerns.
Maverick enjoyed monster movies.
Cushing told Maverick about he and Brian’s employment issues.
“So, what are you gonna do now?” Maverick asked.
“Finish your documentary,” Cushing said. “What else?”
“It’s your legacy. And probably mine, too. The fuckers canned me. Just you and me. And Brian,” Cushing said.
“Ah. Guess it better turn out good, huh?” Maverick laughed. “Well, thanks.”
“No thanks needed, we have a deal,” Cushing said.
“Well,” Maverick coughed. “You won’t have much more to do.”
Before Cushing could respond, Maverick stumbled to his feet. Cushing admonished him for being a lightweight, proudly proclaiming his ability to handle his liquor to drinking away the sorrows of American Myths and Monsters.
“Oh God, come on,” Maverick laughed. “There are jobs out there that are way worse. Way worse. You weren’t digging ditches.”
“So at least I can say it was better than digging ditches. Maybe in another universe there’s a me digging ditches, a me that would kill to have hosted that shitty show.”
“What are you talking about?” Maverick asked.
“We had a guy on the show talking about multiple universes, that every time you make a decision, no matter how small, it creates an entire universe. You decided to drink a Dr. Pepper instead of Pepsi, there’s two universes you created right there,” Cushing explained.
“That sounds like a load of bullshit,” Maverick sighed.
“Coming from a professional Bigfoot hunter?” Cushing said. Maverick smiled and took a drink. Cushing continued.
“So, I always imagine these universes, where I’m rich and famous, or destitute and forgotten. I wonder which ones are the better ones. Which one I’m happiest in. Or am I the same in them all?”
“You,” Maverick said. “You seem like the kinda guy who could be sharing a bed with twenty supermodels in a mansion on the hill and still find shit to complain about.”
Cushing agreed. Maybe he was unable to find satisfaction in anything. Instead, he must always place an impossible goal in front of him. God help him if he reaches it. At one point, he would have been thrilled to be hosting a TV show, no matter what station or subject matter.
Cushing knew Brian would be anxious to know what Maverick said. He couldn’t wait anymore.
“We talked to Jet. She mentioned some footprints?” Cushing asked.
Maverick narrowed his eyes at the half-burnt trailer home. “I don’t know what she’s talking about.”
Cushing mentioned the letter. That Jet refused to say a single word on the subject, but suggested they ask Maverick himself.
Maverick walked back to the monstomobile, ignoring Cushing’s calls. Cushing jogged over to him.
“You wanted a documentary. So, I’m documenting. The good with the bad.”
“I’m not dumb. I’m a joke to you. I know that. I’m a joke to everyone. I also know you’re my only chance to leave something behind. A record, a legacy. Even if it’s this.”
“I don’t think you’re a joke,” Cushing said. Maverick shook his head and opened the creaking truck door.
“Fine! I thought you were an uneducated, backwards hick,” Cushing said.
“What do you think now?”
“You’re still an uneducated, backwards hick. But you’re like me. You want to do something different, make your mark on the world. Why are you still chasing this thing?”
“To prove it exists,” Maverick said.
“No, there’s more. Something else is pushing you.”
Maverick shut the door to the monstomobile. He scratched the back of his neck, asking Cushing what he meant by that.
“You think you’re destined to prove it exists. You’re destined to do something great. Everyone thinks they’re destined for greatness, but few try, and even fewer succeed.”
“Did you?” Maverick asked.
Cushing laughed, a genuine laugh, deep and embarrassing. His greatest accomplishment career-wise was American Myths and Monsters. He wanted to do Shakespeare on Broadway. He wanted to do edgy plays about drugs and fucking off-Broadway. He wanted to star in movies knowing all those little fucks that pushed him around in high school would be sitting in the audience, watching him be great.
“It’s not over yet. For me or you. I’m saying we do this. I’ll go with you, fuck it, we’ll leave the cameras behind.”
And we could do something great, Maverick thought.
“Tempting. Very tempting. But I think we should finish the documentary,” Maverick said.
The pieces were moving, Cushing thought.
“No, can’t do that. Because you’re holding out on me,” Cushing said. Maverick started to protest, but Cushing pushed.
“Jet hinted out some pretty provocative stuff, fake feet and lost letters…and my star! My star is holding out on me.”
“A star, huh?” Maverick asked.
“Of this little film? Definitely. Come on, just tell me.”
“Fine. But I don’t know if I want it in the documentary.”
“We’ll play it by ear. Let’s hear it,” Cushing said, taking a seat on the ground and looking up at Maverick as if he were an eager pupil.
Maverick Casey took a moment, leaning back on the van and watching the swaying treetops.
“The feet?” He said finally. “I found them after my mom died. She hid them from me. I was going through her stuff, seeing what to keep and what to trash and found them. Wooden cut outs of giant human footprints, nailed to the bottom of some old work boots.”
Cushing struggled to his feet, barely suppressing his excitement.
“Whoa…that had to be…”
“Disheartening to say the least,” Maverick sighed.
Cushing asked about the note.
“And the note, she’d wrote it years before, telling me it wasn’t real, dad faked it.”
“So, there was no monster?” Cushing asked.
“It didn’t say that,” Maverick said quickly. “It just said dad faked it. Some of it.”
Cushing leaned back on his elbows, raising his eyebrows.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Maverick said.
“So, she let you keep running around hunting monsters,” Cushing started.
“No! Wait, okay, just listen,” Maverick said. “In this note, dated January 7, 1988, she told me how they first wanted to build the reservoir in the mid-1950s. That’s around when up in California they first found those tracks and coined the term “Bigfoot.” So dad, he got an idea.”
“Convince people there was this monster in the woods, it might delay the reservoir. Have scientists and stuff looking for Bigfoot. People can keep their land, and no one is hurt.”
Cushing countered that a petition might have worked a little better and would have saved his dad wearing fake feet and a costume.
Maverick explained that his dad based his idea of the Nobility monster on an older story of the Wildman of the Thicket. Once Maverick saw the monster and started being mocked by his peers, his dad would sneak into the woods to scare people, including Maverick.
“I didn’t feel so crazy, knowing it was out there. I would catch a quick look, but nothing like that first time.”
“It was him the whole time? Then why-?” Cushing started to ask.
“No, no, you see, there was a monster. A real one,” Maverick explained. “Jet always struggled with this as well. That’s what I saw. That’s what I shot. That day I hit it, I ran home to tell dad, but he already left.”
How did he not see? Cushing thought.
“Yeah, Jet mentioned that. Your dad disappeared the same day you shot the monster.”
“He left, he didn’t disappear,” Maverick corrected.
“He just drove away?” Cushing asked.
“Well, he left his truck. But yeah, he was gone. Left my momma and me. I came home, told her I shot the monster and she was crying. I guess she had already found out he left.”
Cushing stood up.
“Did he leave a note? Did she report him missing?”
“Why you asking?” Maverick asked. “This isn’t part of the documentary.”
No, Cushing thought. This is. This is the big twist. The finale. Just see it, Maverick.
“And no idea where he went?” Cushing asked.
“Never knew. Momma and him never exactly got along,” Maverick shrugged.
“So, he was willing to dress up like a monster to save your home? That’s crazy, but that’s not the kind of dad that runs out. My dad drank Mad Dog 20/20 like it was on tap and took turns wailing on my brother and me. That’s the kind of dad that walks out,” Cushing said.
“Well,” Maverick said. “When I got home dad was gone. Mom was tore up pretty bad, wouldn’t even look at me for the longest.”
Cushing asked how Maverick’s father left without a truck. Did he hitchhike? Did a friend pick him up? Maverick struggled to respond.
“And first thing you told your mom was you shot it?”
“Yeah,” Maverick nodded.
“You ever think that might be the reason she never gave you that letter?”
“What are you talking about?” Maverick asked.
“Maverick?” Cushing said, scratching his chin. “Don’t take this the wrong way…I think you killed your dad.”
Here Be Monsters
“Real shame about his old man running off like he did. Never figured him for that type that would leave a little kid behind. No wonder Casey was so screwed up. Nobody was around to knock some sense into him.” –Matt C, Nobility resident
“Yeah, I heard the rumor. Everybody did after…well, you know. I think he knew personally, I think this whole Bigfoot thing was to cover his ass.” –Wes W, Nobility resident
“Damn shame, really. Damn shame.” –Lyra S, Nobility resident
“He didn’t take it so well,” Cushing sighed. He drummed his fingers on a cup of coffee.
“Well, no shit,” Jet said, leaning against the stove. “Why did you have to say that?”
“It seemed obvious!” Cushing said.
“We needed it for the film,” Brian said, turning the phone on the tiny adjustable tripod towards Jet.
“Are you fucking kidding me? You’re filming this? Right now?” Jet said.
Cushing kicked at Brian’s legs from under the table. Brian sat the phone down on the table, adjusting the shot slightly while Cushing and Jet continued their discussion.
“Why did you have to say that? Have you talked to him at all since?” Jet asked.
“No,” Cushing said. “He’s locked himself in his monster car.”
“Monstomobile,” Jet corrected. “And it’s a food truck that’s like a hundred years old. Kick the door open. Jesus.”
Cushing thought about doing just that. But he remembered that the monstomobile was where Maverick stored his bigfooting supplies, including his rifle.
“I keep telling Roman to get over there and check on him,” Jet said, raising her voice on the last words.
“He don’t need me checking up on him,” Roman yelled from the living room.
“You’re his friend!” Jet called, pushing herself off the stove. Brian inched the camera to the left with his index finger, sipping coffee and scanning the ceiling with his eyes.
Roman walked into the kitchen, pulling on a shirt and wearing cut-off sweat pants.
“He’s a grown man, he don’t wanna talk,” Roman said.
Jet replied with a harsh stare.
“Don’t do that,” Roman said.
Jet crossed her arms.
“Stop it. Come on, now,” Roman said, dropping his arms at his side.
Jet’s eyes burrowed into Roman’s, he refused to look away, as if they were wolves engaged in a display of dominance.
“Fine! I’m going,” Roman said, turning around and cursing under his breath on his way back to the living room.
“See that?” Jet smiled, motioning to the living room. “That’s how I got a new car and tickets to Travis Tritt without saying one word. Also don’t have to do that one thing Roman used to bug me for all the time. I’m married, I paid my dues.”
Outside, Roman yanked open the truck door and hopped inside. Slamming the door, he noticed Cushing jogging over to him.
“Hey,” Cushing said. “You going over there now?”
“I am,” Roman said, starting the truck. “And you’re not.”
“Hey, it’s cool,” Cushing said. “I’m just worried.”
Roman chuckled and shut off the engine. He looked at Cushing and motioned him with his index finger to come closer. When Cushing did, he felt a calloused palm land on the back of his neck, pulling him close to Roman, close enough to smell the beer and snuff emanating from his breath.
“I know you,” Roman said. “Maverick’s got his back to the wall. He thinks he needs you and that’s all right with you cause you can use desperate. Desperate works. Desperate does whatever the fuck you want it to do.”
Roman gripped Cushing’s neck harder.
“Just know, if you make this into a joke at my buddy’s expense, I will castrate you. That’s not an empty threat. My dad owned pigs. I can do it with surgical precision and tiny rubber bands, buddy,” Roman smiled. “We clear?”
“As crystal,” Cushing said.
Roman released his grip and turned the key, the engine chugged to life. Cushing backed away several feet.
“You send him those pictures. You hooked up with his ex. But I’m the bad guy?” Cushing asked.
“That’s different,” Roman said. “I’m his friend.”
“So,” Brian asked. “You have him admitting all these amazing things, coming to terrible realizations, and you don’t record it?”
Cushing dropped the plastic menu on the table.
“You’re the cameraman.”
“And you have a phone. Not a good one, but I could make it work.”
“Are you wearing an American flag pen? And a suit jacket?”
“You dress for the job you want, not the one you have,” Brian said.
“Who are you?”
“A man who lost his inner fucking peace!” Brian yelled, slamming a fist on the table. Eyes in the diner turned to them. “And I need this to work to get it back.”
“Okay, sorry, sorry. Look, it was a personal moment, okay? He needs to know we’re here for him or he won’t say anything to us. I know what I’m doing.”
“Good,” Brian said.
“We could try interviewing more people,” Cushing offered.
“We hit a wall with that. Except the two old guys, we could use that now,” Brian said.
“Fuck those ancient bastards,” Cushing said.
“Look at you with empathy,” Brian said. “This is like a less sexy Freaky Friday.”
Of the few people willing to talk to them, Dwyer and Sims, claimed to know Franklin pretty well.
“He was full of shit!” Dwyer laughed.
“Couldn’t trust a word he said,” Sims said. “Still sad what happened though.”
Cushing asked Sims to clarify. He started to laugh.
“Why you ain’t figured it out yet?” Sims laughed.
The waitress cleared her throat. Cushing jumped.
“Sorry, I was thinking about something,” Cushing said.
“She doesn’t care,” Brian said.
“I really don’t. Now, what can I start you off with to drink?”
“You got Sierra Mist?” Cushing asked.
Stupid fucks, Roman thought, looking at the monstomobile. If Maverick wanted to avoid people, he would stay where no one would look. They were knocking on the door of an empty food truck.
The right half of the house, the living room portion, remained a pile of ash and exposed wiring. A gaping hole exposed the remaining half of the trailer.
“Well goddamn, Maverick,” Roman sighed.
Roman was shocked the porch still stood and didn’t collapse under his feet. The door was locked and unlikely to be opened voluntarily. Instead, Roman took his maxed-out gas card and slid it into the space between the door and frame and gripped the knob with his other hand. He slid the card up and down until he heard the click and turned the knob.
“You could’ve just knocked,” Maverick called from the living room, feet dangling off the edge of the remaining half of his house.
“You would’ve answered?” Roman smiled, stuffing the card in his back pocket.
“You could’ve taken the hint,” Maverick said.
“Coulda, woulda, shoulda. Instead I just picked your lock with a credit card.”
“You picked the lock? This entire half of the house is open,” Maverick laughed.
“Yeah, but I would have got ash all over the floor. Seemed rude, you know?” Roman said, sitting on the recliner, causing a stack of TV guides to collapse.
“Hope those weren’t in order or anything.”
“You’re an asshole,” Maverick said.
Roman leaned back in the chair and offered Maverick a guestroom in their house, before immediately realizing that may be awkward.
“What are you doing here?” Maverick asked.
“Checkin’ on ya,” Roman replied.
Maverick nodded his head.
“She do that staring thing?” Maverick asked.
“Oh yeah,” Roman said.
“I hated that,” Maverick said.
“It sucks,” Roman sighed.
Maverick returned his gaze to the view outside the crumbling half of his home. Roman pulled himself out of the recliner, the leather peeling away from his arms like a bandage.
“You know, you can hear them building the dam from the highway. Tearing down trees,” Roman said.
“Yeah. You don’t see any animals out there. No deer or turkey,” Maverick said.
Roman suggested they take a walk. He could take pictures of the woods on his phone.
“Why?” Maverick asked.
“To remember how the woods used to look,” Roman said.
“I have my memories,” Maverick said.
“Unless you get Alzheimer’s. Then you’ll be glad you have pictures.”
“If I have Alzheimer’s I won’t know what the pictures are of,” Maverick said.
Roman reminded him that the nurses at the home would tell him what the pictures depicted.
“If I got Alzheimer’s you’d put me in a home?” Maverick asked.
“Well, actually,” Roman said. “It won’t. Because you’ll have Alzheimer’s.”
Maverick laughed and drew his legs up onto the burnt edge of the house.
“So, look, the reason I came to talk to you,” Roman started.
“Didn’t shoot my dad, Roman,” Maverick interrupted.
“Ah. So this wallowing in self-pity thing is completely unrelated, then?”
“Shouldn’t you be nailing my ex-wife?” Maverick muttered.
“Oh, there’s time for that, for sure,” Roman said, sitting down next to Maverick. “Right now I just want to know how you’re doing. For real. Not to get all mushy and all, but you can talk to me.”
“I’m not a murderer,” Maverick said.
“You were a kid,” Roman said.
“I was twelve,” Maverick said.
“Exactly,” Roman said. “A kid. Frank was a shit, he liked to fuck with people. This time…look, you weren’t going around dressed up like a monster to mess with some kids. If that’s what happened, it was an accident. A terrible fucking accident.”
Maverick looked at the empty spot on the wall, where his poster of himself as a monster hunter once hung, framed by Jet. The poster survived the fire, initially.
“I shouldn’t have just fired. I should’ve got a closer look. You know, when I found the letter Jet said she wished I could’ve talked to my mom. I’m glad I didn’t.”
“I wouldn’t have either. Paula was a scary woman. No one who smoked that much should have lived for that long. She might have been a witch.”
“When I find it, when I find the monster…I didn’t shoot my dad. I don’t think I did,” Maverick said, diverting his eyes to the ground.
“So, that’s it then? No movie?”
Maverick looked up at Roman, confusion across his face.
“Why are you doing this? That asshole is just using you!” Roman said.
“And I’m using him,” Maverick corrected. “We both get something out of this.”
Roman reminded him again that there was nothing out there. In fact, not even Maverick, who spent nearly every day of his life in the bottoms had seen the creature.
“We don’t know that. Not for sure,” Maverick said.
“Buddy, come on,” Roman sighed.
“My dad might have been dressing up but he wasn’t the only thing out there, there were sightings long before he was even born-”
Roman shook his head. After all these years Roman could continue the entire debate on by himself. The sightings? Only Maverick’s dad ever heard about them. Roman never heard any stories, no one did. Maverick’s dad was a joker, messing with people. People knew not to trust a word out of his mouth.
“You want me quit?” Maverick asked.
“Jet wanted me to quit,” Maverick said.
“Still does,” Roman said.
“Over fifty years. And then I just…stop?” Maverick smiled.
“Look, no one thinks any less of you for being tricked,” Roman said.
“I’m not stopping,” Maverick said.“Because what’s the alternative? If I don’t find anything what does that mean?”
Roman placed a hand on Maverick’s shoulder.
“You’re a grown man, you do what you think is right.”
Maverick smiled. “Thank you.”
“I’m still here…you know…for you,” Roman said.
“Stop that shit,” Maverick said.
“All right, asshole,” Roman said, standing up. “See you later.”
“Later dickhead,” Maverick said.
Roman walked to the door and stopped, turning towards the empty spot on the wall.
“What happened to your poster?”
“Didn’t survive the fire. Why?”
“Nothing,” Roman said. “I just always liked it.”
“Yeah, we heard, people have been saying as much for years now. Maverick’s old man was an odd duck, with him out pretending to be a monster and his son out trying to catch one something was bound to happen. And no, we’re not opening an investigation or anything. What would it help? There’s no body, no sign of foul play. It wouldn’t do anyone any good. Besides, who would we arrest? That sad bastard has had enough go wrong in his life, I’m not piling on any more.” –Sheriff Glaser, Nobility resident
“When I was a kid my buddies and I would follow him down to the woods and throw rocks and stuff at him. Then we see him on History Channel thing and he’s talking about how the “monster” is territorial and will throw rocks when people get too close. Now, that shit was funny.” –Wes W, Nobility resident
At night, the woods are a cacophony of insects and animals, slinking into the cool night after spending a day escaping the sweltering heat. Not that Cushing found the night much cooler. The sweat caused his clothes to cling to his body just as earnestly.
Brian insisted on accompanying them. They needed night shots, he said. Brian spent his days hunched over his laptop and consulting his phone, his Internet embargo lifted, to set up time in editing suites and talk to potential backers.
“The festival circuit ain’t cheap, James,” Brian said.
Cushing found himself sleeping less, but his film was rarely on his mind. His subject, the great monster hunter, wandered into his thoughts. Cushing saw a man who with no father, a broken mother, and alone.
The resemblance is uncanny.
“You sure you’re up to this?” Cushing asked.
Maverick said he was. Of course, wandering the woods at this time of night didn’t appeal to him. With Cushing and Brian in tow, the creature would never let itself be seen.
He had a better shot alone. In a few days, he would take that shot with one final journey.
“I mean,” Cushing continued. “Reshooting the big reveal about your dad seemed to be pretty draining.”
“That’s because you made me do it forty-seven times. Doesn’t matter, because it isn’t true. He left. End of story.”
“Are you sure?” Brian asked.
Cushing nudged Brian sharply, who responded with a punch in Cushing’s ear, never taking his eye off the phone screen.
“Fuck,” Cushing said, rubbing his ear vigorously. “You sure you don’t want to take a break?”
“And quit? What about your comeback?” Maverick asked.
“I’m not saying we quit, I’m just saying we take a break. You’re exhausted. Are you even sleeping?”
Maverick laughed. He preferred not sleeping. He swore he heard the scratching of exposed finger bones on the door of his monstomobile.
“Look at you,” Maverick said. “No funny comments? No rolling your eyes at me?”
“I’m trying to talk to you,” Cushing sighed.
“You’re falling behind, catch up,” Maverick said.
“Maverick is focused on the prize, James,” Brian said.
“Fuck off and record, Brian,” Cushing said. “Look, maybe that’s not what happened, maybe your dad just ran off?” Cushing jogged up to Maverick.
“Yeah, if I’m lucky maybe my dad just didn’t love me.”
“Hmm. Guess there’s no win in this scenario, is there?” Cushing said.
“Explains why mom hid the note. If it is true. Hunting monsters is better than prison, I suppose,” Maverick shrugged.
Cushing stopped. “What I don’t understand is why you’re still out here. I mean, you saw the wooden feet. Your dad disappears the same day you shoot the monster, what are we looking for?”
Maverick trudged on into the grass and brush. Cushing watched him continue into dark, Brian on his heels. Cushing felt an itch on his leg and quickly pulled up the pant leg, scanning his flesh with a light form his phone for ticks before catching up with Brian and Maverick.
When Cushing found him, Maverick was sitting on a large rock, one of many surrounding an old fire pit, green strings of young grass jutting up from the ash in the pit.
“Maybe dad pretended to be the monster once or twice, but he wasn’t there that day. There’s something out here, and I intend to find it,” Maverick said as Cushing sat on one of the small boulders.
I should stop, Cushing thought. This would be a better film. Let him believe and then die in the woods, chasing phantoms. I should stop, he told himself again.
“Let’s think for a second-” Cushing started.
If I want a great film, I should keep my mouth shut.
“Just hear me out,” Cushing continued.
“I know what you’re doing,” Maverick said. “Brian told me.”
“What are you talking about?” Cushing asked, glancing at Brian, who shrugged and turned his attention back to the phone screen.
“You’re trying to pretend to be friends. We’re not friends. You need a project and I need a legacy. We both have something to prove.”
“Casey-Mav, Maverick, listen to me,” Cushing said, placing a hand on Maverick’s shoulder.
Maverick stood, swiping away the hand.
“No, fuck you! I know what you’re doing, you got canned and now you want to make sure this little movie is nice and juicy. This movie is about my search, not my dad.”
“It’s the same thing, Mav. And everyone else knows it but you,” Cushing said. “Your mom knew, those Barney Fife wannabes downtown knew, too. And you know it. I get it, if you find a monster you’re free and clear, but you’re not going to, Mav.”
Brian moved beside them, framing the shot as Maverick stepped toward Cushing, his chest pushed out and arms tense, attempting to suck in his gut.
“Brian is pretending, okay?” Cushing said. “If I cared about nothing but the movie, I would let you wander out there and die. Better ending. But instead I’m trying to talk to you.”
Maverick pushed Cushing, who stumbled back, quickly balancing himself before he tumbled over the rock behind him.
“Okay, Maverick,” Cushing sighed, only for Maverick to respond with a harder push, one that sent him tumbling over the rock.
Spitting dust from his mouth, Cushing stood up.
“What’s up?” Maverick said.
“Are you trying to intimidate me?” Cushing said.
Maverick slapped his hands to his chest, continuing his attempt at an aggressive display. Hoping Brian would assuage the situation, Cushing shook his head while the cameraman moved in for a closer shot.
As Cushing once again pleaded with Maverick to stop, the monster hunter instead pushed Cushing again, averaging approximately one word per push.
“Seriously? Stop it? You want me to seriously stop it? Seriously?”
Cushing again asked Maverick to stop. Maverick responded with a finger jab to Cushing’s chest, telling him and Brian to leave.
Cushing had few memories of his father. But he remembered the finger, jabbed into his chest to make a point or remind Cushing that he was an accident and very much unwanted.
“Better off swallowed.”
With those memories flooding back, the only surprise was how long it took Cushing to finally slam into the old man and force him to the ground.
Brian filmed only the first few seconds of the fight before opting to save the battery life. The two grappled at each other and rolled on the ground. The scene was more akin to foreplay than a battle.
“You going to help?” Cushing yelled.
“I am,” Brian said, holding up the phone with his left arm. “As soon as you girls actually fight I’ll start recording again.”
Gasping for air, with sharp bits of dried grass needling into their clothes, Cushing and Maverick rolled away from each other, their eyes on the cloudless expanse of stars above them.
“Okay,” Cushing heaved. “That was the single saddest fight I’ve ever been in. You didn’t actually record any of that did you?”
“About a minute and a half,” Brian shrugged.
“Lovely,” Cushing said.
Over the sound of his throbbing heart and heavy breathing, Cushing heard Maverick gasp a quick sob. Maverick was still lying on the ground, on his side with his back to Cushing. Cushing stood up.
“Oh God, are you crying? Look, I didn’t mean to hurt you,” Cushing said.
“I’m not crying because of the fight,” Maverick said, taking a deep breath and wiping his eyes. “You hit like a fucking girl.”
“I was holding back, you old bastard,” Cushing said.
“What if you’re right,” Maverick said, sitting up. “What if it was him. It had to be.”
Cushing apologized and Maverick nodded. Brian circled them, his camera trained on them.
“Look, I’ll admit, at first I thought it was something that could really push the documentary over the top. But! But after I got to know you…it’s your call. I won’t put anything in about your dad if you don’t want me to.”
Maverick was as surprised as Cushing.
“Unless you want me too. I mean, obviously we have it on tape. And Mav, it’s good stuff, really.”
“Would be a nice twist, wouldn’t it?” Maverick said, scratching at the back of his neck.
“Nothing earth shattering-for the audience I mean! I didn’t mean you. But it could definitely keep the audience invested.”
“I’ll think about it,” Maverick said. “Hey, you take a look around yet?”
The moon illuminated the remnants of the woods around them. Maverick eyed the quadrant with watery eyes. Trees cut down, rows of stumps, the ground torn and flattened by machinery and trucks.
“Damn,” Brian said. “We need to get some shots in the day.”
Cushing nodded. A bomb could have been dropped.
“Yeah. People that own land are clearing it off, selling the trees for lumber.”
“Yeah, it’s a wasteland…,” Cushing said.
“Might as well be. I’ve seen man-made lakes and reservoirs where the trees were left. They all die, the tops sticking out of the water like a bunch of skeletons trying to stay above the waves. Sad thing to see.
“They stand there, jutting out of the water, like they haven’t given up being what they were before. And they’ll stay there. Long after me and you are gone.”
“So, this really is your last chance, isn’t it?” Cushing said.
“Once the dam is up and the bottoms flood the search is over. I’ll never know what happened. I have to know what I saw, Cushing.”
“You grew up here. And it’s all coming down,” Brian said. “How’s that make you feel?”
“Don’t talk to the talent, Brian,” Cushing said. “Why not move? Didn’t they offer you money?”
“Home’s not just a building, James,” Maverick sighed. “Besides. They didn’t pay me that much.”
“Where you going to go?” Cushing asked.
Maverick laughed and said he would consider moving in with Cushing. He also suggested that he might find his monster. Problem solved, no more reservoir and his legacy intact.
Still going to die, he thought. But at least I leave something behind besides whatever Cushing and Brian plan on editing together.
“You’re getting up there in years, Mav,” Cushing said. “How long you going to be out there?”
“As long as it takes. Worst case? I make a memorable exit,” Maverick shrugged.
Cushing laughed and looked at Brian.
“Let’s take a walk,” Cushing said.
“We’re supposed to be filming. Everything. You barely have enough for a short,” Brian whispered, spittle flying.
“Just stay here,” Cushing said. “Let me talk to him for a minute. We’re not done yet. Just…stay here.”
“Get what we need and get him back here,” Brian said.
I fucked him up, Cushing thought. Jonesy all over again.
Maverick heard Cushing kicking through the brush.
“Would you consider me a friend?” Cushing asked.
“Fuck no,” Maverick laughed.
“Okay,” Cushing said. “What about an acquaintance who wishes you no ill will?”
“Why not?” Maverick said.
“Great,” Cushing said, clapping his hands together. He wiped the sweat from his brow. “As a well-meaning acquaintance, will you be honest with me?”
Maverick nodded, crossing his arms.
“This isn’t a suicide mission, is it?” Cushing asked.
Maverick exhaled. “Well, that depends. Honestly, a lot can go wrong.”
“We’re not here to film a suicide mission, Maverick,” Cushing said.
“No,” Maverick replied. “You’re here to film a failure. You’ll get the tragic, dramatic documentary you hoped for!”
Cushing watched Maverick smile and put his hand in his pockets. Maverick rocked back and forth on his heels.
“I’m not going to kill myself,” Maverick said.
“No, you’ll let the woods do it,” Cushing said. “And don’t think it will make you famous, they can’t get a handsome twenty-something to play you.”
“Fuck off,” Maverick said. “I’m not going to kill myself. But I’m going to give this everything I got. That’s what you want, right? I may not be a winner, but I’m tougher than that. Hell, my wife left me for my best friend and I’m still standing.”
“She left you for Roman?” Cushing asked.
“Well, actually she left me after I found the feet and the note. She met Roman a little while later. You know how it goes.”
“She said she thought you would quit. But you wouldn’t,” Cushing said.
“No, I wouldn’t.”
Cushing and Brian did confront Roman and Jet regarding their relationship. Neither party seemed particularly eager to discuss the manner.
ROMAN: I gotta get to work, guys. I saw Jet at the Trip and Go every morning before work…it just happened. She wasn’t happy, hell, Mav told me he wasn’t happy. I told Mav myself, we didn’t sneak around. He was upset, hell, if it was me…but…he got over it.
JET: I do love Maverick. It’s in a different way, I don’t know…the way you love a kid. Like, I feel like Roman and I look after him. We check on him, we listen to his stories. I mean, I’m supposed to throw out the pizzas after work but I give them to Mav so he can bait the damn thing. You believe that? He baits his monster with cold pizza. Or maybe he eats it himself and has too much pride to admit it.
Cushing: He talked to us about his dad. The note. Everything.
Jet: He told you about his dad? Yeah. Do you see now? It was obsession, a…a blind obsession. I couldn’t keep pretending I believed him. I stopped loving him. It sounds cruel, but I couldn’t. Not anymore.
Cushing: What do you think of his plan, his last expedition?
Jet: Yeah, yeah I heard his plan. Going out alone, staying in the woods for as long as it takes. This obsession has taken everything else from him, all that’s left is his life.
ROMAN: Yeah, this ain’t a camping trip. This is his “hell or high water” trip. He thinks this is it, and…he’s probably right. Woods will be under water pretty soon.
The Lost Expedition
“People wanted jobs, so I got the ball rolling on Lake Kenneth. We’d been trying to get this reservoir built for decades. Brought a lot of money into the town, put a lot of people to work, too. Of course, people who lived out by the bottoms kept holding it up. Especially Mr. Casey and his family. I don’t see what the big deal is, they can buy another house. Homes a home, right? Plus, with the suburbs you don’t have animals or bugs, just sidewalks, trimmed lawns, and pretty houses. Plus, God knows we have plenty of empty homes out there. Cheap too. Plus! all those run down trailers and nasty houses will be replaced by valuable lake front property. Right nice, if you ask me.” –Janice Thompson, Nobility Mayor
“Cheap houses, huh? That’s what she said? Ha. Maybe for some, but not for me. Not for the people who lived in the bottoms. The woods and the creeks were generous. They gave us what we needed. Not anymore.” –Matt C, Nobility resident
“We ready?” Maverick asked, puffing his chest out and sucking in his stomach. Brian chose the outfit, a complete camouflage ensemble.
“As ever,” Cushing said. “Whenever you’re ready.”
Maverick cleared his throat.
“Here we go, fingers crossed, gentlemen. This is it. This is the real thing. See how long I can make it out there. I think maybe…I think this time. I set some food by some camera traps. Pancakes. I hear they like pancakes, with lots of syrup. Hopefully we got something. I’m out here for as long as it takes. Okay, this is as far as you guys go. Don’t want you spooking the beast any more than those damn bulldozers have.”
“Okay,” Brian said. “Put on your hat, tip it to the camera. Good, good. Grab your bag.”
Maverick leaned down and picked up his pack, struggling to pull the traps over his shoulders.
“Cut!” Brian yelled.
“For fuck’s sake, Brian,” Cushing sighed.
“Hey,” Brian said. “This may be his last time on camera, no offense Maverick.”
Maverick sighed and dropped the bag.
“We can’t blow it,” Brian said.
Maverick nodded in agreement.
“Fine,” Cushing said. “Let’s do it again.”
Jonesy was his mother’s second husband. Cushing hated him on principle. His mother begged him to give Jonesy, an affable man who owned a dry cleaning business, a chance.
Cushing would not. Jonesy lasted two years before he left. Closed up shop, literally, and left town. His mother mourned their marriage.
“It’s just us again, sweetie.”
As a teenager, his mother still pining for her ex and with a slightly more mature perspective, Cushing looked for him. He could fix things. He wanted to fix things. Two cities over, he found a single and much less affable dry cleaner owner.
Cushing approached Jonesy as he drove out a customer for asking for discount since her husband was overseas. He asked Jonesy if he remembered his mother.
“Yeah, I do. I loved that woman.”
Would he talk to her again?
“Fuck that. I remember you, you little shit. Why don’t you go back to your momma, boy?”
Despite what his therapist said, James Cushing knew the truth. He broke people. Jonesy, his mother, Brian. Now, he was sending a broken man into the woods.
James Cushing was tired of breaking people.
Roman: Three days. He falls, breaks his ankle and is out there for three fucking days, I don’t know how he did it. Doctors say he’s fine now, some kids found him. Shit. All he says when I get there is, “Have you checked my camera traps?” I told him not to go out there, I told him I don’t think he’s a failure and I don’t. No, he believed in something and never backed down. He never gave up. Can you guys say that? Can you say you believed in something so much you were willing to risk everything? But I told him…I know I’m a shitty friend, but I’m his friend, I am. Me and Jet love him. We do.
“Hey, at least it didn’t carry me away. There was a guy in the twenties, named Ostman, whole family of them held him captive,” Maverick laughed.
“What the fuck is this movie we’re watching?” Cushing asked.
Cushing brought his laptop and a few DVDs from Maverick’s monstomobile. Currently, they were watching one of Maverick’s favorites, The Legend of Bigfoot, from Maverick’s hospital room.
“The whole thing is fake of course, but I still love it,” Maverick said.
“Why does he pronounce Bigfoot like that? It’s like he has a mini stroke each time.”
Brian took footage of a dehydrated and unconscious Maverick, having little need of an alert and recovering Maverick. Cushing spent most of the week with Maverick, his cash dwindling fast, taken piecemeal by the strange man at the hotel front desk.
“Pneumonia, exposure, dehydration, you’re lucky, Maverick,” Cushing said.
“I’ll be better prepared for round two.”
“The fuck? Round two? Come on man, let’s call it. Brian will do a follow up and we’ll have a great film just shy of my eviction from your town’s lovely hotel.”
“Hey, too close to stop now,” Maverick said.
The second night in the hospital, he woke, or thought he did. From the antiseptic halls he heard the scraping and knew what was coming. He waited the heavy door to swing openly silently as the rotting man carried himself along the floor to Maverick’s bed.
But it never happened.
It didn’t take long for the hospital to find what Dr. Hakimzadeh had known for months. At least, Maverick thought, the hospital wouldn’t tell Jet or Roman, patient-doctor confidentiality ensured that much.
Cushing was talking now, trying to dissuade Maverick, making the same points as Jet and Roman. Maverick watched his movie and nodded when appropriate while Cushing talked.
Let him talk, Maverick thought. I have work to do.
Maverick spent four days in the hospital. He wondered how long until he was turned in to collections. Maybe he would deal with the same company handling his past due gas and electric bills. World Financial had become an integral part of his life, an angry and verbally abusive acquaintance that called on Tuesdays and Thursdays between the hours of 6pm and 9pm.
Coming home, he found the remaining portion of his trailer collapsed following a minor thunderstorm two days prior. The Monstomobile remained standing, but Maverick had no electrical access for his small AC unit.
His movements slowed. He slept more. The doctors pleaded with him to come back.
“I’ve talked to Dr. Hakimzadeh,” Dr. Giles said. “At least have someone move in, watching you. ASAP.”
Like my mother, Maverick wanted to laugh. I can ignore them, stare at them with hateful eyes, like she did. They can feed me painkillers in my sleep for weeks, around the clock, waiting for an end that a hospice nurse swears will arrive any moment.
With the windows down and the humidity bearing down in the face of a coming storm, a shirtless Maverick took a breath and dialed his ex-wife.
The sweat glued him to the front seat. His nerve evaporating, Maverick almost hung up when Jet answered.
“Mav?” She asked.
“How are you?”
“Good. You home now?” She asked.
“I am. Hey, you wanna come by and talk? I just need someone to talk to,” Maverick asked, gripping the armrest.
“You wanna come here? It’s roomier and there’s no fire damage.”
“Nah, that’s fine. That’s fine,” Maverick said.
“Wait, okay,” Jet stammered.
Maverick hung up.
Sleep didn’t come, so Maverick saw the lights moving toward him. Jet came alone. Maverick struggled to put his shirt on.
“You here to wish me good luck?” Maverick asked, hopping out of the truck.
“You’re going back? You about died the last time,” Jet said.
“Last time, that was an accident,” Maverick said. “Won’t happen again.”
Three days. Even in the summer heat, cold managed to seep into his bones. He tried to crawl, even drag himself, but the pain tore up his legs, jumping from nerve to nerve, and dropped him.
Hunger came, but thirst overruled. His throat dry, every breath a flood of knives scrapping along the parched tissue. The heat wrung him out and every crunch of the leaves, usually the work of a small bird or squirrel, was a coming predator in search of a meal.
Maverick wished for death.
“It wasn’t that bad,” Maverick said. “I actually needed the rest, you know?”
“You don’t need to be out there. You’re an old man, hell, we’re all old now,” Jet sighed. “You lost a lot of weight.”
“Doc says it’s coming back,” Maverick lied.
“You’re tired. You look like you’re about to pass out,” Jet said.
“Healthy as I ever was,” Maverick smiled, leaning on the truck.
In three days Maverick never yelled for help. He never screamed for assistance or called out to anyone. During the first two days, this was because he wanted to see it. He wanted to see the Wildman, not as silhouettes on the hill, but in the flesh. He wanted to see its eyes, the humanity in its face contrasted with the animal, the prehistoric in its ape-like form.
He wanted to see it so they would know they were wrong about his father.
He wanted to say goodbye.
“I’m glad you came to see me. Don’t see you much anymore without Roman hanging on, you know.”
“He is my husband,” Jet smiled. “You know we love you. So we don’t want to see-”
“Bullshit. You don’t love me,” Maverick said, shaking his head.
“I do, we both do,” Jet said.
“You pity me,” Maverick said.
Jet let it hang in the air, before finally agreeing with Maverick. She did pity him.
“I don’t want that,” Maverick said. “I don’t want pity.”
“Then Jesus, Mav, what do you want?”
“Fuck, I want you to love me like you did. I want you to look at me like you did-”
“And Roman?” Jet asked.
“The hell with him,” Maverick said. “I know, he’s my friend. But I want you, I want what we had…I just want that.”
“Just listen!” Maverick said, stepping closer to Jet, who guarded herself with crossed arms.
“No, we can’t,” Jet said. “It does no good to talk like that.”
“Even if I threw out my cameras and pushed the monstomobile into the lake? Even if I smashed my tapes and plaster casts. Everyone wants me to quit, Jet.”
“Then do it!” Jet said, her anger cutting the air.
“I will. This one time. I will, right now,” Maverick pleaded. “If we can go back.”
Jet shook her head.
“Please, I’m serious. I’ll quit, cold turkey. Right here, right now. Come on. What do you say?”
Jet was as surprised as Maverick by the tears, blurring her vision and running rivulets down her cheeks.
“What do you say? Come on, Jet,” Maverick whispered, resting his forehead on hers. It wouldn’t be for long, he thought.
Jet said nothing, shaking her head.
“Then I need to get ready,” Maverick said, pulling away. “I have to get some sleep before I go-”
Jet reached forward and grabbed his shirt, balling it up in her fist. She tugged him and he moved closer. She placed one hand on his face and then on his chest. She leaned up, cigarette smoke on her breath, and kissed him, holding her lips still against his.
“What was that?” Maverick asked as she backed away.
“I do love you,” Jet said, her voice cracking. “Just not how you’d like.”
Jet returned to her car, backing down the drive, the lights growing small and vanishing behind the trees.
Morning arrived, and Maverick started packing. He never even heard Cushing approach. Maverick jumped a little to see someone standing so close.
“Where’s the camera?” Maverick asked.
“Don’t need it. We got seventeen versions of your final speech, Brian’s splicing them together right now.”
“Ankles almost completely healed up. Look, Jet and Roman have already tried to talk me out of it, I’m going,” Maverick said.
“I’m not trying to talk you out of it,” Cushing said, watching Maverick fill his pack. Cushing dropped the backpack he had slung over his shoulder.
“Of course not,” Maverick laughed. “We need the big finish.”
“I’m just hoping it’s not a finale,” Cushing said.
“It was a stupid accident, it won’t happen this time,” Maverick said.
He didn’t plan on going too far. In fact, just on the other side of the creek, in quadrant nine. A handful of acres Maverick left unexplored since the day he fired that shot.
He hoped quadrant nine held some absolution for an old monster hunter.
“I have another offer for you,” Cushing said. “Before you say no, hear me out.”
Dropping to his knees, Cushing unzipped the bag he brought with him and pulled out two wooden feet he ordered online, which clattered to the ground.
“We fake it,” Cushing smiled. Maverick shook his head and walked away. Cushing scooped up the feet in his arms and followed.
“Wait, wait, just listen!” Cushing called, jumping in front of Maverick.
“I’m not a fraud,” Maverick said, gritting his teeth.
“We have a suit, we have cameras. The trick is to make the footage just detailed enough to be intriguing, but just shaky enough to be inconclusive. Come on, just think about it.”
“What will that prove? Nothing.”
“That’s not the point,” Cushing said.
“That’s exactly the point!”
“This way, you save face. You bring back footage! People will believe you!”
“They’ll all believe me, huh?” Maverick laughed.
“Well, not most people, but it will help,” Cushing stuttered.
“No one will be suspicious that I get this footage after hanging around the American Myths and Monsters guy?” Maverick asked.
“I’ll say I never believed you. I’ll say I’m just as surprised.”
“You don’t believe me!” Maverick said.
“That’s not the point! I’ll say the footage is compelling, and we need further expeditions. Think about it: What your dad tried to do? We’ll do it! No more reservoir.”
“Even if that worked, and it wouldn’t, we’d have to keep it up, keep faking pictures and prints-”
“We won’t,” Cushing said. “Look, people see what they want to see. You get a bunch of Bigfoot hunters out here and I promise you they’ll start telling stories of howls, and wood knocking, sightings, the whole nine yards. It will be in their heads, but what do you care?”
“I’d know. Everyone that knows me, Roman and Jet, they’d know I sold out.”
“I promise you they’ll be happy for you,” Cushing said.
“And my dad?” Maverick asked. The great explorer, the joker, the man he hated and loved in equal measure.
“We don’t know what happened. You can keep looking, but you don’t need to go out there for days on end. You don’t need to die out there.”
That’s something that can’t be avoided any longer, Maverick thought.
“You think my dad’s out there? What’s left?” Maverick asked.
“I-I don’t know. I really don’t.”
“You think my mom thought that too? That I killed him? See, I always thought they had problems, shit I didn’t know about. Maybe there was more behind their fights than I remembered. But if I did…she hated me. She could barely look at me, even years later. She fucking hated me, James.”
“No,” Cushing said. “If she hated you, you would be in jail. She wouldn’t have bottled it inside until it metastasized and killed her.”
“I’m going,” Maverick said. He picked the bag up, the weight pulling on him more than before.
“Fine. Just give yourself another week. Deal? Just one more week! Look at you, you’re still weak. You look worse than you did in the hospital. Let me go too! Seriously, I’ve been camping, I even hiked a little once.”
“Sorry, James. This is just me.”
Cushing rubbed the back of his head.
“I get it. I do! I get it. You need this, I’m not saying don’t go out there ever, just not right now,” he begged.
“Creeks are rising. The bottoms are being cleared out. You saw it,” Maverick said. He felt exhausted, even after sleeping for fourteen hours. The thing inside was draining his life away, gorging itself on Maverick’s final weeks.
“I’ll erase the tapes! That’s right, no more documentary.”
“Please,” Maverick said, opening the truck to sit down. “You need them as much as I do.”
“Mav, please,” Cushing said. “Come on, man.”
“Look, don’t tell anyone, or at least give me a head start,” Maverick said. “I just need to catch my breath and I’m off.”
“You’ll get a head start, that’s all I’m promising,” Cushing said. “How long you going to be out there? Do you need Brian?”
“As long as it takes. No cameras. I don’t want to risk scaring the monster. If there is one. Hey, you know that stuff about alternate universes you were talking about?”
“Yeah,” Cushing said. “I’m fucking loaded in one of those, you know.”
“I wonder if there’s one where I never saw it. I wonder what happened in that universe…”
“Nothing exciting,” Cushing said.
“You’re probably right,” Maverick smiled.
“And hey, don’t die, okay? Because I may have to dub some of your audio when we start editing. That will be a pain in the ass if you’re dead,” Cushing said.
“Fair enough,” Maverick said, closing his eyes. Cushing left him there, alone in his truck, catching his breath before he went into the bottoms again.
“Where you headed, son?”
“Exploring,” Maverick said.
The Last Days of Maverick Casey
“Hey, maybe he will find it. Back in the seventies people were pretty interested in this Bigfoot stuff. My uncle had a little stand, made good money selling souvenirs and shirts. Best of luck, Mr. Casey.” –Matt C, Nobility resident
“I give him a week. Not until he finds it, I mean a week until that old bastard dies out there. One week. Ten bucks, what do you say?” –Wes W, Nobility resident
“It was real. It had to be.” –Last entry from the journal of Maverick Casey
Cushing wouldn’t go. He sent Brian into the woods, camera in tow, to gather footage. Lines of volunteers and a handful of policemen, walking in straight lines into the brush and gnarled trees.
Brian even managed to capture a few joking about whether they would run into Maverick’s monster.
Once again, Cushing didn’t accompany Brian to talk to those closest to Maverick: His ex-wife, Jet, and his best friend, Roman.
“What do you want me to say?” Jet asked, rubbing her forehead. She sat at the table, the butt of a cigarette between her fingers.
“Just…tell me what happened,” Brian said.
JET: It’s been uh…four months.
BRIAN: Do you think there’s a chance he’s still-
JET: No, we know. We know he’s…Cops combed those woods, walking with dogs and everything…Roman spent days out there, looking.
BRIAN: Do you think he saw it again?
JET: Are you fucking with me? There was nothing to see.
Just a stupid man throwing his life away.
BRIAN: Did you still care about him?
Jet reached out and pushed the phone down onto the table. She dug another cigarette from a soft pack in her pocket.
“Interview’s over. You can let yourself out,” she said, struggling with a lighter.
Before approaching Jet, Brian found Roman sitting in his truck. The air outside cooled, the clouds on the horizon darkened and promised rain and humidity. Cushing was at the hotel. He may have checked out. Brian assumed he would finish the film alone. But he would finish it. He would have his peace again.
Brian hesitated and tapped on the window. Roman sat in the silent truck, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. No music on, Roman didn’t want to drain the battery. At the moment, Roman wasn’t sure he wanted to go inside.
“Nothing to tell her, anyway,” Roman said. “Movie’s over, right? Mav is gone.”
“Are you still looking?” Brian asked.
“Until it’s under water. Not going to leave him out there like a dead opossum. He was my friend.”
“How are you doing? Are you okay?” Brian asked.
Roman squinted and turned around in the seat, laying his arm on the open window.
“No, I’m not okay. What kind of fucking question is that?”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean…you know, he was really worried about his legacy. He was worried people thought he wasted his life. Did you think that?” Brian asked.
“No,” Roman said. “He didn’t waste his life. He saw it. No one dies just so they can fuck with someone. Put that in your documentary. Let them know Maverick Casey wasn’t crazy, okay?”
“That’s pretty important to Cushing, too. I think it will be pretty fair,” Brian lied.
“Wanna beer?” Roman asked, pulling a can from a cooler on the floorboard.
“I’m good, but thank you,” Brian said.
“I got it. You’re on the job. You wanna know how my Uncle Chase died? It’s relevant. At least to me. So, my uncle and dad worked together. They worked for a stucco and plaster company, putting up scaffolding. You know, those big metal frames that go all around a building that people are working on? Yeah, so anyway, one day a co-worker falls. Several stories. Bam. Busts his head right open, brains and ooze all over the sidewalk.
“My uncle takes one look, comes down off the scaffolding, and ask his supervisor for twenty bucks to buy a case of beer. After that, no one heard from Uncle Chase for six years. Then my dad gets a call. They found Chase dead in a motel; he’d been working at a refinery in Tennessee. My dad goes to get him. Since we can’t afford to ship ol’ Uncle Chase, dad bribes the coroner in to letting him bring Chase home…in the back of dad’s beat-up Silverado.
“He brings him home. We have a little service. Then, for reasons I never understood, dad insisted he be the one to bring Chase to the gravesite. In the back of the truck. So, there we are. The family. Chase’s widow. His kids. Watching as a truck with bailing wire holding on the tailgate backs up the grave to unload him.
“It hit me that day. Life is ridiculous. It is. It’s a big joke. We act like we’re so special and we’re just meant to be something. But, we’re not.
“We aren’t given a purpose by God or fate or whatever. Maverick didn’t die in a stupid accident at a job he hated. His body wasn’t dragged out of the woods in a bag. He found himself a purpose. And I like to think he found what he was hunting.”
“Roman told me about his Uncle Chase,” Brian said.
Jet laughed. “Yeah, Roman gave me that same speech, too. It’s bullshit. Mav died alone in the woods because he couldn’t let go. It didn’t matter who he hurt. His parents. His wife. His friends. He died for nothing. Roman just doesn’t wanna see it.”
“Good. Maybe those damn shows will stop coming around. Not our fault that guy was fucking nuts.” –Jason D, Nobility resident
“He shot me. So, not really tore up or anything.” –Wes W, Nobility resident
“Yeah, I heard he was unbalanced, you know?” –Lyra S, Nobility resident
“I wish he’d found something out there. I do. Then maybe they’d stopped that damn reservoir and I wouldn’t have had to move into my daughter’s two bedroom.” –Matt C, Nobility resident
Under the lights, with the camera trained on him, Cushing looked at Maverick Casey. The lights obscured his view enough that twenty-year-old in caked on old age make up and a fake paunch almost looked like the real deal.
This would have to do.
So sorry Maverick, Cushing thought to himself. With no backers, Cushing took he and Brian’s footage to the producers of American Myths and Monsters. The new director and show runner took an immediate interest.
“You okay?” Josh asked.
“Of course,” Cushing laughed. “Let’s do it.”
Josh nodded and once again, Cushing put on his best Rod Serling.
“It’s been three years. The body of Maverick Casey has never been recovered, and the bottoms are now a vast reservoir. Once the water rose, a couple of fisherman came upon a cave that was once high in the hills, now sitting at water level. Inside they made a shocking and grisly discovery. There, lying on the cold earth was a skeleton, clad in a costume made from a ghillie suit and some scraps of a moth eaten fur coat.
“He’d been there for decades. Using dental records, the body was positively identified as that of Franklin “Bubba” Casey, Maverick Casey’s father. His death was determined to be the result of a gunshot. They also found footprints, where someone had recently visited the cave.
“The cave eventually flooded. The body was interned next to the grave containing Maverick’s mother and Maverick’s grave, which contains nothing.”
Cushing went to the funeral. Jet and Roman didn’t notice him; then again, they didn’t notice anything. They never looked at the casket. Instead, they stared at the line of trees at the rear of the cemetery.
Maybe they were waiting to see something.
“In the end,” Cushing continued. “I like to think Mr. Casey found his monster. That he…”
Cushing took a deep breath.
“Sorry,” he said.
“It’s okay,” Josh said.
“I’m James Cushing,” Cushing said. “And this has been a special episode of American Myths and Monsters.”
Josh called “cut”. The sound mixer’s bell rang. As the set came alive with the movement of the crew, Cushing exhaled. Josh patted him on the shoulder. Cushing said thanks and walked off of the set.
Is a life hunting monsters well lived? Maverick Casey spent his life searching for a monster in the vast woods behind his home. But with his health failing, time is running out. Desperate to leave behind a legacy, he enlists the help of a reality TV show host to document his final expedition in the thicket to search for the Wildman of Nobility, TX.