Alec Kerley and the Terror of Bigfoot
There’s a psycho squirrel preying on us!
Alec Kerley stared out the driver side window of the Ford Explorer, leaning over his father. They were sitting motionless in the midst of The World’s Greatest Animal Paradise — that was really the name — outside of Branson, Missouri, in what was, without question, most definitely not the world’s greatest animal paradise. It was a drive-through animal park that allowed the animals to approach the vehicle to be fed through the open windows. Curiously, most of the animals resembled either some form of deer or cow, or, in this case, animals you could see in your own back yard, like this gray squirrel.
“This…uh…squirrel is so used to people throwing food to it that it seems to be waiting for me to toss him something,” his father observed. “Hand me a piece of that animal food, would you, Junior?” His dad, Danny, sometimes called him Junior despite the fact that Alec was not named after his father.
Alec opened the paper bag full of food pellets they had purchased at the entrance to the park. “Um, Dad, is a squirrel supposed to tremble like that? And he’s getting closer to the car!”
“Yeah, he’s acting a bit ‘squirrely’. Hah!”
Alec stared at his father.
“Okay, hurry, Alec, this little fella’s getting antsy.”
“Okay, here.” Alec thrust a handful of brown pellets at his dad, who tossed one out to the anxious squirrel. The food pellet rolled next to the truck tire and the squirrel refused to venture to it. The little animal peered at Danny with black, beady eyes, waving its furry chocolate-colored tail back and forth, its body shaking nervously. Then it suddenly scurried toward the truck.
Alec was alarmed. “Dad! Roll your window up!”
“Oh, he’s just a little squirrel, Alec. It’s not like he’s a monster.”
Just then, the gray squirrel sprang up to the open windowsill of the SUV. Danny stared at it in shock for a split second and, as Alec repeated, “Throw it out throw it out throw it out!” the squirrel dropped down onto his father’s lap and began frantically running about inside the truck in search of food.
To Alec, everything became a blur. He raised his feet from the floor of the truck as the assertive squirrel scurried about and he yelled over and over: “Get it out of here, Dad!”
“I’m trying!” Danny said. “See if you can catch it!”
“You catch it!” Alec shot back quickly. “He might bite! Maybe he has rabies!”
His father actually looked like he could have rabies, come to think of it, as he crawled back into the SUV, over the seats, wide-eyed and yelling at the squirrel and desperately trying to grab it, the truck shaking back and forth like a carnival ride.
The best family friends of the Kerleys were the Gonzalez family, who just happened to be behind them at this very moment, in an ostentatiously summer-green Chrysler minivan. They were joining forces on this brief vacation together, as the families did frequently.
Currently, the Gonzalez family were puzzled and asking themselves why the Kerleys’ Explorer in front of them was rocking from side to side. What in the world is happening up there? wondered John Gonzalez, who was perched behind the steering wheel.
Then the Gonzalezes watched in frozen awe as the doors of the vehicle in front of them burst open and Alec and Danny sprang out each side of the truck like little people shooting out of cannons. John, his wife Rosa, son Ken, daughter Sarah, and Sarah’s friend from school Emily, all hopped out of the minivan and rushed to their friends.
“What’s wrong?” asked Mr. Gonzalez.
“There’s a crazy kamikaze squirrel in there!” shouted Alec, pointing at the maroon SUV with a look of disgust. “Great idea, Dad. ‘Let’s go see the animals at the animal park, Son! Let’s leave our windows open for all of freakin’ nature to come jumping in!’”
“Oh, calm down,” Danny retorted. “It’s just a squirrel!”
“Yeah, well you jumped out of the car for your life, just like I did!”
This was too much for the Gonzalezes, who were all beside themselves with laughter. Ken placed his hand on his best friend’s shoulder. “Don’ worry, Alec, I’ll get ’im.”
Ken suddenly struck his best karate pose — legs wide apart, arms raised in front of him, his hands flat and held forward in a chopping gesture. He had actually been taking karate lessons since he was seven years old — for five years now — and was a brown belt, so he wasn’t just showboating. A big fan of superhero comics, Ken was a rough and tumble kid who loved to play fight.
“Hold on, Batman,” said his mother. “That squirrel could have rabies or something.”
“That’s what I said!” exclaimed Alec.
“I’ll kick the rabies out of ’im!” Ken shouted as he tried to rush forward, but was held back by his dad.
“Stay!” Mr. Gonzalez ordered.
John and Danny approached the SUV stealthily, like cats creeping up on a mouse. Alec looked at Ken’s sister Sarah and her friend Emily, who were standing together whispering and giggling. Emily! Shoulder length, sandy brown hair, a freckled, shy face, and cute green eyes. New to their private school in Kansas City last year, the boys in their class had flocked to her like they did with all enigmatic new girls. Sarah Gonzalez, tall and leggy, with hair long, black and shiny, athletic and popular, had befriended Emily at once. A crooked smile slowly played across Alec’s face, his wavy blonde hair tousled and standing out like a clown. “I wasn’t really scared,” he whispered, then cleared his throat.
“There it is, there it is!” Mrs. Gonzalez squealed, pointing at the open front passenger door, jumping up and down and jiggling like a bowl of Jell-O. Danny yelled and leaped through the driver side door, his eyes bulging. The squirrel dropped down to the pavement and skittered around directionless, in a great state of alarm. Rosa and the children all screamed in unison and ran toward the minivan. John Gonzalez dashed at the squirrel, bent over and shouting, sweeping his hands at it, as if trying to whisk it away. Finally, the fluffy little animal, thoroughly fed up with this group of excitable humans, sprang into the grass and scurried up a nearby tree, a large brown food pellet clenched firmly in its front teeth.
Sarah Gonzalez turned to climb back into their minivan and came face to face with an axis deer, it’s tall, three-pronged antlers swaying as it chewed on a great green glop of cud. It stared at her curiously as it smacked. Sarah screeched, the deer yelped, and they bolted in opposite directions.
The entire group chortling with laughter, they spoke for a moment, then loaded back into their vehicles and proceeded slowly toward the end of the park.
Next to his father in the Explorer again, Alec smiled wide as they relived what Danny coined ‘The Great Kamikaze Squirrel Incident’. Then they caught each other’s eyes for a second, and Alec’s smile disappeared.
Danny watched him silently, sadly. And just like that, the moment was gone.
Alec, his window rolled up, stared out through the hot glass. Everything was green, lush, full of vigor and life.
Summertime was always euphoric for Alec Newton Kerley: water glistening in a plastic backyard wading pool; playing Red Rover with friends in an empty lot; watching fireflies blink at night under a blanket of matching stars; the bliss of stepping out onto a front yard redolent of recently mowed grass clippings under a warm morning sun. Summertime was dreamland; summertime was ecstatic intoxication for a 12 year old — his personal faith and rapture.
Then it all changed. Suddenly and without warning, his mother was gone, the victim of some monstrous illness called bacterial endocarditis. It wasn’t fair, how it happened. Who could’ve known that an illness whose initial symptoms masqueraded as the flu would cause him to lose his mother to death less than a month later? Alec hated death, and now he hated life. Death was evil, unnatural, cruel. Death was the ultimate thief, stealing his mother away from him forever.
That was six months ago. Now it was just Alec and his dad, alone, together but apart. Somewhere, in the times between watching his father standing at his mother’s grave under a stone sky with a watery, blank expression on his face, and the two of them sitting silent at the dinner table eating microwave dinners, Alec’s anger and his father’s pain had passed each other blindly in the night, hushed and lost. Their mutual love was real and true, sure; but the road back to normal was a long one, and they were still trying to find their way.
Any time that it seemed Alec and his dad were beginning to love life again, Alec felt guilty, as if he were betraying his mother’s memory with laughter and joy. His dad said his mom wouldn’t feel that way, that she would want Alec to be happy once again. But the darkness was still cold in his heart, even under the embrace of warm sunshine kisses from his old love, Summertime.
Twenty minutes later, both vehicles exited the roadway and pulled into a rest area that housed a gift shop and a petting zoo. Alec approached Ken as both families walked up the sidewalk toward the rest area.
“Hey,” Alec greeted him.
“Dude! That was cool! That crazy squirrel was hard-core!”
“Yeah, it was pretty funny,” Alec replied, though his frown told a different story. “My dad and I decided that this event shall from now on be known as ‘The Great Kamikaze Squirrel Incident’.”
Ken laughed. “Man, I woulda shown that squirrel who’s boss!” He began jumping around and swinging his fists wildly, imitating his favorite superhero, Batman. While Ken liked action, Alec tended to be more of a reader and a bit of an introvert. Nonetheless, they were the closest of friends. Their families had known each other for the past eight years, since both of their dads worked at the same company together. The Gonzalezes had provided the Kerleys with much-needed love and support after his mother’s passing. In fact, Alec and Ken and their two dads were probably closer now for it. Ken was even kind of protective of his friend, and tended to be a buffer for him with other people.
“Yeah, whatever.” Alec smiled.
“Hey! I hope the lodge we’re stayin’ at tonight has a swimmin’ pool. How cool would that be?”
“That’d be great! And I hope the cabins have a Jacuzzi inside.”
“Yeah, we could sit in a bubblin’ Jacuzzi like a couple’a rock stars!” Ken suddenly started playing air guitar and imitating rock music sounds.
They walked around a corner and entered a small courtyard with picnic tables strewn about and wooden buildings on both sides of the area, most of them with order-windows facing the courtyard so that tourists could step right up and begin spending their tourist dollars. The temperature was 95 degrees today, and Alec could see the perspiration glistening on the faces of strangers who were meandering around the place. A slight breeze swept through, carrying with it the smells of hot dogs, French fries, grease, and an acrid odor wafting from the three trash cans that stood sentinel in the yard. Alec wrinkled his nose.
As the two boys strolled through the noisy courtyard toward a more open area with bathrooms and some landscaping, Alec studied some of the strangers who were sitting at tables or walking through: an overweight family wearing over-filled shorts and tank tops in bright yellows, blues and pinks, squeezed into a picnic table and sweating profusely as they chattered and ate fast food and drank soda; two other families that consisted of young couples with young children, the women wearing shorts that were way too tight, one man with shaggy, greasy hair and tattoos on his arms, and one man with hair shaved very short and a tattoo on his neck — both couples carrying crying children and looking very angry; some Western-looking fellow with a droopy cowboy hat, leaning against a wall and peering at Alec and Ken with the shadow of his hat brim covering his eyes; and another family, sitting at a picnic table, that arrested Alec’s attention. The father wore a red, short-sleeved button-up shirt, light blue polyester slacks and white dress shoes that appeared to be fake leather. He had brown hair with a receding hair line, a large pointy nose, dancing eyes and a big smile. The mother appeared taller than the father, very plump, with a long purple sun dress and brown sandals. Her red hair was pulled back into one long pony tail that hung down to her bottom. Their only child sat at the table eating a hamburger like hamburgers were going out of style.
This little fellow must have been nine or ten years old. He had shaggy brown hair that was very messed up, large, alert eyes and over-sized ears. He was short and pudgy, with black shorts that were not in style (they were shorter than they should have been), white socks, black dress shoes and a white, short-sleeved button-up shirt with a very large, outdated collar.
When he noticed Alec and Ken staring at him as they were passing by, he abruptly dropped his hamburger onto his flimsy paper plate, popped a salute at them with the back of his hand flat against his forehead and exclaimed, in an obvious Elvis impersonation, “Uh, thank ya, thank ya very much!” A large glop of mayonnaise sat at the corner of his mouth. His parents peered at the two wide-eyed boys and flashed big, toothy grins.
This was more than Ken could take. He blinked at these odd characters and shot an alarmed glance at Alec. All at once he shouted, “Alrighty then!” and broke into a panicked run.
Suddenly abandoned, Alec struggled to display a weak smile back at the strangers. For a split second he considered answering the little boy’s salute with one of his own, thought better of it; then he broke into a slow trot as he tried to be polite, while also wanting to quickly catch up to Ken.
He found him outside the restrooms, sitting on a park bench next to their dads. The girls must have all been in the bathroom. Danny and John were whispering about something, and Ken sat in silence, staring at Alec with big eyes.
“You okay?” Alec asked. “They were weird, but I don’t think they’re dangerous!”
Ken stood up and led Alec away from their fathers. When they were sufficiently far enough out of earshot, Ken said, “You ever heard of a Squatch?”
Alec studied Ken. He appeared deadly serious. “Isn’t that some sort of gross vegetable that your mom makes you eat?”
Ken wasn’t buying it. “Seriously! You ever heard of it?”
“Um, okay, I’ve heard of it before on TV, I think. Like some monster or something.”
“Yeah, it is a monster. My dad watches this show ’bout people huntin’ for it. It’s Bigfoot!”
“Oh, yeah, that’s where I’ve heard of it before. My dad watches it, too. So?”
They stopped next to a tree on the other side of the courtyard from their families. Their dads looked over at them curiously.
“So, when I jes now ran toward ’em sittin’ on the park bench, I slowed down an’ snuck up behind ’em, like a spy. I was gonna jump out at ’em an’ yell ‘Hi-yah!’” Ken suddenly snapped into his karate pose.
Alec smiled. “Okay?”
“So they were talkin’ ’bout findin’ a Squatch… here!” Ken’s eyes were wide with excitement.
Alec blinked. “At ‘The World’s Greatest Animal Park’? You know, they may advertise that they have exotic animals here, but —”
“No, not here! In the Ozarks! While we’re here on this trip!” Ken was about to burst.
Alec raised one eyebrow and tried to look dubious. “Why would our dads want to look for a monster while we’re on vacation? Those things aren’t even real, anyway.”
“I dunno! An’ they are real, anyway. Prob’bly.” Ken looked confused. “I dunno. But I heard ’em say it! An’ if they’re plannin’ on tryin’ to find somethin’, we’re gonna spy on ’em!”
Alec sighed. When Ken got it into his head to go on a mission, there was no talking him out of it. He shrugged. “We can watch them, if you want. That’s about all we can do. But I seriously doubt that our dads are really wanting to go find Bigfoot. Maybe they were talking about the show, and you heard it wrong.”
“Oh, I didn’t hear it wrong, my frien’. An’ we’re gonna have an adventure!”
© 2013 by Douglas L. Tanner