Dani Jeong meets Bigfoot at a derelict gas station somewhere in the American midwest.
It’s January 15th, 1988, and while she and Jake are both still reeling over the fact that they have to drive across the goddamn country to get to the gate, they’re also arguing over directions, and whose fake ID is more convincing because Jake wants to buy gas station wine, of all things. Dani is exhausted, but complies, mostly because she knows he’s not planning on drinking it and is simply looking for something new to hold on to, and a little bit because she’s too tired to argue with him about more than one thing right now. She pulls their beat-up Volkswagen Beetle into the empty parking lot of a Phillips 66 that had definitely seen better days.
Jake is out of the car before she even turns it off, fidgeting with the beaded necklace that serves as his disguise. Dani follows suit, pats the front pocket of her jeans to make sure her knife is still there, and locks the car. Speaking to humans, especially in these parts of the country, causes her anxiety to spike. Even though the Vietnam war ended less than thirteen years ago, and while neither she nor Jake are Vietnamese, she doesn’t trust small-town America’s ability to get over lost wars, tell east Asians apart, or even the chances that they won’t give the two of them dirty looks.
Once inside the service station, she picks out the snack foods that are least likely to give her diabetes (she’s pretty sure she can’t get that, but one can never be too careful), and Jake busies himself looking for the cheapest bottle of Merlot money can buy. He gives her a blank look when they meet back up and he sees the food she’s collected. They lose five minutes because he decides he wants the greasiest thing in the store to spite her.
Turns out, the attendant is too busy being stoned to be observant or racist, so Jake gets his cheap wine that he’ll keep for the next century with no hassle. As they turn to leave the store, an old Ford pickup truck pulls into the parking lot and parks as far from their VW as possible, while still being in the same lot.
The man that steps out of the old pickup is almost inhumanly tall and built like an Olympic wrestler, and his long, dark hair, paired with a rather scruffy beard, only serve to make him more intimidating. He’s wearing a faded flannel shirt and muddy hiking boots, and as Dani takes note of this, Jake gasps and taps on the glass window.
“He looks like a mountain man! He’ll probably know how to get to West Virginia! We should ask him,” he whispers.
“No, Jake, he looks like he could easily take both of us in a fight, Sylph form or not,” she hisses.
“Come on, Dani! You don’t know where we are, and that guy,” he says, pointing at the gas station attendant, “Doesn’t look like he’s gonna be very much help. There’s no maps in here, trust me, I checked, and ours is ruined!”
“And whose fault is that?” she retorts. Jake groans, loudly, which catches the attention of Potential Mountain Man, who glances at them warily. Something about him doesn’t sit right with her, and her hand moves to her pocket. Jake waves. Very, very awkwardly, the man waves back.
Dani huffs and pulls Jake out of the store. He opens his mouth to complain, but she stops him before he can say anything. “We’ll ask him, fine, but we need to get our story straight, alright?”
Jake nods, “Right. We’re on the run from the Men in Black-”
“No! We’re out of money and can’t pay rent, so we’re going to live with my cousin in West Virginia.”
“I keep forgetting it’s West Virginia, jeez. What’s your fake cousin’s fake name?”
Dani pauses, stuck. The woman on the phone had called herself Mama, and hadn’t given her anything else but an address and a phone number. Dani’s sure that even if she called again, she’d be left without answers.
Instead, she says, “If a stranger needs to know my fake cousin’s fake name in order to give me directions, I’m pretty sure I don’t want directions from him.”
Jake nods sagely. “Good point, but this may be our only opportunity for the next few hours, and we can’t afford to buy any more rations and gasoline than we measured out if we get lost.”
He’s right, as much as she hates to admit it.
The door to the store opens, and the man steps out. Both of their heads snap to the sound. They make eye contact again and proceed to have a silent argument over who’s gonna be the lucky winner who gets to ask the scary stranger for directions to their monster haven as the man gets closer to his vehicle. Jake exhales sharply, and just before the man gets back in his truck, he calls out to him. In that moment, Dani isn’t sure if she wants to thank him or throttle him.
“Hey! Dude!” The man has already climbed inside the cab and closed the door and yep, she and the abominable fucking snowman are about to be forced to throw down with a dangerous stranger in the parking lot of a Phillipps that looks like it was last restocked in the 1960s. That was exactly what she needed today, to die before she even reached the gate.
Or, maybe not. Through his dirty driver’s side window, the man looks like a deer in the headlights. She can hear what sounds like a small dog growling. He takes one look at the two of them, and, very slowly, reaches over, locks his door, and rolls his window down two entire inches. Jake takes that as an invitation and Dani allows him to drag her to this stranger’s window. The more she thinks about it, the more she thinks that this guy thinks he’s about to get robbed. Two dirty teenagers (appearance-wise, at least) with slightly-too-sharp canines approaching him in the middle of absolutely nowhere? It’s almost definite, at this point.
“Can I, um, can I help you?” the man asks. The apprehension in his voice is audible.
Jake puts on his winningest smile, pearly white eyeteeth and all, and begins to ask for directions. “Yeah! Me and my friend here are trying to get to, uh, West Virginia, I think it was, and we’re a bit lost.”
Dani feels her soul leave her body when the man asks, “You think you’re heading to West Virginia?”
“Yes! Yo, where did you say your cousin lived, D, Keebler?” Jake turns to her, seemingly oblivious to the growing issue of this looks suspicious as hell, Jake, please shut up.
“Kepler,” she says. The man raises his eyebrows.
“You got cousins in Kepler?”
Dani nods, oh fuck, oh shit, “Just the one. She’s offering us a place to stay for a bit. We’re comin’ from the Northwest and just can’t afford rent anymore.”
The guy’s eyes widen, and he anxiously tugs at the cord of the necklace she’d just noticed he’s wearing, pulling it out from within his undershirt and allowing the charm attached to it to be seen. Against all fucking odds, it’s Sylvan crystal. She’d know the unnatural orange glow anywhere, and can’t help but gasp.
The man swears, “Shit, fuck, goddammit- look kid, you didn’t see this, alright? You want directions, I’ll give you directions. I’ve got money, too-”
“Are you from Sylvain?” Jake whispers, in awe. Mountain Man freezes completely, his eyes locked on Jake.
“What did you just say?”
Almost against her will, Dani’s hand goes to rest on her pocket and she speaks before Jake can, “There’s no fucking way you have that pendant and you don’t know what Sylvain is.”
The man sighs, defeated, and rolls his window all the way down. “Any chance you two’re heading to the Amnesty Lodge?”
“That exactly!” Jake answers.
“Well, you can follow me if you’d like. I’m assumin’ that Beetle over there is yours.”
Dani narrows her eyes. “How do we know we can trust you? How do we know you’re not just some human that knows too much and is going to rat us out to the feds?”
“Well, I can’t exactly transform in the open like this, not that that attendant would pay any mind,” he grumbles, then takes in a deep breath, then says, “My name’s Barclay Thompson, and I guess the name the papers have given me is Bigfoot.”
Barclay, as it turns out, really is Bigfoot. Dani had demanded proof of his claims, and about twenty minutes later, after they’d found a spot secluded enough, she’d received it.
So, she and Jake climb back into their shitty little car with their passably healthy food and cheap spirits and follow Barclay’s old truck. They stop at the same rest stops, where Barclay introduces them to the source of the growling she’d heard. Bigfoot has a small, discolored, magical yorkshire terrier named Sequoia, which is, after reading the newspapers for the past few decades, very surprising. He coos at her in a language that neither Dani nor Jake recognize, and she really likes being scratched behind the ears.
When they eventually reach the Amnesty Lodge in Kepler, West Virginia, Dani finally relaxes. Their arrival has loosened the tension is Barclay’s shoulders, and while it’s nigh impossible to tell, Jake has calmed down as well.
She strides into the main lobby of the lodge confidently, Barclay and Jake and Sequoia in tow. A muscular young woman wearing her hair in two dark, long braids looks up from a notebook lying on the front desk when she hears the door close, and brightens.
“We spoke on the phone about two weeks, I believe. My name is Dani Jeong, and this is Jake,” she says in lieu of a greeting. Jake flashes the ‘hang loose’ hand sign.
“I’m Barclay, I also called the other day,” Barclay says. He sounds just as awkward as he had the day they’d met.
The woman smiles warmly. “Well, Dani, Jake, Barclay,” she says, nodding at each one of them, “Welcome to Amnesty Lodge. I’m Madeleine, I hope y’all enjoy your stay.”