What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us by Laura van den Berg

Where We Must Be

Some people dream of being chased by Bigfoot. I found it hard to believe at first, but it’s true. I was driving back from Los Angeles in August, after a summer of waiting tables and failed casting calls, when I saw a huge wooden arrow that pointed down a dirt road, “actors wanted” painted across it in white letters. I was in Northern California and still a long way from Washington, but I followed the sign down the road and parked in front of a silver airstream trailer. It was dark inside and I felt the breeze of a fan. The fat man behind the desk said he’d never hired a woman before. And then he went on to describe exactly what happens at the Bigfoot Recreation Park. People come here to have an encounter with Bigfoot. Most of their customers have been wanting this moment for years. I would have to lumber and roar with convincing masculinity. I can do that, I said, no problem. And I proved it in my audition. After putting on the costume and staggering around the trailer for a few minutes, bellowing and shaking my arms, I stopped and removed the Bigfoot mask. The fat man was smiling. He said I would always be paid in cash.

Today I’m going after a woman from Albuquerque. She’s small and sharp-shouldered, dressed in khaki shorts and a pink sweatshirt. I’d be willing to bet no one knows she’s here. For a brief time, this woman will be living in another world, where all that matters is escaping Bigfoot. People say the park is great for realigning their priorities, for reminding them that survival is an active choice. I’m watching her from behind a dense cluster of bushes. The fat man has informed me that she wants to be ambushed. This isn’t surprising. Most people crave the shock.

My breath is warm inside the costume. The rubber has a faintly sweet smell. I like to stroke my arms and listen to the swishing sound of the fake fur. The mask has eyeholes, but blocks my peripheral vision, so I can only see straight ahead. The fat man says this is an unexpected benefit of not having more advanced masks. According to him, Bigfoot is a primitive creature, not wily like extraterrestrials or the Loch Ness Monster, and only responds to what’s directly in front of him. Two other people work at the park, Jeffrey and Mack, but our shifts never overlap. The fat man thinks it’s important for us to not see our counterparts in person, to believe we are the only Bigfoot.

I wait for the woman to relax, watching for the instant which she begins to think: maybe there won’t be a monster after all. I can always tell when this thought arrives. First their posture softens. Then their expression changes from confused to relieved to disappointed. More than anything the ambush is about waiting the customer out. I struggle to stay in character during these quiet moments; it’s tempting to consider my own life and worries, but when the time comes to attack, it will only be believable if I’ve been living with Bigfoot’s loneliness and desires for at least an hour.

The woman yawns and rubs her cheek. She bends over and scratches her knee. She stops looking around the forest. Her expectations are changing. She checks her watch. I start counting backwards from ten. When I reach zero, I pound into the clearing and release the first roar: a piercing animal sound still foreign to my ears.

From What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us by Laura van den Berg. Copyright
2009 © by Laura van den Berg. Excerpted with permission of Dzanc Books.