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“The footprints are there, deep in the muck on both sides of the creek…. [They] are about 13 inches long and 6 inches wide. They have a rounded heel like a human’s, but spread out into what looks like a set of five dangerous claws.”

“Footprints: Prankster or Monster?” The Frederick News Post, 2-19-02

July 25

“Hey, boy, yeh gonna sleep all day?” Buck said as he rapped the butt end of his fishing pole against the driver’s side window.

Both Joe and Sheri jerked straight up. At first, Joe didn’t remember where he was, nor did he appreciate the unexpected interruption of what little sleep he was getting. But then he saw the gentle eyes of the old man staring back at him, and couldn’t help but smile. The canine slobberfest and part time guardian angel “Tater” was beside Buck, his upper body supported against the automobile by two muddy paws and a wet nose pressed curiously against the pane.

“Well, if yeh ever do get up,” Buck continued, “let me know and I’ll fix yeh up a cup a’ jo and some viddles, uh-huh.”

As the old man turned and hobbled off toward the cabin, Tater looked through the glass, woofed at Joe, then followed Buck inside.

“I wonder what time it is?” Joe moaned, scratching the top of his head and looking at himself in the mirror. Man, did he look bad.

Sheri said sleepily. “Not sure. But I have a question.”


“What in the world is a viddle?”

“You’re about to find out.”


At the Gray Hideaway, Dave cradled the back of his head and stared at the computer screen. After thirty-six hours of frustration, he’d finally found the impossible e-mail address. All the years of chasing disinformation and conning kooks in conspiracy chat rooms might have paid off after all.

He entered his online account and clicked on the “New Message” tab. He typed in the recipient section, tabbed down to the message box, and wrote:

“Hello, Dr. Corsivino:

Pardon my lack of cordiality but time is of the essence. I must come straight to the point. If you are the Andrew J. Corsivino that worked in the field of genome mapping in the late ’80’s and early ’90’s, I need to speak with you. My name is Dave Pitzer, and I believe we share mutual convictions. A friend is in trouble. It involves the Montero Research Facility and the so-called robbery at the plant yesterday. I believe you once worked there. If so, contact me ASAP. Lives may depend on it.

Against the darkness,



Back at the cabin, Joe could tell Sheri was relieved about the “viddles.” They could be potatoes, bacon, or anything else fried up in a liberal amount of grease, even sturgeon eggs, which the two of them diplomatically avoided. Not Tater. He seemed more than happy to have the extra share of scorched delicacy.

With breakfast out of the way, Sheri sat on the floor stroking Tater’s floppy ears, apparently enjoying the warmth of the quaint woodstove, while Joe helped Buck with the breakfast dishes. He wondered why the old man hadn’t been surprised by their visit. He wanted to ask about that, but decided to wait.

“Well, would yeh looky there,” Buck said, pointing at Tater with one hand while holding a plate with the other. “He don’t usually let strangers rub his ears like that, yeh know. He’s kinda fussy ’bout being touched, uh-huh.”

Joe looked at Sheri and said, “She’s always had a way with dogs. She loves them and I think they know it.”

Buck wouldn’t get the double meaning, but Sheri would. Joe always called her boyfriends dogs. She glared at him from her position on the floor and feigned an oversized smile, then continued rubbing Tater’s ears, launching him back into doggy la-la land.

“Yeah, well, Tater ’n me half expected yeh might show up perty soon, what with today’s newpaper story, yeh know.”

“What’s that?” Joe said.

“Yeh know, the news, ’bout the robbery and the car crash and all. ’Course me ’n Tater knew it weren’t true ’bout yer sister helpin’ yeh rob the Trainers of that detonation device. We prayed fer yeh anyway, though, so’s the thing wouldn’t explode and that yeh’d see fit to give it back to em, uh-huh.”

Buck’s words brought Sheri off the floor and Tater right behind her. “What did you say? Joe and I were on the news!?”

“Oh yeah, little miss…sure have been, uh-huh. That’s how Tater ’n me found out ’bout the two of yeh bein’ t’gether. News folk ’round here been talkin’ up a storm ’bout yeh robbin’ the Trainers of an explodin’ device. Said yeh used guns and ever-thang.”

Bloody freaks. This situation was getting away from them. Joe placed his hand on Buck’s shoulder and said, “In the first place, it isn’t an explosive device. It’s a stone image of a head or something. Second, we didn’t rob anybody; the item was already mine. They’re the ones that tried to take it by force, for crying out loud.”

Buck shook his head. “If that don’t beat all. I jest knew somethin’ was sideways with that story. Yeh didn’t say much ’bout what yeh was hidin last time yeh was here, but Tater ’n me just trusted yeh, figur’d yeh was the private type.”

Joe carried a stack of dishes to the cabinet where Buck had removed them earlier, placed them on a shelf with some others, and said, “I appreciate that.”

“Now when the news came out ‘’bout the robbery and all, well, we jest didn’t know what t’ think. So I told Tater, if I was a gamblin’ man, I’d wager them Trainers was the ones what done wrong, uh-huh.”

“I didn’t tell you about the image because I didn’t want to put you in jeopardy,” Joe said. “I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying, ‘what you don’t know can’t hurt you’?”

“Yep, I’ve used it m’self. Fact is, fer a couple days followin’ yer last visit, I was downright a-feared. It was like a dark cloud was hoverin’ over me. Then I dreamed ‘’bout two angels…bigguns too…and I ain’t been a-feared since.”

Joe remembered his similar dream from the night before. He took a deep breath. “But now I’m afraid it may be necessary for you to know what’s going on, Buck. I think I need your help.”

Buck wrinkled his nose. “My help? Yeh know old Buck loves yeh son, uh-huh. I’ve helped yeh b’fore! But I can’t imagine what Tater ’n me could do in this sit-iation. Yer in a world-a hurt, no doubt, but don’t yeh think yeh need some kind’ve highfalutin law man?”

“That may be true, but what I need from you is different. It’s an idea I got after talking to Dr. Jones, a professor friend of ours. We call him ‘Indy.’ He’s a scholar of biblical history.”

“Indy Jones? That feller from that there movie?”

Joe was surprised. Buck knew something about the Indiana Jones films. “No. We named him Indy as a joke, because of the similarity of his name and credentials. Yet something he told us about the Old Testament made us want to take you up on your offer.”

“You mean it made you want to take Buck up on his offer,” Sheri admonished him.

“What offer yeh talkin’ ’bout?”

“To see your Bigfoot proof.”




“You have mail!” Dave’s computer squawked as he spun around in his chair. He wondered—could that be Corsivino already? He’d sent the electronic inquiry not even an hour ago, and wasn’t altogether sure to whom. He clicked the minimized mailbox and watched the reply from pop onto the monitor. The response read:

“Mr. Pitzer.


Yes, I am Andrew Corsivino, the physicist you seek. Before I comment on my willingness to confer, please tell me something of your case. I look forward to your response.



Dave’s hands shook as he groped for the portable keyboard. Andrew Corsivino, though never willingly advancing such notions himself, was a legend among UFOlogists. Suspected of involvement with reverse engineering of exotic alien technologies and renegade experiments involving interdimensional time travel, Corsivino created a scientific uproar in the early nineties with his work and later condemnation of genome sequencing. Darren Copeland’s award winning 1993 Sci-World Magazine Investigative Report on Mutation Cloning had made speculative connections between Corsivino’s work as a physicist and the goals of mutation cloning. Yet the real controversy revolved around the journalist’s conclusions that Corsivino abandoned his life’s work with the United States Government following strong ethical differences with government project leaders. Following the conflict, Corsivino simply resisted public scrutiny and faded from sight.

Dave hardly knew how to start or finish his summary to the legendary figure. He recounted the necessary elements of Joe’s story, added a few thoughts, then, satisfied with the portrayal, typed a bold request:

“…so, Mr. Corsivino, perhaps you understand why I’m desperate for information. I haven’t seen my young friends in a couple days. If ever there was a time for all good men to come to the aid of the righteous, this is it. Would you be willing to meet with me? I need to know everything you can tell me about the Montero Research Facility, the image, and, if possible, the protocols I need to advance.

Looking forward to your response.



Buck’s feet shifted on the heavily worn throw rug as he rubbed his wiry beard.

“So…yer sayin’ there could be a connection b’tween Bigfeet and the giants of the Old Testament?”

Joe smiled. “Sounds crazy, huh? Either way, I need evidence to take to those high highfalutin attorneys you were talking about, don’t I?”

“Yeah…I guess. Let me show yeh somethin’.”

Buck walked to the bedroom and began shuffling through the closet. Tater, following him through the doorway, disappeared around the edge of the bed and returned a moment later with a rubber sturgeon in his mouth. He sat in the entry on his hindquarters, tail wagging affectionately, looking at Joe. He bit the toy fish and it made a “squeaky” sound.

“Cu-u-ute,” Sheri said, smiling at the dog.

“Knock it off,” Joe said. Ever since being attacked by the neighbor’s mutt as a kid, Joe generally disliked animals.

Tater cocked his head and crunched the fish again.


Joe looked into the dog’s soulful eyes. He wouldn’t admit it, but if ever a dog had appealed to him, it was this one.

“I said quit it, that’s annoying.”

Squeaky squeaky.

Sheri smiled. Tater had thrown him a double-squeaky.

“He just wants to play with you,” she teased.

“I don’t care. It ain’t my thing.”

“Fine, brat. Tater, attack Joe.”

Tater pricked his ears. Squeaky…squeaky squeaky.

Buck turned from the closet and walked slowly out of the room. He nudged Tater behind the ears and pretended to be upset. “Stop it, Tater, yeh dummy. Can’t yeh see the boy don’t wanna play.”

“Where in the world did you get such a dog?” Joe said, trying hard not to sound attached.

“From a pertater sack.”

“Pardon me?”

“I was fishin’. Saw a boat upstream throw somethin’ in the river.”

“A potato sack?”

“Yep, the gunnysack kind. It was twistin’ ’n sinkin’, yeh know, somethin’ in it, so I grabbed it from the water as it floated by.”

“And found Tater?”

“He was jest a pup.”

“So that’s where he got that name.”

“Yep. He’s been my best friend ever since. I think the big Man upstairs spared ’em fer a reason, uh-huh. Now have a gander at what I got here, boy,” he said.

Buck handed Joe something that looked like a wad of fur, maybe from a bear.

“Picked that up on the south shore.”

Joe grabbed the furball unenthusiastically. If this was Buck’s proof, he was wasting his time.

“I know it don’t really prove nothin’. ’Cept I ain’t never saw no fur like that b’fore, yeh know?”

“Well…I wouldn’t know. Is this all you’ve got?”

Buck dropped his spit into a Folgers can. “Nope…but son, yeh realize to see the real proof I’m offerin,’ we’d need to cross the river at night, ’er in the early mornin’, uh-huh. I don’t think it’d be too smart to venture into Trainer territory in the daytime. On th’ other hand, that’s when they run the apes, after dark.”

“Is there a different way to see the evidence?” Joe asked.

“Nope. But if yeh jest insist on goin’, what I’m thinkin’ is, they don’t train the apes on weekends, yeh see. Prob’bly not enough workers those days. So this bein’ Friday and all, early tomorrow mornin’d be the best time t’ go. If the Trainers watch the river as I suspect they do, they’re used to seein’ Tater ’n me out there fishin early mornin’. Even if they see us comin’ cross the water…they won’t pay us no never mind.”

Tater, hearing his name, offered a final appeal for playtime. Squeaky.

Joe looked at him, smiled, then said to Buck. “If these apes…as you call them…are not out tomorrow morning, how will we see your proof? Won’t we be hiding, watching them through field glasses?”

“Oh, no, boy. I got differ’nt proof than that,” Buck said, grinning. “Just wait. Yew’ll see, uh-huh.”


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Dave worked most of Friday night and Saturday morning posting his secret letter to Joe and Sheri. As usual, the message was located in a hidden link near the upper left corner on the front page of The file was inaccessible without the password—Joe’s last name in lowercase letters. Similar links with invisible locations and access codes were hidden elsewhere at the website. These served as gateways to storage areas where classified and even above-top-secret information was being stored. Dave’s hope was that Joe would remember this, locate a computer, and search the “ryback” link for the important information.

Sometime later that morning, a follow-up response from Andrew Corsivino entered Dave’s mailbox. Based on information he had sent the physicist, the reply carried a sense of urgency about the need to meet face-to-face. Corsivino indicated an awareness of the late-breaking news concerning Joe and Sheri, and that he understood the ramifications far better than anybody else could. He wrote:

“Mr. Pitzer.


Reliable insiders verify your story. The situation concerning your friends is disturbing. I wish I had better news, but we are dealing with powerful forces.

Under the strictest anonymity I will meet with you to tell you what I know. The meeting should take place as soon as possible, and I insist on inspecting the item you spoke of. If you have family, you might want to think twice about involvement. Joe and Sheri may be targets of elimination. Everyone associated with them could be in danger.

Your friend,


Think twice? These kids were like family to Dave. He would do everything he could to help them.

“Hello again, Andrew,” he typed without hesitation. “Yes, I recognize the risk and I appreciate your concerns. Now when can we meet?” He hit the “send” button and immediately altered Joe and Sheri’s enigmatic message to include Corsivino’s warning.


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