The wind hollered across the serenely calm lake as the moonlight glimmered off its rippling waters.
“Bob!” Woodruff called again.
When no answer came, Woodruff stepped down onto the sandy banks of the wooded island. A pair of footprints trailed off the beach into the brush. Kenny stood at the edge of the bridge and held a flashlight high overhead, to light the way.
“You don’t think he’s…” Kenny began.
“No, he’s alive,” Woodruff interrupted.
“I was going to say taking a nap,” Kenny replied.
Woodruff grimaced but did not look back. He pushed aside the ferns that blocked his way.
“Bob, if you jump out and scare me, I’m drinking your milkshake.”
The only sounds were the chirping of crickets and a lone raspy bullfrog.
“It’s chocolate,” he added, to improve the severity of his warning.
“I don’t think he can hear you,” Kenny said. “I hate to say it but he’s…”
“He’s fine, Kenny,” Woodruff interrupted. “He’s fine. He’s got to be.”
“I was going to say he’s a Scorpio,” Kenny replied. “Passionate, independent, and not afraid to blaze his own trail, no matter what others think.”
Woodruff turned and laid a narrow-eyed scowl on the old vagabond. Kenny sheepishly rubbed the scruff on his chin and held the light a little higher, in a vain attempt to seem helpful.
“Stay here,” Woodruff said. “If I’m not back by sunrise, go get help.”
Kenny nodded and gave him a thumbs up. Woodruff stepped beyond the tree line and stood still for a moment, until his eyes adjusted.
Of all the times Bob had vanished, the trombone festival, the Myrtle Sklesko incident, the three-day blackout in the Pyrenees, this was the most worrisome. A number of possibilities troubled Woodruff’s mind. Had a lake merman worked Bob over for hitting on his lady of the lake? Had a tribe of pygmy warriors carried him off to be sacrificed to a vengeful god? Again. Did he find Bigfoot on a day when the beast was suffering an intense migraine brought on by a 72-hour YouTube binge and mild dehydration?
The sound of grunts and groans coming from deeper into the woods broke Woodruff from his worry spiral. He inched forward, cautiously, toward the sounds.
“Bob?” he whispered.
Through the thick forest foliage, Woodruff could see strands of orange light casting a warm glow into the dark woods. He crept forward listening to the soft groaning.
“Bob,” he whisper-yelled as he drew closer.
The groans stopped and Woodruff reached out to part the curtain of leaves in his path. Behind the natural barrier was a clearing with a roaring fire at the center. On the far side of the clearing, Bob hung upside down, with ropes tied to both ankles.
Woodruff sprang into the clearing and ran around the fire pit. He grabbed hold of Bob’s waist and lifted him up to ease the tension of the ropes.
“I got you,” Woodruff said. “Who did this? Was it an angry merman? How many times have a told you to leave the underwater world alone?”
“It was him,” Bob said.
“Who him?” Woodruff asked, looking down at his overturned friend.
“Him,” Bob pointed out across the clearing. Woodruff bent over and slowly followed Bob’s finger to a giant hairy creature beyond the fire.
“Bigfoot,” Woodruff muttered.
“His name is Bert,” Bob said. “And his feet are actually proportionate to his height.”
“Hello,” Bert said. He waved a hair-covered hand at Woodruff.
“Uh, hi?” Woodruff said.
Bert flashed a big bright smile and Woodruff stood up straight. The furry giant wore only a blue and black afghan around his waist. Other than that, his body was covered from head to foot with dark brown hair.
“Are you going to eat us?” Woodruff asked.
Bob and Bert chuckled.
“Uh, gross,” Bert said. “Why would you think that? Because I’m hairy?”
“That’s hairist,” Bob said.
“Then why do you have my friend tied up next to a fire in the middle of a secluded island forest?” Woodruff asked.
“The fire is for light and warmth,” Bert said. “We’re the middle of a secluded island forest.”
“And I asked him to tie me up,” Bob added.
“What?” Woodruff asked. “Why?”
“He asked me how I got so tall,” Bert replied.
“He told me it was from long term inversion therapy for a chronic back condition,” Bob said. “I told him I was looking to add some scale to this sweet package.”
“That’s what Xi said,” Bert added.
“Inappropriate,” Woodruff said.
“What?” Bert asked. “Wang Xi is a composer I summered with in Kathmandu. She wanted to add scales to her composition. Get your mind out of the gutter.”
“You were in the Himalayas?” Woodruff said. “You’re kidding.”
“Nobody kids about Kathmandu,” Bob replied.
“What’s funny about that?” Bert asked.
“The Himalayas,” Woodruff repeated. “You know, the Yeti.”
“Oh Woodruff,” Bob said, covering his upside-down eyes.
“That’s offensive,” Bert said. “I happen to have hereditary gigantism and suffer from congenital hypertrichosis, which effect one in ten billion people, just so you know. I’ve had to endure a lifetime of Sasquatch jokes and straight up cuckoos. Have you ever been hunted? It’s not fun.”
“Actually, Bert, we have been hunted,” Bob said, swinging gently side to side.
“A couple of times,” Woodruff said. “It was not fun.”
“Not fun at all,” Bob agreed.
“I’m sorry,” Woodruff said. “That was insensitive. Please forgive me.”
Bert sat down on a stump and scratch at the ground with a broken branch.
“It’s okay,” Bert said. “My ex says I’m too sensitive.”
“No,” Bob said. “It’s got to be hard living out here on your own.”
“Oh, I don’t live out here,” Bert said.
“You don’t?” Bob said.
“No, I was just doing some fishing,” Bert said. “You know, disconnecting, getting off the grid.”
Bob craned his neck and looked up at Woodruff, before they both turned back to Bert.
“I’m a hedge fund manager from San Fran,” Bert said.
“Why aren’t you wearing clothes?” Woodruff asked.
Bert looked down at the afghan tied around his waist.
“I fell in the water and hung my clothes out to dry,” he replied, pointing to a clothesline hanging between two trees. “Bob gave me this blanket he knitted.”
“Crocheted,” Bob corrected.
“We thought…” Woodruff stopped himself before further offending their host.
“You thought I was a mythical creature living in a secluded island forest away from societies reach?” Bert said. “I get that a lot.”
“Wow,” Bob said. “We sure learned a valuable lesson about making snap contextual judgements. Even when the evidence seems to overwhelmingly support them, you could still wind up mistaking a bay area capitalist on a fishing trip with a North American folk-legend.”
“No worries,” Bert said. “If I had a nickel for every time I was mistaken for Bigfoot, I’d have invested those nickels in the market, quadrupled my original investment, and bought a SKS-HT540 7.1 Channel Surround Sound System with a 10-inch subwoofer and Bluetooth.”
“The Onkyo,” Woodruff said. “Excellent choice. I’ve got the HT-7800 at home.”
“Always nice to meet another audiophile,” Bert said.
Bert gave a double pistol salute with his finger guns just before being taken to the ground by a rampaging man who leapt from the bushes.
“Run for it, guys!” Kenny yelled, as he struggled with his hairy captive. “Save yourselves! Tell Meryl I’ve always loved her.”
“Kenny, what are you doing?” Bob asked.
“Kenny?” Bert said.
“Bert?” Kenny replied.
“Hey!” they sang in unison. With a great big smile, Kenny climbed off Bert and helped him off the ground.
“You know each other?” Woodruff asked.
“This is my brother-in-law,” Kenny said.
“Ex-brother-in-law,” Bert added.
“Her loss, brother,” Kenny said.
“As always, you’re too kind.”
“How’ve you been?”
“Good,” Bert said. “You?”
“Same,” Kenny said. “Whatcha doing out here?”
“Just these two,” Bert said, pointing at Woodruff and Bob.
“Those are throwbacks for sure,” Kenny said, with a wink.
“Definitely,” Bert said, and pantomimed a tossing motion. “Catch and release.”
Kenny threw his arm around the waist of his former brother-in-law and they both laughed. The smile fell from Kenny’s face as he looked over at Woodruff and a dangling Bob.
“Wait a minute,” Kenny said, raising an eyebrow in their direction. “Did you two think Bert was Bigfoot?”
“It was dark,” Woodruff said.
“And far away,” Bob added.
Kenny shook his head and muttered, “Of all the hairist…”
“It’s Reno all over again,” Woodruff whispered.
“She was incognito!” Bob said.
Woodruff mouthed a silent, “We’re so sorry” to Bert.
“Would you like a lukewarm apology milkshake?” Kenny asked Bert.
“Jamocha?” Bert asked.
“Chocolate,” Kenny said.
“Pass,” Bert replied.