The smell of the fire wakes me, as it usually does. The low drone of voices slowly enters my consciousness as well. I rub my hands over my eyes and sit up. The stew cooking in the fire pit makes my mouth water and I realize how hungry I am.
I look around and make eye contact with the others around the fire. As they don’t have bowls of food, I surmise that the stew isn’t done yet, or they haven’t been awake long enough to grab some.
Richard, Amy, and a few others are milling about, talking, and waking up. There are others in the clearing that are still on their bedrolls. Some have blankets over them that I recognize, some don’t.
I make eye contact with those I’ve seen here before, then stand and walk to Amy. “Been awake long?”
“Not long enough. I’m still groggy. I wish they would just tell us where to meet them.”
“But that would ruin the mystery.”
“Of this meeting?”
“Of this meeting and of them.” I nod in the direction of Bigfoot’s chair and see that they have not yet arrived.
“Do you know if the food is ready yet?”
“Fuck it.” I move to the stew pot, look inside, find the ladle, and stir it up. It bubbles and steam rises from it. “Looks ready.”
Others move toward me as I dish some stew into a bowl. I hand off the bowl and fill a couple for other people before someone else takes over the task. More people wake up. We sit around the fire, welcome the new artists, and enjoy the stew. Amy sits down on my left and smiles as she takes a big spoonful of stew. It’s nice to see her. I enjoy her company immensely, but she lives far from me. We don’t get to see each other much. I frown as I look over at her.
“Why are you here? I thought you had a series going?”
“It’s never a bad idea to get new ideas. Besides, they might have something I can slip into the series.”
“Hey!” A deep voice calls from across the fire.
We look over at a new person, who looks annoyed. “Yes?”
“Where is he? Where’s Bigfoot? I thought that’s what we were here for.”
“They show up when they’re ready,” comes a voice from closer to Bigfoot’s chair. There are about twenty people sitting around the campfire. Fifteen look like regulars, five are new.
The annoyed person turns their head to look at Christine. “Why are you using ‘they’? Bigfoot’s a guy.”
Many of the regular artists look at each other. A few roll their eyes. An artist whose name I have forgotten, answers in his lovely baritone voice. That man could read a phonebook and I’d listen.
“Bigfoot has never told us their gender, and no one here is going to ask or look. We go with ‘they’ as that’s what you use if you don’t know a person’s gender.” Mr. Baritone, a large man of six feet, turns his bulk to Annoyed One. “Got a problem with that?”
Annoyed One shakes their head quickly and looks at their stew. They stir it then frown. “What’s in this?”
Amy leans over to me to whisper. “That’s two.”
“They’re not going to make it.”
“I’m ok with that.” Richard’s quiet voice reaches me from my right.
“Do you know them?” I ask softly.
“Yeah. I made the mistake of inviting him. I thought he was ok.”
“We’ve all made mistakes.” I reassure him. “It’s never held against us.”
It’s true. This started out as five people, decades ago. I wasn’t part of the original group. I’m too young for that. My dad invited me. We were only here together once before he passed away, but it was a lovely night. I cherish those memories.
Every few years, Bigfoot gives us the opportunity to invite new people if we can think of anyone. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t. Even when they don’t, the original artist is not held accountable. We never know how a person is going to react.
Sometimes, someone invites an artist that just doesn’t fit. They ask too many of the wrong questions, they seem irritated by the entire thing, and they usually act harshly toward how Bigfoot shares their ideas. I’m waiting on Annoyed One to throw a fit when that happens. A rustling in the leaves makes most of us pay attention and we look over to the woods behind the big chair. Bigfoot emerges and even in the low light, we can see the smile mostly hidden by their fur.
“Huzzah!” We state in greeting.
<Welcome.> Their voice slips into our minds. It is calm and soothing and puts most of us at ease.
Annoyed One looks up from his stew at Bigfoot. “What was that?”
Bigfoot looks at the man. <I’m telepathic. This is how I communicate.>
“Oh, hell no! I don’t want that thing in my head!”
“That’s three,” come the solemn voices.
Bigfoot looks at a few of us regulars as we nod. <So be it.>
They wave their hand at Annoyed One who instantly falls asleep as he tries to grumble. There is a rustling from the forest near him as two more Bigfeet come out. One carries Annoyed One away into the forest, the other grabs his belongings. He’ll wake in his bed in the morning. We’ve been assured before that people like him wake thinking this was all a dream. It’s for the best; he won’t try and convince other people this happened if he thinks this was all a dream.
<Now, where was I? Ah yes, welcome. Thank you for coming.> They take their seat at their chair and look about. <I trust all of you have eaten?>
“Yes! Thank you!” Even the new people say the same thing.
Bigfoot looks around as they exude good feeling. We all reach for writing implements. Some of us have pen and paper, some have tablets, some have phones. Though there is no internet access, we can still type on our devices. Once we’re ready, Bigfoot starts.
<Idea one: a lone person stands on a mountain top, screaming as an eagle flies by, laughing. Idea two: a person lays in the middle of a busy street, a flower in her hand, crying.>
And they keep going. This lasts many hours, but the sun does not rise until they are done. The Bigfoot community is thick with magic. Once they are done talking, Bigfoot points to the artist on their right and asks how many ideas they wrote down. I can’t see who it is, but they answer with, “Thirteen.”
Bigfoot hands them a bowl, and the artist puts in $13 cash. Bigfoot looks to the next person and the bowl is passed until all have paid their dues. One dollar an idea. It’s not much really, but they don’t need money. Some money is needed, but if they have too much, it will get them noticed. Or rather, it’ll get their human guardians noticed.
Once the ideas are paid for, Bigfoot leaves. We humans sit around the fire, have more food, and talk about the ideas. Since it’s writers, painters, sculptors, photographers, and not just writers, the ideas we pay for will not be used in the same way. A couple of us have collaborated on projects when the ideas are similar enough, but for the most part, as we are very different people, the ideas look original to the outside world.
When I first started coming here, I asked where Bigfoot got their ideas. Images flash in their head, bright and expectant, apparently. Though they have many ideas each year, they don’t like to write, or paint or do much creatively. They feel their imagination is wasted on them. Therefore, they invite humans and sell their ideas.
But as we’re not allowed to talk about this, (we do need to keep the Bigfoot community safely hidden away from inquisitive humans), this doesn’t actually happen. It’s all just a made-up story told for fun.