THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter Four: The Road Best Not Taken

“The Road Best Not Taken” by horror author and video game writer Richard Dansky is a treasure I discovered during the Georgia Bigfoot Conference in April. It’s a riveting short story propelled by the eyewitness testimony of a Bigfoot encounter.

“I’ve always been a Bigfoot fan ever since I saw the Bigfoot episode of ‘In Search Of …’ way, way, way, way, way back in the day,” Dansky said in an exclusive interview for The Bigfoot Files. “It’s always been something I’ve been interested in …  reading about encounters people have had with Bigfoot. The story was actually inspired by an account I heard. Reading about that encounter I saw the seeds of a good story in there if I just expand it a little bit.”

snowbird gothic“The Road Best Not Taken” is one of nineteen short stories in Dansky’s collection titled Snowbird Gothic. Dansky is also a video game writer at Ubisoft, and his credits include work on Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Outland, and Rainbow Six: Black Arrow. He also wrote the novel Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands: Dark Waters.

Tom Clancy Dark Waters

While Dansky’s short story “The Road Best Not Taken” is a far cry from the world of Tom Clancy, his tale is a compelling illustration of how a traumatic encounter can alter the path of someone’s life. Narrated in the first person by a second-grade teacher named Barry, “The Road Best Not Taken” is a dramatic eyewitness account of Bigfoot with a twist.

The setting is a beach bonfire where four old college friends – Barry, Sam, Harris, and Jeremy – reunite and catch up on each other’s lives. However, the only real information Barry’s friends want to know is the reason for his breakup with a redhead named Jaimie nine years ago.

“I could tell you what happened, but I don’t think you’d believe me.”

His friends push Barry to explain what happened.

“If I tell you, will you let it go? It’s not a story I want to tell twice.”

And just like that, Dansky expertly hooks the reader, and you feel like one of Barry’s college friends sitting around the bonfire. Like Sam, Harris, and Jeremy, you have to know what happened between Barry and Jaimie.

And what happened was Bigfoot, but not in the way you’d expect.

Barry’s account starts with him driving from Chapel Hill to Elizabeth City to visit Jaimie during his college days. He hits construction an hour east of Raleigh and makes the fateful decision to take a shortcut. He gets lost on the backroads leading to his Bigfoot encounter.

Barry struggles at times to tell the story to his friends because they can’t relate to his experience. He’s like a soldier trying to describe the frontlines of a war zone to civilians who’ve never served in the military.

What elevates “The Road Best Not Taken” is Dansky’s earnest description of the Bigfoot encounter and his empathy for the narrator. Dansky seems to understand how a Bigfoot encounter would affect an eyewitness emotionally and psychologically.

Dansky is a Bigfoot believer himself and knows people who say they’ve seen the cryptid, which may be why “The Road Best Not Taken” feels so authentic.

Richard Dansky.jpg

Richard Dansky

“I have eight friends who have seen Bigfoot, so I’m not inclined to call them liars,” Dansky said. “I have never seen Bigfoot myself. I’m a city boy.”

I asked Dansky why Bigfoot remains so prevalent in pop culture today.

“I think part of it is the mystery of ‘Is it really out there?’ There’s a little bit of realism to it you don’t get from vampires and zombies,” Dansky said. “And part of it is Bigfoot stands for the untamed wilderness, which is still a big part of this country’s psyche, I think.”

“I believe Bigfoot is out there,” Dansky added. “I believe Bigfoot is a large primate, and I hope he continues to confound and amaze us for many years.”

NEXT UP | Chapter Five: Wood Ape. I review the horror novel Wood Ape by C.G. Mosley, featuring an exclusive interview with the author about how the Bigfoot legend inspired his story.

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RELATED LINKS:

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter One: The Idea of Bigfoot

THE BIGFOOT FILES| Chapter Two: Dweller

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter Three: Swamp Monster Massacre

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter One: The Idea of Bigfoot

The Idea of Bigfoot by Lionel Ray Green

I believe in Bigfoot. Or rather I believe in the idea of Bigfoot.

I’m not an expert on Bigfoot, although I have studied the legend intensely. I’m merely a fan intrigued by how the stubbornly persistent legend has inundated itself into American pop culture, specifically horror film and fiction.

Bigfoot is everywhere. In films. In books. On television in Jack Link’s Beef Jerky commercials and Saturday Night Live. On T-shirts and coffee mugs.

Bigfoot’s everywhere in my life, too.

Bigfoot-shoesMy favorite place to satisfy my sweet tooth is Bigfoot’s Little Donuts, where the cryptid is featured prominently on the sign and in the décor inside the eatery. I plan to attend the First Annual Georgia Bigfoot Conference in Clayton, Georgia the weekend of April 26-28. I have a Bigfoot crossing sign on my door. A Bigfoot keyring keeps my keys secure. My favorite hat displays a silhouette of Bigfoot surrounded by the words “I Believe.” My favorite T-shirt features the legendary silhouette of the creature. I even have my Bigfoot socks and slippers.

So, while I’m not an expert, I’m a diehard fanatic. I love the idea of a legendary monster roaming the wild, instinctively knowing to avoid contact with humans. While humans often portray Bigfoot as a monster in film and fiction, the legendary cryptid seems smart enough to avoid what it thinks are the real monsters of the world: humans. Bigfoot understands discovery means death.

Whether Bigfoot is real or fake never mattered to me because the legend inspires me nearly every day. I remain mesmerized by the definitive Bigfoot moment. Of course, I’m referring to the Patterson-Gimlin film clip that briefly shows a lumbering bipedal creature walking along Bluff Creek in northern California on October 20, 1967. Allegedly.

bigfoot.jpg

It might surprise you that I think the film is a hoax, but an inspired hoax fueled by the idea of Bigfoot. Real or not, the film inspired me to delve deeper into the Bigfoot legend and sparked my imagination like no other pop culture phenomenon. Bigfoot is a top-five inspiration for my fiction writing alongside the books The Lord of the Rings and Boy’s Life and the movies Halloween (1978) and Babe (1995).

The name Bigfoot didn’t appear in the media until a 1958 newspaper article in the Humboldt Times, but stories of hairy bipedal humanoid creatures have been reported in folklore and history throughout the world. The most well-known of these reports are Sasquatch (an anglicized form of a Native American word) and Yeti (a likely Sherpa form of a Tibetan description).

While the 1958 article introduced the name Bigfoot to the American public, the Patterson-Gimlin film brought the legend into pop culture full force — and it has never left. The iconic frame 352 of the Patterson-Gimlin film shows the legendary creature glancing back at the camera. It foreshadowed a future of Bigfoot in the movies, where it remains a fixture in film and fiction.

Usually, Bigfoot is depicted as a savage beast with predatory tendencies who kills humans. Bigfoot is rarely cast as a gentle giant. Harry and the Hendersons (1987) and Smallfoot (2018) are the exceptions, not the rule.

The result? Bigfoot is as much a horror icon in pop culture today as vampires and werewolves. That’s what this column, The Bigfoot Files, will explore. I’ll review the movies, books, and other media where Bigfoot is featured. Thanks for joining this expedition with me. Hopefully, I’ll introduce you to some movies and books about Bigfoot worth watching and reading.

NEXT UP | Chapter Two: Dweller. I review the 2010 horror novel Dweller by Jeff Strand, featuring an exclusive interview with the author about how the Bigfoot legend inspired the Bram Stoker Award-nominated book.