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 Three: Swamp Monster Massacre

Horror author Hunter Shea admittedly owes a lot of his success to Skunk Apes, the Everglades version of Bigfoot.

Swamp Monster Massacre cover.jpg

Shea’s fast-paced, action-packed horror novel, Swamp Monster Massacre, is a crowd-pleasing creature feature about a criminal on the lam alongside a group of Everglades tourists trying to survive a pissed-off family of Skunk Apes.

Swamp Monster Massacre is also the book that helped launch Shea’s career as a writer of cryptid fiction.

In an exclusive interview for The Bigfoot Files, Shea said a popular TV show sparked the idea for Swamp Monster Massacre.

“The entire novel literally came to me fully formed while watching an episode of Bar Rescue,” Shea said. “I knew I wanted to write a Bigfoot book, but I had to take a different angle. And I wanted the heat of summer to be a character of its own, so my mind immediately went to the Florida Everglades. Settling on Skunk Apes, those smelly beasties of the swamp, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to strand a bunch of tourists in a fan boat in the middle of the Everglades?’ And what better way to do that than have them kidnapped by a criminal named Rooster. It was one of the very few times a story popped into my head fully formed. I wrote the book over the course of three weeks in a kind of fever dream. Little did I know how much that crazy little book would change my life.”

While evidence of the Skunk Ape’s existence is lacking, Shea’s discovery is based on clear proof of his unique writing talent in the horror genre.

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Hunter Shea

“I was discovered by my editor at Kensington/Pinnacle when he read the book,” Shea said. “That turned into a three mass market paperback deal and other books that have followed. It also set me on my cryptid course. I’ve now written about the Jersey Devil, Orang Pendeks, the Loch Ness Monster, the Dover Demon, and so many more. In fact, I kind of combine the beasts and many of the characters from those standalone books into my Patreon only choose-your-adventure story, Clash of the Cryptids. That book led me to meeting and befriending real cryptozoologists, including Loren Coleman. I’ve even had some of my books on display at the International Cryptozoology Museum. It’s kind of crazy to think how so much has come from a book called Swamp Monster Massacre. It’s a dream come true in a very weird way.”

Swamp Monster Massacre begins with a hot-under-the-collar criminal named Rooster Murphy prying his knuckle from the shattered eye socket of a Cuban named Cheech after a gun deal gone wrong. Rooster soon finds himself on the run from three vengeful Cubans and commandeers an airboat of tourists to escape.

On the boat are pilot Mick and seven passengers. The passenger list includes two Jersey Shore-type guys Angelo and Dominic; identical twin blonde college girls Liz and Maddie; older married couple John and Carol; and businessman Jack.

Rooster doesn’t want to hurt anybody. He just wants to reach a safe house hidden in the Everglades that his father showed him when he was old enough to learn the family business. However, the passengers don’t know Rooster’s intentions and attempt to disarm him, resulting in a boat wreck that strands everyone in the middle of the swamp, miles away from the safe house.

Unfortunately, the boat happened to hit a young Skunk Ape standing on the shore, killing it and sending the other Skunk Apes into a bloodlust of vengeance. The rest of the story follows Rooster, Mick, and the tourists into the Everglades where the family of Skunk Apes hounds the group, picking off the humans one by one.

Shea writes the action at a breathless pace but doesn’t forget to include details of the swamp’s heat and mosquitoes, which makes the setting a character of its own. Despite the gory nature of the book (Massacre is in the title), Shea provides a kind of comedy relief with some of his dialogue and descriptive metaphors.

He saves some of his best descriptions for the Skunk Apes:

  • “Four hairy monsters, the smallest at just about seven feet, the largest over eight, stood side by side on the shore, bellowing with murderous intent. All had broad, muscular chests, and one sported a pair of drooping, furred breasts. The hair on their heads was long, like an 80s glam band gone rogue. Their immense, talon-like hands hung low, almost to their knees. A small amount of bronze flesh was visible on their faces, but the rest of them just looked like bipedal woolly mammoths. And their eyes! Eight flaming eyes bored out from under all that hair and filth.”
  • The Skunk Ape’s smell? “It was like a combination of gasoline, body odor, wet dog, and the inside of a baby’s diaper.”
  • The Skunk Ape’s sound? “Suddenly, there was a loud roar, like what Rooster would imagine a tiger caught in a bear trap would sound like.”

One of my favorite lines is when Rooster tries to convince the pilot that they need to get moving: “It’s either that, or sit here like a corn dog on a dinner plate.”

The climax of Swamp Monster Massacre is brutal as the story dips into extreme elements of horror for the finale, but what a wild ride at the end. The tone of the book reminded me of the 1987 film Predator starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, where the tension of a possible surprise attack at any moment keeps everyone on edge.

Shea’s interest in and ability to write about cryptids is legit, and among his many cryptid titles is Savage Jungle, a novel about Sumatra’s version of Bigfoot, the Orang Pendek.

Savage Jungle cover.jpg

I asked Shea if he believes in Bigfoot.

“I believe there is a high probability that Bigfoot is real, but perhaps not in the way that people think and hope,” Shea explained. “I’m not on board with the interdimensional Sasquatch theory, nor do I think they are aligned with extraterrestrial interlopers. I think that whatever they are is something beyond our modern comprehension. That goes for ghosts and ETs as well. Somehow, they are all connected and have always been throughout time, with different names given to them by succeeding generations of man. Are they physical beings? I tend to think they are ultra-physical, a form of life we’re not equipped with at this time in our development to even fathom. Anyone trying to explain Bigfoot is like the Buddha telling people how a cellphone works. No matter what, belief makes the world a much more fascinating place.”

I also asked Shea why he thinks Bigfoot continues to remain so prevalent in pop culture today.

“Bigfoot is fun for the city dwellers, a monster myth that makes for cool TV specials, bad movies, and some bizarre books,” Shea replied. “For the woodsy folks, it’s a killer campfire story that adds an element of excitement to a night in the deep, dark forest. I once took my daughters on a nature hike in Maine that was basically a trail that wrapped around Main Street. You could even hear cars from time to time. But when they heard what sounded like a wood knock, they nearly beat feet and ran the hell out of there. Fear is good. It’s a rush. It makes us feel alive. In a time where it seems like everything is at our fingertips, it’s nice to think we don’t have everything figured out. The possibility that our long lost cousin or the missing link is still out there, ready to redefine our notions of ourselves, is downright fascinating.”

NEXT UP | Chapter Four: “The Road Best Not Taken.” I review the horror short story “The Road Best Not Taken” from the collection Snowbird Gothic by Richard Dansky, featuring an exclusive interview with the author about how the Bigfoot legend inspired his story.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

RELATED LINKS:

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter One: The Idea of Bigfoot

THE BIGFOOT FILES| Chapter Two: Dweller