I repeated the name to myself over and over. The name wasn’t familiar. In a small town like Hogsfeet, Alabama, everyone knew everyone’s business. The art club in town was about to shut down from lack of funds. There was a recent spotting of the real Bigfoot on the big mountain twelve miles north off AL-49. Pastor Jones’s son got slapped with a DUI a few days ago. Combs allegedly lived in a small apartment complex on the outskirts of town before he disappeared. The grainy monochrome picture in the newspaper didn’t help. Landon looked like any other middle aged white man from around here. Nothing special about him except for his wavy hair which could be any color.
Combs was a strong southern name, but I knew no one by that name. There were the Collombs who organized the bake off every year. The Cominskeys who were the most educated in town. Mr. Cominskey’s wife was the head librarian at the public library. And the Cobb brothers were factory workers who were away from home more than I was. But I never heard of a Combs.
I sipped a sweet tea while reading the Gazette, the local newspaper, in the kitchen. The air conditioning hummed while the humidity seeped through the windows. Another sticky day predicted by the Gazette.
“Honey,” I called to the next room, “You know anyone named Combs around here?”
Monica appeared in her usual night gown and bathrobe, hair tied in a messy bun. Dark circles stretched under her eyes. She looked a tired mom which I’d give credit for if we had any kids.
“I wish you wouldn’t shout this early in the morning,” Monica said after popping open a Coke from the fridge.
“And I wish my wife would wake up before noon.” I hoped Monica would get a grip after being married for fifteen years. She always came home around three or four in the morning from some late night excursion doing God knows what. She might be cheating. At this point, I didn’t care much.
“It is barely eight o’clock on a Saturday,” Monica said, “I’m up and I have my caffeine. Happy?” She took her Coke into the other room to watch our non-cable TV that I paid for, the subject of Landon Combs forgotten. She collapsed in the armchair, also that I paid for, with her head in her hand as she watched the morning news.
Like every Saturday I was optimistic that I might spend some time with Monica. I worked a sixty hour week at the warehouse as a senior forklift operator with weekends off. Monica complained she was tired on my days off. I was exhausted too, but I wanted to do literally anything together. Weekends consisted of nursing Monica’s constant hangover from drinking the bar out of stock.
I brought the paper and a wet towel to the living room. I draped the towel over her forehead and showed her the Landon Combs article.
“Missing for the last month?” she snorted, “Good luck. He’s probably dead.”
The only phone number to contact in case of a sighting was the Hogsfeet Police. No mention of his parents, relatives, or anyone who knew him. Never heard his name mentioned in the prayer intentions at church. I saw people who looked like him but didn’t have his wavy hair. Monica was right. He was probably dead.
There was nothing planned for us to do until she got over whatever she was drinking the night before. I don’t know why I bothered worrying anymore. She was going to go out tonight and do the same thing she did last night. I hoped she didn’t bring home some bar rat to my bed.
I drove to the small downtown area in Hogsfeet known as the Square and parked in the narrow spaces just large enough to accompany today’s vehicles. Trucks weren’t allowed on the Square because there was no space to put a big pick up here.
I stepped into Pete’s barber shop. Pete and I greeted each other as old friends do. I sat in the chair while he draped an ugly cape with a floral print around me. I never asked, but I was sure that cape was the tablecloth from his kitchen table upstairs.
“We’ll do a usual?” said Pete. I nodded and he went to work wetting my hair. Seventy-two and still running his business, whistling to an old-timey tune in his head. I wanted his spirit.
Haircuts were an every two weeks thing for me. Not that I needed them. I liked the social interaction I couldn’t get from my marriage.
“Little off the sides, little off the top,” Pete mumbled as he carefully sculpted with the electric razor.
“You read about that Combs character in the paper?” I asked.
“Yes, of course. Sad case.”
“Did you know him?”
“No,” Pete buzzed away at my hair. “He never came in here.”
Pete cut everyone’s hair and heard all the gossip going through town. Of all people, I thought Pete would have known or seen something about him.
“What’s his deal, you think?” I asked.
Pete smiled in his lazy way. “There’s a reason he’s on the back page of the paper, son.”
I strolled through town afterwards. Quiet Saturday morning. The sun beat the sweat out of me around nine that morning. People did their shopping at the local Food Mart. Travelers passing through ate breakfast at the nook in the wall that called itself a Waffle House. The police station on the other side of the Square had a couple squad cars in the parking lot but not a lot of activity.
No one was making any effort to find Landon Combs.
I asked about Combs at the police station. The cops perked up at the name and asked if I had any information on him.
“Well no,” I said, “But—.”
“Beat it then. We don’t work dead leads.”
“Can you tell me where he was last seen, then?”
“Truck was found a few miles north off the main drag out of town, close to the big mountain. But we never seen him before, never been arrested or even a traffic ticket. The only way we got a name and a picture for the paper was because we ran his license plate.”
I hurried out of the station knowing what I had to do. I didn’t know why I cared so much about finding this guy. I and no one else in town knew the man as if he never existed before his name was in the paper. I repeated to myself that Combs was probably dead like Monica hypothesized. But that didn’t stop me from heading towards the mountain.
I drove up the mountain until I found the pickup the police described parked on the side of the road. The truck had scratches all over and the windshield was cracked all the way across at the bottom. I parked by the truck and headed on the hiking trail into the woods.
I didn’t expect to find anything, but I had to try. Landon Combs had a life, perhaps a simple life and no one noticed his presence. Still a life. He had to have someone who cared about him. I couldn’t be a bystander.
The birds chirped and hooted. The leaves crunched under my feet like packing peanuts. I was thankful to be out of the sun for a bit. I wasn’t worried about what my wife or anyone else was doing. I was by myself with nature and happy. A creek trickled nearby.
I climbed a couple boulders and washed my face in the dirty water. The water was ice cold but refreshing. When I looked up, another face stared at me with eyes wide open from across the creek.
The man had a rough, tangled beard and long matted hair wavy at the front. His jeans were ragged, frayed, torn through at the knees. An unbuttoned plaid shirt showed his hairy chest. A layer of dirt coated his skin as if he was born in filth and would forever live in it. He’d been out here enough time to absorb himself in it.
“Landon?” I said as if I knew him all along, “Landon Combs?”
He cocked his head at the sound of his own name and stood to his full height. The man was tall, nearly monstrous, built like a construction worker. He had long lost his shoes revealing his scarred feet from treading the forest floor. I recognized the barbaric picture from the front page of the paper. The paper claimed this was the latest sighting of Bigfoot with a bounty on his head for anyone who could bring him in.
Landon beckoned me to follow him. Deeper into the forest we went to a large mouthed cave at the bottom of a ravine.
I said, “I can take you home if you want, my car’s just a mile or two away by your truck.”
The wild man kept his things in a cradle of rocks just inside the cave. A backpack with a some dried rations, a few bottles of brown creek water, and a tattered wallet. Underneath the ID card in his wallet, he pulled out a wrinkled photo of a man, woman, and a little baby. He gave it to me and tears welled in his eyes.
“I can’t go back,” he finally said. “This cave is my home now.”
“But your family—. The little baby.”
“My baby girl’s all grown up now. Wife’s dead. There’s nothing more for me to do. I just want to die where I’m happy.”
He said this like he knew his life’s purpose. If Landon wanted to live in a cave like a prehistoric ape, that was his business. But he did something I hadn’t done in fifteen years of marriage. He loved his family and saw his daughter grow up. The only people looking for Landon were maybe some bounty hunters who wanted a payday for capturing the real Bigfoot. Landon picked berries off a bush and kept them in a dirty old lunchbox.
I left Landon where he was in the middle of nowhere. I scurried home as fast as I could. I needed to make things right between me and Monica. I had to make it work. Maybe we could finally have a child and provide a meaningful life for them.
When I came home, there was no one but myself. I held the framed photo of us on our wedding day. That was the last time Monica smiled in front of me. I was glad we didn’t have kids. Monica left the house earlier that day. She stuck a sticky note on the fridge. Don’t try to find me. By the time you read this, I’ll be long gone.
She didn’t have to sign it for me to know it was her handwriting. Our marriage was over years ago. We were going through the motions. I never told the police about Landon or of the real Bigfoot. Landon was on the back page of the paper week after week until the police stopped looking for him. The back page started running ads about new deals on washing machines. Landon Combs faded.