“My tax dollars at work,” he grumbled, reading a front page article on Congress’ plan to mine the asteroid belt in preparation for the UFO invasion. Tucking the rest of the paper under his sleeveless arm, he slammed the door shut behind him. Kids these days don’t know how easy they have it, he thought angrily, dragging his 60 years of cynicism and inner peace with him to the kitchen; a pot of tea would be just the thing to calm the fire in his belly.
With lemons. Bert loved lemons. His friends warned him that they’d turn his insides sour, but Bert ignored them. His friends were largely fools and wastrels. They wouldn’t know the value of a good lemon unless they saw an advertisement for one on the holotube.
He removed the tea cells from the freezer. He kept the tea in the freezer along with his bread, milk and cheese, to keep them from going bad. When he tried to separate the block of tea leaves into their prefabricated chunks, the edges refused to budge. Bert’s tea was frozen to itself. He deftly drew a knife from the drawer and promptly removed his thumb with it.
“Let’s see... here we go.”
He held his severed thumb to the large tea-chunk. Sending synaptic commands to the digit, he watched as it began to melt right into the block. Spider-like robots a hundredth the size of a speck of dust marched across freeze-dried tea leaves, eating away at the ice crystals between them. Five seconds later, the chunk collapsed into its component leaves, and a mass of nanobots gathered into a gelatinous blob of gray goo. Bert reached down with his four-fingered hand, and the blob molded itself back into the shape of a thumb, blending perfectly with the rest of his hand.
“Mmmmm... tea,” Bert said as he began to drop the leaves into a vat of boiling water. The bubbles lapped his hands as he lowered each individual leaf into their scorching depths. Intense heat would have badly burned the hands of a normal person, but Bert Crandle was composed entirely of nanobots, the successful result of a wacky 1960’s government experiment.
And then, the telephone rang. Everyone laughed at him for having a telephone, since nobody else on Earth used telephones anymore. He liked how it looked, sitting in its cordless cradle. He never expected it to start ringing.
“Hello?” He asked, picking up the receiver.
“Can I interest you in some fine leather jackets?”
Bert scowled, slamming the receiver down. The first phone call he’d received in more than two decades, and the jerk hangs up. He had been so delighted that he didn’t mind it was a telemarketer.
Or so he thought.
The next day, a bow of leather jackets was sitting on his porch. They were of fine quality, but they smelled strange, and the leather was too thin and stretchy to be regular leather. Regardless, Bert wrapped himself up in the largest jacket, which covered him neck to ankles, like a trench coat... like a trench coat with enormous sleeves.
“Five strike five!” a chalky voice yelled from the dark alleyway. Springing backward, Bert grabbed his collar and threw him against the grainy pavement.
“Okay, who...?!” but before he could complete the forceful interrogation, three or four people jumped out from behind, tenting his nanobot-laced head with a... tent.
“Ahhhh!” he screamed, tearing at his face. “Is this dry clean only?! You fiends!”
“Keep him quiet,” one of the attackers yelled, whacking Bert in the head with what he assumed was a... shoe. “There’s a 30% chance someone will come by and stop us from-”
A sharp kick to the ribs knocked the assailant sideways, upturning a nearby cart full of soda bottles. Carbonated water leaked out, filling the streets with a lemony scent. How Bert loved lemons...
“Yee-haw!” Bert screamed, his honed cowboy holler cracking through the retiree image he’d built for himself all these empty, pig-filled years. “Now, who wants a piece of grandpa?!”
The other sulky skulkers backed off, slowly at first, but accelerating backward at a rate not unlike a Fibonacci sequence. One step, two steps, five steps, eight... they missed a number, true, but at what price?
“You!” Bert shouted at the semi-conscious whelp at his feet, “who are you?!”
“You’re... the one... I’m... so happy!” the skulker laughed between coughs. He was wearing a druidic shroud, but his blood red eyes and face paint betrayed an evil greater than Bert could have imagined during his tenure at the U.S. Department of Funk.
“Did the mimes send you?!” Bert growled at the skulker’s tinted visor. The man only smiled, revealing a set of razor-sharp teeth.
“Do you enjoy your... new coat?” he wheezed wistfully. Bert’s blood burned bitterly, nanobots nibbling nervously at his neurons. This skulker’s sleazy subtext suggested subterfuge!
“How much do you know about this coat?”
“Only that it had only one previous owner,” the skulker wheezed. “A friend of yours, I believe. A close friend.”
Bert let the man fall to the ground, and bolted down the darkened alleyway. Swerving between overfilled garbage bins, he could still hear the raspy laugh of the skulker, all the way back to his townhouse.
“Then I’m glad I called when I did,” a deep, throaty voice grated through the echo caused by ancient telecommunication protocols. “Perhaps now you’ll be a little less cooperative.”
“I- less? What?”
“Bah! Your human speech is inefficient!” the speaker complained. “Once we take over, all communication will be through pantomime! Then less will be more!”
“The most you’ll ever take over is a cereal bowl, Excel Portmanteau!” a third voice boomed over the phone lines, crackling their already-stressed bandwidth.
“Be still, snow-beast!”
“Is that-” Bert held his breath, hoping he hadn’t heard what direct observation and circumstantial evidence and common sense told him.
“Yes!” laughed Excel, eyes flashing over the non-visual medium. “It is! And if you don’t meet my demands by sundown tomorrow, I’m going to deep fry him! Bwa ha ha!”
A loud clicking sound cut Bert off, leaving him holding the phone, a perplexed look on his dazed, moon-shaped face.
“But... you didn’t even tell me your demands...” he said to no one in particular.
Don’t worry, buddy! Bert thought to himself. I’m a-comin’!
“I’m at the agreed-upon coordinates,” he flared futilely into the phone in fluent Flemish, the lingua franca in this section of the Himalayas. Falling snowflakes laughed at him as they fell, burning to the ground. Where are you, Sensei?
“You have once again failed to surpass my all-encompassing lessons, Crandle San.”
Bert jerked backwards, nanites breaking off his outer epidermal layer in the frigid breeze. “Sensei!”
It was hard to believe barely a decade had passed since Bert’s graduation from Sensei Schultz’s nanite-folding seminars. He had learned much since then, through on-the-job training and self-help books; still, no amount of reading could equal five minutes with the wizened sage.
“The power of the nanites tell me... that you did not come here to quote, ‘be jolly,’ end quote.”
“Sensei, I’m here only under the gravest of circumstances. I know well how much you enjoy your privacy-”
“Jum jum, I enjoy my privacy!” the old man spouted, making up words as he went along. It was one of the defining features of Sensei Schultz’s classes, the fabricated words. But while the words themselves were fictional, their meaning, the emotion behind them was real. As one of the few surviving graduates, Bert understood that fully.
“I’m here because one of your students is in peril... in the clutches of Portmanteau.”
Jaw dropping, Schultz let his walking stick fall into the nearest snow bank. “I... was aware of this, Crandle San.”
“Then why have you not acted?”
“Who says I didn’t?” Schultz chuckled, his wrinkled face cracking a half-grin. Not a whole grin, which the situation didn’t warrant. Schultz was very good at determining which facial expression best suited a situation... it was one of his many talents.
“Sensei, if we don’t free Bigfoot, Portmanteau is going to deep-fry him.” Bert’s eyes teared up just thinking about his old college roommate screaming, being lowered into the batter-laden gullet of a deep fryer.
“I have done all I can, Crandle San, as evidenced by that coat you bear upon your mantle.”
“You mean the coat I curiously procured, that coats my back conspicuously?”
“Yes, the cavernous coat that coddles your countenance,” Sensei Schultz said, the slight sound of a subtle scheme steeped in his speech.
“I still... no. No. Sensei, it cannot be!”
“But it is, Crandle San. It is the Bigfoot Coat of Arms.”
Bert gasped, grasping the sleeves. Tugging in vain, the coat clutched tighter and tighter to his skin. Sending signals to his nanites, Bert tried to shape-shift out... to no effect. Beads of nanite-secreted sweat rolled down his sloping brow.
“Sensei, the prophesy!” Bert cried, memory files of forgotten lore flooding his cortex. “The coat will transform me from a humble servant into a... a Bigfoot!”
“At which point you must fight the current Bigfoot... to the death,” the centagenarian melodramatically growled, biting his upper lip and opening his eyes as wide as a blast furnace.
“I cannot fight Bigfoot! He’s... he’s been like a brother to me! We’ve fought together in combat, dined on the stockpiled war rations of our enemies...”
“And yet you’ve already savaged him in effigy.”
Bert looked down, his hands and sleeves—although it was hard to differentiate between them—were covered with plastic shards; on the ground surrounding him sat the leathery skin of a crash test dummy in the shape of Bigfoot. My subconscious has a mind of its own!
“Then I have no choice.” He raised his left cleat, and brought it down quickly and cleanly on the dummy’s head. “Sensei, bring me a bottle of rain!”
“Indeed I will, Señor Bigfoot.”
“You... know my real name?” grunted a stupefied ten foot tall yeti, his lungs collapsing in astonishment.
“Indeed I do, Señor. Perhaps now you’ll be more willing to-”
“I’ll never listen to anything you say, Excel! I have no need of your pantomimery!” he roared over the clacking of the conveyor belts. He may not have been able to move his arms, but there was no way Bigfoot would let Excel talk him into betraying his solemn charge.
“Your words are unimaginative and bland,” Excel grated. He ran his spidery fingers over the control panel, tracing the subtle bevels in the metalwork, until he reached a fairly large red button. The machinery ground to a pause. Behind him, Bigfoot could hear the hum of a newly born flame. Faint bubbles floated by, flummoxing Bigfoot’s frail body. The air was filled with the smell of... batter.
He scrunched up in defiance. “Do your worst, mime.”
“Section eight is secure,” the skulker mimed into its motion interpreter. The mimes were getting better at suppressing the speech of their grunts. But they still couldn’t get the skulkers’ faces right. Too much paint, not enough under the hood, that was their only problem. Well, it was one of their problems.
The skulker stopped, skidding somewhat on the snowy slab of sandstone beneath his sneakers. “Lousy birds,” he grumbled, gritting his teeth.
Bert didn’t know why he had just performed the bird call. It seemed like exactly the wrong thing to do, to potentially call attention to himself. Then again, his stomach longed for a sating blast of raw meat, preferably condor. Must be the Bigfoot in me.
By now the distinction between coat and nanite had all but vanished. Bert could feel the connection with every molecule of his being fade, as it was replaced by the primal natural bond of the Bigfoot. While he couldn’t sense the nanites in his arm, for instance, he could feel the emotions of the woodland creatures in his vicinity... somewhere, a squirrel was very, very sad.
“Halt! Who goes there?!” Bert felt a sharp jab to the back of his coat. Fortunately, the thick layer of blubber he was developing insulated him from both the cold and the poke. He spun, reaching for his utility pouch.
“You go squish now!”
Bert flipped a folding chair right out, and was about to strike the skulker when something about the creature struck him as... familiar. He paused, just long enough for even the most impeded of skulkers to draw a magnetic blank, the weapon of choice for skulkers this holiday season. And yet... the skulker didn’t fire. In fact, his aura seemed almost like-
The skulker’s eyes were blank; within it, Bert could sense the aural piquancy inherent to the nanite master. Mind control! And lots of it!
“I’ve got... them all... frozen... get to Bigfoot, and conduct the Rite of Procession!”
“No, sensei! I cannot bear to destroy my best friend... in the lair of my worst archenemy!”
“You can only have... one archenemy at a time... so your qualitative description of ‘worst...’ is at best unnecessary,” his words stung at Bert’s emerging mammalian heart. “And I also suspect... that the word ‘bear’ was put in there as a pun... as Bigfoot is similar in body structure... to bears.”
“No, sensei! I swear, I intended no puns! Cross my heart and hope to deep-fry!”
Bert balked. Normally, he never would have disrespected an elder in such an overt manner. The coat... the coat!
“Wise crack at me, will you?!” the skulker cricked. “Do you find... deep frying... amusing?!”
Minion #2 peered over the rubber-plated windowsill. Thick glasses partly obscured his vision, but he could still see well enough to saliently shout “yes” with almost 100% certainty.
“Then we must begin immediately!” Excel Portmanteau shoved the disheveled scientist to into an adjacent coat rack. “Crank up the deep fryer!”
Bigfoot sighed the sigh of ages, nervously bending his bestial neck to the infernal machine, watching it churn to life. If Portmanteau succeeded, and Bigfoot was deep fried, who would patrol the Rockies?!
“You- you-” Bigfoot sputtered, but he was stuck in neutral while Portmanteau was already in four wheel drive. “You will fail! Bert Crandle is about to-”
“Get totally destroyed by my regiment of highly trained skulkers!” Excel chuckled, aware at the irony of a laughing mime. “I’ve sent only the most qualified; they are all immune to nature, and even if they fail, the building is inscape-proof! In a mere matter of minutes, this monitor will moan with merriment as my meticulous plan meets its monumental apex!”
The sasquash groaned, resigned to his delicious fate. After decades of loyal service... two world wars... all for naught.
“Looking for me, you hideous glass wall-walker?!”
Hope burned through Bigfoot’s varicose veins; Portmanteau nearly choked on a kernel of popcorn chicken, spraying the control console with batter. Sparks jumped from one end of the panel to the other. The lights flickered on and off. Somewhere, a wolf howled and a machine whirred.
“Agent Crandle! I thought the company picnic wasn’t for another two weeks,” Portmanteau laughed, his attempt at small talk an abysmal failure. “How did you enter my inscape-proof laboratorium?!”
“Simple,” the hair-covered nanite construct sneered. “Teleportation! I have the ability to move matter wherever I want it to be!”
“Even quarks? That violates the uncertainty principle!” Excel gasped. As a quantum physicist, he couldn’t allow such information to be made public. Even if it meant self-destructing the whole complex.
“Whatever. Now, at long last, the reign of the mime is over!” Bert extended his super-arms, ripping the binds off Bigfoot’s bulky peg-legs. With a roar, the behemoth lumbered to his clown-faced jailer, hoisting the mime king up by his petard.
“I’m gonna put you in a milkshake! Yah!”
“Bigfoot, no! It’s not worth it!”
Kicking his way past the pathetic plastic faux soldiers that were springing up all over the deadly kitchen, Bert’s old classmate slammed Excel into the seat formerly occupied by the yeti’s cumbersome fur-covered anterior.
“Fitty coats o’ batter fer ya!” he growled, throwing the big blue switch. Crispy squares! The conveyor belt- it was beginning to move! Forward! To the deep fryer!
“Bigfoot,” Bert whispered, his conscience not fully assuaged by Bigfoot’s eloquence. “Must we deep fry him?”
And with his cold, impassible eyes fixed on the ceiling, what could the indomitable snowman say except a pathetic “mayhaps,” his lips chapping with each syllable. Bert could tell the man-beast was having second thoughts; the nature bond thing between them was stronger than ever, thanks in part to radioactive beams.
“I... I would’ve let you go,” the sad little clown wannabe whined, his fingers flailing uselessly as he approached the bubbling brim.
“Silence!” Bigfoot boomed brazenly, branching his brawny biceps before Bert, bending bemusedly to break the belt’s “backwards” button. Holy wallaby of Albany!
“I never got to walk the sewers of Paris!” Excel cried, tipping over the edge and into the waiting whirlpool. Bert ran to the side... too late. In a sight more grizzly than Grizzly Adams, the secret agent turned Bigfoot reached into the deep fryer and pulled out... the crispy skeletal remains of Excel Portmanteau.
“Ha!” Bigfoot grunted in victory. “So the secret ingredient is... mime!”
Shaking his head for what he hoped wouldn’t be the last time, Bert grabbed Bigfoot’s arm.
“I don’t like to be touched, Bert.”
“Bigfoot, you just threw a defenseless mime into a vat of boiling deep-fry batter!”
“I don’t like being touched, Bert.” The rage was building in his voice; the stress patterns alone would be off the charts... if Bert’s nanobots had retained their charting ability.
“You just threw him! He didn’t even have a laser beam... and his guards were... plastic gnomes...”
“I... don’t... like... being... touched!” Bigfoot thundered, cracking his best friend across the face with an enraged fist. Bert staggered back, regaining his balance and ducking another potentially crushing blow.
“Bigfoot! Bigfoot! What... are you... doing?!”
There was no reasoning with the unstoppable whirlwind of unreasonable fiery rage. Bigfoot jumped back and forth, foaming at the mouth; eyes ablaze, stomach popping, it seemed as if Bigfoot had lost his mind!
“You see with blind eyes
the folly of your resistance;
Joe McCarthy would be proud.”
The sage, exasperated from his massive mind meld with the seedy skulker sectarians, had only the strength to speak in haiku. Yeah, that’s right, a mind meld. What do you think kept the skulkers away while Bigfoot and Portmanteau duked it out?! Luck?! Ain’t no such think, pop-top!
“A single Bigfoot
in the winter of its era
will devolve; belly rage.”
Crashing tubes and vacuum pumps tore Bert back to the reality of the situation. Bigfoot was completely out of control, and Portmanteau’s laboritorium was the first casualty. And, if the Sensei was right, would not be the last. Oh, snap!
“Since time immemorial
the cycle is continuous.
Younger pwns elder.”
“Then... I have no choice. I must do the unthinkable.”
Bert ran up behind Bigfoot, and kicked him so hard he flipped sideways, tripping over the skeletal hand of Excel and into the boiling batter. Closing his eye holes in mourning, Bert Crandle reached out to Sensei Schultz, the only living being who could possibly understand.
“You never told me he would go insane and become... insane.”
“Telling is cheating;
the real explanation is
hidden in soup spoons.”
“That’s true. Let’s go... back to the Canadian Rockies, I guess.” He pulled on the fur that was now permanently fused to his elbow. “There’s no other place on Earth I’d fit in.”
He held the old man’s arm, helping him walk through the broken Plexiglas. And yet... something was amiss! His powers weren’t... full. Something was holding him back.
The walls shattered, the ceiling began to falter. A hulking monstrous demon sprung up from the batter, dusting them with chunks of solidified batter-covered Bigfoot fur. It was falling off him in clumps, revealing burning red veins, blue muscles, pink organs, and green entrails!
“How magically disgusting!” Bert quipped, aware he was parodying a well-known breakfast cereal. Strangely, the threat of a copyright infringement suit didn’t even cross his mind as the demented, raging, decomposing Bigfoot barreled at him. He prepared to do battle, but at that moment Sensei Schultz reached out and hit a big button marked “Base Auto-Destruct Button.”
“You say you have the
power of teleportation
so why not do it?”
Fingers quick as lightning under a Van Der Waals interpreter, the new forest protector (as Bigfoot are commonly called in the Canadian wilds) snapped his sausage-like fingers. The two druidic wiseacres vanished in a chime of glittering blue degauss.
Bigfoot fell to the ground, struggling to breathe. Fried batter had melted into his bones, turning his marrow a delicious golden brown. His skin was now so... crispy... he couldn’t move without shattering. Jarring the lummox from his wretched suffering, the timer counted down in the blandest monotone ever conceived... the mimes’ final revenge.
“It’s-a workin’ great-a!” He laughed, throwing another bobbin onto the springboard. “Almost done!”
Schultz ran his fingers over the fine cloth. “That’s a nice collage you’re making there, with your own fur.”
Bert- nay, Bigfoot spun the sides of the spinning wheel. With his enhanced super-weaving, it would take only a few more minutes for the coat to be finished. Yes, this new coat would be asbestos-plated and soundproof, capable of high-definition undersea hijinx. By this time tomorrow, the Forest Service Protectorate would have a new Bigfoot Coat of Arms to safeguard until Bert could no longer bear the mantle of Supreme Yeti Commander. Then someone would defeat him. Someone wearing the coat he wove with his own two arms. Then he’d get deep fried or something.
Such was the way of the Bigfoot.