This was, of course, after he’d discarded his possessions via a heroic garage sale where he sold pretty much everything but his pants.
On a Delta flight he jumped over the Canadian border. From there, it was Bearskin Airlines to Flin Flon, Manitoba, arriving at an airport with the culinary offerings of a vending machine. From a brochure he learned that the mining town had been named after a fictional character, Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin, from a novel called The Sunless City.
Barker wanted to live in a sunless city. He figured if he got pale enough he’d turn into a ghost.
From Flin Flon he hitched deeper north into the forest with a trucker named Zach, who told him he would die come winter.
This was all years ago.
He did not die that winter, nor any of the ones after. He built a cabin on a lake that had no name, so he called it Susan and Beau Lake -- the names of his dead. He did not want to forget his grief, so much as live in it for so long that he and it fused together, and in their new shared existence there would be limits to his self-sentience; like one’s inability to smell his or her own tang.
That was the idea, anyway.
But he could never quite get there. In the end he had to settle for some good old fashioned transmogrification, the final result of which was nothing more than an empty vessel; his body just a container to store organs and eyes.
To say that he was ruptured with grief would be an understatement. He lost track of years like you and I lose pennies. His beard grew long. His eyes dimmed. His skin stretched tautly over his angular bones.
And then Bigfoot appeared, nonchalantly, like she’d been there all along.
She materialized in the last moments of dusk, when the light of the world colluded with the brainy tendrils of imagination to create images that might not exist, and doubt in the ones that did. It was just the right environment for mythmaking.
As a shadow, she at first blocked his path. Only when he got closer did he realize her authenticity: her heavy coat of hairs, and peering eyes. They looked at each other with the look you give a funhouse mirror. And why not? In the dark, they appeared simply as fantastic deviations of their own images.
Maybe they were too tired for violence. Maybe surprise paralyzed them. But for an unknown amount of time they stared at each other through the woods, through the dark, and though we can’t speak for Bigfoot, the results of this encounter -- which finally ended with Bigfoot shuffling silently, far too silently given her size, into the woods -- laid the foundation for the next phase in Barker McMullin’s life.
Because of Bigfoot, his empty vessel would be full again. He would discover that the will to live was really just inspiration; the revelation of creation manifested in whatever form you chose: in progeny or business, architecture, guitar, politics, painting, law, or even sculpture.
Not long after their encounter, Barker McMullin left the woods. He rejoined civilization. Heading south, he parlayed his few belongings into cash, bartered down highways, and cut through the Canadian winter.
He made it back to America through Minnesota, and from the land of the lakes through the empty shelf of the plains -- all halcyon days and billboards -- he thought of nothing other than his muse. He found Oklahoma and with it, a fine new place to start.
Using the last of his funds he purchased a large block of cement. In the parking lot of the Good Gravy! Diner, across the street from the Industry Turbo Car Wash, he began to chip away.
The going was slow. The Oklahoma winds dusted up his allergies and diners came and went with questions of why and comments of neat-o, knocking him out of his artistic groove. But inside his brain stood such a comprehensive image of what he wanted that each hammered corrugation and crease, each wrinkle and line, came from his hands through his tools and onto, into, the cement block with a level of serenity he had railed against for so long that he’d forgotten its existence.
So perfect was the final product that he was never to make changes. He worked like an assembly line after that first statue. His muscles no longer sovereign in their action, but rather automatic; never spiritless, but instead glowing with the electricity of their flawless instincts.
That is what it felt like for Barker McMullin to make Bigfoot. Or at least, some form of her.
He hoped that in his concrete creations there was no extraction of spirit from his muse -- our myth -- and that his art (he really preferred not to call it that) was selfish. Narcissistic, if he was being truthful. He did not want to comment on the lore of nature, the extension of mankind’s industry, lumber or fish farms, spilled oil in the gulf, climate change or pollution. He did not have thoughts on the obsession of the missing link, or the proto-religion of evolution.
So when they asked him this and so much more; when they took pictures and wrote magazine articles; when they interviewed him and put him on camera; interrogated him on the psyche of the creator, the license of the artist, and the warrant of individuality in today’s changing landscape of taste and influence; he didn’t know what to say.
Flashbulbs, flashbulbs, what do you mean you don’t know? They threw genius at him and were appalled when he dropped it, and it shattered in the dirt.
Through it all, what he wanted to say was this:
A lifetime ago I saw curiosity in her eyes, and it made me want to marry her. I loved the idea that she found joy in the questions of things. And when those eyes were forever closed, I was gone. My body existed, but there was nothing else. And then I stumbled upon a myth in the forest. And in those eyes, fact or fiction they may have been, I saw that same curiosity. And it brought me back from the dead. And it inspired me to survive.
Written by: Logan Theissen
Photograph by: Kassie Ritman