Further adventures of a dictionary blogger, a park ranger, some dinosaurs and scientific cover up below!
I thought we would have to dress in all black with balaclavas, but Marisol insisted hiding in plain sight is best. "You look totally like you belong here." She nodded at my Rara Avis Tech hoodie, the free takeaway when I picked up Noodle as a warm little blue egg. "Tike is a Rara Avis too."
"They're the best. You know, when they're not using their powers for evil." Nanea was stuffing her volcano suit into a Strand tote, grunting as she tried to fold it small enough and cover it with some Time Out New York back issues. "Floop is a friend's doctoral thesis. Their apartment was no pets allowed, so he came to live with me after." The dimetrodon whined, knowing he would be left behind tonight. "Sorry buddy, you gotta help Florence and Luca babysit Isko."
Though Annika said the cross-town bus was fine, Marisol led us through the park--which was really beautiful in the twilight. Archeopterixes gently hooted, squirrels chased each other down for the last Nuts4Nuts of the evening. I was last in line, clutching Noodle close. I could feel her squirm a little, eager to get down and smell the night smells, but she was well trained enough not to actually jump and leave me behind. We could still hear traffic, but it was peaceful enough to imagine we were--almost--anywhere but it the middle of the city.
"Will we be safe?" I asked. Annika pointed out the half dozen dogs (and one hyracotherium) walking their humans. "Prime walkies time. Got it."
After a half hour on tourist trails, passing dog parks (after hours, so no dogs) and statues and a small lake I didn't remember from the last time I walked between the museums, we hit the ranger station--an unassuming tan and green building with a familiar maple leaf logo. Nanea, casual as anything, opened up, shining her phone light inside before ushering us in. The others were so easy with each other, communicating without words---I had so much trouble even with them, I couldn't imagine having friends so close. Anyone, really. Not that I was a lonely girl, but I didn't have anybody I could unearth a massive scientific cover-up with on a weekday night, to pull an example from thin air.
"Just try to look...internish, ok? Here's my ID, if anyone asks you're being hazed and they'll look the other way."
"All's fair in love and government work." Nanea winked, and suited up with a little help from Annika. Marisol had already gone out the back, drumming on her one-girl-band setup she'd packed away in a fashionable bag. "You can edit some video on that, right?"
I'd been fingering my phone nervously, with the hand not attached to Noodle, who was sniffing all the unfamiliar scents. She clambered down onto the desk, smelling the tape and monitors and a pile of helicopter seeds made into a little family. "Good Noods. Don't touch." She grunted but complied, curling into a warm hummock with her head up to watch us.
"I can edit anything. Gets it up quick too. Chad was really into slice-of-lingust-life stuff a while back."
"Perfect" She gave me a thumbs up, and motioned for Annika to follow. I would be...alone?
"Nanea! Who's staying here?" I hugged myself tight, trying to calm myself. I could feel my pulse starting up, and took some shaky breaths.
"Oh...oh, gosh, I get it." That was muffled, and she took her helmet off again. "Annika can stay here, if you really need...I'd like her outside, if she needs to make last minute repairs."
Annika was quiet, looking torn between duty and...something else.
"I...I...." I took another breath. "Can you both video in? So it's not like I’m alone?"
Annika nodded, and motioned for us to click and bump our phones to set up the connection. I turned up the video client, and could see the view from hand and helmet, respectively. "I'm....thank you."
"Listen, Havela," said Annika and I realized it was the first time she'd spoken my name,"you need me, let me know. We won't leave you alone."
"Don't worry, I've been climbing volcanos since before I should really tell you." At least, that's what I think she said--and what was echoed on my phone. Nanea saluted, and was off. A few minutes later, Annika pressed a finger to her lips, and sneaked out a third way, leaving me alone with just my phone, Noodles, and a federal and state offense. Easy peasy.
You think more people would notice someone walking through Central Park in several pounds of reflective material and a very fancy welder's helmet. But whenever someone looked, Nanea just stopped, posing like a living statue. Clever. A couple even tossed a couple dollars at her feet, and Nanea tossed them to the violin player she passed--who did double take, but never stopped playing. It was the most surreal thing I had ever seen, but also had a strange moody beauty--like it could be an arty student sci-fi film.
The trees got thicker, the paths more rocky. She was nearing the volcano. No cops or other rangers so far, thank goodness, only a couple of teenagers making out, clinched so tight they didn't notice. I blushed, and made sure to hid stop as soon as she saw them--which was only brief, as she'd turned away politely. We had a live show going, as well as the clips I kept loading and sending--and a respectable set of viewers, ever-growing. Nanea said I could identify myself on her account, if I wanted, but I didn't want to drag the dictionary into a geology game to this kind of extent.
@parksdepartmentgonewild check out that flora! Soft tree fern took to NYC soil readily, and make great feed for the Merychippus at the petting zoo
@parksdepartmentgonewild remember kids, don't go into the park alone! we are trained professionals who love danger and the truth
Behind a tiny thumb keyboard, I was bolder and funnier than I could ever be in real life. Noodles didn't stray far--since she'd heard me freak out before--but was very fascinated by the contents of the desk, frustrated by the framed plants above. I stopped her just short of prying them open with someone's anniversary fountain pen.
@parksdepartmentgonewild the ascent begins! hopefully a lot easier for us than for that girl in Jurassic Park, Trespasser
(Not my best, I had to block five boob-related commentators)
@themanofthehour your insane! your gonna fall in!
@parksdepartmentgonewild don't worry about us, we've been doing this a LONG time
I typed that response, but erased it--too identifying. Instead I just put up a "*you're" and waited, while she continued to climb. I checked Annika's feed--she was settled by a fountain, and was playing Spice Snatch with a concentrated look, biting her lip. It was a really cute look on her, I could see why the unseen-as-yet Luca was smitten.
"Annika, do you read?"
Flustered, she turned back to our channel. "All's well from our friend. You?"
"Just peachy. Not too many trolls. Lot of good buzz. No major outlets though."
"Of course not." She rolled her eyes. "It's just a--" and we said it together "very hot hill."
"You know," I said, "I've never walked on it. Is it all that hot?"
"Not really," Annika scratched her chin in thought. "But it wouldn't be until she got to the top, not at that size. We also waited for the right conditions--no smoke, no fire, and a chance of rain later this evening to wash away the footprints and the evidence."
"You two really thought of everything." I was really impressed now, and wished I'd gone for that bio degree instead of silly linguistics.
"Our buddy...well, we get each other. I would do anything, and vice versa, for their crazy schemes, you know? Because in my place, it would be the same." Away from the others, Annika was much more talkative, though still soft-toned and contemplative. She paused before everything she said, which made her sound really thoughtful. I wish I could be that poised some day--without a screen in front of me.
"Lemur alert! Must've gotten loose." Lemur was a very loose term, it was the size of a 10-year-old kid and dated from 1420--a relative baby compared to most of the mammals. "They really need to keep better track of their breeding program."
"For reals," I said, chirping misdirection to a very sketchy Chirper indeed. "You alright up there, Pele?"
"Pele, I like that!" She nodded, nodding the camera along with her. "Right as rain, which I can't wait for, it's a furnace in here! No lava or anything yet, but a little smoke. I'm going to keep going to the top."
"Be safe, Pele," I muttered, too soft for her to hear. Noodles jumped up to my shoulder, curling up comfortingly. "Be safe."
She was nearing the top now. The terrain rockier, sharp blocks of SHISTE pushing up from the ground. Nanea climbed expertly, never losing her footing. A little nauseating to watch, but I kept putting up 30 second clips.
@parksdepartmentgonewild almost at the summit! what do you think our intrepid explorer will see, friends of the Park?
@piningfortheFjords a portal to hell
@pleiaDan um, are we forgetting about the aliens? you know they're covering it up!
Not bad theories, all around. But for Nanea's sake, I hope what she found was the truth. She was almost--almost..almost there. It was dark now, the only light from the city around us, looking further off in her little camera, and the bright spot from her head lamp. She was so close now.
"Base...base, you're not going to believe this! It's a miracle---" and her hand flew up to her headlamp, and the camera shut off. I yelped, and switched back to Annika.
"I'm going after her."
"No, please, let me!"
"You hold it down here, Annika--if what she says is so incredible, I have to be there. And if she needs help...I'll get her down to you. I promise."
Annika nodded solemnly. "Go. But please, if anything---"
"I'll let you know. I promise."
Muting the Chirps from our excited viewers and cutting the
live feed, I barely remembered to shut the door behind me. I didn't really know where I was going--but I had the video archived, and could review the trail. It was a cool night--I didn't notice the hot hill getting any hotter, as it happened. But I wasn't even thinking, but sprinting up the hill, one hand on the phone and one out for balance. Noodles clung to me, quiet now as I'd motioned for her to be calm as calm, because predators could be about. I squeezed her for comfort, when the trail got especially dark or twisty, but I didn't even have time to stop and be afraid--I needed to make sure Nanea was ok.
I saw the rocks, and cursed, and hoped my Chucks were up to the desk. Slipping the phone into my bra for security, I tossed Noodles to the nearest ledge and followed her--she was the one I trusted for the most efficient route. The sprint caught up with me, and I was weezing by the time I got to the familiar top---
And Nanea was there, perched on a rock with the suit at her feet, staring into the crater.
"Havela...you've got to come see this."
At work the next day, I prepped the first Chirps of the day while my coffee brewed and Noodles dozed.
@mustlovewords caldera. noun. a large crater-like depression following the expulsion of magma
@mustlovewords discovery. noun, from Latin discooperire, the opposite of "to cover up"
and my favorite
@mustlovewords conservation. noun. from Latin conservare. con, intensive prefix. servarare. to keep watch
What we'd found that night was utterly extraordinary--but not for the eyes of others.
"They're breathtaking," Nanea had whispered. Below us, hidden in the caldera's depression, among gingkos and brambles, was a family of...very hairy people?
"Gigantopithecus . But sometimes known colloquially as Sasquatch."
"You're kidding me. I didn't know they were breeding them."
"They didn't." Nanea sat back, arms around one knee hugged to her chest."They're native to coastal areas. The Pacific Northwest, you can probably guess, but the largest eastern population is on Staten Island."
I shook my head. "You're kidding me."
"I can't believe this."
"Locals call them Trashsquatch."
"Now that you're making up."
She put up a hand in the Brownie Salute. "Scout's Honor.”
We watched them in silence. There were several adults, in several shades of deep brown and cream, breathtakingly large but also gentle. There was a grumpy, skinny teenager perched in a bush with his back to the others, little kidlets wrestling each other or picking berries, and a nursing baby, stroking gently at his mum and looking up with big, utterly lovinhg eyes. In the middle of it all, a giant bonfire burned, sending smoke into the night sky.
“But we all were wrong. It wasn’t a volcano...or not a volcano….”
Nanea nodded, tapping her chin. “But we actually made an effort to find out. There’s the difference.”
We weren't so closely related to the Gigantopithecus in the caldera below--not by several phyla--but in that moment, I felt like we were all family. The girls, and their easy give and take, the Squatches and their family, and our fans and followers, seeking out the truth.
“ Of course, @parksdepartmentgonewild can't share any of this."
"But can Nanea?" I touched her arm, and she smiled at me, covering my hand with hers. Usually I would flinch, but now as the adrenaline left my veins, I welcomed her touch--as did Noodles, who shoved her way between us for chin scritches.
"Oh, I have some biologist and conservationist friends who will be very interested. But for now," and she smiled down as the parent Gigantopithecus pulled back a cub who was trying to bite their brother on the bum with newly-sprung teeth, "It's better as a secret, don't you think?"
"Keep it secret, keep it safe," and we held hands as the Sasquatches sang to the newly-risen moon.