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Deep in the wilderness, surrounded by virgin forests and mountain peaks, the Indian hunched over a campfire staring into the embers. His white hair spread across his shoulders, and his face was lined and wrinkled like old leather. The sound of his flute floated across the clearing, a haunting tune calling the Ghost People to fulfill their promise.
He closed his eyes and sensed something beyond the flickering light. He waited for Night Woman to reveal his vision. Or was it Coyote Trickster again? An overpowering stench, like rotten eggs, drifted on the night air. A horrible growl rumbled through the evergreen trees as a big, hairy, ugly monster eight feet tall emerged from the trees and moved into the clearing.
The Indian remained calm, his entire body relaxed. He'd been waiting for the creature to appear. During his most recent vision quest, the Great Spirit had told him to expect a great event. He had made a circle and had lived in it faithfully waiting for the magical moment to arrive. He'd been preparing for the creature all his life.
After what seemed like an eternity, the massive hulk of hair and muscles strolled forward and sat on a rock on the other side of the fire, his movements graceful like a ballet dancer. The Indian wondered why such a giant held a delicate flower. Not a dead flower but one full of life.
He realized the monster could sever his spine like a toothpick. Still, his muscles remained relaxed, and his heartbeat kept a steady rhythm. The smell vanished as if the creature knew that the terrible stink made him sick.
"Hello" A deep and pleasant male voice greeted him.
The Indian's eyes widened, surprised.
"Hello," the monster repeated.
The shaman struggled to separate myth from what he had just heard. A Sasquatch, perhaps the missing link between humans and other primates, wasn't supposed to speak.
"Who do you think I am?"
"Perhaps a mutation."
"Maybe I'm an illusion, a mirage. Maybe you’re dreaming."
"I've been to the dream world, and I have prepared myself for your arrival."
"Are you sure?"
He thought of the east and its power. "I've asked Yellow Eagle to light my way."
His tribe's legends told about beings that once lived above the sky before coming down to earth. They settled in all parts of the seven worlds: east, west, north, south, the upper world, the lower world, and the mid world.
The creature spoke softly. "Am I a Sasquatch?"
"Our legends speak of you."
"I know. That's the problem."
"Why is it a problem?"
The creature's facial expression remained incredibly soft and gentle, and his presence, like a magnet, pulled the Indian into his psychic realm. He chuckled and smiled. "Because a legend prevents further exploration."
The shaman knew this to be true. This creature was perhaps an Owl Man of the forest in disguise. "And who am I?"
"You are Soma Sedona, a member of the Salish tribe, a medicine man of high regard. You've been active in many attempts to find the true reality. All your life you've waited for this opportunity. Congratulations."
"How do you know about me?"
"We've been keeping an eye on you since your wife passed away a few years ago."
If only his departed wife, Lola, could be here now. When he had gathered his gear on the reservation for another search, she would laugh and call him an old fool setting out on another wasted quest for something that didn't exist, a hopeless journey. But he believed his search was more than the hunt for Bigfoot but a challenge for finding his own personal truth. He didn't mind being called a fool because his goal was to be the first human to find Bigfoot and save them from exploitation.
Soma pinched his arm to see if he was truly dreaming. The possibility occurred to him that the creature's appearance might be a hoax, a magnificent costume, a practical joke performed by a member of his tribe. "Nighthorse? Is that you?"
The creature smiled again. "You don't really believe in multiple realities, do you? You just say you do."
"Why don't you change reality and prove it?"
"Very well. What about now?"
The creature glanced down at the flower in his hand, a hand bigger than a baseball mitt, closed his eyes, and mumbled a few words Soma didn't understand.
What happened next confirmed Soma's greatest hope about reality. He knew no one would believe his story if he ever told it. The creature transformed itself in just a few seconds.
His midsection blurred spreading from his navel to include his entire torso and limbs, a hazy mass of swirling motion in a clockwise direction faster and faster congealing into a kaleidoscopic display of every color ending in a small pinpoint of blinding white light, followed by a sudden flash and hissing sound like steam.
Soma closed his eyes and covered his face with both hands to keep from going blind. The flash reminded him of a nuclear explosion, only smaller in scope than the one he had seen on television.
When the light subsided, Bigfoot had vanished, replaced by a human, a man dressed in hunting clothes.
"What do you think now?"
He should have been shocked but a feeling of serenity enveloped Soma as he gazed into eyes of compassion. He felt safe from harm. "Who are you?"
"I am many things. I am one of the Gaia People. Our homes have sometimes been mistakenly called Shangri-la."
For the first time, Soma was confused. "Isn't Shangri-la somewhere in Tibet, in the high Himalayas?"
The creature leaned forward eager to explain a difficult concept. "Shangri-la, Utopia, Camelot, the Garden of Eden, El Dorado, the Holy Grail, they're names that describe a paradise. But Shangri-la isn't a physical place. It's a place in the heart where anyone can find peace and love."
Soma realized what he should have known; that most humans weren't capable of finding their own Shangri-la because they were looking in the wrong place.
He remembered another theory, an unproven hypothesis, quite remarkable and fascinating. "There's an ancient meaning for Gaia. A Greek belief in a universal mother goddess."
"Now you are beginning to understand that not everything can be explained. There is mystery within mystery. You are referring to the idea that the earth is alive, capable of conscious thought and action."
"Yes," Soma said excitedly, "the earth is a single organism not just a collection of chemicals. Gaia is another name for nature, a force controlling everything including climate."
"Until recently that was true." The creature looked off into the forest.
Soma sensed a great sadness in him. He knew that humans had altered the equation. "Are you saying your species no longer represents the earth?"
"No more no less than yours. All life is simply rearranged star dust. You've forgotten that you too represent the earth."
"No, I haven't forgotten. I haven't walked in your skin, but I believe you came here for something."
"I want you to be a co-walker."
"What's a co-walker?"
"People like you who will protect us and be our mentors."
"From what I've seen, you don't need protection."
"We live underground, but our existence on the surface requires a Renewal process which is easier to accomplish if we're not disturbed. Co-walkers help us adjust to the world above and serve as guardians when we Renew."
A sudden realization congealed in Soma's mind, and every unanswered mystery about Bigfoot suddenly became clear. He wondered why he hadn't guessed it before. Now he realized why very little evidence had been found that Bigfoot existed. A controversial film, plaster casts of footprints, and some hair and fecal samples. No skeletons or dead bodies.
His searches had been unsuccessful like everyone else's. Hundreds of eyewitnesses had told stories about seeing a Bigfoot, but now he realized what everyone had seen didn't exist, not in the conventional way. Something else coaxed its way into his thoughts. The creature before him was more than a Bigfoot or a human. Whatever it was, the Gaia were more advanced than humans!
"Okay, so you want me to help. Why do I get the feeling you're not telling me everything?"
"Because we cannot trust a Greedlie, but as you can see, we are shape-shifters."
"A Greedlie?" Soma smiled. "An accurate description. So, you want me to help you, but you won't trust me."
He rose from the rock and walked away still holding the flower. "I'm sorry to bother you."
"Wait! What do you want me to do?"
That night Soma became a co-walker for Gaia.