10:00 PM. It was getting dark. My dad had been going over the battle plan for about forty minutes now, if the “tactical” watch he made me wear was correct. He called it a battle plan, but from my understanding, there wouldn’t be much of a battle. We weren’t exactly fighting another group.

He continued in his drill sergeant yell that he’d been using more and more lately, even though he wasn’t in the SEALs anymore. “Now! If a Squatch is trying to close on you, remember the twenty-one-foot rule! Recruit Patterson! Remind us all what the twenty-one-foot rule is!”

Suddenly they were all looking at me. He hadn’t called me by my first name in months, but this whole “Recruit Patterson” thing was still weird. Plus, it was confusing. I mean, it was his last name, too, but every time I tried to explain that to him he would just make me do pushups.


“Damn it, recruit! Are you even paying attention to the battle plan?”

“Sorry, Dad.”

“Hey! When we’re Squatching, you call me sir, young man! Now drop and give me twenty-one!”

Gabriel Krawec

Gabriel Krawec is a writer from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. In 2017, his play “Psychiatry Rotation” won the provincial high school playwriting competition. He currently lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where he studies archaeology.

Patrick Ryan on “The Squatchers”

When I was nine years old, I went to the cinema and saw a very low-budget movie about Bigfoot. Because the movie was a documentary, I knew it was all true. Because I was nine, I had no idea that I was watching cheesy re-enactments of people’s encounters with the hairy maniac and thought it was all actual footage. As a result, I became obsessed with Bigfoot. I thought he could show up anytime, anywhere. I had difficulty falling asleep for a full year because I was convinced those oversized fists were going to crash through the window over my bed and grab me. Bigfoot strolling through a suburban neighborhood on the Florida coast seemed like a very real possibility to me.

I also started keeping an eye out for Bigfoot, and wouldn’t you know I saw him? Several times! Just a glimpse, but each time I dialed the police and reported the sighting, only to get very frustrated when the cops didn’t take me seriously.

So I was excited to encounter Gabriel Krawec’s “The Squatchers.” (The title is a reference to people who track Bigfoot, also known as Sasquatch.) In this story, two teens meet up in the woods one night, both out with Squatching groups led by their obsessed fathers. One of these groups is out to observe; the other is out to kill. Neither group has ever seen a Sasquatch before—but that’s about to change.

“The Squatchers” is a funny and slightly sad story about what can happen to families in crisis. It’s also about how teens are sometimes a little wiser than their parents. This is the third and final winner of this year’s Teen Writing Contest, and we’re delighted to put Gabriel Krawec’s unusual tale into the hands of readers like you. We hope you enjoy it.

Q&A by Patrick Ryan

PR: Where did the idea for this story come from?
GK: I had been watching a lot of those Bigfoot hunting shows they have on all the nature channels these days, and I noticed there was a really interesting divide between people who just wanted to document Bigfoot and people who wanted to kill Bigfoot. I wondered what would happen if people from those two groups confronted each other, and the story sprung up from there.
PR: Are you a believer (in Sasquatches)? Have you ever seen one?
GK: I’m pretty sure if there was really an ape-man out there someone would have hit it with a car by now, but I think it’s important to keep an open mind about these things. If someone told me they’d seen a Sasquatch, I wouldn’t start trying to poke holes in their story, I’d want to hear what it looked like! Cryptids like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster have always fascinated me, though, and watching YouTube videos of blurry unidentified creatures caught on camera is a guilty pleasure of mine.
PR: There’s a nice element of sci-fi in this story that surprised me. Did you invent the theory that Sasquatches might be aliens checking in now and then to see how we’re treating the environment? And those details about the loud sound, the smell of matches, the vanishing—are those yours, or part of an actual set of beliefs about Sasquatches that some people have?
GK: I mean, let’s face it, compared to the competition, Bigfoot’s sort of a boring cryptid. Take Mothman, that’s a solid concept. A giant insect-person with huge red eyes who flies around terrorizing people, there’s a lot of potential there. Or the Jersey Devil! Some sort of horse monster with bat wings that was born from a regular human, that’s a concept that captures the imagination! I think what captivates a lot of people about Bigfoot is the way it blurs the line between human and nonhuman. I wanted to keep that sort of unease while leaning into some of the more otherworldly traits that make other cryptids work so well. Squatchers believe all sorts of things about Sasquatches these days, so I’m sure I’m not the first one to come up with the idea of them being magical, or aliens, or from another dimension, but more than conforming to commonly held beliefs about Sasquatches, I wanted to really build them up as something familiar, yet very different. Something that you would immediately know to be the real thing if you saw it.
PR: How different is the finished story from the one you set to write out? Did anything surprise you while writing it?
GK: It was originally a much sillier story, which did a lot more laughing at Squatchers than laughing with them. However, as I watched more of their shows and listened to their podcasts, I couldn’t help but be won over by the over-the-top personalities and genuine love of nature that so many Squatchers seem to have. At the same time, I realized that I had a chance to tell a more poignant story about grief and teenage angst and letting go, with the absurd background of Squatching to give some levity and make sure things didn’t get too gloomy.
PR: Do you think Charlie’s dad would have actually killed a Sasquatch, given the chance?
GK: It’s hard to say. I think through our careers, and relationships, and our lives in general, deep down a lot of us are chasing something as unattainable and ridiculous as killing Bigfoot. Something that, even if we somehow managed to achieve it, probably wouldn’t make us happy. Maybe Charlie’s dad would have realized that on his own eventually. Then again, even if it looked like he had an opening, I have a hard time believing that a real Sasquatch could be truly killed by a mere mortal.
PR: Finish this sentence in just one word—the word you think best captures it: “This story is about __________.”?
GK: Loss.
PR: What did you do when you found out you were one of our Teen Writing Contest Winners? Was there any celebrating?
GK: I was in the library when I first got the news so I had to play it cool, but it was certainly a rush! I used to get annoyed when amateur authors were constantly mentioning they’d been published, but now I get it. I want to shout it from the rooftops. Put it on my gravestone. In all seriousness, it’s been really exciting for me and all my wonderful family and friends, and once the pandemic has settled down, some kind of celebration is certainly in order.
PR: What are you working on now?
GK: School’s been taking up most of my writing energy, but I’ve got loads of ideas and I’ve been trying to get better at making deadlines for myself and setting time aside every day for creative writing. At this point in my life it’s something I mostly do just for fun, but if I can keep making stories that other people enjoy, that’s great too!
PR: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
GK: Mark Twain has some really good advice, like “Don’t trust anyone with perfect grammar,” but the advice that’s probably saved most of my stories from getting lost and forgotten is to write really bad first drafts. Shift tenses, go off on weird tangents, misspell words, use every lame cliché in the book, and keep going until you’ve got a beginning, middle and end. Because pulling a good story out of a bad one is infinitely easier than pulling a good story out of nothing at all.