This story is by Chris Shave and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A man stepped up to the door, escaping the light rain. He knocked, fingering a small, rectangular box in his pocket with his other hand. He didn’t wait long.
The door cracked ajar and a creased feminine face peeked around the corner.
“Ms Wright?” he said, his voice carrying a warm hint of a smile.
“Who are you?” she said.
“My name is Lucas Wetritsch. I’ve heard that you saw something unusual recently. A creature of sorts. May I come in?”
Her face fell. “Did my son send you? Or Dr Taylor?”
“No. I represent a group of people who follow up reports of unusual sightings. We know there are people who want those reports to disappear, and we’d rather that didn’t happen.”
“So you’re a crank?”
“I am a cryptozoologist. If believing in cryptids makes me a crank, then yes, I am.”
“What makes you think I’ve seen something?”
“Rumours spread far Ms Wright, especially if you know what to look for,” he said. His voice softened, “and, if you haven’t seen something, why are you still talking to me?” She stood, motionless. The rain pattered, unheeding. “I won’t be back to bother you if you don’t want me to. My colleagues will not harass you. You’re not signing up for anything. Just a few words, and then I’ll go.”
A second crawled by. Another. A third.
The door inched open. He stepped through, pleased with his first victory.
“Thank you. Is there somewhere we could sit while we talk?”
“Living room’s down the hall,” she gestured vaguely, “would you like some tea?”
“Yes please. I’ll take it however you have it,” he said.
He emerged into a cosy sitting room. A worn bird guide sat next to a battered pair of binoculars on a low table in front of a sofa. He placed the box from his pocket beside the book.
“Wetritsch. That a foreign name?” she said, carrying two steaming mugs through the doorway.
“I believe it’s German,” he said. She set the mugs on the table, and he nodded in thanks.
She perched on the chair opposite the sofa and took a large gulp of tea. “What’s that?” eyeing the box, with it’s odd spiral patterns.
“It’s my recorder,” he said. “I always record these interviews. I don’t like having to bother witnesses if I misremember something, and notes can’t capture everything.”
“Funny looking thing,” she muttered, shifting slightly. “What happens now?”
“Now I ask you questions about what you saw and you tell me what you remember. Then my colleagues and I will analyse your account, and the others we’ve collected, and see if we have something. Does that seem fair?”
Ms Wright sipped at her tea. “You’re definitely not here to just laugh at the crazy old lady who’s been seeing things? This isn’t a setup, or some sort of joke?”
Lucas leaned forward and looked her straight in the eye. “I assure you Ms Wright, this is no joke. I believe you saw something, and I’d like to know more about it.”
Ms Wright let out a heavy sigh, slumping back into her chair. “Ask away then.”
“Wonderful, then let’s cover some basics.” Lucas cleared his throat and, making an effort to talk clearly, said “Ms Wright, when did you see the creature?”
“A couple of days ago. The sun was low, but I can’t remember exactly what time.”
“Where did you see it?”
“The field out there,” Ms Wright pointed through her window.
“And what,” he breathed, perched on the edge of the sofa, “did you see?”
Ms Wright spoke carefully. “I saw what I thought was a bird diving. It was moving pretty fast, and the sun was in my eyes, so I didn’t get a great view. I grabbed my binoculars to get a better look. When I looked back I saw this, this thing,” she took a big gulp of tea, “out in the field.”
“How would you describe the creature you saw?”
Ms Wright’s gaze drifted as she relived the memory, her voice becoming more animated as she settled into her story. “It did kind of look like a giant bird, but it clearly wasn’t. It was huge, bigger than any you’d find around here, and its feathers were weird. They were a dark green, and looked like scales. I said to myself ‘your eyes have gone Linda, those can’t be scales,’ but that’s what they looked like.” Another sip. “I think it caught something, because it had its head down and looked like it was worrying at something. But then its head whipped around and it had antlers. Antlers! I’ve never seen anything like it. I stood up in surprise and it looked right at me. It’s eyes glowed orange.” Ms Wright glared at Lucas, daring him to call her out. To say it was nonsense.
Instead, Lucas clapped his hands. “Fantastic. How big are we talking?
“Big. The wingspan must have been as wide as you are tall. I couldn’t see how big the body was; it was all hunched over.”
“Excellent,” he said, eyes blazing.
The box on the table began to hum gently. Lucas relaxed, settling back into the sofa. The quiet buzz somehow managed to drown out the rain.
“Let’s talk a bit more about the creature’s flying,” his voice was different, somehow. Like he was also humming. Ms Wright drained her mug, a slight frown furrowing her forehead.
“The sun was in my eyes. I couldn’t see much more. I thought I said that?”
“You did, but you may have seen more than you think, subconsciously,”
“I don’t… Okay.” She rubbed her temple
“Did its dive remind you of any bird in particular?”
“I don’t know, it was just a dive. Lots of birds dive. Hawks, buzzards, harriers.”
“I see. I’ve heard there’s a buzzard around, and they’re quite large. The creature you saw on the ground doesn’t sound much like a buzzard though. Could you tell me more about that?”
“I thought they were the same thing?”
“Are you sure?”
The humming felt louder. More insistent. “I guess not.”
“You said the bird looked like a buzzard, yes?”
She paused before answering. “Yes. Like a buzzard.”
Her frown deepened. Lucas swapped her empty mug with his untouched one. She gave no indication she noticed.
“Now, the thing on the ground. It had antlers, like a deer, yes? Was there anything else?”
“Yes. Like a…” she swallowed. “Wings. It had wings. Or was that the buzzard? It looked like it had scales. But not on its chest. That was pink. Or maybe white.”
“What did the scales look like? Another witness described them as shaped like leaves.”
“Is there a bush in that field, near where the creature was?”
“I think so.”
“Do you remember anything else about the leafy deer?”
“It was a deer? But,”
“You said it had antlers,” he interrupted. “Like a deer, yes?”
A pause. “Yes. Like a deer. It was probably just in a bush. I think it looked like it had a beak.” Lucas opened his mouth as if to speak, but she muttered, “but maybe that was just its muzzle.”
“Perhaps,” he said with a smile that was quickly crushed. “Was there anything unusual about them?”
“I think the deer was injured. There was sunlight shining through it’s face. No. Through it’s ears,” she said softly.
“And who did you tell about these animals?”
“Mr Smith, my neighbour. And my son. But he didn’t believe me. He thinks I’m losing it.”
Lucas adjusted the recorder, and the humming stopped. The woman’s hand left her forehead.
He frowned, as if in consternation, “so, from what you’ve told me, you saw a buzzard swooping for prey, which startled an injured deer.”
“I’m afraid so,” she grimaced. “Sorry you came all this way for nothing.”
“Not to worry, I’m used to following false leads. Thank you for the tea, it was excellent.”
Out of the woman’s house, Lucas removed his jacket and stretched, getting a pop from his shoulder.
“All done?” came a voice from the shadows under the eave.
“Hopefully. I dealt with the neighbour, and apparently her son didn’t believe her. Stick a snitch on him just in case, but I think this is dealt with.” His lips burned and his scalp itched.
“Imagine how easy life would be if you didn’t get spotted.”
“If she hadn’t seen me she’d have seen the rassel,” Lucas forced through a mouth no longer suited to words, “and we’d still have to clean up. Have we found out who let it out yet?”
The resulting silence told him all he needed to know. Lucas spread his wings and flew off into the night.