Prompt: A man stumbles into swampland; mist surrounds him.
It was four days into what most people would call a camping trip. Bryce only called it that when he was embarrassed, when the stranger at the checkout counter asked him why he was buying both ammunition and sidewalk chalk. He could just answer with ‘camping trip’ and a smile. They would assume he had children looking to draw on boulders.
The chalk was to mark where he’d already been in the Loftville national park. Vandalizing the numerous boulders, some larger than motor homes, was against the rules, but so was camping and hunting there in the first place. He’d read some nonsense about a n endangered grouse, but he wasn’t after grouse.
Four nights, but only two nights of sleep. All the strange noises in the forest, rumbling up from the cracks in the stone, kept him awake. They were strange and varied, but none of them were grouse. He tried to chase them down in the dark, but there was a thick fog that his rifle’mounted flashlight couldn’t cut through. It figured that nature would double down on its darkness when he was so close.
You could hunt the creatures of legend the traditional way. They didn’t leave scat or fur or scent trails for a hound to track. Bryce understood this, which was he kept to himself in the cryptozoological community. He tried not to think about being an exile from one of the kookiest groups around, but he had his own theory and his own path to follow.
On that fourth morning he waded deep into the mist with his rifle shouldered. No photograph would show up through that; the only evidence he could leave with was a body. That was if a Sasquatch even had a body to drop. They existed, of that he had no doubt, but he didn’t know how much.
It was the only thing that made sense. If no evidence could be found yet reports kept getting made, then their existence was less than that of a human or another ape. A Sasquatch had to be something like a ghost. That was his working theory. All of the haunting fog and mist only added to his certainty.
All of his equipment was special: a mix between the tools of bear hunters and spirit sleuths. Behind his flashlight, atop his rifle, was an EMF meter with a dancing needle. It spiked when he heard something like a growl, forcing him to whip around, but there was nothing but more mist.
Bryce’s feet sank. He was moving out of the boulders and into the bog. Those sounds he’d heard came from all directions, but there was no splashing. Perhaps these creatures were just mouths full of teeth, hovering around to sow nightmares.
It wasn’t just growls. There were shrieks, whoops, roars, whistles, and rattles. A shape shifter? Every cryptid one? Bryce wanted to shout at it, call out his theory, but there was too much fear wrapped around his throat like barbed wire. His words died and deflated on his tongue like oil-coated blow fish. The sounds kept going, even though hew as ankle deep in a scummy pond now.
The ghost of the human imagination growled at him, transformed into the mouth of the Loch Ness monster and burbled. Shifted to the mandibles of the moth man and rattled like a snake made of bones. It was mocking him, but it only did so because he was so close.
Something appeared through the mist. He fired. Chips of wood flew off and splashed into the murk. The EMF meter danced back and forth, the needle practically puling him forward. He waded closer to his target only to find that it was a tree mostly drowned in the swamp, much like the one he had marked two days ago.
It was marked still. His bullet had missed the chalk frowning face he’d left behind to indicate no cryptid activity. Bryce sighed and ran his fingers over it, wondering how much his own face looked like that at the moment. He was just a sad, crazy, middle-aged man who made his own dementia from scratch. There was nothing out there. All the sounds were just the echoes of false purpose.
“What do you think I should do?” Bryce asked the frowning face. He couldn’t ask a real person, as there was no bearing the obvious shame in their eyes. He couldn’t ask a fellow crackpot; they would just tell him to soldier on, that every bit of emptiness was more evidence. “Open your mouth damn it, and tell me!” He scratched at the chalk from, bark building up under his nails. He looked at the color. “Wait a second…” He dug his piece of blue chalk out of his pocket and held it up against the tree.
They were close, but it wasn’t the same shade of blue. His was more powdery. Somebody else had drawn that face. Bryce whirled around again, dropping his chalk into the swamp. They were mocking him. There was only ever one explanation for anything, and it only mattered if you hit the nail on the head. There was a nail somewhere out in the fog; he just needed one clean shot.
There was another animal’s sound, but he couldn’t classify it. It was a guttural gurgle somewhere between his guess at the Jersey devil and his guess at the chupacabra. He stood still, aiming for it. It just needed to make one more peep so he could be certain of his aim. Maybe it needed to know its target was still out there. Bryce still couldn’t say anything, as if his bravery was back in the tent going stale with the marshmallows. He could make his own noise though.
“Morp!” he barked, wincing at the silliness of it. No matter. It did the trick. He finally heard a splash. It was the cryptid becoming substantial, going from spirit to something that could be feared and reported. His finger touched the trigger.
Krak! A gun boomed, but not Bryce’s. His rifle exploded in his hands and sent him tumbling into the green water. He sputtered and flailed, but he could still hear something stomping toward him. Its feet seemed huge and excited, like a great big dog not realizing it had outgrown its owner, coming to playfully bite his face and leave him dead.
His gun was lost somewhere in the murk. This was it: vindication. The blade swung in the wrong direction, but it was there. Even if it was his head to get mounted he would know the truth. A tall dark figure leapt into view and grabbed him by the shirt. Bryce blinked the slime away. Confusion swelled his tongue and kept him from his words when he needed them most.
The figure wore a hunting jacket and hat. Its gun was slung over its shoulder. A piece of blue chalk was tucked into its front pocket. The face looked a lot like his own, but with a bigger fleshier nose, a darker skin tone, and a thick coating of hair. Plus this man stood a full two feet taller. He grinned at Bryce, showing blunt fangs. All at once the poor man realized there was an explanation, but everyone, including himself, was as wrong as could be.
The cryptids were us, just in their own worlds. Here was Sasquatch Bryce, come to find the truth about the legendary humans. Somewhere in the mist, behind those other sounds of frustration and desperation, there was a Loch Ness Bryce, a moth man Bryce, a Jersey devil Bryce… The mist was just where the boundary between worlds was thin, where they could see each other and obsess.
“You make such strange sounds,” Sasquatch Bryce growled, “but I heard you.”
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by Questingjester during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!