by ML Kennedy
Note from the author: I’m new here. In lieu of a proper introduction, here’s a short story I wrote last year.
Two men entered the Relax-Station out in Erie, Pennsylvania. The Relax-Station there was like any number of Relax-Stations across the country, or any number of similarly franchised motels owned by the same large company.
It smelled in that way that only motels do.
Between both men, they carried, rolled or dragged seven bags; six of these bags matched in style and pattern. The first man, who carried only matching bags, stepped up to the desk. Behind that desk sat a blonde with unfashionable glasses, reading the fifth in an interminable series of fantasy books.
“We should have a reservation,” he said, scanning her small frame, paying particular attention to the nail on her right index finger. It was significantly shorter than the others.
“Then you must be Mr. Brice,” the clerk said, as she reluctantly set down her novel.
“Call me Billy,” said the man who carried only matching bags.
“Okay,” she responded, never intending to do that thing. She handed Billy a small paper folder containing two plastic cards, the keys to the room. Each key was decorated with a picture of a pizza, and directions on obtaining said pizza or any number of similar pizzas.
“It’s non-smoking, two double beds. Take the stairs to your left, and it is the first room you’ll hit.”
“Oh, no. I requested a room with one king-size bed.” Billy paused, pleased with his own joke. “I’m just kidding,” he confessed. “James, you should see the look on your face,” Billy added, pointing to the man who carried mismatched bags.
The look on the face of James was the one he normally wore.
The two banged their luggage up the flight of stairs. Billy Brice swiped his key card and waited for the subsequent green blink with the concentration of a safe cracker. James paused to grope the small plastic box in his own coat pocket, and to contemplate many of his past decisions.
Billy dropped his bags between the far bed and its adjacent wall.
“Now James, just because you bought me dinner, doesn’t mean I gotta put out. I’m just kidding, of course.”
“The magazine bought you dinner,” corrected James. The magazine in question was Cryptid. It was one of the nation’s three best-selling cryptozoology magazines, and an invaluable resource to any number of very serious and important men who were trying to capture Bigfoot or the monster in Lake Champlain.
“Oh yeah. The magazine. Well, I’ll tell your magazine this: my job was a lot easier 20 years ago when Jerry Garcia was still alive and the Grateful Dead were still in full force. The buggers liked to follow the Dead, and pick off Deadheads. I guess they figured that nobody’s gonna notice a couple fewer hippies on the bus. Who’ll even report ’em? Missing missing person.” Billy chuckled at this term.
James pushed a button on the plastic box in his pocket. A tiny sprocket turned, squeaking.
“Nowadays,” Billy continued, “nowadays? Twenty-three hundred people get reported missing every day in this country. It is close to absolutely impossible to tell which ones were nabbed by the buggers, and which ones are regular murders or runaways or. . . I tell you, I investigated this one case for three weeks. Kid vanished. I was sure and a half that it was the buggers. I was all set to save him and rain down the wrath uh God. Any you know what? After three weeks of work, the kid calls from his daddy’s house.” Billy rested on the far bed. “Crazy world, huh? Tell me, you’re not going to make me sound like a nut, right?” These two separate thoughts/questions came out as one.
“I’m just going to observe, record, and report.” James was telling the truth, though his motives for acting in this manner were not out of respect for his subjects. He remained disinterested in his writings for two monetary reasons. The first was to avoid getting sued. The second reason was one that developed from his long career as a freelancer. If he was neutral and detached he could sell his columns to the tin foil hat crowd, and those who laugh at the tin foil hat crowd.
It was win-win.
James put the recorder on the night-stand, roughly four inches above the book of Mormon and the bible of Gideon. “Do you fear sounding like a nut?”
“Not really,” chuckled Billy. “I’m doing what my daddy did, and what his daddy did. I come from a long line of hunters. It’s not some fly-by-night operation like those Chupacabra guys.” A beat. “I’m pretty sure that thing is made up.”
“Do these bags contain your hunting equipment then?”
“Thems and my underpants.”
“Where does one come about such equipment? I don’t believe that, say, Walmart has an aisle devoted to-“
“Well, some I built, some my granddad built, and some is just regular hunting equipment, for all the good that’ll do me.”
“Do any of the bags contain remains of your catches or anything of that sort?”
“Well, no. I got nothing like that. There ain’t no heads in the duffle bags or any such nonsense like that. Nine times out of ten, I’m set out to be more of a deterrent. You know? Scare the buggers away.”
“How many have you killed?”
“How many have I personally killed?”
“Yes,” replied James while trying to hide the fact that he believed this to be a very stupid question.
“Well, none,” Billy stated before he decided to add, “that I can prove. None that I know for sure.”
James had anticipated as such. This job had done little to deter his natural skepticism about legendary creatures and the paranormal. At the very least, it seemed as though monster hunting was of the catch and release sort.
Billy Brice spent the next half hour showing James five bags worth of equipment. Billy claimed one was to make an ultrasonic noise that the creatures detested. Another could track their movements based on electromagnetic fields. Many contained seemingly superfluous light emitting diodes, and James rather quickly deduced that Billy had no idea as to the proper meanings of the words “quantum” or “latent”. He said that only three percent of the population could even detect these monsters, though he admitted to “guesstimating” that number.
“Listen, Mr. Brice-“
“Yeah, do you have anything I can take a picture of that would serve as evidence for the existence of-“
“You don’t believe me?”
“It’s not my job to believe you or to not believe you. I was just hoping to acquire some evidence that-“
“Evidence? Evidence? Man, I’ve seen these buggers with my own two eyeballs, and you want evidence.” Billy removed his jeans, revealing a large puncture wound on his thigh.
“How’s that for evidence? Huh? You take a look at that!”
James replied flatly, “it’s evidence of a wound. You cou-“
“Jesus Christ boy!” Billy Brice said this thing as though he had never felt as much frustration in his life. He exhaled sharply. “What will it take for you to believe that Unicorns are real!?”
-M. L. Kennedy