Always More, Jae Kent
2nd Place Winner Of The "Create-a-Cryptid" Contest
Breath. Quiet, damp, steady. Close. When the Grazzle comes for her, she should have expected it. She should have been ready.
When Ellen was little, when she was Ellie with crooked pigtails and a shrieking laugh, when she always had to hop in a circle before going through a door, she spent every day with the Grazzle. She kept up a constant stream of chatter, narrating everything they were doing for the benefit of the Grazzle, who she always thought needed a little extra help to understand. His claws scraped companionably beside her on the kitchen floor and dug into the soft earth when they went out after the rain.
She didn’t care if no one else could see him. He was fine on his own, and she was pretty sure he slept a lot when he wasn’t playing with her.
She hasn’t seen him since she was that small child. Not until tonight.
The big Grazzle—which was just a statute, not the real one—was in the town square, where other places had a playground or a gazebo. Someone in The Olden Days found the first Grazzle, and put him in the zoo or something, she didn’t really know. Mom says people used to think he was a curse. Sometimes the pedestal was empty at night.
She loved him. Even though the fake Grazzle had too many teeth and long spindly legs and a mouth that opened all the way up until you couldn’t see anything else, she wasn’t afraid. He looked like he was smiling, like he knew a secret, and maybe the secret was that he would protect everyone, especially her. That’s why he was all around town – on shirts and keychains and cartoony little bobbleheads. But he was her special friend.
It was the week after the fair when she learned the Grazzle wasn’t her friend. He never had been. He was a monster.
Now she’s facing him again. She hears the low growl. The traitorous noise from the creature she thought loved her. It does not come closer, but will not let her pass.
The night of the fair she felt a little dizzy from the sugar and noise and the crowd mostly above her head, even before she’d been on a ride. As she held tight to her mom’s hand, kicking sawdust as they walked, she saw the booth that displayed a sign that promised a LIVE GRAZZLE – REAL! SEE FOR YOURSELF!
“Mom! A real Grazzle! Let’s go! Can we go? Come on!”
Mom shook her head absently and said, “That’s just a trick, Ellie, there’s no such thing as a real Grazzle. Let’s go on the Ferris wheel.”
Ellie wasn’t dumb, she knew the first Grazzle had been caught a million billion years ago, which is how they know what it looked like. Everyone knew that. Still, she wanted to see. But she recognized Mom’s “give it up” voice, and allowed herself to be dragged away. She gave a grudging wave to her friend Trudy, who was bouncing on the balls of her feet as she waited by the entrance to see the REAL! LIVE! GRAZZLE! As Ellie looked over her shoulder, she saw Trudy pass through the tent door.
By the time Ellie and her mom were headed for the parking lot, Ellie could hardly keep her eyes open. She liked the pretty reflections of the red and blue lights from the police car at the far end of the lot.
She can see its outline as it paces in front of her, not facing her, just taking its time and looking off into the darkness. There is no more moonlight. She can’t find the path through the trees anymore.
The next day, Mom asked her when she’d talked to Trudy last. Ellie kicked the leg of her chair and said, “TRUDY got to see the Grazzle at the fair. I saw her go in.” Mom made a worried face, and then went back to her phone call.
Later that week, while Ellie was standing on a chair by the sink, rinsing off the giant sucker she spent all her fair money on that kept collecting lint and pieces of things, and the Grazzle was waiting for her by the door, snuffling at the dead apple tree, Mom called her. Mom’s face was tight and her hand shook as she took Ellie’s small hand in hers. “Ellie, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. Trudy . . .”
The funeral was long and the smell of flowers made Ellie’s head hurt.
She finds a stick on the ground. A stick. Like a child pretending she has a sword. But it’s all she has, and she clutches it.
There was a newspaper on the table, and Ellie saw Trudy’s school picture on the front page. She could read “suspect,” which she knew because they played detective at school sometimes.
“Ellie, you have to be careful. There are monsters out there.” Mom hugged her too tightly.
“Did- did the monster get Trudy?”
She takes a tentative step forward, and just as it has before, the Grazzle turns on her, its yellow snake eyes glowing in the dark. She prays, and aims with both hands.
“But, they caught him. They caught the monster.” Ellie knew this. They caught him way before they even built the statue.
Mom made a funny noise that was like a duck quack except it wasn’t funny, and said, “Ellie, where there’s one, there’s always more.” When Ellie went to her room, her sucker still had dirt on it, and she locked the Grazzle out. He was a monster.
As the stick miraculously sinks into the creature’s eye and it rears its head away, Ellen runs. She runs, straight ahead, past the creature that’s sinking to its knees and can no longer protect her, and runs into the man. With the knife.
Her mom had been right. There are real monsters, and there are always more.
Jae Kent survives on horror movies and coffee and is a terrible, terrible distance runner.