2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge: Day 25

Write a piece of flash fiction each day of February with the February Flash Fiction Challenge, led by editor Moriah Richard. Each day, receive a prompt, example story, and write your own. Today's prompt is to write about a cryptid.
Author:
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What’s your favorite cryptid? Honestly, I can’t pick just one. For today’s prompt, write about your favorite animal whose existence is unsubstantiated. It can be aquatic (like South Africa’s Mamlambo or Australia’s Bunyip), terrestrial (like Brazil’s Minhocão or Indonesia’s Ebu Gogo), or winged (like the North American Thunderbird or West Virginia’s Mothman)…the choice is yours!

Flash Fiction Challenge

Remember: These prompts are just starting points; you have the freedom to go wherever your flash of inspiration takes you.

(Note: If you happen to run into any issues posting, please just send me an e-mail at mrichard@aimmedia.com with the subject line: Flash Fiction Challenge Commenting Issue.)

Here’s my attempt at portraying my local cryptid:

The Ghaster Blaster

Sadie polished the day’s clean silverware with a single-minded viciousness that came from years of working in restaurants. Her fingers were quick, her grip firm. The diner was always fairly boring this late—tonight, Old Man Sanderson snarled quietly over a newspaper that was at least a month out-of-date. Benny Ort was holding his forehead in one hand and staring blankly at his computer screen, where Sadie knew his online medicinal magics classwork was displayed.

Sadie was tired all the way to her bones. She’d pulled her back unloading meat into the deep freezer and was a little afraid of how much pain she’d be in tomorrow. She checked the clock…still two hours to go.

“I’m taking the trash out!” she called.

“Eh? Oh.” Old Man Sanderson squinted at her, frowning deeply.

Benny gave her a half-hearted thumbs up without taking his eyes off the screen.

Sadie pushed the swing door back into the kitchen. Connie glanced up from where she was perched on her stool, her checkered pants stained with fryer grease across one thick thigh. Her cell phone was playing some something at a low volume. Sadie guessed that it was an old Vine compilation video they’d seen a hundred times.

“Thought you went home already.” Sadie pulled the trash bag up and out of the can, tying it off with a sharp snap.

Connie shrugged, hoops swinging from her earlobes. “I’m punishing Jeff. He pissed me off this morning.”

“Punishing him by not going home?”

“Yep. My presence is a gift you have to earn.”

Sadie laughed. “If you say so.”

Connie reached out and tried to swat Sadie as she passed her on her way to the back door, but Sadie ducked out of the way. The porch light was the only thing she had to see by. The trash bag clanked noisily against her calf all the way down the stairs and across the gravel backlot. It was muggy out, and Sadie pitched the bag into the dumpster as quick as she could, holding her breath to avoid the putrid stench of rotting table scraps.

As she turned to leave, a scritching sound started up around the dumpster’s corner. Goosebumps broke out down her spine. She took a deep breath before peeking over her shoulder. For a moment, nothing. Silence. Then, a clawed foot clenched at the metal edge, screeching a bit as the grip flexed. Sadie looked at the black-tipped talons and green-scaled skin before she sprinted back to the door, muttering “nope, nope, nope, nope” as she burst inside the kitchen.

“That freaking snalleyghaster is sniffing around the dumpster again,” she said as soon as the door slammed behind her.

“Hey, I scared it off with the Ghaster Blaster last time,” Connie said. “I feel like it’s someone else’s turn.”

“I really wish you wouldn’t call it that.” Sadie shuddered. “I know it’s just an animal and it can’t help but be so horrible, but I hate it. I really do.”

“Sometimes, I wish I were a Witch. Then I could just blast that thing off the face of the earth and not have to think about it anymore.”

“Not everything is solved by blasting it off the earth,” Sadie said.

“Some things are.”

Sadie ignored her. “I guess I’ll call Zach again. Maybe it’s weak enough now that it’ll be easy to trap.”

“That’s kind of sad if you think about it.”

“I try not to.”

Connie stared into the middle distance. “What do you think Zach’ll do with it once he catches it?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t care to know, and I better never find out,” Sadie said. She washed her hands in the big sink before pushing the swing door open with her shoulder and stepping out.

***

The bell sounded as Benny and Sanderson left. Sadie sighed and finished wiping up the tables. A quick glance at the clock; 30 minutes to go. That muscle in her lower back throbbed. After a moment of standing in the silent diner, she went to the door and flipped the sign to “Closed.”

After throwing the last of the dirty dishes into the dishwasher, she shrugged into her coat, grabbed her keys, and flicked the lights off.

She tripped over something by the back door, her cursing muffled by the clattering it made. Sadie turned and saw that Connie had propped the baseball bat against the doorframe. In the weak light from the window, she could see Connie’s colorful Sharpie scrawl across the wood surface: Ghaster Blaster.

Rolling her eyes, she bent down and picked it up. It was heavy, worn but solid. She thought about that claw peeking around the edge of the dumpster, the old reports of dogs and cats and even small sheep being picked up and carried off in the jaws of a snalleyghaster.

Sadie tightened her grip and took it with her.

It was quiet and still outside, but the balmy summer air made everything seem intimate, like the night was sharing secrets. She loved Maryland’s summer nights. Reminding herself that she still loved them, she took the few steps down to the lot and bee-lined toward her car.

It was parked pretty far from the dumpster, but she still felt a prickling along her scalp. She quickened her steps, the crunch of gravel under her Keds the only sound…not even the crickets were chirping.

That gave her pause. She slowed, eyes darting to the dumpster. Nothing. All was quiet. Still, a voice inside her whispered, Watch out.

Then, a sound: a low scrape of scales on stone. Sadie froze. She gripped the handle of the bat so tightly her hand itched.

She saw the glint of its eye a fraction of a second before it appeared, moving slowly from under the shelter of her car, like it was afraid to scare her off. She wasn’t sure she could outrun it, even if her knees hadn’t suddenly turned to jello. Half-crouched, its long tail lashed slowly behind, its belly lowered down against the warm gravel. Sadie took in the dark scales, the shiny, sharp talons, and the rust-colored beak that was opening slowly, slowly, to reveal rows of needle-thin teeth. The giant eye, right in the middle of its skull, did not blink as it fixed on her.

“Jesus wept,” Sadie breathed.

It took one step toward her. Another. She had the wild thought that maybe it would run off into the night the way a raccoon or possum would—that it was more afraid of her than she was of it. The thought spun away as the snalleyghaster unfurled its wings, silently, the way hawks or owls do.

She couldn’t take her eyes off it as tentacles poured out of its mouth to scent the air.

Sadie had two thoughts, then. The first was, Must not be satisfied with potato peels anymore. The second: If this stupid thing kills me, Connie will never stop laughing.

It was very close to her now, close enough that she could smell that it had been in the dumpster, the stick of rotten food piercing the air.

Suddenly, she heard the track of one of her favorite Vines: “I’m a bad bitch; you can’t kill me!”

Between one breath and the next, Sadie shifted her grip on the bat, planted her feet, and swung the Ghaster Blaster as hard as she could. The sound of it—crack!—burst the night open like an old tomato. The snalleyghaster was flung to one side, its body tumbling across the gravel. There it laid, quiet as death.

It wasn’t any less ugly now that it wasn’t a threat. It was a weird creature, a blending of bird and lizard less majestic than a dinosaur but just as ancient. The eye was mostly closed, its second eyelid a pale-yellow color that made it look sickly. The wet sheen of tentacles spilling from its mouth made Sadie’s stomach roil. For a moment, she thought she might throw up. She forced herself to breathe slowly out through her nose and bent closer. It was thin enough that she could see its ribcage; much thinner than one of this size should be, she thought. It was breathing shallowly, but it was breathing.

She hadn’t killed it. She had knocked it silly, but she hadn’t killed it.

“Well,” she said. “Okay. Good.”

She wobbled to her car, popping the locks and slamming the door behind her. She had to convince her fingers to unclench from the bat.

After another few seconds, she managed to grab her cell phone. She called Zach to come and get the snalleyghaster, which he was way too enthusiastic to do at 10 o’clock on a Tuesday. Then she texted Connie a simple, “Solved our pest problem.”

The night stayed quiet. The snalleyghaster stayed still.

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