She stood at the edge of the snow bank, kicking at the road grime which collected there. When the snow sat fresh, she’d made herself a snow beast. One that would protect her.
The snowplow had wrecked it before it had the chance. Pushed it right into the snow bank. Like the bullies did to her at recess.
The road twisted away from her as she looked up to check for the school bus. Soon it would race around the far corner, stop in a squeal of protesting brakes. The door would open, the bus driver beckon. She would hesitate, she always did. Her bully waited for her at the back of the bus. Waiting for the bus driver to watch the road. Waiting to begin the morning ritual of terror.
She often thought of running into the woods. Hiding. Escaping. But no. It would be worse trouble in the end.
Her gaze flicked to the ground. Had something moved? Lumps of salt and sand encrusted ice, half-melted and refroze countless times, nothing alive in there that she could see. It shifted again, frosty crust sparkling.
A gasp of horror escaped her as it lifted from the roadside, not a dirty snowbank but her snow beast in a roadside camouflage. She couldn’t look away, even as she saw the school bus arrive in the corner of her vision.
The familiar squeal of brakes filled the air as the yellow bus mowed into the beast.
The beast growled and opened its terrible yawp.
It swallowed the bus whole.
The beast burped once before it settled back into the snow bank. The girl stood there, quiet, unsure of what to do.
“I’m a mythozoologist.”
“You mean a cryptozoologist?”
The Professor squinted at her. “No, a mythozoologist.”
“What’s the difference?”
Sighing, the Professor tugged at his mustache. “A cryptozoologist is someone who studies and seeks the existence of cryptids, like the Loch Ness monster and the Chupacabra. Sasquatch, you know, creatures people are always seeing but taking very bad photos of.”
“And a mythozoologist?”
“Mythozoologists like myself study mythical beasts. We try to understand their biology and their function as enduring and repeating creatures in the fictional record.” The Professor leaned towards her, his eyes flashing. “Why do unicorns keep cropping up? Why do dragons have so many incarnations in the literature of the world? Why do we have wizards in stories and not in our everyday lives? What is the purpose of legendary beasts? Why do we fiddle with gods but deny these beasts their due as creatures of influence?”
She felt like he expected an answer. “I-I don’t know. To inspire?”
He blinked at her. Grumbling under his breath, he wandered off into his dusty library and left her alone with her questions.
The beast looked out from within his cave, watching, waiting. He didn’t feel sociable today, but visitors were rare and they might be delicious. He licked his lips and found his voice. “Would you like to come inside for dinner?” he asked the children, smiling his ghastliest grin. His fangs glistened in the afternoon light.
The first boy stepped back. “I warn you, I eat a lot of brussel sprouts. I’ll taste bitter and terrible.”
“I’ve never been to Brussels,” said the beast. “But I’ll try anything once.”
“Not me, you won’t,” said a second boy. “I bathed in hot tamales just this morning.”
The beast shrugged. “So I’ll eat you with a glass of milk to cut the spice.”
“I taste delicious!” said the third child, the little sister who’d tagged along. “I eat apples every day and sweets like pie and cake and cookies…”
The beast retched and backed away. “Disgusting!” He dry-heaved his retreat into his cave.
The little girl’s jaw dropped and she burst into disappointed tears as her brothers dragged her away. “I could’ve been eaten by a beastie!” she wailed, and they shook their heads in wonder at her.
The beasts fall into shadow in the distance, biding their time till the fog returns and they can rise from their slumber. The wait is never long.
A foghorn sounds in the distance as the first tendrils of fog smudge the horizon. The beasts blink sleep from their eyes and watch as the mist cloaks them in its shroud. One by one they vanish.
Then, and only then, do they rise from their beds and march into the water, scouring the ocean floor for treasure and bits of salted seaweed. Their bellies full, they lounge upon the currents, tugging at riptides, and tickling stray whales.
The fog hovers along the shore, waiting for them grow tired and return to their beds. When all are asleep it rolls out once more, leaving the land as it was.
The beast reached out its monstrous arm to comfort the frightened child. She jumped with the beast’s talons touched her shoulder. Then she noticed its talons were fuzzy. Soft, even. She swiped at her tears and turned to get a better look. “Well, you’re not so scary after all.”
The beast smiled and tried to be brave. The child had terrible, red eyes. Some sort of liquid was leaking down its face. More dribbled from its nose. Its fur was all shaved off and it was covered in strange blankets. Whimpering, the beast stepped back into the forest as quiet as it could.
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