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By J. L. Ender

“Don’t you want to solve the mystery?” My friend Tina had a travel bag thrown over one shoulder.

“No,” I replied, laying my long neck back down and relaxing in my bed. “Don’t be ridiculous. Humans are a myth.” We had stories, sure, but they were just that—stories.

“I’m gonna find them.” She patted her tall, blond beehive hairdo with one flipper, assuring herself it was holding together. “We discovered a tunnel leading into the upper world. You oughta come. Frankie’s gonna be there.”

I raised my head. “Frankie Fulton?”

“Know another Frankie?”

I leapt from my bed and paddled to my vanity to brush my fiery red hair. If I was going to see Frankie, I wanted to look my best. A shy young plesiosaur like me wouldn’t get many chances with a swell guy like that.

We paddled through town. Cheery lights shone from at the stone houses on Main Street, staving off the deep gloom of the Earth’s Core.

At the edge of one of the lengthy tunnels leading outside of town, we met with Frankie and two other plesiosaurs, Paulie and Pinta. We milled about with our flippers in our pockets for a few minutes.

“Good to see you, Nessica.” Frankie grinned at me.

I blushed and fought the urge to hide behind Tina’s tubby gray form. Did he notice the bows in my hair? I’d used my best ones. Surely I looked as ravishing as any prehistoric aquatic reptile could.

We shot up the tunnel, then through a series of side passageways. I lost track of the route, but Frankie and Tina seemed confident about our heading, so I didn’t fret over it.

We burst into a narrow, murky loch. The surface awaited. I could see blue sky and fluffy white clouds through the murky, grayish water.

Could the legends be true?

“Let me take a look around.” Frankie floated upward and popped his head above water.

We waited at the drop back to the Core. I shoved my flippers in the pockets of my poodle skirt.

A moment later he returned, looking grayer than usual. “See, I told you. There are humans!” He didn’t seem quite as confident as before. “They flashed a bright light at me. I’m not sure why, but it sure was blinding!” He shook his head a little, as though still dazzled.

“Frankie,” Tina gasped. “They took your pitcher. Your soul has been trapped inside their funny little box. You have to go get it!”

Paulie and Pinta gasped. I gaped in shock.

“I don’t want to go back up there,” he said. Everyone else seemed reluctant to leave the relative comfort of the tunnel.

But I’d heard all I needed to. Frankie needed my help. Plucking every shred of my courage, I waggled my stumpy body toward the surface.

I emerged into a lake in the midst of what must be the “wooded mountain slopes” described in legend. A small boat floated nearby. A human wearing a floppy hat gaped at us. He held a small, boxy object. The soul capture device! Without looking into its little lens or tearing his eyes from my magnificently arching neck, he clicked a button, briefly shining a white light in my face.

I shrank back, temporarily blinded, then surged forward and flashed him a toothy, beautific smile. For some reason, this didn’t seem to comfort him. He let out the cutest screeching sound.

“Oh, you’re just adorable,” I gushed. “Love your floofy hat and those tiny widdle boots!” I patted the top of a blue and white cooler lying beside him. “Is that your lunchbox? Is it full of tiny widdle human food? Anyway, listen. I need that picture box. You see, we can’t let anyone take our souls or we’ll burn in gosh darn fiery torment for all eternity, okay?”

Through my whole speech, the man had just stared at me, hands shaking a little. I thought that was pretty stuck-up after all my nice compliments, but I’d tried to let it go. When I stopped chatting to take a breather, he dropped the camera and leapt into the water, paddling away. His graceless swimming was endearing, like watching a baby plesiosaur thrash in the water for the first time.

“Oh, I could just eat you up.” I could have carried him to land easy as pie, but he’d been rude, so I decided to let him be.

I crushed the camera between my delicate, girlish jaws and spat it out onto the abandoned boat. This done, I ate all the food in his baby lunchbox, burping delicately as I sank under the waves and returning to my friends.

“That was amazing!” Frankie cried.

Everyone patted my back with their flippers, and we set out for home. Frankie and I held flippers the whole way. It was real swell.

The fisherman struggled ashore, his heavy wading boots sloshing with water and tangling in the thick weeds growing along the banks of the Loch Ness. He raced to his car, not stopping for a breath until his hands rested on the side of his battered blue station wagon.

He reached into a waterproof pocket in his coat, pulling out a small camera. He wished he’d gotten a picture of the redheaded monster! No one would ever believe him about that.

He checked the backup camera. Perfectly dry. He’d have proof of Nessie’s existence after all. The first one, at least. The photo might be a little grainy, but who’d be able to deny evidence like this?

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J.L. Ender‘s first published novel, Portal World, is available now. He has also released several short stories, including The Rocket Game and The Meek Shall Inherit. His new superhero series, Steel Fox Investigations, will begin January 2020. Ender has worked as a dishwasher, a beef jerky labeler, a warehouse worker, a shelf stocker, a greeter, a traveling technician, a laser engraver, a package handler, a copywriter, a graphic designer, a librarian, an editor, a dispatcher, and a phone operator. He lives in Ohio with his dog Bear.

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15 comments - Join the conversation


    • Eyes blurring, hands numb, I scroll through another fantastic short story. I just want to skip to the bottom and find the dragon emoji, but I keep getting dragged in by something that catches my eye. Haunted caves, sentient swords, ghostly cemeteries. I reach the end of the story, trying to process what I’d just read. A brownie…but not a dessert? Sort of a fairy, but not a fairy? I didn’t even know what that meant. I didn’t even know who I was.

      I hurried through the comments, shaking slightly in my desk chair. Nothing stood out to me. No dragon. With a sob, I opened the next story, desperately telling myself I could just skip one. Just skip one. But I couldn’t. I liked the Loch Ness monster, and the story drew me in immediately. It engulfed me, filled my mind with questions. Were plesiosaurs real? Were humans real? …was I real?

      I didn’t know. I kept reading, laughing at the silly story, drawn into a world not my own. I finished it and scrolled down to the comments, already gearing up for another moment of disappointment before I moved on. Something green flashed by, and I blinked. What was that? A snake? That would be cool. I liked snakes.

      My quivering hand could barely hold the mouse, but I scrolled up almost against my will. And there, right before my eyes, was something green. My eyes were so tired, I couldn’t see what it was. I squinted and leaned closer, then let out a squeal of delight, startling a flock of pigeons outside my window.

      “Th-th-there it is!” I sobbed. “I finally found it!” The elusive, legendary dragon. I was free.

      • If we were giving out awards to the most awesome comment under the dragon…

        …You would win it, sir. As it is, you join these other fine readers in the drawing for a paperback copy of a Havok anthology of your choice!

        (And thanks for not only playing, but doing it in style…)

        • Haha, thank you so much! I guess I just wanted to have some more fun with the contest and spice up the comment section a little bit. Looking forward to the drawing!

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