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Clivo Wren sat crouched in the dry yellow grass, a tranquilizer gun on his lap, peering through binoculars at the stream meandering through the boreal forest. A frigid breeze blew, and he wrapped his fur parka tighter around him. Dang, it’s freezing, he thought. It was the beginning of summer, but apparently the warmth wouldn’t hit northern Russia until much later. Why did every legendary creature he stalked have to live in the cold? There must be one by a beach somewhere that he could track in comfort from under a palm tree while drinking from coconuts.
Clivo gagged as he nibbled on some fish he’d caught and cooked the night before, then reminded himself to pack more food for his future quests. He’d been camping along the river for five days now, and his food had already run out, leaving him to survive on the plentiful trout from the river. He had considered snaring a hare for some variety, but had forgotten to bring anything to build a trap with, and he certainly didn’t want to waste another of his tranquilizer darts. He’d already used one on a black bear who’d wandered near his tent two nights before, leaving him with just two darts. He would have hated to ruin this catch because he’d wasted all his darts on other wandering wildlife.
He pulled a notebook from his backpack and made a list of things he needed to improve his hunts in the future: More food, more darts, more beaches.
Clivo sighed and looked through his binoculars again at the dam of sticks and twigs blocking the river. It was the third one he’d built to bait his prey, and if he didn’t find the creature soon, he knew he’d have to move to a different spot and build another one, which sounded like a miserable prospect. He was ready to go home and eat a hearty meal of something that didn’t have scales. A hot bath didn’t sound so bad, either, since he was freezing and beginning to stink like fish.
A loud crackle suddenly sounded from his ham radio and broke the stillness of the scene. “Dude! What’s taking you so long?!”
Clivo scrambled for the radio in his pocket as other voices also shouted through it.
“Charles! Be quiet! We’re not supposed to bother him unless it’s an emergency!”
“But this is taking forever, Amelia! How hard can it be to find the Ugly Merman?”
“Dude, it’s called the Vodyanoy. Use its proper Russian name and give it some respect!”
“Whatever, Adam. ‘Ugly Merman’ is so much cooler!”
“It so isn’t!”
“Yes it is! No! Give me back the radio! I’m the one talking!”
Clivo finally managed to pull the radio out of his thick parka and spoke in a harsh whisper. “Do you guys mind being a little quieter?”
“Oh, hey, dude!” Charles replied chirpily. “How’s the Arctic?”
“It’s freezing! And I’m tired of chopping down pine trees to build dams with. You sure they’re supposed to attract the Merman?” Clivo ran a gloved hand under his nose, which was dripping like a faucet.
“Pretty sure, Clivo.” Now it was Stephanie’s voice coming through the radio. “It hates anything that obstructs the flow of water. Satellite images show no dams along that stretch of river, whereas the rest of the river is covered with them.”
“You sure you’re in the right place, dude?” Adam piped in. “You do know how to read a compass, right?”
Clivo rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I know how to read a compass. I’m in the right spot, but you gave me, like, five miles of river to cover, so it took a little while.”
“Hi, Clivo,” Hernando’s meek voice whispered through the radio.
“Well, hurry up, dude!” Charles whined. “I wanna see what the Ugly Merman really looks like!”
“It’s called the Vodyanoy, man!” Adam yelled.
“Okay, guys, can you only contact me in case of emergencies, please? I’m kinda trying to stay hidden here,” Clivo begged.
“Sorry, dude,” Adam said.
“Dude, sorry,” Charles agreed.
The radio thankfully went silent, and Clivo pocketed it. The Myth Blasters were an amazing team to work with, and they were always right on with their research on where exactly to find legendary creatures—cryptids—that shouldn’t exist. But they were still new to the idea that cryptids actually did exist, as he was, so their excitement often got the best of them.
Clivo peered through the binoculars again and scanned the river. The sun was beginning to set, and soon it’d be time to return to his tent and build a fire. He was already dreading his evening meal of more cooked fish.
He tried not to be too hard on himself for coming totally unprepared, seeing as how it was only his fifth catch. Becoming an orphan and then discovering his dad was a cryptid catcher who was searching for the one special beast that could make humans immortal would have been a lot for any kid to handle. Finding out that his dad had secretly been training Clivo all his life to take over as the world’s best catcher—which also included fighting off the bad guys—had almost sent him over the edge.
But Clivo eventually discovered that he was more than willing to face the dangers posed by the evil ones to find the immortal. After battling with two Luxembourgers who were dangerous but quite dumb, he knew he had to protect the world from the evil resistance, which sought to use the gift of eternal life for its own gain. He also wanted to protect the cryptids, which were beautiful, mysterious creatures that others sought to lock up in zoos or sell to science if they were ever found.
Clivo thought of Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Otterman—his first two catches. Neither had turned out to be the immortal, but he’d gotten to see them up close and even touch them, which had been like stepping into a wonderland. Nessie had been very sweet for a massive dinosaur that had been frozen for over sixty-five million years. The Otterman had seemed dangerous at first, with its razor-sharp teeth and claws, but ended up being rather polite and enjoyed eating chocolate much more than human flesh. The horrible thought of these majestic animals being experimented on in labs made Clivo’s task of protecting them feel that much more pressing.
Clivo focused his thoughts back on the present and tried to think through the details in the crypto-research manual Adam had prepared for him on the Ugly Merman. The Vodyanoy was a water creature from Russia who’d been sighted since the 1800s. Local folklorists claimed it was a frog-faced naked man who enjoyed playing a game of cards while smoking a wooden pipe, and who occasionally partook in drowning the locals. But Adam’s origin theory was that the Merman was actually a harmless Siberian salamander that had undergone a genetic mutation during a particularly strong solar flare and grown to humongous proportions.
Clivo had been relieved by the “harmless” part. Being chased by the Otterman had made him realize that he much preferred catching cryptids that didn’t want to rip his face off.
He was just about to call it a night when a loud crack sounded. He raised his binoculars and instantly saw the source of the noise—a wart-covered frog the size of a baby elephant was wading in the river and powerfully tearing apart the dam.
Copyright © 2019 Lija Fisher