{Reissue} A Catalogue of Our Native Monsters by Khristian Mecom

The following is a catalogue of native wildlife seen in the Florida Everglades:

  1. Alligator mississippiensis – the native son of Florida.
    1. But really not so special, as they were everywhere in the Everglades.
    2. Although, he suspected that they had some kind of magical property. As soon as you spotted one, more appeared.
    3. In his notes, he wrote, “Perhaps they don’t really exist until you see them?”
    4. But, no, they were always there.
      1. Always.
  2. Agkistrodon piscivorous – also known as a water moccasin.
    1. They moved through the water like belly dancers.
    2. Poisonous.
      1. Like really, poisonous.
    3. He almost stepped on one. His boot just missed its tail. He thought a lot about what would’ve happened if the snake had reared up and bitten him.
    4. He would’ve died out there all alone—
      1. The mangroves swaying over his body.
      2. The brackish water devouring his skin and organs.
      3. And only his bones remaining to be bleached by the sun.
  3. Ardea alba – the greatest of Egrets.
    1. Hunchbacked birds with long legs that went on for miles.
    2. Grand and elegant—all white feathers with an orange bill.
    3. He often dreamed he was a Great Egret. And in those dreams, he was eaten by an alligator.
      1. But he didn’t die, however, but lived on inside of the alligator like Pinocchio in the whale.
        1. It wasn’t such a bad life—him and the alligator were symbiotic.
    4. His note: “Maybe a Great Egret would’ve cleaned my bones if that cottonmouth had gotten me.”
  4. ? – it had no scientific name, but many called it the skunk ape.
    1. The Florida variety of what is commonly referred to as Bigfoot.
    2. It was dusk. The sun had turned the shallow waters a pinkish red. He was grateful for the reprieve, for the oncoming night. Nothing was worse than Florida in July. The heat made you sick. He had, without quite meaning to, fallen asleep in his airboat. Parked beneath the only tree for miles, he covered his face with his hat and closed his eyes for only a moment. When he woke, he knew he had to get backquickly—he didn’t navigate well at night. But he paused to watch the sunset. When he turned back around to start up the airboat, he saw it.
    3. A hulking figure—dark fur, glowing eyes, all muscle.
    4. It looked at him.
    5. He looked at it.
    6. “What the fuck?”
      1. That was him, not the skunk ape.
    7. There were two ways it could go: people would believe him or people would not believe him.

The following is a catalogue of native wildlife seen in his bedroom:

  1. Girlfriend disbelief-us – also known as Rebecca.
    1. “You saw what?”
    2. “Those don’t really exist, do they?”
    3. “Could it have been just some monkey that escaped from the zoo or something?”
    4. “Yes, I know monkeys and apes are different species. Don’t be an asshole. I’m just trying to make sense of this.”
    5. “Were you still dreaming?”
    6. “Maybe you should stop yelling at me? I’m not calling you crazy!”
  2. Girlfriend worry-icus – known for their tired expression and faux-soothing voice.
    1. “You really need to let this go.”
    2. “How long can you search for something that may not really be there?”
    3. “Please.”
      1. “Please don’t go out there again.”
      2. “Please stay here with me.”
    4. “I don’t know why this is so important to you.”
    5. “It’s driving you crazy.”
  3. Girlfriend breakup-gus – soon to be known as ex-girlfriend.
    1. “I just can’t do this anymore.”
      1. “This!”
      2. “All of this!”
    2. “I think it might be for the best if I stayed with my mom for a little bit.”
      1. “Yes, I’ll be back.”
      2. “Some of my stuff is still here.”
    3. “Of course, I still love you.”
      1. “I’ll always love you.”
      2. “Always.”
    4. “But this isn’t you.”
      1. “You’re not who I fell in love with.”
      2. “I don’t know who you are anymore.”
  4. Anolis sagrei – brown anole lizard.
    1. It died a week ago.
      1. The lizard, that was.
      2. Also, he suspected he did, too.
      3. But he was a scientist, not a goddamn poet.
    2. The brown anole was decaying quickly in the Florida heat and humidity. Already, its skin was all dried out—a paper-like consistency. If he held the dead thing between his fingers, he imagined he could grind it to dust.
    3. The strange thing was it still clung to the wall across from their—no, his bed.
    4. How long could something dead persist?
    5. How long could he?

The following is a catalogue of his logic on how he could win her back:

  1. Find the skunk ape.
  2. Find the skunk ape.
  3. Find the skunk ape.
  4. Possibly skin the damn thing once he found the skunk ape.
  5. Offer Rebecca the hide.
  6. Or maybe keep it alive.
  7. Could he trap it somehow?
  8. Take it on a national press tour, visiting all the morning talk shows and the late night ones.
  9. Become famous.
  10. Marry Rebecca on top of an airboat in the middle of the Everglades, just the two of them and maybe their parents and the caged skunk ape.
  11. But, wait, then what?
  12. He’d figure out the specifics of it all later.

The following is a catalogue of the events leading up to and including his disappearance:

  1. Neighbors reported hearing him working late into the night. One woman—Eileen, an early riser due to the fact that she was a local bus driver—said she saw him around four o’clock in the morning. He was standing in his driveway. The garage door was up. There were power tools and saws visible. She said good morning as she walked to her car. He didn’t acknowledge her. As she reversed out of her own driveway, she caught a glimpse of what looked like a large metal cage. She was the type of woman who knew better than to ask questions.
  2. A camera at a southbound Florida Turnpike tollbooth took a picture of his license plate as his SunPass—a prepaid toll transponder—account was out of money. The camera also takes a picture of the driver, and it was clearly him driving his truck. There were no other passengers with him. Still, if someone was involved in his disappearance, they could’ve murdered or kidnapped him after he exited the turnpike.
  3. Rebecca went over to his house to pick up some of the stuff she had left behind. Or at least, that had been her excuse. Really, she had missed him and wanted to make sure he was doing okay. He hadn’t called her in over a week, which was odd. Although, she had told him to move on, she wasn’t really sure if she wanted him to. When he didn’t answer the door, she let herself in with her key—he hadn’t changed the locks, nor had he planned to. The house was unsettlingly quiet. It seemed like he hadn’t touched a single thing since she had left: her running shoes were still by the door, her earrings still on the bathroom counter, her bra still hung on the closet doors, and her leftover pizza was still in the fridge. It was like walking through the ruins of Pompeii. She half-expected to find him, buried in volcano dust, as still as a statue, exactly where she had left him. But he was nowhere to be found.
  4. The university he taught at kept trying to get ahold of him. He had missed three weeks of classes and had abandoned his students, who came into the Biology Department demanding to know where he was and what was going to happen to their grades. It was a rather large mess, and the head of the department vowed to fire him as soon as he showed up again.
  5. Rebecca, after a disturbing call from the university, went back to their house. He clearly hadn’t been home. She began to wonder if something bad had happened. Had he hurt himself ? Got lost somewhere in the Everglades? Or even worse, did he find that Bigfoot creature again? Had it eaten him alive? She called the police and filed a missing person report. They told her there wasn’t much they could do.
  6. His truck was found in the parking lot of a visitor center at Everglades National Park. It had been there for a week or so, according to an employee. Or maybe longer. They weren’t sure; they had been out sick for a few days.
  7. A short search was conducted in and around the visitor center. A few wildlife officers who knew him went out further into the Everglades but found no trace of him.
  8. Every day, for months on end, Rebecca searched for him. She learned to drive an airboat and would cover a great distance each day, stopping every now and again, peering off into the distance with a pair of binoculars. Her skin became tanned and worn under the sun. She encountered all manner of strange creatures: alligators, wading birds, insects, lizards, snakes. She spent so much time in the Everglades she began to believe that she herself had become some wild creature. She was no longer human. Her family begged her to give up, to come home, to move on with her life. But there was something driving her search she didn’t want to look at too closely. And that was why she couldn’t give him up for dead. His disappearance was all her fault. All she had to do was believe him. If she had just believed him, then—

The following is a catalogue of theories about what happened to him:

  1. Somewhere out in the Everglades his airboat broke down—maybe he ran out of gas or the propeller snapped. The possibilities of what could’ve gone wrong were endless. And because he was out so far, he knew he was in trouble. Hiking out was out of the question. His cellphone got no service.
    1. The only course of action he had was to stay where he was and hope for someone to find him. No one did.
      1. He died of starvation and dehydration.
      2. He was still huddled under the seat of his airboat.
    2. Another version had all of the details of the first, except after a day, he decided to try and make it back. But he didn’t make it far: he tripped and broke his ankle. He died.
      1. An alligator took his body.
      2. Or his body sunk to the bottom of a marsh, and he became a part of the ecosystem he so loved.
  2. He had narrowed down his search area and was close to discovering the skunk ape. It was late in the afternoon when he saw it: there, in the distance, a dark shape moving in a lumbering way. He waded into the water after it. For an hour, he trailed behind the creature—quiet and unseen. The skunk ape smelled to high heaven. Smelled like a decaying carcass left in the sun. He thought of turning back many times. Would he be able to find the airboat again? Could he drag the skunk ape back to it? But then the skunk ape arrived at what must’ve been its den. On a high piece of ground was a grouping of dense gumbo limbo trees, royal palms, and saw palmettos. The skunk ape made its way through a small opening.
    1. He readied his tranquilizer gun and disappeared into the trees.
    2. A shot rang out over the stillness of the brackish water.
  3. When he spotted the skunk ape, he followed it back to its den. But as he watched the large ape-like creature sit and play with some sticks it had brought back with it—it was so engrossed in the activity and clearly more intelligent than he had originally given it credit for—he couldn’t bring himself to shoot it. The skunk ape was not a means to an end. It was a living thing that deserved his respect, was due its dignity. There were, he realized, certain things in the world that should remain a mystery. Humans would only destroy the skunk ape. Because that was really all we were good at it.
    1. He abandoned his airboat.
    2. He decided the only life worth living was one where he accepted the wildness of his own nature.
  4. Something broke inside of him.
    1. Something simple.
    2. Something primal.

 The following is a catalogue of our native monsters:

  1. The specter of grief – also known as tragedy.
    1. Rebecca stopped going into the Everglades. One day she just woke up and stayed in bed. She had planned to search that day—had a lunch packed and her gear all ready. She went back to sleep instead. It was just that this overwhelming feeling of tiredness had invaded her mind and body. For what felt like weeks, she slept.
    2. And then when she awoke, she knew she was done. She could no longer chase his ghost around in the sun-filled water of the Everglades. If she kept on going like she had been, then pretty soon it would be her that was the ghost.
  2. The parasite of heartbreak – or the feeling of something burrowing deep into your skin.
    1. He never recovered from that feeling.
    2. Regrettably, this species of monster killed most of us in some way or the other.
  3. The beast of love – the native daughter of all.
    1. The skunk ape was alone in the world—the last of its kind. A sad story: its mate had died after being attacked by an alligator. For days, he lingered on, bleeding slowly until there was no more blood. As a creature of  lofty intelligence, she buried her mate on a high piece of ground. She mourned him for years. That was until he came along.
    2. A human male. The first time she saw him, she recognized something in him—a shared grief, a mutual heartbreak, a need for love. So she decided to keep him. The two of them alone in the Everglades would build their own kingdom of monsters.

Khristian Mecom was born in Oklahoma but grew up and still lives in South Florida where she earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Florida Atlantic University. Her fiction has appeared in Slice Magazine, Passages North, Iron Horse Literary Review, and elsewhere, while her novella, Love & Black Holes, is forthcoming from Black Hill Press. Find her online at weoncelivedincaves.tumblr.com.

What have been some of your best hiding places? “My best hiding places have been the depths of my closet, a black hole, the small grouping of trees behind my childhood home, here in plain sight, the cat disguise I often use, the space under my pillows, my desk chair, and behind you right now.”

Art — kAt Philbin is an artist based in Los Angeles, CA. She draws inspiration from fairy tales and personal mythologies to create her delicate illustrations with many, many tiny pen lines. See more of her artwork at www.katphilbin.com.

Back to Issue 6: Hidden Things

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