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“If at first you don’t succeed, try again with a bigger gun.” — Alice Healy
The bank of the main civic reservoir, in the middle of the night, Portland, Oregon
Too many eyes to count watched us from the surface of the reservoir. Every time I swept my flashlight across the water, I found another two or three dozen pairs glowing in the darkness. All of them were focused on the flashlight, which meant all of them were focused on us. Way to make a girl feel loved.
“Forgive me for stating the obvious, but we’re outnumbered,” murmured Dominic. He wasn’t holding a flashlight. His hands were empty, for now. If something moved, so would he, and given how many knives he could conceal in his leather duster—which may have been cool fifteen years ago; now it was just a weird, if practical, affectation—he wouldn’t have any trouble fighting it off.
“Yup,” I agreed, continuing to play my flashlight across the water. Eyes, eyes, eyes. Everywhere eyes. I ran down the checklist in the back of my head, trying to find something they could belong to that wasn’t a sudden and inexplicable infestation of swamp hags. Swamp hags don’t belong in city reservoirs. Adults don’t move between territories very often, and the size of the eyes I was seeing implied an infestation of adolescents. Which made no sense at all. They would’ve had to be carried here, and who the hell thought that was a good idea? Why—
A bullfrog’s sonorous croak split the air. I blinked twice before I burst out laughing, earning myself a sidelong look from Dominic.
“What is so funny?” he asked.
“We’re here because Artie heard a rumor about ‘something weird at the reservoir,’ right?” A nod. “And we both assumed the eyes were the weird thing, hence your comment about us being outnumbered.” Another nod. I grinned. “The only thing that’s wrong here is how many frogs are swimming in the drinking water. Somebody should probably tell the city.”
“Yup. Frogs.” I picked up a rock and lobbed it toward a cluster of eyes. The cluster scattered. Several plump bullfrog bodies were briefly visible in the flashlight beam. The rest of the eyes didn’t budge. I lowered my flashlight. “They get hypnotized by the light—hence the staring. They’re an invasive species, but they’re not our problem.”
Something splashed a little farther out in the reservoir.
“Ah, Verity,” said Dominic.
“People introduced them all over the country, sometimes by mistake, sometimes on purpose, and sometimes because they were trying to feed the family manticore,” I said. “Manticore are surprisingly chill about eating amphibians. You’d think the whole ‘cold blood’ thing would be a problem, but you’d be wrong.”
“Verity, I must insist,” said Dominic.
“Insist on what?” I turned to face him, the beam of my flashlight striking his chest and illuminating his face. He had his serious expression on, the one that implied an asteroid was about to smack into the planet and wipe out all human life, thus sparing him the indignity of putting up with it for one minute more. It used to piss me off when he made that face. These days I find it funny as hell. Nobody fights harder for the survival of the people around him than Dominic, and it’s not his fault he sounds like a stuffed shirt half the time.
He is a man of many excellent qualities, which is why I married him.
“I must insist you look back at the water.” He was starting to sound faintly strangled. That wasn’t normal. It probably wasn’t good. I turned my flashlight back toward the reservoir.
The light gleamed off the scales of a long, slender column that stretched from the water to some unseen higher point. Mouth suddenly dry, I played the light upward, confirming that a) the column was a neck, and b) the neck belonged to something carnivorous in the long-necked plesiosaur family.
“Oh,” I said. “Well. Will you look at that?”
Like the frogs, the plesiosaur seemed fascinated by my light. Unlike the frogs, the plesiosaur had a head at least two feet long, and a mouth that bristled with sharp, flesh-ripping teeth. I’d been a lot happier when it was just frogs.
“That is a dinosaur,” said Dominic. “I . . . I admit, I was not expecting a dinosaur.”
“Technically it’s not a dinosaur, it’s a plesiosaur,” I said. “I think. Probably. I don’t feel like getting closer so I can find out, do you?” Plesiosaurs, and things like them, are the purview of my brother Alex, who likes reptiles and amphibians and other creatures he can’t reasonably have a conversation with. Unfortunately, Alex was in Ohio, and had not accompanied us on the night’s adventure. I’m the urban cryptid girl. My job involves talking to things that can talk back, and as far as I knew, plesiosaurs didn’t fall under that umbrella.
Maybe I was being hasty. I cleared my throat, pasted on my most reasonable-looking smile, and called, “Hello, the plesiosaur! Would you like to have a nice chat about what you’re doing in our reservoir?”
My name is Verity Price; I’m a cryptozoologist. That means that sometimes my life includes shouting at extinct genera of reptiles. My life is weird.
The plesiosaur cocked its head, looking for all the world like an enormous iguana. For a moment, I thought maybe this was going to work out for the best. The plesiosaur would reveal a heretofore unsuspected intelligence, and explain in small, pleasant words how it had wound up in the Portland reservoir, and how I could get it out before the authorities noticed.
Then the plesiosaur opened its mouth, made a horrifying keening noise, and darted toward us, moving fast enough to constitute a clear and present danger. I yelped, jumping out of the way. Dominic was a dark blur against the bushes as he raced for safety. The plesiosaur’s jaws snapped shut where I’d been standing only a moment before.
“Not friendly,” I said, in case Dominic had somehow managed to miss the memo.
“Oh really? Whatever gave you that idea?”
“There’s no need for sarcasm,” I called. In the distance, Dominic snorted.
The plesiosaur pulled back for another strike. I braced myself to jump again. The thing couldn’t stay in the reservoir, that was for sure, and I didn’t want to leave when there was a chance it might eat a jogger or something, but I wasn’t ready to kill it, either. There’d been no reports of it hurting anyone. There hadn’t even been any conclusive sightings, prior to me and my flashlight. It was just an innocent prehistoric reptile, doing what came naturally for innocent prehistoric reptiles.
The head snapped forward again. I jumped backward this time, using my momentum to turn the motion into a handspring. It was showy and pointless, but a girl’s got to stay in practice somehow, and besides, it wasn’t like we were in a lot of danger as long as we didn’t hold still. The plesiosaur was cranky and snappy, but it couldn’t leave the water. Well. I didn’t think it could leave the water. It probably couldn’t leave the water.
I decided to stay a little farther back from the water.
“Is there a plan? Or are you just going to keep jumping about like a startled cat?” Dominic’s voice came from behind me. He must have gotten through the bushes and worked his way around to avoid the plesiosaur.
“Those bushes are like half blackberry bramble,” I said.
“I’m aware,” said Dominic.
“I have a plan,” I said, tensing as the plesiosaur pulled back. “I’m going to wear it out, and when it submerges, I’m going to find out who thought it was okay to store their giant lizard in the city reservoir, and we’re going to have a little talk.”
“There will still be a plesiosaur in the reservoir,” said Dominic.
Sometimes he was so practical it made me want to scream. “That’s why God invented U-Haul rentals,” Isaid. The plesiosaur lunged. I leaped. From the blackberry bushes, Dominic swore. I allowed myself to smile. He was learning the dangers of questioning me.
Not that he had much left to learn. Dominic and I met in New York, where I’d been spending a year working as a professional ballroom dancer and he was doing the prep work for a purge by the Covenant of St. George. Naturally, we hit it off right away. He hit me with a snare, and then I hit him with my stunning wit and cheerful willingness to shoot him until he stopped squirming. It wasn’t your classic Hollywood meet-cute—more of a standoff with the cryptid population of Manhattan hanging in the balance—but we’d been able to make things work. Mostly because he was a nice guy, under all that Covenant brainwashing, and he had the common sense to find me mad cute, which meant he was also a smart guy.
“Please tell me you’re not planning to put the dinosaur in the back of a U-Haul.” There was a pleading note in Dominic’s tone, like he couldn’t believe those words had left his mouth in that order. “The company is still angry with us over the last U-Haul you rented.”
“I am a constant source of enlightenment and delight, and it’s a plesiosaur!” I chirped, and jumped again.
Two things happened then: three flashlights clicked on at the edge of the path along the reservoir, and a voice shouted, “Hey! What are you doing over there?”
“Oh, great, civilians,” I muttered.
Most people don’t believe in monsters. Sure, the general public enjoys a good scare. Somebody makes a movie about a cursed videotape or a haunted doll, and they’re right in the front row, shoveling down popcorn and screaming happy screams when somebody’s guts hit the floor. That’s not the same as believing. Some things we have to hide from science, waiting for the day when people will be ready to deal with the idea of talking mice or fish with fur. Other things science hides from itself, because no one really wants the night to be dark and filled with monsters. That era has passed.
The trouble is, nobody gave the monsters—better described as “predatory cryptids,” since “monster” is sort of insulting—the memo. They exist, and when given the opportunity, they happily eat people who don’t believe in them. This brought me back to the civilians running down the path in our direction, heedless of the fact that at the end of their jog, they were going to be facing a lot of teeth.
“Dominic,” I hissed.
“I’m on it,” he said. The bushes rustled, and he appeared a few yards down the path, running toward the flashlights.
“I married Batman,” I said fondly. The plesiosaur struck. I yelped, barely jumping out of the way in time.
“Stop harassing Nemo!” wailed an unfamiliar voice.
The plesiosaur turned toward it, neck stretching into a curve I could only describe as curious. Really tame snakes sometimes assumed that position. So did snakes that were thinking about turning something into a new source of protein. I gave serious, if rapid, thought to launching myself at the plesiosaur. I wasn’t wearing anything I couldn’t get wet, and it might keep somebody from being eaten.
Then the words sunk in. “Wait. Nemo?” I turned to look in the same direction as the plesiosaur. “You named it?”
The owners of the flashlights kept running. Dominic grabbed one by the shoulders, hauling the figure to a halt, but the other two got past him, becoming visible. Both were in their early twenties, at best; they might have been in their teens. One was faster than the other. He reached me first, and shoved me hard enough that I actually stumbled. His companion ran for the edge of the reservoir, where the plesiosaur was bowing its head to meet her.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he demanded, going in to shove me again.
Right. I’d been startled before, but no way was he putting his hands on me a second time. I grabbed his wrist, spinning hard to the side and twisting as I went, until I wound up behind him with his arm bent at an angle that wasn’t quite going to dislocate his shoulder. Well, probably not. If he moved, all bets were off.
He made a guttural keening noise, surprisingly low for the amount of pain he was almost certainly in. His companion turned from the act of stroking the plesiosaur’s nose, her eyes gone wide with shock. He’d dropped his flashlight when I grabbed him. It was spinning, illuminating different parts of the scene.
“Hi,” I said brightly, giving the girl my best camera-ready smile. “Who feels like explaining what the hell is going on? I’ll give you a hint: it’s probably not your friend here. He’s sort of got other things to worry about.” I gave his arm another squeeze. He moaned again.
“What are you doing?” The girl stepped forward, putting herself between me and the plesiosaur. “Let Charlie go! He didn’t do anything to you!”
“Uh, wrong,” I said. “He shoved me. Didn’t anybody ever teach him that it’s rude to lay hands on a lady?”
Dominic came walking down the path, dragging another young woman by the arm. She had long brown hair, and looked like the sort of girl I was used to finding on my sister’s roller derby team. Too bad she wasn’t on my sister’s roller derby team. Antimony would have known about the plesiosaur if that had been the case, and we wouldn’t be standing here now.
“Please, we’re not hurting anything,” said the second girl. “We didn’t expect to see your flashlights, and we sort of panicked. Please, let us go.”
“Were you expecting to see the plesiosaur?” I asked.
“Nemo’s not a dino—” protested the first girl. Then she caught herself, and blinked, and said, “Um, yes. He’s ours.”
“I’m sorry. Maybe I got something in my ear when your friend here shoved me,” I said. “Did you just say the plesiosaur was yours?”
Dominic released the second girl, who rocked back and forth for a moment, torn between rushing to defend her prehistoric reptile and going to the aid of her much more modern, if not much more evolved, companion. In the end, the plesiosaur won, and she fled to stand next to the other girl, blocking “Nemo” from our deadly attentions.
“Yes,” snapped the first girl. “Nemo’s ours, and he’s never hurt anybody, and no one would believe you anyway, so you should just go. You hear me? Get out of here and go.”