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Fiction by Todd Calgi Gallicano
Illustrations by Kevin Keele
DMW Case# MC237-140-010, Western Region
With a triangular-shaped body, a face resembling a bizarre blend of bear and lion, and three sets of three legs sprouting from its torso — each sporting razor-sharp claws — the Central American Whintosser was one of the craziest and scariest creatures Nuks had ever laid eyes on.
And the bad news was it was rummaging through his duffel bag just a few feet away.
Nuks was frozen with fear and regretted ever accepting this mission from the Department of Mythical Wildlife. The government agency helped manage the relationship between mythical creatures and humanity. Just being asked to partake was a big deal for Nuks’ species. Fact was, shapeshifting raccoon dogs rarely got opportunities to work on behalf of the DMW in an official capacity.
But as he lay still in his tent in the dead of night staring at the dreaded Whintosser, Nuks was second-guessing the wisdom of taking advantage of this “opportunity.” Masquerading as a Boy Scout on a camping trip to Santa Cruz Island to investigate sightings of the Whintosser had sounded vaguely dangerous, but now there was nothing vague about it.
“You OK, John?” Nuks’ 12-year-old tent-mate asked, suddenly sitting up. His name was Brian and he befriended Nuks on the boat ride over to the island.
Nuks was posing as “John Smith,” a new recruit who was joining a 15-member troop for the camping trip. The island was part of the Channel Islands National Park, located off the California coast.
Nuks knew Brian couldn’t see the Whintosser, even though it was right in front of him.
Centuries ago, a gryphon named Phylassos cursed humanity to remain blind to the existence of mythical creatures. Nuks’ kind, known as the Obake Tanuki, were one of several species that the gryphon allowed to remain visible to humans, as long as they retained their natural raccoon dog form. In this case, Nuks was given permission to disguise himself as human in an official DMW capacity.
Ranger C.J. Alvarez of the Channel Islands park had reached out to Ranger Penelope Naughton of Redwood National Park after leaders on the last Scout trip to the island reported missing items and weird shrieking sounds in the night. At first, they believed it was the fault of the island’s many foxes, but the fox boxes — the containers at the campground that protected campers’ food from the creatures — weren’t compromised. Also, the foxes themselves all seemed to be keeping their distance — no doubt afraid of the Whintosser. Given the island’s relative isolation and the surrounding ocean, the Whintosser likely hitched a ride on someone’s boat or went for a long swim. Either way, it was not his natural habitat and his presence on the small island could expose the secret that mythical creatures are real.
“Go on back to sleep,” Nuks whispered in a firm tone, trying not to alarm Brian.
But Brian wasn’t having it.
“You seem freaked out. Nightmare?” he asked.
Nuks was aware of the nightmare of a creature in the room, and his friend had no idea of the danger.
“I’m fine, but thank you,” Nuks replied quickly.
“I’ve had nightmares before. One time I ate 27 hot wings before bed and dreamt I was being chased by a giant, angry chicken,” Brian confessed. “But I always go back to the law, you know?”
Brian was referring to the Scout Law, which Nuks had done his best to memorize but didn’t totally comprehend.
“Right,” Nuks said. The Whintosser was now staring right at Nuks. It could tell that he could see it, and that intrigued the creature.
“You remember the part about being brave?” Brian asked. Nuks nodded slowly. “Just remember, it’s OK to be afraid. It’s what we do in the face of fear that makes a difference.”
Nuks wasn’t supposed to do anything in the face of this creature. “Don’t be a hero,” Naughton told him before sending him off on the trip. She had given Nuks a small communication device that he was directed to use as soon as he sighted the monster, so he could contact Alvarez. Problem was, Nuks left the device in the duffel bag that was currently being explored by the Whintosser. Nuks realized he wasn’t a very good Scout — he discounted the motto “Be Prepared” and now suddenly realized why it was so important.
“Is your duffel bag moving?” Brian asked. “I think there might be a snake in it.”
It was definitely moving due to the activity of the Whintosser, but Brian couldn’t see that. He just saw the duffel bag shifting. Suddenly, the Whintosser let loose a groaning howl.
“What was that?” Brian asked, startled.
Nuks couldn’t tell the truth — he was bound by an oath to the gryphon to never reveal the secret. However, if there was one thing Nuks understood from the Scout Oath, it was a duty to help others. In this case, his duty was to keep these humans safe from the creature no matter the consequences.
“That was me,” Nuks responded.
Brian narrowed his eyes. “Gas?”
“You had the beans, didn’t you?” Brian asked. “I told you not to have the beans. I knew a guy who ate three cans of beans and passed gas so many times in his sleeping bag, we had to make sure we didn’t unzip it anywhere near an open flame.
“I’ll make sure to avoid that,” Nuks told him.
“How many cans did you eat?”
“Four,” Nuks said, hoping the number would be sufficient to explain his fake digestive issue.
“That’ll do it,” Brian responded.
“I think it’s best if you tent with someone else tonight. I think Quinn has room,” Nuks suggested. “You won’t want to be in here much longer.”
“Should I get the Scoutmaster? Maybe he has medicine.”
“I’ll be fine. It just needs to work itself out. But you should go before things get ugly.” Then the Whintosser groaned again and Brian’s eyes went wide.
“I’ll see you in the morning,” Brian said. “Hope you feel better,” he offered as he quickly gathered his belongings and scurried to the exit. Unfortunately, he accidentally bumped the Whintosser on his way out. The beast spun around and was preparing to attack, when Nuks reached out and grabbed the monster’s tail, yanking him back.
“Not so fast,” he told the creature. It spun around and Nuks was ready. The moment Brian left, Nuks transformed himself into a Whintosser. The rogue Whintosser saw its double and was immediately confused. Nuks took the opportunity to pull the sleeping bag around the beast and zip it up, and then he transformed back into human form and sat on the end, sealing it. He grabbed his communication device and tapped a button.
“Ranger Alvarez, this is Nuks. I trapped the Whintosser in my sleeping bag. But I don’t know how long I can hold him.”
“Hang tight, Nuks. On my way.”
As the Whintosser struggled to escape the bag, it howled repeatedly before Alvarez finally showed up. Nuks could only imagine what the other Scouts were thinking. He knew that news of his deafening flatulence had likely already spread through the camp.
His assumption was confirmed when he heard a few guys yell out: “No more beans for you, Johnny!” followed by a few giggles.
When Alvarez entered the tent, he used a sonic device to lull the Whintosser into a deep sleep, and then he dragged the creature to his pickup truck without being spotted.
“Your work is done,” the ranger told Nuks before he left. “Want me to arrange an early pickup for you? We could say you had an emergency and needed to return to the mainland.”
Nuks thought for a moment. It would let him avoid the humiliation of facing his fellow Scouts the next day, but then he remembered that being a Scout didn’t mean being worried about looking good. Instead, it was all about doing good.
Sure, it was embarrassing, but if that was the cost of saving everyone from the creature, so be it. Plus, he enjoyed being a Scout and wanted to savor the experience for as long as he could before he’d have to return to his natural form.
“I’d like to stay if that’s all right,” Nuks told the ranger. Alvarez seemed surprised by this, but accepting.
The next morning, Nuks was pleasantly surprised when most of the Scouts came over and gave him tips on how to treat his sour stomach.
The sharing of advice soon turned to the sharing of laughter when each Scout tried to outdo the other with their own harrowing stories of personal digestive issues.
Later, as he boarded the boat back to the mainland and said goodbye to his new friends, Nuks hoped for another chance to masquerade as a Scout and learn more about human friendship … without the dreaded Whintosser threatening his life, of course.
Todd Calgi Gallicano is the author of the Sam London Adventure series.