The US Department of Interior decided decades ago that the belief in unnatural beings was well spread enough to warrant a database for any and all cryptids in the US that amass a large enough following. I personally don’t know what warrants a large enough following. Probably the same number that warrants a cult. All I know is that a group of people sit in a single office block all day monitoring national park inquiries, taking phone calls, and investigating every sighting that local authorities deem unfit for their time. They compile each new story into a resume style format, label it under a broad category, and let it sit. Then once a quarter some unlucky bastard pulls the short straw and has to go through every report and decide which ones are considered the same “event” and if those events can be filed under a more widely known cryptid.
Some events go straight into specific files, nationally known ones like Bigfoot and the Chupacabra. Others go without a partner file for decades. But even the most outlandish and obviously hallucinated sightings will sit in a filing cabinet till the end of days. That’s mostly because they aren’t allowed to ever remove a file for any reason. Even if the witness tested positive for hallucinogens or have gone on statement testifying under oath that it was a fabricated story. Files cannot be blacked out, redacted, destroyed, or altered once the quarterly refiling is finished.
Why, you might ask, would the United States government keep files on things that officially don’t exist? That’s the same question I asked myself when I took this job. I could have sworn it was a joke. I thought I’d be arrested at the gate of the Department of Interiors HQ on my first day when it turned out to be an elaborate prank by my friends. Through the gate on my first day, I wondered what they’d tell me my real job was going to be once I was in a place where saying no wasn’t an option. The pay wasn’t going to be great, and I knew from a friend that the government wasn’t the most generous with giving you all the benefits they promise. But I assumed whatever I was going to be doing, it was going to be better than ending up on FBI’s most wanted list.
For a little background, I was a simple gun for hire. Working in the south for shady customers looking to off even shadier targets. I would love to tell every story-and believe me, there are some juicy ones- but for the time being I’ll stick to my script. No one knew my name, and I never met my customers. All transactions were done with drop boxes and other discrete and untraceable actions. I never cared who the target was. I once offed an 80-year-old crippled preacher. No idea why. All I know is someone wanted him dead and was willing to pay 6 figures to do so.
That lifestyle came to an end when my ignorant bliss left me with the body of a federal agent in my trunk and vehicle on fire. I would love to say I ran off, evading the feds for years before they found me, but somehow, they had beaten me back to my hotel room. Surprisingly, I was not shot on sight. Nor was I arrested. They didn’t even seem angry. A tall man in a finely tailored suit sat in the room when I arrived and, on the bed, sat two more men. Both of them were of pretty normal proportions, but the other dude, at least 7 foot tall. We’re talking Shaquille O’Neil levels big. Outnumbered and likely outgunned, I acted as if this was a thing I did regularly. Meetings with non-descript gentlemen in suits that had access to my hotel room paid for in cash under a name I’d made up on the spot.
To save you the details, they offered me a job. I killed someone with a unique set of skills, and now they wanted me to replace him. It was that, or a lifetime in a prison so miserable the gulag would seem like a vacation. The job? Cryptid bounty hunter.
They wanted me to hunt down and kill verified cryptids. My first question was obviously “You want me to kill Bigfoot?” To which a mighty roar of laughter erupted from the men, and I was met with “The Bigfoot have been extinct for over a decade.”
There was a lot more to unpack in that response than I was ready for. But three weeks later and I was taking the elevator to my new office in the cryptid department. I met my coworkers, and I was given my first file. The jersey devil. Kind of on the nose, you know? One of the most famous cryptids in the states. The 2020 file alone was probably a 4-inch 3-ring binder full of one-page events. It was helpfully partitioned into 4 categories: obvious lies, likely fabricated, merited, and verified.
As someone who was never a believer in the paranormal, spiritual, cryptid, or conspiracy, the “verified” tab had more events than I was ready for. What I was even less prepared for, was the 2019 file, and the 2018 file, and each preceding file dating back to the 90’s. I spoke with my coworker about it, wondering why, if this thing has been active for 30 years, why are we just now trying to kill it? With a stone-cold stare, he answered while filing another form. “Do you really think that the Jersey Devil is the devil? No. Obviously not. It likely some low-level demon, or a fragmentation of the devil’s spirit, or an attempt at creating the anti-Christ. I don’t know, I just file the forms. But what I do know is that we kill one every two to three years.
I’ve spent the next few weeks doing my desk research, reading files, and occasionally hitting up google just to get the layman’s sense of the job. Apparently, I wasn’t getting any help with the hunt since this was a test run. See if my bounty hunting translated from human to supernatural. I have been assured that this is an extremely easy task, and it almost never results in a death. The Jersey Devil (henceforth referred to as JD) is a more timid and frail cryptid, relatively speaking. Since the department’s induction, only two hunters have failed to come back from a hunt. And they were pretty sure one of them ran off without even trying, so likely JD has only bested one hunter.
A couple months pass and I’m finally ready, I thought, to take this thing down. I’ve been in the area a couple weeks; I’ve asked around and gotten a feel for the story. This case doesn’t seem any different than the last dozen that crossed through the department and I’ve decided to take the beaten trail. The last girl to hunt JD down did so with relative ease. She used a catchall instant “supernatural be gone” strategy. It was quite simple really, a wooden crossbow bolt with a silver head, soaked in holy salt water with a mini-Molotov cocktail contraption on the back to light him on fire after impact. Worked for her, hopefully the pattern holds. The problem is I only have one, so I need to make it count. This thing actually cost a lot of money. A solid silver arrowhead took up most of my budget. I did manage to save some money for the trap, which had been laying untouched for over 2 weeks. Until a couple nights ago.
I don’t know if JD is dumb, or just plain stupid, but when you’re known for raiding chicken coops and killing farm animals, you would think that a chicken coop in the middle of the woods with no roof fencing and really fat chickens would be a dead giveaway. But regardless good ole JD decided he couldn’t be bothered with traps and had himself a feast. And afterwards, the hunt was on.
I had bought some extremely thin yet durable string, tied it to a kernel of corn, and feed it to a chicken, then had several hundred yards of string laid out until the other end was glued to a small GPS tracker. Sure enough, I picked up the tracker a couple miles from the coop and began winding it up. I remembered to always keep slack on the string to ensure JD didn’t feel a tug and attempt to fly away. However, I had reached the chewed through strings end a few yards from a cave. Well, cave is an over generous term. It was more like a medium sized hole burrowed through a rock. Just large enough to fit a full-grown man, but not large enough to fit all the equipment he was carrying. After stripping down my gear to the essentials-a flashlight, my crossbow, a small LED lamp hung from my waist and my trusty Ruger .380- I crawled into the hole.
I crawled for hours and based on my ever-fading light source from behind me, it was getting dark. I turned on the royal purple flashlight and shined it ahead. The beautiful purple light was good for one thing, and it wasn’t seeing. The light was more UV than visible spectrum, which means it didn’t help much with my vision. It was only really helping me see the general shape of my now widening hole. When the sun had finally petered out and my flashlight was the only source of light for me to see, I began to regret crawling in here so late in the evening.
Just as I was determined to start back crawling my way out, I saw a corner in the path, and I hurried the best a man with a crossbow on his hands and knees could manage. Right around the corner opened up to a massive room. Within it were corpses of farm animals strewn across the floor, decorated every so often with a family pet or human appendage. Across the room was a large stone slab, big enough to fit two people who were very comfortable with each other. On it laid my buddy JD. True to form the devil had a horse like head. The only real difference is this looked like a horse evolved as predator, not prey. A long face topped with forward facing eyes and cupped at the bottom with large nostrils. Loose lips hung over a wide mouth, parted enough to see the front row of orange-stained teeth. A short neck connected the horse head to the body of a man. Two short arms ended in split hoof feet. Legs bent more like a goat than a man. His lower half was more of the same, human thighs turned furry and bent backwards, ending in split hooves.
There were more than a dozen yards between us, and even on a good day my crossbow skills wouldn’t risk taking my one shot on JD from here. I fastened the purple light to the bottom of my crossbow so I could aim and see at the same time. I knew that a stealth mission from here would be futile, to much blood covered the floor and too many carcasses were littered about to make it within range and without being heard. Luckily JD seemed to be asleep, so he didn’t notice me right away.
I bet you’re wondering, “Why a purple flashlight.” I bet you’re guessing he can’t see purple or UV light. That by using it I can see without giving him a light source. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Turns out Ole JD is hyper-sensitive to UV and purple light. I’m hoping that shining it right in his eyes will blind him just long enough for me to get the shot.
I had two options, I could try my best to sneak up on him, get as close as I could, and whenever he eventually woke, take the shot from where I was and pray my aim be true. Or, I could run head first as hard as I can and close as much distance as I can before he comes to his senses and hopefully be within range before he even knows what’s up. I chose the latter and boy howdy was that the wrong choice.
I barely took two steps before JD was awake and alert. He took of flying straight up to get as much distance as he could from his assailant. Right, flying, that’s a thing he can do. That’s going to make it hard to get a close shot. I shined the light directly at him and instinctively he curled his wings in front of his face to shield his eyes. His momentary lapse of thought was enough to begin him spiraling towards the floor. He landed with a crack as bones and blood splashed away from him. I changed my path and started to run to where he had landed. With almost impossibly quick speed he rushed me, reaching me before I could get the crossbow up. He turned 180 degrees before dropping on all fours and horse kicking me in the chest. I knew he had cracked a least two ribs on either side, but all in all it wasn’t the worst pain I’d ever felt.
No, that honor belongs to the next feeling, a deep burning from within me as it felt like my intestines caught on fire. Heat radiated from my stomach and as I locked eyes with JD. An almost anime style flame twinkled in his eyes as I began to feel my soul torn from my body. I reached to my ankle and with every ounce of energy I had pulled out my Ruger and landed a perfect shot on his leg. It was just long enough to break his concentration and I felt a cool wave rush within me. The horse head looked back up to me but before he could react, I put another shot into his nose. He recoiled and tried to fly away. In the split second I had to think, I turned on my lamp and tossed it to the floor. A bright light illuminated the walls and ceiling and for the first time I got a look at this things lair.
Crude yet distinguishable portrayals of biblical events were drawn on the wall. As if a young child had just gotten home from a hellish (pardon the pun) bible camp and didn’t have paper to draw on. The pit of sulfur, Jesus in the desert, a man and a woman in a beautiful garden with a humanoid snake in the back. Just as I was beginning to marvel at the sentience of the being, I was hit hard from the back. JD had tackled me to the ground, and I had dropped my pistol. I reached behind me for the sling holding the crossbow. I slung it around. The light pointed right at JD made him flinch. I lined up a shot, pulled the trigger and…
The unforgettable sound of a dry fire. The bolt had come out. But where? I looked around. Directly between JD and I was a small piece of wood. Shining embellishment on one side, and a small bottle of the strongest alcohol I could find on the other. Since the fletching had been replaced with a bottle rigged to light, that’s why the aim was going to be so poor. I jumped for it and JD attempted to kick it away. I only managed to grab it a split second before a hoof struck my arm. A loud crack filled the room as a bone in my arm broke. He looked at me, and I knew there was consciousness behind in this disgusting animal.
Did he deserve to live? That question was quickly answered as he grabbed me and began flying me to the ceiling. A short fall and a minor concussion later I realized its him or me and sorry JD, I kind of like my life. He takes a dive at me, likely attempted to drill me into the ground. At the last moment I rolled out of the way as he crashed into the stone floor, creating a small crater. I loaded the bolt, turned to JD and with a whimsical “Go to Hell” I let the arrow fly. It struck a little less true than I would have hoped, but a gut shot got the job done. As the arrow entered his stomach the bottle broke and light up. JD was consumed in fire in a matter of seconds and what I can only imagine was a guttural scream came from within him. Fire burst from the floor around him and I watched as JD melted into the floor.
There was no body to recover. For the best I guess, since housing dead cryptids would probably be expensive and have little value. When I arrived back at my office, I refiled the 2020 Jersey Devil file into the “Not a Problem” room.
I’d love to tell you my pay was great for the attempt. Or than my insurance covered my hospital stay. Or even that I got a week off of work paid for the event. But no. The pay was shitty, less than I’d get for head hunting, and the bills eventually wound up in my mailbox, almost nothing covered. And I was notified “comp pay doesn’t start until your first year finishes.” But hey, I bested the Jersey Devil, and there’s nothing in my contract saying I can’t tell you all about my stories. So here we are, a big middle finger to corporate government and hopefully you all got a fun story. Hey, maybe next year one of you can go out and hunt it before it becomes a real problem, and I won’t have to deal with it again.
Credit : Eliza Cason
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