I use the term retired in this context very loosely. I was never paid for my work and there was no pension to speak of. Cryptozoology has always been a passion of mine; one that, in my old age, I no longer have the energy to pursue. But I didn’t leave empty-handed. The treasures of the trade are not monetary ones. They are stories; some passed around from one hunter to the next, others gained from experience on the front-lines. The one that I keep coming back to, even now, is a personal one. It’s been many years, but I think I finally have the nerve to share it.
Before we get started, a little background. I’m a journalist by trade, and in the mid 80s, there was a spike in submissions to the paper I worked for (which shall remain anonymous) pertaining to unexplained phenomenon. Sightings of remarkable but horrific beasts in the local forest. They were a trip to read, but not worth investigating, according to my boss. Our mantra was clear; Straight to the News. The paper was known for neutral, unbiased, fact-based articles. That meant no sensationalist headlines, no opinion pieces, and nothing that could be dismissed or disproved. Still, I had so much fun reading these bizarre tales; the highlight of any given work day when one landed on my desk.
On one particularly slow day at the office, I was handed three, separate letters. All were news submissions describing similar incidents; too similar to be written off with the others. According to these first-hand accounts, there was an ominous creature that stood at the edge of the forest when driven by. It was a humanoid entity covered in a grass-like fur, all over. Other than the greenery, there were no identifiable features. It blended in with the treeline, but jarred the three drivers when it moved; running into the road at great speed. If this was a prank, it was an elaborate one, especially for the time period. Each letter had a different hand-writing and tone. I later discovered that the return addresses were those of residents deemed as being reputable sources for the paper in the past. I was baffled.
My boss was not so intrigued. Upon showing him the letters, he simply took the names off our source list and barked at me to “stop playing make believe” and get back to work. He was anything if not endearing.
I threw the mystery letters in a drawer with the rest. I worked there for two more years before calling it quits and beginning my new “job” as a full time cryptozoologist; inspired by the paper’s strange submissions. My retirement and many vested benefits from the company would fund this passion project of mine. You might find it odd given the line of work, but for the first time in my life, I felt truly fulfilled. There are no words to describe the feeling, but freedom is a good attempt.
I won’t bore you with the details of my adventures into the unknown. They’re mostly uninteresting tales whose joyous highlights and precious moments could never be spoiled with enough embellishment to convey the meaning they hold to me. Just know that almost all of these endeavors were unfruitful. The journey was far more enjoyable than the destination, save for a handful of hunts that harbored actual danger. But there was never a closer call than with the Moss Man, as I later dubbed it.
Going through some old notes from my days at the paper, I happened upon those three letters. Pondering over them for a bit, an idea sprung to mind, and a smile crept across my face. I called a friend of mine to meet me, then, in a flash, I grabbed my keys and drove to the forest’s edge, hoping to catch a glimpse of this mysterious Moss Man. Even if it didn’t exist, it would be a fun outing doing what I loved.
The friend I called was a rookie hunter. I was his teacher, in a sense; a title I wore proudly. This would be our fifth excursion together.
When he arrived, we didn’t waste any time mincing words. We simply ventured into the woods, flashlights in hand, ready to find the beast and document its existence. If only we knew at the time what we were getting ourselves into.
We walked quietly for an hour before one of us spoke up. Spooked by the darkness, we were in need of some small talk to distract ourselves and break the awkward tension.
“Say Jack, why are you so keen on finding this Grass Man anyway? I thought your old paper was sent pranks like that all the time.”
“It’s Moss Man, Henry, and I never said that. That’s just what my boss thought. I was never able to follow any leads.”
Henry looked off for a moment and then came back.
“What if it was just a guy in a suit, scaring the locals?”
Henry was a believer at heart, but he wore his skepticism on his sleeve. That’s what I loved about him. It’s his apprehension that kept my head on straight on the explorations we embarked on previously. I had been know to let my enthusiasm get the better of me on more than one occasion.
“Well, that’s what we’re here to find out. If there’s no evidence, that will probably be our conclusion.”
Footsteps echoed in the distance, branches breaking beneath a heavy weight. Henry and I slowed to a stop.
“Did you hear that, Jack?”
“Shhh. Quiet. Don’t make a sound.”
I listened, but was met with only silence. We brushed the incident off and kept walking, now rattled.
“So,” Henry asked, “How big is this thing supposed to be?”
“All of the letters described it as being the size of a man. No specifics past that.”
Henry turned around and stood still for a moment. I stayed with him, assuming he needed a second to gather his wits.
“I think I left something in my car. I’ll be right-”
I interjected before he could finish his statement.
“God damn it, Henry. Do you want to be a hunter or not?”
“Yes. I do, but-”
“But nothing. How many times have you died on a hunt?”
“Well, counting the Kitsune incident… none?”
“Exactly. So pull your spine out of your ass and match my pace. Walk with confidence. You’re going to be fine.”
Henry took a labored breath, turned back around, and straightened his posture. My pep talk seemed to have an effect.
“Okay, Jack. I can do this.”
He gave me a determined look. We never explicitly discussed it before, but I sensed that Henry looked up to me; not unlike how a child looks up to their father.
“Good, now follow me.”
I marched ahead and Henry followed. Then, there were more footsteps. We stopped again. The sound was so close, I was compelled to yell out.
“Who’s there? Show yourself!”
The noises ceased. With a fair amount of trepidation myself, I pressed on, Henry now falling behind.
“Pick up the pace, will you Henry? This is what we’re here for!”
A few moments passed and the sound of footsteps recommenced. This time, the source was revealed.
Out from behind a large tree, stepped a gentleman in proper dress attire, adorning an overly wide smile. A shadowy form illuminated only by a sliver of moonlight that broke through the forest’s canopy. Henry and I nearly jumped out of our skin and jolted back a bit. We then looked at each other, confused. I spoke first.
The man did not respond. Henry chimed in.
“What are you doing out here dressed like that?”
No reply. I gave it another go.
“Everything alright, sir? Would you like some help navigating the forest?”
Not a single word offered in response. I contemplated our options and turned back to Henry, who was now visibly trembling.
“Henry… we should go.”
We began walking in the opposite direction. To our utter disbelief, the man was there, impeding our travel. My blood ran cold. No footsteps this time, just inexplicable, instantaneous transit. Everywhere we turned, he was there. We had been ambushed.
Without warning, the man transformed before our eyes. Green, grassy, appendages seeped from his pores and enveloped his outline. His features vanished behind the foliage. It was him; the Moss Man. I never suspected it could shape-shift, but this was no time to jot down notes.
It lunged at us. Henry and I dispersed, but with overwhelming agility and strength, it was able to grab us both and pin our bodies to a tree. We were pressed so forcefully against it, the bark felt like thousands of tiny needles scraping the skin of my back. Henry flailed about, screaming in fear and agony. I too was scared, but having been in similar positions before, I held my composure and hatched a plan.
“Hey, big guy. I have a proposition for you.”
It tilted its head at me, a horrendous amalgamation of vines where its face should have been.
“I’m sure you have to feed and we’ll probably taste better than the odd rabbit or fox passerby. Trust me, I understand. But if you kill us both, they’ll come looking for us. You might be good against one or two men, but a whole search party? If your nest is discovered, you could be caught and killed yourself, or, at the very least, forced to flee your home.”
It loosened its grip on me.
“I used to work for the local paper. My testimonial holds weight in this town. To both local officials and the general public, I can make this appear to be an accident. Just leave the body when you’re done. That’s all I ask.”
Henry turned to me, more frightened than he had ever been of the Moss Man.
“So, what do you say? Do we have a deal?”
The creature nodded and let me go. I ran to out of the forest, my heart pounding. Unlike other cryptids I had dealt with, I didn’t know this one’s dialect, so I wasn’t sure it would even understand me. I looked back only once to make sure the creature hadn’t changed its mind and caught a glimpse of Henry being torn to shreds. Poor guy. I lost more rookies that way.
The following day, Henry’s body was found at the edge of the woods. After speaking with the mayor (a closet hunter and good friend of mine) and contacting the paper, my old boss commissioned a report from me. Henry had been attacked by a bear on an unfortunate stroll through the forest one evening. It was the talk of the community for a while, and as such, folks steered clear of the woods. The Moss Man’s nest was safe, and so were the locals. A job well done in my book.
So, let this serve as a lesson to you. When searching for monsters, always bring a friend along for the hunt. They might just save your life.
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