Art by Emily Van Luven
Song: Kids with Cryptids by Alcario Artuso (Click Here)
Story by Selena Rodriguez
Each and every one of us will brush up close to the miraculous at some point or another. And if you’re lucky -or, perhaps, just particularly observant- you might even experience such phenomena on more than one occasion.
There’s magic all around us. You can feel it buzzing up through the blades of grass and hear it in the nighttime melody of crickets on an inky summer night. But look closer. Be still. There’s more hiding just behind the guise of our perceived reality. One only has to be open to what’s just beyond.
Search the underbrush of a secluded stretch of Pacific North West forest and you’re bound to come across a brownie. Hang out around a Colorado river long enough and you might just catch a glimpse of a water sprite. And talk to the right people on the Atlantic City Boardwalk to get your hands on a rare breed of miniature monster you can carry in your pocket.
When I was just a young sprout no taller than a kitchen broom I acquired my very first pocket monster. My mom took me down to the Boardwalk to meet up with some other parents on the PTA for their weekly meeting. And by meeting I mean a sloppy brunch where they usually ended up at a craps table at some dinky casino. What can I say? My mom rolled with some true, blue New Jerseyites. Suffice to say, that left us kids with a whole lot of time to get up to no good.
My friend Penny and I would spend these weekly meetings gorging ourselves with whatever fried food the vendors were slinging and splashing around in the salty surf. I heard rumors from the kids in the grade above us that there were tiny monsters running loose around the Boardwalk. Penny scoffed at the idea, but I always kept a close eye on the cracks in the pier hoping to catch a glimpse of a hiding creature.
On a particularly rainy trip to the Boardwalk, Penny and I spent most of the day at the Central Pier Arcade. But quarters don’t grow on trees and it wasn’t long before we were flat out of money. So what were two youngsters to do on such a dreary day?
Our options were limited. But I had an idea. I heard from a kid named Theo who heard from his older sister Stevie that if you loiter around the back alley of Ripley’s Museum you might run into a man with a knack for nabbing monsters.
Penny begrudgingly agreed to check it out. What else was there to do after all? We sat under an awning near the alleyway for what felt like eons. I glanced down at my wrist to see it was nearly 5 PM. We’d be due to meet our parents soon. With a sigh, I suggested that we cut our losses and head to the other side of the pier.
But then, we brushed right next to the extraordinary. A phenomena of pure magic.
The manhole in the alleyway started to shift, buckling back and fourth until it landed to the side with a fwump. Penny and I clutched each other in shock as a small figure emerged from the earth with his back turned to us. This must have been the smallest man I’ve ever seen. We watched on as he heaved up a crate from below.
I held my breath. This had to be him.
“Oi,” he let out when he noticed us huddled under the awning, “I didn’t see ya there.”
“S-sorry sir. We were just waiting for someone,” Penny managed to murmur.
A toothy grin crossed his face and his pointed ears moved up, “Ahh I reckon you’re on the hunt for me monsters, ay?”
We shook our heads. I guess something about two young girls just hanging out in an alley tipped him off. He said he could give us each our own pocket monster for a price.
“We ran out of money,” I frowned.
“Money ain’t what I’m after, I have no use for it,” he eyed my wrist, “I’ll trade you for your shinies.”
Without any hesitation I held out my bedazzled wristwatch. I would happily part ways with an old stocking stuffer for a literal monster! Penny offered up her butterfly barrette. He sashed his bounty in a leather pouch on his belt looking satisfied. Keeping with his end of the bargain, he reached into his crate and after a short struggle wrestled out two tiny creatures.
He placed one in my hands. It was around the size of a gerbil, fluffy with two tiny horns crowning her head. She shook her body, quickly scurrying up my arm on to my shoulder and into my hair. I let out a giggle.
“This is Mabel. She’s a scamp,” he cackled gruffly. He handed over what looked like a spiky purple lizard to Penny. It burped and let out a puff of smoke, “And this is Scooter. Mind his fire breath.” He gave us care instructions and sent us on our way. It turns out pocket monsters are far more low maintenance than one may think! We stashed away our new friends safely and made our way back to our parents.
The next weekend, Penny and I begged to have a sleepover. She came over and brought little Scooter along. Once the adults were fast asleep, we let our monsters out to play. But monsters play hard.
They ran in circles, pinning each other only for the other to get the best of their opponent. They wrecked the living room, scorching my moms throw pillows and scratching up the walls. This would be a hard one to explain away. But that night it didn’t matter. That night we laughed the night away as the monsters battled in the living room.