The Monstrous and Curious

Digital drawing. A creature that appears in the shape of a pterosaur but with the coloring and long tail feathers of a blue-and-gold macaw. The creature is perched on a bare branch that appears from left of frame and extends right. The creature faces right, face seen in three-quarters view, wings extended forward. The inside of the left wing is visible as it stretches down the right side of the image. The outside edge of the right wing is visible. The wings are feathered. Vague outlines suggesting tree trunks and branches are visible behind the creature.

Some people claim they dreamt of the creature before its vast shadow soared overhead and landed on the top of a young redwood.

Most of us have dreamt of it at this point.  A gargantuan pterosaur with gold-and-blue feathers like a modern macaw. 

You can’t help but to think about it.  Even if what you think is that it’s a hoax.  And if you try not to think about it, that’s when you dream about it.  That’s when I dream about it.

Dreams are dreams.  They have meaning.  But they won’t give us any real answers. 

And we must have answers.  Because how could we not have seen it before?  Something this big.

***

When it first appeared, it was obvious that it was real.  That is, it was obvious that it was solid.  The creature was so massive, its wingspan stretched forty or fifty feet across.  So even those who were far away could see how it moved, with the grace of a real animal.  But the first witnesses thought it must have been some kind of animatronic.   A sophisticated robot whose flight must have been powered by drones, drones that made no sound save the flapping of the wings.  The creature itself made no other sounds.  No high-pitched dinosaur roars.  No warbling, singing, cawing, or speaking.  It just perched.  And watched.  

More witnesses gathered in those first couple of days, before authorities determined that this creature was not an artificial construct created for some movie set.  And before they established a perimeter around what would become the creature’s favorite perch. 

Many of those witnesses were interviewed.   Some reported that the creature’s eyes reflected some intelligence beyond what they expected.  Some were startled by that recognition.  Some felt judged.  Some were charmed.  Some were disturbed.

No one claimed the creature.  That is, no one credible claimed it.

Officials began their investigations and analyses.  And they weren’t the only ones.  Ragtag groups of plucky kids explored along the coast.  Optimistic college students mused.  Regulars at bars and diners speculated. 

Every time I met with friends, all others topics were set aside.  We too spoke only of our various theories about the creature.

***

Fear was among our first reactions.  The fear that we might spook the creature if we approached.  The fear that the creature might harm us.  The fear that we might harm it—either on purpose, if some lone person decided to take matters into his own hands, or on accident.

Curiosity was among our first reactions.  Could there be more of them?  The creature flew away and it was followed.  But somehow, we lost track of it in the forest.  When it emerged again, we followed again, and again, we lost it.  We followed by sight and sound and smell.  We followed with tools that could track every wavelength in the spectrum of light, and tools that could discern different patterns of heat signatures, and tools that could see through the trees and the brush.  But every time it flew away, it flew into a part of the forest where we couldn’t follow.  Maybe its feathers could turn colors to camouflage the creature.  Maybe its skin could dissipate the heat somehow. 

It just vanished, as if it had been a hologram this whole time after all.  This colossal creature spent its days watching us.  And when it was done, it evaded the thousand eyes that were watching it.

This inspired conversations about the still-secret places on our own planet. 

***

Art appeared before too long.  One popular piece was a comic book where a Jurassic-era parrot was sent to modern times as a scout.  The creature vanished and then reappeared as a herald of an age to come, the return of a world that was destroyed before its time, an ancient Earth ruled by creatures so colossal they dwarfed the gargantuan parrot.

All those inaccurate stories about dinosaurs and humans living side by side would finally come true.

Some hoped for this.  Some feared it.

Some watched other animals for clues that they might understand something that humans didn’t.  Maybe they sensed something, perceived something beyond our senses—both natural and technological.

I watched a video a woman posted where she sat at her breakfast table.  She turned to her dog, who sat at attention beside her, and she asked him, “What do you make of it?”

The dog answered with a harried glance to her, before his gaze settled back on the uneaten strips of bacon on her plate.  This particular dog had no answers to give.

But some people claimed that their animal companions responded differently to videos of the creature than they did to any other media.

A tabby who was unflappable in the face of her human caretaker’s undignified dance videos was shown a video of the feathered pterosaur.  The tabby cocked her head, rose on her forepaws, and leaned in, blinking her suddenly bright eyes, as if she knew what she was looking at and was appropriately astonished.

I found myself mesmerized by a fifteen-minute segment someone posted analyzing and explaining the flight pattern of a flock of birds that passed overhead when the creature was perched one day.  The segment’s narrator zoomed in and explained how the pattern changed in a way that was strange and inexplicable in this particular species of birds.  The pattern changed just as the creature turned its head, sending out a signal that we didn’t note, but that the birds certainly understood.  Comments on the video—some that were kind and some not—debunked the conclusions drawn therein. 

None of the animals in my life seemed to behave any more strangely than they had before the creature’s appearance.

***

There are those who try to assign a name and a gender to the creature.  Others caution that by doing that we are ascribing a closeness, a friendliness to the creature that it has not yet earned.  Just because it hasn’t harmed us yet doesn’t mean it won’t.

Some wonder if the creature is alien.  What proof is there that this is the descendant of some Jurassic ancestor?

The creature left droppings a few times, surprisingly small ones for its size.  Some lucky scientists went about analyzing those.  But the real prize was when it dropped a feather one evening, as it prepared to fly away.  A massive feather, was which was immediately collected and analyzed.  The results of all the analyses on the trace evidence the creature left behind confirmed that the creature was of Earthly origin. 

The feather was mounted in a glass case, where it gleamed and glittered in captivating shades of blue, from cerulean to mazarine, more precious than any country’s crown jewels.

***

Somewhere, deep within the forest that the creature disappeared into, there would come a haunting keening sound that no one recognized. 

Or so went the claim of many who shared the next batch of puzzle pieces to the mystery of the creature, a slew of audio recordings.

But the creature still made no sound when it was out in the open.

A new theory arose.  After all our discussions and debates and efforts to save the species that we were driving into extinction, a new possibility arose.  It was not new to those who understood how these things worked.  But it was new in the popular zeitgeist.  

What if new species emerged to fill the gaps left behind by those who died off, gaps that these new species were equipped to exploit?  It was possible, wasn’t it?  For small things with short lifespans.  Possible for species with a quick turnaround, so the speak.  But…something of the creature’s size?  Something that could live a long, long time?

Then there were those who maintained the creature was a cryptid—the modern-day version of a mythical beast.  That’s how a friend explained it to me anyway.  That intelligence that some people recognized in the creature’s eyes was full-on sentience, and the shape that we’d all been seeing for a few weeks was just one of its forms.  Another form, one that would certainly disturb us far more was a humanoid form.  The believers of this theory called this creature one of the “parrot people.”

Or maybe it wasn’t a creature of modern-day myth.  Maybe it was a creature of ancient myth.  Apparently, our ancestors left behind many a myth about extraordinary bird-like creatures.  We tend to believe those creatures were metaphors or exaggerations, maybe fanciful errors in translation. 

But what if, once upon a time, creatures like our gargantuan feathered pterosaur were as common as pigeons?

***

What else exists in our world, on our planet, living right beside us?  What else that we don’t notice even though it’s the size of a jet plane?

We expect that the unknowable things on our planet are either small or hidden. 

It wouldn’t have surprised us as much if it was a massive creature rising from the depths of the ocean.  Or maybe even in the so-called untamed areas on land.  But this creature seemed to live somewhere in a forest that drew a constant stream of visitors.  Then again, the forest was vast and the trees were the tallest in the world.  If any forest could hide a pterosaur, it lay within the realm of plausibility that it would be a forest of redwoods.    

I still followed the story.  But it was one of those things that are too big for an ordinary person to fathom.  I couldn’t do anything about what I learned and came to know about the creature.  I didn’t have the skills to draw comics, or write articles, or create blue-and-gold desserts in homage to the creature. 

I’m not an investigator.  I’m not a guard who works shifts protecting the perimeter that’s been set around the creature’s favorite perches. 

I haven’t witnessed the creature in person.  Even if I lived anywhere nearby, I would no longer be allowed to get close enough to see what some of the earliest witnesses saw with their own eyes.  No one gets that close anymore, no one who isn’t officially authorized.

***

Today when I went out in my yard, I saw a small flock of sparrows swirling around a thorny bush, pecking at little berries.  And later, a type of butterfly I’ve never seen before.  Before I looked it up and saw that it was fairly common for where I live, there was a span of time when I imagined that it could be the only one of its kind, like that creature.  I could be the only person to ever lay eyes on it.  And if I hadn’t, no one would know.  And even if it were witnessed and recognized by others, fewer people would care. 

But what if the butterfly were the size of a pterosaur? 

I ask some of the same questions that others have asked.

Is the creature flying back down into the core of the planet, where according to some of our cheesiest moments in cinema history, there lies a primitive world of dinosaurs and cavemen living side by side?

Is it flying back to its mate, who’s roosting on a nest of eggs that will soon hatch and unleash a brood of gargantuan psittacine pterosaurs into the world?

Is it flying onto its other perch, the shoulder of a god?  Or is the creature itself a god?

***

Unlike some, I don’t think my dreams about the creature are prophecy, or some attempt at telepathic communication.  They are what all dreams are.  My mind’s way of processing the day’s unprocessed events or ongoing things that I struggle to make sense of mentally.

Like, say, a giant creature from prehistory that appeared in full view of a park full of picnickers.

When I first saw footage of it, I was scared of it.  Scared of how small and fragile it made me feel in so many ways both conscious and subconscious.  But I’ve gotten used to it now.  I’ve watched close-ups of its eyes.  I’ve watched it stretch its wings, shift around on its perch until it settled in position, glance over at other birds, and at people. 

I care about it now.

It’s part of this world, my world.  I can’t study it, or follow it, or speak to it.  What can I do?  Besides donate—and I’ve already done that—what can I do? 

Will there ever come a time when we think no more about the strangeness of this pterosaurian parrot than we do about the strangeness of the platypus? 

I have this sense of thinking, I hope we don’t screw it up.  But I don’t know what I mean by that.  Maybe I mean that we ease off on the circus that’s formed around the creature.  Maybe I mean that we pass this test of our collective wisdom. 

But I don’t know how we would do that.

In my dream, I’m usually there when the creature lands.  I’m one of the picnickers, sitting on a warped wooden bench, just about to absolutely savor a bite of cucumber-and-cream-cheese sandwich.  A shadow passes overhead.  A shadow so vast that everything within my sight is cast into darkness for the span of three heartbeats.  Three, slow motion heartbeats. 

I’m part of the crowd that gathers in a spot so opportune it could only happen in a dream.  The creature is far away, but we can see it clearly.  We can see the sun shine through the interlocking barbs of its feathers.  We can see the slight parting of its beak as we hold our breaths, bracing ourselves for a cry that never comes. 

We can see it turn its eyes toward us and watch us as we watch it. 

And I can see something else in those eyes. 

***

My dream has changed over the past week.  I’m not having a picnic with friends.  I’m not about to sip on some strawberry lemonade.

I am suddenly below the tree, in a clearing that’s large enough for the creature to land in.  And it does.  It swoops down and lands. 

And I’m suddenly atop its back.  I didn’t climb up.  I’m just there in that way that happens in dreams.

We’re flying.  Mostly through clouds.  I don’t feel the air passing over me.  I don’t feel cold. 

We’ve landed, but I’m still atop the creature as it makes its ways toward a dark opening of some kind.  I can’t tell if it’s a cave mouth.  I assume so, because I don’t know what else it could be.

I can’t see anything but darkness. 

I wake up before I enter the darkness and see whatever is on the other side.  I have no doubt that if I were to see it, it would be different depending on what kind of day I’d had.  A bad day would bring me the sight of monsters, and I’d wake with a start, short of breath, shoulders shuddering at the fleeting memory of being clutched by the claws of horror.  A good day would bring the sight of magic, and I’d wake slow and soft, like a flower blooming at dawn, heart fluttering with hope, a smile still stretching across my face.

I think about looking up whether or not others have had this same version of the dream.  But I don’t want to know.

***

Last night, the dream changed again.  The creature was in my yard at night.  I woke and caught the movement of its massive shadow against the curtain in the dawning light.

I’m outside suddenly in that way that happens in dreams.  No need to open or close doors.  Or make sure that something is locked and that lights have been turned off and alarms reset. 

I’m suddenly seated on top of the creature’s back.  The colors of the feathers are so vivid and they’re varied.  Not just blue and orange.  When the morning sun shines through the feathers of the flapping wings, I catch glints of magenta and turquoise.  Like how the ends of my black hair look amber in the sunlight.  The air is cool and fresh, and it ripples my loose hair and long sleeves. 

I’m not in my pajamas.  I’m in my street clothes.  I even have shoes on. 

I want to keep flying upward, climbing until we pass through the layers of atmosphere, out into open space, gently pulling free of Earth’s gravity, gliding past the litter of synthetic satellites, taking a loop of the system, just a quick turn around the block, before we head home in time for dinner.

But we don’t leave Earth. 

From up where I am, I see what I would see from the window seat of a plane.  But I don’t feel the same as I would feel.  The air is cool but not cold.  The breeze is bracing but not roaring. 

A flock of birds passes underwing.  I can’t tell what they are.  Their formation seems neither strange nor ordinary. 

I slowly let myself remember something, something important. 

My hand travels to the pocket of my jeans.

***

My hand traveled to the pocket of my jeans and felt the hard edges of a bunch of keys.  I had slipped them in there after locking my front door.  The heel of my left foot pressed against a bunched up bit of sock.  I had removed my shoes to climb up, because it seemed wrong to get dirt on the feathers.  My sock had bunched up when I put my shoes back on in a rush as the creature raised its wings and pushed aloft. 

Is this a dream? I wondered. 

It was not.

I was awake.

I was awake and it made no sense.

I was not an investigator.  I was not authorized to be this close. 

I’d heard a vague report once, about someone claiming to see a person riding on the creature.  Another claiming to be that person.  But…

Of all the farfetched theories and accounts, no one believed that one.

Eyes must have been watching, tracking, following.  I didn’t see anything. 

Even if they were watching, I didn’t care.  Even if it didn’t make sense that I was breathing so freely or that gale winds hadn’t knocked me off, I didn’t care about that right now. 

We started descending, slowly.

And I knew where we were headed before I saw it.  

It wasn’t a cavern opening.  It was a big hole in the ground, a chasm so deep I couldn’t see anything but rock, and darkness.

We were about to descend into that darkness.

I opened my mouth to cry, “Wait!”

But before I spoke, the creature veered off and landed in a clearing nearby.  I slipped off the creature’s back and dropped onto a pile of tree litter, crunching and crackling the leaves and twigs under my feet.  I inhaled sharply, smelling the dew and the leaves and the dirt.

The chasm was several yards away. 

What’s down there? I wondered.  I turned and looked in the creature’s eye.  I couldn’t tell if I saw any sign of understanding.

I reached my hand out to the creature and brushed a soft finger against the hard shiny beak.  The creature gazed past me, and I understood.

I turned back around and took a step toward the hole.  I knew what was down there.

Answers.  But also more questions.  Many, many more.

I knew I could go home, if I wanted.  If I climbed back atop the creature’s back, the creature would take me home.  Home, to what I knew.  I could enjoy the ride in peace.  It would be my last.  I could let the mystery go.  Leave it to others.

I stepped farther away from the creature and closer to the chasm.  I saw something I didn’t notice before from above.  There were stairs carved into the stone, at intervals all around the chasm, stairs that spiraled downward.  I moved closer, hoping to see farther down than I had before.  But I still only saw darkness.

I perched at the edge of the hole for a moment.

I heard the snapping of twigs and the flapping of wings.  I glanced back to see the creature fly up some distance and then plummet into the chasm.  The creature understood what I meant to do.

I took a tentative step onto the closest stair.  And then another.  The stone steps were deep and sturdy.  I held a hand against the rock wall and took a few more steps.

I could have descended into the darkness on the back of a gargantuan feathered pterosaur.  But this was my journey, and I needed to proceed in my own way, as I had done so far.  I hoped to fly again.  But right now, I needed to take it slow.  Step by step.

So I walked into the unknown on my own two feet, eyes open, and wide awake.


Copyright © 2022  Nila L. Patel

3 thoughts on “The Monstrous and Curious

  1. This is great…I love all the flying dinosaurs I see…they are all returing from the south 😁😁

    1. Ah…flying dinosaurs. Now I know one of your favorite things. 😁 Thanks for pointing out that I have an ongoing theme going on. I have a feeling this isn’t the last time I’ll be writing about a flying dino. Also, haha, you solved the mystery…(or did you?)

      1. I’m terrible at solving mysteries. I used to read lots of detective novels and I could never figure out who the murderer was. You could write a great children’s book with some of your characters 👍👍

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