“Do you think Shawn’ll be gone for much longer?” Chris poked at the campfire with a stick, watching the sparks dance above the flames.
“Hell, that boy’ll be gone till daybreak.” Dean cawed laughter and up-ended the beer can he had been drinking from.
Henry laughed along with his brother. “Yeah. Then, we’ll have to go rescue him.”
“I don’t think we should’ve done this. Shawn’s not like us. He could get hurt, you know. He’s a city boy. He don’t know things about the woods the way we do.”
Dean threw the empty beer can at Chris. It fell just short of its mark. “Stop whining. You’re startin’ to sound like that citified brat. Snipe huntin’s a long held tradition ’round these here parts. He wanted to join in. By morning, he’ll be one of us.”
“If he’s not dead,” Chris muttered as he picked up the empty beer can and tossed it into the garbage pile.
“What was that, Meathead?”
Henry saw his brother gearing up for a brawl and tried to head it off at the pass. “Listen! I think he’s back.” It was a gamble but it worked.
Dean scowled and peered into the dark. “Boy! Is that you? Shawn?”
“Yeah. It’s me. I got it.”
The voice came out of the darkness to their right. It startled them.
“I got it. I got the snipe,” Shawn said again in a flat tone.
The three men looked around at each other not quite certain if they should grin or be worried. By silent agreement, Dean took the lead. “What’d you get? Let’s see it.” Shawn stepped closer to the light coming from the fire. He looked like he’d been in a tussle with a bear. “Shit, boy! You okay?”
Shawn nodded. “Yeah. I think so. I didn’t know what a snipe was. You knew that. But, you were right when you said I’d know it when I saw it.” Something limp dangled from his hand. He tossed it toward the fire. It landed with a moist plop.
The three men recoiled from the thing that had landed in their midst. Then drunken nerves of steel and brains of Jell-o took over and they leaned forward to see what Shawn had brought them. They peered at a thing that looked like a cross between a six-legged spider and an octopus. It was brown and shiny. What must have been its blood seemed black in the firelight.
“Holy shit,” Chris breathed. “What is that thing?”
“It’s a snipe. I told you.” Shawn answered from his place at the edge of the firelight. “At first, I didn’t know where to go. I figured you guys were playing a joke on me but, you know, it’s all in good fun. I had to start looking somewhere. So I headed toward Crater Cave. I couldn’t believe it when I saw that.” He gestured to the dead thing at their feet. “I didn’t mean to kill it. I was just tryin’ to capture it. You know, to bring back a live snipe. I didn’t want to kill it. But it was real fragile.”
The three men looked back and forth between the alien creature and the person they had tried to dupe. No one could believe what they were seeing.
Dean thought, We’re rich.
Henry thought, Dean’s about to do something stupid.
Chris thought, Something’s very wrong.
Only one of them was right.
“He wasn’t alone. He had a mate. A wife,” Shawn continued that flat tone. “She was angry. They have children to feed and she needed her husband to help her. This planet’s too alien for them. They haven’t been here long. I was the first human they’d seen. She attacked me. She was mad. I would be, too, if someone killed my wife. She wasn’t thinking when she attacked. They have emotions. Just like you and me.”
Chris looked down and saw a stick move, wrapping itself around his ankle. More sticks…no, tentacles, wrapped themselves about his leg before he could react. The sudden cries from his companions told him that this, whatever this was, was happening to all of them. He tried to shake it off but at least one of the tentacles slithered up under his pant leg and he felt the sharp sting of a bite.
He turned to run, to get away, and saw both Dean and Henry trying to flee from several of the snipe things that had the men in their grip. But his legs were so heavy. He didn’t want to run. He just wanted to sit down. His body obeyed its own urge to sit instead of his mind’s instinct to flee. He sat looking at Shawn who had moved into the camp, watching.
“The first bite was in anger. The second was an animal instinct. You see, snipes are parasites. They prefer to co-exist with their hosts. But they hadn’t found anything in the forest that could sustain them. They were dying. They had, in fact, resigned themselves to death and extinction. Only two family pods were left from the fifty that crashed. The wife is the brains of the family. With her second bite, she knew that she had found a creature she could live with. But, in examining my brain, my thoughts, and my memories, she discovered what a barbaric people we are. She’s decided that the snipes will keep their presence silent for now. She’s formulating a plan for the future. I’m not sure what it is. She doesn’t share her thoughts with me. At least, not yet.” Shawn sat down on one of the coolers and watched as the three men were overcome by the snipe’s children.
Chris saw, in that moment, the snipe riding Shawn’s back like the mythical monkey and the tentacle attached to him at the base of his skull. He felt a tentacle brush the back of his neck and wondered if it would hurt. He hoped to hell not. He was about to find out either way.
About the legend…
The urban legend I chose was “Snipe Hunting” which is basically a practical joke that country folk play on city folk. It is a fool’s errand to find and bring back a wild “snipe.” The description of the snipe varies from “you’ll know it when you see it” to very specific details. The catching of the snipe usually involves making a silly sound and a bag. The snipe catcher is usually left alone to do the finding and catching of the creature.
The urban legend part of it is an ignorant city boy bringing back a “snipe” that turns out to be a poisonous animal or part of a creature of myth. I got to thinking about this one day and wondered what would happen if some poor city boy found an alien and thought it was the much talked about but mysterious snipe. From there, the story was born.