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Coming of Age Fiction Teens & Young Adult

Some people take time off between high school and college to backpack through Europe or take a roadtrip across the states. Some walk the Appalachian Trail or kayak down the Rio Grande. Most people do not travel to the riverside town of Point Pleasant with its dinky shops and skulking hills. Most people do not buy a busted-up 2008 Toyota Tacoma off of Craigslist, and stuff the truck bed with the cheap film equipment your girlfriend picked out of the trash near your community college. 

So that was how I found myself staring up at the most butt-ugly, chrome-plated statue I'd ever seen, a 2006 camcorder dangling awkwardly from my neck. The viewfinder had been cracked and twisted around too far, and the black screen now hung like a broken side mirror across my chest. 

I raised the chunky camera to my face and clicked it in the direction of the deranged, metal figure. It was entirely by chance if I somehow managed to capture his stiff looked butterfly wings and too-toned six pack. I could still feel the camcorder shuddering in my hand when a voice like summertime cut through my melancholy. 

"Do you think the real Mothman is going to be as hot?" 

Penelope grinned, two sticky cones clutched between her jeweled fists as she skipped back to me. The scorching, West Virginia weather was already causing the freshly procured ice cream to melt, leaving a sugary trail that ran down the scarab beetle ring on her left thumb. She didn't seem to notice as she handed me the better cone. 

"For all the effort we've put into this, he better have the body of Dawyne ‘The Rock’ Johnson," I responded, my smile tilting halfway off my face. 

Penelope always said I looked goofy when I smiled, like a puppy with a lopsided ear. I always said she looked beautiful when she smiled, like a shiny, freshly-minted penny. She hated that. She'd get all worked up and lambast me about childhood nicknames and dead presidents until I kissed her back to serenity. 

That was our thing, after all. Just like it was our mission to discover the Mothman. It kept us together, no matter how silly or stupid it seemed.

"Alright Archimedes," she teased, using my full name as she swung open the driver's door for me. "Ready to go find the real-deal?"

I grinned, swinging the rusted keys around my finger. They matched our mud-splattered truck perfectly. "Born ready." 

The rest of the drive was largely comprised of two city kids scream-singing country songs while gnawing on ice cream in front of the truck's blasting AC. We careened down forest roads and swerved around hillsides, our voices hoarse and our lips sticky. It was nightfall by the time we managed to find the perfect camping spot- dictated by the Mothman expert herself. Penelope had stretched out a massive county map across her lap, triangulating our position better than an eighteenth century ship captain.

"Here!" she exclaimed, jutting her finger in the direction of the hill’s face. There was a small alcove carved into the rock with enough space to park the car and hide a tent behind the bushes. "You get the camping gear, I'll start setting up the tarp." 

Before I even had the chance to properly park the car, her door had swung open and she was already rifling through the truck bed for supplies. I sighed, listening to the engine sputter off before I began my own monstrous task of setting up the tent. Somehow, finding the legendary cryptid of West Virginia seemed less daunting than wrestling together all the necessary poles and stakes. By the time I managed to zip the final tent flap shut, Penelope had somehow assembled all of our remaining gear. 

Heavy camcorders slouched on unsteady tripods, their wobbly legs precariously balanced between piles of rocks. Black cords stretch like spider webs across the dusty ground, their tail ends jammed into an overloaded extension cord filled with motion sensors and boom mics. How she managed to rig the whole thing up was beyond me, but it was just another Penelope-quirk that made me love about her. 

"Never underestimate Penny," I smiled, her nose wrinkling as she shot me a stink eye. She could only huff and shake her head in response, clicking on a heavy, 200-watt spotlight that almost immediately blinded me. I moved out of the way of its beam, watching as it shone off the reflective surface of the tinfoil blanket she had strapped up with a clothesline. My head tilted as I studied her arrangement, clearly confused.

"It's a light trap," she clarified, coming to tap on the swaying sheet. "Lepidopterists use them to study moths in the wild."

"So what, you think a six-foot-tall man with giant bug wings will want to come snuggle up inside of it?" My lips quirked upward. She did not share my same amusement. To her, this was now dreadfully serious business, and I would be wise to start trusting her word. 

Operation Mothman had officially commenced. 

"If the state troopers down in Point Pleasant can see it and come tell us to shut it off, then a six-foot-tall bug-man should be able to too," she retorted, her hands perched proudly on her boney hips. "If he doesn't come after that, then I can confidently say the West Virginian Mothman does not exist." 

I could not help but smile wider. "Usually, getting caught by authorities isn't part of a successful mission, but your logic is sound," I mused, taking out the deck of Dutch Blitz we had learned to entertain ourselves with in her parent's basement. Her eyes glittered black with the fading sunlight cast behind her. 

"You're on," she smirked, taking a seat on the log across from me. 

On any other day, our night may have ended the way most would expect for two teenagers alone in the woods. We may have blared music from a boombox, poured warm beer into cheap cups, and taken the opportunity to slide our hands up each other's shirts. This night, however, was the night we were meant to change the field of cryptozoology forever

This was the night we were going to make history, totally avoiding the crushing weight of the real world. We were going to be so insanely famous from all the interviews and Buzzfeed articles that we would never have to think about college ever again. Penelope would never have to move across the country to study electrical engineering, and I would never have to lose her to chase a useless major of my own.

That, or we would be praised for our very convincing ‘photoshop attempt.’ It was a hit or miss in the Internet Era, but it was still a shot we were willing to take.

Oh, and what a shot we did get. 

We were halfway through a rousing round of cribbage at two A.M. when a dozen shuddering cameras clicked on at once. Blinding light erupted outside of our tent, and we valiantly fought our way out of the mosquito netting while stumbling into the clearing with disoriented determination. 

"Get the net, Archie, get the net!" I heard Penelope scream in realization as I staggered towards the direction of the car. My hair was in my face and my glasses were askew as I reached out in the staggering brightness. It was impossible to make sense of the ground below me as I tripped and landed chin first on the trunk door. I saw stars and my head spun, but I continued to grab for the sure-feel of netting.

"Throw it in the direction of the light!" she screamed again as the cut of weighted nylon finally sliced between my sweaty fingers. I swung around with frantic ambition, casting the tangled web out over the campsite with helpless abandon. The net swung in slow motion over the tripods and microphones, spinning madly over itself towards Penelope’s shiny tarp. My eyes went wild as I watched it arch, my heart beating madly while my breath caught in my throat. It finally landed over a set of broad shoulders, forcing the figure to slam into the light trap and fall to the ground. A perfect throw!

Penelope screeched when she realized what it was we had caught. 

A stunned park ranger laid still with his hat pressed over his eyes. A book of citations still sat heavy in his limp hands, his name badge broken and cast to the side. Officer Darren Williams, it read. His notepad had been flipped open to a page about light pollution and a camping license, scribbled in a furious font. I hissed loudly through my teeth while Penelope winced.

 "Well... we'll certainly get a lot of views on Tiktok, I imagine," I tried to lighten the mood, stuffing my hands in the pockets of my pajama pants. She only sighed and hugged herself, slowly realizing just how much trouble we had found ourselves in. 

We were too busy untangling the unconscious man from our ragged net to notice our heavy spotlight that had mysteriously gone missing. A trail of humanoid footprints trailed off into the forest, and no one could explain how it showed up in front of that ugly chrome statue the following morning.

April 05, 2024 17:12

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