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Urban Fantasy Contemporary Funny

Considering Ray had just officially missed rent again, hadn’t heard back from any interviews, and that he’d actually considered buying cat food since it was on special – and then did buy it – the sudden thunder suited him just fine. A little weather would scatter most of the casuals from The Butthole – what everyone called Button Park – so maybe this time he could enjoy nature without getting mugged again.

Crunching through the autumn leaves, and sidestepping the broken glass and syringes, gave him a sense of peace. The first drops of rain were invigorating, and he considered getting soaked to cut down the water bill. Until, that is, it really started gushing, and the fresh breeze turned into cold howling.

The next lightning flash, he ran for the nearest shelter – the underside of Holcott’s Bridge. In the daylight, and from above, it was a charming thing of thick wood planks and irregular masonry, artfully decorated with decades of tags – though nobody knew who Holcott was. From underneath though, it spanned a rancid stretch of mud, rotting leaves, and used condoms. Still, it was cover.

Suddenly a nearby tree exploded as lightning struck it. Ray shrieked, close enough to feel the heat and to smell the burnt wood. How many people got to see a lightning strike up close? A part of his mind lamented not having his phone on him to record it. Might have given his dying channel a boost.

The tree groaned and folded in half like Ray’s dining room chairs, which were lawn chairs. He gawked as the forty-footer collapsed, wood tearing like the splintering of bones. And screaming? There was a shrieking, a shrill alarm as the top half of the tree came free, and when it hit the ground – hard enough Ray felt the echo down his spine – something came loose: an awkward hissing ball, which tumbled under the bridge beside him, and unfurled. And then, it lay still.

Ray gasped, and leaned forward. The thing was an animal. A bird, as it had wings. That made sense; birds lived in trees, and this poor sap had just been evicted – a kindred spirit, down on his luck. It was about the size of a turkey. Did turkeys live in trees? Ray didn’t know. But he did know they tasted good, and that was a lot of meat–

–Wait. Did turkeys have tails?

He crept closer. This turkey definitely had a tail. A long, narrow one, twitching and featherless. Ray gulped, but before he could do anything else, the turkey lurched to its feet and hissed, and Ray threw himself to the ground and whimpered.

It didn’t attack him though, instead wobbling out from under the bridge and further into the park. Its tail snaked back and forth, and the whole damn bird was really long. It kept stumbling, probably shocked or injured, and it didn’t make it too far before collapsing entirely.

Despite his better judgment, Ray approached. The storm had abated, and in the moonlight, Ray realized the prone animal wasn’t a turkey at all.

The head was more like a rooster, but the main body was completely featherless, covered in grey scales. It did have two big, turkeyish wings, but its feet were crocodile-thick, and ended in severe talons that reminded him of Jurassic Park. And that tail: long, with ridges or frills or something running down the back.

And Ray gasped. A bird head on an animal body – as an amateur cryptozoologist, he knew exactly what this was. Impossible as it was, this was a gryphon!

And it needed his help. He bundled it in his arms and took it home.

The gryphon stank. Not worse than Ray’s apartment, but different. It exuded an earthy rot accented with sharp notes of birdshit, which clashed with the old building’s perennial haze of urine and playful wafts of foot-cheese.

Nevertheless, Ray was pleased. He created a nest of old towels and gently laid the gryphon down. Its eyes were closed and its breathing was shallow, and he feared it was injured. He had no idea how to care for an animal – much less a myth! – so he sat with it, talked to it, and tenderly petted its head.

He poured it a bowl of water, and taking their chance encounter as a sign from the universe, gave it another bowl filled with his cat food.

A day later, it woke. It side-eyed him and sniffed at his fingers, but it seemed content enough to eat and to allow Ray to tend to it. He never had a pet before and hoped he didn’t screw it up. Of course, he suspected nobody had ever had a pet gryphon before.

Although he was growing to love the little guy, a part of Ray was underwhelmed. The stories made it sound like gryphons were majestic – big, proud, the kings of the skies. Eagle-and-lion featured most prominently. Chicken-and-gecko, less so. Still, he knew that descriptions of cryptids were often exaggerated, due to just how rare they were.

It’s what Frank taught him when he first got Ray into cryptozoology, and Frank would know. He was, after all, one of the few people who had actually seen the real Loch Ness monster. It wasn’t some flippered serpent, like most people thought. Rather, “It’s actually a land animal,” Frank said. “Kind of a seal crossed with a giraffe. I caught it bathing, and it was real friendly. Only, the little git nibbled my phone, so I wasn’t able to get a photo.”

But Ray had his phone. He took a selfie with his gryphon and sent it to Frank, with the line, “guess who found a gryphon!!!!”

“not bad,” Frank texted back. “is that ai?”

“no its real!!!!”

He sent a couple more photos and then a short video, which the gryphon accented with a couple clucks and a shake of its roosterish wattle.

Frank didn’t reply for a few minutes, and then the dam broke.

“HOLY SHIT IT REAL”

Next, a torrent of questions, and a recommendation – no, a demand – that Ray put the gryphon up on his channel.

“teh world needs to now!! and ull make bank!!”

“yeah?”

“yah!! ill spread the word, get it on ur socials too! make hype for a week and then do a livestream! $$$”

They hashed out the plan. Ray would create a couple teaser videos, they’d get the word out, and then next Friday, the whole cryptozoology world could tune in to his livestream and interact with the gryphon.

“we need branding,” Frank said. “what his name”

Ray thought it over, as he pet his gryphon and fed it more cat food.

“Graham”

“Graham the Great Gryphon :)” Frank said.

By Monday, all their colleagues in the Cryptid Conservation Collective knew of the event. By Tuesday, other cryptozoological organizations had heard of it, and a couple paranormal fandoms had started chatting. Wednesday morning, Frank’s thirteen year old nephew got a hold of some of the promo images and memed the crap out of them, and they hit the middle school circuit; by evening, they’d gone to college. Thursday, a tiny local newscaster picked up the story, under their “Well, Would You Believe It?” segment, and everyone else jumped on board. By Thursday night, Graham the Great Gryphon got a ticker on every twenty-four hour news cycle, with vaguely amused casters claiming “The big day is tomorrow! Guess we’ll find out then.”

And on Friday, Ray drank his last energy drink, put on his headset, and turned on his camera.

There were more people in his channel than ever before, and if they stuck around, he would make bank. But, when he saw their first comments in the chat, he wasn’t hopeful. Naysayers, ridiculers, and griefers.

Ray swallowed hard. “Well, time to meet the man of the hour,” he said into the camera. He scooped Graham into his lap and into the shot. “Ta-da!”

Some said “whoa!”, more said “fake!” – but they hung around, which was what counted. Actually, more viewers kept logging on, which counted even more.

But viewers being viewers, did what viewers do: they grew bored.

“Make him do stuff!” they cried.

Graham was entirely content just sitting in Ray’s lap, happy to side-eye the computer monitor, but apparently that wasn’t gripping viewing.

“Um,” said Ray, “Speak!”

Graham ruffled his feathers and closed his eyes.

“Dance!”

Graham dozed.

Ray regretted not taking the time to teach his gryphon any tricks – if one could even be taught.

“Um,” he said. On a whim, he lifted Graham bodily and positioned him right in front of the camera. “Say hi to our viewers, Graham!”

Graham made a low growl and twisted away from the camera. Ray maneuvered him closer again, pushing his head towards the lens.

“Come on! Say hi to the nice people!”

Graham’s claws dug into Ray’s lap as the gryphon’s body tensed. Undeterred, Ray pushed his head closer to the camera again. When Graham’s eye was almost touching the blinking red light beside the lens, the camera malfunctioned somehow, because suddenly the room was lit up by a flash of red. Graham let out a hiss that would put a locomotive to shame, and Ray flinched.

“Jesus!” Ray said, and then giggled nervously. “That was loud, eh?”

Free of hands, Graham retreated from the camera and nestled in Ray’s lap again.

The chat room had gone completely silent. No doubt, his viewers were shocked – and he hoped, delighted – by Graham’s performance.

But the moment passed, and the viewer count kept rising. The algorithms responsible for promoting videos noticed his stream was gaining steam, and pushed it ever harder. This caught the news’s attention again, and that drove even more traffic to see Graham.

And if people kept coming, it meant his camera still worked, despite the malfunction. Still, Ray looked it over when he triggered a commercial break. Then he looked up what an ad might be worth with this many viewers. Then he almost fell off his chair.

This wasn’t rent money. This was house-buying money.

The growing audience goaded him on into getting Graham to perform again, since rumours of the “epic hiss” had been circulating, so Ray tried to reproduce it. He wasn’t hopeful, but surprisingly Graham was accommodating. This time, as soon as he was brought near the camera, he got his hackles up and started hissing and scratching, and then he lunged at it with his beak.

And again, the flash of red malfunction.

And again, the chat room went silent, in awe.

And again, even more viewers poured in.

During the next commercial break, Ray videocalled Frank.

“Dude!” said Ray. “This is nuts! I have like… Holy crap, six-hundred million viewers!”

“Dude, I know! This is insane! I knew cryptids were real. I knew it! Screw you, Dad!”

“Ha, yeah. Listen, the streaming thing was a great idea!”

“Definitely!” said Frank. “Hey, you’re going to cut me in, right?”

“Oh hell yeah. Way this is going, we’ll buy ourselves mansions, and then islands to put them on!”

“Awesome! And we couldn’t have done it without the man of the hour. Hey, put Graham on! I want to see him up close.”

“Sure thing!”

Ray brought his phone towards the gryphon, who immediately tensed and grumbled. When the screen with Frank’s face was just a couple beakspans away, Graham squawked and–

And surprisingly, there was another flash of red light, though the streaming camera was nowhere near them. Maybe Graham accidentally tapped an app? A flashing red light app? Ray didn’t have time to think about it, because it looked like Frank had dropped his phone on the other end, and besides, the commercial break was almost over.

He turned back to his fans, and kept showing off the gryphon. This went on all night until Ray felt like he was dead on his feet, but at the insistence of his fans he promised to keep the camera running all night, so that people could still view the gryphon. And so Ray drifted off to sleep, serenaded by gryphon hisses and the occasional flash of red light.

He was woken in the morning by a rooster’s crowing, and he found his channel was still going impossibly strong with billions of viewers. Absolutely record breaking. It had to be. Didn’t look like anyone was chatting though. Maybe they’d all fallen asleep at their computers?

One of his dented pots wobbling on his kitchen floor drew his attention. He found Graham shuffling around on the linoleum, making a mess of things.

“Oh, you must be hungry.”

The gryphon bawked.

Ray checked his groceries and Graham huffed. They’d gone through the last of his cat food yesterday.

“Sorry buddy. I’m all out.”

Graham pecked him in the shin, hard.

“Hey, chill out! The money we earned, I’ll buy you a whole cat to eat.”

Graham hissed but Ray was already making his way back to his computer. How much had he earned? Curiously, the chat was still quiet, even though billions of eyes were watching him.

“Guys, I think we broke a record,” he told his viewers. “I’m just going to check something real quick.”

What he searched for was “most viewers in a livestream”, but what the search engines returned were nothing but breaking news articles about “what leading doctors are calling the Stone-analogous Transubstantive Epidemic (StATuE)”.

“Hmm,” said Ray.

Apparently since the previous day, people all around the world had been suddenly turning to stone. Many people. Billions.

Hmm.

Graham pecked him hard in the knee.

“Shh! I’m thinking!” Ray rubbed his knee, and Graham made a low hiss. “Look, I’ll feed you in a moment, but there’s some new disease going around! People turning to stone, if you can believe it, and nobody knows why.”

People turning to stone. To statues. Bizarre!

Graham hissed. Graham, with his wattle flapping, and his comb standing tall and tense, so much like a proud rooster. Truth be told, he didn’t even look like a gryphon. Far too small, and with the rooster head, and the scaly, vaguely dragonish body, he looked more like a–

“–Oh!” Ray exclaimed. “You’re not a gryphon at all, are you, buddy? You’re a cockatrice!”

Graham hissed so hard his whole body shook violently.

Oh.” Ray gulped. “Shit.”

The last thing he saw was the bright flash of red in Graham’s beady eyes.

October 18, 2023 22:51

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58 comments

Michelle Oliver
12:01 Oct 19, 2023

Another fun story. It just goes to show the importance of fact checking before posting all over the internet. I enjoyed the twist and upon subsequent re reads, your little crumbs and clues were well placed. The. Ish of a chicken, the cock crowing, the red glint in the eye. All these were subtle enough to miss on a first read but with the reveal at the end it all fits together perfectly.

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Humble Sparrow
12:47 Oct 19, 2023

Ah yes, the almighty fact check! :-)

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Michał Przywara
20:57 Oct 19, 2023

I've often wondered what things would be like, if we combined mythological creatures with our modern world. How do weird and wonderful powers interact with technology? Could you record a petrifying gaze on video? I think a lot of messenger gods would be out a job, with cellphones being so ubiquitous. But fact checking? On the internet!? Perish the thought :) Thanks for the feedback, Michelle!

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Danie Holland
11:53 Oct 19, 2023

Not me reading this thinking it’s so sweet to have a pet mythical creature, only for it to… not be. What I love about this is how you take such an unbelievable story and still make it believable. You do this by taking a broke cryptozoological who stumbles on a mythical creature, and then chooses to stream his findings on his live stream and make money from it. Because let’s be honest, most would 😅 I started to worry when the viewers were demanding more from our mythical creature that it would become a sad situation if our protagonist‘s gr...

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Michał Przywara
20:55 Oct 19, 2023

Ha, sorry about that :) Sharing new terms is half the fun, but it can certainly be a little cruel :) Glad things turned out believable, despite the unbelievable premise. The prompts this week were so delightfully weird, but despite all the ideas they generated, it took me a long time to actually get a story that had an ending. Often I'll use "and then everybody died" as a placeholder ending, until I can see a better one, but this time around I figured why not. Thanks for reading, Danie!

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Kailani B.
04:16 Oct 19, 2023

Ha! Fun story. Though who's going to feed Graham now? Oddly enough, I have been close to a tree when it was struck by lightning and I remember it being loud, fire shooting out of it, and bark flying everywhere. Not something I want to experience again.

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Michał Przywara
20:58 Oct 19, 2023

Oh, that's wild! Definitely sounds intense. I've only seen it happen on TV, and I suspect lightning is one of those things we underestimate unless we see it first hand. I'm glad you enjoyed the story, Kailani - thanks for the feedback!

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Robert Egan
00:37 Oct 22, 2023

I got a kick out of your wonderfully gross but somehow still charming descriptions ("perennial haze of urine and playful wafts of foot-cheese"), and the media snowball effect details leading up to Graham's rise to fame were great. Also, you're probably right that the cockatrice's stone-cold gaze would retain its power via video, which is one of the many reasons I never watch livestreams. Including typos in the texts helped ground the story in the real. Eggcellent story, Michal!

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Michał Przywara
20:44 Oct 23, 2023

Yeah, the interplay between myth and tech is ripe ground for all sorts of ideas, and where there's possibilities, there's room for messing things up. Glad you enjoyed this one, Robert!

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Mary Bendickson
23:58 Oct 21, 2023

Quirky characters. Quirky tale.

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Michał Przywara
20:40 Oct 23, 2023

Thanks, Mary!

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Chris Miller
20:15 Oct 21, 2023

Good stuff, Michal. A viral cockatrice is a pretty creative and original idea. No question that such a find would immediately be exploited by a down on his luck Youtuber, without a thought for the consequences. Good story, thanks for sharing.

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Michał Przywara
04:34 Oct 23, 2023

Thanks, Chris! If he didn't, someone else would. Of course, that's only true if everyone thinks that way, I suppose. Guess it didn't pay out in this case though. Glad you enjoyed it :)

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16:47 Oct 21, 2023

Aw at first I was like, yeah a story about my favourite mythological beast, the gryphon ( my son's name is Gryphon!) .then it turned into a very weird cautionary tale. I guess! Eerie with everyone going silent as they watch. Imagine living in that world after it happened. Very clever Michal.

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Michał Przywara
03:06 Oct 23, 2023

It would be a very strange world indeed! There's still some holdouts who don't have cellphones or do the internet thing. I can imagine them heading out on Monday to a completely silent planet, a human statuary garden - which itself is a cool idea for a story :) Glad you enjoyed it, Derrick!

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Meli Mangos
15:55 Oct 21, 2023

Love your imagery and tone. Starts off great, I get a sense of the character and how much life sucks for him right now. Ray's interaction with his environment was a little awkward. I wanted to see more of an internal debate on if he should bring the gryphon home or not and whether it was moral to show it off to the world. I was confused about the cat food - did he buy it for himself to eat? The dialogue could be cleaned up a bit, but overall it was an entertaining story. I like the twist at the end!

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Michał Przywara
00:37 Oct 23, 2023

Thanks for the great feedback, Meli! Especially about the parts that could use a bit of work - that's very useful. Yeah, the implication with the cat food was he'd eat it, because it's cheaper, but re-reading it, that's not clear. I appreciate you leaving your thoughts!

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15:51 Oct 21, 2023

That was a lot of fun!

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Michał Przywara
01:44 Oct 23, 2023

Thanks, Vicki! I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

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Judith Jerdé
14:17 Oct 21, 2023

Michael, excellent and imaginative writing. I enjoyed it so much!

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Michał Przywara
23:36 Oct 22, 2023

Thanks, Judith! I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

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M.A. Grace
06:39 Oct 21, 2023

Fun read and love the ending. Nice one!

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Michał Przywara
02:52 Oct 22, 2023

Thanks, M. A.! I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

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Aditi Kumar
06:38 Oct 21, 2023

This was really fun! What a great twist!

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Michał Przywara
21:02 Oct 21, 2023

Thanks, Aditi! I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

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AnneMarie Miles
23:07 Oct 20, 2023

Might I consider myself an amateur cryptozoologist now that I've read this? 🤔 I know nothing about mythical creatures, but you've given such details on this animal that I now feel like I'd recognize it anywhere. Or perhaps, I'd mistake it for another creature, as Ray has. I guess that's why we are the amateurs 😂 Too bad for all those people that Frank didn't catch his mistake in the photos. Though, I will admit, I really love the symbolic justice of all these billions of people glued to their screens turning to statues, especially after t...

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Michał Przywara
20:43 Oct 21, 2023

Thanks, Anne Marie! Mixing myths and tech seemed like a natural combo for this prompt, and it's fun to think about how all the weird and wonderful abilities would mix with our modern world. "Are we really so depreciative" - I wonder. Sometimes it seems like it. There are so many incredible marvels in the world, it's frankly overwhelming. We have a tendency to take them for granted and get bored (certainly I do.) Something like a cellphone, which let's you instantly communicate with someone on the other side of the planet, is thrown away as...

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Ty Warmbrodt
11:42 Oct 20, 2023

That was a fun read. I couldn't wait to get to the end and see what the catch was. You kept hinting and hinting. Another great piece of writing Michal.

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Michał Przywara
20:36 Oct 20, 2023

Thanks, Ty! I like it when stories give readers enough clues that something is going on, that the characters might not be aware of. Speculating while reading is half the fun. Glad you enjoyed it :)

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3i Writer
04:33 Oct 20, 2023

A week ago I did thought of a story idea on how people got killed by simply watching something on their smartphones. I can't believe you are able to introduce a cockatrice in to the story (I'm not familiar with the creature though) and make it work.

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Michał Przywara
20:40 Oct 20, 2023

Yeah, watching screens and dying is good grounds for horror. It's like someone uploads The Ring to YouTube or something. I saw a made-for-TV movie years ago that did a similar thing with ATMs, where people all around the country would go to get their cash out, and then disintegrate. I think the idea was, it was a computer virus that was transmitted to human flesh via blinking ATM lights. It wasn't a great movie. Cockatrices are strange animals, like any myth, I guess. Most commonly, rooster head and two-legged dragon body, not too big. Dan...

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Kevin Logue
18:28 Oct 19, 2023

What a fantastic tale! You are great at getting into your characters head and describing things from their pov, it's a real skill and one you've got buckets of my friend. The sleazy park, muddy, syringes, his sense of peace avoiding this underworld detritus, really love that kind of juxtaposition. Then here comes the mythical creature, such intrigue. Say it's a cockatrice all you want, Graham is a poultry medusa that got most of the world stoned, I ain't accepting anything less, hahaha. Brilliant story start to finish!

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Michał Przywara
20:46 Oct 19, 2023

"poultry medusa" Ha! Well, why not, Ray got it wrong once already. "getting into your characters head and describing things from their pov" - Glad to hear that! I've been making a conscious effort to "colour" prose with the POV character. Not all the time, but sometimes. I find it's a useful tool to liven up some descriptions by adding a personalized touch, and it's good to know some of that comes through. Thanks for the feedback, Kevin! Much appreciated.

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Karen Corr
16:41 Oct 19, 2023

Ha ha! The dangers of mistaken identities in cryptids. Now we know. Well told, Michal! (:

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Michał Przywara
20:50 Oct 19, 2023

Thanks, Karen! Yeah, definitely - some mistakes are costly :)

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Humble Sparrow
12:43 Oct 19, 2023

Well, that was a terrific laugh to start my morning! I knew it was a cockatrice from the beginning, but then you said gryphon and I thought I was wrong and kept reading, then . . . the payoff! I love the line "But viewers being viewers, did what viewers do: they grew bored." Scorch! I do have one suggestion - it's not immediately clear that he took it home. I was like "Where did he find old towels under the bridge?" Thanks for sharing! BTW, my story for last week's prompt about a kind of prison cell wasn't approved until this morning, so i...

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Michał Przywara
20:52 Oct 19, 2023

Thanks, Sparrow! Oh, I'm so pleased you saw it as a cockatrice immediately :) I figure misidentifying a creature that shouldn't exist is probably an easy mistake, especially if you have things on the mind, but it proves quite fatal here. I was partly inspired by ancient European drawings of foreign animals, made from descriptions only, and how wildly inaccurate they were. Thanks for the suggestion! I like to minimize "and then they walked" segues between scenes, but if this makes things less clear then it needs to be fixed. I'll take ano...

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Amanda Lieser
20:35 Nov 16, 2023

Hi Michal! I confess I had to turn to Google in order to understand what this beast truly was but oh my gosh once I read up on it, I completely understood the twist! I thought you did an amazing job of following the prompt while also taking your own spin on it. Naturally in the world of the 21st-century, we would immediately turn to social media if we had the opportunity to make a profit, especially for this protagonist, who is already down on his luck. I liked the way you kept the improper grammar for that text exchange as well-it added a t...

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Michał Przywara
02:33 Nov 17, 2023

Heh, I get you on the grammar - but I suppose texting is no different than dialogue, nowadays. I'm glad you enjoyed it! The creature's certainly an oddity, and it's kind of mind blowing how many mythological beasts have been invented over the years. I think we take our instant global communication for granted, and it seems like so many of these legends stemmed from an elaborate game of medieval telephone. I appreciate the feedback!

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Ken Cartisano
13:45 Oct 30, 2023

Hi Michal, A puzzling story, humorous and lighthearted, but I fail to understand the significance of the title 'StATuE.' I confess to being sadly deficient in my knowledge of mythological miscreants. Okay, I looked it up. It's a gaming platform AND A MYTHICAL BEAST? I toyed with the idea of responding to this prompt with a leprechaun. But I'm afraid I don't know much about leprechaun's either. So, I hate to ask, but, does this mean a Gryphon is basically harmless?

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Michał Przywara
21:48 Oct 30, 2023

Hey Ken. The title comes from "Stone-analogous Transubstantive Epidemic (StATuE)", which is what the "disease" is named in-story, based on that idea that sometimes we try to force acronyms to sound clever. I'm actually not thrilled by the title, but I was blanking on ideas. As for gryphons, if they were real I imagine they would not be harmless at all, what with basically being flying lions with eagle vision. In this story, it's a case of mistaken identity though, and the "gryphon" turns out to be a cockatrice - a small two-legged dragon/w...

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Ken Cartisano
05:07 Oct 31, 2023

Thanks for the tips Michal. I generally just Google things I'm unfamiliar with, as I did with the cockathrice. At first, I thought you were just pulling the reader's leg, but the writing informed me that it was not in jest. I think the story might have been better if I had that knowledge beforehand, but I don't think the story suffered from me not having that information. I didn't see the StATuE reference in the story anywhere, (somehow) but it was in the title. As for titles, You could've gone with 'Viral'; 'Still Viral'; 'One-Trick Pony; ...

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Michał Przywara
23:47 Oct 31, 2023

Yeah, I think you can get a lot of mileage out of a simple premise, especially for these short stories :)

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