The Town That Fights Monsters

Submitted into Contest #175 in response to: Write a story that includes someone saying, “Thank you for that.”... view prompt

51 comments

Suspense Contemporary Fiction

By Wendy Kaminski

Staff Writer


First settled in the 1780s, the town of New Madrid, Missouri, appears charming but otherwise unremarkable. It’s a relatively small town of approximately 2,800 residents, a few shops, a small school and a boardwalk, all nestled atop an Omega-shaped bend in the mighty Mississippi River. 


Located in the “bootheel” region of the Show Me State, this part of the US gets all four seasons, and though there’s no enticement here for investors nor industry, the residents are genuine, friendly and helpful. They are the perfect blend of Midwestern practicality and Midsouthern hospitality.


However, there is one noteworthy thing in particular about this town: in 1811, New Madrid was the site of the largest-ever seismic event in the United States. The region is still seismically active, and if such an event were to repeat, it would cause the greatest financial disaster the US has ever known. 


It would also cause something much worse, and for that reason, two dozen locals comprise the membership of a secret order which has volunteered its sacrifice for over 200 years in fighting a horror that few even realize lurks below.


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In the dead of winter, 1811-1812, hundreds of earthquakes hit this part of the Missouri Territory. Most catastrophically, a magnitude 7.0+ earthquake centered on New Madrid completely destroyed the town and devastated surrounding areas for hundreds of miles. That same quake also caused lower-level damage across two-thirds of the US and aftershocks which lasted for months. It was so strong that it forced the Mississippi River from its bed: the event was described as unearthly sounds and visions from hell, the unholy damnation unleashed such that the entire river roiled backwards for several days and actually formed a new lake before the chaotic waters receded. 


McInnery* was a boy at the time of that winter cataclysm, living a mile upriver on his family’s homestead, which was among the dozens catastrophically destroyed. While he and his sister both swore that they saw fearsome creatures of immense size thrashing within those waves as it was happening, this event was only a century removed from the Salem Witch Trials, and McInnery’s parents put a stop to such fantastic talk immediately. 


He and his sister kept silent as instructed, but as he grew into adulthood, McInnery took on the mantle of chronicler, delving into other accounts of that same event, seeking confirmation of the truth -- and find it, he did. Researching local legends, trapper lore, and personal correspondence as far back as the 1500s, McInnery also found that great upheavals in the New Madrid region happened with alarming frequency, always between October and February, and one thing was certain: the earth was birthing monsters. These were winter beasts, and their sightings were legion. 



At least one extreme giant was even enshrined in the broader national conscience: Pepie, the Mississippi River monster of Lake Pepin, Minnesota. Pepie first appeared to the north several months after the 1811 event, miles upstream from New Madrid. Few made the connection, but McInnery was well aware of it and of what that might mean for another event. Though Pepie was not formally recognized and reported until 1871 at Lake Pepin, McInnery remained convinced of its New Madrid origin decades prior.**


Pepie would not be the only giant creature unleashed: indigenous tradition reports huge river monsters centuries ago, and more contemporary reports exist as well, always in conjunction with similar earth-shaking events in New Madrid.


McInnery was joined in his efforts at first only by a couple of trusted friends, but later by more, as a growing community began to understand and embrace the duty thrust upon them: a duty to combat this terror and ensure the continued safety of mankind. Thus arose the original society calling themselves “The Exhort.”


As often happens, there was a split early-on: while some focused on McInnery’s cryptid research and chased information about the existing creatures, the core members and their successors focused their efforts on defense against future events. Antediluvian texts detail numerous epic creatures, and this branch of the order currently uses those data in simulation programs, analyzing what countermeasures might work against titans from earth and sea. 


In discussing their history and strategies with me for this story, one Exhort advisor points to the USGS statistic that shows a 40% likelihood of a 6.0+ earthquake within the next 50 years at New Madrid. As a result of their decades of research, The Exhort believe that only a 5.0 or greater event is required to spawn a Pepie-sized creature: a 6.0 or greater event could spawn a creature 10 times more terrifying, should it occur.


How does one battle these creatures, then? And would it be only one, or would we be plagued by numerous monsters, if another Big One hit? Smaller quakes up to 3.0 are regularly striking the site to this day – are those spawning smaller beasts? On these points, as well as on the finer points of defense, The Exhort members remain tight-lipped.


While many have sought them out over the years to join their ranks, The Exhort tend to reject outsiders, who are often merely thrill-seeking: “We study more than we hunt, and we just prefer to choose our own company,” one member said, in response to my inquiry as to whether they might be interested in additional members.


However, another cautioned, don’t let fear deter you from visiting their beautiful town, nor fret you while you’re there: “If you think you hear ominous sounds on the water, it’s not the creatures – it’s probably just the wind. These things, if you ever heard one, you’d know it, and as long as we’re on guard, you are never going to know that sound.”


Rest assured, The Exhort is on the job, and I think I speak for us all when I say, “Thank you for that!”.


—--------------------------------------------------------------

* Founder’s name was changed at the request of The Exhort to protect anonymity.

** There remains a $50,000 bounty on Pepie’s head to this day.


December 02, 2022 17:11

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51 comments

Graham Kinross
03:03 Dec 05, 2022

“Omega-shaped” thinks back to the Greek alphabet, ah yes. I get it now. “gets all four seasons,” not just the two that some states cheap out on. “the entire river roiled backwards for several days and actually formed a new lake,” known to the fish as the ‘well I’m not going the other way’ lake. Did the earthquakes really happen? Pepie seems an oddly cute name for a monster. Sounds like a little dog that spends a lot of its time asleep. “How does one battle these creatures, then?” One watched Pacific Rim (but not the sequel) and builds th...

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Wendy Kaminski
03:09 Dec 05, 2022

"some states cheap out on" LOL Graham! :) Cute-but-terrifying must be a common anxiety: I'm thinking "Stay-Puft" guy from the original "Ghostbusters." Ooh, and "Gremlins." Yup, it fits. Everything in that story is true. Well, except all the monsters besides Pepie (hopefully), and the Exhort (... as far as we know). But all of that destruction in 1811, the Mississippi back-up included, as well as the predictions of financial ruin and cataclysm if another quake hits that area again? Totally true.

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Graham Kinross
06:28 Dec 05, 2022

Like the predictions for the San Andreas fault? And possibly Dwayne Johnson’s worst film, which has stiff competition.

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Wendy Kaminski
11:26 Dec 05, 2022

Definitely "The Mummy Returns." Which is difficult for me to admit, since I'd even watch something called "Paint, Drying" staring The Rock at least once.

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Graham Kinross
22:13 Dec 05, 2022

Big fan? I liked him in the new Jumanji movies. He’s getting better as an actor I think. He was good as Maoi in Moana.

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Wendy Kaminski
15:38 Dec 11, 2022

I got a prompt where I could explore some action for this baseline idea - thank you again for your encouraging comments, and I paid you a bit of homage in the story, in appreciation: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/judbt7/ :)

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Graham Kinross
21:09 Dec 11, 2022

Thank you for that.

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Os Cole
17:33 Dec 03, 2022

I really like this premise. It seems like the story could be the setup for something much longer. In its current form, I think the story would benefit from more action. I like the final reveal that the narrator is direct contact with members of the The Exhort and the endnotes also ground it in 'reality.'

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Wendy Kaminski
17:39 Dec 03, 2022

Thank you! I was going for an old-school news reporter feel to it. I appreciate your tips, and will definitely see about working those in if and when I take this further some day! Appreciate you reading and commenting. :)

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Wendy Kaminski
14:21 Dec 11, 2022

I got a prompt where I could explore some action for this baseline idea - thank you again for your encouraging comment, and I paid you a bit of homage in the story, in appreciation: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/judbt7/ :)

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Rebecca Miles
10:54 Dec 11, 2022

Well-written. I'd like to see this with a narrative element/story with conflict brought to the fore. An interesting context!

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Wendy Kaminski
13:54 Dec 11, 2022

Thank you, Rebecca! I really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. If you mean an action story directly related to this theme, there's one at https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/judbt7/, if you are interested. :) I just finished/posted last night for this week's prompts!

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Susan Catucci
00:31 Dec 11, 2022

I thought this was an ambitious period piece slice-of-time mix of fact and fiction. It held my interest because of its exploration of could it be true? Well, this is what we know. . . It's a documentary in words which is probably the same as a news report but I think prettier and more literary -- as this was. Lots going on and well done.

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Wendy Kaminski
00:51 Dec 11, 2022

Thank you, Susan! Oh, and if you didn't see it yet, I think "A Rat's Life" would be so great for one of this week's prompts! :)

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Susan Catucci
00:56 Dec 11, 2022

That is a super sweet suggestion! If it's okay to admit I love something that I did, A Rat's Life is near and dear. I will consider what you said and thank you wholeheartedly for saying it. :)

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Wendy Kaminski
00:57 Dec 11, 2022

It is a great story, and a great spin!! It's totally ok to admit that we love something we did. :)

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Wendy Kaminski
14:20 Dec 11, 2022

Hey, I got a prompt where I could explore the action sequence this desperately needed; thank you for your encouragement, and I paid you a little homage. :) https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/judbt7/

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BRUCE MARTIN
14:02 Dec 10, 2022

Fascinating story with a very creative conception! And it is clear that you are a talented writer with professional-level skill. Your choice of vocabulary, the structure of your sentences and paragraphs, and the general flow of your story demonstrate real talent. The story itself is fascinating, but it does come off as more of a news report rather than an engaging and exciting tale. I agree with one other commenter that the story could be taken to the next level by adding some real interaction or conflict between the people and the immen...

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Wendy Kaminski
14:11 Dec 10, 2022

Thank you so much for the flattering comments, Dr. Martin! I was actually going for a news story feel, as an experiment, so I have to admit that was intentional, but I think given your input, perhaps one day I will need to revisit this and rework it as more of a fictional action thriller... give the public what they want! hah :) I really appreciate you taking time to read and comment - your encouragement really made my day!

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Wendy Kaminski
04:24 Dec 11, 2022

Got a prompt where this could be done. :) https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/judbt7/

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BRUCE MARTIN
07:14 Dec 11, 2022

Wendy, that story is amazing. It's riveting and had me on the edge of my seat. It seems like excellent sci-fi movie material. Your writing is really exceptional. I'm really impressed.

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Wendy Kaminski
14:00 Dec 11, 2022

Thank you so much! I paid homage to the original posters who were so kind as to lend encouragement to that spin-off. So thank you, "Martin." (And sorry he died, he was one of the greats! :)

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Mary Lehnert
12:02 Dec 10, 2022

So genuine of this region Wendy, I felt as though I knew it intimately. Thankyou for a glimpse into small town USA

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Wendy Kaminski
13:52 Dec 10, 2022

Thank you so much, Mary, for taking the time to read and leave such uplifting comments!

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Wendy Kaminski
16:46 Dec 11, 2022

I got a prompt where I could explore some action for this baseline idea - thank you again for your encouraging comments, and I paid you a bit of homage in the story, in appreciation: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/judbt7/ :)

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Jarod Smith
11:07 Dec 10, 2022

Would definitely make a decent screenplay pitch. Monster-hunt movies don't have a high bar for sophistication, admittedly, but this convincingly newsy "article" already offers a better foundation than most! And of course, it stands on its own merit as the best variety of fake news.

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Wendy Kaminski
13:48 Dec 10, 2022

Thank you, Jarod! I am a huge creature feature fan, and I am thrilled that you liked it!

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Wendy Kaminski
04:25 Dec 11, 2022

Got a prompt where I could get this done - thanks for the encouragement! https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/judbt7/

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Edward Latham
10:44 Dec 10, 2022

I love the kind of newspaper article style to this story! And it leaves me wanting more! To see how the Exhort would react to a 7.0 event, how would they overcome the monsters that would spawn? Would love to read more of this if you ever feel inclined!

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Wendy Kaminski
13:46 Dec 10, 2022

Thank you so much for reading, and for the encouragement!!

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Wendy Kaminski
04:25 Dec 11, 2022

Got a prompt where I could work it out! https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/judbt7/

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Mike Panasitti
04:00 Dec 09, 2022

I like the way you blue the lines between fact and fiction. Makes for an interesting read. We haven't had a good sized quake in Southern California for a while. I hope reading this is not an omen. We have enough non-human monsters (drought, air pollution) we're dealing with out here.

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Wendy Kaminski
04:06 Dec 09, 2022

Thanks very much, Mike! And I hope so, too...

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R. J. Garron
03:42 Mar 21, 2023

The story was interesting and would serve as a good preamble to a longer work. Have you considered elaborating on this idea? The cryptid accounts would make an amazing host of short stories in a compendium of this nature. Solid writing too!

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Wendy Kaminski
03:50 Mar 21, 2023

Thanks! I did another (Monsters of New Madrid) but that is all so far… I will likely do more one day! :)

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R. J. Garron
04:04 Mar 21, 2023

You definitely have a world to build upon!

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Brad Heald
03:45 Feb 23, 2023

I so enjoy your writing, Wendy. You have a great grip on our language, and you apply it well. So many great sentences. I read the story twice. I am no longer concerned about Bigfoot and glad I live in Nevada. :)

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Wendy Kaminski
03:52 Feb 23, 2023

Brad, that is so flattering! Thank you so much, you really made my night, I really appreciate you reading and leaving such a lovely comment! :) I just learned that we are socked in with snow because I managed to look out the window so looks like I am reading tonight ha ha

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Richard E. Gower
11:37 Feb 18, 2023

Wendy, you've pushed all the right buttons on the open sesame keypad in my head, with this story. You've got the beginnings of a book, here. I am a BIG fan of cryptids, have had a book on the burner, with a few draft chapters done, for a while now, but turned off the flame and put it on hold to do other things. You have fired up the boiler again. All kinds of great things to highlight in this piece. Setting the stage as a news article written by a staff writer is, IMO, perfect, to introduce a long-read. But this also works as a stand-alo...

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Wendy Kaminski
14:17 Feb 18, 2023

Oh ho, my scaled-feathered-tentacle-loving friend (haha), the $50k bounty on Pepie is a real thing! So's Pepie. :) The earthquake history of that region, including "the big one" that is the focus of the story... all true! The monsters? MAYBE! *grin* That you are writing a whole book about it is really cool. Maybe we'll get some sneak peaks, prompts willing! Thanks for the lovely comments on this and all my stories - you really make my day! PS What is the significance of Bravo Zulu? I have tried many BZ word combos and I've got nothin'. :)

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Richard E. Gower
18:15 Feb 18, 2023

Oh ho, indeed..., like Nessie, Champ, Manipogo...et al....again proving that fact is often stranger than fiction....-:) Regards the book: Now that I am inspired again, there may well be sneak peeks, if the prompts should steer things that way........... Ahhh...Bravo Zulu (BZ), just some shorthand from one of my past lives (military)...there's a long and convoluted explanation as to its origins, but it means: Well done! I am still slowly getting smart on the intricacies of Reedsy system... the counter showed that this last contest (# 185)...

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Wendy Kaminski
18:18 Feb 18, 2023

Thanks, Richard. :) Of those two numbers, the higher (308) was actually the number that paid - nice racket, right? *grin* The lower are the entries which used the prompt(s) but did so without entering the contest by way of payment.

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Richard E. Gower
18:44 Feb 18, 2023

So, a total of 457 scriveners out there toiling away and living in hope... .... tres interesting. That means that using a rounded-up number of 8,000,000,000, we account for about (check my math here, Maestro) 5.7125E-6% (plus or minus a teaspoonful or so) of the world's population. We probably should keep that information close-hold. Wouldn't want people to think that we're part of an elite club, or anything. -:)

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Wendy Kaminski
18:45 Feb 18, 2023

*secret handshake* :D

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Lonnie Larson
22:02 Dec 14, 2022

Another well written piece. I love the Minnesota nod as well. I live just a few miles below Lake Pepin in a small town. I've heard the many stories about Pepie as well.

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Wendy Kaminski
22:03 Dec 14, 2022

Nice to have another Midwesterner "semi-local" (we are all semi-local in the Midwest!) who gets the references. :) Thanks for reading and commenting, Lonnie! :)

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L M
13:49 Dec 12, 2022

Great story, Wendy. Im glad the exhort is protecting us!

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Wendy Kaminski
14:04 Dec 12, 2022

Thanks, L M!

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L M
14:08 Dec 12, 2022

Youre welcome.

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Wendy Kaminski
04:25 Dec 11, 2022

The Exhort's first published battle can be found at https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/judbt7/!

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Aoi Yamato
02:06 Jun 08, 2023

great story.

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