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The Green Lion Man: The Return of Dragonsnort
by Devon Pitlor
I. At the annual cryptozoologists' convention, Eric Palobay takes the podium Brooke Nescott, her son Jared at her side, sat behind her domestic partner Eric Palobay in the over-crowded auditorium. An entire veiled world of strange scientists, cryptozoologists as they are generally known in the practice of a pseudoscience, watched and listened as Palobay, a noted entomologist, pulled a preserved specimen from a jar of alcohol. The specimen was about as long as two Polish sausages articulated end to end and had probably far more than one hundred jointed and spurred legs as well as a pair of bulging purple and aqueous eyes which were still inexplicably glaring. Palobay held the dead specimen up to the gasping crowd. No one had ever seen anything like it before. “It doesn’t have a name,” he said, “and it really doesn’t exist any more than the other noncreatures we discuss here. Yet here it is. I’ll probably name it after myself.” He unfolded and deployed the pickled creature the length of a small table on the stage in front of him and reached back to Brooke for his presentation paper: why, by whom and where the specimen had been found and so forth. Brooke eyed him with some admiration, the admiration she had always harbored for this man who had become everything short of her legal husband. Then without warning, the creature, still damp with the alcohol preservative, began to squirm on the table. It stood up on its countless legs and shook itself like a wet dog. Its purple eye globes spun in all directions, and suddenly a pair of leathery-looking yet sickeningly gauzy wings sprouted from its sides. With a scratching grate across the table top and a little leap it flung itself into the air and began flying around the auditorium.
The audience gasped, and many ducked their heads as the creature swooped down upon them. Its circling became closer and closer to both Eric Palobay and the terrified audience. A pair of grinding mandibles were now visible in its insectine face, and it buzzed menacingly, soaring in loops over the entire meeting. Then all at once a tall man covered with vividly traced tattoos and pierced nearly everywhere with bright metallic studs stood up, grabbed a nearby briefcase, and swatted the thing out of the air to the floor, whereupon he firmly stomped it in two with the grinding crunch of a studded boot. Brooke caught her breath and, like the others, gazed in horror at the writhing cryptoinsect’s last moments, but it was the slayer rather than the dying bug who most arrested her attention. She tapped Eric Palobay on the shoulder and whispered “It’s Dragonsnort! He’s come back.” II. Jared Nescott’s school assignment Jared Nescott, the precocious offspring of Brooke Nescott and the long-missing Dragonsnort, had been very much occupied in his room using his computer and reading some books he had checked out of the library. This was unusual for Jared, who being very advanced in school, generally finished his fifth grade homework quickly and made a point of playing outside with his friends until called in for dinner. But on that day in December of the dreary year 2010, Jared was very much preoccupied by a research project that had been assigned by his teacher. Mrs. Umberly had challenged the class to research some of the great unsolved murders, crimes and disappearances of all times, things like the horrid 1957 mystery of the Boy in the Box, the vanishment of the first American child Virginia Dare and the still unexplained murder of Swedish prime minister Olaf Palme in 1986. All of these enigmas would, of course, require a book in themselves, and far too much had been written on each of them. Jared became temporarily fascinated with the unsolved Zodiac Murderer of 1968-69 and his cryptic code, but later his attention was drawn to the disappearance of bandmaster Glenn Miller over the English Channel in 1944. In all
subjects, Jared had found too much information and too many conflicting details. The research, as it were, had been done multiple times in the past and nothing conclusive had ever been discovered. Unlike the other students who had simply accepted Mrs. Umberly's assignment as such and were preparing a report, mostly Internet based, on the known details, Jared had a genuine desire to contribute something new. Unsolved mysteries bothered Jared, who had been of a curious nature about nearly everything all his short life. Looking over a pile of notated filing cards on the Jimmy Hoffa case of 1975, Jared grew at once frustrated and tossed everything that he had finished so far on each of the cases into the trash and erased the document file on his laptop. Then he thought for a moment and grabbed a legal pad and walked pointedly into the kitchen where his mother sat drinking a glass of red wine waiting for Eric to get back from the university and eat dinner. Since their union over three months ago, Eric had, with Jared's unconditional approval, moved into Brooke's house, and Brooke, perennially bored by her career as a lab histotechnologist, had resigned from the medical center, taken a considerable pay cut and gone to work at Central State University as Eric's assistant in the Department of Entomology of which Eric was chairman. At times she even managed to slip away from her desk, go into Eric's research lab and help with the examination of insect specimens. For all the world, her close companionship with Eric Palobay seemed to be nearly flawless. Jared stared at his mother for a minute then in his usual mature way asked her if he could "interview" her. Brooke was, as always, slightly amused at her gifted son's manner of requesting a serious conversation and politely agreed to an interview "after a hug and a kiss," which Jared obliged her with. "So how are the unsolved murders and disappearances going?" inquired Brooke.
"Horrible," said Jared. "That's why I want to interview you. I'm fed up with all this Internet information. That is all the kids are using these days. Everyone has a PC at home or a laptop or both. I can't find a thing that hasn't been discussed and raked over a million times before. I want to do forensic research. That means I want to explore people and places in person myself." "I know what it means. I can also see where you are going with this. I've been waiting for the day...." "My father," began Jared, "just up and vanishes four years ago in a missing Cessna over the Spanish coast, and there is no record that he was even on the plane. Everything you have told me about him could be written on one side of one sheet of paper." "Less than that," said Brooke staring blankly out the kitchen window. "I was raised not to ask many questions or get too curious. I've told you that your grandfather was some kind of secret Army operative. He never told my mother or me much of anything, and we knew better than to ask. That is how I was with your father. I know a lot more about Eric than I ever did about Dragonsnort because so much about Eric involved saving your life." "I know. I know. But nothing adds up. Let me summarize what you have told me. You were feeling lonely one day and dropped into some kid's funeral, and there was Dragonsnort, all full of tattoos and piercings, just as I myself remember him." "You were only five." "But I remember. Let me go on. You fell in love with him on a dock somewhere right around the same time as the Twin Towers attack. He moved in here like Eric has, and I came along shortly after. You never knew---or asked---his real name. His friends, who were all band members, just called him Dragonsnort, and you were happy with that. You had no idea where he came from or exactly why he was so attracted to you."
"I was pretty then, and I was in love with him. He made me happy. He was strong and protective and interesting. Just like Eric." "You are still pretty. And you seem to be just as happy with Eric." "I am, but let me say this: Eric told me from the start that he would gladly step aside if your father ever came back. There were a lot of questions about his disappearance. I don't want to lose Eric, but I miss your father. I have enough love in me for those two guys to live with both of them if they wanted and you approved." "I would approve if it made you happy." "Well, your father doesn't appear to be coming back. I guess that is what you want to research." "You told me that the official story of the plane's disappearance did not contain any strange names, anyone who was not in his band, and there was no one called Dragonsnort. Now that would have stood out in the media, Mom. Imagine being married to someone called Dragonsnort." "We were never married. Your birth certificate does not list his name. I was just another one of the millions of single mothers...." "Yet he was my father. You say I look and act like him. Is there anything else you can tell me to help me research...." "No," said Brooke firmly, standing up and stirring the contents of bubbling stew on the burner. "Your notebook will just have to remain empty. You'd better go back to the Boy in the Box. That happened in Philadelphia, you know. Eric needs to drive up there next week for a convention. I need to go as well. We could find some free time and explore..."
"A case that was closed in 1957? No way. That was fifty-three years ago. Let me ask you a couple more questions: Did my father leave any possessions or clothes behind? He played in that band, Death's Messengers. He could not have made much money with it. You told me they were very small time and local and that they got a gig now and then in Spain, but that was no big deal. Where did they get the money for the plane? How did my father support us?" "All good questions, come to think of it," said Brooke softening in tone. Then she went on to explain that one of the band members, now reported as officially dead, came from a rich family and the plane had been his. Then she said that Dragonsnort had always carried a little cash in his pocket and had always helped her with the mortgage, food and bills, but not all that much. Further, he had left absolutely nothing behind. "He used to disappear for days at a time and come back dressed in other clothes. He didn't own anything that I can remember, not even his own drums. I guess that was part of his charm." "Maybe he had a wife and another family somewhere. Maybe kids." "Maybe so. But I don't think so. He was just mysterious. As I once told you, he claimed to see the dead, like my parents, and he told me true stuff about them. I honestly think he was in love with me and me alone, and, by the way, he positively adored you. As I said, I was raised not to ask questions. He made me happy and that was that." Jared frowned at his mother and slammed his pencil down hard on the legal pad. "So case closed," he sneered. "That is all there is to it? I'll just go outside and play and put together some crap about the Black Dahlia for Mrs. Umberly. And then I'll be as uncurious as you have always been and just go on the rest of my life wondering about my father." Jared got up and walked briskly out of the room. Brooke pursed her lips and watched him leave. There were no secrets between mother and son, and she hated that she
was unable to tell him more. Her own sense of incuriosity had not served her well in this case. Then she remembered something. But Eric came home and told her some news about the cryptozoology convention the coming week in Philadelphia, and that made her forget what she had started to remember. She made a mental note to get to it later. Eric had a new species to display, an undiscovered species. She would see it in his laboratory the next day at work. For a time Jared's issue was dismissed. Eric was always fascinating. One of his rural country bumpkin scouts out somewhere in the sticks had found a new---and seemingly frightening---insect. At dinner, Jared ate morosely. He showed little interest in what Eric was talking about and avoided his mother's glance. Brooke was angry with herself. She had made a child and lived six years with a man she had scarcely known. A kind of buried guilt surfaced in her. Somehow she had cheated her son. She needed to do something about that. III. Brooke Nescott remembers something The first thing Brooke did was explain the whole dilemma to Eric. Eric, as usual, was sympathetic and listened intently. "The kid is totally right," he said at length. "He should know about his father, and so should you. I love you, but I am still willing to step aside or share you if..." "Stop. He's not coming back. He died in that plane crash." "They never found any wreckage or bodies." "And his name was not on the missing list." Brooke stood up suddenly and snapped her fingers. She swung around and stared out into the yard where she had played as a child. Then she banged her palm on the counter by
the sink. "Of course," she said, still staring out the window, Braden Bassroot. He was in the band. His name wasn't on the missing report either. Wanna know why?" "Why?" "Because he had the flu and never went on that gig to Spain. He stayed right here in Aristock, and for all I know, he is still here. I never tried to find him. All those piercer guys were secretive as hell. But I knew them all slightly. I knew Braden. I even think he was in a few classes with me at Central State, maybe not. But if I could find him..." "Then take tomorrow off and look," said Eric firmly. Eric always had a direct solution to any problem. "You can see my new creepy-crawly the next day. It's pretty sickening anyway." And so after Jared went to school the next day, Brooke took out an old phone book and attempted to find Braden Bassroot. "With a stupid name like that, I should be able to located him easily," she said to herself. "But no one is listed in the phone book anymore with all these cell phones." Unsuccessful with the phone book, Brooke went online and searched under Bassroot/Aristock/Pennsylvania. Her search immediately turned up a B. Bassroot Music Shop on Cassiopeia Street in the university section. It had to be Braden. Throwing on an old pair of jeans and a sweat shirt, she jumped in her Honda Accord and drove off to the College Town section of Aristock. Cassiopeia Street was a little winding, narrow lane off from the side of Greenbank Park. It was easy to miss, but Brooke, having lived her entire life in Aristock, knew the area well. The music shop was in a shabby row of run down stores which also housed a methadone clinic and a magic trick shop. A large sign hung on the door. "No rentals...No exchanges." It was signed by "Owner, B. Bassroot" IV. Braden Bassroot Braden Bassroot's music shop was total cataclysm of instruments and electronic
amplification equipment thrown here and there in confusing and disorganized piles. A heavy layer of dust and graying grime coated nearly everything, punctuated only by the occasional paw print of an invisible cat. The front shades were pulled down so as to admit very little sunlight, and Braden, who favored a vague vampirish style of dress and behavior, would later claim that he liked it that way. "I sleep in an old coffin in the back gallery," he tossed out casually as he showed Brooke around. Oh my god, not another wannabe vampire, Brooke thought to herself. When will these guys ever grow up? Yes, Braden remembered her....somewhat. She had been with "What's his name." That was back when the band was still alive and playing. Times had changed since then. The missing plane had taken everyone out---except Braden himself, who had been fortunate to have been ill, and "What's his name." Was Braden pretending or had he actually forgotten Dragonsnort? No, it turned out that he had not. "Yes, Dragonsnort," he said finally. "Your boyfriend. I remember. Fun guy. Everyone liked him. He had a way of making people feel better." "He wasn't on the plane?" gasped Brooke, her heart rising in her chest. "Nope. It was that tree thing." "Tree thing?" Brooke had no time for guessing games. If Dragonsnort had not been on the plane, then he had lied to her. He had abandoned both her and Jared. That was serious. "He said he was going on that gig to Spain." "He was. But the tree thing came up first." Braden was about to add more when a skeletal, long-haired boy came into the shop looking for a cheap guitar. Braden hustled off to help him, digging through cartons of what looked like salvage guitars of all sorts, blowing accumulated filth off of everything.
It was as if he had not had a sale or even a customer in months. Finally, the kid decided to buy nothing and left. Braden returned to the little table where he had seated Brooke. Brooke noted that he was wearing a black cape. Stupid vampire, she thought again. Why do I have to deal with these misfits? "You were saying about Dragonsnort?" "Look, lady, we didn't ask him any questions. He just appeared one day out of nowhere. He didn't have a single tattoo or stud on his body. He was good at the drums and substituted for a guy named Orm. One day Orm up and triple dosed himself on crank and, well, you don't need to hear about that. Anyway, your Dragonsnort took his place. By that time, he had talked a friend of ours who owned a piercing and tattoo parlor into fronting him some of his best art. All those big pictures he wore, he got them in the space of a few days sitting. Same with the rings and studs. All at once. I don't know how he stood the pain, but he said he needed to look the part. We were all kind of odd. None of us hung much together after the gigs. We took our share and left. We'd practice now and then, but I don't think any of us knew where the others lived. We kept it that way." Brooke glanced at the dim lit shop once again. She examined Braden more carefully. Not only was he wearing a ridiculous black cape, but he was balding on the crown of his head, and his pudgy stomach was pushed out like a captive pillow from his beltline. His hands were round and soft with the nails bitten down to the quick. His own piercings were starting to get moldy with flakes of the uncleaned skin which covered them. He had, characteristically, colored his eyebrows jet black and teased them into upward points, as well as joined them over the bridge of his overlarge and red-pimpled nose. Brooke attempted to change the subject to put him more at ease. "So you're into being a vampire, then?" she began. "Aren't you a little old for that? I mean you must be at least forty." "Forty-two."
"Okay, no matter. I see you like this lifestyle. Who am I to criticize your choices? What was it you were saying about the 'tree thing' and Dragonsnort? "I wasn't saying anything," said Braden, adjusting a dirty metal collar he wore around his plump neck. "Nothing at all except that it was what kept Dragonsnort from going with the guys to Spain. And I haven't seen him since then, if that is what you are wondering." "I was wondering more about the 'tree thing.' "Why should I bother to tell you about that...unless...." "Unless what?" Braden stroked his dyed beard and gave Brooke a look that was both patently fauxmalicious and humorously lecherous. "Unless you let me take a tiny phial of your blood. My instruments are clean. There they are in alcohol." He pointed to a small glass bottle and tiny razor knife which was immersed in a jar of fluid. "You won't get any disease. I collect people's blood. It is just what I do. I don't drink it or anything. I just keep it. It won't hurt to poke your finger and squeeze out a few drops into that little bottle. If you let me do that, I'll tell you about the tree. If not, then goodbye." Brooke consented with some reluctance to giving Braden a sample of her blood, which he corked preciously in his phial and placed in a grubby cabinet hanging from the wall. As he was putting a bandaid over the tiny incision he had cut, he leered once again at her and said "Now what was it you wanted to know?" Brooke noted that the flabby, balding vampire had what appeared to be an erection showing through his pants. "You get off on this, don't you?" she said.
"Yes. I do. It is really all I need. No female would ever give me a second look. So I get blood. It is like sex to me." "The tree," snapped Brooke annoyed at herself for giving such an oily freak a part of her essence. "Okay. Dragonsnort, your boy, was obsessed with it. Do you remember Barisco Industries? No, of course you don't. Or maybe you do. They were all over the news for a while because they were going to come here and build a factory and produce farm equipment. The factory was going to be their world-wide headquarters and employ over a thousand workers locally. The town bid on it and all that. They even gave them a tax break and about sixty acres of free land. A developer, whose name escapes me, followed up and started building a subdivision a little ways outside of town. You can still find it now. A few houses are partly finished and a lot of foundations are still in the ground. But it all went sour. An Italian city overbid Aristock, and Barisco scampered away in the night, leaving all the big plans behind. Companies are like that. Anyway, the subdivision was going to be called Ashwood, and the fences and signs are still up out there but covered with vines and what not." "I think I remember the commotion about that. New families moving in to work in the factory. The abandoned subdivision." "Dragonsnort had a huge connection with that subdivision. It was on some county land that Aristock willingly conceded to the developers. The developers, like all of their ilk, just wanted to barge in and level everything, like all the trees. For builders, trees just get in the way. Right from the start some of us had seen your Dragonsnort going in and out of the little woods that they eventually destroyed. Why? No one knows. He may have lived in the woods for all we knew. But he was concerned about this one tree. It was on the state registry too. A huge ash. A circumference of nearly thirty feet. Bigger than any tree you have ever seen, right smack dab in the middle of their proposed subdivision. Dragonsnort was desperately behind a movement to save the tree. He had found some
others too, people I could never identify, that felt the way he did. The tree was more important than the subdivision. No way. No tree, no matter how big, is ever going to stop a builder. But Dragonsnort was there with his cronies all the time defending it." "He never mentioned a tree to me." "Nor to us in the band either. We just did a little spy work because he was up to missing some pretty important gigs in the end." "So what happened?" "The tree would have gone down, and it would have made national news because of its enormous size if the project had not been suspended. In fact, they brought in a huge bulldozer and tore off a big chunk of it along with some roots before they were finished. That was around the time your Dragonsnort disappeared. The tree was mortally wounded. Now today most of it has sprouted back, and the dead part is recovering, they say. I know someone who hunts rabbits in that area. He says the tree is uber-weird, like something out of a fairy tale, all tangled roots and branches drooping and dropping all over the place. It is like a plant you can get lost in. But one thing for sure, it scares the hell out of anyone who goes there. The ancient tree that couldn't be killed." Brooke was growing tired of listening to Braden huff and puff about a tree. Here was this "vampire" with a moribund pseudo-music store and a phial of her blood at the threshold of a spooky story that she really didn't want to hear. Showing her boredom, she rolled her eyes and said "Ghosts I suppose. Indian ghosts or whatever. Dragonsnort was a ghost, I guess." "Nope. I don't know about Dragonsnort, but what haunted that tree was not a ghost. It was a cryptid." The word cryptid made Brooke at once sit up and take a keener notice. She had only
heard the word once before in her life, and that was from Eric when discussing his involvement with the cryptozoological society of which he was a charter member. Animals of a strange nature out of time and place and totally unknown to science. Cryptids. Like vaps, essentially. Only vaps were real, and Eric because of his lifelong involvement with them was interested in other cryptid species that would, perhaps, turn out to be real. In fact, that was the whole purpose of the society. Strange creatures had been reported nearly everywhere since the dawn of time, and many eventually became factual. At least that is what Eric maintained. "So we have a local monster then?" said Brooke, her eyes widening to emphasize the question. "Some of the construction workers on that old site thought so," continued Braden. "The Green Lion Man. A gangling biped covered with thin brownish-green hair, having a mane and the snout of something that looked ferociously feline, like a tiger, lion, or along those lines. It also had a long tail and could leap into the recesses and branches of that tree. The developers denied all the sightings reported by their workers, but still a few stragglers kept the story alive. The Green Lion Man of Aristock. Big, agile and dangerous. Make of it what you will. By now they have managed to kill the story off, and the property is so overgrown that few go there. But some people have still seen..." "The Green Lion Man of the gigantic ash tree." "It was called the "Tree of Life" by some," mused Braden, once again taking out and examining his phial of Brooke's blood. He stood up, pulled at his pointed little goatee, and said "Well, that's it. Thanks for your blood. That is all I have to say." He continued to look at the bottle of blood, and Brooke once again remarked the obvious erection visible in his almost occluded crotch. He walked her to the door and made a spooky hiss with his lips. Stupid vampire, thought Brooke. I need to stop getting information from weirdos.
On the street outside of Braden's shop Brooke wondered what her next move would be. But before she reached her car, she realized that it would be to tell both Eric and Jared about her outing and then to visit the overgrown and abandoned subdivision with its putative cryptid. That alone would be enough to entice them both. V. Eric and Jared hear about the Green Lion Man Jared had brought his notepad to the table still trying to gather information on what had become his report on his baffling, missing-person father, Dragonsnort. Eric had a photograph of his latest cryptid in which he showed great pride. He was slightly put off that Jared was not as interested in the huge insect as he was in his mother's account of her meeting with Braden Bassroot. "I have a real cryptid in my lab preserved in solution, and you two are talking about a big tree and a lion man that lives in it. Oh well, I suppose you won't want to see my creature tomorrow, either of you." "Of course, I do," smiled Brooke. "I'll be in to work as usual in the morning. You can show me then. And Jared will want to drop by after school. Won't you Jared?" Jared signaled yes with a nod and drew a pensive look across his face. He was about to say something when Brooke stopped putting down dinner dishes and stared at Eric. "How on Earth did you make time to find this bug? You've had your classes every day this week, and you have scarcely left the office." "My little secret until tomorrow," said Eric with a grin. Brooke knew better than to ask. Between the three of them, there were no secrets, and Eric was sure to tell her how he got the unknown bug in his own time.
Suddenly, Jared blurted out: "You know, Mom, that is the stupidest thing I have ever heard. The Tree of Life and the Green Lion Man. It sounds like a comic book. I can see where you're going with it. This Braden vampire guy has you convinced that my father lived in that tree and became the Green Lion Man whenever he pleased and that is why he left you and me. I'm not even writing that down." Brooke looked embarrassed. She hadn't bothered to tell either Jared or Eric about the required price of the information, the phial of blood. That would have been too much. But Eric, still pensive, interjected something to ease the mood. He assured Brooke that certain cryptids that were always under discussion were just as weird-sounding as the Green Lion Man and that they were often sighted all over the world and in the most unlikely places. "Soon you'll see a whole auditorium of people who believe in creatures just a comic as the Green Lion Man. After ninety-six years of living off a virtual cryptid myself, this vap, I can tell you that I don't rule out anything. Besides, two stories are starting to join here. Tomorrow you are going to meet Katie." "Katie?" said Brooke suspiciously. "Yes, Katie, and I don't want to talk about her any more until you have met her. She is a story in herself. Someone you just have to see to believe. Jared can meet her too if he comes by around four o'clock after school." VI. Meeting Katie Katie neither began nor ended with a second name. She was just Katie. She was escorted according to customary procedure into Eric's university office by a uniformed campus security guard who as usual promised to return her sidearm to her when she left. Brooke's first thought upon seeing Katie was that perhaps she was a cryptid herself. If not an anomaly in nature, Katie was at least one of the oddest people that Brooke had ever
set eyes on. She was about six feet tall and leggy. Her legs were long and had a kind of springiness to them that almost suggested that her knees bent backwards. Her ankles seemed to be loaded with springs, and her gait was more like that of a large hare than a person. She sprang around the office like an entrapped and nervous untamed animal. Eric smiled and explained to both Jared and Brooke that Katie "lived outdoors" and was not used to being cooped up inside a room for long. Katie, panting almost like a dog, confirmed this as she jumped from one side of Eric's office to another, her eyes darting from Jared to Brooke to Eric and back again. In her own way, Katie was almost laughable. Her long black to silver hair was pulled tightly back into a kind of supertwisted pony tail, and the weathered skin of her face mirrored the countenance of someone who did indeed spend most of their time outdoors. Her arms were long, dangly and active. They seemed to want to touch and feel everything at once. Like her knees, her elbows seemed flexible enough to bend backwards. In all, her arms were like rubbery tentacles, and as she dashed around the office, she chanced at once to snatch a whole orange from a fruit bowl on Eric's desk. This she bit in two, swallowing whole first one half then another, peel and all. Then her eyes raced around the corners of the room where at once she spied a large, black beetle attempting to hide itself in a crevasse. She was on it in a flash. Smashing the beetle between her coarse palms, she licked it clean away with a few passes of her lashing tongue. "Katie is overactive and eats all the time," explained Eric. "It's her metabolism." "Is Katie going to eat us?" asked Jared. "Not today," laughed Eric. "You see Katie is a true outdoorswoman. She lives in the bush wherever she can. She survives beautifully. Other people talk about doing it but Katie actually does." Brooke noted that Katie did indeed have a sort of acrid redolence that wafted about her whenever she came close enough to be smelled. Dressed in a one piece khaki jumpsuit and flimsy leather sandals caked with layers of dirt, she definitely broadcasted the outdoors. It was as if she had just recently rolled in the carcass of a dead animal to conceal her scent.
Brooke raised her eyebrows at Eric questioningly. Eric pointed toward the middle of Katie's back. Sure enough, there was an almost invisible hump. Katie was lanky enough to conceal her vap well, but it was still quite evidently a bump. "How old?" Brooke whispered to Eric, but Katie overheard it, and immediately crouched down on her butt and heels in a corner of the room. "Old enough to remember when Aristock, damn this place, only had two stoplights...or was it three?" she said in a rasping tremolo. "I need to get out of this town and back into the woods. Cities make me sick." Eric held up the glass jar with the new cryptid insect specimen folded over in it. The evil looking bug, although presumed dead and preserved in the alcohol, glared out through the glass side of the jar with a continued malevolence. "Katie has found me a lot of strange critters like this one over the years. She is loosely on the university payroll. We don't ask her where she spent last night or where she gets clean clothes, but no one, and I mean no one, knows these woods around Aristock better than Katie. She ranges for miles and miles into the foothills as well, don't you Katie?" Katie, still looking around for a meal, nodded yes with her head. Jared, still a bit frightened by her savage demeanor, recoiled slightly backward as her feral glance met his eyes. "Don't worry. I'm not going to eat you, boy. Did you like the bug?" Jared weakly smiled and said he did. He had never seen anything like it before. "Neither has anyone else," said Katie. "But there are a few of out there if you know where to look. They won't bother you if you don't bother them." Eric set the insect in its jar back into the cabinet and closed the door. "Katie had two of them for me last week," he began, "but unfortunately she ate one before she managed to bring it in. I'm sure this one will create quite a commotion at the conference." Then he
tossed Katie a wrapped sandwich from his desk drawer. She devoured it in several bites and appeared to be looking around for more to eat---bugs or whatever. Brooke, growing bolder, looked at Katie for a long minute and finally smiled. "I like you," she said. "You are....well, cool." Then Jared moved a little closer and agreed with a grin that Katie was "cool." "What do you know about the big ash tree in Ashwood Subdivision? The Tree of Life?" "It's magical," snapped Katie without reflection. Her eyes rolled in intense spirals in her head. "It is huge and its roots go down to the center of the earth. You can get lost in its branches. It is full of magic and souls too. It is the resting place for many souls. A tree that big has a life of its own. A brain. A will. Organs in its body." Then she spit out a piece of sandwich wrapper on the floor and added "They tried to kill it once, but it came back. They will try again. It will always come back." Brooke pressed on, feeling much more comfortable with Katie. She asked about the Green Lion Man, expecting to hear the legend in full as a true woods-dwelling believer would tell it, but Katie once again sprang to her feet and flashed her teeth at Brooke and Jared. "The Green Lion Man!" she rasped. "He's out there too. He tried to save the tree. Maybe he did. Maybe he didn't. He's there. Do you want to meet him?" Eric, along with a rather stunned Jared and Brooke, stammered with some surprise that they all did. "Then let's go," said Katie. "I hate this place. It is killing me. I need to get out." Night was starting to cast long shadows from the university buildings into Eric's office, and he shook his head, suggesting that, as tomorrow was Saturday, they all could meet
Katie in the woods. She could introduce them to the Green Lion Man in person in plain daylight, as it did not seem wise to go out into such a snarled wooded area at night, unless of course one was Katie. Katie agreed, and a morning meeting was set for the next day at sunrise near the huge tree. Eric assured Katie he could find the tree and bring Brooke and Jared. "Yeah, especially bring the kid," she said. "He will like meeting this guy." Then, without preamble, Katie leaped up and climbed out onto the window ledge and started shimmying down the side of the building. Eric called after her "Don't forget your gun at the desk." Brooke and Jared stared at one another in wonder. Both were thinking the same thing. And it didn't take Eric long to catch on. Dragonsnort had been seen going in and out of those woods surrounding the tree by his fellow band members. It was in or near the tree that he had ultimately disappeared. Could the Green Lion Man be....? No. That was too stupid to mention. So none of them did. They just thought about it. After a few minutes of silence, Eric finally said "Well, let's go see the damn tree anyway. It is probably the only living thing around that is older than me." VII. The Green Lion Man It was already a little past sunrise on Saturday morning when Eric Palobay drove his new family to the end of a dusty, unpaved road that abruptly ended at the rotting wooden gates of an abandoned community project that by now had been almost totally reclaimed by the vines and brush. Posted signs warning away trespassers abounded everywhere, often hanging from one nail or fallen totally to the ground. The remnants of long deserted foundations dotted the landscape past the fence, as the trio fought their way through the tangled thorns and into what was once designed to be a new and planned community.
On the way to Ashwood, Jared had become quite vocal, as he usually was in the morning. He scoffed out loud at the "comic book" idea of the Green Lion Man, but his voice betrayed a certain anxiety. Brooke whispered almost to herself that Jared should be prepared because he was probably about to meet his father. Eric grunted and said nothing. Then Jared burst out: "I guess I will need to choose another subject for my report. Maybe the Boy in the Box in Philly, as you suggested. No one is going to want to hear about how a vampire musician and a rabbit woman guided us to a magical tree where we found my father sporting a tail and a mane and living like some superhero called the Green Lion Man. Even if it were true..." "Which it might be," interjected Eric suddenly. "Even if it were true, I would not tell anyone. It's bad enough having a father called Dragonsnort." "Be quiet," said Brooke, gazing out the side window. When they reached the mammoth tree, Katie was already sitting on one of its hundreds of thick upper branches. It was clear that she and the tree were not strangers. With a rapid swing, she dropped down and landed on her sandaled feet just in front of Brooke and Eric. "The Tree of Life," she said admiringly. "Take care of it, and it will take care of you. Do you want to climb into it, Jared?" "Later," replied Jared. "First let's go meet...." "The Green Lion Man. Okay. Follow me." Katie led the trio away from the sprawling tree and into a dense stand of saplings that separated it from what were the cracked streets and driveways of what had once been destined to be home to Aristock's new population. Jackrabbiting down one of the lanes, she darted into a ramshackle, unfinished house, one of the few intact buildings on the
property. She pushed her way past sheets of rotting plywood into a large central room where boxes of clothes and rags were spread out around a decaying mattress. "One of my many homes," she said with pride. "The place stinks," said Jared holding his nose. Brooke was more or less frozen with anticipation. Had Dragonsnort left her to live with this strange savage woman in the abandoned shell of a barely finished house? Normally unshakeable, the suspense was starting to wear on Brooke. She reached for Eric's hand and found it. She wondered what Eric was thinking. There had been casual talk about her "sharing" herself with Dragonsnort and Eric. Stupid stuff, she thought. Still I was once in love, and our son... Her thoughts were cut short when Katie dragged a large, green-stained cardboard box from a cluttered hallway. Katie pulled the top off the box and motioned for the three of them to gather around. Jared gulped. Brooke squeezed Eric's hand hard enough to make it hurt. Eric started to say "What the..." Katie flashed a broad smile over the three of them. She looked as if she was bursting with pride when she said "Meet the Green Lion Man." Inside the box was a moldering, mousebrown, folded costume, a lion's head and mane, a body covered by fake hair, and yes, a long and now almost completely threadbare tail. She grabbed the costume by the shoulders, pulled it out of the box and shook it. Balls of decayed material sloughed off, and the thing was covered with yellow stains and layers of dirt. "I was the Green Lion Man," she said proudly. "I used to climb around in the tree with this on. It even got kind of green back then. I mean stained by the leaves and all. I jumped around and dangled down when the workers least expected it. Stupid fuckers...." She looked at Jared and caught herself short. "I mean stupid construction workers. One of them had already driven his backhoe into the tree and wounded it. I wanted to scare them off for good. The costume may have done it. It is just a cheap costume, from a
costume shop." With these words, Katie found a large black slug crawling in the material of the costume, snatched it into her mouth and swallowed it. It was followed by a centipede that had also had the misfortune to make the costume its home. Brooke, Jared and Eric exchanged glances at one another for a few seconds. Finally, they exhaled and laughed all at once. The drama and tension were lifted. There was no Green Lion Man. And thus no Dragonsnort. All three of them were relieved, each for his or her separate reasons. VIII. At the Tree of Life When the identity of the Green Lion Man finally ceased to be a matter of hilarity, Katie, still bounding and jumping about from room to room in her temporary squats, suggested in her usual rasping but quaintly enigmatic tone that they all visit the Tree of Life and see it up close in the harsh glare of morning daylight. Brooke, Jared and Eric were eager to follow her through the mesh of vines to the multiple base trunks of the gargantuan tree. Arriving at the tree, the strange sylvan woman was dwarfed by the sheer size of the magical plant. Without saying a word, she flung her agile body at least five feet into the air and grasped onto a lower branch whence she acrobatically swung up and up again into the seemingly endless sprouts of skyreaching branches until at length she disappeared from sight. From far above, she called down: "Follow me if you can!" Jared, drawn by the tree's growing magnetism, was the first to separate from his parents and gain a footing in the enormous gouge that had been left on the tree's left side by the earthmover which had once begun the task of destroying it. He climbed with a surprising ease, finding a footing almost at once for each upward lunge he made until he reached a
lateral branch about twenty feet in the air, a branch which seemed to hold fast to his body and cradle him with a sort of lulling warmth. He stretched out and attempted in vain to locate Katie in the tangle of branches above. Next came Brooke, and truth be told, she too was drawn into the tree by some kind of subtle attraction. At age thirty-six, she would not usually have so readily followed her son into a tree. But up and up she went, like Jared with a kind of effortlessness wherein the vast branches seemed to accommodate her every step and present themselves for a safe footing as she ascended. She became aware of a kind of animal tenderness exuded by the tree as well, something that Jared had also immediately noticed. Its bark was soft and almost fleshlike. Its lure was irresistible. Eric remained for a time on the ground looking upward in a kind of wounded despair. He realized that something larger than the desire to be playful had enticed his companions to climb into such a huge and chaotic plant as was the ash tree. But at length, feeling the strength in his ninety-six year old body accorded to him by the beneficial parasite vap he had worn on his back for nearly seventy years, he too found a more than opportune footing and climbed aloft, himself finding a comfortable branch and stretching out in the warmth of several bars of morning sun and deciding simply to join his family in some sort of unplanned tree sitting. From far above, the three of them once again heard Katie's raucous voice crying downward. "It is a living being. A force. A giver of life and dreams. A source of strength and contemplation. Stay inside it until you are refreshed and recharged. I must go now." Then from even farther in the sky above, her voice cascaded down in small sprinkles of disjointed sound. "Good-bye. Good luck. May your discovery be a rewarding one." None of the three would ever see her again. Even her work for Eric at the university was now finished, and for some reason Eric knew that. Each in their own way, the three conjoined partners, not totally within sight of one another, were soothed into a kind of trancelike dream. They told themselves they were simply napping, but their naps---each one of them---was something far different. The naps were more like a diffusion of tension and worry, more like a draining of worldly-
induced anxiety. And each dream-trance was distinct. Each was unique to the person dreaming it. IX. Tree dreams Brooke was elongated on a wide spreading limb the seemed more like a pulsating mattress than a wooden appendage. Her eyes dimmed as the tension, boredom and nagging insecurities of her life slowly drained from her mind. The colors of her epic became brighter, and the panorama began: At first, her drab childhood in a home with a lovesick mother and an absentee and secretive father. Then school, sexual awakenings, college, boyfriends, lassitude with life in general punctuated by moments of brief intensity. Then the courtroom-like drama with Justine and the representatives of a distant future wherein her descendants would or would not play a deciding role, depending on her decision. Then the marriage with Adrian Albritton, his subsequent but clearly predicted infertility, his shrinking away into oblivion leaving her to drift for a time in a vacuum of empty aimlessness. Finally, the not-so-chance meeting with Dragonsnort, his strength, his vibrancy, his warmth, his protection...his son... and then his disappearance. Next, the dream voyage in another realm with the chimera of Joel who had saved her life from the vengeful denizens of an alternate dimension. Then came black Caprice and her son Rialto, the threat of the huge and murderous thunderbirds and their eventual abolition. All of this to end with Jared's close call with a parasitical semi-cryptid called a vap which would have destroyed his brain had he not been saved by the current man in her life, the amazingly versatile, ninety-six year old Eric Palobay and the bliss she had enjoyed in the past three months being in the aura of the man's incredible vitality and passion. All the despondency associated with the negative aspects of her existence seemed to bleed off with this brisk daydream of her life---and was replaced by a feeling of total serenity and peace with a world that she had never liked, but now accepted willingly while cradled in the boughs of an impossible tree. Jared: Nine years old going on ten. Fatherless for five years now and curious about a man called Dragonsnort who had putatively engendered him. He saw himself developing
from early childhood onward, first at the side of the shadowy, tattooed Dragonsnort, whom he had hitherto barely remembered, then alone with his mother and finally living with Eric. He felt the unconditional intensity of each one's love, and in his still young heart he embraced this love with his own. A sense of knowing came over him. His father had not abandoned him. His father was still there, somewhere. But so were his mother and Eric, and he adored them all. Freely he bathed himself in this tenderness and saw many more years of his manly development stretch before him. He had always been strong and intelligent, but now he was pervaded with a kindness and an unshakeable affection for everyone, and that would continue in his life until the day he died. He peace, like that of his mother, became boundless and Jared was at once freed of any apprehensions he might have for his future. The tree had given him reassurance, hope and promise as well as an intensified devotion to the world that he was growing up into. Any hollow places in his mind were now filled with this devotion, and it was, he knew, a love of humanity as mirrored through himself. And he became happy, secure and content with himself, both past, present and future, because, yes, visions of a good and happy future also flooded into his reverie leaving him with a sense of confidence in the basic value of his birthright. It would not matter if he never found his father because there, ensconced in the boughs of the huge tree, he knew at once that his father would always be a part of him and present somewhere and somehow forever. And Eric: More memories naturally than all the others. His life during the Great Depression. His homelessness and delinquency. His ultimate involvement with contraband traffickers which led him to a stewardship over the magnificent gastropods which not only gave a dying man life, youth and vigor but extended one’s existence almost indefinitely. He saw the sad parts too. The running. The hiding. The petty crimes. The horrors he distantly knew of from the Second World War as he crouched fearfully in the jungles of Guyana, afraid to expose his lifesaving vap to a world which would have taken it away from him and left him to die the natural and deserved death accorded to him by his youthful indulgences. He saw the dead girlfriends and wives come, go and fade from his life during the long decades since his birth, wherein he had lived while others had perished from old age, but the guilt he had always associated with his undeserved
longevity began to withdraw and evaporate, replaced by a sense of acceptance and tranquility. Like Brooke’s and Jared's, his reverie was wondrous and ardent. He became reborn again in the limbs of the tree and felt an even greater flush of strength and purpose course into his strong and salvaged body. And at the end of his reverie----for all their reveries did indeed come to an end almost as quickly as they began---he saw another reason to forgive himself for yet another crime that he had once committed, a crime that was long forgotten and which he had never mentioned to Brooke. A robbery. One of many. But a big one. He had done it after the bonding with the vap, after the restoration of his youth and life, and he had done it along with other vap people. They had had a reason. Something needed to remind Eric of this final act of shame before he awoke. But he would not know what it was until several days later. It was about a bank account. A bank account that had lain dormant gathering interest since 1940, seventy years in the past. Each had their awakening. Each had been invigorated and refreshed to the core of their souls. And when at length they found the easy steps downward from the tree to the ground at its base, each emerged as a new citizen of a refurbished world replete with the buoyant coolness born of confidence, purpose, self-worth and meaning. They gazed briefly into each others eyes and then back into the Tree of Life. They knew. And there was no reason to speak of it. So they never did. X. Conclusion: The North American Cryptozoological Yearly Convention in Philadelphia, December 20, 2010 There was no easily found reason why the revolting insectine cryptid had come alive and attacked the crowd after spending over two weeks in a jar filled with alcohol, but it did, and it was not the first exotic creature to perform an unthinkable act, but now it lay crunched and broken under the steel boot of a fearsome man covered with gruesome tattoos and perforated by metal rings. Many in the crowd cringed in terror more at the sight of this man than at the hideous bug he had delivered them from. Furthermore, there
was no explanation why he was there among the scientists and the pseudo-scientists. He just was. Dragonsnort, looking only slightly more haggard and older than Brooke last remembered him, kept his foot on the fractured remains of the creature until the last of the buzzing audience had filed past him and out into the alcove. He waited patiently for Brooke to bring Jared from behind the platform and walk down to greet him. Likewise, he smiled genially at Eric Palobay who arrived at his side just ahead of Brooke and her son. "Gotta watch these damn things," Dragonsnort said in a booming yet faintly wavering voice. "The have a nasty bite, and those claws can rip one's skin to shreds." "I see that," said Palobay. Brooke and Jared walked up, and Brooke put her arms around Dragonsnort's neck, hugging and kissing him deeply. Jared followed suit. And Eric shook his hand and put a manly arm around his shoulder. Standing back then, Brooke noted that her formerly solid lover was hunched over to the left side as if someone had taken a piece out of his body. His voice and eyes were both more strained than before. But she still realized she loved him, and she knew Eric didn't care. She knew without asking that Jared loved and admired him too. The two looked very much alike. Palobay gave her a pleased nod. "Funny reunion," said Dragonsnort lighting up a cigarette outside of the exposition hall. "I suppose you all know that I can't stay. My last stay was, I am sorry to say, too long, but I loved you Brooke and wanted to be with my son. It was, however, over limits and it was already starting to weaken me." "And then they tried to kill you," chimed Jared pointing to the concave curve of his left thigh.
"Yeah, suppose so. Maybe I was saved by the Green Lion Man, maybe not. But the property is still valuable. Someone will come again." "It's for sale," said Jared. "I saw a sign." At this point Eric Palobay stepped closer and said "You need a more competent guardian than the Green Lion Man, and I have just the caretaker for you." He put his hand on Jared's shoulder and continued "Mr. Jared Dragonsnort Nescott." "You won't have to take it out of the vap society's funds, I guess," said Dragonsnort pleased to examine the taut vibrancy of his healthy son. "No. That gold bar I stole was sold and invested in 1940 when I was twenty-six. In all those years, the account should be worth at least half a million or more by now." Dragonsnort nodded his head in satisfaction, kissed Brooke, hugged Jared and shook Palobay's hand again. "I need to get back now," he said. "I'm sorry it can't be longer, but I'll be there. Take good care of me, Jared. I am your father after all, and I'll be watching." With that he turned abruptly and walked off down the street, disappearing into the crowd. Two days later, Jared and Brooke Nescott became the owners of a rather large wooded lot just outside of Aristock. Their first move was to fence it in. After all, it contained the Tree of Life. _____________________________ Devon Pitlor --- September, 2010 ////
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