From the journals of Wyndham Oddkin
May 12, 1897
Camping on Molly’s Knob, near Hungry Mother creek, on assignment for S.K.E.P.T.I.C.A.L. They want a complete catalogue of unusual animals of North America. Figured no better place to start than my own backyard.
It has taken me three days of tracking to locate this first Fearsome Critter, but it has paid off. It’s a large one, easily the size of a draft horse. He moves through the trees with a powerful grace, Legend says the mist that clings to the mountaintops is the breath of these creatures. Watching the blue smoke that pours from it’s muzzle with each breath, it’s easy to see why people believe that.
The creature’s pelt is white as snow, reflecting the early morning sun and making him easy to spot through the trees. The antlers remind me of the old tree in Mom’s back yard, twisted and gnarled, but still spouting flowers. By the middle of summer they’ll be so thick you can’t see the black underneath. Now, though, it’s just tiny buds and early bloomers. We come to a clearing, where a second buck is eating.
The younger buck eyes the elder. I hold my breath. Will I see them fight? Several tense minutes pass while they circle each other. I take the opportunity to roughly sketch them. Conway offered me a camera, but I declined. Too much trouble. He offered to send a photographer with me. I declined that too. Same reason. The younger Snawfus grunts in challenge. He makes a faux charge at the larger male, backs up, and paws the ground. The Old Man grunts back, a low sound that I feel in my bones all the way back at the trees. He doesn’t take the bait.
The Old Man stares down his rival. Very few critters along the mountain range can challenge a Snawfus. Looking into his eyes I know he’s been here forever. You don’t get to be his age without facing some powerful competition. He doesn’t move, but never takes his eyes off the youngster. With a final snort, the kid trots off into the trees and The Old Man reigns for another year. I’m surprised, happy, and a little disappointed. As I stand he turns to stare at me. There is no fear in his eyes. I smile, tip my hat, and bow. What else does one do in the presence of royalty?
Back at camp, I use my pencils to color the scene. I replay the scene in my head again, and again. These Critters are fascinating, but more lies ahead. I’ve heard rumor of a subspecies in the Ozarks that has wings! But that is for another day.