Of Monsters and Scholars

Melvin Kretchum sat behind an enormous stack of books, their thick spines filled with knowledge and decay. Two misshapen candles formed a wax puddle, emitting a flickering orange glow that barely dispelled the pressing shadows surrounding the crumbling texts. Melvin ran his finger down page after page written in language after language and muttered, occasionally scratching notes in tiny, precise script. The studied tomes were all on the subject of bestial biology, each chronicling intricacies of such horrors as the Spine Ripper, the Excruciator, and Gristle and Flay. However, these books contained no precise definitions, as much as Melvin dreamed they would. Instead, what was not speculation or rumor was contained in journal entries of eyewitnesses. Yet the terrifying nature of the beasts described left many would-be-journalists without the requisite sanity for a coherent account. It was Melvin’s task to sort fact from fiction.

The process was agonizingly slow, and Melvin had been working for five and a half hours. He knew this, because he owned a pocket watch. It had been extraordinarily expensive, costing nearly two hundred crowns, but it was more than worth it. With this new device, he was able to keep exact appointments, and to follow more precisely his daily schedule. He had bought the watch as a congratulatory present for himself after securing a position as the aid for legendary monster scholar Victor Pendrake. Professor Pendrake had been a leader in the field ever since his revolutionary breakthrough on Trolls, which conclusively proved that their severed appendages did indeed grow into more Trolls. It was an honor for Melvin to work with a man of such prestige.

Melvin checked the time; it was five past eight. In fifteen minutes he needed to be at Professor Pendrake’s office to make his first report on the Moonwing, a creature that resembled a one-foot long yellow and purple moth, the dust from its wings having the unusual effect of highly increased drowsiness in the subject. Melvin had been researching Moonwings for two weeks, and had even dissected a specimen. Hurriedly packing his notes – Professor Pendrake’s office was on the other side of the building and he did not want to be late – Melvin snuffed the candles and left the room.

It was eight thirty; Melvin had been waiting in front of Professor Pendrake’s office for five minutes. He flipped through his notes, tapped his foot, and checked his watch for the third time since he had arrived.

“Some people just refuse to function by the clock.” He muttered.

Melvin checked his watch again – he had to be finished by nine thirty because he was going to propose to his girlfriend Rosie at midnight. Melvin had been courting Rosie for eleven months and three days, and once they had even kissed. He had told her to meet him at the public gardens at eleven forty-five; Rosie did not live by the clock either, with a propensity for lateness, and he could not risk the success of his carefully planned romantics on the punctuality of his girlfriend. On the same coin, neither could he risk his plans on the punctuality of his professor. However, as his personal aid, he was forced to stay.

Melvin had met Victor Pendrake once, and only briefly. The aging but spry professor had welcomed him with a sharp handshake, explained that he wanted some research done on Moonwings, and excused himself, saying he was that minute going on an expedition to the Widowers Wood to clear up some controversy over swamp squids. He had told Melvin to have his Moonwing report ready in about two weeks, and when Melvin pressed for a more specific time, Pendrake had only shrugged. After a few terse minutes of conversation while the professor put on his coat and hat, Melvin had finally convinced Pendrake to meet him outside his office at eight twenty in exactly two weeks.

“Where is he?” The schedule was in jeopardy.

At eight forty-three Professor Pendrake arrived. He was wearing a thick, animal hide great coat adorned with various pockets, small tools and other presumably useful field accoutrements. It was the same outfit he had been wearing two weeks prior, yet now his boots were caked with a sludgy brown and green muck, and the rest of his clothing was smattered with greasy-looking black splotches. Flecks of the stuff were even noticeable on his half-moon spectacles. His hat was gone, exposing short-cropped steel gray hair made darker by a layer of grime. Strapped to his side were a battered long sword, a dagger, a pistol, a net, and what looked like a tentacle.

And he reeked.

Melvin made an effort to relax his crinkled features to their accustomed stoicism, and began breathing through his mouth.

“Uh, hello sir.”

“They walk!” Cried the professor, smiling wide.

“I..I’m sorry? What are-”, stammered Melvin, but Pendrake cut him off.

“The swamp squids. They can walk!” He crowed.

“That is-”

“Pretty creepy,” finished Pendrake, happily.

Pendrake walked brusquely to his office door and began rummaging through his pockets. There was a feverish gleam in the man’s eyes that made Melvin feel distinctly uncomfortable.

Retrieving his keys from a cleverly concealed pocket in his armpit, Professor Pendrake unlocked his office door.

“Come in, come in.”

Melvin entered hesitantly. The office was crammed to capacity with books, papers, and preserved monster bits. Melvin fought back a wave of nausea as the professor slapped what was indeed a tentacle into a liquid-filled glass jar and began searching through his office, forehead wrinkled.

“Sir, I have that Moonwing report you asked for.”

From under a desk, Professor Pendrake’s muffled voice replied, “Hmm? Oh, that won’t be necessary Marvin.”

“But…but Sir!” Melvin’s voice came out shriller than he intended, “You told me to report on Moonwings. Two weeks ago you told me to give you my report today at exactly eight twenty. And my name is Melvin, sir.”

“Turns out I won’t be needing it. Bigger fish you know?”

Melvin didn’t.

“Now I just need some bait…something magical I can afford to lose…Ah ha!” Professor Pendrake emerged from behind a large stack of books holding a smoking feather, which occasionally coughed. Pendrake rolled his eyes.

“I certainly don’t need this anymore.” Hurt, the feather replied that it hardly needed the professor. Pendrake stuffed the feather into an inside pocket. It complained of claustrophobia.

“Come, we’re going to the sewers.”

“What?” Melvin squeaked, “The sewers? Are you joking?” Professor Pendrake had grabbed a lantern and was pushing Melvin out the door.

“I just received some information that I think will be quite illuminating when we get there. Come on, time is against us, I can’t say how long the Thelg will stay put.”

“The what?”

“The Thelg”

“I’ve never heard of anything by that name.”

“Makes it all the more exiting, doesn’t it?” The professor’s eyes gleamed.

“But I have to–” Professor Pendrake was already walking down the hall.

“You’re my aid. Aid me.”

This was not Melvin’s line of work. This was not why Melvin was here. Melvin worked to dispel the chaos and uncertainty surrounding monsters by solidifying clear, definitive facts: this had nothing to do with sewers. Lip trembling, Melvin checked his watch, and ran to catch up.

It was a quarter to ten as Melvin and Professor Pendrake stepped out of a carriage on the other side of the city by the wharfs. The sun had set, the only light coming from professor Pendrake’s flickering lantern and the moon’s reflection off the water. The sound of water slapping the sides of the dock meshed with the creaks and groans from the anchored ships; far away a dog barked, sand Melvin thought he heard the faint scrape of metal on cobblestone. Dark buildings rose from the thick gloom – stern sentinels lining the waterfront. Torchlight spilled into the street a few blocks down, raucous laughter echoing off the pier. Melvin shivered; he needed to get back to his apartment to change, pick up the ring, and arrive at the gardens before the minstrels to set up the fireworks.

He had bought the fireworks from an alchemist at the quad three days ago, and even though he did not normally buy magical items – or associate with their proprietors – the vendor had demonstrated that the fireworks exploded into red flaming hearts, and offered a reasonable price. He had bought a dozen.

During the ride, Melvin had explained his situation to the professor; going into detail about how long each of the processes leading up to his proposal would take. Professor Pendrake had seemed to understand, despite looking distracted, but had made no mention of how Melvin, now behind schedule, was to get to the public gardens in time. Uneasy and fidgety, Melvin followed the professor along the wharfs.

After nine minutes of fast walking, Professor Pendrake stopped. They were standing near an ally between two buildings, a cracked sewer grate at their feet.

“Hold this.”

Handing Melvin the lantern, Pendrake began pulling at the grate.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m pulling a grate.” Professor Pendrake grunted, the bars lifted, and he set them aside, leaving a gaping black hole and the stink of raw sewage. “Alright, down you go lad.”


“Come on, before we attract unwanted attention.”

“Unwanted attention? You want me to go down into a sewer!”

“Yes. Go.”

“This is not the job. The job is research, study, intellectual things; not jumping down sewers!”

Pendrake glared at Melvin. “This is research. Now get moving, I haven’t got all night.”

Melvin had picked tonight to propose to Rosie because the moon was full. All the arrangements were made; re-planning all the intricacies of the event would take another month at least. Lip vibrating, Melvin crawled into the sewer.

After less than a minute of crawling on his hands and knees through a pipe little wider than his shoulders, Melvin fell into a murky pool. The lantern went out. Gasping and spluttering, Melvin thrashed until he felt a gnarled but strong hand pull him to his feet. The water only came to his thighs.

“Get up, come on. Use your eyes, lad. I can’t have you bumbling around like that. Where’s the lantern?”

Melvin silently handed Pendrake the lantern and felt his clothes; he had never felt so dirty in his life. Something slid across Melvin’s foot. He screamed.

“Quiet you imbecile!”

Melvin kept screaming. After fumbling in the dark for a few moments, Professor Pendrake grabbed Melvin and clamped a hand over his mouth. The hand dripped sewer water, and Melvin gagged as the liquid touched his throat. Hacking, Melvin struggled against Pendrake, but the older man’s grip held.

“Be quiet I say, the Thelg will hear you!”

A loud splash echoed from down the passage. Both Melvin and Pendrake stood still, breathing heavily. After a moment, Professor Pendrake relit the lantern. They were standing in a domed passage made of worked stone. Slime clung to the walls and dripped from ragged curtains of moss hanging from the ceiling. The passageway faded away past the lantern’s illumination. Pendrake looked at Melvin.

“Follow me and stay calm, and keep your wits about you. Once we find the Thelg I will need you to help me hold the net. Here, take the lantern.” Melvin was not listening; he had to recalculate. It was ten twenty. If he left within forty minutes he was close enough to his apartment that if he didn’t change, he could still pick up the fireworks and the ring with just enough time to do a quick set-up. It wouldn’t be perfect, but at least he would be on time. Legs shaking, he pictured the look on Rosie’s face as he followed the professor deeper into the sewer.

Pendrake stopped; the passage had come to a tee. The new passage was wider than the first, a gushing torrent of water sweeping debris towards the sounds of a waterfall. Twelve minutes had passed. Professor Pendrake remained motionless while Melvin set deadlines. Pendrake sniffed the air, slowly reaching inside his coat. Extracting the smoking feather, which loudly made clear its opinion of the smell, the professor lashed it to an iron bar with a strip of leather. As the feather proclaimed that mere physical bonds could not hold it, a streak of blurred movement erupted from the rushing water towards the scholars, the professor throwing the terrified feather towards it.

The Thelg landed less than four arm lengths from the scholars. It stood over eight feet tall, a hulking mass of reptilian muscle and teeth. Its slightly hunched back gave way to bulky shoulders, greenish-gray sandpaper skin pulled over the sinew, exposing large, spidery veins. Its webbed, oversized hands and feet ended in spiked claws, a long, alligator-like tail thrashing the water into a white froth. Its head was oblong and flat, ridges running the length of its forehead, its eyes inky black slits, mouth a ring of pointed, yellow teeth dripping a thick, gloppy saliva. Protruding from either side of its mouth were two tentacles, which flexed and waved as if testing the air. There was a puff of smoke as one of the tentacles snatched the screaming feather.

As soon as the tentacle wrapped around the feather, the Thelg stopped, its attention immediately focused on it. What had moments before been an unstoppable force of forward momentum now curled protectively around the feather, the tentacles holding the feather almost gingerly; it’s suckers gently pulsating. The feather’s screams slowly faded, the smoke dissipating.

“Now’s our chance, lad.” Whispered Pendrake hoarsely. “Grab the other end of the net.”

Melvin’s vision was blurred; he could not seem to focus, or control his shaking. He thought about the number three.

“Hurry lad, the net!”

Melvin liked three. It would be his favorite, if he had to pick one. Seven was nice too, but…the Thelg dropped the feather. Inky eyes focused on Pendrake.

Pendrake had been waving the net in front of Melvin, and was caught blindsided, plunging into the water with one hand yanking on his sword, the other scratching at the monster’s hide. A small geyser signaled the beast and professor’s departure as they were swept away with the current, blood billowing from the chaos.

“Help Marvin!”

Melvin did not hear. He thought about numbers and schedules and details and books. He checked his watch – it was five after eleven. Time to leave.

Melvin arrived at the public gardens two minutes after midnight. He had rushed to his apartment, collected the ring and fireworks, and while he did not have time to change his clothes or bathe, he had liberally applied his most expensive perfume. Rosie had not yet arrived. The minstrels were tuning up, and after telling them to conceal themselves behind a large statue, Melvin scurried to the gazebo he had selected and began stabbing fireworks into the nearby shrubs.

At twelve twenty-three, Rosie appeared out of the mist, a light breeze off the canal lifting her curls. She was wearing a clean white dress without much lace, and when she saw Melvin, she ducked slightly, picked up her skirts and trotted towards him, glancing around as she went.

“Melvin, there you are,” she said upon reaching him, “What is it? What will father do if he finds out I have been at the public gardens so late?” Her brow was furrowed, a state Melvin couldn’t help but notice mimicked in her nose.

“Yes,” he intoned, “Isn’t it romantic?”

Rosie blinked, and said nothing. Melvin cleared his throat and sank to one knee. Rosie glanced around.

“Rosie, I…”

“There’s a man in the canal.”

“I just wanted to say, well…”

“There’s a man in the canal.”

“No, that’s not it. What I want to say to you…” Rosie jerked Melvin’s head to the side.

“Melvin, there is a man in the canal.” This was not how his proposal was supposed to go. He had imagined this moment over three thousand times, and Rosie had never jerked his head. Losing patience, Melvin turned to rebuke her when he noticed legendary monster scholar Victor Pendrake floating down the canal. Melvin quickly looked away, trying to forget what he saw. The aging professor paddled to the bank and hauled himself ashore. His clothes were torn, his skin marred with large gashes and bruises, and he leaned heavily on a piece of driftwood. All his weapons were missing.

“I thought I’d find you here Marvin. Now, I can’t do everything myself. That’s why I have an aid.”

“Who is that?” Rosie clutched Melvin’s arm, but he said nothing and squeezed his eyes shut.

“Come here lad, you are going to help me with this net. I can’t let such an incredible specimen slip away.” Pendrake’s eyes began to gleam. “Why, I thought I was pretty clever to distract it with the feather, but I completely forgot I had this trinket on me.” Professor Pendrake chuckled and pulled out a pendant from inside his shirt. “Always expect the unexpected, as I always say.” He shook his head and chuckled again, as if recalling a fond memory of youthful debauchery. “Well it worked out.”

Blood ran in rivulets from his wounds.

“The Thelg will be here any second for this.” He shook the pendant.

“What? What will be here?” Rosie turned to Melvin looking confused and afraid.

“Nothing. Nothing is coming.”

“Oh yes there is lad.” Pendrake wagged the pendant almost gleefully.

Melvin fumbled for his watch; it was twelve thirty-six. He looked at Rosie.

“Rosie, will you marry me?”

“Come over here and help me with this net.”

“Oh my, Melvin I…”

The Thelg leapt from the canal at Pendrake.

“Gadzooks!” the professor cried, chucking the amulet into the shrubs near the gazebo. The beast slammed in front of Pendrake, emitting a guttural croak before diving after the pendant. The Thelg’s momentum sent it crashing into the side of the gazebo, saw dust cascading from the ceiling. Rosie shrieked and ran, stepping on the hem of her dress, the sound of shredding cloth accompanying the wet thump of skull on cobblestones. Melvin scooped her up, staggered several feet, and with a screech of pain and frustration, collapsed. Rosie mumbled incoherently. Straining against her weight, a thick tear slid down Melvin’s quivering features. Nothing had gone as planned, and it was Pendrake’s fault.

“You,” he whispered through his teeth. “You ruined everything.” Melvin focused on reality, sorting out the inconsistent, the impossible, and the inconceivable. He focused on Pendrake. Net in hand, the professor was approaching the bushes, emphatically motioning Melvin to follow.

“You bastard!” Melvin yelled, charging at Pendrake, who emphatically motioned him not to. “I should have been proposing to Rosie!” The minstrels mistook this for their cue. Having heard a cacophony of cries, croaks, crashes, shrieks, shreds, thumps, screeches, yells, and screams, they emerged from behind the statue ready for a tough crowd.

“Love, love, my love for you floats like a…”

A girl lay unconscious, a young man was running and screaming, an older man was feverishly flapping his arms, and a monster loomed over some bushes. As they ran, each musician silently vowed to never play engagement parties again.

A firework in its mouth, the Thelg whirled to face the aggressive noises. It’s tail slammed into Melvin’s stomach, catapulting him back into the dirt beside Rosie. There was a searing pain in Melvin’s ribs, and blood dribbled from his mouth. His vision fogged.

“Do I have to do everything myself? Get up and help me with this net, lad!”

Melvin could faintly make out Professor Pendrake sitting on the Thelg’s back, bludgeoning it over the head with his driftwood. The monster bucked, clawing at the professor, who narrowly dodged the blows.

“Marvin, help!”

Nothing had gone as planned. He didn’t get to change, he had arrived late, he didn’t get an answer from Rosie, and there had been no fireworks.

“I can’t hold much longer lad!”

“Wait,” Melvin thought. “Of course. Fireworks. There can still be fireworks.”


Pendrake sailed through the air, crashing into the roof of the gazebo. The Thelg began gorging itself on the fireworks.

Melvin whispered the command word.


There was a loud, squishy bang. Flaming hearts and monster bits filled the garden as the Thelg’s mangled carcass toppled.

Pendrake groaned, turned over, and looked down at the scene.

“Damn it! I really wanted a look at the internal organs.”