Most of my assignments are pretty easy because most of my targets are pretty dumb. El Chupacabra was no more intelligent or dangerous than your typical wolf. The humongous, bat-like Ahool sleep during the day, so they’re easy pickings if you can find their caves. Even the Mongolian Death Worms were no match for a good old-fashioned drone strike. The trick to monster hunting, or “Cryptid Containment” as the bosses like to call it, is really just knowing how to find the suckers. Nine times out of ten, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

Well, tonight is shaping up to be that one out of ten. This son of a gun is smart.

I received the incident report and associated archive files yesterday morning. It read like your typical pulp fiction story: a group of teens having a party on the beach was assaulted by what they claimed was some sort of creature. Most of the teenagers had walked away relatively unharmed. One was still missing, and two of those that survived had deep gashes down their torsos.

The story was, of course, immediately attributed to the heavy consumption of alcohol the youths had committed. Drunk kids can easily turn a human figure in a trenchcoat into a two-legged, winged demon creature. Local authorities had called in the coast guard to help search the bay, presuming the missing kid had gotten washed out to the deeper waters in his inebriated state. Meanwhile, a manhunt began for this mystery beach assailant.

But I don’t deal in what gets posted to official news channels. In the incident report were the witness testimonies of the kids, which gave the top brass of the officially non-existent Cryptid Containment Bureau enough to go on for possible matches. Given that the attack took place in New Jersey, paired with the description of the creature, my money was on the infamous Jersey Devil. The CCB has gone after SCP-4059 before, but it’s always managed to slip away. I had thought I would be the one to change that.

From the start, I went about the hunt in the usual way. Upon arriving in the town near the incident, I took on the role of concerned traveler and worked through the list of witnesses. Most of the interviews I conducted were useless, except for the two that had been hurt by the Devil. These two had given near-identical testimonies about its physical appearance, but more importantly, they had been able to tell me which direction it had come from.

Before heading down to the woods where the kids had claimed my quarry came from, I geared up. I pulled a case containing my rifle from the trunk of my unassuming white sedan and put hiking equipment over the kevlar vest I always wore on missions. Under my pant legs and hidden under a North Face hiking jacket, I also strapped a couple of knives and a small pistol. Lastly were night-vision goggles and thermal equipment to help me keep the trail. As the sun began to set, I set off into the dense woods near the beach.

The trail wasn’t hard to find, for a CCB agent at least, and I had covered several miles in no time. Soon, the absence of typical nocturnal animals signaled that I was getting close, so I slowed to a crawl and made my way onward with precise and silent steps. Wildlife steers clear of cryptids. My heart sank as I saw the trail of blood from what could only be the missing teenager. Apparently, this beast hadn’t waited to get back home to start feasting. As I rounded a pair of thick pine trees, I saw the poor kid facedown in the middle of a clearing. He was still alive, if just barely. His chest heaved slowly and laboriously.

Cautiously, I approached the struggling form, scanning the trees around me for movement. I bent down to touch his shoulder, and the boy’s head lifted weakly as he tried to push himself up with his one remaining arm. His mouth opened and he pleaded wordlessly. The only word I could decipher put a chill in my veins: “trap.”

A twig snapped in the trees to my right, and I whirled, raising my rifle in the direction the sound had come. The thermal imager mounted to the side of the gun showed a streak of red-hot movement whip across the viewfinder. It was on my left and moving fast. I tried my best to track it, but I lost it in the trees as it scrambled up and into the treetops. There was silence for a few moments before the sound of leathery wings snapping open and catching the wind broke through the air. I trained my sights up in time to see the ugliest excuse for a wyvern I’d ever seen come swooping down towards me.

On instinct, I squeezed the trigger and let loose a barrage of bullets into the sky. If I hit the Devil, it didn’t slow it down. The hulking, horse-headed demon crashed into me, and my firearm skittered across the pine needles littering the forest floor. I reached for my pistol in my jacket before the beast pinned my arms to the ground. Face to face with the Jersey Devil, I realized I might not make it out of this mission after all. A hideous, horned head lowered to my face and grinned. To my absolute surprise and horror, it spoke.

“You are no hunter. You are prey,” it uttered in awkward, broken words. As the unearthly jaws of the Jersey Devil opened up before me, I couldn’t help but feel an ounce of respect. For once, one of these unholy wretches had been smart.

Originally posted in response to a writing prompt on Reddit.