Chapter 1: Rook's Assignment
Last night, a fishing vessel was knocked over by a lake monster. At least, that’s what the website, “Strange Isn’t It” reported. It seemed it was the only media outlet that reported the incident. The rest ignored it. Why? Was it because they knew the pattern too well and they confirmed without investigation that this was a hoax? Or were they told by higher ups not to? That publishing a story about a cryptid could tank their viewership. After all, ever since Jill Orville launched her crusade against paranormal TV shows a year back, media outlets have been cautious when it came to publishing paranormal stories. If they did, they would endure the wrath of Orville and her followers.
But there were still some in Bridgetown who did believe. One of those people was thirteen year old Rick Arbuckle. A resident of Bridgetown all his life, Rick had grown up hearing stories of the strange and other worldly reported in and around the area. To him, the lake monster attack was just another chapter in the town’s history with the paranormal. All be it, a fascinating one, and one he didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to investigate. There was just one problem; school.
Thankfully he had an easy solution to this problem, a solution he had used many times in the past whenever he wanted to hunt cryptids in the woods. He would ditch class. It was simple, he’d excuse himself to use the bathroom, sneak his way outside through the back doors of the school’s rear hallway, and spend the rest of class time wandering the trails behind the school. Not only did this work, but he had done it several times. However, there was always one hurdle he had to go through in order to embark on this investigations. And that hurdle was the hall monitor, his archenemy Caroline Whitney. And that day was no different.
Rick asked Mr. Worechester, his biology teacher, for the hall pass, sneak his way to the rear exit, made sure the coast was clear, pull out his smart phone and began his vlog. He made sure to hold the camera high and far off so he could get his entire body in frame.
“What’s up cryptid hunter! Rick Arbuckle here, with another cryptid update!” said Rick which is what he said before every one of his Cryptid Quest vlogs. “So for all you new followers... All Two of you... A cryptid is an undiscovered animal, like Bigfoot, Yetis, or the Loch Ness Monster. So there’s been reports of a lake monster in Bish Bash Lake. I know a section of woods that’s close to the lake. For this blog, I’m going to check out the trap I made yesterday and see if anything took the bait!”
Lost in his train of thought, Rick didn’t notice a blonde girl wearing the school’s optional uniform approaching him from behind. She stood behind him, with a disapproving snark behind her rectangular glasses.
“I’ll keep y’all updated once I get there!” said Rick, ending his blog.
“And where do you think you’re going, Arbuckle?” yelled Caroline, which caused Rick to jump around. As soon as he saw Caroline, his mood changed to bitterness.
He and Caroline had hated each other since the third grade. She was always up in his grill about cryptids. As an avid fan of Jill Orville, Caroline had made it her goal to practice her methods of dealing with the paranormal.
“Oh... Hello Caroline,” hissed Rick while turning off his phone. “Shouldn’t you be in debate class?”
“I’ll have you know that my debate team wrapped up, so I’ve taken an early start on my hall monitor duty.” Explained Caroline, folding her arms as she does. “Speaking of which... Should you be in Special Ed?”
“Ha-ha-ha... No.” said Rick. “As a matter of fact, I was on my way to biology”.
“Oh really?” questioned Caroline. “Then where’s your hall pass?”
“Um... I got it right here.” Said Rick, as he fumbled through his jean pockets. He then pulled out a gum wrapper and some pocket lent.
“Really? A gum wrapper? That’s your hall pass?” said Caroline.
“Yeah...” explained Rick, though a bit nervous. “You know how weird Mr. Worechester is.”
Caroline looked Rick up and down. Then she thought about it. She folded her arms again and turned away from him.
“Okay. Fine. Whatever!” She said, frustrated, for she knew the story checked out. “Get out of my sight”.
But before Rick could turn around, Caroline had one last thing to say.
“Oh and Rick... Pay attention in biology... You’re going to need it”. She laughed as she made her way back down the hallway.
Rick was on the verge of a rage out, but he had no time to waste on Caroline’s quips. He walked up to the exit and checked over his shoulder to make sure Caroline wasn’t still spying on him. As soon as he saw that the coast was clear, he dash around the door and snuck his way outside.
The way to the trails was on the other end of the school soccer field. Unfortunately the entire back side of the school had perfect sight of the soccer field, making it easy for Rick to get caught while crossing the yard. Thankfully, Rick had a plan for that too. All he had to do was sneak under the classroom windows and make his way to the edge of the woods. Then, he could hide behind the trees and shrubs as he made his way to the trails. While vines and thick vegetation snagged on his legs, it was worth the wear and tear to not to get caught in the act.
After that, he reached the trail entrance, and beyond that point, it was just smooth sailing. He knew the trails like the back of his hand. And since no one was out there during that time of day, he had the whole woods to himself. The bugs did bother him, but it was another price to pay for his exploration.
It was about a good ten minute hike to the spot he set up his trap. As he approach the site, he pulled out his smart phone and began another entry in his vlog.
“All right cryptid hunters, we’re almost there.” He said causally. “You can’t see it, but the lake is on the other side of these woods. If the monster is real, then like the fabled Loch Ness Monster, it could be part-marine, part-terrestrial, meaning...”
But before he could finish his sentence, Rick laid eyes on his trap.
“Oh my God!” he screamed, as he flipped the camera over to show his vlog audience the trap; a simple string knot hung high up in a tree. “It’s gone! The bait is gone! Something took the bait!”
Rick then flipped the camera back to his face, showing the audience just how out of breath and excited he was.
“There can only be one thing tall enough in these woods that could have reached the bait... The Bish Bash Lake Monster!” he screamed. “This is it! Oh my God! Okay... Remain calm... First we got to look for footprints. Oh man, I should have brought my plaster set...”
Again, before he could finish his thought, he looked down at the ground and saw something sticking out of the grass. It was the bait. A slice of bologna that had been partly eaten by bugs.
“Oh wait... It just fell to the ground.” Said Rick as he turn the camera to show the meat. “Ah well... I’ll just hang it up again and check up on it tomorrow. Until then, this has been Cryptid Quest! My name’s Rick Arbuckle and remember... ”
Rick leans into his camera and whispers, “Keep on searching!”
Meanwhile, back at school, specifically the classroom of the new English teacher Dr. Vatusia Rook, Caroline was giving a detailed report. Caroline was in the zone, having prepared for the presentation a week in advanced. She barely looked up from the printed report in her hands, she practically had it memorized. The rest of the students in her class, however, didn’t seem to share the same enthusiasm. In fact, they seemed rather bored. The only in the room that was lending an ear to Caroline’s report was the teacher, Ms. Rook. Despite the tough crowd, this didn’t break Caroline’s concentration.
“The study concludes that invasive species do, in fact, have a negative impact on the environment.” Said Caroline. “Thus causing extinction for many animal species that use to live there. If we are to learn anything from the shrimp situation on Lake Okanagan, it’s that to place heavier checks of goods shipped from China. Or at the very least… Bring from cocktail sauce!”
Ms. Rook was the only one who laughed at Caroline’s ending joke. Ms. Rook had been Caroline’s favorite teacher. Originally from Kenya, Caroline was fascinated by Ms. Rook’s journey from the blossoming African country to the Northeast of America. The teacher stood up and gave Caroline a round of applause.
“Great report, Caroline!” said Ms. Rook as Caroline triumphantly walked back to her seat, situated next to the window. “Let’s give her a hand, everyone!”
The kids who hadn’t clocked out mentally gave a less than authentic clap, while the rest just fizzled out of their day dreaming. They knew Caroline’s report would take half the class, and granted they were thankful that they didn’t have to work, hearing all the information in Caroline’s overly detailed report was sleep fuel. But with Caroline’s presentation finished, that marked the end of the class’s presentation projects. And Ms. Rook was about to announce a new one.
“All right, now for your next assignment!” announced Ms. Rook, as she stood up from her desk and walked in front of the class. “You’ll all be taking part in an essay about investigational journalism!”
The class didn’t seem thrilled about this. One kid even “booed”. Ms. Rook didn’t take kindly to this.
“Oh, come on now! Knock it off! I promise you this assignment’s going to be a lot of fun! And guess what? You can choose whatever topic you want! So long as you do it with a partner!”
Caroline was on the edge of her seat when she heard this. All her life she wanted to be an investigational journalist, just like her hero, Jill Orville. This was her big chance to truly have her skills shine through. Not only that, but she could finally prove that she could be what she’s always wanted to be. But that begged the question, who to work with? Caroline looked around the room for a potential partner. She locked eyes with her desk neighbor, Terra Turner. Terra tried to look away as soon as they locked eyes, but it was too late, Caroline had noticed her.
“Hey Terra! Want to partner up?” asked Caroline, though Terra didn’t seem too keen on having Caroline as her partner, considering the fact that Caroline likes to write five thousand word essays.
“Oh... Sorry Caroline... Maggie is my partner.” Said Terra, pointing to Maggie Oswald, a red head girl occupying the seat next to her. Maggie turned to Terra, confused.
“Wait… I am? Since when?” asked Maggie, Terra snapped at her, her expression reading “play along”. Maggie then sat up and nodded her head. “I mean… Yeah! We’re partners! Sorry Caroline! Finders keepers!”
Caroline saw through their facade, but she didn’t really care. That’s when she heard a cough behind her. It was Jimmy Evans, the boy who sat behind her sometimes. She thought the cough was his way of getting her attention. It wasn’t, it was a regular cough. But Caroline hadn’t notice and she sprang around to Jimmy.
“Hey Jimmy! Want to be partners?” said Caroline, much to Jimmy’s horror.
“Um… That depends... Are we going to split the work?” asked Jimmy.
“Well, duh!” said Caroline causally, though Jimmy wasn’t amused by this. “And I have a really good idea for what we should do!”
Jimmy then got a horrifying thought of having to write a bible’s worth of text. He then shot around the room and locked on a random kid in the far corner of the room.
“Yeah... Actually, I’m already partners with Collin.” Said Jimmy pointing to the kid in the corner. Caroline had never seen Jimmy and Collin talk once.
That one was a bit harder for Caroline to ignore. As she looked around the room, she noticed all her classmates partnering up with someone. As soon as she locked eyes with someone alone, they instantly leaped toward someone else. Soon the entire class was partnered up… Except for her. Caroline sank into her chair and looked down at her desk. This was a feeling she knew too well. She thought she’d have to write a co-op essay by herself… Again.
That’s when she noticed something out the window. It was subtle at first, and to a causal observer, barely noticeable, but Caroline’s sight is more keen since she was upset. She could make out that the unknown blur was someone walking out the woods that lied on far edge of the school’s property. It was someone wearing a red hoodie, blue jeans and a darker red baseball cap. It almost looked like… Rick! There was no doubt about it. She then shot around the room, looking around for something. And sure enough she saw it. The desk Rick frequently occupied was empty. She hadn’t noticed that Rick didn’t show up for class. Now she knew why. And best of all, she had caught him red handed.
She has always suspected Rick of cutting class, but never attained any proof of him doing so. Now that she did, it was time to finally punish the wandering child. She raised her hand extra high so that Ms. Rook could make it out, even on the other side of the room.
“Yes, what is it Caroline?” asked Ms. Rook, approaching the girl.
“May I go to the principal’s office please?” asked Caroline. Rook was shocked to hear this. What did she need to go to the principal for?
Rick’s routine of getting back into school was the same as getting out, just in reverse. He creaked open the door a peek so he could spy into the hallway. Once the coast was clear, he made his way into the building.
“All right... All I have to do I sneak into Ms. Rook’s class and I’ll be home free!” he whispered to himself.
Yet what he hadn’t noticed, hiding out of view of the door was Principal Marshall and Caroline.
“Mr. Arbuckle!” yelled the principal. Rick shot around and stared at the principal. He then froze in fear. Principal Marshall was not happy, and Caroline stood behind him with a big Cheshire Cat grin on her face.
“Principal Marshall! I can explain!” pleaded Rick, but the principal wasn’t having any of it.
“Ms. Whitney told me all about it! You’ve been cutting class!” growled Marshall.
“No! See, I was excused by Ms. Rook!” lied Rick.
“Oh really?” scoffed Marshall, not buying the lie for a second.
“No! I’m serious! Go ask her yourself! She’ll vouch for me!” lied Rick again. Honestly, he was saying anything to get out of this. His real plan was to flee into the woods and hide out there for a few days.
“Oh... And while I’m at it, how about we call up your parents and see if they can vouch for you too, young man?” said the principal. Now he was on the edge of a break down. If his parents found out about his ditching, it was all over. He would have to kiss his cryptid hunting future goodbye.
“He’s right, you know.” Said a voice. They all sprung around, and saw Ms. Rook standing behind them.
“What?” They all said in unison.
“Yep, I excused him so he could do some field reporting for me. He’s writing a paper on the rare and endangered plant species of the Bridgetown State Forest.” Explained Rook, as she turned to Rick. “So... What did you find?”
“Oh! Um...” fumbled Rick, trying to come up with something on the spot. “I found... A rare fungus… Growing on a tree”.
“Excellent!” replied Rook, turning to Principal Marshall. “Sorry for all this confusion! Hope this didn’t interrupt anything important.”
“No! Not at all Ms. Rook!” Said Marshall, though he was a bit confused by the whole ordeal. Yet Caroline wasn’t buying it. She knew Rook was covering up for Rick. The only question is... Why?
“Great! I’ll take it from here, sir!” said Rook.
Marshall nodded and walked back the way he came. Rick couldn’t believe what just happened. Of all the people to come to his rescue, he didn’t think it would be Ms. Rook.
“Wow! Thank you Ms. Rook!” he sung.
“But-but-but... Ms. Rook...” muttered Caroline, trying to find the words to reply.
As soon as Marshall was out of view of the three of them, Vatusia immediately turned to Rick, staring down the boy with condensed rage.
“You are not excused Rick!” she boomed. And just like that, Rick went right back to his frozen state of fear.
“But... You said...” whimpered Rick.
“This was the fifth time you’ve cut my class!” she yelled, much to Rick’s surprise, for he thought that his didn’t notice. “If you keep this up, you’re going to fail the class!”
“What! No! Please! Give me another chance!” pleaded Rick. “I won’t do it again! Let me make up the work!”
“Actually, I got a better idea.” Said Rook. “I’m going to give you an assignment and a partner. You are to then investigate something in the town and write a report about it.”
Rick was almost overjoyed to hear this. That was his punishment? To do an investigational report? That’s all he ever wanted to do!
“Whoa! Really? That’s awesome!” said Rick, only to remember the other half of the deal. “Wait... I’m partnered with someone? Who?”
Rook pointed behind him. Rick turned around, expecting to see someone standing behind him. But there was no one there besides Caroline. Caroline also looked over her shoulder for the mysterious partner, but again, there was no one. And then it clicked in their minds who Rook was pointing to. The sprung around and faced their teacher.
“No!” they both screamed.
“Rick, it’s clear to me you lack critical thinking and act mostly on impulse.” Explained Rook. “Caroline can help you break out of that habit.”
Before Rick could reply, Caroline stepped between him and Ms. Rook, with an almost pleading look on her face.
“Ms. Rook... Can I speak with you... In private?” she asked.
The two walked down to the other end of the hallway, while Rick just stood there, trying to make sense of what just happened. All he could think was, that he shouldn’t have vlogged that day.
As soon as Caroline felt that they were a good enough space away from the cryptid obsessed boy, she turned to her teacher and leaned into her.
“I’m not working with him!” she whispered.
“But Caroline, you don’t have a partner for the project either!” replied Rook.
“Well, can’t you force one of the other kids to work with me?” asked Caroline.
“Caroline... I think you can really teach Rick a lot about science and nature!”
“He’s a moron who thinks imaginary animals are real!” Caroline snarled.
“Perfect! You two can investigate those recent lake monster sightings!” said Rook.
“Excuse me?” asked Caroline, rather horrified that her favorite teacher knew that.
“I saw online that a couple of fishermen saw a monster out on Bish Bash Lake! It’ll be perfect for an investigational paper!”
“Ms. Rook...” whimpered Caroline, almost on the verge of tears. “Why are you punishing me? I didn’t do anything wrong!”
Vatusia sighed and bend down to Caroline’s eye level. She placed her hand on her shoulder the young girl’s shoulder and looked her in the eyes.
“I’m not punishing you, Caroline.” Rook said, calmly. “Caroline, you’re a smart girl. If you just open up a little bit, see things how Rick sees things, then maybe you’ll have a better chance at convincing Rick on your ideas!”
“But I don’t want to see thing how he sees them!” said Caroline. “Jill Orville said to never cave into the paranormal or their promoters! Ever!”
As soon as Caroline said, “Jill Orville” Vatusia grinned ear to ear, stood up, and folded her arms.
“Oh really? She said that?” asked Vatusia, only to get a nod from Caroline. “Well, then, I’ll have to ask her that when I meet her this weekend.”
At first Caroline didn’t register what Ms. Rook just said. Then it hit her. Caroline’s jaw dropped. Did she really just hear what she think she heard?
“What do you mean... When you meet her this weekend? You’re meeting Jill Orville!” said Caroline, as her excitement started to build up. “When? What time? Where? Can I come! Please!”
“I could bring you along.” Replied Rook, with a slight grin on her face. “If you cooperate with Rick on the project!”
Caroline excited froze. In hindsight, she really should have seen this coming. But the reward was too great. And see knew, if she could turn a Bigfoot chasing weird-o like Rick into a level headed skeptic like her, that would really impress Orville.
“Okay, I’l do it!” caved in Caroline, boldly placing her hands on her hips.
“Great!” replied Vat. The two of them walked back to Rick.
“All right, Arbuckle. On second thought, I have decided to accept our partnership!” said Caroline, arms folded.
“Ms. Rook! Do I have to?” complained Rick, turning to his teacher.
“Yes, young man! You have too!” said Rook in a stern voice. “Now, I want to see A+ material from both of you! Is that clear?”
“Yes, ma’am!” said Caroline, as she saluted her teacher and stiffened her stance.
“Fine...” mumbled Rick, arms folded and looking off to the side.
“Great! I look forward to reading your report!” chirped Rook.
Vatusia walked away, leaving the two kids alone. As soon as Vat’s back was turned, Caroline walked straight up to Rick’s face, stern and dead beat.
“Okay Arbuckle, here’s the deal.” She said. “Saturday morning, we head to the docks. You are to do as I say, and if you give me any lip, I’ll leave the project. Understood?”
“The docks? Why are we going to the docks?” asked Rick.
“To investigate your stupid little lake monster! That’s why!” said Caroline, taking a step back.
“Wait... Really!” chirped Rick, astonished that Caroline wanted to investigate a cryptid.
“Hold it right there! I said, investigate! Not search for!” she yelled. “We are to remain as skeptical as we can! Understood?”
“Yes, my fuhrer.” mumbled Rick, annoyed.
“Good! Bring a note pad!” said Caroline, as she took off down the hallway. “And don’t keep me waiting!”
“Fine!” Rick yelled back, while pulling out his phone. He opened his Internet Search App, where the “Strange, Isn’t It” article about the lake monster was saved. “We’ll see who’s right and who’s wrong when we get there.”