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Fiction

A Brief Catalog of Humans, as Observed by the Cryptids of Encante

The Myopic Cryptozoologist

Everyone’s least favorite human, this persistent creature is a narrow-minded cousin of perhaps our favorite type of human—the cryptozoologist—and differs from that specimen in several key ways. Primarily, its insistence that we Encantados match the image proscribed to us in myth (of a dapper, dark-skinned man who charms women on the dance floor or with the seductive rhythms of a guitar, only to abandon her when sunrise invariably sends him running for the shores of the Amazon River before he transforms back into a pink river dolphin). A myopic cryptozoologist cannot fathom that, like humans, we might be more—more numerous, more various—than they dare dream. They set up cameras in the bushes and wait for us to emerge from the river, like underwear models glistening at sunset, completely unaware that we might choose to take the form of women or of children, that we might instead of attending a lavish party volunteer at a homeless shelter or campaign on behalf of a progressive candidate interested in finally tackling climate change. This never occurs to them. In their opinion, we have no goals, no intentions—no reason for existing beyond sex, pleasure, and trickery. Human stories have reduced us to imaginary lovers and convenient excuses for unwanted pregnancies. Frankly, we find this exhausting.

• • • •

The Ardent Disbeliever

A charming lot, so convinced of their correctness. Most prove harmless. By virtue of never actively looking for us, they never manage to see us in our true form, not even when we stand right in front of them or when they happen upon us as we transform. CGI, some claim. Magic mushrooms, others insist—despite all evidence to the contrary. That’s okay. Let them have their reasonable explanations and pseudoscientific theories. Science is so much broader than the human heart is generous. Better to leave this kind to pause just long enough to shake their head in disbelief, than risk retaliation for shattering their inflexible worldview.

• • • •

The Indifferent Bystander

In our experience, the vast majority of humans fall into this category. For one reason or another—their jobs, the constant struggle of balancing work and childcare, the unreasonable demands of late-stage capitalism on their minds and bodies, to say nothing of poverty—the indifferent bystander doesn’t have the energy to care about us; they are tired; they want to sleep. Short of sleep, they want relief from the pressures of their lives and the horror of living on dry land, where the water cannot cradle them or lull them to sleep. Only arms can do that. Only bodies pressed against their own, not in the bustle and squeeze of a city but in the tenderness of love. To these people, we are sometimes lovers, though rarely the kind that appears once on the dance floor and disappears from their lives forever. Instead, we ask about books they’re reading. We make friends with their dogs, who uniformly love Encantados, because dogs always know what is in your heart. And we let the love run its course—sometimes weeks, sometimes years, never cutting it off too soon. We need it, too. Connection. Our lives depend on humans, whether we like it or not.

• • • •

The Danger to Us All

Over the years, many categories of human have threatened Encante. Poachers intent on selling our pink flesh as a delicacy; trophy hunters hoping to bag an Encantado in human form, then mount it on their wall, blowhole and all; trawlers dragging their nets across the beds of the Amazon and the Orinoco Rivers; mad scientists dying to experiment on us; governments planning to brainwash and manipulate us into becoming shapeshifting spies; special interest groups who claim to want to save us from pollution but only ever protect the rich; intrepid explorers searching for the gates to Encante, unaware that they will never find it, not in human form. Each one of these poses a threat, but none so much as the insidious lie that only some people matter, that only some creatures deserve to live, while others have not earned the privilege. Everyone who believes this is our enemy. The question is: are you?

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Ruth Joffre

Ruth Joffre. Photo Credit: Scott Locklear. A bespectacled brunette looks at the camera.

Ruth Joffre is the author of the story collection Night Beast. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lightspeed, Nightmare, Pleiades, khōréō, The Florida Review Online, Wigleaf, Baffling Magazine, and the anthologies Best Microfiction 2021 & 2022, Unfettered Hexes: Queer Tales of Insatiable Darkness, and Evergreen: Grim Tales & Verses from the Gloomy Northwest. She co-organized the performance series Fight for Our Lives and served as the 2020-2022 Prose Writer-in-Residence at Hugo House. In 2023, she will be a visiting writer at University of Washington Bothell.