She told me she was eight when she met the man in the lizard skin hat.
Morgan had been spending the month at her grandmother’s house. It was a summertime tradition, those yearly escapes to Granny Sawchuk’s, a thing she looked forward to more than almost anything else. Her grandmother lived alone in an isolated Craftsman by the woods of Bearspaw Creek–a place where imagination grew wild like the sweet clover overrunning the property. How refreshing it was, how freeing. So unlike the intimidating sprawl of Morgan’s urban home city, she told me.
She’d been sitting on the back lawn one afternoon, drawing on an old Big Chief tablet, when he approached. He was tall and skinny, and he wore a black suit like an old reverend would wear, but covered in the kind of brown-gray dust that coats long forgotten cellar things. She didn’t remember his face as a whole. Only its parts that she couldn’t piece together by memory. Toothy, red-gummed grin. A sharp nose with flared nostrils. Large eyes with yellowish whites and irises so pale they could’ve been white. White hair, too. Or maybe it was black. It was hard for her to recall.
“I could remember better if I drew him,” she said, but she didn’t draw anymore. She just didn’t.
Of all the scattered details she did remember, his hat was the one that stood out most to her. It was a wide-brimmed piece, out of fashion by a hundred years or more and shimmering with black scales. It seemed alive somehow, but she couldn’t explain it. It was just one of those things that had to be seen to be understood.
“What’ve you got there, girl?” he’d asked her, gesturing to her tablet.
“Just paper,” she’d said. “I’m drawing.”
“Well, what do you know?” said the man in the lizard skin hat, “I been looking for a man who could draw. And here I am, just walking along, and I find a girl who can do it just as well. What’s your name, girl?”
She told him. She hadn’t wanted to, but she’d been afraid of what he’d do if she held back. He was smiling, but there was a kind of an anxiousness behind that smile. A desperation she'd only be able to identify in later years.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Morgan,” the man in the lizard skin hat said to her, “I’d tell you my name but I haven’t got one, you see, which is why I need someone who can draw me one.”
“Draw you a name?” Morgan said.
“Yes, ma’am, but not with that pen o’ yours,” the man said. “I got a better one here. No, it’s got to be this one.”
“Because it’s not no reg’lar pen. This one makes things live. Wouldn’t you like that? Morgan? Make that big city you come from a whole lot nicer if you could draw yourself a little puppy or a little friend, or, say! A whole new city just the way you like it.”
The man held the pen out to her. It was thick and black with a silver serpent wrapped around the middle of it. It had an old-fashioned nib that looked, to Morgan, like the head of a snake. She didn’t want it. It frightened her. He frightened her. How did he know about the city she came from?
“I don’t have ink for a pen like that,” she said, stalling.
The man chuckled.
“Foolish of me!” he said. He rolled up a sleeve and flashed a heavily tattooed wrist. What the tattoo was, she couldn’t say. Some kind of words, she thought it might have been. Then the man pressed the pen into his skin until it poked through. She’d expected blood, but there wasn’t any. Only the blackness of that strange tattoo, disappearing as it was sucked up into the pen. What was left was an arm bare and moonlight pale.
The man bent down and took Morgan’s hand, placed the pen in it. He closed her small fingers around it.
“There. It’s a gift. A gift for a name,” said the man in the lizard skin hat.
Morgan thought she ought to call out to Granny Sawchuk, but Granny was napping and wouldn’t hear. And then Morgan thought about what the crazy man was asking of her, and it didn’t seem so bad. He was offering her an ink pen that maybe had powers, maybe didn’t. All she had to do was come up with a name for him. It wouldn’t be so hard to just take his creepy old pen and do what he asked. Then he’d go away. He’d go away, and she’d maybe have a magic pen. Or maybe she wouldn’t. Didn’t matter either way.
“Okay,” she said, and she pressed pen to paper.
“Bob” was the first name that came to mind because that’s the first name that comes to everyone’s mind. But when she was finished writing she was surprised to see that what she had written wasn’t “Bob” at all but something long that she couldn’t pronounce made up of letters she’d never seen.
She stared at it for a long time, confused. She looked up to ask the man what it meant, but he was gone. Morgan wondered if he’d ever been there, but she still held the pen, and that strange name was still written before her.
Morgan thought she should be more frightened, but now she was curious. She flipped a page over in her Big Chief tablet and thought of drawing something. Faced with so much possibility, she couldn’t actually come up with anything. So, she placed her hand down on the tablet and traced it. Then she added stick legs, eyes, beak. Sure, the hand turkey wasn’t the most creative of subjects, but it was the easiest, and what harm could it do?
But in a blink Morgan saw that her drawing had changed. Its stick legs were replaced by claws. Where there should have been feathers there were scales, and the outlines of her fingers were connected by webbing she didn’t remember drawing. And its face. Its face.
Afraid, Morgan crumpled the drawing into a tight wad. She tore all the pages out of that Big Chief tablet and crumpled every one. Those pages lay all around her in a circle of paper stones. She did the most natural thing then and ran for her grandmother’s garden spade, dug a hole beside a sycamore tree far from the house. Then she buried that devil’s drawing along with the pen. The matter, as far as she knew, was over and done.
Until three days after Morgan returned home to the city. The phone rang. There was crying.
“Morgan, something has happened to your grandmother,” her mother began, but the rest was a blur. Morgan knew the rest. And she knew it wasn’t a bear or anything else they told themselves either. But no one ever listened to her. No one believed. That messed her up, she told me. But she grew up. She healed.
Morgan told me this on her last day of work. She’d given only a few days’ notice–and she’d given it on a day when the news flashed back-to-back stories on the latest Bearspaw Creek maulings. Everyone wanted to know why she was leaving–she was well-liked–but she told them only that it was a family matter. I wanted to know why she confided the truth–or the truth as she saw it–in me. We were friendly but not particularly close. Then again, who was Morgan close to? She never spoke of anyone.
“I have to tell somebody,” she said to me. “You have a Bigfoot bumper sticker. I know you collect Roswell memorabilia.”
“It’s just a hobby,” I said, embarrassed.
“Anyway, you’re more likely than anyone else to listen,” she said, and then she sighed.
“I have to go back there.”
“This is because of the maulings at Bearspaw, isn’t it?”
She nodded and stared off in the distance.
“But you don’t think it’s a bear,” I said.
“I have to finish what I started,” she said. “I have to erase my creation. Or scribble it out. Whatever you do with ink.”
I asked her if she was taking a gun with her for protection, but I’ll admit I was wondering about her mental stability. If I should alert the police. For others’ protection as much as her own.
“Nah,” she said with a weary smile. “The only weapon I need is still buried on Granny Sawchuk’s land.”
And then I became afraid for her. Really afraid. I was worried she wasn’t ill. That some malevolent drawing made by a naive little girl was truly stalking those woods, and she’d be out there alone with nothing but a funny fountain pen. Seven people had been killed out there in a week, and no one had found a bear.
She said goodbye, and I hugged her. That was the last I saw of Morgan Sawchuk.
That was forty years ago. The maulings slowed and eventually stopped. Authorities quit looking for the animal; they assumed it had died. But forty years later, those woods still carry the reputation of a haunted place. People say an unnatural creature wanders the land at night. A huge monstrous thing covered in scales. Just stories, the skeptics will tell you, but in those stories the creature’s legs are bound with chains that don’t quite look real. They say that whenever the monster’s sighted, an old woman is not far behind. In some legends, she’s an evil spirit. In others, a kind soul who warns the living of the dangers in those woods.
I think, whether she meant to be or not, she’s both. I’ve thought of going out there to find her, but I don’t know what I’d say if I did. I wrecked the car with the Bigfoot bumper sticker decades ago. I guess I’d tell her that. But it would hardly match the story she told me of that day in Bearspaw Creek when a little girl met a man in a lizard skin hat.