The sun was still high in the when Gale packed in his model airplane.
“Aww, heading out already?” his friend Perry teased, but Gale just nodded.
“Yeah, gotta be home by sundown or the Missus gets uppity,” he said good-naturedly. Perry laughed as he loaded his plane into the backseat and settled behind the drivers seat that was parked in the grassy field.
It was a lie, of course. There was no lady awaiting him back home. But ever since retiring, Gale had found nightfall to be a little more ominous. The shadows were a little longer than they ought to be, and the stars didn’t seem to illuminate the world quite as clearly. Best to be home, behind locked doors and thresholds when the sun went down.
The sun hadn’t set by the time Gale pulled into the driveway, but he could tell something was off anyway. He could feel it in his bones, even though the exterior looked exactly the way it had when he left that morning. It was a pleasant house on a small cul-de-sac, with pale lavender gabling over clean white trim. A small herb garden flourished behind white picket fencing, something Gale had wanted his whole life but never quite had the energy to focus on. And yet, the whole house gave off the type of negative vibe that Gale had learned not to ignore.
He stared at the house for what felt like an eternity. His smartphone sat in the cupholder beside him, almost beckoning him to pay attention. Fingers groped over it, sizing it up, before passing by, reaching under the passenger seat and pulling out a small box.
Gale opened the box, pulling out a small gun. The shape wasn’t what he was used to, the grip not what he wanted. But while one could hide a gun in the car, his preferred weapon was a little more conspicuous. He sighed, loading in a few bullets. Guns were mostly only useful against humans. If he was lucky, that’s what he was dealing with.
The front door was still locked. That was probably a good sign, Gale figured, but plenty of things didn’t need to unlock a door to get inside. He pushed the door open carefully, trying not to let it squeak as he slipped past the threshold.
The interior of the house definitely did not look as idyllic as the exterior. Mud was tracked across the white quartz floors and every painting had been knocked askew or clear off the wall. With a careful, practiced step he followed the path of mud through the house, gun held firmly in his hand.
A banging from the kitchen attracted his attention. He paused outside the doorway, gathering up a deep breath before he stepped through the door, aiming his gun firmly into the centre of mass.
The noise rocked through the house, and Gale relaxed his arm as he stared down his adversary.
“Sakata, what are you doing here?” he asked, lowering the gun to stare at the 700 lbs beast of feather and fur that sat in his kitchen. Great golden eyes stared at him out of grey feathers, and he watched the swishing lion’s tail whip across his stove, knocking over a rack of spices.
“Scree!” the griffon cried at him, clawed talons scratching up his hardwood floors.
“Yes, waiting for me, I see that,” Gale said, wincing slightly as he imagined the repair bill. “But you shouldn’t be here at all. Does the library know you’re missing?”
The hybrid bird/lion creature half clucked, half growled at Gale.
Gale sighed, “That’s a problem you know. I should call them.”
He reached to his back pocket to grab his phone, only to be cut off by a ear-piercing shriek. The griffon’s wings flared, barely fitting into the small kitchen space. Gale’s hand froze, slowing rising over his head.
“I don’t know what you expect of me, Sakata,” he said, moving his finger back onto the trigger of his gun. The small caliber would barely clip the griffon, but the distraction should buy him time to get upstairs. She couldn’t maneuver through the hallways easily. “You knew what I’d have to do.”
The griffon responded in low menacing chirps, head to the ground, tail in the air.
“No, I imagine it’s not a nice thing to do to someone,” Gale said slowly, biding his time. The bow was in his bedroom, over the wall. It wasn’t ideal for close range, but certainly better than the gun. “And I am sorry. But you know why it was necessary. And you chose to come here, for whatever reason.”
The griffon paused, feathers relaxing just a touch. She gave a single quizzical cluck.
“No I don’t know why, Sakata,” Gale said. “I’d love to know why you came here.”
One six inch talon vanished behind the kitchen island. It reappeared with a 3 foot catfish attached, caught under the massive gills. The griffon cocked her massive head, giving a single questioning chirp.
The image was so absurd that Gale almost laughed, lowering his hand. “You want me to cook for you?”
The eagle head bobbed up and down eagerly.
“Will you go back in the book when I’m done?” he asked hopefully. Sakata growled a warning noise, but without the accompanying battle pose, it seemed much less threatening.
“Okay, okay,” Gale said, putting the safety back on the gun and placing it on the side table. “We’ll talk about that, okay?”
The griffon cooed at him, hopping out of the cooking area. She left a disaster in her wake, but it was a manageable one, in Gale’s mind. At least compared to the 700 lbs of angry eagle and lion that had stood there before. He was only beginning to really appreciate the mess she had left in his home. The back door was burst inward, scattering glass and broken bits of venetian blinds over the eating area. The griffon herself was settling in at the table, brushing up against Gale like a cat greeting its owner. Gale pet her fondly as he walked into the ruined kitchen, picking up the massive fish.
“You should give me a call next time you want to come over for dinner,” he said, hunting around for a decent flaying knife to take apart the catfish. He found it in the corner with the rest of the knife block. “I’m not sure I have that much in the house.”
The griffon clucked at him disapprovingly and Gale rolled his eyes as he worked. “I’m too old for a mother, Sakata. I’m sure I’ll find something in here.”
The counter was a mess of spilled seasonings. Gale swept them into a bowl, noting the spices. “How do you feel about cajun catfish?” he asked, tossing a bit more paprika and cayenne into the bowl. The griffon practically chirped.
“Yeah, you’d like anything I made,” he said, cracking some black pepper into the mix and massaging it over the fillets. His pan was luckily right where it should be, hanging over the island, the copper catching the fading sun. He tossed it on the stove to heat up with a stick of butter, rooting through the fridge for any decent vegetables. “How do you feel about broccoli?” he asked.
Sakata snorted, jerking her head towards his crisper. Gale followed her gesture. “What? No you can’t have the asparagus. I have to live here, even after you go outside to relieve yourself.”
The griffon squawked again and he pulled out both vegetables with a sigh. “One asparagus, okay? Can’t have the whole neighbourhood stinking.”
The giant bird chirped at him as he got a pot of water boiling. He grabbed a knife and began chopping the veggies. “So, I guess if you’re out here, the library is in a bit of trouble, eh? How many of you got loose?”
For the first time, the beast looked away from him, ruffling the feathers about her neck and chirping.
“Oh really, just you out for a stroll?” Gale said, tossing in the veggies. “Pull the other one Sakata. Who let you out?”
She shifted her head, still not looking. Gale snorted. “Don’t want to tell me? I am retired, you know.”
Gale shook his head, tossing the catfish into the pan. “Suit yourself. If it’s important they’ll likely come tell me themselves.”
The head swiveled on him, chirping.
“Yeah, they tell me I’m retired too,” Gale said. “But it takes some time to train a replacement, you know? Hard to just pull a girl off the street and be like “Hey, remember that degree you just got? It forgot to include that we need you on potential monster fighting duty. Are you any good with a bow?””
Sakata made a snorting noise as Gale loaded up two plates with food, heading over to the table. “Yeah, laugh it up,” he said casually, sliding her the bigger plate. “Now, where did you knock my chair?”
The griffon didn’t bother to respond, burying a massive curved beak into the catfish. Gale sighed, grabbing a seat out of the dining room. When he returned he stared at the plate.
“Did you eat my asparagus?” he asked, pointing at the greens. The bird stared at the ceiling.
“You are the worst liar,” he said, sitting down to eat. “Just make sure you aren’t peeing in my backyard tonight.
The griffon snorted again into her food. Gale looked at the massive head sadly.
“You know they’ll have to come for you eventually, right?” he asked. Sakata stared at him with one big, golden eye, carefully lifting a broccoli floret and eating it.
“I mean, I know it sucks but people these days just don’t know what to do with a griffon flying through their yards,” Gale continued, poking the catfish aimlessly. Sakata let out a questioning noise.
“I guess it doesn’t have to be me who turns you in,” he said softly. “Just try not to make a mess, okay? When they show up here I’ll get them to catch you last.”
The griffon cooed at him.
“Yeah, shaddup and eat you birdbrain,” he said playfully. “And go easy on the new girl when she comes. Poor thing is in for enough trouble as it is.”