Nightraven, Highway 9

Reading Time: 3 minutes
(Image created by Anais Aguilera using Firefly.)

When I get the call for a Code 43, I have to pull my truck over and consult my Codex of Supernatural Beasts and Cryptids to make sure I’m not mistaken.

“Forty-three?” I ask over the walkie. Maybe Dispatch meant 42 (Mothman) or 44 (Batsquatch). “A Nightraven? You sure?”

They’re sure. Hard to mistake a five-foot, eyeless raven, especially when anyone looking through the gaping holes in its wings immediately starts projectile vomiting.

The witness posted a pic on social media, so while Tech wipes out the digital evidence, I’m tasked with relocating the creature. These oversized corvids consider children’s limbs a delicacy, so I need to at least contain it before sunrise brings the local sausage-legs running out to the bus stop like a big-bird breakfast buffet.

The GPS guides me to a farmhouse off Highway 9 with heaps of scrap metal piled outside a decrepit barn. As soon as I pull in, a spotlight blazes in my eyes, and a grizzle-haired man in flannel barrels out the double-door, wielding a shotgun.

“You seen a bird ’round here?” I call out, slamming my truck’s door and tapping the tranquilizer on my belt. “Big ugly thing?”

“You ain’t takin’ my bird!”

Not what I was expecting, but okay.

“Gave your neighbor quite a fright, and it’s obviously not a native species,” I say casually. “Where’d you get it?”

“None of your business. It’s mine, bought ‘n’ paid for. Now get off my property!”

At the edge of my vision, something dark flits past. Careful not to look directly at its Swiss-cheese wings, I track its flight down to the scrapheap, where it drops something large and suspiciously fender-shaped, which clatters noisily onto the pile. The bird turns expectantly to Shotgun Guy, who awkwardly manages to toss it an entire deer leg without relinquishing his hold on his weapon.

The idiot must’ve bought it to steal scrap metal. Corvids are known for collecting shiny objects, and Nightravens are no different. Even without functioning eyes, they have an extrasensory perception that draws them to anything that glitters, shimmers, sparkles, or shines. And from the look of the scrap heap, this one’s got a penchant for catalytic converters.

All remaining doubts about the bird’s purpose here are quashed when it swoops over and starts pecking my aftermarket hubcaps. At least it’s got good taste.

“You realize these things eat people?” I ask, eyeing it across the hood. “Gonna have a tough time explaining when fresh skeletons start dropping all over your property.”

The man’s eyes narrow. He thinks I’m lying.

I’m not.

The tricky part here is that the Cryptid Observation, Rehabilitation, and Protection Society (CORPS) technically doesn’t have any sort of legal authority. In fact, for all intents and purposes, we don’t exist, and I was never here. Most the time, it doesn’t matter—folks don’t think cryptids exist, either—but times like this, it sure is inconvenient.

Times like this, with a shotgun aimed at my skull, best I can do is make do.

“Tell you what…” I scribble in my notepad as if I’m writing a report, making sure to let the silver, bullet-shaped pen catch the spotlight’s beam. The Nightraven’s head jerks upward, fixated on the alluring bit o’ shiny. “You let me take this handsome fellow back up to the mountains where he belongs—before he amputates anyone—and we can forget this ever happened. I’ll even overlook that pile of stolen goods you’ve got there.”

“Off! My! Property!” The farmer pulls the trigger, firing a warning shot skyward.

Wrong move, buddy.

The Nightraven, preoccupied by watching my shiny pen, reacts instinctively to the sudden bang. It barrels, claws first, at Shotgun Guy and is inches from sinking its iron talons straight into the dingy flannel shirt when I peg him square in the feathery back with a well-aimed tranquilizer dart.

I shield my eyes as the creature stretches itself out in one last, defensive gesture—the spotlight glow shining through its wings’ sick-inducing holes—before it falls over backward into a cloud of dust.

Shotgun Guy’s too busy retching to help me load the bird into my truck, but when I climb into the driver’s seat and start the engine, he manages to shout out a few choice insults and a threat: “I’ll sue you for everything you’re worth!”

I chuckle as I back out of the gravel road. Sue a woman who was never here for stealing a creature that doesn’t exist?

Good luck with that one, buddy.


Edited by a Fallon Clark and Sophie Gorjance.

Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she's left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Analog, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Nature, and elsewhere. Get her time travel novella The Continuum on Amazon. It is part of the Place in Time series. Also check out her fantasy short story collection Impossible Realms and her sci-fi short story collection Perilous Stars. For more info, visit