So Monday night we slept under the stars and hiked out early towards the falls.
It hurt. I am not in any particular shape to be hiking. But on the other hand, it was a pretty flat hike and it was only like a few miles and I’m doing a lot better so it was no big deal. And I really wanted to be there. I want to rescue cute glowing otters!
“So like… what are we going to do when we find them?” I asked as we hiked and Julian behind me replied, “well, we’re gonna take a look at the situation and see how we’re doing, and unless there’s some circumstance that makes it impossible we’re going to move them to the Emporium.”
“Emporium?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s like…” Julian hesitated. “Well, okay this story starts off sounding nefarious, but bear with me. Have you heard of the Meinmarre family?”
“…like the actress? Marta Meinmarre or whatever her name is?”
“Yes! Well, she’s from an infamously wealthy family. Like, money as old as it comes. The kind of money that they must have be evil to have so much of it.”
“…okay,” I said. “Yeah, sounds nefarious.”
“It was at first,” Julian said. “In like the mid 1800s Antony Meinmarre’s wife died under mysterious circumstances and he went down this whole magical rabbit hole and started buying up cursed objects, trying to prove that she was killed under magical circumstances. No one believed him though, because spiritualism was all the rage, so everyone thought he was on that bandwagon. But when he died, his only son was left with all this insane, dangerous magical shit to learn how to deal with. So, he turned it into… a museum of sorts.”
I had to take a break so we drank some water and sat on a log by the trail while Julian explained more.
“Then I think it was the next generation decided he wanted a zoo of creatures from other worlds, which, I mean yikes. But by that point they were in pretty deep with the existing magical dealers, so they had the contacts and the money to make a zoo of magical animals happen. And at first it was about as bad as you imagine — the creatures that aren’t outright dangerous are at least very finicky and have a lot of needs. It was a bad look. But his children grew up surrounded by these amazing magical animals, and when they inherited the estate, they began making some changes. Hiring some experts. Expanding the facilities, buying up more land. And that trend has continued. So now they’re less a zoo and more a conservatory. There are a lot of creatures — like Feather Dog for example — that end up in this world, but can’t survive here long term without either being in danger or being a danger to others. When an issue like that arises, we do our best to bring those creatures to the conservatory.”
“And that’s were we’re bringing these guys?”
“That’s the idea,” Julian said. “Where these guys come from they’re at the top of their food chain. They have absolutely no fear. They’ll walk right up to you. And they’re so beautiful. They’ll be much safer if when can get them to the Emporium.”
It really wasn’t a long hike. We went super slow and made it to the falls by midmorning.
It was a beautiful waterfall. Tall, but fairly thin so it wasn’t roaring. Neal and Julian did some climbing around looking for signs that they we were in the right place, but apparently these little guys were nocturnal, and also super easy to spot in the dark so we sorta just… lay out on the rocks in the sunshine. I went for a swim and the water was freezing but omg it felt so good on my poor bruised up body. Julian read to us. Julian likes boring old novels, but right now he’s reading us Rebecca and it’s super good, I’m invested. It was like… the most relaxing day I’ve had in months hahaha. Car boredom isn’t actually that relaxing it turns out.
We were snacking at dusk when the otters first emerged.
One moment Neal was listening to Julian read and gazing out into the middle distance, and the next he was sitting up to lean around me for a better view.
“What is it?” I asked, feeling a punch of fear because listen ya girl is potentially damaged, but he was smiling as he put a finger to his lips and pointed.
Behind me in the river was glowing faintly. The area right below the falls, where the water splashed into the pool, all aglow in faintly blue light. At first I couldn’t make out how or why, but as I watched a little creature slipped slick as oil out of the river onto a rock and I could see in that it was indeed very nearly a river otter.
It had the same long sleek body and thick tail, same blunt face and rounded ears. The only discernible difference — apart from the glow that seemed to be coming from it’s skin, not the fur itself — was that it had two short horns on it’s head right above it’s eyes. I was totally enchanted.
Neal let out a low, owlish whistle and the otter turned it’s head to look at us, twitched it’s whiskers, and dove back into the river.
“Show time,” Neal said, dragging a heavy side of smoked salmon out of our backpack and unwrapping the paper. He offered me some and I took some uncertainly.
“How do we do it?” I asked.
“Pretend you’re feeding city ducks,” Julian replied, already picking his way down the rocks towards the waterfall.
“How are we going to get them back with us?”
“They’re going to follow us,” Neal replied, and then very nearly lost his balance hopping down the rocks.
We started by just tossing flakes of the smoked fish into the river but it didn’t take long before the sleek little creatures were bobbing around the rocks right below us, which was convenient because it was so dark we could barely see anything beyond their glow. Slowly, we sat with our feet in the water, getting them used us. I thought my heart would explode the first time one reached out it’s little hands and took the fish right from my fingers.
They were so fucking cute. They chewed with their mouths open.
Eventually Neal had coaxed the purplest glowing one right into his lap and stroked it’s long back while it feasted noisily, but it was Julian that got into the river with them. They swam circles around him, bumping at his sides with their snouts while he floated on his back, until finally, with only the smallest bit of encouragement, the one that glowed slightly gold climbed onto his belly like he was a raft.
It was magic, pure undiluted magic.
It took nearly an hour to get through the whole side of salmon, and then Julian got out of the river and we clambered up the rocks on all fours back towards the path.
“Are you sure they’ll follow?” I asked, devastated at the thought of leaving them.
Julian just pointed over my shoulder and when I turned back all three had followed us up onto the rocks and were standing on their back legs, watching us go. Be still my HEART.
The trip back to the car was slow going. We couldn’t stay on the trail the whole way as the otters were following us in the river, which only mostly ran parallel to the trail, which meant Neal spent a good deal of time crashing through the mud and undergrowth in the dark.
“You’re driving first,” he called up to Julian the third time he fell.
We worried we might lose them when it was time to leave the river for good and Julian brought out the second side of smoked salmon, but he didn’t need to. The creatures didn’t hesitate to follow Neal up the river bank until we reached the gravel parking lot. It took some serious luring to convince them to get to the car, but by the time we were laying great chunks of fish in the trunk they were more than happy to get off the sharp rocks.
Julian closed the door very quietly while they feasted and then they were safe and sound in the back of the car.
We had an awesome moment of pure celebration in the parking lot despite all of us being soaked and freezing and all scratched up, and then we all put on fresh clothes and got into the car. Neal climbed into the back seat to sleep, and I curled up in the passenger seat and was sound asleep before we even hit the highway.