I rode down an eerily quiet Brickell Avenue at 3 AM with Denise Holcombe, Zoo Miami’s Director of Fabled Creatures.
“With less people on the streets, Miamians are reporting more frequent fox, deer, bear, and even panther sightings,” said Holcombe as she passed 8th Street, guiding her beat-up Jeep Cherokee toward Downtown. “Fewer boats mean more dolphins, manatees, and gators in the canals.”
She slid the Jeep to a complete stop on the deserted thoroughfare. Streetlamps cast hazy amber circles onto the asphalt.
“But what people don’t realize,” her voice fell to a low murmur. “Is that our legendary friends like to come out to play too. Look!” She pointed to the 600 Brickell sign.
I strained my eyes in the darkness. A minute passed before I spoke up.
“I don’t see anything…”
“Shush!” she interjected in an excited whisper. “They’re emerging!”
A snout protruded from behind the sign, followed by a pair of bright red eyes. They stared at us unnervingly.
The creature emerged slowly, first its massive head, followed by muscular shoulders, back, and haunches. An unmistakable predator, it appeared to be a rough cross between a hyena and a very large, gray, hairless dog. A pronounced spinal ridge ran from its neck to its bony tail. The animal trotted across the street, never taking its eyes off us. Three others quickly followed suit.
“Chupacabras!” exclaimed Holcombe.
They tipped over a trash can and rummaged through its contents. We watched them whine and snap at each other before an ethereal whistle startled the chupacabras back into the shadows.
A gaunt, spectral figure, easily fifty feet tall, stalked between the 7th Street skyscrapers toward us. Long arms swung past its knees. Its translucent skin glowed slightly, and though lacking a mouth or nose, it had two coal-black pits for eyes.
“We’d better get moving,” said Holcomb, putting the car in drive. “That phantome will easily crush us if we let it.”
A dark, beautiful woman with a tumble of curls sat on the south bank of the Miami River, singing softly to herself. The lower half of her body stretched into seemingly endless coils that dropped into the water.
An enormous green snake with red horns on its skull slithered past the Miami Circle. The woman laughed melodically as the serpent nuzzled its manhole-sized head onto her lap.
“Mama D’Leau and Madre de Aguas,” explained Holcomb.
She stopped the car on the Brickell Avenue drawbridge.
“If I’m not mistaken,” she said, peering down the river toward the bay. “I do believe that’s a lusca heading upstream.”
A golden squid, easily dwarfing Miami’s most ostentatious mega-yachts, cruised silently under the bridge before disappearing beyond a riverbend.
Driving into Downtown, we watched a small pack of zombies shuffle and moan their way up the I-95 onramp. El Cuco stood in the middle of Biscayne Boulevard as we passed the Wells Fargo Building. He held a withered outstretched arm, beckoning us to have a word. Clutching a soiled blanket tightly around his body, we could only see his white, lidless eyes and toothy smile. Holcombe wisely maneuvered around him.
La Diablesse and a cipagua walked arm-in-arm through Bayside Marketplace, perusing the closed shops. The former drew a black brimmed hat over her face. Her long, charcoal dress flowed majestically behind her, revealing a cow’s hoof that she always kept on the grass. The cipagua, meanwhile, sported no clothes at all. A mass of reddish hair covered most of her aquamarine skin. As she walked however, her footprints led in the opposite direction.
“Well that’s about it for the night, I guess,” started Holcombe “We’d better head back…” she slam the brakes in front of the American Airlines Arena. Her eyes tried their best to pop out of her head for a quick change of scenery, while her jaw did silent pushups. Her brain seemed quite unable to register what it saw, much less order her vocal cords to describe it.
“That’s, that’s, that’s, I can’t believe it…” she muttered to herself. “I have to see this for myself to make sure.”
Holcombe rushed out of the car toward the stadium stairs. I followed close behind, but the only thing I saw was a nondescript man standing at the arena entrance. He wore khaki pants, a white polo, and seemed to be staring off into nothing.
By the time I finished huffing up the stairs, Holcombe was practically leaping in excitement before the man.
“It’s true! It’s true! You really do exist! You exist! Do you have any idea what you are?” asked Holcombe.
“Hi there,” replied the man. “I’m Eduardo.”
“No!” cried Holcombe. “You’re the rarest, most legendary, most storied creature of all!”
“No, I think I’m just Eduardo,” rejoined the man coolly.
“You’re an on-time Cuban!” yelled Holcombe, tears streaming down her face.
For a bit of context, the last punctual Cuban was reportedly sighted 33 years ago in front of the Tower Theater, meeting his friends an hour early for a play. More thorough investigations later found that he was simply 23 hours late to the previous night’s show.
“That’s impossible!” I gasped.
“I don’t know why you two are making such a big deal about this,” responded the nonplussed Eduardo. “My buddies and I are going to catch a Heat game, I was already in the neighborhood, so I just decided to wait for them here.”
“When’s the game?” demanded Holcombe.
“I knew it! You are early!”
Holcombe and I leapt into each other’s arms, ecstatic at our luck.
“Whatever,” sighed Eduardo. “Don’t mind me, just fighting the stereotype. You guys want some mariquitas?”
Holcombe slapped the bag out of his hands before I could reach in.
“Never eat food offered by an on-time Cuban!” she reprimanded me. “Or it’ll make you early to everything else, including your own death!”
Holcombe pulled out a bottle filled with holy water and sprayed Eduardo.
“Back ye beast! Back!” she shouted.
Eduardo hissed menacingly before scurrying into the night, never to be seen again.
“Thanks for saving me,” I said as we walked down the stairs toward the car. “I can’t believe our luck. Do you think we’ll ever see anything else so rare?”
“Who knows?” she replied. “On this night, anything’s possible.”
“What about an honest Miami politician?”
Holcombe gave me the mother of all side-eyes as she got into the Jeep.
“Don’t be an idiot,” she said, and drove the car past a dozen soucouyants, a jumbee, and a pack of lagahoos.
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