Lija Fisher was raised in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. She received her BFA in Performance Studies from the University of Colorado Boulder and has performed in theatres across the country, including Alaska, where she was chased by a bear. Her debut novel, “The Cryptid Catcher,” was published in 2018. It received a starred review from Booklist and was a Junior Library Guild selection. “The Cryptid Keeper,” her second novel, was written while Lija was the Writer in Residence with Aspen Words in 2017. Prior to becoming an author she trained for a while (a very short while) to be a Hollywood stunt person.
The following is an excerpt from “The Cryptid Keeper.”
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.
2020 Colorado Book Awards finalist for Juvenile Literature
In this excerpt, Clivo has traveled to the Philippines in hopes of catching the immortal cryptid, a monster who might actually be able to shape-shift to human form. After attacking the wrong person, he learns much more about his catch than he was bargaining for.
Clivo sank back against the dirt wall, disappointed and exhausted. The priest struggled to his feet after a moment of flailing in the folds of his robe. “You attacked me! A priest, of all people! Do you mind telling me what these shenanigans are all about?”
Clivo crawled on his hands and knees, searching for the priest’s glasses, which he eventually found underneath a skeleton’s leg bone. “I’m really sorry, sir. I thought you were a monster.”
“A monster?” the priest exclaimed in disbelief. “Do I look like a monster?”
Clivo looked at the rail-thin man with hollow eyes and cheeks. He kind of did look like a scrawny version of Frankenstein’s monster, but Clivo figured it was probably best not to mention that. “No, sir, it’s just . . . Well, you were wearing sunglasses inside—” He handed the man the glasses, embarrassed.
“Because I left my regular ones at home!” the priest said indignantly as he put them on.
“—and you kind of freaked me out, bringing me down into this tomb! What did you expect me to do?” Clivo said, doing his best to defend himself.
The priest looked at the ceiling in exasperation. “It’s what the kids want! They love coming to see the tombs and happen to enjoy the little show I put on! That’s what I figured you were here for! I’ll have you know I’m very popular.”
“I’m sure you are, sir. It’s a wonderful show. Just super scary if you’re not really prepared for it,” Clivo said sheepishly.
The priest rubbed his arm where a dot of blood had risen from Clivo stabbing him. “What’d you stab me with? It’s not a poisonous dart or something is it?”
“No, sir,” Clivo said, holding up the blood sampler, “it’s just a device to check to see if someone’s a monster or not.”
Thankfully, the priest began chuckling instead of asking further questions. “You kids and your imaginations. I had a boy in here last week who made a special potion that he was sure would bring these skeletons to life and cause them to dance around.” The priest looked over at the bones, his eyes taking on a faraway look. “But if you’ve come looking for monsters, you’ve come to the right place. These islands are old; people have inhabited them for hundreds of thousands of years, and they sure do love their legends. There’s a lot of mysticism here, a lot of ghosts—maybe even a few monsters.”
“Would you mind telling me about some of them?” Clivo asked, eager to get any information the old priest might have that could make his mission easier.
The priest looked at him with a twinkle in his eye. “That I will not do. But you can read about them on your own in the Quester’s Cave.”
Clivo and the priest began making their way out of the tomb, with Clivo feeling much more relaxed even though he was in an old crypt surrounded by skeletons.
“So, whose skeletons are these?” Clivo asked, shying away from a set of dusty bones.
The priest reached over and shook the hand of one of the skeletons, almost causing Clivo to begin dry-heaving. “Oh, these are fake. I thought you might have figured that out from the pirate clothes I dressed them in.”
Clivo looked closer at the skeleton next to him and guffawed when he noticed it was wearing an eye patch and had a peg leg. “Yeah, I guess I wasn’t paying that much attention, what with the spookiness of this tomb and all.”
“It’s actually not a tomb, just an old storage space used to keep things cool back before we had refrigerators.” The priest paused at the base of the stairs and gave Clivo a wink. “But I prefer to keep it as my year-round haunted house.”
They climbed to the top of the stairs, but instead of heading into the office, they veered through a dark wooden door into a candlelit room. A long table ran the length of it, and leather-bound books that looked to be older than the church itself lay on pieces of colorful silk.
“What is this place?” Clivo asked in awe. The air smelled deliciously like candle wax, and the cool air wafting up from the tomb made the temperature pleasant.
“It’s the Quester’s Cave,” the priest said proudly. “These books tell the tales of all the monsters and spirits that roam these islands. After the kids get their little show in the tomb, they’re allowed in here. They can research the specter of their choice and someday, if they choose, they go on a quest to find it.”
“It looks like I’m in exactly the right place, then,” Clivo said, thinking about how much Amelia would love this room where she could spend hours reading all the secrets held in the books’ pages.
“All right, then, I’ll leave you to it,” the priest said. “What’s your name, by the way? I’m Father Joseph, and I like to know the names of all the questers who pass through these doors.”
Clivo paused. He didn’t exactly want Father Joseph to know his real name in case someone from the evil resistance began asking questions, but then he remembered the tracking chip and figured that anyone coming after him wouldn’t need to ask any questions to find him. “My name is Clivo, sir.”
Father Joseph tilted his head. “Interesting name. Never heard that one before.”
Clivo shrugged. “It was supposed to be Clive, after an actor who did a movie about an honorable man saving the world. But the nurse who wrote my name on the birth certificate had sloppy handwriting and it looked like ‘Clivo,’ so my parents stuck with it.”
Father Joseph chuckled. “Life doesn’t always turn out the way we expect, does it?”
“You can say that again,” Clivo sighed.
Father Joseph patted him on the shoulder. “It’s time for me to take the confessions of the parishioners. Please stay as long as you wish.”
Father Joseph exited the room, leaving Clivo alone with the tomes in front of him. He took a seat and opened the first book, the parchment pages crackling beneath his fingers.
Clivo intended to quickly find whatever information he could on the aswang, but he was immediately distracted by reading about the other legends of the Philippines. He read about how many questers came to Mount Banahaw in hopes of seeing one of the dwarfs who were supposed to live amid the rocks. Many visited the Hinatuan Enchanted River, which was said to have been built by fairies. His personal favorite was Mount Makiling, where a witch named Maria supposedly lived to protect the green forest.
He thought about how much fun he and the Blasters would have running around the islands searching for dwarfs and fairies. That was something they could do together when Clivo wouldn’t have to worry about their safety. But that would have to be put aside for another time, after they had saved the world.
Clivo forced himself to close the book and reached for another, this one with a terrifying image of a sinewy creature flying through the air on massive wings—the aswang.
Clivo opened it and the spine cracked as if it hadn’t been opened in years, as if other questers knew better than to even entertain the idea of searching for such a creature. The parchment was old and faded, but the ink looked fresh, as if the pages had never been exposed to sunlight.
Whereas the other books spent a lot of time explaining the history and stories of local legends with great exuberance, the pages of this book were blank save for a few in the middle. There was hardly any information at all, and what there was seemed to be restrained. The book only mentioned how the aswang shape-shifted at the full moon, how it flew higher than the clouds and was impossible to catch, and how it changed islands every twenty years so nobody would notice that it never aged.
That was some new information to Clivo. He could now narrow his search to people who had moved to the island in the last twenty years, though how he’d figure that out was beyond him.
He turned another page and sucked in his breath as he stared at the illustrated face of a devil-faced creature. Underneath was an eloquently scrolled caption:
The aswang feeds on the living.
The aswang thrives on death.
If you find it, destroy it.
Demons have no place wandering the earth.
Clivo closed the book and put it delicately back on its cloth, as if just reading the words could somehow anger the aswang. But nothing could get the image of the distorted face with sharp fangs and black eyes out of his head.
Clivo walked back to town, grateful for the sunshine on his face. The chill of the church’s tomb combined with the warning from the tome had given him a massive case of the heebie-jeebies.
If you find it, destroy it.
His job was to protect the cryptids, not destroy them. But did that hold true for the cryptid that might just be pure evil—and the immortal?
He shook his head, realizing that before deciding what to do with the aswang, he actually had to catch the thing. A thing of pure evil that didn’t belong on the planet. Should be easy enough, Clivo thought, as he sighed in exasperation.
From THE CRYPTID KEEPER © 2019 by Lija Fisher. Reprinted by permission of Farrar Straus Giroux Books For Young Readers. All Rights Reserved.