The bar was filled with snide murmuring, directed at the lad who clutched the newspaper in his hand. He was trembling with barely contained fury.

"I assure you all, the stories are very real!" the young man proclaimed. His face would have been red if it hadn't been colored a tint of green by his mutation.

"A real riot, ya mean!" a biker mocked from a faraway corner.

"If you're so sure, why don't you come over here and take a look at these photos I took?" the lad challenged. The biker exchanged yet more snide glances with his friends, and walked toward the table where the lad dumped copious amounts of pictures. All of them looked like something from a schlocky horror film in the fifties, blurred outlines and everything.

The biker whistled loudly in mock amazement. "Kid, with talent like dis, you oughta stop dis whole detective shit and sign up fer a job doing modern art!" He guffawed and threw his head back at his own joke. Several others laughed with him, and the young man could feel his spikes wanting to grow out of his skin. But he had to stay calm; starting a scene here would only slow down his search for the famous Goatman of Sloth's Pit.

Straightening his back and steeling his voice, the kid spoke up again. "Listen. Anyone who lives in this town knows that there's been things that can't be explained simply by maniacs in the woods: attacks on campers, sightings of strange creatures, bizarre sigils in the woods. You can either help me and be a part of this…" he showed them a poster of a missing person which promised a generous reward for anyone who could rescue the victim. "…or you can keep trying to make a living with gambling or what have you. The choice is yours." He stood with arms crossed, unyielding, but the bikers still doubted him. However, the mention of money seemed to grab the interest of one of them, who stepped forward and asked to look at the poster.

"Lad…ya really think the Goatman did this?"

As the words left his mouth, the lights in the bar flickered violently and the radio picked up an unearthly howl. When the lights stabilized, the radio resumed playing the usual catchy tunes as if nothing had happened.

"I know he did," said the lad with iron conviction. "And since it seems none of you are brave enough to help me, I'll be on my way." Before he went out, the barman called out to him, his voice uneasy and shaken.

"Are you…are you sure you want to go after the Goatman?" said the barman.

"Of course I'm sure!" replied the young man, stuffing his chest like a superhero.

The barman sighed in resignation, though not without a hint of worry. "I won't be so quick to judge as these other fellas. I've heard my fair share of weird stories in my life, and many of them turned out to be true. Even if just in part." He leaned in to face the lad with a mix of admiration and curiosity. "What's your name, and what do you want with that creature?"

"I'm Daniel MacIntyre, detective in training. I came here because this town has one of the largest concentrations of unexplained phenomena in this region of the United States. And the Goatman is said to be at the center of many of these phenomena. If I find him, maybe I can find leads on the other mysteries."

"Mysteries, huh? You got that right. We have more of those than Mom and Pop stores. But if you wanna find the Goatman, I heard the best way to do it is to lure him out with the smell of fear. The kind doesn't matter a lot, as long as it is strong."

"Smell of fear, huh?" The gears in Daniel's mind were already spinning as he conjured up a plan for an ambush. "Thank you. I don't really feel like drinking at the moment, I need to keep my wits about me. So, ummm…I'll just have a bottle of water, please."

"Sure thing. And if you do meet the Goatman, do your best to look easily terrified. I heard he takes brave people not screaming and running away as a challenge."

"I'm sure I can handle an overgrown can-chewer. Thank you for the water." As he turned around to leave the bar, he sensed that a potted cactus was thirsty. He poured the rest of his water for the plant.

"There you go, little buddy!" he said while carefully stroking the cactus' spines. The bikers snickered again, and Daniel stomped off into the cold night, his comically ill-fitting trenchcoat blowing in the wind.

Several very uncomfortable hours had passed since Daniel left the bar, and he had been forced to ask a few people for directions to the Blasted Woods. Most dodged the question entirely, as if wanting to spare him some terrible fate among those gnarled trees. But he would have none of it, and pressed on until a truck driver pointed him in the right direction. But of course he made a joke about his greenish complexion and a lack of nutrition, as Daniel had come to expect. On the way there, Daniel bought a few supplies to complement the survival kit he had brought into the town. He had done his research and knew that all sorts of cryptids lived in the Woods. Better safe than sorry, and both are better than dead.

Even though the Goatman was said to live in the northern regions named Baby Bone Wood, Daniel had a plan. Well, he had a sketch of a plan, more accurately. If fear was what attracted the creature, and one grows more afraid if they were alone and lost, then surely he'd find it if he just wandered far enough. As it stood, the only thing he was finding were goosebumps crawling on his back, and a dreadful sensation of being followed.

It was a good thing that the young detective needed a lot less water than normal people. The waters in the Woods were rife with danger, and when a fish jumped up from a river he was crossing, he thought it was a cryptid and dropped his compass.

"Well, we're off to a great start…at least now I'm gonna get lost for sure."

He lumbered further into the Woods, constantly shivering and looking over his shoulder at half-glimpsed monsters in the dark. He slapped himself to try and knock the fear out of his head, but it was of no use. Before long, he felt tired and prepared shelter as best as he could. His eyelids felt heavy and he drifted off to sleep.

Another unearthly howl, much closer this time. He jolted upward with a high-pitched scream, already sweating bullets. Looking around, he was thankful that there was no one to hear his embarassing display of fear. He left his tent and found his backpack torn, with a trail of hoofprints leading away from it deeper still into the Woods. Following the trail with hunting knife in hand and panther-like footsteps, Daniel soon found Koch's Hovel.

There in the distance, inside the squallid dwelling, Daniel saw the looming shadow of the Goatman. The young detective quickly hid behind a tree when he saw that the creature was leaving the Hovel through the front door wearing…an apron and oven mitts? This had to be some sort of trick, some sort of Hansel and Gretel trap. Approaching on the tip of his toes, he broke into the Hovel, expecting a thousand nightmares to immediately assault his senses.

What he found among the Goatman's possessions, however, hinted at something else. There were some baby shoes, coloring books, dolls and assorted objects of childhood. Not only that, but also a surprisingly clean dress and an umbrella. Daniel did not understand, but found himself jumping to dark conclusions. As his mind was filled with more fear of the Goatman, the creature found the stains on its apron turning into blood. Recognizing that telltale sign of someone fearing him nearby, the Goatman made its way back to the Hovel, suspecting that it had unwelcome guests.

Daniel could not see the Goatman coming in the darkness, so he had to improvise a trap by the light of the Hovel's bonfire. He crouched besides the bed and waited.

"Come out of my Hovel, whoever you are!" roared the Goatman. Daniel remained perfectly still and silent.

"If you come out now, maybe I will spare you! You will like my offer much less later!" threatened the creature. No response still.

Infuriated, the Goatman barged into the Hovel, sniffing the air and searching around with glowing red eyes. Try as he might, Daniel could not fire off the trap in time and the monster caught him. Worst all, the Goatman noticed how its secret possessions were in disarray and it shot a look of burning hatred at Daniel.

"Leave. Just leave. OR ELSE." Its horns seemed to grow sharper and its eyes seemed to glow more menacingly.

"I'm not leaving! Not after all the effort I made to ca— I mean, speak to you!" stammered Daniel before putting his foot down.

Goatman's face twitched and it snarled. "Last chance, boy."

Daniel looked around, rather embarassed. "Do you mind if I dry myself by your bonfire first? I fell in the river and I'm soaked."

The Goatman's only reply was to unhinge its jaws like a snake and unleash a demonic, earth-shaking roar that revealed rows upon rows of nightmarish fangs. The roar kept going for several seconds, further soaking Daniel, but in goat saliva.

The cactus mutant wiped the offending slime from his face with his sleeve. "I'm guessing that's a no. But I'm not about to take no for an answer, no matter how loud your roar."

The living legend groused and grunted for quite a while before facing Daniel. "Can't ever leave me alone, can you? You Plastic Fanatics really are a bunch of crows. You'll pick everything down to the bone." said the Goatman, its head hanging low and its voice weak.

Daniel looked confused. "I'm sorry, who are you talking about?"

The Goatman sniffed him thoroughly, looking for signs that he was indeed a member of the accursed organization that had caused him so much trouble and grief in the past. "Huh. You're not with them, it seems. But that still doesn't answer why you came to this town, and after me of all people."

"Well, you see…" Daniel gave a quick aside glance to the trap he had prepared, and then turned to face the Goatman, who was still staring at him with its head tilted to the side. Seeing those objects had left a terrible impression on him, but now that he had calmed down, there was some investigating to do. Breathting in and out, he looked the fearsome monster right in the glowing eyes and steeled his will.

"…I have come here to interview you."

"Bah! What could you possibly want to know about me, and why? Don't tell me you fancy yourself some kind of smooth noir detective."

"Ummm, I do own a trenchcoat, but it's kinda big for me so a lot of people laugh. I've been told that putting the nickname "The Spiked Menace" on it doesn't help either. But I think it's a cool name, like a supe—"

The Goatman pinched its nose with its clawed hand, letting out a long and harsh groan. "You have the powers of a cactus! Do you know anything about this town? About its history?"

"I know that your origin is very tragic. And that you probably don't get to talk to anyone about it, which must suck. So, I'm offering to listen. I don't know who these Plastic Fanatics are, but it sounds like they hurt you. And I'm not here to hurt you."

The living legend stood there, scratching its hirsute chin and humming for a long time, occasionally sniffing and averting its gaze.

"Whatever I tell you stays between us. Or I'll have your skull on a spear."

"You have my word, Goatman. I can call you that, right?"

"Sure. But if you are expecting a long and detailed recounting of my past, you will be terribly disappointed."

Even though he was still shivering from the cold and uncertain of how open the Goatman was, Daniel went up to the creature and put a reassuring hand on its shoulder. "There is no one here but you and me. And I'll admit right now that I'm not exactly normal." He grew a few spikes on his other hand to confirm his mutation. "So I'm not in any position to judge."

Goatman just stared at Daniel, dumbfounded. "I don't find those spikes strange. Your eagerness to help out a total stranger, though? That is strange. Don't you know the Plastic Fanatics lock up people like you for life without the slightest excuse? They don't even see us as people. Well, I may be a monster, but even monsters have loved ones." It confessed as it handled a locket around its neck. It had been doing so for a while, and Daniel could not help but notice.

"That locket you're wearing. Does it…does it help you remember them?"

The Goatman nonchalantly opened the locket to show the detective that it was empty inside. "And that, my friend, concludes our interview. The details, especially to someone like me, don't matter. I hardly ever remember them the same way. What matters, what truly matters to me…" it said as it closed the locket and gave a hopeful smile. "…is the idea of family. The idea that if at one point I belonged, then somewhere, some day, I will belong again."

Daniel smiled at the Goatman, though his smile trembled slightly in a way that hinted at some great underlying turmoil. "I know the feeling. My dad used to be a detective, a really professional and standup guy. Mom always said he would get into trouble for being too standup, and she was right. He dug too deep in a case that powerful people didn't want solved, and so they…" Daniel trailed off, sniffing heavily and feeling a tear beginning to form on his face. "…well, I'm sure you can imagine the rest. Mom was livid and desperate when she heard I wanted to be a detective like dad, she thought she would lose me. It took a long time to convince her to let me do my own thing, but here I am. I still keep in contact with her, but…I dunno how she would react to the whole cactus mutant thing."

"She's your mother. After God's grace, maternal love is the purest form of affection there is. I say you should be open with her. No secrets, son. Secrets are for people like the Plastic Fanatics. If you find yourself wondering what to do, think about your dad and how virtuous he was. Imagine what would honor him, and what would not. It's all that gets me through the day, really. I hope it helps you too."

Daniel wiped his tears with his sleeve, but Goatman saw that the sleeves were still wet, so the living legend offered the detective a towel and the bonfire. Daniel thanked the new friend deeply and gave an earnest, doofus smile. "Thanks, man. I can feel that you really mean it, and you know what? That makes you a lot more like a person than some of the so-called people I've met in this life. God bless you and your ungulate wisdom!" He chuckled heartily. "But, ummm, I gotta ask something. Was it you who tore into my backpack way back there in the woods?"

Goatman seemed taken aback and rather embarassed. "Oh dear. I thought you would not miss a few cans of food, so I just…it's just that plain old cryptid meat gets so stale after a while, you know? I'm sorry. Would you accept sharing my pie as a token of apology? You did provide most of the ingredients."

"Ah, so that is why you were wearing an apron and oven mitts! They suit you well, Master of Fear!" he joked, making a fingergun gesture at Goatman.

"Just eat up before I eat you." the creature replied while rolling its eyes, though not without a smile.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you. People say I can be a bit of a prick. Get it?"

Goatman just gave a sensible chuckle and prepared a dinner for the two of them as best as it could.