Loch Ness, page 1
Table of Contents
“Sea Monster Found!”
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Reading from a different angle.
Loch Ness Copyright © 2012 Donovan Galway
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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“Sea Monster Found!”
It was in all the papers. They had actually found the remains of a genuine sea monster. I was just a child when the story broke but my mother made sure we all saw it. Being the inquisitive, analytical type, I insisted on reading the entire article instead of simply thrilling at the sensational headline.
In smaller print than the enticing headline, the paper reported that a forty-foot fleshy torso had washed up on a north eastern beach. The local population was quick to proclaim the carcass that of a sea monster but it took scientists a short time to positively identify the massive piece of meat as the boneless remains of a record size basking shark. Nothing more. My mother didn’t like that and refused to accept it. This confused me a bit as my mother was a devout realist and intellectual who never closed her mind to anything other than the edibility of broccoli. I couldn’t believe she was so readily able to dismiss documented fact and logic.
“I choose to believe it’s a sea monster,” she explained. “I choose to believe it because until they prove otherwise to me, it is. I liked living in a world where they still existed. Just for a moment, there was magic.”
She was as correct as she was fun. For that fleeting moment, I too lived in a world where there were monsters. Everything wasn’t easily explained away and boring. Just for a moment, there was magic. I liked it possibly more than did my siblings though they were better able to sustain the feeling. I was forced by my own nature to accept the logic and let the myth die. I envied my sister. She could make herself believe anything that suited her purpose and probably believed until her dying day that a sea monster washed up on that North American coast. She got to live in a world where everything wasn’t predictable and logical. How fun that must have been.
Most of what I’ve written to date has been inspired by or based on logic and human nature. But I’ve never stopped wanting to revisit that flash in history where the monsters lived. Each time I tried, I found only logic and scientific research. No fun at all. It wasn’t until I stopped looking for monsters and started looking at what was right in front of me that I found it. It wasn’t proof. That would have ruined it. Regardless of what it proved, it would ruin it. Until I realized that, I was doomed to fruitless searches for evidence of magic. I finally realized that if you could prove it, it wasn’t magic at all. Once the scientists got a hold of it, no matter what it was, it became logical and functional and provable and anything but fun.
All I’ve done with this story is to demonstrate that it could be there. I’ve shown how and where it could be and offered a plausible explanation for why we haven’t found it yet. I haven’t proven anything and I truly hope no one ever does. If they simply accept that it might be there, then it is. Then every time we look at that placid water and spot a mysterious ripple on the far side, we get to wonder if the monster just caught a glimpse of us. We get to imagine it diving back down into the murky depths or stalking just below the surface, out there just out of sight, waiting and daring us to assume it’s just a myth. We get to stare at those ripples in the water and see magic. My mother would be proud.
Dedicated to the memory
of Frances O’Brien,
for her faith in magic,
and to my loving wife Karen,
for her faith in me.
A rolling white cloud hissed free of the crippled steam engine. The colorful circus train sat still while a potpourri of passengers, human and otherwise, grew increasingly impatient with the slowly progressing repairs. One by one, the people stepped out to stretch their legs. As morning rolled into unseasonably warm afternoon, they ignored the warnings to stay close by and ventured away from the train and toward the beckoning shore of a nearby lake.
The water proved too great a temptation for some and they had to take a quick dip. Back at the circus train, the animals also needed a break from the confines of the cage cars and their handlers brought them out for some exercise.
Bonnie the female Indian elephant followed her handler cautiously down the slope toward the water with her yearling calf close behind. Bonnie enjoyed a slosh in the water as much as any pachyderm but little Jumbo was another story. The baby was adventurous to a fault. Never having seen the wild, he was oblivious to danger and would boldly stick his trunk into anything that caught his fancy. Today the water’s edge was the draw.
Like any elephant, Bonnie carefully felt her way along the edge before wading in. Little Jumbo would not be held back and charged impetuously past her to splash headlong into the cool water.
“Watch ‘im!” shouted one of the handlers from the hillside. “Them sides is steep!”
The warning came too late as the baby slipped below the surface and disappeared into the murky water. The reaction among the handlers was immediate. Two ran for the train to get ropes and tackle. One joined the elephant handler at the edge to scan for the lost calf. Another came to Bonnie’s side to guide the protective mother away from the scene. Their well-orchestrated reaction seemed initially to suggest they lost elephants on a monthly basis but the reality was otherwise. The baby was lost anyway and they were too slow to stop Bonnie from plunging in after her first born. The handler’s hooked stick had no more effect on her than a flyswatter against a battleship.
The circus people had just enough time to fear they had lost both elephants in one tragedy before Little Jumbo breached the surface, thrusting his tiny trunk upward. The ca
From the hillside between the trees, another waited patiently for the reemergence of the elephants. Mathew Pepperdine watched with professional interest as he anxiously attached his field camera to the sturdy wooden tripod. Despite his lifelong desire to photograph distant lands, he had never ventured more than a few kilometers outside Scotland. The brief image of Bonnie standing on the shore suggested some exotic Indian stream from his imaginary travels. With the camera set and trained on the spot, he stood and waited for the animals to return to shore for another chance to capture the moment.
As Pepperdine watched, Bonnie herded Little Jumbo back toward the calling men. Each time it seemed he would return, the men readied and Pepperdine held his thumb to the shutter and the baby turned again to playfully paddle away.
Bonnie was carrying a lot more bulk and a lot less youth and began to tire. Survival finally drove her toward the edge and Pepperdine finally sensed his picture. The trunk and back came into view and he accidentally squeezed the shutter in anticipation. As Bonnie found her footing and slowly raised her great mass from the water, Pepperdine struggled desperately to slide another plate into the camera. Set again, he looked down to see Bonnie well away from the shore and surrounded by white men, a scene impossible to mistake for the wilds of India.
Mathew Pepperdine did manage to prepare his camera for another shot, but all he saw were the handlers scanning the murky waters in clear dejection. The wayward baby elephant never returned to shore.
The train was eventually repaired enough to limp to the next town for parts. The handlers got a severe tongue lashing from the owner for their carelessness. The only picture Pepperdine got was an underexposed image of a hump and an elongated trunk protruding from the waters of Loch Ness.
The train was not yet away as the lifeless carcass of the eight hundred pound baby was dragged deep beneath the water. Long teeth held tight and cut through the thick hide. At one hundred and fifty feet, the second massive jaw closed around Little Jumbo and he was torn apart.
Over the next century, Loch Ness carried on as she had for centuries before. The murky water between the two landmasses was a safe feeding and breeding ground for untold numbers of those creatures that prefer the cold and dark. That this environment is by its very suggestion hostile and unseemly to humans told why any life form adapted to this world would be foreign and rare in the world we call home.
The rubble and debris from rock and carrion, feces and filth and tiny life forms grew around and on top of the remains of the little elephant. The bones lay in disarray on the basin of the great lake until most of them were covered. Only the ribcage remained exposed to any light that shone here. But the rocky ledge which served as gravesite for a hundred years had seen light just once. The light of an unmanned probe scanned this surface with lights bright enough to pierce the darkness and sonar precise and delicate enough to see without light.
The mini-sub turned and traced the surface from two meters off, photographing everything it saw. Three hundred feet above it, Dr. John Nagle saw everything it photographed. He watched the monitor as technician Davis Billikin deftly guided the probe by a joystick and keyboard designed specifically for this task.
“Slow down,” John cautioned Davis. “What was that?”
“Roots,” Davis dryly replied. “Maybe an old bicycle tire. Nothing to waste time on. We got the scan.”
“Roots at three hundred feet? What kind of tree is that?”
“Trees aren’t the only things with roots, John.”
“The tree could have fallen in there,” came the female voice from behind them.
John did not divert his gaze from the monitor. “Good point, Lou. But we’ll never know if this geek doesn’t stop once in a while.”
“We’ve got a lot to cover and this is expensive. Stopping costs money.”
“We’re here to look. So let’s look. I mean as long as we’re down there.”
“We’re recording. You’ve got visuals and topography by sonar and infrared. Gather the data now and figure out later if it’s roots or bike tires. It’s research, Doc. Not Disneyland.”
Louisa came up next to John. “Speaking of which… I need to talk to you, John.”
“Uh huh,” John muttered, still engrossed in the gray images on the monitor.
“John. It’s important.”
With notable reluctance, John extracted eighty percent of his attention from the monitor to hear Louisa. “Okay. What’s up?”
“Uh huh.” It was evident he still wasn’t listening and he confirmed suspicions when he allowed his attention to be drawn to the monitor once again. “Keep to the right. Stay just off the bottom.”
Louisa retired any efforts to be tactful in her delivery of the bad news. “We’re done, John. The grant money is virtually gone. The foundation is pulling our funding. The boat is behind on mooring charges and the equipment is breaking down.”
“Is that all?”
“Well, I haven’t bought a new pair of shoes in three years but I figured we had more important things to worry about.”
A glimmer of understanding finally showed in his eyes. John was used to finding quick answers to the little problems but these were not so easily dismissed. Perplexed, he lowered his brow in fruitless pondering. “Keep scanning, Davis. I’ll be right back.”
“You’re the whatever,” Davis said dryly as John led aft.
Louisa sat on the rail and stared. John knew that meant he was supposed to say something. “Um. Sounds like we’re ready for phase three.”
“There’s no phase. We’re out of recourses. We’re through.”
“We can’t just be through. We’ve got four years invested in this project. A lifetime of research. You don’t just walk away from that kind of investment.”
“It’s called cutting your losses. We’ve taken everything the university and the institute could give us and we’ve come up with a dry well.”
“So what are you saying? Do we have no choice or are we choosing to quit?”
“We should choose not to flog this dead horse anymore.”
“I can’t do that. If it’s just about the money I’ll call the board. I’ll show them where we are and why it’d be wasting their money to stop now.”
“They aren’t taking our calls anymore.”
“Then I’ll go to them. Call a meeting. Do the corporate thing.”
“So you’re going to Virginia?”
“If that’s what it takes. I’ll book a flight out on Monday. No wait. Tuesday I can get discounted fares.”
Louisa shook her head in obvious frustration. It was subtle, but enough to stop John’s train of thought. “What?”
“You’re just going. Just like that?”
“Well… yeah. I thought that was…”
“It never occurred to you to ask me?”
“I didn’t realize you had connections on the grant board.”
“That’s not the point, John. All you think about is the research. You never acknowledge other projects. You never consider your colleagues who are clearly tired. You never take time for life. And you never have a moment for me.”
John looked at her, stunned and confused.
“Nothing?” she posed. “Well that’s pretty much it. I actually do know some people on the board but they aren’t interested in Loch Ness.”
“Go with me, then. Between the two of us, we can buy some time. A grant to keep going through this season should be enough to show some real results.”
Louisa looked at him with the distant, lethargic stare of a civil service clerk still ten years from retirement. “Tell
“You’re testing me?”
“It should be easy. First, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in nineteen eighty-five?”
“Eighty-five? That was um… Klaus von Klitzing. He determined that electricity under certain conditions dropped in stages with resistance due to….”
“When’s my birthday?”
John froze, stumped by the second question. The expression on Louisa’s face told him he had already thought too long. She smiled sympathetically. “You go to the university. I’ve got a friend who’s kind of an ace on funding. I’ll go see if there’s something he can do.”
* * * * *
Horace Rathmueller greeted John at the front steps of the university with a friendly handshake and a smile. “Good to see you, John. It’s been far too long.”
John took his hand with measurably less enthusiasm though the smile was real enough. “It’s always too long, Horace. How’ve you been?”
“Oh you know me. Always hanging.”
“Hanging?” John grinned at the unusual terminology. Horace was in his late fifties, pudgy and bald. His age showed and then some.
“You hang out with the kids here long enough, you’re bound to pick up a few phrases and such. For example, you haven’t mentioned my shirt. What do you think?”
John studied the typical dress shirt Horace referred to. Horace was a legendary conservative who would be comfortable in Victorian tweed and high collar if it were at all possible. He resisted change on any level and the board kept him around for that trait. He tenaciously defended the time-honored traditions of the school and the curriculum. His attire today was not clearly contradictory to his reputation. The pale blue shirt had navy blue lines running vertical and horizontal. His tie matched the darker shade and gave the appearance of a package deal.