The Waters Are Deep

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inktober-day-16-lake-monster“The Meriphim monster is not a cryptid,” I said. “It’s a machine.”

In my usual fashion, I’d imagined a scenario where there would be gasps and heads leaning together in the dim light of the small but stark conference hall. I stood at the podium in the light. Beside me was the requisite blurry image of the lake monster. It wasn’t blurry because my reflexes were bad, or because the monster emerged and vanished before I could fumble my way to my camera. It was blurry because there had been a drizzle above me, all around me. I thought it had started sprinkling, but the water wasn’t coming from the sky, which was clear and cloudless. It was dripping, trickling, and tumbling down from the monster.

And even though I knew by then, that it wasn’t alive, I lowered my camera and stood in awe of the beautiful beast. I wasn’t afraid it would hurt me on purpose. But I was afraid of it in that way that one is afraid of a mountain or a dark forest, or any force of nature that is immense and unknowable. Only…the monster was not unknowable. It was immense, but not unknowable. Someone had known it. Someone had built it. Someone with hands just like my hands. But not like my hands.

Was it magic? Or did we once possess far greater skills and technology than we now do? Was the monster a relic of a time when humanity forged metals that never rusted and built machines that could run for thousands of years?

Mars had begged me to hide the monster just as he had hidden years ago. He thought I was still after that fame and renown, or at best, the opportunity to be the cool mom who found an ancient machine-beast still guarding the home of its long-dead makers.

I saw him sitting in the back, watching with cool blue eyes. Maybe he hated me now. Maybe we were enemies before we had even really become friends. Maybe he only thought I was a fool. But I was in that conference room with those specific people because I believed it was the only way to protect the beast. Because if a fool like me could find the Meraphim monster, even after all Mars had done to hide it, then someone else would find it again, and again. And maybe the wrong someone would find it.

***

I’ll begin at the beginning. To show that I’m not anyone particularly special to the world. I’ll try to be quick about it, so I could get back to Mars and Meraphim. And the monster.

I had been working for my company for three years, having been promoted once, before I learned of an opportunity with one of our external partners. I liked my job a lot when my kids were younger and my husband’s career less secure. Doing the same thing or similar things day in and day out, and being able to clock out and not take work home, worked for me. But my family was thriving and thankfully getting more and more independent. I’d started feeling as if it were my turn. The position description intrigued me.  A good amount of travel, research, problem-solving, and a security clearance.  “Contract Field Investigator” was the generic title.

After discussing it with my husband and kids, I applied. I was offered the job. I took it. They were all excited for me. The kids insisted they didn’t mind if I missed a few birthdays, games, speeches, or recitals if it meant they could brag about their adventurous, globe-trotting mom. They even bought me a whip before my first assignment. I lightly flung it out when I was alone, promptly whipping my own face and splitting my lip. I left the whip at home and opted to take along the other gifts they’d given: a travel journal and a satellite phone. I’d spent years worrying after my husband and my children. Now it seemed, they were taking their turn. We were all taking our turns at changing roles.

***

Some people came into the contract Field Investigator position because of encounters they had had with the unexplainable: ghosts, fairies, aliens, or cryptids. I pursued it because of my general interest in the unexplained, especially atypical biology. Most people I met knew what a ghost, fairy, or alien was. The word “cryptid” tended to throw some people off, until they heard some specific names: the Loch Ness monster, the Jersey Devil, the Chupacabra, Bigfoot, and so on. Then everyone would realize they knew exactly what a cryptid was. I’d always thought there were enough real animals in the world that were extraordinary, and there was no need for people to invent things like the missing link or the jackalope. But I also endeavored to be humble enough to allow that some of those reported weird creatures might indeed be real, just not exactly in the way they were first described.

The organization that my company was contracted with, some federal or international agency, aimed to study the real stuff, but there was a lot of noise in the world from the not-real stuff: hoaxes or false alarms. It would be my job to sort out some of that noise. That’s why I had been given clearance to know that some of it was real. I wasn’t shown any proof. I was told I’d see it on the job. I would learn. What was genuine and what was fake. I would have to see both if I was to determine the difference between the two.

I ventured forth excitedly on my first trip, a reported haunting, even though it was only one state over. I was training with an agent and another contractor like myself, only more senior. It was a basic case. A basic case of fraud. There was nothing supernatural or otherworldly going on in that convenience store. Just a hoax and camera tampering so sophisticated that the Agency hadn’t ruled out a real phenomenon right away.

The next case went much the same way. Someone had found what they thought was some new species of giant rat, maybe some holdover from prehistoric times. They had run over it actually, but it was just an opossum. It was unusually large, but a necropsy showed that was because the animal had systemic tumors. The collision further deformed the animal, so it looked like something no one had seen before.

So it went, until I began to believe that all the cases would be hoaxes. I’d been warned to expect that eighty to ninety-five percent would be false alarms. But I began to wonder if they all were. I began to wonder if I wasn’t so much the investigator as I was the subject of whatever project I had signed on to. Maybe I was part of an expensive psychological experiment to see how long I would go along with traveling to different destinations to do my “investigations” into strange phenomenon until I snapped or admitted that I’d caught on. I even went so far as to look for bugs or hidden cameras in my hotel room one night.

But everyone seemed to be taking it seriously. Not just my mentors, but the witnesses, law enforcement officers, respected business owners, teachers, officials, and other respected and respectable folks whom we spoke to for our investigations. Still, it started to feel familiar. The day in and day out again.

***

After six months, I began to reconsider the position. I began to miss my family. I confessed it to my husband one night. I had a few more out-of-state cases before I would be returning back home again. Perhaps I would resign then, unless something more convincing happened.

It did.

And it wasn’t a cryptid, or an alien, or even a ghost. It was a thing that I was least likely to believe in. It was a fairy. We were on the east coast, my mentors and I. A small fishing town somewhere north. It was beautiful and frigid. A young couple had run away into the forest to do what young couples ran off to do when they found it. They could see it was wounded. They could also see that it was not of our natural world. Not as we knew it nowadays anyway. They argued about whether they should leave it there and let nature take its course, or take it with them and try to help. They argued about making things worse by trying to help a creature they knew nothing about. At last, the young woman said she knew someone in town who might be able to guide them.

They called that someone, and that someone called the Agency, and the Agency called me. Rather, they called my boss and I was dispatched to tag along with the more experienced investigator.

My mentors explained to me what the creature was. They gave paper files and digital files. There was more information than I could read in a month, much less on the flight over. I wondered why they were spending so much money to fly me out when I had nothing yet to contribute and could have seen the whole thing over a video conference line.

I stopped wondering when I actually saw it. A metamorphic type of fairy. Unlike the slow metamorphosis of insects, however, this creature morphed in moments before our very eyes. It—she I was later to find out—looked like a kitten when we first arrived. A kitten with a broken paw. Before my eyes, the kitten turned into a large toad.

“They do this when they’re frightened, when they’re adolescent, and when they’re ready to mate,” the field agent explained. He and my fellow contractor somehow managed to ignore the transformations and work on mending the injured limb.

“She’ll heal herself,” the contractor said. “They don’t need doctors. They just need some guidance and focus.”

They spent hours guiding and focusing the fairy through no less than forty-three transformations. I was tasked with documenting them, writing them down, taking pictures, and sometimes video.

The fairy turned into animals I recognized like cats, dogs, chickens, turtles, and ones I did not, like a chubby golden yellow bird with fluffy feathers and something that looked like a baby dragon.

I came home in a daze, overwhelmed and awed. Excited and afraid. More than ever I wanted to do the job. I wanted to see such wonders. But I also wanted to help protect what needed to be protected, expose what needed to be exposed, and defend against what we needed to defend against.

***

I couldn’t tell my family. I could tell them all I wanted about any cases that turned out to be hoaxes or false alarms. But if something was real, I couldn’t tell them. I wasn’t expected to lie either, and couldn’t have even if I was.

I was taught to say noncommittal things like “there was something there, but I’m not at liberty to discuss the details.”

I longed to tell my children most of all. I realized that keeping wonders from them would be hard. But I also realized I might learn about terrible things too, monsters from our stories that turned out to be real. The best I could do was make sure they kept their eyes open, though ready to narrow when focus was needed, and that they kept their minds open, though ready to snap shut against rubbish thoughts when needed.

I needed to talk to someone about what I’d seen, so I talked to my boss. I expressed my fears and doubts about getting all of it and knowing all of it. I wondered what difference I could possibly make. I knew nothing.

“We don’t need someone who thinks they’re an expert,” my boss said, smiling. “We need someone who aims to become one, and will never stop aiming. We need workaday investigators with all different backgrounds.”

I definitely had a workaday background.  A little bit of zoology and a little bit of research experience. Some documentation and quality control thrown in.  My boss believed it all added up to someone who would really try to observe and see at different levels, from details to big picture.  I hoped she was right.

***

That’s how my path started. And eighty to nine-five percent of the cases I investigated were not the real deal. I didn’t always have to go out and see for myself to figure that out either. I went from rookie to experienced investigator. I got into a few harrowing situations, but nothing really bad. I kept myself safe and for the most part, I kept myself stateside.

Five years passed. I had earned the right to choose my own cases when things were a bit slow as they were the summer my son graduated from high school. Our family scattered for their own vacations. My son went off with his friends to tropical locales. My husband and daughter left for their father-daughter cross-country drive. That left me. I had no desire to travel anywhere just to aimlessly wander. But it would be different if I had a purpose, if I were, for instance, investigating a case. So I dove into the archived files of open cases. After a few days of looking through the international files, nothing popped out at me.  I was growing restless.

Sometimes whims and coincidences happen in life. On a bleary-eyed break, I sipped at my lukewarm tea and entered my name in the search query. “Mira.”  Lots of cases of miracles came up. I shook my head at myself, but narrowed the search field.

That’s how I found Meraphim.

There were news stories and other documents. But there was only one official report, filed by a well-respected agent in his early days with the Agency. It was about the village of Meriphim, which lay in the high mountains in Europe. He was always fascinated by the story of the village. Not the village in the mountains, but the original Meraphim, which lay in a nearby valley. That valley became a lake somehow, and that lake was purportedly inhabited by an immense creature. The agent did as much digging as he could on the village and the lake of the same name. He wasn’t able to find out much. But he had not ruled out that there might be something lurking in the lake.

That agent’s name was Mars Dietrich.

***

Before I called Mars Dietrich to talk to him about the file, and inform him I intended to pick up where he left off, I read as much as I could about Meraphim.  But I couldn’t find much in the general archives. I was just on the verge of deciding to call Agent Dietrich anyway when a knock came on my office door and a tall handsome man with blond hair, blue eyes, and a crisp blue suit came walking in.

“Pardon the interruption. Are you Mira Durante?”

“I…am.” And I knew who he was.

He held out his hand. “Mars Dietrich, but you probably know that. I was alerted that you opened the Meraphim monster file a few days ago. Do you have a few moments?”

We exchanged a few pleasantries, but I didn’t want to beat around the bush for too long. I admitted I was thrown that he was in my office in person.

“I figured an investigator would follow up on this someday,” he said, drinking the tea that he insisted he prepare for the both of us. It was warm outside, but cold in the air-conditioned office. He took a deep breath and sighed. “So I’m ready to offer you a more exciting case, or more career-advancing, if that’s what you’re aiming for, or a case in a more exotic and beautiful location. I freely admit I’m trying to keep the village’s secret so that the world won’t descend upon it as it once did. And my plan is to convince each investigator who stumbles on this obscure mystery that he or she should look elsewhere.”

“Have many others found it?”

He shrugged and beamed at me.

I had been at it long enough by then not to be intimidated by the general soft stonewalling that agents usually gave when they didn’t want to share information.

I leaned over my desk. “Agent Dietrich, why not request that the case be removed from the archives?”

“Please, it’s just Mars. And I did. Request denied.”

“Why was it denied?”

“Because I could not definitively say that there was nothing of interest in that lake.”

“And if I decide to pursue my investigation?”

“Then I’ll come with you.”

The thought of teasing my husband by telling him I was going to run away to Europe with a handsome young agent was tempting. But despite his easygoing manner, there was something in the agent’s eyes. Not pleading or threatening. Determination, perhaps, was the look. The expression was subtle. And I didn’t know him well enough to read it. But I could read the sincerity.

I was curious. “What is this secret you’re trying to protect? Do you speak for that village?”

His eyes widened slightly. He sighed and looked down. Then he looked up and peered at me, peered into my eyes. I let him search me for whatever truth he was seeking.

“You’ve got me, Investigator. I do not speak for the village, and you’ll find a few who disagree with me. It’s just…what’s in that lake is something that I’m certain can’t be captured and at the same time, something I fear might be captured and by the wrong people.”

“I don’t understand how keeping your investigation secret will change that. There are reports every year, at least a few, of people seeing that cryptid in the lake.”

He took another deep breath and exhaled through his nose. “I checked before I arrived here. You already have a ticket booked, and travel arranged for the mountains, and a translator.”

“I don’t mean that village any harm. And it’s supposed to be my vacation. Maybe I’ll forget about the monster and just sit beside the lake and read.”

He peered at me again. He rose then and bowed slightly to me as he buttoned his jacket. “Thank you for seeing me, Mrs. Durante.”

“Just Mira, please.”

“Mira, you can cancel your translator. I’m from the region you’re traveling to.  And I’ll be on that flight with you.”

***

“We can get to know each and talk about Meraphim and the surrounding region,” he said as he buckled his seat belt. “Then when we land, I’ll give you the details of my investigation that you won’t find with a general investigator’s access.”

Mars Dietrich had upgraded my seat to business class. And as it turned out, he was a charming flight companion. He admitted that part of his stake in my investigation is that he had been born in the region.  He visited Meraphim often.  He remembered a few details of his childhood. There was always a chill in the high mountains. He loved climbing up and visiting friends in Meraphim. He and his friends would pretend to be eagle-headed sovereigns, perched on the mountain, surveying and watching over their land.

We did not go on to Meraphim right away. We had a stopover in the United Kingdom, and it was in the Agency’s London office that he told me the story of the village in the valley. There were no English translations of the tale, save for the one in his report.

***

As we sat in our temporary London office, Mars read, not from his report, but from an old book he had that was written in some ancient Germanic language.

“The waters are deep and I cannot see the bottom. I am the keeper of tales for the village that once lay in a valley and now lies beneath a lake. When it happened, I was but a child. The keeper of tales then was my father. He had only begun to teach me the old tales, and show me one or two of the new ones he had written. Our village was small but famed. Perhaps all villages become famed, given enough time.”

He stopped and smiled at me.

“The keeper of tales for the village of Meriphim tells the village’s last tale in the place where the village first took root,” I said in reply. I was reading from his report. “These days, Meriphim lays atop a great mountain that shares its name. It is a harsh place, but the villagers are a hardy and resourceful people. They are still some of the finest craftsmen in the world. They had found a way to live on the mountain. But long ago, the village lay in a valley. That’s where it was first founded by the first family to settle there. They gave their name to the village and over the generations, the Meriphs saw their fortunes rise and fall. Sometimes they were the leaders of the village. Sometimes not. Sometimes they were respected. Sometimes not.”

Meriphim began to earn its reputation as a village of master crafters when the village still lay in the valley. The people were said to have crafted the finely woven crown of feathers worn by the princess of the northern kingdom. They were said to have built the most delicate parts of the great scope that the astronomers of the eastern republic used to make their extraordinary discoveries. They built a book for an alchemist once, a clever and puzzling book with pages that would fold away and out of the sight of any but the one who owned the book. So clever in fact that even the forgers and makers and binders of the book would not know its secrets once the owner had set the pages as he or she desired. The legend of this book grew and it was said to contain pockets that folded away into the ether and pages that existed within a single word on a page. It was said the book could even contain voices and pictures that moved or sprung out of the page like ghostly illusions. Such later legends were likely exaggerations. They sounded like the work of magicians, and the Meriphim villagers were anything but magicians.

The valley was a good place to settle. Its soil was rich. Crops thrived. Livestock thrived. The people thrived. The village was still thriving the year the drought struck. It did not just strike the village, but all of the region. First one dry year went by. Then another. And another. First the closest river ran dry. Then another. And another. The once-thriving village began first to wilt, then to wither. The young left. The old died. Those in between tried to fight for their beloved village. News reached them that the drought was not natural. There was a war between two faraway kingdoms, who had magicians capable of harnessing the weather. They had pulled away all the rain to fight their war.

And Meriphim suffered.

The villagers were not helpless. They did not have the skill of magic. But they had many other skills, and they gathered together to plan how they might use those skills to restore their village, drought or no drought.

They built machines, called water-finders, to find water wherever it might be, so they could direct it to their village. They planted crops that needed less water. They let their livestock go wild. They built shields to protect them from the constant gaze of the sun.

Then one day, the drought ended.

***

It had been so long since it had last rained that when it finally did, the villagers rejoiced. But then it didn’t stop raining. It didn’t stop raining for one hundred and three days.

Ceaselessly it rained. Unendingly it rained. Constantly it rained. First the rivers filled, then they overflowed. When the valley began to flood, the villagers began to build again. They built houses that were like ships, watertight, and capable of floating if the waters rose. They built those houses atop stilts and built bridges and ladders of ropes. They wove cloth with stitching so tight that no drop of water could pass through. They were clever and they were thankful. They thought perhaps that the deluge was again being caused by some faraway war. But messages were unclear.

The waters kept rising and rising until they filled the whole valley, turning it into a vast lake. The villagers all fled, and rebuilt their homes in hills nearby. They began to receive messages then. The relentless rain was not everywhere. It was only there. Only in their region. Only in their valley.

The people went to live in the highest mountains, beginning to face the fact that they wouldn’t be able to return to the valley. Then the rain suddenly stopped and they begin to hope again. They visited the valley. The waters were so deep, they could not see the bottom. But they knew what was down there. Their village.

The waters did not recede. Year after year, the lake abided. Replenished only by the rain, which fell during fall and winter, but a bit more heavily than it once did.

People in the surrounding lands learned of how the village of Meriphim was drowned (though in truth it was just moved). It was uncertain how it first began. It may have been a knight or some other warrior. It could have been a party of traveling nobles. It could have been a caravan of commoners stopping for refreshment. But the waters of Lake Meriphim began to develop a strange reputation. The villagers had never practiced magic—no more than any village in their region. The waters became known as being miraculous. So the region’s leader had cause to keep the lake. But the villagers wanted their village back. They had begun devising plans to drain the valley of the water. They had begun to build machines, pumps and tunnels. Now they were ordered to cease.

They obeyed their sovereign, but they came up with another plan, one they would not be blamed for. They used the materials that they had received to build pumps and tunnels, and they built something else, something wondrous and terrible.

They built an immense creature out of wood that would never warp and metal that would never rust. The creature was meant to scare the people who came to the lake. The villagers hoped that the region’s leader would either declare the lake unsafe, or demand that the lake be drained so that the creature could be found and killed. Knowing this might happen, the villages built the creature so that when it was in danger of being found and caught, it would fold away and in and keep on folding in until it was nothing but a flat disc of metal rimmed with a glossy frame of wood.

The villagers released the creature into the lake, into Lake Meriphim. It did not take long for the rumors of its sighting to start. The villagers built the creature so that it would never harm, only frighten. But one day, the creature went further than that. The creature emerged near a boat that had sailed out into the middle of the vast lake. In the boat were three mischievous children, who had not told their elders they were taking the boat out. When the creature emerged, the children were startled and all fell overboard. Two managed to grab hold of the boat and saved themselves. But one began to sink. The other two children cried out and were soon rescued. The tale they told chilled their elders. The creature dove after their companion, with its mouth open. Those upon shore had not seen the boys or even their boat, but they saw the creature dive. The people of the village, the builders, understood. The creature had opened its jaws, swept up the child, and swallowed.

The creature was watertight. It did not have a stomach or organs, for it received its energy from the sun and the waters. So its belly was hollow and the child ended up there. The creature could not fold up until that child was out of its belly. So it sent a message to its makers, a bellow that terrified those on shore. But the makers could not approach, for men patrolled the shores and the lake surface.  They managed to distract some of the guards and call out to the creature, though they could not approach.

***

Two days later, the child walked into the nearest village, weak and soaked, but otherwise unharmed. He said he spent two days in the belly of the beast. And that it had simply thrown him back up onto the shore.

Rather than causing all to leave or the region’s leader to declare death to the beast, the creature made the lake even more appealing. People came from all over to try and catch a glimpse of what they believed to be an intelligent and perhaps compassionate creature. Many began to realize that the lake was deep and dark. The child who had been “eaten” may not have been rescued if he’d simply fallen in. Perhaps he would have surfaced. But likely he would have sunk down to the bottom, not knowing which way was up, being unable to swim to the surface. By being swallowed by the beast, the child, who had no tooth marks or other injuries on him, had been lucky.

So began the hunt for the Meriphim monster. The village’s craftsmanship had suffered, and they in part believed it was because they’d left the valley, perhaps there was some magic or some other special force that directed their visions and hands. But they soon began to regain their skill. In time, their connection to the valley faded. And though they remembered that was where they’d come from, they did not feel their connection to the village at the bottom of the lake. And though they remembered and heard and passed down the rumors of the creature in the lake, they soon forgot that they were the ones who had built it. In fact, they forgot that it was a thing that was built in the first place.

***

Mars looked at me.

“It’s not a cryptid?” I said, knowing it sounded dumb. “A machine?”

Mars nodded.

“That is somewhat out of my wheelhouse.”

“Do you still want to go?”

“Do you think we’ll actually get to see it?”

Mars glanced down at the pile of papers, books, scrolls, and sticky notes we had gathered in our temporary office. He shook his head slightly. “I don’t know.”

“Have you ever seen it?”

He smiled and looked up, his blue eyes sparkling. “I thought I did once, yes. When I was looking down upon my lands. I could see the lake. It was some distance, so it didn’t look so vast. I wouldn’t have been able to see any ripples from wind or fish. But I saw something disturb the water in the middle of the lake, and then I saw something, a hump just break the surface. I didn’t blink, but it just vanished.”

“So, you do believe it’s a machine and not a living creature?”

“Again, I don’t know. Either way, I’ve been keeping tabs on it since before I joined the Agency.”

“You think if someone managed to catch it, then they would reverse engineer something, or have more advanced technology than any other entity on the planet.”

“It may sound mad, but I do.”

“Sounds like something a spy movie villain would do.”

Mars laughed.

“Do you know of anyone in particular who’s looking for it?” I asked.

“Other than you?  I don’t think so. But I’m all about prevention more than reaction.”

“Sounds good. But if it’s a machine, won’t it run down one day? And maybe sink to the bottom where the village lies?”

“Maybe.”

“You’re still keeping stuff about this case from me, aren’t you?”

“Maybe.”

“Would you tell me if I became a full-blown agent?”

“Maybe…but I wouldn’t advise it. You have a great family. Agency life is strange.”

“My family is strange. They’d probably adapt.”

“Do you still want to visit my home country?”

“Absolutely.”

***

Meraphim was beautiful. I could indeed see the lake from the mountains, but even though it was summer, it was freezing. That air grew warmer and somehow cozier as we descended and headed toward the lake, just Mars, me, and our guide and oarsman.

I thought I would feel anxious out on the water, not because of the monster, but because of the water. I’d never before been out in such a small boat in such a large body of water. I thought I would feel exposed too. Under a cloudless sky, far from shore. No trees to shield us with their canopies, or even their shadows. In fact, the shore vanished from sight. I clutched my waterproof bag and felt through it for the satellite phone.

The water was clear, clearer than I’d expected. Closer to the shore, I could see the lake bottom for dozens of feet, then more and more as we moved further from shore.

There were fish swimming below. I think I even saw an eel and some large shape that I imagined was the shell of a turtle almost as big as our boat. Slowly, I loosened my grip on my anxiety and thought about the lake, the ancient village that lay beneath it, and the words of the village keeper.

The waters are deep and I cannot see the bottom.

The lake became deeper and sure enough I could no longer see the bottom. I stared down into the lake’s mysteries and smiled slightly. I’d felt this way once or twice, when staring up at the night sky, focusing on a star and wondering how far away it was from me, and from my petty problems. The lake’s bottom was infinitely closer and yet I felt that same sense of a vast breathing room.

I suddenly felt the urge to lie back in the boat and close my eyes. I listened to the slow and rhythmic sound of the oars that our brave and hardy guide was pulling.

“Mira,” a quiet voice said.

I opened my eyes and watched a flock of swans overheard. They swooped past us and glided to a landing on the lake surface. I turned to Mars and locked eyes with him.

“Is it magic?” I asked, smiling.

“If peace is magic, or if serenity is, then yes.”

“If all great lakes are like this, then I might agree with you. But I haven’t been on any other lakes this vast. I…kind of think something is special about this one.”

Mars gave a noncommittal shrug.

It was then that something breached the lake waters so suddenly and so close to the boat that it tipped to one side and almost tossed us out. Mars grabbed me with one hand and we both held onto the boat until it lurched back down. Our oarsman had been holding the oars, so he’d been thrown overboard, but he emerged and gave us the thumbs up. We helped him back onto the boat and from my peripheral vision, I saw something the size of a high-rise sliding up into the sky beside the boat.

I knew what it was and I grabbed my camera. I looked up through the viewfinder and snapped a few shots, but then I stopped. I wanted to see it with my own two eyes.

The creature’s slate blue skin did look glossy and scaly. It did not look like metal, wood, and gears. There were no rivets, no gilt edges. I looked up against the sunlit sky, wanting to look the creature in its eyes, but its head was so far above me that I could not see it. It was so close but just out of arm’s reach, so I could not touch it, unless I wanted to leave the boat and swim over. Even though I couldn’t see its eyes, I thought I felt them upon me, contemplating, curious. Maybe I imagined it.

I looked at the only part of it that I could clearly see. It’s ventral side. I couldn’t tell if it was serpentine or more of a plesiosaur or brachiosaur. There was so much of it showing and so much more hidden.

But when I looked at its skin, beneath the water rolling off, I saw that the skin was somewhat translucent.  I saw signs of mechanics. Just beneath the skin there were moving parts, small and fine, all moving, sliding past each other.

All at once I felt wonder and horror, not horror at the creature, but at what it meant. Mars had been right. There were no movie spy villains chasing us and the only shady government types present were Mars and myself. But the world was not yet ready to discover the monster of Lake Meriphim. They were not ready to know it as anything but a folk legend.

One man hiding the monster in obscurity was not going to work. Outsiders, even well-meaning ones, coming in to study and safeguard the beast would not work.

But after all I had seen and learned, I could think of one thing that would work, that had to work. When I told Mars, he was dead set against it. I sensed he was holding on to some childhood prejudices. And perhaps he had more of a right to make decisions about the monster and the village than I did. But he didn’t stop me.  In fact, he begrudgingly helped me.

***

Despite his misgivings, Mars arranged for the conference room and the gathering of the audience. We had waited only a week for all the right people to gather.  Every day I had returned to the lake to see it again, but the creature never emerged again.

The people in the stark conference room were the leaders of the village of Meraphim. Descendants of the people who’d built the monster. Mars had his doubts, maybe because he had roots in the village. But I believed. Now that I had seen it with my own eyes, I believed in the old legends. I believed that if anyone did anything to harm the village, that monster would rise up and protect it. The monster would protect Meraphim.

And I believed it was time once again for Meraphim to protect the monster. It was time once again, for Meraphim to remember how to build and how to craft as they once did. If any people had the right to know how the monster worked and what its nature was, it was the descendants of its makers.

They had not locked away the knowledge on purpose. They had merely forgotten and moved on. They had no knowledge of their own anymore when it came to the monster. They knew only what others told them. That the creature was a remnant from some great extinction, or perhaps a new mutation. The monster abided, guarding a ghost. Lake Meraphim still belonged to the village of Meraphim.

Its waters were deep, and its people, its keepers, would now face the challenge of diving in.

 

Copyright © 2016. Nila L. Patel

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