Authors: David Thompson
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Down in the dark something had moved. A giant shape was almost directly below them and rising fast.
“There!” Shakespeare cried.
“Paddle!” Nate shouted. But he only stroked twice before the canoe gave a violent lurch and lifted half a foot out of the water. Grabbing the sides, he clung on as the canoe smacked back down with a loud
, and water splashed in.
The creature promptly disappeared.
“Did you see him?” Shakespeare said, laughing in delight. “Did you see the size of him?”
Nate had seen little beyond the suggestion of great bulk. “We need to get out of here.”
“No! It might come back.”
“That's what I'm afraid of.” Nate peered down, and sure enough, the bulk was rising toward them again. “It's going to hit us!”
Dedicated to Judy, Shane, Joshua and Kyndra
Monster of the Deep
Gilding The Goat
Bats In The Belfry
Watching And Jousting
The King Valley Water Devil Society
A Glimpse Of Mystery
Devious To The Bone
The Best Laid Brainstorms
The Heart Of Darkness
The Wilderness Series by David Thompson
To the bald eagle flying high in the Rocky Mountain sky, the lake was a great blue egg in the center of the lush green nest of the valley floor.
To the girl standing on the lake's western shore, it was a constant source of entertainment and wonderment. She loved to gaze out over its watery expanse and watch the ducks and geese swim and dive for fish. She fished herself, now and then, and this was one of those occasions.
Evelyn King had not yet seen her seventeenth birthday. The daughter of mountain man Nate King and Nate's Shoshone wife, Winona, Evelyn had more of her father in her than her mother. Sparkling green eyes and lustrous black hair testified to her blossoming beauty, of which she was wholly unconscious. She still thought of herself as a girl, not a woman. She still liked to take her father's fishing pole and spend an idle hour fishing and thinking.
On this particular bright sunny day, Evelyn was perched on a small boulder, humming to herself as she watched the bald eagle soar with outstretched pinions. She wore a beige dress she had sewn herself, patterning it after the latest St. Louis fashion.
Evelyn was watching the eagle, but she was thinking of Degamawaku. She thought of him a lot. He and his family were Nansusequa, a tribe from east of the Mississippi River. Forced to flee when whites wiped out their village, the family had settled in King Valley, as it was called, with her father's consent. She had been spending a lot of time in Dega's company of late. He was her age and fun to be with and strikingly handsome.
As Evelyn sat humming and wondering about the intent looks Dega gave her from time to time, she heard the tread of approaching footsteps. Thinking he was coming to pay her another visit, she swiveled and smiled her warmest smile, only to have it die stillborn and be replaced by a frown. “Oh. It is only you.”
The white-haired man in buckskins, a Hawken rifle cradled in the crook of his left elbow, blinked eyes the same color as the lake and puffed out his full cheeks. “I dare say, that was as warm a greeting as I have ever received. How now, girl? Dost thou jeer and flout me in the teeth?” he said.
“Hello, Uncle Shakespeare,” Evelyn said. “I am glad to see you.”
“So you claim,” Shakespeare McNair responded. “But I was not born yesterday. Nor ten thousand yesterdays ago.” Again he quoted his namesake, “Let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp.”
Evelyn grinned and asked, “What does that mean, exactly? Or is my pa right in saying that when you quote the Bard, you have no notion of what the Bard is saying?”
A pink tinge of indignation spread from Shakespeare's neck to his brow. He was sensitive about his namesake. “Horatio said that?” he sputtered. “Why,
he hath more hair than wit and more faults than hair.”
Laughing, Evelyn lowered the pole to her lap. “I love it when you talk like that. You are just like an old billy goat.”
Shakespeare's indignation increased. “And to think, I used to bounce you on my knee and make funny faces so you would grin and giggle.”
Evelyn adored McNair. He was not really her uncle. He was her father's best friend and mentor, and as much a part of their family as any blood relation. More so, since he had many times shown his love for them by risking life and limb in their defense. “What brings you out and about on this fine summer morning?”
McNair hunkered next to the boulder. In addition to his rifle, he was armed with a brace of pistols and a bone-handled hunting knife. An ammo pouch, powder-horn, and a possibles bag were slanted crosswise over his chest. “That wretch I share my cabin with kicked me out. She was cleaning and said I was underfoot.”
“Oh, Uncle Shakespeare,” Evelyn said. “That's no way to talk about the woman you love.”
“Says who?” McNair rejoined. “A pox on all females! As for my wife, we cannot call her winds and waters sighs and tears. They are greater storms and tempests than almanacs can report.” Teasing women was one of his favorite pastimes.
“You know,” Evelyn said. “I like how you always quote from that big book you have on the real Shakespeare. But half the time I have no idea what you are saying.”
“My apologies, child. I just said my wife is a moody wench.”
“Blue Water Woman is one of the sweetest people I know,” Evelyn remarked. “She adores you and you adore her, and don't pretend you don't.”
“Adore!” Shakespeare snorted. “I will praise an eel with the same praise as I do thatâ” He abruptly stopped.
The pole had given a jerk. Evelyn gripped it firmly and saw the line go taut. “I have a bite!” she said in delight. She hoped it was a big one. She and her brother, Zach, had an ongoing contest to see who could catch the biggest fish, and a couple of months ago he had landed one that weighed close to five pounds.
Shakespeare shot to his feet. His entire life he had been an avid fisherman, as much for the sport as the eating. “Careful now,” he cautioned. “Let it have some line if it wants it.”
“The trick is to tire it out. Then you can bring it in nice and easy,” Shakespeare went on.
“I know that, too,” Evelyn said. “My pa taught me all about how to fish.”
“I am only trying to help. Do I look like a cudgel or a hovel-post, a staff or a prop?”
“What?” Evelyn said, and nearly lost the pole when it tried to leap out of her hands. Holding fast, she stood and braced her legs. “Did you see that?” she exclaimed in amazement.
“You have caught a whale,” Shakespeare said.
Evelyn strained to hold on to the pole. “It must be huge! Wait until Zach sees what I've caught.”
“There are two things in life we should never do, child,” Shakespeare said. “One is to put the horse before the cart, and the other is to put the fish before the frying pan.”
The line went slack, but Evelyn was sure the fish was still on the hook. “What is he up to?”
“He?” Shakespeare repeated. “How do you know it is not a she? If it is contrary, it must be female.”
“To hear you talk, a body would think you do not cuddle with your wife three times a week.”
Shakespeare imitated a riled chipmunk. “Why, Evelyn King! Wait until I tell your mother what you just said. She will brand you a wanton.”
“For talking about cuddling?” Evelyn was about to tell him she once overheard Blue Water Woman mention to her mother how frisky he was, but the line went taut, and the end of the pole curled toward the water. It was all she could do to hold on. “Dear Lord.”
“A by-God whopper, girl!” Shakespeare exclaimed. “Whatever you do, don't lose him.”
“Him? I thought you just told me it has to be femaleâ” Evelyn got no further. The pole jumped toward the lake, and she went with it, digging in her heels to keep from falling on her face. “Help me!”
In a bound Shakespeare reached her side. He grabbed the pole with his free hand and was amazed when it bent even more.
“What do we do?” Evelyn asked.
Before Shakespeare could answer, the line broke with a loud
. He lunged but missed, and the line disappeared into the water, leaving tiny swirls in its wake.
“Drat,” Evelyn said in disgust. “It got away.”
“Fish do that,” Shakespeare philosophized. Secretly, though, he could not help but be astounded.
“You don't supposeâ¦?” Evelyn let her question trail off.
“No, I don't.”
They looked at each other and then at the lake, and Evelyn said softly, as if afraid to be heard, “You're probably right. Why would it go after a measly worm? It was a fish, nothing more.”
“It was a fish,” Shakespeare said.
But neither believed it.
To most whites, Blue Water Woman was a Flathead. Her people, however, called themselves the Salish. They lived well to the north of King Valley in a region that boasted the largest body of fresh water between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean. King Lake was not nearly as big as Flathead Lake, as that other lake was known, but to her it was the jewel in their new home.
As a girl, Blue Water Woman had whiled away many an idle hour at Flathead Lake. She and her friends frolicked in the shallows and swam every chance they got. She often went for long swims away from shore, despite repeated warnings from her parents and others.
Not long ago, when Shakespeare told her about Nate King's plan to move all of them from the foothills to a valley deep in the mountains, she nearly said she was against the idea. Then her husband mentioned that the valley boasted a lake and they would live along its shore. In a heartbeat she changed her mind. “If you want to do it, we will.”
“Ha, ha! Are you honest?” Shakespeare had asked.
“What do you mean?” Blue Water Woman suspected he was quoting old William S, as Shakespeare called his namesake.
“That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should admit no discourse to your beauty.”
“I am always honest and fair with you. If you want to move, then I want to move. You are my husband and my heart, and I would not live without you.”
Blue Water Woman smiled at the memory. Shakespeare had been touched by her declaration of love, and for a few days had treated her with extra tenderness. He had even forgotten to be grumpy, which, given his usual disposition, was a miracle in and of itself. He was not truly happy unless he was complaining about something or other.
Chuckling, Blue Water Woman bent to the task at hand. She was out behind their cabin on the south shore of the lake, squatting at the water's edge, wringing out towels and a blanket. It was laundry day, which for her meant carrying whatever needed washing to the lake and giving it a good dunking.
The breeze off the lake was cool, although the day was hot. She raised her head and turned her face so the breeze caught her full-on. A sense of peace and contentment came over her and she closed her eyes.
Blue Water Woman was happy with her life. She had a husband who adored her, a man she loved with all her being, a comfortable cabin in which to live, horses and chickens and even several piglets. She was within short walking distance of her dearest friend, Winona King. Her only other neighbors were Winona's son, Zach, and Zach's wife, Lou, who had a cabin on the north shore, and the Nansuseqa family to the east of the lake.
A loud splash ended her reverie. She opened her
eyes and spied concentric circles spreading across the surface of the lake a stone's throw out. She assumed that a fish had surfaced and gone back under, and she started to bend to the towels.
Suddenly Blue Water Woman froze.
was floating under the water near the concentric circles. She could not quite make out what it was, but it was big, far bigger than any fish she'd ever seen or heard of. She thought it must be a trick of the sunlight, a shadow of some kind, but when she tilted her head, it did not go away. Whatever it was, it was real.
The warnings of her early years returned to fill her with dread. Annoyed at herself for being so silly, she began to rise, but she stopped when she realized the thing was coming toward her.
Blue Water Woman's heart beat faster. She remembered the stories vividly, accounts of creatures that dwelled in Flathead Lake and others. Creatures that lived in the depths and only came to the surface on rare occasions. Creatures, her people believed, that were bad medicine. That should be avoided. Creatures that ate people.
In her early years, Blue Water Woman had thought the stories silly. Tales her mother told to keep her from swimming alone. She had ignored the warnings and done as she pleased.
Then came the day her opinion had changed. She had seen fourteen winters. It had been early spring, and her people were camped close to Flathead Lake. A warrior had shot a deer with an arrow. Wounded, frantic to escape, the buck had plunged into the lake and swam to a small island not far from shore, and the warrior hurried to a canoe to go after it.
Blue Water Woman had not seen what happened
next. She'd heard about it from her father. He, along with dozens of others, had watched the warrior paddle toward the island. The day had been sunny and clear and the water undisturbed, but midway the canoe unexpectedly shook as if caught in a gust of wind. The warrior had gripped the sides and looked about in consternation.
A few of the Salish said they had seen a dark shape rise out of the deep and strike the bottom of the canoe. But others had seen nothing. Some had shouted for the warrior to forget the buck and come back. But the warrior had gone on paddling.
Everyone had witnessed the consequence: something
rise up out of the lake, something bigger than the canoe, striking it with terrible violence and lifting the front end clear out of the water. The warrior had tried to hold on, but he was pitched into the lake. They had seen him flail his arms. They'd heard him cry out. Then, in the blink of an eye, he was gone.
Women had screamed. Children had run. Men had rushed to canoes to go to the warrior's aid, but an elder warned them they must not go into the water. The lake creature was angry, the elder had said. They had not offered a sacrifice to it in many moons, and the hunter had paid the price of their folly. That very night they did as they had done in olden times, and a doe was slain and taken out in a canoe and dropped in the water at the spot where the warrior had gone under.
There'd been no more attacks. Winters had gone by. Blue Water Woman had never seen the creature. The memory and the menace had faded from her mind. She grew up, eventually took McNair for her mate, and moved far away.
Then came the move to King Valley.
Now, strange things were beginning to happen. Waves appeared on the lake when there was no wind. The water would roil and churn with no visible cause. They heard loud splashing, but no fish jumped. Nearly all of them glimpsed
out in the water, but none of them could say what it was.
Blue Water Woman felt genuine fear as the shape glided slowly toward her. Yet at the same time she was elated that she might at long last see it. Conditions were ideal. It was not raining or misty or foggy, as was often the case when the creature made its presence known.
Then, in a twinkling, the thing was gone. It seemed to sink straight down into the depths and vanish.
Blue Water Woman waited breathlessly for it to reappear. Suddenly a hand fell on her shoulder, and she jumped and spun, her hand dropping to the knife she was never without. “Oh!” she exclaimed in her husband's tongue. “It is only you.”
Shakespeare McNair grinned. “That is a fine way to greet me. My mistress with a monster is in love,” he quoted. Then he saw her eyes. “What is the matter?”
Blue Water Woman threw her arms around him and held him close. She quaked, although she could not say why. “Oh, Carcajou,” she said, using the name he was known by of old, her special term of endearment for him.
“I repeat,” Shakespeare said, shocked by her reaction. He could count the number of times he had seen his wife like this on one hand and have fingers left over. “What is the matter?”
“I saw it,” Blue Water Woman said.
Shakespeare gazed out over the placid lake but saw only a few mallards. “The thing?”
Blue Water Woman shuddered again.
“Did you get a good look? What is it?”
“I could not see much,” Blue Water Woman said.
“Yet you are this scared?” Shakespeare had seen his wife stand up to a grizzly without flinching.
“I think it wasâ” Blue Water Woman caught herself. “No. That is silly. I must be wrong.”
“About what?” Shakespeare prompted.
“I think it knew I was here,” Blue Water Woman said, almost in a whisper. “I think it was looking at me.”
Shakespeare held her and stroked her and glared at the water. He did not like it when the woman he loved was upset. He did not like it at all. “This is a sorry sight,” he quoted.
“I am sorry. I am being childish.”
“It is not you. It is
,” Shakespeare said, with a bob of his snow-colored beard at the blue water. “I am losing my patience with that thing.”
“There is nothing we can do,” Blue Water Woman said.
“One more incident like this, and I will declare war,” Shakespeare vowed.
“No, you will not. My people say we are to have nothing to do with the water devils, as you would call them. To anger them is to court death.”
“I am too old for fairy tales.”
“Carcajou!” Blue Water Woman drew back and regarded him sternly. “I will thank you not to belittle our beliefs. And I want your word that you will not go out after it.”
“Your wish is my command, my dear.” But Shakespeare's eyes, fixed on the lake, said different.