(see editor's note below)
Lake Champlain was huge. Yes, it was. I had never realized that a lake could be really Big!
Yeah, I had seen Lake Erie and Lake Michigan. Yeah, they were Big. But they were The Great Lakes. This was just a lake. And it was Big. OK, the main lake was maybe a hundred miles long and maybe fifteen wide at its widest point, but it was a serious lake.
And supposedly somewhere in those cold deep waters America's Nessie lived.
I personally thought that these critters in these remote lakes were a second cousin to the plesiosaur or something like that way. Champ was less popular than the Loch Ness Monster, but there was a small and noisy group that assembled in a quaint little Vermont pub where they cheerfully bought me a local beer at five dollars a mug, and they believed otherwise.
No way was I a crytozoologist, but this assignment hinged on the fact that I had indeed spent fifteen days in the middle of New Jersey searching for a monster. And I didn't even manage to drop my first quarter in a slot machine in Atlantic City, although I did go out to lunch with a deputy sheriff in a casino restaurant.
I had my choice of 'animal assignments' after the Jersey story came out. I picked Champ because, well, I had never been there.
A giant alligator in a Florida swamp didn't excite me. I was not going back to New Jersey to see the one exhibit I had missed, a now petrified sample of Devil manure. It was either Bigfoot, or Champ.
I like lakes better than forests.
The boat churned across the calm deep blue waters and the fishing guide told me about his one 'sure thing' sighting of the monster. He maintained that he got within twenty feet of the creature that had been snoozing on the surface. Then it startled awake, made a squawking noise, and dove so violently his fishing boat almost overturned.
His description fit a majority of the sightings of Nessie and Champ I had found in my research.
On the New York side of the lake I took up digs in a small hotel overlooking a wide spot on the lake and told myself that, if I was a lake monster, right out there is where I would be floating around sunning myself.
The next day I listened to an old 'Laker' tell me there were back bays and inlets on the lake that hadn't been seen by white man in a hundred years. He took me to a couple on his overpowered water runner with a couple of his buddies.
They told me to watch the depth gauge as we cruised out of the marina. It was in feet. I watched it go from twenty feet to a hundred feet in just a few minutes, then it changed scale and it was setting at a hundred and fifty feet or more. When it finally ran over two hundred they told me, and I believed them, that in some places this lake was over four hundred feet deep.
We motored through some beautiful scenery. Rugged shoreline and cliffs alternated with gentle tree covered slopes. Stately buildings and vacation homes and state park facilities merged into miles of shoreline until I couldn't tell you if I was looking at Vermont or New York or even Canada.
But the fish finder didn't register anything larger than a muskie or pike.
No sea monsters were out today.
I know they were all good hearted souls. Most of them seemed to really believe that some remnant of the far past was living in the lake, and I had seen photos that really looked like a dead plesiosaur that had been caught by a Japanese trawler years ago in the Pacific, but... A two hundred and fifty million year survivor, or in this case, many generations of survivors, inbreeding in the isolated and cut off lake, and still thriving?
It was a lot to swallow.
Unless somebody pulled a real dinosaur, or something like that, out of the lake, I wasn't ready to say for sure, or even a good hearty maybe, that there was anything in the lake other than some really big fish, and even bigger imaginations.
I was walking across a Tennessee cow pasture with a dowser.
The man was incapable of saying more than three or four words at a time. Its not that he was unfriendly, or mean, he just didn't talk much. Most of his answers were either 'yep' or 'nope'. He had been born Old Order Amish in Pennsylvania. But his father got mad at the community when the inheritance of the farm came into question and he was left with a shack on a bare three acres, a wife, four kids, and a buggy with a bad wheel. Then they moved to the Blue Ridge and began all over.
He learned his craft from their adopted grandfather, a distant relative of his mothers, and today, in the twenty-first century, he was the only dowser left within about two hundred miles of the spot that still used the old forked sticks. He found spots for wells, located forgotten septic tanks, diagnosed problems with artesian springs, and even once, a flooded coal mine.
Now we were mapping the ley lines in the area.
A developer with an Eastern bent didn't want to disturb the 'powers' in the area. He knew that if he built things where the 'vortices of the planet' didn't want them, things could go badly. It sounded about halfway over the fence in left field, but hey, I had heard even stranger stuff in the last three years.
I got an interview with the developer in his office in Nashville and felt like I walked into a Zen temple. Some sort of Asian gong and drum music was rippling out of the speakers. Folding screens with Oriental scenes sat here and there, wall hangings were everywhere, and jade and white stone carvings occupied tasteful points of interest on small isolated tables. I spoke in hushed tones to the receptionist.
She was as American as Mount Rushmore. When I got in to see the developer, he had a stout Georgia accent. During the course of our talk, he confessed he was almost hopeless with chopsticks and couldn't stand sushi. He just thought that the Tao and other Eastern philosophies were more in harmony with nature than our way of bulldozing the countryside to suit us and building everything out of steel and glass.
I had seen so many conflicting ideas about the lines, I wasn't sure what to believe anymore. It was clear that there were natural flows or lines of power in and on and over the earth. But whether these lines formed triangles or pentagons or, as I thought most likely, a more or less random selection of all sorts of geometry, nobody could say for certain 'yep' or 'nope'.
My dowser didn't claim to know anything about the Lines of Power around the Great Good Earth. But he knew them well enough in this area. As we drove back into town he pointed out various landmarks and described how the lines dipped in and out of the hills in the area, and every time, there was some sort of natural phenomenon near the area. A spring, a coal seam, a sinkhole... something within rock throwing distance to mark the spot. Then he said that the lines didn't stay in one place. They bent and curved and moved a little, never far from their anchors in the surface, but they were not fixed like an electric cable strung between poles.
The other things the developer wanted checked involved every other Eastern philosophy in the book. Masters and mystics roamed the site. Some talked to the trees. Others raised a standing stone and prayed to the wind. Still another walked around beating a drum and talking to the spirits of the land. But in the end, they all cashed their checks, although some said the money was a donation to a temple or some orphans or whatever, and went away. And he built his development.
Before I wrote my article I went to another Dowser. One that used more modern instruments and talked a bit more.
The information was about the same. But there were subtle differences.
That was one thing that kept coming up.
These were not exact sciences with a generally accepted unit of measure.
In chemistry, nobody nit picked over the atomic weight of carbon. Everybody and their cousin the chemist could measure how much heat it took to raise one liter of water one degree. If you didn't like the General Relativity formula, go ahead and come up with a better one.
But in my line of inquiry now, if you wanted to put out your own theories and invent new terms and go off half cocked about something, you did!
There were few accepted markers that everybody worked from. You could go into a good bookstore and buy a basket full of books that all contradicted each other on everything to ever come across the counter of parapsychology.
For a special essay I examined every point of view I could turn up about one topic.
He was a space alien, a dead end on the human family tree, a family of mutants from A-bomb tests, another species of Great Ape, and so on. Then on top of all of them you could add various layers of government cover-up, superstition, and even genealogical implications of the curse of Cain.
Books had been written about how to fake a Bigfoot encounter. Web sites went into great detail about how they were gentle loving misunderstood creatures who wanted to be left to live in peace. You could buy a Bigfoot lunch box, or take a ride in the famous pickup truck. There were Bigfoot Saloons and diners. You could even book a spot on an expedition into the Cascade Mountains to look for him.
And all that was without even mentioning the Yeti in Asia.
Whether or not the tall hairy guy even existed was not the subject of the article. What I looked at was the industry that had evolved in his shadow, whether or not he had actually evolved, or de-evolved as the case may be, in the first place. A dozen movies and TV shows had been made about them that I could recall off the top of my head. Why would anybody pay good money to walk through a Bigfoot museum? Yet, they did.
My conclusion, we WANTED him, and Nessie, and UFO's, and faith healers, and a laundry list of others, to be real. Period. Whether or not they were was almost, no it was, irrelevant. It didn't matter if the Governor's Mansion of Delaware was haunted or not. We wanted it to be, or thought it should be, and that was good enough. Why did I stand in line with a couple from India and a swarm of school kids from Dover to walk through it and not see any ghosts? Because it was my job. My readers wanted to read about how some long-dead Governor of the First State still showed up for work once in awhile. The same was true of ghost ships off the Outer Banks and spirit lights in the Smokey Mountains.
I hadn't been across the Mississippi River yet and I already had gigabytes of files on my computer and filing cabinets full of hard copies of information going back, in some cases, four hundred years or more.
Were their still settlers from 'The Starving Time' prowling Jamestown Island for food? Well, I didn't see any, but I talked to a park ranger that believed he had.
Did Confederate and Union troops still fight the Battle of Gettysburg? Could be. I did see some shadowy forms that could have been boys in Blue and Gray, or the evening mists, it was hard to say.
Were there forgotten trains that still thundered down long closed railroads waking the residents in the neighborhood from a dead sleep from time to time? I never heard or saw the train, but I talked to a whole civic center full of people that had.
And the files went on.
Cross-referenced by state, by phenomenon, by subject, even by which month I was there. And still there were things to check out. And it got weirder as I went.
I became very familiar with exactly what a succubus was, and talked at length with a rather striking young lady that thought she was one.
And then I decided it was best for me to leave town before she decided to prove it.
Nobody had ever told me there was about six ways to spell it. Depending on which brand of the undead you were talking about.
I went to a 'church' meeting of them. I sat through a coven circle of them. And I watched a couple of them indulge in their passion for actual red blood. Although it wasn't mine.
Were these people really what they claimed they were? No. Most likely not.
But some of them really believed it, and lived the lifestyle, and carried out their roles to the T. But when push came to shove, or in one case, a burn from a cloak that got too close to the fire. They were human, as the physician's assistant in the emergency room confirmed. And when I drove the wounded bloodsucker home, he didn't melt in the morning sun, but he did pay me back for getting his prescription filled.
Witches and aliens. People that talked to their cars, and listened as the car talked back. Lost souls claiming all sorts of nonsense.
If I was a psychologist I could have hung up a shingle and made a nice living. Some of these people needed serious help, and maybe medication.
There is one thing when you belong to the Wiccan faith. OK, you call yourself a witch or warlock or whatever, and light your candle and chant to your hilltop or tree. They seemed to be basically harmless, and it was kinda all good clean fun.
It's something altogether different when you walk around casting 'spells' and working 'magik' against anybody that cuts you off in traffic. She wore black, and made curious gestures with her hands and eyes, and even had a pot of something I couldn't pronounce that smelled bad simmering over an oil flame in her parlor.
And that's not even going into the woman I had dinner with that called up evil spirits and opened up gates into the other realms.
It made a couple of good articles.
And I was invited to every coven in the country and two bar-be-ques.
I went to one of the BBQs.
The comments ranged everywhere from that I was full of something besides ribs and had no business writing about what I didn't know, to that I was right on the mark and he couldn't have done better himself.
Which was about usual. If I wrote there was a ghost in some hotel in Indianapolis and that I had seen some rather curious things when I was there, I got, say, a hundred letters and emails. A third would call me nine kinds of liar and say I had no business writing nonsense that scared children and hurt business. Another third wanted to know more and did I smell any odd perfume. The last third would be stories about how they stayed in that hotel, or a campground, or even on the QE2 and had a similar experience, and here it is...
There was no winning any argument on the subject. I would agree or disagree or simply stand there and listen as the situation dictated. Then I would make whatever response I thought was warranted, and told them to write to my editor and he might print their letter as a rebuttal.
Then I'd go find another plate of ribs.
Psychic powers left me cold. No pun intended.
As with ghosts and UFOs and odd monsters and the occasional spontaneous human combustion, there was never any evidence that I could measure, take a picture of, or at least watch happen.
The common phrase was that they just couldn't focus enough today, did I want to come back on the next full moon or something.
I checked them all out as a matter of course. Well, at least a good piece of them. That was kind of the soul of parapsychology, human mental powers, if anything was. But in the cases I looked at, there was nothing there.
Tricks and gimmicks. I got to where I could bend spoons and sort playing cards without looking at the faces and do better than chance.
Seances and levitations and spirit horns. My pocket flashlight and a little bit of planning on my part exposed more than my share, and soon, I wasn't invited any more.
Occasionally if a friend's widowed aunt wanted to call up her dead husband, I'd go and sit and watch, playing Cousin Phil or something. And when the show began, I'd watch some more.
The medium seemed all surprised that my small ball of thread tossed across the room had found a thin wire holding Uncle Joe's hat above the table. But his aunt learned her lesson and the medium went without her money that night.
Were they All frauds? No. I can't say that. Yet.
A lot of them were. Some of them tried real hard to be what they claimed to be, and maybe a few of them really believed they could tell you your past life history by reading the sole of your foot or the bumps on your head or something.
But I wouldn't pay them for the privilege.
The Men In Black even stopped by.
Oh, they never beat me with rubber hoses and stole my camera.
But odd sorts with quasi-official looking badges did ask a lot of questions about some of my articles, and they seemed to know a good deal about where I had been and who I had talked to and while they were at it, did I ever run into anybody else that asked me the same kind of questions.
Well. It happened often enough that I began to wonder if maybe there wasn't somebody out there taking these things a lot more seriously than I did.
My computer never mysteriously crashed, my film always came back from the developers. And I don't think my phone was ever tapped. But I took some precautions.
If a story seemed likely to raise some hackles or interest in certain sectors, I made backups, and sent copies to outside persons to hold, just in case.
I got to where I recognized what they would be interested in, and in a few cases, made them a folder so when they stopped by, two days after the article appeared in print and on the Net, they could look through it over coffee and go.
They never seemed to appreciate it. But then again, it would have surprised me if they had.
I covered everything.
I mean it, everything.
UFOs were almost a default if I couldn't find an old grist mill whose attendant still opened the slucegate every morning or a fishing boat almost run down by the 'Flying Dutchman' to write about. Or maybe this week it was another appearance of my old friend, the Mothman.
Me and Mothman went way back by this time.
It has been more than five years since I had walked around the old TNT site and marveled that even after all that work and all this time, evil orange slime still leeched out of the ground here and there.
The hills of West Virginia had given me many good stories, and a couple of good weekends hunting with a friend or two.
I used Mothman as a metaphor for something that has happened, that we just simply cannot explain.
There are some things in this world, and maybe the next one, that we simply, by definition, cannot know.
And after hundreds of thousands of miles on three cars, countless interviews and sleepless nights in old houses...
And after hundreds of blurry photographs and dead-end trails and sunburn and poison ivy...
And after a thousand bad hoaxes and a few dozen really good clever ones and a guy with copper wire glued to his teeth...
That's really all I can say with any certainty at all.
We are a race of finite beings.
The universe is a marvelous place.
This is a very small, very insignificant planet.
The world is full of energy, of things, of, yes, maybe even other intelligence that we cannot perceive.
If just ONE of the things I spent so much time going after is true. Really True!
It would mean so much.
It would redefine what we do and do not know about the world.
It would completely change our perception of ourselves and our role in the Great Play that is being staged all around us.
And I guess that is why I am still doing it.
I've got to go, there's this lighthouse out on the bay where the keeper still checks the lamp every night when there is a new moon.
[Editor's note: This story is Fiction. Although some of the places and incidents are on the record as either having had actually happened, or are rumored to have happened, the overall story presented is Fiction, based somewhat on the author's own parapsychological research and investigations. No representation of persons or places, legendary or real, dead, undead, or alive, is intended to be defamatory.]
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