Marco did not swim in the lakes, not even the large ones. He was not afraid of teeth nibbling at his feet, or a tentacle from some prehistoric beast wrapping itself around his thigh. He was not a true believer like his sister. The monsters were not real. Marco knew this. He just didn’t like to swim.

Look at this. Undeniable.

Even in the bush of British Columbia, Marco’s phone still had service. A cell tower on the horizon did its best to hide among the trees, but its branches had too many right angles. On Marco’s vibrating phone, a new photo of a dark shape below silty water appeared. A school of fish, an otter, maybe a loose mass of algae or seaweed lingering beneath the surface. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Kaleigh’s next text disagreed. LAGARFLJOTSORMUR!

Kaleigh was in Iceland now, trying to complete the latest stage of her new quest. Verifying the existence of lake monsters was the best way to avoid dealing with the lawyers, the new real estate agent, and the moving company. In Italy, stalking the banks of Lake Como, she did not have to deal with letters or flower deliveries offering condolences for their mother. In Argentina, deep inside the woods of Patagonia, no one could reach Kaleigh to ask about her plans after school or who would inherit Nessy the Cat. She had no answers for them. Marco didn’t either.

With each stop, Kaleigh checked another creature off her list. She was working on a pitch.

How did you learn to spell that word? Logawhatever?

Iceland was supposed to be the last stop. Sitting alone in the old house a few months before, Kaleigh told Marco she could not do this alone. The summer would end, school would return. She wouldn’t have enough proof. There wouldn’t be enough information for a book, not even a blog post. Kaleigh required primary sources, real evidence. It was Marco’s job to find the other lake creatures in their backyard, the ones closer to home.

I had to copy/paste it. But don’t you think it’s obvious?

A deer fly kept circling Marco’s head. He stumbled down into the trees, headed toward the swimming hole near the cabin their family had abandoned a decade before. His mother always claimed the pond down there had no bottom. She said it was haunted by an ancient eel named Reek, who swallowed unattended children whole. A legend based down by her mother and her mother before her. A creature starved for attention. Reek was also on Kaleigh’s list, part of this lake monster project. A taxonomy, she said. An exploration of the unknown in the flesh.

Obvious?

No one else was around. Reek was glue Mom had used to bind them to one another. They could disappear for hours in the woods, building teepees out of dead leaves and stealing old bird nests from the highest branches. They only had one rule to follow.

You could go anywhere in these woods. You just couldn’t go out there alone.

Totally obvious! There is no other fresh water creature this large in Iceland. Definitely nothing that could survive in the cold. What else could it be?

Reek was their mother’s favourite story. He could climb out of his swimming hole if you stayed out too late after school. He would be waiting for you when you tried to slip out a window after dark, or if you snuck into the kitchen after midnight. No place was truly safe when you were alone. Reek must have been in the doctor’s office too when they told Mom everything about adrenal glands and malignancy, but Marco did not tell his sister any of those things. She already knew. She wanted to find the monsters and name them. If you could name them all, they might just go away.

Marco threw a branch into the pond. He had never touched its bottom, not even when they were kids. Kaleigh told him it was like quicksand, like you were being swallowed whole. She told him it was fun to sink, to pretend they were in danger. She did this alone.

You’re right. I noticed the fin on the left side. Do you have more pictures of? I can’t spell whatever it’s called. Icelandic makes no sense to me.

Marco raised his phone and snapped a photo of the branch under the green water. It sort of looked like a massive eel with the right filter. Not quite right though.

YES. LOTS OF THEM!

Lagarfljotsormur was real now too. Soon the project would be complete, or complete enough. Marco snapped a few more pictures of the branch named Reek, this latest monster, the youngest creature in Kaleigh’s book, if there was a book.

It still looked like just a branch from the edge of the water.

Are you still going to meet me here? Egilsstaðir is great!!

Marco took off his shirt and his shoes. He waded into the green water, felt the bottom sucking at his feet. It was time to pretend again. He was not supposed to wade in here alone. This was an old rule. Maybe the oldest. Up to his chest in the thick muck, Marco took another photo. The branch was a creature now, gnarled and barely hiding beneath the surface. An image he could believe.

He sent Kaleigh the photo.

I found Reek.

YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The vibration made him drop his phone into the murky water, but he let it sink.

Marco didn’t need any more proof.

 

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Image By Sawaki Suushi (佐脇嵩之, Japanese, *1707, †1772) via Wikimedia Commons

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Andrew F. Sullivan is the author of the novel WASTE (forthcoming Dzanc Books, 2016) and the short story collection All We Want is Everything (ARP Books, 2013), a Globe & Mail Best Book. He no longer works in a warehouse. You can find him online at www.andrewfsullivan.com.