Paul Zindel




Luke Perkins watched his father light the campfire as his mother cleaned and prepared the trout, brushing each speckled fish with herbs and butter and securing it fast between the jaws of a metal rack. The boy had been told to stay near the Coleman lantern by the tent and to play with his pocket video game until dinner was ready, but he had long ago lost interest in the tiny electronic blips. The restless bleating of a herd of sheep nearing the edge of the loch was much more to his liking.

He was thankful his parents didn’t see him as he wandered into the night, down the steep slope to the water. He knew they would have stopped him, shouting NO NO NO. His eyes widened with excitement when he saw the first of the sheep reach the deep, black waters to drink. Perhaps in moonlight the animals wouldn’t run from him, he thought, not the way they had on sunny afternoons when he had tried to feed them M amp;Ms and chocolate-chip cookies from his lunches.

Tonight the sheep were busy drinking and struggling to keep their footing on the slippery slab of shore rock. The boy knew a great deal about these sheep and most of the living creatures of the loch, things he hadn’t learned enough words to be able to tell anyone. He knew the sheep were afraid of the loch-in the same way that his mother and some of the other grown-ups were. He knew they believed there was something scary and not nice hiding in the water, something that was the stuff of bad dreams. But he didn’t feel their fear. Instead, he felt as he knew his father felt-excited by the smell of the night wind and the flash of a carp rolling near a log.

He reached the edge of the lake and froze like a bird dog next to the drinking herd. Finally, when he moved again toward the sheep, he was barely breathing, a trick he had learned when trying to surprise a rabbit or a quail. As more sheep arrived, they overflowed the first flank of animals. Several impatient ones darted behind the boy, and before he knew it, he was surrounded by the shifting animals.

He reached out to touch one, then another. At first he was thrilled by the feel and sharp smell of their damp, oily wool. The animals, driven by thirst, pressed closer, and the little boy became worried when one nudged him, causing his left sneaker to slip into the cold brim of the lake. He thought he had better call out to his mother and father, but quickly there was a splash to his right. He looked and saw that the herd had crowded two of the drinking sheep so badly, they had fallen, baaaaing, into the water. The two animals struggled to get back onto the steep, slippery shore, but neither could get a footing against the moonlit wall of the herd.

Suddenly there was a whooshing sound, and he watched, astonished to see one of the paddling sheep disappear from sight, yanked under the water like a fishing bob when a great bass has struck. The boy slipped farther. He struggled to push back against the herd, to get away from the edge. The second sheep bleated wildly now, confused, circling out into the deeper water as if hoping to find an unseen ledge. This time the child noticed the great wake, a profound undulation of the water heading for the desperate animal. Something dark and huge was coming, and when it struck, the white body of the sheep burst above the water. The eerie carcass shook and was propelled a dozen feet to the left, then back at a sharp angle. The boy heard the snapping and cracking. He glimpsed what he knew so many had been afraid of when they spoke of Loch Ness.

“Help! Help!” he screamed, fighting to break loose from the panicking herd. He kicked, slipped and fell, then managed to grab onto the branches of a thorny bush. Finally, he was on his feet again and clear of the animals. He saw his mother and father racing down the slope from the campfire. Soon they would reach him. He would tell them everything he had seen, though he knew they wouldn’t believe him. But all that didn’t matter, now that he was safe for tonight.



Loch turned away from the plunging mountainside until he floated hundreds of feet above Lake Alban. He shifted his weight below the aluminum-and-canvas wings, turning the hang glider more sharply, circling. Even as the morning sun rose clear of the high ridges to the east, the lake below remained peat-laden black and grasped by the final, thin fingers of the dawn fog.

Lake Alban was profoundly cold, a sixteen-mile-long, narrow, and unspoiled lake in the rugged and sparsely populated highlands of Vermont. It had once been an arm of massive Lake Champlain to the west, carved to depths of over nine hundred feet by a mighty glacier knife. Lake Alban, like Loch Ness in Scotland, was abundant in salmon, eel, and other bottom feeders, food favorable in the eyes of a few scientists to the breeding of massive aquatic animals. But despite recent emotional TV interviews with eyewitnesses, other, more traditional scientists were only amused by tales of terrifying creatures imagined to live in remote waters.

Loch soared in his winged harness. He loved to lift the tip of the glider high above the horizon, let the glider stall, then free-fall until the wind rushed back under the wings to give him control again. He was fifteen now, a handsome, strong boy with shaggy, light-brown hair and deep-green eyes. He had changed a great deal in the years since Loch Ness, when he was the child who cried that he had seen a great water beast. Of course, his parents had smiled-somewhat nervously-and humored him about seeing the monster. It was the children from the town of Inverness who had giggled most and were the first to call him Loch.

The years had so clouded the memory of what had happened on that moonlit night that Loch himself spoke of it only as a childhood imagining. But there were two other events that made Loch’s childhood seem many millions of light-years away. The first was the happy birth of his sister, Zaidee, who was now a handful and more than ready for the fifth grade. The second event was the sad and unthinkable death of his mother from leukemia only a year ago.

“She won’t die,” his father had assured him and Zaidee over and over again. “The chemotherapy is working, the marrow transplant is taking. No, your mother won’t die.”

But she did. On a snowy, chilling winter’s day they had buried her in the family plot near a strip mine outside Star Lake, New York. Finally, now, they all accepted that she was gone forever.

The sky wind whipped Loch’s shirt as he straightened out the flight of the glider high over the eastern tip of the lake. He started to raise the tip of the glider again but leveled out when he heard a plane approaching. The droning sound grew loud, then louder still, until it was earsplitting. Loch banked his glider in time to see the familiar Sea-B Amphibian burst from the towering white cloud above him. The sun exploded off the plane’s fat, stainless- steel body and rear-drive propeller, blinding Loch for a moment. When he looked again, he saw his father’s boss, Cavenger, at the controls. Cavenger’s daughter, Sarah, was next to him, waving at Loch from the plane’s outsized custom windows.

Loch had planned it like this, to be in the sky when Sarah arrived. He wanted her to see him soaring high, to show his pal how well he had learned to fly, and he was thrilled to see her smiling at him as the Sea-B circled. He quickly put his glider into a stall, then let it fall longer and faster than he had any right to.

The wind finally caught under Loch’s wings again, as Cavenger dropped the Sea-B for an approach to the lake. The Amphibian came in low above the project’s encampment, lording its roar over the heads of the hired crews readying the boats for the day’s search. Loch knew the raucous maneuver was one more inspired gesture by Anthony Cavenger to remind all who worked for him: I pay you, I control you, I own you.

Gliding toward home base, Loch had judged the wind currents well. He scanned the desolate north shore of the lake, with its single dirt road to the old logging mill. He gave a last glance toward the massive blue basin to the

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