Of the LakebyMungoParkIII©
We had come to the end of what I expected to be our last family vacation together. With college graduation coming up for my son and my daughter's impending marriage to a guy heading to basic training in the Navy I knew another trip like this one would be difficult. Actually just getting this on off the ground was a monumental task, between my work schedules, their work schedules and especially their social activities it was almost impossible. Finally we were able to all get away during the second week in August, so we packed up the car and headed northwest, away from the city.
I guess it was predicable that the trip met none of our expectations. The one day we spent touring at Palo Duro Canyon was interesting, and the basic geography of the area seemed to keep it rather cool and although the tails of Kit Carson leading the Indians from the valley after killing their horses and burning their chinaberry trees only really interested me, the rest of the family didn't complain. No, the complaining started when we settled into our cabins in a very small town about fifty miles from Palo Duro.
"What kind of place doesn't have a Mall?" was the first comment I heard as we stopped at the only traffic light in town. It went downhill from there. Fortunately the cabins did have air conditioning and the pool was nice. Just before reaching the town, the roadway passed over a corner of a rather large lake, but whenever we asked about getting a boat we only got murmurs about some "...strange goings on out there." Apparently the nearby bait shops and rental places had shut down a year or so ago, so I had to simply settle for the view of the lake from a nearby hill.
I spent the next several days relaxing by the pool and reading a few books, making sure the volume on my MP3 player was loud enough to drown out the whining from my wife and kids. My daughter and son did find a few things to do around town, though I had to wonder about their tales of the Rabid Dog Museum and the haunted old movie theater. They even claimed to have found a vegetarian restaurant where my daughter could finally eat something other than a "...salad and hold the bacon bits and egg." When the time came to begin packing up to leave, it was amazing how helpful they were.
"Hey dad, I'll go get some gas at the station in town," my daughter volunteered.
"Pick us up some bottled water for the trip home, we are about out," my wife shouted from the bedroom as I tossed the keys to my daughter.
The rest of us continued packing up and amid the expected comments like, "Sure be nice to get home," and "Can't wait to get back into civilization," I arranged the bags so once the car got back I could quickly get it loaded and get back on the road. While we took two days on the trip out, we planned on making it in a day on the way back, so the quicker we got away, the better.
"Well, here comes your daughter," my wife said.
"She's driving awful fast, especially on that road," I replied, looking up at the dust cloud roiling up behind my small car.
Pulling up near the cabin, she slammed on the brakes and slid to a stop. Jumping out of the car she ran over to me shouting, "Dad, we need to go back up the road now!"
"We need to get packed and then go," I replied.
"No! There was something in the road. It must have gotten hit by a car, a dog or something."
"Did you hit a dog Hailee?"
"No, it was in the road, I had to swerve around it."
"Well it's probably dead," I said, moving to grab one of the bags.
"No dad," she cried pulling her hand through her brown hair, "it was moving."
Noticing the tear running down her cheek, "Okay, but someone probably has taken care of it. The person who hit it surely..."
"No, there was no one around. And I don't care if you don't do anything, I'm going back," she screamed, turning and heading to the car.
"Okay, okay, wait a second," I said to her. "Look, Rick grab some towels and some water," I said loudly to my son, then turned to my wife, "Why don't you stay here and look after the bags? Ask around and see if there's a vet around. Call me on the cell."
Three of us jumped into the car and I drove as my daughter pleaded, "Hurry, hurry."
Driving as fast as I dared on the two-lane roadway I headed back toward the town. After we traveled a few miles Hailee said, "Okay, slow down, it's right around here. Yes, right here."
I pulled to a stop. Looking over the roadway there were no skid marks, but a lot of dirt and gravel strewn out over the asphalt, almost as if a car had pulled off the road at high speed and then pulled back onto the road. Over on the dirt shoulder there was some broken glass, like from a headlight or something, but there was no injured animal anywhere.
My cell phone rang and when I answered I heard my wife's voice, "The nearest vet is like twenty miles away, but they say some old lady in town can work on the animals, as long as it's not too serious."
"Okay, where in town?" I asked.
She gave me some directions and then I said, "Well, looks like it might be a false alarm. Something happened here, but there is no sign of an animal around here. I'll let you know."
Surveying the scene, it was obvious something happened there, something was hit and a headlight or something from a car was broken, but if it was an animal, it either got up and stumbled off or crawled under some brush to die. The kids were on each side of the road looking down in the ditches.
"Hey guys, looks like the animal ran off," I called out. Let's go back, get packed up and then we can come back and look one more time.
Rick turned and headed back towards me, but Hailee kept on looking. "Come on Hay, it's bound to have wandered off." No sooner than I had spoken the words, I felt an odd feeling roll over me, one of loneliness and despair.
"No, I've got to keep looking."
The feeling eased a bit and feeling a bit more hopeful, I opened the car door and stepped one foot inside and raised myself up letting me stand a bit higher off the ground. Looking out into the scruffy landscape around us, I noticed what looked like a dry creek bed running off one of the roadway ditches. There, in the shadow was a shape, nothing real distinct, but a shape.
I tossed the cell phone to Rick and said, "Call your mother, tell her we see something." I grabbed a couple of towels and a bottle of water and started running toward the creek bed.
Seeing me move, Hailee followed me down into the ditch and then down the soft sand of the creek bed. We got to about ten yards away and I slid to a stop grabbing Hailee's arm and stopping her too. "Hailee, that's no dog."
We both paused a moment, looking at the creature. It didn't have fur and its skin was a light brown, flaking in some areas. It had been crawling on all fours, but judging by the length of its legs and the shortness of its arms, it seemed like it might naturally walk upright.
Hailee pulled loose from my hold and moved closer while I warned her, "Hailee, be careful, it's hurt and it may be dangerous."
I moved closer, suddenly feeling a calmness wash over me. Opening the bottle of water, I poured a bit into a small towel and touched it to the creature. It jerked a bit, but calmed. As I dabbed the wet towel over it, I could feel it tremble some. Handing the water to Hailee, she moved it down to the creatures mouth, cupped her hand and poured. An odd yellow-green tongue slid onto her hand slurping the water in.
"It's rough, like a cat's tongue," Hailee whispered. I was amazed at my daughter who, at any other time would be too squeamish to even let an animal lick her, and here she is letting this odd creature slurp water from her hand.
My leg began to hurt, like I was kneeling on a rock or something, but when I moved my hand down to move the rock there was nothing there but smooth sand. Glancing back to the creature I noticed the skin on its leg was torn, so I took the bottle of water back from Hailee, and poured some water over the wound. Gently dabbing it with the towel, I cleaned it the best I could and then wrapped the smaller towel around it.
"Look Hay, we need to get it up and into town so that lady can look at it," I said, feeling and odd feeling down the back of my neck. We wrapped the creature in the large towel and I lifted it, carrying it back to the car. With its long legs, it was kind of gangly but not too heavy and though the ditch was steep, I got up to the car without incident.
Hailee climbed into the back next to the creature while Rick and I got in the front of the car. "Call your mother and tell her what's happening," I said to Rick as I started the car and headed to town.
"It's wrapped in a towel, it won't do... Mom, we're being careful. No it won't bite... Look Mom we're pulling up now, I'll call you back." Rick looked over to me and rolled his eyes.
"She's worried," was all I said, feeling an odd foreboding as I drove.
When we really did get to the old lady's house, I got out of the car and picked up the creature. It was trembling furiously, whining a bit. Hailee ran up to the door and knocked loudly, calling out, "Please, we have an injured animal."
The lady opened the door and asked, "Well, what have we here?"
"I'm not sure," I said, uncovering the head of the creature.
The woman froze, her kind demeanor changing to a glare as she growled, "Lady of the Lake."
"What?' I asked.
"Lady of the Lake, we must kill it now."
"No," Hailee screamed.
"It's the scourge of the town, of the lake. It destroyed us. Give it to me now!" she demanded walking out onto her porch toward me.
I quickly turned and headed back to the car as Rick and Hailee quickly moved between the lady and me until the creature was safely back in the car.
"You must kill it," the woman growled again as we quickly got into the car and pulled away. As I headed through town, that odd sense of foreboding seemed to lighten some.
"Hailee, make sure it gets plenty of water. Open another bottle if you need to. Rick, call your mother and get her to get directions to the vet," I said, feeling better and better the further we got from the old lady's house.
Fortunately we were on the right track when we got the directions from my wife and within about thirty minutes we arrived at the vet's office. Once again I carefully got the creature out of the car and headed to the door. I could feel it tremble a bit, but it was not a bad as at the old lady's place. After a few knocks on the door, an elderly gentleman opened the door and led us inside.
"Good afternoon, I understand you have an injured pet."
"You know about it?" I asked.
"Sure, your wife called ahead, what is it your dog?"
"Well, I'm not entirely sure, we found it by the road, not far from the lake," I replied, gently placing the creature on the table.
I heard a gasp from the vet as he uncovered the creature but then he seemed to calm asking me, "Where did you find it?"
"In a dry creek bed off of Cedar Lane."
"That near Tanglewood Lake?"
"In the area, actually closer to Currie Lake, we were in some cabins there," I replied a bit uncomfortable at the way he was asking the questions.
Once the vet uncovered the creature I could see it was doing a lot better. Its brown skin had lightened almost to a yellow and as the doctor unwrapped the towel on the leg wound, I could see that the bleeding had stopped. The vet gently felt around the wound and then checked out the creature completely.
"You say it was hit by a car?"
"Or truck," Rick said.
I elaborated some, explaining, "Well we aren't exactly sure of what happened. My daughter had spotted it in the road and came to me for some help with it. By that time it had crawled down some creek bed, but by the looks of the road it looked as if a vehicle had actually driven off the edge of the road to hit the creature and then simply drove on. Do you know what this is?"
The old man ran his hand through the gray stubble of his beard and said, "Well, I have my suspicions," pulled off his glasses, he squinted his eyes and stared at me. The light blue seemed to sparkle as he said, "Lady of the Lake."
"That's what the old lady said," Rick added.
"The old lady? Oh, back in town there. Be careful there, there's a lot of suspicion in that town, especially about Lady of the Lake," he said, putting his glasses back on. "To be honest, I've never seen it before, but I heard the rumors. From the looks of it, perhaps they are true."
"What rumors?" Hailee asked, leaning forward and gently running her hand on the creature's arm. Her tan skin looked almost black against the seemingly luminous glow of the creature's reviving skin.
"Well, some say outer space, other's claim it's a mutation from all the radioactive waste stored in the area. Me, I think it's either a natural mutation or perhaps something we simply haven't seen before. Those are some big lakes out there and though we get some tourists from Amarillo, the lakes really didn't get many visitors until recently. That's when we started hearing the rumors, the odd glowing creatures actually hovering above the water.
"I never really believed the floating above water, nor the space creature bit. As you can see, its skin has some phosphorescence, so it might appear to glow some and that glowing might give it an appearance of floating on air. Anyway, since you just found it along the road I'll be happy to take it from you, no charge for my services."
"What will you do with it?" Hailee anxiously asked.
"I'll contact some of the professors I know at the University and probably turn it over to them."
"No," Hailee cried, "They'll cut it up."
"Look, I tell you what," I said, "I brought it in, I'll pay for the services with my American Express Card here, you do take American Express," I paused while the vet nodded. "Okay, I'll pay for it and then we'll take it."
"But you know a find like this..."
"Someone else will just have to find it," I interrupted. "Now what is the prognosis?" I asked, pretty sure that the creature was in good shape. I could tell that just from the way it looked it would do okay.
"Well, it's still a bit dehydrated, but I could find no broken bones and it looks to be recovering. You know, you could take it to the University yourself, if it is an unknown species they might even name it after you," the vet said.
"No, just charge me for the visit and we'll see about getting this guy back home," I replied, handing the vet my credit card.
Hailee gently wrapped the creature back into the towel and when I finished paying the vet, I picked it up and carried it back out to the car. As we drove off I told Rick and Hailee that as soon as we reached the bridge at the lake we'd let it go. They agreed and within about twenty-five minutes the three of us were standing knee deep in the lake watching the creature gracefully swim away.
We climbed into the car and headed back toward the cabin. "You know, I think we should have turned it over to the University."
"What?" Hailee shouted.
"Well did you see that thing swim? I bet it could have gotten a full scholarship for sure, maybe a few world records. Yeah, saved its parents a bunch of money," I noted.
"There you go, that's all we are to you, money," Hailee replied.
"So far that's the way it seems," I said just as it started raining.
We got pretty well soaked loading up the car and by the time we pulled out of the camping area and headed toward town, the ditches were rushing with water. The dry creek bed where we had found the creature was now an active creek. We continued on toward town as the rain slowly subsided.
When we pulled into town and stopped at the single traffic light we noticed some commotion over at the old lady's house where we had originally taken the creature. I noticed a deputy wave at me so I pulled over to the side of the road. Shrugging my shoulders I rolled down the window.
"Sir, Ms. Farmester tells me you brought in an injured animal today."
"Yeah, spotted it out on Cedar Lane, in some dry creek bed."
"What did you do with it after bringing it here?"
"It died, so we took it back where we found it and buried it."
"Can you show me?"
"Sure, but it's now a raging river."
"You saw the creek?"
"After we buried it, we went to the camp ground, got our bags and headed back here. The creek was full then."
"Okay, but in the future you need to know that you should report any strange animals here."
"It was just a dog."
"Just a dog?"
"Yeah, I think someone hit it with a car. We took it to the old lady, but she must have been drinking or something..."
"...or something," the deputy interrupted, "Okay, I understand. So you buried the dog?"
"Sorry to have bothered you," he said, backing away from the car.
"Oh no trouble, no trouble at all," I replied, quickly closing the window before he could hear Hailee giggling in the back seat.
"Why did you lie to him?" my wife asked.
"Don't you see, he'd have every hunter in the county out looking for the Lady of the Lake. No telling what would happen."
"But what about the vet?"
"I just have to hope that our creature can hide from his professor friends. They have so far so maybe."
"Thanks dad," Hailee said and Rick added, "Yeah thanks that was some vacation."
"Best ever," Hailee replied.
Later, as we passed back over the bridge where we set the creature free I said, "You're welcome."
"You just now getting around to saying that?" Hailee asked.
"Didn't someone just say thank you?" I asked.
"No one in the car," Rick replied.
Looking into my rear view mirror I watched the lake slowly disappear behind me thinking to myself, "You're welcome."