New England sunsets can be among nature’s most glorious shows. This night, the White Mountains cast a purple hue as daylight had once again emptied itself. The rays of the setting sun made this evening’s display a color-fest as brilliant rays of gold and red splashed amongst the pillowed clouds. Snow remained on the mountain tops like jagged caps of white, spilling out into the valleys and ski runs. The various shades of green from the dormant pines along with the rest of the awakening trees, combined with nature’s variety-show to create beauty rarely found elsewhere. It didn’t matter whether the residents of Burlington noticed or not. The spectacle was there for anyone who noticed to enjoy.
Unfortunately, in Claire Bridge’s life, there was no time for such free pleasures. It seemed that her time was just one urgent task after another. Of course her daughter needed all the quality time Claire could find, but for the moment, ending her relationship with her live-in boyfriend Bob was on her mind. She had her hands full with work, child-care, and budget; a single mom has one of the most difficult jobs on the face of the planet, and she was headed right for it again. Her life-situation was so different from that of the wholesome healthy family life she grew up with in the Vermont hills. Hunting and fishing with her father, and appreciating all that nature had to offer in the New England landscape was the kind of life that seemed so far away now, even though it was right at her fingertips.
Working The Hidden Café helped make ends meet to support her newly created family. When she met Bob Rogers, he had stopped into the café for a quick bite with some colleagues. He was struck with her banter, attractiveness, and work ethic. She was attracted, at first, to his handsomeness, and his generous tips. With his visits, she got to know this aspiring lawyer. At the time, he was working as a legal aid for the city, but taking courses at a nearby Junior College to reach his own goals.
Frequent visits to the eatery soon gave way to informal meetings, which soon led to the kind of rendezvous kept to aspiring lovers. Bob had moved down from Augusta for the work and the education, and lived in a downtown apartment. Claire’s home was left to her by her parents who both died in a freak boating accident on Lake Champlain. A modest three-bedroom house at the foot of the lake, she had five acres to take care of, along with eighteen month old Clarice, a child produced by a failed relationship to a local red-neck-going-nowhere but studly former football jock who had recently lost his battle with alcoholism on the streets of Boston.
Bob and Claire’s relationship progressed to the point where moving in together seemed an answer to everyone. At first, Bob’s daily habits and eccentricities were minor, but these soon developed into full-scale revelations of his poor character that she hadn’t seen before. She had assumed that all of their resources would be pooled for the benefit of this new living arrangement, but it wasn’t working out that way. Claire looked forward to paying off consumer debt, home improvements, and the such-like. Bob however, had been withdrawing more and more emotionally as well as fiscally. His conversations and the time he spent with mother and daughter grew less and less; all the while he malingered more and more at the local watering holes
Moving in together seemed so much easier than separating. Besides the emotional toll of breaking up, Claire had even more difficulty getting this carousing boozer to move out. She needed stability more than she needed him; he seemed to need time at the bars more than he needed anything else. He had changed drastically since he moved in, and his behavior became a drain not only on their finances, but on her feelings as well. When her daughter Clairice began withdrawing her interactions with this new father-figure, Clair began to suspect something was wrong.
Yesterday Claire decided to clean the baitfish tanks in the bait shop she ran out of her garage. Her father started the business, and didn’t really make any money off the venture; it was more a way of being social, learning where the fish were biting, and keeping neighborly ties strong. Claire had finished cleaning the tanks and feeding the frenzied fish, when she glanced at Clairice standing next to her. She saw what looked like a smudge of oil on her shoulder. When she tried to wipe it off, it wasn’t affected. Peeling the toddler’s shirt collar back, the fluorescent lighting revealed more of this ‘smudge.’ Quickly she pulled the child’s top off to expose something terrible. She could clearly see bruising, in the distinct form of fingers from two large hands, on each of Clairice’s delicate shoulders. There was no doubt; these were Bob’s hands that had left such markings. Evidently, he had recently lost his patience with her innocent child, and shook her hard enough to bruise her.
Instinctually, she pulled the puzzled girl close in one of those desperate hugs that spoke of both love and guilt. Fighting back her tears and anger, she thoroughly examined her child to look for other signs of abuse, and thankfully found none.
Except for the emotional withdrawal, and avoidance behaviors Clairice exhibited, she seemed no more the worse for her trauma. Claire’s fear subsided, and her rage increased. She almost ran back into the house while carrying Clairice, and quickly put her into her playpen, then stormed in to their bedroom to confront a sleeping Bob.
When Claire challenged Bob with her discovery, denial was immediate. It was all Claire could do to keep from physically attacking him and turning him in to the authorities. Her priorities were clear, and Bob was no longer in them. The only thing that kept her from turning him in was his agreement to move out as soon as possible. Claire ended the confrontation knowing he’d be gone by the time she got home the next day, or she’d physically kick him out.
As Claire drove on, she had time to think about the events of the prior twenty-four hours. She wondered why her last two relationships had become such messes; she longed for the kind of relationship she saw in her parents. Still, reality can be a hard taskmaster. Her patience was frazzled; her feelings were ignored; her security was nonexistent; her self-worth was seriously eroded.
As she approached her drive hoping that Bob had already left, she became singularly focused on ejecting the unwanted man. She really didn’t need more drama, but was prepared to create some if he was still there. She knew if Bob was there, he’d either immediately leave, or be physically tossed. If he wasn’t there, she knew she’d find her teenaged neighbor pressed into her former job of baby-sitting. Rehearsing both scenarios, she was determined to follow through, whatever the circumstance.
Upon seeing Bob’s slate-blue sedan sitting in the driveway, she sighed and gathered her courage. She pulled up beside his vehicle, and took the time to pull back her curly strawberry-blond hair into a pig-tail, a habit left over from the tom-boy days when she knew she was going to fight. Her mind continued to steel itself for the meeting with Bob; her practiced self-control gave no hint to the mental struggle broiling inside of her head. Exiting her vehicle, she couldn’t help but think that Bob was going the way of her deceased husband, and feeling foolish that she had allowed herself to be pulled into the same situation again.
As she stepped onto the first patio step, its characteristic creaking sound alerted Bob that Claire was home. She could see him at the kitchen table, talking on the phone, beer in hand.
“I got to go, Claire just came in,” Bob said. Turning to face Claire he blurted out a “Hey.”
“How’s Clairice?” Claire said, but not waiting for an answer. Looking at the doorway leading into her living room, she could see several bags and suitcases packed. She was relieved to see his cooperation. She went straight to Clairice’s room to check on her beautiful little dependent. Claire felt bad risking her little one’s safety for one more day. She quickly pulled out the portable fluorescent light she’d brought in, and scanned the child’s body. No new marks were seen, and the ones she’d discovered yesterday appeared to be healing. If she had found anything new, she was ready to beat the hell out of him, and then turn him in. Her motherly instincts reaffirmed her need to remap her future without Bob. Snuggled into her comforter, Clairice was the picture of peace and security, her blond curly locks cascading onto her pillow, partially covering her cherub face, arm clutching her new favorite toy, a plush stuffed and smiling frog almost as large as her. “How could anyone hurt such a blameless child?” she wondered to herself.
She left to finish the task.
As she went back to the kitchen, Bob aggressively crushed his empty beer can. At six foot two, and having been a physical laborer most of his life, Bob could be intimidating when he wanted to be. She had never given a thought as to whether or not he could be violent; he had never tried anything like that on her, but the evidence she discovered on Clairice was unmistakable. To treat a helpless child like that was unacceptable.
With an abruptness that surprised even Clair, she said, “I want you out of here. I’m tired of your lack-of-discipline, alcohol-influenced, two-timing, child-abusing, good-for-nothing crap.”
There. She said it. She finally said what was on her mind at the right moment that would inflict maximum and irreducible damage. It felt good.
“I’m out of here.” Without another word, Bob lugged his things out to his car, and drove out of her life.
Just like that, Claire’s life had changed again.
She wondered if this would ever end. When her husband’s life disintegrated into total chaos, it was her parents who gave her and Clairice a place to stay and heal. Only days after she had moved in, while her parents were out on the lake fishing, their boat (for some reason) capsized, and even though they were able swimmers, both were found drowned. Being an only child, she inherited their home, land, and all their belongings. It was weeks after that tragedy she learned of her husband’s death, an alcohol overdose in the Roxbury section of Boston.
Her failed relationship with Bob had stirred some very deep-seated insecurity within Claire. Being a parent, homeowner, and head waitress had brought a good deal of responsibility in a very short time. She couldn’t afford to make any more wrong decisions. Each aspect of her life required caution, direction, and time to be spent. In reflection, she was grateful for each, and she knew what had to be done. It’s just that this emotional toll on an emotionally frazzled human being was almost more than she could take.
She determined to make the most of this quiet weekend, she’d use it to collect herself, make all the arrangements needed for Clairice’s day-care, and see what needed doing to recover the house from Bob’s presence. Checking on her daughter again, she retired to her bedroom to sleep the sleep of the just – after she changed the sheets.
An undisturbed weekend was exactly what Clair needed. The next morning, she set about cleaning her house while playing and taking care of Clairice. In a way, the work was therapeutic. It made her take mind off of the troubles in her life, and put her mind onto something that could be improved.
A phone call to her neighbor Carrie would take care of the daycare Clairice would need while she worked. Carrie had been able to help when Claire’s schedule wasn’t so regular, and only lived a half-a-mile down the road. She was trusted, and the last Claire knew, she’d be available. She still was.
With that taken care of, she set about cleaning and rearranging her home. From top to bottom, every room got attention. From dusting, laundry, vacuuming and everything else in between, she kept busy with her hands and her thoughts, taking time out only to take care of Clairice. By the end of the day, she had finished the last of her self-assigned chores. Sunday would be truly a day of rest.
The next afternoon, Carrie came by. It was time to reacquaint herself with Clairice, and get the lay of the land once more. Claire paid her well, and she was genuinely pleasant to have around. Although both went to the same high school, Claire was two grades ahead. Carrie looked up to Claire for her athletic involvements, and pleasant personality. Carrie had stayed on her parent’s farm to help out while she awaited a state job opening as a social worker. This suited everyone; daddy had his little girl around to keep an eye on, Carrie had the support of her home environment, and Claire could have her sitter back.
In the meantime, the girls simply lazed and played together on a Sunday afternoon.
When Carrie arrived, Clairice’s day had begun to wind down. The new face however perked her back up, and she was ready to play again. Afternoon faded to twilight as the two got along fabulously. Claire decided to let them play while she went out back. I few simple hand gestures communicated Claire’s intentions, and she left the room.
She walked out through the kitchen, into her living room, and down the steps that led to her backyard. As she passed the pool to the back gate, she spotted something she had neglected for years. There, propped up alongside the storage shed, were three fishing poles, with lures still attached. She had loved going down to Lake Champlain, a short distance from her fenced in yard, to fish with her parents. They had walked down to the lake so often, a foot-path was well worn into the ground.
She grabbed her pole, still rigged with a plastic worm and weight rigged years earlier. She remembered how her dad showed her how to put the items together; he called it a “Carolina Rig.” They had caught so many fish together; this gave her an excuse to go back down to their family fishing hole. This place, so filled with solitude and peace, had always been a source of strength for Claire. It was of double value for the Bridges family, for there was also a little known depression just fifteen feet away from shore; large fish often came there to ambush their prey. When she was lucky, she could ambush them!
The air was crisp as the mountain air temperature continued to plummet. Even though it was dark, she negotiated the path expertly; she had used it so many times she could have hiked it blindfolded. As she approached the lake shore, she could see light off in the distance on the other side. Lights by the shore were campers, tourists, and fisherman. Lights that dotted the hills were residences. These homes were hidden in the daytime; but revealed at night; it was evident how populated the mountains were! The ice had melted away a few weeks before, but it was still a very cold lake.
She looked over the bait caster filled with braided line. (Her dad insisted she spool it with seventy pound test because, “After all, you never know what you’ll tie into out there.”) She threw the lure into the lake where she remembered the deep hole was. It was like riding a bike; you never really forget how to fish. Even though the lure was meant for a slow retrieve, she just let it settle to the bottom, engaged the line, and sat down on her favorite fishing rock. Her lure remained motionless on the bottom while Claire became lost in thought.
Her mind turned to her troubled present. Even though she hadn’t done well in the relationship department, she had much to be thankful for. She was given a true heritage and legacy from her parents, a great place to live in, good job, the sunshine of her little girl, and the fortitude to make it all work.
Claire never was the kind to let losses eclipse her life. She had always managed to deal with them in a realistic and forthright way. She would deal with Bob’s loss the same way: Too bad, so sad, move on.
If it’s possible to daydream at night, she did so for almost an hour. The chill of the night air began to make her feel uncomfortable; she decided to reel in her line, and head back to the house. She began a slow retrieve with the rig, not really expecting anything. Then, something hit her line with great force. It felt like she’d hung it up on a big immovable rock. She couldn’t remember any rocks being at the bottom of the hole. She held her arms out and lowered the shoulder holding the pole. She yanked back powerfully on the pole, tip in the air, to set the hook. What happened next was so surprising, so unexpected, she didn’t have time to think.
Her reel started screaming from the force of the fishing line whirring out. Waves formed on the surface of the lake having been stirred from below the water’s surface.
Claire instinctively continued to hold her rod up, and began reeling furiously, but it was no use. Even though the drag was set to almost the maximum for the line’s strength, it kept flying out at incredible speed by whatever was on the other end of the line. Pulling on the rod, and changing the direction of the pulls, Claire continued to try to slow the progress of the mysterious force, but to no avail. She walked up and down the shoreline, pumping the rod and reel, winding feverishly on the crank. She watched as the line on her spool continued to empty, knowing that at any moment, her hundred yards of spooled line would end, and there would be no more yields. All the while there wasn’t any let up from the creature. All of her efforts, all of her fisherman ‘tricks,’ and all of her line were quickly running out.
As the line spun out to its last few feet, her moment of truth had arrived. The line was solidly tied to the spool, and something would have to give; the line would break, the pole would break, she’d lose her grip, or the creature would ease. As the final test arrived, Claire prepared herself for the worst. She took a stance and prepared her arms for one last tug-of-war with the unknown.
Its strength was amazing as she felt the line grow even tauter than before. Her pole bent towards the watery inhabitant, and she pulled for all she could. She could feel the tension on her rod as the carbon fibers strained and began to fail. Then, surprisingly enough, it eased; only enough for her to real back a few inches of line back onto the spool. But ease it did! With a renewed energy, she pulled hard on the pole once more, and was surprised to get a few more inches of line back. Whatever kind of fish this was, she had managed to turn it around, and now it was being reluctantly pulled back towards her.
So happy was Claire at this turn of events, she hardly noticed the water swirls being created by the battle. She continued to alternately pull and reel in the creature. She had gotten about half of her line back when she entertained thoughts of what this might be. It didn’t behave like a fish. If it was a turtle, it would certainly be the biggest she’d ever seen. There was too much movement and force for it to be an old boot or boat oar.
The creature then made another run for it, and stripped the reel back down to the bare. Just like before, Claire urgently pulled on her pole, and once more, got the being to turn towards her. Again, alternately pulling and reeling, she had managed to get it to within twenty-five yards of shore. The waves and swirls it was creating were simply huge, and for the first time, Claire wondered what kind of monster was on the other side of her line.
Then, it appeared. She could see it raise its head above the water. It looked like a snake as its head rose about six inches above the surface of the swirling water, shaking left, then right, attempting to free itself. She could see her line latched onto the slithery beasts’ mouth; it grew taut and loosened with every agitation of its steely black head. Then it disappeared back into the water. There were a lot of things in this lake Claire thought, but a huge snake wasn’t her idea of a good catch. She thought for a moment about cutting the creature loose, but couldn’t resist the idea of the bragging rights she might get. After all, this was the largest snake she’d ever seen, and had never heard of one bigger. She continued reeling in.
Even though it was apparent that the creature wasn’t in the process of making another run, the sheer size of it made Claire’s rod almost double over as she pulled into it, and reeling up the slack. It was as if the creature had given up, and was being dragged to the shore – which it was.
As another moment of truth was arriving, Claire’s excitement continued to grow. She planned to take pictures of what she thought would be a snake, then cut it loose and run like blazes back to her house. Interrupting her thoughts, the line suddenly slackened and she realized that the creature was swimming towards her at incredible speed. She reeled in furiously while at the same time backing up to give the thing plenty of clearance. Getting bitten was NOT a part of her plan.
In one last effort, the creature hoisted itself almost full length onto the shore. Instinctually tightening the slack, the creature’s identity, or lack of it, became apparent, and soaked in to her slowly. Before her was, not a snake, but something she had never seen before. The line was hooked onto the lip of a snake-like head about the size of a fist; but that was the last thing about this creature that looked familiar.
The head, like its body, was black and scaly looking. There were two pea-sized nostrils, two eyes, and two smallish ears. It was breathing heavily from the struggle. The neck was about two feet long and joined a body that looked something like a cross between an otter and a sea-turtle. It was lying face down; protruding from its body were four fins, two in front and two in back. The body itself was only about a foot wide but also around two feet long. A long slender tale disappeared into the water, making the creature, by her guess, about seven feet long.
The moment was trans-fixating as both stayed perfectly the victor over the vanquished. Water continued to drip off of its black scales, and it occasionally moved its fins in a half-hearted fight to raise itself. It made no sound.
Keeping a tight line by reeling the line and cautiously stepping towards the being, Claire could see that it had a mouthful of sharp looking teeth; its eyes followed her as she approached. Claire knew that somehow she’d need to capture this creature dead or alive, if for no other reason, to find out what it is.
She deduced that she had a window of opportunity to take advantage of this odd creature’s loss of stamina, and came up with a plan that she immediately enacted. First she took a picture of it on her cell phone, focusing on the lure’s hook, which went into the creature’s right side of its lips. This would prove it was caught fair and square. Next she quickly laid down the pole, and circled behind the creature on its left, then in a move reminiscent of her wrestling with her father as a child, jumped onto its back, pinning the front fins to the ground, and at the same time she grabbed behind the head with both hands to keep it from biting her. The sudden control startled the creature, but it was helpless to resist. Claire soon found she could control the head with one hand, and with the other, continued her plan by phoning the Procter farmstead just down the road from her house.
Five brothers lived with their parents on the Procter blueberry farm, and she knew she could count on them to help. At first, Martin (the father) thought it was some sort of prank. After five minutes of pleading and convincing, three of the brothers agreed to come down to help their crazy neighbor. She then called Carrie to make sure Clarice was ok, and to warn her of the arrival of the Procter brothers. There were only two ways to get at the family fishing hole, by boat, and through her property.
Studying the beast more closely now, she was careful not to put too much pressure on the body, but kept a firm pressure on its front fins and head. In the moonlight she could see a thin white line along both sides of the creature that followed a pattern of its scale type skin. It didn’t really feel like it was a scaly creature, but had all the appearances of such. The skin was smooth, pliable, and began to warm with her contact. Its deep breaths indicated that the struggle against her had taken quite a bit out of the creature.
Claire worried; the tail might somehow be a weapon; part of it was still concealed beneath the water’s surface. She could imagine it being sharp, or having some kind of attachment that could be used to inflict injury on a foe; it was slender enough that perhaps it could even be used as a whip. The tail wasn’t moving much however, and she soon dismissed it as a threat. As she continued to wait, it became obvious that this creature was designed for the water, and almost totally helpless on dry land. This would fit in well with her plans.
Her idea was to hoist the creature up, controlling all of its limbs, and put it in her backyard built-in pool to keep for further evaluation. If this thing was, what she thought it was, she knew her life was going to drastically change, and soon.
She heard the boys, and saw their flashlights as they hurried down the lake path. “Whoa, you weren’t lying!” said the oldest as he arrived.
“What the heck you got there girl?” said another as the guys gathered at a safe distance.
“Don’t just stand there, help me!” Claire exclaimed. “We can talk later. You grab his back fins, you on the front fins, and you – grab his tail, but be careful, I don’t know what that tail is capable of.”
Dutifully they got into their place. “Wait till I unhook him, hold him tight!” Claire knew the danger was real as she reached up to the creature’s mouth. She grabbed the exposed hook, and with a sudden jerk, pulled it out of the creature’s mouth. It flinched, but did nothing beyond that. “Ok, on the count of three we lift; one … two … THREE!”
The beast was surprisingly light for its size, only about a hundred and fifty pounds. While still controlling the neck, she looked back towards the tail to check on its activity. It hung limp and she was satisfied they could safely transport. “This is going into my pool, so let’s move it.”
The beast was compliant as all four made their way up to Claire’s backyard built-in pool. They lined up along the pools edge, and together they pushed the creature in. It floated belly up for a moment, then with a deliberateness of purpose, flipped over and began circling inside the pool. Writhing side to side, but also nosing up and down vertically, it showed clearly it was at home in the water. The pool was only half filled from its winter storage, and Claire watched carefully to see if the creature could leap out. It made no attempts to do so; it didn’t have the strength.
While the four were watching this thing swim around, they didn’t notice Carrie running out of the house to join them. “Oh my God!” she exclaimed while getting her phone out. “What IS that?”
“That’s got to be Champ!” said Mike. “It’s a Plesiosaurus! I thought that was just a myth!” Claire’s catch confirmed a long told folklore of a mysterious creature that inhabited Lake Champlain. Stories of its existence had long been entertained by the locals, who told and retold stories of sightings and encounters with relish.
All five were snapping pictures on their phones. When Mike posted his to his social networks, the pictures went viral almost immediately. Claire had no idea as to the scope of her accomplishment, but instinctually she wanted to keep its profile low until she could figure out what to do. It was too late for that; the brother’s pictures were being shared and re-shared faster than anyone suspected.
“OK you guys, I need you to leave now. There might be people coming here for this, and I’ve got to protect this Pleeso-whatever.”
While all registered their disappointment, all complied. Carrie spoke up. “Do you want me to stick around to keep an eye on Clairice?”
“Yes please! Let’s go in while I try to figure this out. Hey before you guys go, send me your pics of this thing; I have an idea.” All agreed to do so.
On their way in, Claire formulated a response to what would surely be the news mob to follow. She was grateful for her fenced in yard and seclusion of the pool. With nothing but trees on the other side of the road, it would be hard for anyone unauthorized to camp out without permission. Still, she’d need her neighbor’s cooperation. Leaving Carrie, she visited both neighbors on either side, and explained her improbable situation. Both households, of course, needed to visit to verify her story. She got assurances that neither would allow people on their property for a while.
Her next phone call was to the Burlington Free Press; she felt that giving an ‘exclusive’ might help keep the commotion down. She finally got ahold of a cell voice-mail for a reporter named Strong; she sent the photos, hoping to entice a return call.
By now it had been two hours since she’d put the creature in her pool. Unbeknownst to Claire, her friend’s photos were beginning to land in places that had extensive networks. Just when she thought her evening would end, there was a knock at the door. It was the entire Procter family! Of course they came to see what was in her pool. Reluctantly she let them in, and straight to her pool they went, tromping dirt and mud as they went. While they were gawking and taking pictures, her bell rang again. This time it was friends of Carrie’s, also wanting to see the creature. Claire realized that she was going to have to put an end to this, or the traffic would be coming all night.
Taking charge, she politely asked everybody to leave, including Carrie, which they did, chattering and pointing as they went. As she saw them to the door, she noticed that traffic had picked up indeed. No one was pulling in though; some vehicles she recognized others she didn’t. She parked her car at the end of the drive to keep others from coming up to the house. It was getting late, and she needed to prepare for her Monday. Carrie would be back at six, and she could head out to work – or so she thought.
With all the excitement, Claire decided to just sleep on her couch, clothes and all. She was awakened at four-thirty by her doorbell. Outside was a man she didn’t recognize. She approached the door cautiously.
“Can I help you?”
“My name is Strong, Peter Strong. I’m a reporter for the Free Press. Can we talk?”
When Claire opened her door, she saw a line of cars, in both lanes, going slowly by her house. Looking down her street, she people milling about; when she looked up her street she saw the same thing. Dumbfounded by what she saw, and still a little groggy from lack of sleep, she invited the reporter in.
His appearance was non-descript; a medium framed man with black hair, his clothes seemed oversized as they hung on his body. “You’re Claire Bridges?” Nodding her head he continued. “I don’t know if you realized this, but your life is about to change because of that dinosaur you caught.”
He had reaffirmed what she suspected, she DID catch a plesiosaurus!
“Can I see it?”
She led him through the house to the back porch where the creature still was.
Snapping pictures one after the other, in-between furious writing on a note pad, Peter couldn’t contain his excitement. “Do you know what this means? Lady, I want to interview you, I want to know how you caught it, how you got it up here, I want to know everything about you!”
Whether it was from fatigue or from lack of patience, Claire was overwhelmed by all this attention.
“Mr. Strong, I need for you to leave me for a while. I’ve given you my phone number, why don’t you call me later when I’ve had a chance to think.”
“Ok lady, but this thing isn’t going to wait. The Sheriff has already been called for traffic control, and the word is that some state officials are coming by later this morning. They may try to take custody of it. Have you given it a name?”
She was taken aback at the all the information coming at her, and the question, what a question! As she escorted the reporter to her front door, she thinking of the most ridiculous name she’d heard of. “Mortimer; its name is Mortimer.”
Strong continued scribbling on his notepad as he was led out. “You’ll give me an interview right?”
“Yes, yes.” said Clair. At the door, Claire could see that traffic was backing up around her house, and could see the emergency lights of the local Sheriff’s arrival.
Realizing it wouldn’t be wise to leave, she called in to work. Instead of sympathy, the owner, Mr. Redmon, gave her an ultimatum, either show up for work or be fired. Claire quit. Just like that, she was unemployed. Claire started thinking about how she could translate this act of catching a dinosaur with a rod and reel, into something that would make her some money. She wasn’t thinking of herself though, she was thinking about her sleeping daughter.
Since she had nowhere to go, she researched the internet to find everything she could about her new dependent. All sources had her beast extinct, which it wasn’t, and no sources could offer what it fed on when it was hungry, which she suspected it was.
Light began to dawn. Going back to the pool, she checked on Mortimer’s condition. It continued to circle the thirty-five by twenty foot pool. No one as of yet came up from the lakeside; she was grateful for the ‘Private Property’ signs her dad had posted on the lake side shortly before his death. She knew that as word got out about her catch, some people might try trespassing through this venue. She’d have to cross that bridge when she got to it. For right now, she needed to be in her home for Clairice. Carrie would soon be there as well.
Looking out her picture window out onto the street, there were cars as far as her eye could see. There were also people walking up and down in front of her house; this had never happened before. Studying the faces of those walking, she occasionally saw someone she knew, but most were strangers. What gave her concern was the looks on their faces.
All had that look of wanting something; some seemed happy, some not so much. Every once in a while, there were faces that actually looked hostile – hostile. A few were carrying signs of some kind, but she couldn’t read them; the sun light hadn’t yet dawned. She went back into her parent’s bedroom, and dug out a shotgun from their closet. She found some shells, and immediately loaded it. She then brought it out and leaned it against the front door jam. She found her father’s old Colt forty-five automatic with holster, and hung it on her hip. She had the distinct feeling that she might have to protect property or life.
Going out to the kitchen, Claire spotted Carrie coming up the back way. Entering the house she exclaimed, “Man there are cars all the way to my house! I figured walking would be faster.”
“Glad you’re here. Clairice isn’t up yet,” Claire said. “I’m going to try to get a few things done, so I’ll probably be in and out.”
“No problem, I’ll just pretend you’re not here.”
“In case I’m not around, no one comes in and no one goes out back, got it?”
“OK,” said Carrie.
“I loaded dad’s shotgun and its right over there. I get the feeling not everyone out there likes what’s happening here. Use it if you have to.”
Carrie was very familiar with firearms as were most people in this part of New England. “Gotcha.”
Claire’s cell sprang to life. It was an acquaintance wanting to come and see. She politely informed her of the crowd and that no special arrangements would be made. The call ended and five seconds later it rang again; different person, same song and dance. That call ended, and three seconds later it rang again. This time someone tells her what she should do.
Claire thought this might happen, but wasn’t expecting it to happen this soon. She put her phone on ‘vibrate.’. Going back to the house she saw that Clairice was up and Carrie was tending to her needs.
“Everyone and their dog is calling me, don’t tell anyone else you’re here or you’ll get bombarded too.” Carrie immediately made a call to her folks to be sure they weren’t telling anyone she was there.
“No one’s come to the door yet,” said Carrie, “but they just keep driving and walking by.”
“I know,” said Claire. “This is getting crazy!”
“I know, right?” responded Carrie.
“I’m going out back for a bit, Claire said. “You ok here?”
“Yeah, we’re just getting ready for some breakfast, aren’t we sugar?” said Carrie, playfully touching Clairice’s nose and bringing a smile.
Claire went to her garage, and grabbed a bucket, put some water in it, and netted five of her six-inch shiners, plopping them into the pail.
She went to her pool, and studied the creature of so much attention. She considered its movements carefully. Magnificently it continued to circle the pool with an ease unexpected. Grabbing one of the shiners, she threw it into the pool right in front of the beast. It didn’t seem to notice. The baitfish was stunned by the sudden cold of its new environment, but soon found a corner where it felt safe.
Undaunted, Claire threw in another of the shad. It brought about the same reaction, or lack of reaction, from the critters. Soon the two fish found each other, and were swimming together, albeit cautiously.
It was subtle at first, but Claire noticed that on each subsequent pass, the creature was edging closer and closer to the two. Suddenly, as the beast was making its fourth or fifth pass, the creature lowered its head, and just as it passed the fish, darted its head their way. In a flash, the beast snatched up a victim, leaving absolutely nothing behind. Excited to see her captive eat, Claire quickly dumped in the rest of the bucket, and watched as, one by one, they disappeared into the ancient animal’s chops.
Running back to her bait shop, Claire quickly filled the bucket with about twenty of the gizzard-shad she sold as bait, and returned to dump them into the pool. After about five more fish, it stopped eating and continued its circling as before.
Her feelings of satisfaction were interrupted by the feint sound of a helicopter in the distance. It grew louder and louder until it was almost over her house. It began circling about five-hundred feet above the terrain. A news chopper from WCAX was patrolling the lowest airspace allowed. Pulling her phone from her pocket, Claire discovered that there were a hundred or so missed calls, mostly from numbers she didn’t recognize.
Nothing had prepared Claire from the crush of attention that was now clearly focusing on her, more specifically, the creature she caught. As she was clearing the calls from her phone, Carrie came to the back porch.
“Sheriff Mims is at the door and wants to talk to you.”
Claire met him at the door, and invited him in.
“I’ll get straight to the point,” said the stern faced lawman. “This hullaballoo you’re causing is too much for me and my men. V.S.P. is on their way now to take charge out there. In the meantime,” pulling out a piece of paper, “this is Darlene Moscowicz’s phone number. She’s the Secretary of the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation. You should call her.”
“Why?” asked a puzzled Claire.
“They’re planning to come out and take custody of this thing you’ve got back there. By the way, can I see it?”
“Sheriff, I caught this thing fair and square.” She showed him the picture of the beast with the hook in its mouth. Seeing his disappointment, she said, “Oh come on,” as she led him through the house and into her backyard. He was visibly excited, and took some pictures from his phone. Claire grabbed he camera interrupting him and said, “There’s no law on the books regarding this species. It’s unprotected and I broke no laws. Check your books Dale, we been friends forever. You can’t just let them come in and take what’s mine.”
“I’ll do what I can Missy, but you’d better make that call.”
Nodding her head in agreement, the Sheriff dismissed himself. Going back into the house, she grabbed a coat, and went back outside to make the call. She suspected it would take a while, which it did.
The number she was given was the Secretaries own personal cell, an indication to the importance of the call. It was a good thing that Claire knew her wildlife laws and regulations. It was clear that D.F.P.R. wanted to officially take custody; it was equally as clear to the Secretary, that Claire was going to have no part in that outcome. After an hour, the call ended with a threatened court order to relinquish custody. Claire was determined to fight it, but really didn’t have the money for a lawyer. “Oh well,” she thought, “I kept that Moscowicz lady from taking him today, with the Sheriff’s help, maybe I can win.”
As she ended her call to Moscowicz, she got a text arrived looked interesting. It was from a Robert Trenton with the Geological Society of America inquiring her discovery, and promising ‘financial remuneration’ for her involvement. This was the most positive news she’d had in the past forty-eight hours. The loss of her job made her acutely aware of her financial needs. She phoned the number on the text.
After introductions, Mr. Trenton approached his interest.
“I am authorized to make you an offer for the plesiosaurus in your possession. The Society will pay you one-point-five million dollars upon reception of the creature.”
Claire was at a loss for words. She had no idea that her catch could make her a millionaire! Did she hear him right?
“Um, yes. I, um. How much?”
“One-point-five million dollars. We’ve checked the legality of how it came into your custody; we’re quite confident that everything is legal.”
“What do you plan to do with it?” Not that she cared, but she asked anyway.
‘Once the creature is verified, and we have custody, we plan to make it a part of our museum, alive of course. We’ll do some tests and experiments, but I assure you we have no intentions of harming the creature.”
While the whole situation was tending to overwhelm Claire, she knew that an offer like this comes only to a lucky few. “OK,” said Claire nervously. “How can we make this happen?”
“I’d like to come out with my Retrieval Team as soon as possible. We can do everything on your property. Is tomorrow afternoon too soon?”
Looking at the moving circus of vehicles and people milling in front of her home, Claire wanted this to end quickly. Looking up she saw that two more choppers joined the aerial barrage of her home. “Tomorrow afternoon sounds great. I’ll give you the creature when you give me the money.”
“Of course. I look forward to meeting you tomorrow.”
Her course, having now been simplified, she turned her concern to the mob outside. Looking out the front window, she could see it had grown, and become more diverse. People were showing up with signs saying all kinds of things. It seems that her act had given a path to give attention to a myriad of causes. The Animal Rights Activists were pretty much dominant, and it looked like they were trying to remain on her property while clogging up traffic. The State Police however, had other plans and promptly moved them off as soon as they arrived; Claire was grateful that her request for no trespassing was being honored.
To help out with the situation, Claire went outside and flagged down one of the officers. “If anyone shows press credentials, you can let them come up for an interview.” The officer nodded and she continued, “They can come up the drive, but no satellite hook-ups, one cameraman and one reporter, first-come first-served.”
“That will probably help us lady, there’s a few organizations in line now. We’ve been ordered to clear a path when the Secretary’s vehicle arrives.”
“Secretary’s vehicle?” asked a surprised Claire.
“Yeah, evidently, the Secretary of Vermont’s Parks Department is coming here personally.”
People had been saying and yelling things at Claire since she flagged down the patrolman. Their shouts were getting louder and making her nervous. She quickly thanked the officer and retreated back to her home. She briefed Carrie to her intentions for the day, and asked her to take Clairice down the basement. It was furnished, complete with bedrooms, and she knew they could be safe and out of the way there. She didn’t tell Carrie about giving custody of the dinosaur over to the Geological Society. She knew people would find out about her fortune eventually, but wanted to try to keep it quiet for as long as she could.
Taking a good look around the home, she decided that the cleaning she gave it over the weekend was a lucky break; usually company comes when the house is dirty. Interviews would be conducted in the living room where she could keep an eye on the menagerie outside, and to be certain the press was following her requests.
Her first interview went to a Fox Station, KFFF; they then drifted into a series of subsequent meetings with other news organizations that lasted well into the afternoon. Although there were many different agencies represented, each were handled pretty much the same way. Set up the camera, check the lighting, go over the questions beforehand, all the typical things a news crew would do to get a story. One after the other, their questions varied in order, but was usually the same. “Can we film the creature? How did you catch it? Is it dangerous? Do you know what this means?”
It was their last question that made Claire lie. “What do you plan to do now?” She patiently explained that she was awaiting the Secretary of Vermont’s Parks and Recreations to pay a visit about custody of the creature, but was confident that she would keep it in her pool for now. Then Claire would look directly into the camera and say, “I haven’t made any decisions yet about what to do with the creature.” She considered it a well-placed lie to protect her and her daughter.
It wasn’t until two that afternoon before there was a break in the interviewing process. She really didn’t like the looks of the growing crowds outside her front yard. She went out back to see her center of attention continuing to swim in circles at pools edge. It lifted its head and made a noise. It wasn’t directed at her, as it seemed to call out in general. Its call was certainly peculiar. (Why wouldn’t it be? It was a never before-seen creature making a never-before heard noise.) You could best describe it as a crisp but faint goat bray without the yodels. Seeing that the remaining minnows were gone, she wondered if this were some kind of hunger call, Claire went back into her garage and brought out a pail full of shiners; it wasn’t interested in them.
Back in her house, she could see that the police were parting the traffic; seeing the State vehicles coming through the parted space, Claire figured it was the visit from the State officials. She was right.
A delegation of three suited men surrounding a snappily dressed woman headed up her walkway. Quickly she checked downstairs in her basement to see that all was still going well with Carrie and Clairice. The doorbell rang.
With the Secretary was her assistant, Lieutenant Governor, and the Health and Human Services Secretary. After introductions were made, Darlene Moscowicz spoke up. “You know why we’re here, but you probably don’t know the full reason.”
“All I know it that you want to take something away from me that I obtained legally, and I don’t intend to give it up.” Claire’s defiance was surprising to herself.
Almost on cue, each looked at the handgun strapped securely on Claire’s waist. Claire noticed and added, “This isn’t for you guys, it’s in case that crowd out there gets unruly.”
“We can help with that,” said Darlene. “Can we see your discovery?”
“Some ground rules first, no touching the beast, no one gets in the water to do something stupid. You can snap all the pictures you want, but when I say the visit is over – it’s over. Any questions?”
Almost in unison, all heads shook ‘no.’
She led them outside and watched the looks of surprise and amazement on her official visitors faces. They could barely contain their excitement. The cameras and phones came out, and the group began furiously documenting their visit with the plesiosaurus. (Claire also noted that the fish she had dumped in minutes earlier were gone.) Watching their reactions, it slowly dawned on Claire just what she had done, and what it was going to mean. If this delegation could be reduced to giggling-schoolgirls, and her community could show up at her doorstep, how would the rest of the world react?
Suddenly, Darlene’s statement of help began to have a bit more meaning for Claire. After all, what did she really have to cope with all of this? A couple of firearms? A network of friends that wasn’t even sufficient to deal with this hullabaloo? She hadn’t even secured a lawyer!
“Has it eaten anything?” Moscowicz broke the silence.
“It’s had two buckets of gizzard shad I have for baitfish since I caught it last night,” replied Claire.
This seemed to please the delegation. Almost on cue, the dinosaur lifted its head above the water and gave its call again. This time it was a little bit louder.
“Amazing!” Darlene said. The group paused taking their pictures long enough to admire what the creature was doing.
After about twenty minutes this scene, it was Darlene who ended the visit. “Can we all go inside now? I’d like to talk to you about all this.”
Sitting down in the living room, all eyes were on Darlene as she began. “This is truly a world-wide discovery, and you young lady, will never be the same.”
“Captain Obvious strikes again,” Claire thought to herself.
Darlene continued. “First of all, that’s quite a mess out there (pointing to the endless traffic and sea of faces on the road). I want to leave sufficient law enforcement to clear traffic. For the time being, only vehicles with a reason of purpose will be allowed to cross this part of US 2. I’m also going to order two guards to stand post out front. This exciting find must be protected at all costs.”
“So far so good,” thought Claire. “Our safety is tied to the safety of the beast.”
Claire nodded her head in approval; Darlene continued. “This part is where it gets tricky.” Pausing long enough to organize her thoughts, Darlene said, “I’ve been forthright with you in that my Department wants to take custody of this creature. After checking with our lawyers, we have come to the conclusion that yes indeed, this creature is covered by no law, State or Federal. For the time being, you have legal custody of the dinosaur.”
Claire breathed a sigh of relief.
Darlene’s voice suddenly grew colder, as if practiced. “However, we are going to court in order to remove this valuable creature from your custody.” Claire’s temper began to heat up. “You are obviously in no position to deal with keeping this National Treasure safe. You can’t possibly provide for its health and well-being. In short, we believe your continued custody will harm the beast. You have no earthly idea of the dangers and work needed to protect it.”
“And just what do YOU know about it?” replied Claire, her voice rising. “You know as much as I do!”
“While that may be true, you don’t have the resources of the State of Vermont at your disposal.” Darlene paused long enough to let the value of her words sink in. “I don’t think a twenty-four hour delay will harm the creature; we’ll keep it well guarded. When I return to Montpelier, we will apply, and I have no doubt will receive, a temporary custody order allowing us to come and take the creature for its own safety.”
Claire could hardly believe what she was hearing, but she knew full well the power of a State to have its way in practically all matters within its borders.
“By this time tomorrow, you dearie, will no longer have any legal claim to this remarkable discovery.”
“That’s it?!” Claire remarked.
“Well not totally,” replied Moscowicz. “You will be given credit for its discovery, and you’ll have the thanks of a grateful state, if not nation.”
“You can’t just come here and do this!” said Claire intently.
“We not only can, but we will,” replied Darlene. “Oh, and I wouldn’t do anything foolish. If anything happens to that dinosaur out there, we will hold you legally liable.”
Claire was confident that by noon tomorrow, she’ll be rich, and the custody issue will have to be resolved by others. With an acted sense of resignation she said, “I think you all should leave now.”
The delegation quickly left. Claire went out back to look in on this living being that had caused so much stir. Seeing no changes in behavior or appearance, and thinking it might be hungry again, she got another pail of shiners for it to eat. “It’s a good thing he’s leaving tomorrow,” she thought, “I’m running out of fish.” Tossing in the food source, once again it lifted its head out of the water and called. It was much louder this time, much like the bark of a dog. She couldn’t help but wonder what other things she could learn about this creature, by she knew she wouldn’t have time, nor did she really care that much for its future; her only concern was financial security.
It was getting dark, and having her situation reasonably secure, she went in to let Carrie go home. Looking outside, she could see two State Troopers parked at the end of drive, and for the first time all day, the road was clear of pedestrians and traffic.
Things in the house were strangely quiet, except for the occasional call of the plesiosaurus that could be heard outside. A quiet supper with Clairice was just what she needed. In all the change of routine, Clairice didn’t nap, and was too tired to play much after supper, so Claire put her to bed early.
The call of the dinosaur continued, and seemed to grow louder. At least she knew it was alive. Claire decided to take advantage of her solitude, and do some research on investments. While looking up an investment gold sight, she was interrupted by what sounded like a fog horn coming from the lake. It definitely louder than what she had been hearing, but it was much louder! What she heard next could only be described as a huge crashing sound, like the snapping of a dozen trees.
Going outside she couldn’t believe her eyes. It looked like someone had built a mound on the path going down to the lake. When the mound moved, she could see it was a huge creature, almost forty foot in length! It raised its head to reveal that, it too, was a plesiosaurus – only a much bigger one. It had broken her back fence and was headed towards the pool where the smaller dinosaur was nosing against the cement wall of the pool towards the larger creature.
“Momma’s come for her baby,” thought Claire. Quickly she pulled out her phone and began the camcorder app. She watched as the huge creature, almost fifteen feet wide, and just as tall, lumbered forward towards the calling captive. In the dim light from her porch, she could see its flippers pulling the creature’s massive weight up to the poolside. It dipped its head into the pool, and retrieved the smaller one, gently holding it in its massive four foot wide mouth. With little effort, the baby was scooped almost fifteen feet high, and the giant turned itself back towards the lake.
Not being able to help herself, Claire followed the creatures from what she thought was a safe distance. The path was muddied by the large amounts of water that shed off the behemoth as it came on its rescue mission; the mud made her footing treacherous. The creature stopped, its front flippers at water’s edge. Then it did something incredibly touching. It turned its head, baby still firmly held, and looked directly at Claire. It was as if the creature was saying, “Thanks for taking care of my baby, I’ll take it from here.”
Turning back towards the lake, the mother gently lowered its head and released the young beast. A moment later, the large dinosaur quickly followed, leaving a three foot wave in its wake. Just like that, they were gone.
“Who’s going to believe this?” Claire asked herself. Yet the evidence was all around, the crushed vegetation, the deep trough made by the beast’s weight, the broken fence, all testified to the verity of what Claire would tell the world tomorrow. She also had the video evidence.
Gone too was the hope of her making any money. Claire was deeply worried about this as she went back up to her house. Just as she reached the pool, her phone rang.
“Is this Claire Bridges?” the voice on the other side asked.
“My name is Rosetta Rogers.” Rosetta Rogers!? She has a big-time show on a major network! She’s famous!
Claire managed to stammer out a “Really?”
“Yes, it really is me.” Rosetta continued, “Listen, I’d love to interview you for my show.” Claire could hardly believe what she was hearing. The pause created by her contemplations was interrupted. In a sing-song voice Rosetta said, “I’ll pay you fifty-thousand dollars.”