Long before Callum ever took his first step into the murky waters of Loch Ness, he knew what lurked below. Callum’s mother had always been fascinated with the idea of undiscovered creatures living among us. And because of her proud Scottish heritage, she read Callum bedtime stories filled with eyewitness accounts of Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, and fishermen’s tales of sightings that were accompanied by Dark Age drawings of dragons, Victorian sketches of sea serpents, and grainy black-and-white photos of out-of-focus creatures breaking the loch’s rippled surface. As he grew older, Callum’s beliefs were strengthened when his mother showed him an episode of In Search Of and instructed him to listen to “the Gospel According to Leonard Nimoy”: “The ruins of Castle Urquhart in the Highlands of northern Scotland dominate the shore of a lake shrouded in mystery.…” A practical business man and fervent Catholic, Callum’s father scoffed at his wife’s and son’s beliefs, wishing instead that she would teach their son the truths of other miracles: that hard work led to financial security and that Holy Water had the power to save souls.
Between the ages of ten and twelve, Callum’s interests turned to Bigfoot. Whenever his mother took him to the local library, he spent all of his time in 001 section, scouring the shelves that held all the books about the unexplained, topics that ranged from UFOs to the Bermuda Triangle, and from Nessie to Bigfoot. He tried to imagine what it would feel like to step into the depression of a Bigfoot print, wondering if it might be so deep as to swallow him up the way old wells sometimes swallow curious and careless children. He read accounts of sightings in all fifty states, including one less than one hundred miles from his own house in Ohio by a group of hunters tracking deer in the woods of Wayne National Forest near the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. And even though Callum’s mother’s interests gravitated to the mysteries of Scotland and Loch Ness, she bought him a replica of the “Bigfoot Crossing” sign that marked the road winding up Pike’s Peak in Colorado, which he hung over his bed above the giltwood crucifix his father gave him to mark his Confirmation.
When Callum turned twelve, his mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and so he diverted his attention back to Loch Ness and Nessie. On his mother’s roughest days after each chemo treatment, Callum would read to her from the newest Nessie books he could find, and together they would watch and re-watch the videotape of Leonard Nimoy logically explaining how a creature like Nessie could call the cold waters of Loch Ness home. Near the end of her battle, Callum’s mother awoke from a fitful nap to find him gathering up all of the books he had been reading to her.
“What are you doing,” she rasped.
“Dad told me stop bothering you and let you sleep. He told me to take all of these books back to the library before he got home from work,” Callum said dejectedly. When he reached to take down a meticulous drawing that he had made of Nessie breaching the waves in front of Castle Urquhart, his mother waved for him to stop.
“No, honey. Just put everything down. It’s fine. I’ll talk to your father,” she said as she struggled to sit up. When Callum straightened her pillows for her, she leaned and kissed him on top of his head. “I want you to listen to me,” she said in nearly a whisper. “The world is full of mysteries. And not just the ones your father believes in. Even if you learn the truth about one mystery, there are twenty new mysteries to take its place. Mystery makes the world a beautiful place to live in. I don’t want you to ever forget that. No matter what your father tells you after I’m gone.”
Before his mother’s funeral, Callum knelt at her casket not in prayer, but so he could slip the drawing of Nessie in next to her where his father would not discover it.
The year Callum turned 16, fate gave him the opportunity to worship at the altar of his faith when his father decided to take him along on a business trip to Scotland. Callum’s father saw this as the perfect chance to prove to his son once and for all that the world was empty of monsters and that the time had come for Callum to set aside childish beliefs and grow up. The entire flight over The Great Whale Road, Callum methodically offered his testimony to his father.
“The first documented sighting occurred in 565 A.D.,” Callum began, “when Saint Columba saved a supplicant from the jaws of the beast simply by signing the cross.… Scientists from The National Geographic Society believe that the monster is descended from a type of aquatic dinosaur trapped in the loch eons ago.… In 1938, a fish believed extinct for millions of years was caught off the coast of South Africa, proving that ‘living’ fossils still exist.”
Callum’s father simply washed away each piece of evidence with one extra-dry martini after another until the plane touched down.
After a three-hour drive the next morning, Callum and his father arrived at the loch.
“See anything, son?” his father said, nearly smirking.
Callum refused to show any emotion, a skill he had honed every day since that day four years earlier when his father matter-of-factly told him that his mother had “joined Our Lord in Heaven.” Calmly, Callum stepped out of the car, stripped down to his underwear, walked across the pebbled beach, and waded into the water that was the color of the black coffee his father drank every morning at breakfast.
At first, Callum’s father flatly called for him to get back into the car. But as the water crept up Callum’s legs, his father’s voice thinned and grew into a scream that betrayed his father’s true belief in the monster. Still, Callum kicked harder and focused his gaze straight ahead on the ruins of Castle Urquhart, certain that if he stopped, his father would never admit this truth. So he kept swimming toward the distant shore, knowing that with each stroke he took there was no going back as tentacles of cold rose up from some primordial place and wrapped around his body as if to pull him down into the void.
Kip Knott’s debut collection of poetry, Tragedy, Ecstasy, Doom, and so on, was published in 2020 by Kelsay Books. A new full-length collection of poetry, Clean Coal Burn, is forthcoming in 2021, also from Kelsay Books. His writing and photography have appeared in numerous journals and magazines throughout the U.S. and abroad, including The American Journal of Poetry, Barren, Barrow Street, Beloit Fiction Journal, Gettysburg Review, La Piccioletta Barca, Long Poem, Poet Lore, The Sun, and Virginia Quarterly Review. In addition, he is a regular monthly contributor to Versification. Currently, he teaches literature and composition at Columbus State in Columbus, Ohio. In his spare time, he is an art dealer who travels throughout the Midwest and Appalachia in search of vintage and antique paintings to buy and sell. He lives in Delaware, Ohio, with his wife and son, four cats, a dog, and a Chilean rose hair tarantula. More of his work may be accessed at kipknott.com.