Kip Knott ~ Outswimming Monsters

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