A letter from Dr. Stephen Mackle, as provided by Carrie Cuinn
Art by Shannon Legler
January 2, 1934
My Dearest Fran,
Though previous events have both established the validity of my research and garnered me long-due acclaim, for personal reasons I have declined an opportunity to replace my lab assistants (may they rest in peace) and instead made arrangements to investigate alone a mystery much less human in appearance than the last. On the shores of Lake Cayuga, sponsored by faculty members from the nearby University, I took possession of a modest home and had scarcely begun to unpack before the local people set upon me with a great number of baked goods and all manner of questions about the beast. I had not set eyes upon it yet myself, but throughout the neighborhood, word had spread that I was a man of great scientific knowledge, and so I attempted to answer their queries as best I could around a mouthful or two of pie.
The apples they grow here are a wonder, Fran. I must have some boxed up and sent to you by rail.
As to why I traveled all this way … Within the pages of the town’s newspaper, The Journal, has been recorded, for almost one hundred years, the annual appearance of an enormous sea-serpent! This fearsome creature has long kept both seasoned fishermen and otherwise-curious scholars away from the lake’s shore during the early months of the year; the newspaper staff have refused assignments which might require them to venture too close and put their lives at risk. (I am enclosing a copy of a story printed nigh on forty years ago, and never refuted, which was sent to me by post most anonymously, and is the impetus for my journey.)
This article, which spans several column inches, details a then sixty-nine-year history of the animal’s redivivus, and charmingly affixes to it the moniker “old greeny.” The sea-serpent is reported to avoid the summer sun, waiting instead for “the cold north winds to blow their chilly selves across the placid lake and ruffle its composure.” Because of its size and unusual countenance, the timid locals refrain from even driving along the shore road during this season, unless accompanied by reputable companions who can swear to the events they later recall.
Which reminds me, Fran, do you still have among your possessions that quaint note upon which your great aunt had written, in careful hand, the recipe for apple turnover? If you could reply at once with a copy of that recipe, replicated in every detail, I would be most grateful. I intend to compare it to what I deduce to be the recipe my neighbor, Mrs. John Macadam, is using for her quite similar pastry.
Oh, before you read on, go quickly into the study and pull down that large book of maps I keep on the bookcase nearest to the window. Within, you will find a page which shows the position and shape of the so-called “Finger Lakes,” of which Lake Cayuga is but one. Nearest to this body of water is another, named for the Seneca tribe, and it is the belief of certain learned sailors here that both lakes are connected by underground tunnel! You see, there are reports of another such creature in Seneca’s deeps as well, and one might well wonder if the sea-serpents are one in the same.
You can ignore the last bit of news reported in that column, wherein one of the witnesses (a wandering tramp) to the 1897 sighting later recanted, and confided the animal in question was no more than a muskrat. As the paper’s reporter himself noted, the tramp supplied this further information for the price of a mug of malt extract, and is therefore not to be believed. However, this reminds me: those delicious apples, grown on the hill above the town in orchards which surround the university, have recently been used as mash for a most delicious sweet alcoholic cider, not at all as sharp as the cider made from the inedible jack apples one usually finds near breweries. If I can arrange it, I will include a few bottles with the apples. You may taste it but of course only a tablespoon or so; the repeal of Prohibition has not yet repealed a woman’s tendency toward reddening cheeks and a sullied demeanor if too much liquor is consumed. Consider the children, and be cautious, as I know you will.
Now, one mention of the Lake beast in a newspaper printed before you were born would not be enough for me to take leave of our home with such suddenness but please understand, my dear Fran, that I would never be so foolish. There is a second article, and in fact, a second beast!
Enclosed please find a second clipping from the same Journal, dated in the recent year of 1929. Within those words rests a mighty claim: that the beast has mated with another like itself, and now two sea-serpents, each 15 feet long and glistening green, frolic along Cayuga’s winter shore.
(Excuse the stain here, Fran; I have spent so much energy relaying these words to you that I have started on another pie, and another bottle, as I scribble.)
I have hired a less-superstitious mariner who agrees with me and my backers that financial rewards are to be gained by those who can find and tag at least one of the creatures when they make their annual appearance. I plan to go out this very evening, attired with the latest in water-clothes, and equipped with scientific devices too complex to mention here. The captain will take his boat, myself, and our gear a mere 200 yards from shore, where we will find our prey.
At the University, my associates have devised a small device, no more than 12 inches long, which can produce an intermittent radio signal, and is attached to a harpoon. God-willing, I will fire upon the beasts, and once struck, they will forever be visible to us, by use of radio tracking. No depth can hide them. No crashing of the waves could obfuscate their trail. The sea-serpents, and their underwater path, will be revealed to all.
Don’t fret, Frannie, as other women do. This strategy is well-intentioned, and much considered; these colleagues of mine have labored over the research and the math, and only–until my arrival–lacked a scientist experienced enough to enact their scheme.
Until this evening, I shall rest, and partake of these many culinary delights so cheerfully thrust upon me. Once darkness falls, my water-bound adventure will begin! I hope this letter lays to rest any concerns you may carry in your breast, and if you hold me in faith, you shall find another coming shortly, which will tell of my victorious expedition.
Give my love to the children.
Dr. Stephen Mackle
P.S. They make a pie here with soured cream baked in alongside the apples. How marvelous!
Dr. Stephen Mackle holds a Doctor of Science degree in Aquatic Biology from Cleveland College, and a Doctor of Agronomy degree from the Yerevan Veterinary Zootechnical Institute. He briefly taught at Huron Street Hospital College before leaving to pursue other research opportunities. He considers the study of aquatic cryptids to be his life’s work.
Carrie Cuinn is a writer, editor, historian, and geek. In her spare time, she researches local history, enjoys music and art house cinema, cooks everything, reads voraciously, and tries to find time for sleep. Find her online at @CarrieCuinn or at http://carriecuinn.com.
Shannon’s professional title is “illustrator,” but that’s just a nice word for “monster-maker,” in this case. More information about them can be found at http://shannonlegler.carbonmade.com/.
“In Defense of a Water-Bound Adventure, My Dearest Fran” is © 2018 Carrie Cuinn
Art accompanying story is © 2018 Shannon Legler