“That’s not true!” Elia screamed, sprinting down the hill towards the bank of the Lake. She picked up too much speed and by the time she reached the water’s edge, her feet flew above her head as she splat, back-first into the mud.
“Ah haha!” laughter erupted from the group of boys at the top of the hill.
Elia lay on the wet ground waiting for the wave of humiliation to pass. It did not. Gut wrenched and ears still burning, she slowly peeled herself off the muddy bank and trudged her way back up the hill. The boys were already gone. What a relief.
I’ll show them...she thought to herself half-heartedly. By now, Elia was used to being teased. Ever since she first saw the creature of the lake, townspeople made a point to knock her down.
“She doesn’t know what she saw...she just wants attention. Kids are always imagining things.”
Elia hated the attention. But the image of glowing red eyes peeking through muck and thick fur with a low growl…she couldn’t shake it, and she wanted, needed, the town to listen so they could prepare and be aware, instead of oblivious.
Teardrop Peak was not a town known for much of anything at all. Just a stop on the way to bigger places. The lake was an important center for the community with water sports, picnics, seasonal festivals, and bonfires happening all the time. It was in just this type of night that Elia first saw the monster… the Echoing Lake beast.
The beast was aptly named. A low echoing first drew Elia towards the lake, away from the Spring solstice celebration. Laughter and music grew fainter in the background with every step towards the misty water. The echoing danced across the surface lightly, Elia wasn’t entirely sure if she was hearing anything at all. Until she saw it. A towering, shadowy figure, dripping wet and puffed up with coarse black fur. A low grumble turned quickly into a deep moan, and by the time Elia saw the piercing red eyes, she was already racing back to the party. She screamed as she burst into the tent, “Beast! There’s a beast by the lake!”
Most of the room did not notice the outburst, lost in food and dancing. Some simply stared, wondering what all the distress was about. “A BEAST!” she declared loudly once more, and the room erupted into laughter. With the party in full swing, the notion of a beast was too absurd. Soon, Elia’s outburst became the butt of the party, as well as the town.
“Oh nooo! A beast!” passersby drolled while giggling to themselves. A few people actually did go down to the lake to validate Elia’s fears, but the beast was gone, validating her as a joke instead. But Elia was not going to let the disbelief of others leave her vulnerable. She needed to protect herself.
Weeks passed and Elia obsessed over the incident at Echoing Lake. She was halfway through a “Beast Preparedness Plan,” working her way around town to accomplish the rest of her list:
BEAST PREPAREDNESS PLAN
Can of beans
Elia decided to work on her can of beans next, the bait for the beast. This mission became a matter of integrity as Elia committed not only to track down the beast for the safety of the town, but also to capture it to restore her good name, and of others who had also seen it.
There was Larry, the local man who wandered the streets speaking to himself. Elia would often listen to his ramblings, sometimes wrapped in wisdom. Then there was an older kid from Elia’s school, Bee, who had colorful hair, and facial piercings. Most people found it easy to discount witnesses to the beast, and Elia wanted to uncover the truth.
The bell rang as she sauntered into the general store, determined to appear nonchalant.
Her body tensed. Gordi was working.
“Elia! So I was thinking, maybe it was the BBQ? Yeah? Maybe it was the BBQ that night that attracted the beast. I bet it eats meat, it HAS to eat meat, right?!”
Gordi’s eyes were wide and sparkling with excitement. Elia couldn’t help but think Gordi had a point.
“Say! Ya got any pork and bean cans?”
Elia had barely spoken the words when Gordi took off down the aisle, returning with an apron full of cans. “This enough for you?”
Gordi’s excitement melted into sudden curiosity, “Wait a minute! Are you…are you going after the beast?!”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Elia replied smoothly, “I’m just hungry.”
“So how many cans you want?” Gordi asked, dropping them all onto the counter.
“Ohhhh,” Elia looked away, “I think seven will do.”
“SEVEN cans?” Gordi raised an eyebrow. “Will that be all?”
“No! Actually,” Elia scanned the room, “I need rope, a whistle, and 3 yards of cotton wick. And some white gas!”
Gordi eyed Elia suspiciously while collecting the requested items. Elia could feel Gordi’s interest growing and she didn’t like it. He’s a fine ally for believing in the beast, but as far as being quiet enough to sneak up on the beast…
“LET ME COME WITH YOU!” Gordi exclaimed.
“No!” Elia yelled back, slamming $22.33 on the counter and running out the door, bell jingling behind her. She knew that was coming. “Oof.”
Laughter behind Elia was followed by a voice that asked, “What’s wrong?”
Elia whipped around and let out a sigh of relief. It was Bee.
“That was quite a commotion I heard in there,” Bee teased playfully. Elia liked Bee a lot. They were very kind, artistic, and colorful. Elia felt her heart grow warm.
“Well,” Elia began walking as Bee followed, “I’m on a very important mission.” Elia paused, smiling, patiently waiting for Bee to inquire for more information.
Bee knew what Elia was doing so instead they followed Elia, smiling back and taking the grocery bags from her. “So where are we going?”
Elia unfolded the note from her back pocket. She was excited to have Bee join her. She wouldn’t have asked for a partner on such a dangerous mission and it felt like a magical supportive omen to have rendezvoused with them. Elia tried to hide her excitement from Bee but she wasn’t great at hiding anything from them.
“I need a net! And a flashlight, a really bright one,” Elia said, finally. Elia looked up, got a hold of her senses, and grabbed half the grocery bags back from Bee. Bee giggled, amused by the late act of equitable chivalry. It was nice to share space with Elia, she was always so respectful.
“Let’s go to my place!” Bee said, taking off down the sidewalk, shouting, “My dad hunts and has all the things!”
If there was ever a night to capture the Beast of Echoing Lake, this was it. Elia could feel it in her bones. She ran after Bee, towards the setting sun, calling, “Tonight’s the night! We’re going to catch the beast!”
“Tah dah!” Bee proclaimed, sashaying into the room with two hands of corn dogs. They smelled amazing. Elia wasn’t allowed to have corn dogs at home and she’d never been to Bee’s house before. This was turning out to be quite the evening for Elia who delighted in every moment. Elia smiled, stuffing one into her mouth with the list in hand.
“Uhtin eredee,” Elia mumbled. Bee grabbed the corn dog out of Elia’s mouth laughing. Elia blushed, she always did the strangest things around Bee, it felt uncomfortable. Bee played it off kindly, replying, “You were saying?”
“Oh, right! I think we’re ready.” They both ate their corndogs and strapped on their packs ready to go.
The conversation slowly died as the reality of the evening set in. The sun had fully set and nighttime was at its darkest hours before the moonrise. It must have rained because the ground was damp and cold. Elia gulped. Bee noticed.
Bee spoke reassuringly, “We’ll be ok. Knives, nets, and fire! Nothing will get near us.” Elia took a deep breath, puffed out her chest, and began to march down the road.
The night was unusually quiet, amplifying each wet gravely step the pair took together. They could see a mist forming down the hill at the edge of the forest that surrounded Echoing Lake. A voice in the darkness made them both stop in their tracks, “The table is set! Don’t forget the candles, those are the most important part! You need to get the sticks to catch the fire.”
It was Larry, the mumbly man who also saw the beast. He was making his way towards them on the road. Larry continued, “Hahaha we’re almost ready because the special guest is on its way! Yes, a special guest wearing a fur coat, red eyeglasses.” Larry locked eyes with Elia and stopped. “Ohhhhhh,” he said, “I’ve been waiting for you.” Larry reached into his coat and pulled out something small, handing it to Elia. “Fire,” he said with a glint in his eye.
Elia took the lighter from Larry with a genuine thank you. She had forgotten to put a lighter on her list. She also said a small prayer of thanks to whatever forces were supporting her in this endeavor to capture the beast. Larry went on his way and the pair continued towards the forest. They were almost there, the air grew colder as it drew near. Whoo whoo whoo’s broke the silence as they approached. Rustles of wet leaves scattered around them. It was time for a moment of preparation before entering this domain.
Elia handed a homemade torch (a wooden baseball bat with a cotton wick wrapped and nailed to the top of it) to Bee, saying “Hold this.” She then took the white gas and poured it all over the wick while Bee watched. “We’re going to wait until the beast is caught to light this, just like we discussed...unless there’s trouble. Then it’s to protect us. Hopefully, the plan works so it won’t be an issue, but you know. Just in case. Most beasts are afraid of fire,” Elia said.
“Now how would you know that?” Bee retorted.
“You know I know things,” Elia said simply, putting the can of white gas back into her bag, and zipping it up. She threw it on and took one last deep breath to muster every drop of courage she had. It was time.
Each step Elia took into the forest was careful and aware. She was trying to be safe as well as quiet since neither knew when or where they’d encounter the beast. The half mile walk felt so much longer as they slinked slowly through the shrubs and around the trees. Chirping crickets, water fowl, and splashing critters played an eerie symphony through the mist. The forest cleared a hundred feet from the Lake, but Elia didn’t walk out into the clearing just yet. She stopped and scanned the perimeter, listening closely.
Time passed as Elia and Bee sat quietly. Bee dare not prompt Elia. They knew she had a plan and part of that plan was to remain as quiet as possible. This was much quieter than before however…
Bee poked Elia lightly and Elia turned toward them with a shush gesture to indicate they understood what was going on. The crickets, hooting, and splashing had ceased. They were now in complete silence, an ominous indication of the beast’s proximity. Elia pulled a tupperware full of the pork and beans out of her bag along with the rope attached to a net. Elia flung it over the branch above them, tying the end loosely to the tree trunk. Elia whispered to Bee, “I’m going to set this up. Keep an eye out. Light the torch if you see the beast before I see it.” She handed Bee the lighter, then made her way down the bank.
Elia moved swiftly, close to the ground. She felt a sense of urgency to prepare it quickly. When the mud became slick, she threw the net down like a blanket, quickly checked each corner knot, then dumped the full tupperware of the beans and pork onto it. She was spreading it around when she was hit in the face with the stench of tuna. That’s odd she thought looking at the beans when she heard Bee shout, “ELIA!!”
Elia looked up in time to see Bee running down the bank, lit torch in hand. Her mind was racing as she spun in every direction to spot the beast, which Bee was now screaming about. She didn’t have to look very far. As Elia turned around towards the lake, she saw it standing on hind legs with a large fish in its mouth, blood running down its chest...the beast. Elia took a step back and fell into the pork and beans, the beast growling and snarling four feet away. Elia tore the knife from her boot, pointing it directly at the beast, waiting for it to make its move. Before it could, like a thunderbolt of lightning, Bee leaped over Elia, swinging the torch wildly. “Go to the rope!” they screamed, still waving the torch at the beast, “I’m right behind you!”
Elia scrambled up and sprinted towards the tree whose branch the rope was slung over. She looked back to see Bee standing her ground, egging the beast on, “Come on! HIYA!” The beast also stood its ground. It let out a loud snarl and bared its yellow teeth which glowed in the torchlight. Elia made it to the tree and grabbed the rope hand over hand until it was taut. “Ok!” Elia yelled to Bee, “I’ve got the rope!”
Bee took steps back, fire torch in hand, still facing the beast. The beast dropped to the ground onto all fours, back arched and hissing. It sounded like the low moans of an angry cat, but definitely much bigger. “WOWWWWW…” the beast cried then moaned a low growl, “GUUURRRRRR.” It walked slowly towards Bee, still backing away. Elia could see that Bee was working to coax the beast onto the net. Just another few steps…
The beast lunged at Bee and Elia screamed, “BEE!,” pulling the rope as hard as she could, as the four corners enveloped around the beast which proceeded to hiss loudly upon realizing it was trapped.
“You did it! Bee yelled from the ground. They had fallen over in all of the commotion and didn’t notice that the beast found its footing through the net and clawed at the ground working its way towards them.
“No!” Elia cried, pulling the rope with all of her might. The rope clenched as it crunched against the tree bark. Bee screamed as the beast caught the edge of their pants in its teeth, pulling and yanking. Elia’s hands were burning. She threw her body backward in an attempt to use her body weight to pull the beast up, but it was no use, she could feel the rope slipping. What have I done? Elia thought to herself, the sinking feeling of regret growing in her chest as the rope continued to slip with Bee screaming and the beast growling in the background. Just when she thought the rope may slip out of her hands altogether, she felt the rope pull back instead.
“I’m here!” a familiar voice boomed, “I’ve got you.”
“Gordi you loveable butthead! Thanks for coming but don’t ever follow me again.”
They both pulled back, and the beast raised into the tree. “Let’s just get through this,” Gordi grunted, straining at the weight of the beast. When it was sufficiently high enough, they wrapped the rope around the tree as many times as they could and tied it off. The three collected to catch their breath. The heavy breathing slowly broke into relieved laughter and eventually cries of celebration.
“We did it! We caught the beast! We caught the beast,” they chanted together.
“What are you kids doing down there?”
They all turned to see the local sheriff who continued, “It’s late and you all should be safe in your homes. What have you got there?”
“We caught the beast!” Elia shouted, “We caught the beast of Echoing Lake!”
“Let me see what you got there,” the Sheriff said, shining her floodlight on the bundle in the tree. The eyes glowed red in the reflection of the light.
The sheriff burst into laughter, much to Elia’s surprise and annoyance.
“You sure got yourselves a beast all right,” the sheriff laughed, “That there is a fully grown wolverine! They can be really nasty, y’all are lucky you didn’t get mauled! Or worse.”
“A wolverine?” they asked in unison.
The sheriff shook her head, “What are they teaching you kids these days? Don’t even know your own land...welp! I guess I’ll take it from here kiddos. But not without thanking you on behalf of Teardrop Peak and the Echoing Lake community. For keeping us safe.”
Elia felt a sense of accomplishment as well as confusion and excitement. There were too many feelings coursing through her body to process them all just yet. Just when she thought it may be overwhelming, Bee hopped up and planted a soft kiss on Elia’s cheek saying, “My hero.” Elia turned visibly red and forgot her feelings altogether.
“But I’m the one that showed up to save the day!” Gordi whined.
“You did Gordi, thank you,” Elia replied. “And Bee’s the one that saved ME.”
“Saved may be a strong word,” Bee teased. Elia looked up with a face that said it all.
The three walked through the forest back to their homes, the tale of the Beast at Echoing Lake finally wrapped with the validation and heroism that Elia, Bee, and Larry (and even Gordi) deserved.