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Engulfer

People around here are scared
of everything, but that's Canadians
for you, this is the place where
draft-dodgers go to die. I'm from Texas
myself, I just come up here to hunt
and remind myself what the cold
feels like. There's some old Indians
that live in the woods back from this lake
with a real funny name, and when I went
to fill my water bottles there, they came
out waving their arms, and one of them
said "The lake is a jealous monster."

I thought he meant there was a sea monster,
like some British Columbian Nessie, but no,
he meant the lake was the monster, the
Engulfer, he called it. I didn't laugh in his
face -- I'm polite -- but I put the water
in the back of my truck and drove away.

Funny thing, I thought I heard the water
in the bottles crying, like kids snatched
away from their mother, like lost kittens
grabbed by the scruff and stolen away.

That Indian said the lake would come
for me if I took any of its water away,
and I'm trying to picture that. Would
it come like a giant inchworm? Slosh
across the ground in waves? Or ease
up into the sky, travel in the clouds,
and come down in wave after wave
of pounding rain, rain like we never
much see in Texas, a drowning rain?

I haven't drunk any of that water
(it's all still crying),
but I can't quite bring myself
to pour it out and set it
free. Mostly I sit here, thirsty,
thinking about this old cabin,
wondering how much the walls
and the roof are likely to leak,
wondering what it would be like
to see a whole lake walking
like an angry mother bear,
and me between her and her cubs.

 

Copyright © 2002 Tim Pratt

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Tim Pratt is a poet and fiction writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He attended Clarion in 1999, and now works as an editorial assistant for Locus, and also edits Star*Line, the journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. His work has appeared in Asimov's, Strange Horizons, The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, and other nice places. His previous publications in Strange Horizons can be found in our Archive. For more about Tim, visit his Web site.

Author's Note: In my ongoing Bestiary, I focus on mythic creatures, often beings of truly cosmic stature, and attempt to look at them from an unusual perspective while still remaining true to the myths from which they originate. "The Engulfer" concerns one of the strangest monsters I've ever read about -- a lake called Hînqûmemen, from the folklore of the Coeur d'Alene Native Americans of British Columbia, Canada.



Tim Pratt won a Hugo Award for his short fiction (and lost a Nebula and a World Fantasy Award), and his stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Year's Best Fantasy, and other nice places. He lives in Oakland, California, with his wife Heather Shaw and son River. For more information about him and his work, see his website. To contact him, send him email at tim@tropismpress.com.
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