From Supernatural Stories 38 - 1960
THE LOCH NESS TERROR
BY BRON FANE
Copyright © R. Lionel Fanthorpe
Used with permission
“Maybe it was a journalist’s dramatisation . . . but he had to be sure.”
Val Stearman woke up to the jangle of the telephone. There were two things in life which he detested, apart from other minor detestations, one was the phone bell, and the other was an alarm clock. He had effectively dealt with all the alarm clocks that they had ever possessed — much to La Noire’s disgust — either by throwing them across the room when they had awakened him from a singularly powerful hangover, or by the simple expedient of immersing them in the bath!
An alarm clock, no matter how waterproof its designers might claim it to be, never seemed to ring with quite the same shrill jubilance when it was under water, and prolonged treatment of this kind usually ended the sturdiest and most powerful examples of horological craftsmanship. It was one of their minor domestic grievances, but Val Stearman was adamant! Bells in the early hours of the morning, or in the late hours of the night set his nerves jangling in tune with them, sent a cacophony of sound jangling through his head.
“Blast,” he swore savagely, looked round for an alarm clock to throw, failed to find one, and snatched the receiver from the rest as though hoping he could give it a permanent dislocation.
“Hallo!” he bawled. “What the blazes do you want?” The voice on the other end bawled back. . . .
“Stearman! This is Mack!” Val subsided slightly.
“Has the office caught fire?” he demanded.
“Worse than that,” said the old Scots editor. “We’ve been scooped!”
“Scooped! What the hell on?”
“On something that comes right in your stupid province, you fatheaded Sassenach!” The line began to grow perceptibly warmer as two hot tempered men bellowed at one another for ten minutes.
At the end of the snarling, raucous conversation, it became evident to Stearman that the editor was blowing his top with justification.
Val had established himself as one of the experts on off-beat articles, and the ‘Globe’s’ readers relied on him to give them more detail, more background and more off-trail news than any of their rivals. It was often the proud boast of a ‘Globe’ reader that whenever an abominable snowman so much as blew its nose loudly in the Himalayas, Val Stearman was there with a camera and a recording team. If one of the hairy giants from the dim tips of the Rocky Mountains dared to make an appearance to some tough lumberjack on the way to his logging camp, Stearman would be there almost before the lumberjack had replaced the telephone. . . .
If a wild-eyed native in the heart of Arabia thought he had seen a djin swirling out of a bottle, Stearman was there, getting the story at first hand. He was the world’s Number One psychic phenomenon investigator — everything from monsters to fairies! Ghosts, zombies, ghouls, haunted houses, haunted planes, haunted ships, voodoo, mystery, anything that seemed to defy the natural laws, anything that could by a stretch of the imagination be described as ‘off-trail’, Stearman took under his wing and nurtured it like a chick. It was because of his ninety-per-cent success that old Mack, the tough, fiery editor of the ‘Globe’, was now firing on all cylinders, sparking like a 50,000 volt current.
“You’d better get up there NOW!” howled Mack in a final thrust, and the phone crashed down.
Stearman sat on the edge of his bed rubbing sleep out of his eyes, fished for a cigarette, lit it and puffed smoke lazily towards the ceiling.
La Noire turned over sleepily and opened one beautiful, dark eye. She opened the other, and looked at him in bewilderment.
“Whassa matter darling?”
“Mack is the matter!” he retorted, “Mack and the ‘Globe’ and everything that ruddy well goes with him!”
She consulted her watch . . . “It’s half past two in the morning!” she protested.
“I know it’s half past two! In the morning! Some other goof on some half-wit paper has apparently got a Loch Ness Monster story out before I did! There’s some more excitement up there, and the chap I tipped to look after my interests has slipped up, or maybe he’s dead or something! One of those old fishermen who used to give me a ring . . . one of the old boys from the side of the Loch. He’s never let me down before! Every time anybody went up there to poke around, or prepare to issue a statement, the old boy always gave me the tip-off. So I could either get up there myself, or get one of the cubs up there to cover it and post it for me.” He ran a hand through curly dark hair that was beginning to grey a little at the temples.
“I suppose we shall have to go up there and see if we can get the fat out of the fire! We may have been scooped, but it’s not the first time it’s happened, it probably won’t be the last.”
“How on earth does he know, as early as this?”
“Cause he’s got spies in every camp!” said Val bitterly. “Spies in every flamin’ camp there is, and soon as any opposition comes off the presses, there’s a wet copy delivered slap on to his desk! And he goes through it with those little gimlet eyes to see what they’ve got what we missed.”
“I see,” said La Noire. “You want to start at once, I suppose?”
“I always want to start at once,” said Val, and kissed her. “Be a good gal and pack. I’ll get the car!”
Twenty minutes later they were speeding north in a high powered, sports. . . .
* * *
Professor Gregory was chatting to his students in an informal manner. Gregory was one of those real intellectuals who despise any form of hypocrisy that might go with elevated position in the academic world. The thing that always struck Rogers as being important was a man’s basic ability. His natural, native intelligence. His reasoning power. Beyond that, he felt that academic knowledge was merely a matter of application and memory. Simply because he had been singularly blessed with good fortune in reading for his subjects and finding that they had come easily to him, he felt no greater or lesser than his fellow men.
The students, he knew, had the same basic intellect as he himself had. They just hadn’t been deploying it for so long. And because he fought like a tiger within himself to resist any temptation to be either pedagogical or condescending, he was by far the most popular lecturer in the university. He was a young man for the post, in many ways, yet his eyes showed a tremendous depth of experience. Graham Gregory was apparently young in years, but in maturity and understanding he was ageless. Timeless almost. He looked round the eager faces, with a feeling of great satisfaction and warmth in his heart.
“Gentlemen,” he began with a smile, “You all know why we are here. We are hoping to investigate the fanciful, amusing — and at the same time fascinating — legends of Loch Ness. Now, following the recent work of the Oxford and Cambridge University teams, I feel that what we are looking for will turn out to be a family of plesiosaurs, and with that in mind, I think it would be best if we refresh our memories, as far as is possible, about this rather pleasant little chap . . . The term plesiosaurus is technically the name of a genus of extinct reptiles of the sauropterygia group. In common usage it is reserved for the later members of the group rather than the earlier ones. The plesiosaurus is perfectly adapted for a marine existence in the open sea. When we come to consider the size of the Loch in both depth and dimension, I see no feasible reason for their not continuing to exist quite satisfactorily within the rather narrow confines of this practically land-locked waterway.” One of the students raised a hand, “Yes, Hargreaves?” said the Professor.
“I believe they first appeared in the Rhaetic age, is that correct, sir.”
“Quite correct. They did first appear in the Rhaetic, and the last traces we have of them are found in the upper Cretaceous. Now, as far as appearance is concerned, the typical plesiosaur has a small head, with a large mouth,” he smiled rather cynically, “it is in that particular reminiscent of a small minority of politicians who are nevertheless highly vocalised.” There was a polite smile on the faces of the students, and one or two chuckles . . . “As I said, it has a small head and a large mouth. Small, pointed teeth which are ideally adapted for catching fish. The neck is very long, often four, five, six times as long as the head . . . The body, strangely enough, is relatively short, as is the tail. The paddles, which are limb conversions, of course, show no external trace of fingers. Now from this basic form, there appeared two evolutionary lines. In the former the animals adopted the habit of living on large prey which they captured by their superior speed. In this line the head developed, and the neck shortened, until it became no longer than the head. In the former species, the body is comparatively long, and the tail is no more than a pointed hinder extremity of the body. The paddles developed extensively, the hinder pair being larger than the fore pair. Skull was five or six feet long, and body skeletons with a length of up to sixteen feet, or even more, belonging to large members of this line, have been found in the European Jurassic. In the Australian Crustaceous, the giant of the tribe, kronosaurus, has been discovered possessed of dimensions almost twice as great.” Hargreaves raised his hand again, “Yes?” nodded the Professor.
“Am I right in assuming, sir, that the other line fed on small, quick-moving prey, which were captured by rapid lateral movements of the head and neck?”
“Absolutely right. Well done,” commended Gregory. “The most recent member of this second line,” went on the Professor, “the elasmosaurus, is found in the upper Crustaceous layers in Kansas, America; in England; in Queensland; and in certain parts of the Australasian group, notably New Zealand. The head is much smaller, being only about 18 inches in length. The neck, often possessed of as many as 76 vertebrae, has been known to reach a length of thirteen feet. The total length from snout to tail tip has been measured as 30 feet. The paddles of this second line were about three feet in length. Some plesiosaurs were known to have the rather strange habit of eating pebbles, which were retained in the stomach, rather like the gizzard of a fowl, and were used to assist in the grinding up of food and of digestion supplement. Although the majority of plesiosaurs were marine, as I said earlier, a number of them were always found in estuaries or fresh water deposits. Now if we are right in our suppositions, then I think, that should anything be surviving in the Loch,” he pointed through the window, “it will be the plesiosaur group. Any questions, gentlemen?”
A thin, arty-crafty-looking student, wearing spectacles, and rejoicing in the name of Wilkinson, leant forward in his chair and asked, “Sir, do you think we have a chance of finding anything? What I’m driving at —” he had that peculiar affectation of speech which confused ‘r’s’ and ‘w’s’. He spoke nervously, conscious that the eyes of the other students were upon him, for he seldom spoke in classes or discussions. He hesitated again.
“Please go on,” urged Graham,
“Well, what I mean, how many reports of sea monsters are there? How many people claim to have seen them? Is it just a localised thing?”
“What you want is a bibliographical folk-lore of sea monster sightings. Oddly enough I have gone to considerable lengths to arm myself with such anecdotes over the years. I’ll see if I can recall a few for you.” Graham Gregory’s memory was little short of miraculous. “Now let me tell you one story that goes back to 1953, it was told by an Australian diver of the South Pacific. He said that he was wearing pretty new type equipment, and he was trying for a depth record at the time. As he went down he was followed by a fifteen foot shark. It circled round him full of curiosity but it didn’t attack. He wondered how far down the shark would go. He found that it was still hanging around about thirty feet from him and twenty feet higher up, when he reached the ledge that marked the end of his descent, for below that ledge was an enormous black chasm, a fantastic rift in the ocean bed. He wasn’t a coward, but he wasn’t a fool either. He knew it was probably suicidally dangerous to venture down into that enormous gulf so he just stood looking while the shark circled him slowly, waiting for his next move. Suddenly, through the insulation of his suit he felt the water becoming colder. The temperature went down and down and down, with great rapidity, and then a black mass began to rise from the darkness of the chasm. It floated up very, very slowly, and as the light finally reached it, he saw that it was a dull brown thing, of tremendous size, huge, flat, ragged edged, almost an acre in extent! As he looked he saw that it was pulsating sluggishly, and he knew that in spite of the fact that it had no limbs or eyes, that it was alive, it was a sentient being . . .” There was a deathly silence in the room as Graham Gregory went on with his spine-chilling narrative. “This thing was still pulsating, and it floated up past the level on which the diver stood. The coldness had become so intense as to be almost unbearable. The shark was now almost completely motionless, either paralysed by cold or fear. The diver was still watching, unable to tear his eyes away. The great brown thing reached the shark, and its upper surface contacted it. The shark gave a convulsive shiver and was drawn, unresisting, into the very substance of this hideous monster. The diver stood still, not daring to move, while the brown THING sank back into the chasm as slowly as it had come up. Darkness swallowed it and engulfed it, and the waters started to regain a little of their former warmth. Whatever it was, in my opinion, and I expect the diver thought much the same, it was born of the primeval slime, countless fathoms below, possibly a gigantic colony of creatures, rather than one enormous single sentience. I don’t know, I didn’t see it. I haven’t been able to capture or analyse it,” he added, “As a matter of fact I’m rather glad that I haven’t seen it. There is a limit between curiosity and the good old-fashioned instinct of self preservation.
“In 1937 there was a great disturbance over the mysterious disappearance of some Japanese pearl divers off the coast of Australia. The captain of the Japanese pearl ship the “Yamata Maru” dived to salvage some pearls from a sunken ship. He sent the signal to haul up, they hauled up only his helmet and his life line . . . Other divers went down and they found nothing!”
“Is all this true, sir?” asked Wilkinson.
“Absolutely true, I can assure you,” said the Professor seriously. “The Sunday Times of August 7th, 1938 told the story of a Japanese diver named Masao Matsumo who went down from the lugger “Felton” at a place near Darnley Island, not far from Darwin in the northern territory of Australia. He gave the signal to be hauled up. The crew hauled up, and all they found was his helmet, his corselet, and a basket full of pearl shells. So far as his fellows are concerned, Masao Matsumo disappeared at a depth of 240 feet and has never been heard of again — alive or dead.”
“Are there any other instances?” asked Wilkinson, twitching nervously.
“We’ll go back a few years, to January 1879,” said the Professor. “The ‘Baltimore’ was bound for India. She sailed through the Gulf of Aden. Standing on deck was Major H. W. J. Senior, who suddenly gave a frightened cry; another passenger named Greenfield and Dr. Hall, the ship’s surgeon, raced on to the deck. The Major pointed and they saw . . . an enormous sea serpent. More people came running, including the ship’s officers. Major Senior, a strong man and well experienced in grave situations, rapidly recovered his control. He said that the monster didn’t approach the vessel closer than about a third of a mile. It was moving so fast that it was impossible for the watchers to decide whether it was smooth or scaly. The head and neck, he said, were about two feet in diameter. They arose out of the water to a height of between twenty and thirty feet; the creature opened its hideous jaws as it rose, closed them again when it darted in a dive. It reappeared again almost immediately about a hundred yards ahead. The body they did not see at all. It must have been hidden by the water. Although on occasions there was a slight splash some distance behind the head. The shape of the head was not unlike that of dragons that are often portrayed on ancient prints. There was a strange bulldog appearance round the forehead and eyebrows. When the monster had drawn itself sufficiently out of the water it just let itself drop as though it were a log of wood, before it darted forward under the water. This motion caused an enormous splash, fifteen feet in height on both sides of its head, which from a greater distance, gave the impression of a pair of wings.”
The Professor paused and lit a cigarette,
“Are there any others?” prompted Wilkinson again.
Graham smiled, “All in good time, young fellow! I’ve got a partially photographic memory, but it takes a little time to work. I do not forget a fact once I’ve read it. It’s just a matter of getting the filing card system in the subconscious working!”
The students smiled at one another, for Graham Gregory’s memory was something of a legend in the university. . . .
“Right!” went on the Professor, flicking ash from the cigarette, after a moment’s pause. “5:30 p.m. on October 18th, 1879, a sea serpent was spotted in the Gulf of Suez, by the officers and crew of the “Philomel” a British war ship. They saw the thing rise something like fifteen feet out of the water, part of its back was revealed, bearing a fin. The jaws were huge and dark grey, pinkish underneath, and shading to a dark red lower down. The general aspect of it was very similar to that of the creature which was seen from the ‘Baltimore,’ and it progressed in very much the same way. 1879 was a good year for them,” He smiled laconically. “It was on April 5th that the ‘Hitsubishi’ ship, ‘Kiushiu Maru,’ near Cape Satano, saw a whale leap right out of the ocean. The Captain, whose name was Davidson, and a senior officer called McKeahny reached for their binoculars. The whale leapt out of the water again. This time they saw something holding on to its belly. The whale gave yet another leap and they saw something which they described as about the girth of a mast and of snake-like form rearing thirty feet out of the sea. The thing paused for a few seconds, and then, together with the whale, plunged back into the water and neither was seen again. In 1874 the schooner “Pearl” was overturned by a strange, flat, brown monstrosity, not unlike the one the Australian diver saw many years later. The witnesses to this strange event were aboard the steamer ‘Strathowen,’ which at the time was sailing between Madras and Colombo. Several Indian newspapers published accounts which were fully confirmed by the five survivors from the ill-fated “Pearl”. The ship was apparently about 150 tons and had become becalmed somewhere between 8 degrees north and 85 east . . . that’s where she was lying when the ‘Strathowen’ approached. A huge brown mass was seen to rise about half a mile on the ‘Pearl’s’ starboard side. The crew decided that it wasn’t a whale, a sea serpent, or a mass of seaweed. The Captain fired at it with a rifle and the hideous thing went into action close to the ship. So immense was its size and strength that it turned the ‘Pearl’ completely over without any apparent effort or trouble. After that it disappeared. The ‘Strathowen’ picked up the survivors.”
He paused and took a drag at the cigarette. “A few years earlier, in 1848, I think that’s the date —” he paused for a second, as though his superb memory was not completely certain . . . “yes, 1848, the ‘Dydolus,’ which was a British war ship, spotted a sea serpent, and the newspaper Graphic published sketches and details of another one a few years later, that had been seen by the warship ‘Osborne.’ Lt. Haynes, who was one of the witnesses, gave an account that went something like this: the sea was smooth and Haynes’ attention was attracted by a ridge of fins above the surface of the water, extending about thirty feet, and between five and six feet high. He trained a telescope on it, and saw a head, two flippers and thirty feet of shoulders. He judged the head to be six feet thick, the neck about four or five, the shoulder about fifteen, and the flippers about the same length. It was swimming in the same manner as a turtle, resembling a huge seal more than anything else. The head not always above the water but thrown upwards, remaining for a few seconds at a time and then disappearing. There was no apparent blowing or spouting as would have been expected if the thing was a whale. There is a lighthouse,” he went on retrospectively, “on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, it is known as ‘Sandy Beach,’ and they have seen very, very many from there. The natives regard them with contempt, they have seen so many, and refer to them as ‘moka-moha’. . . .”
“What about more local sightings?” asked Hargreaves.
“Oh, you mean in or near the Loch?” replied the Professor, “Yes — that is the thing that really concerns us. Let me quote you a few cases. In June, 1808 the Rev. MacLean, who was parish minister of the island of Eigg, was in a boat with several companions, when something reared itself out of the water, and began to give chase. By skill and courage they ran the boat up a creek, and the serpent, finding itself too large to follow, turned round and swam off. The Rev. MacLean described it in the “Atlantic Monthly” as having a head that was broad and oval; the neck was smaller, the shoulders very broad. It tapered down to a tail which remained low in the water, thus preventing a distinct view of it. It had no fins and seemed to move in a series of undulations. He estimated the length to be between 70 and 80 feet. Then, on August 17, 1938 two priests, Father George Grime of St. Bernadette’s church, Liverpool, and Father Malcolm Mackinnon were rowing on Loch Ness when they saw a hump and a tail in the water about three hundred yards away, traveling fast. A Mr. and Mrs. Wardlaw, of Steventon in Ayrshire, with five companions, also in 1938, claim to have seen it, traveling as fast as a speed boat, with five humps and possessed of a neck like a giraffe. The thing that convinces me, perhaps more than anything else,” said the Professor, digressing a little, “is that it was seen during the war when the tourist trade was non-existent.” He smiled wryly. “On August 18th, 1941, the “Daily Mail” reported a sighting. Apparently the thing broke surface not far from Glenbow pier, a long snake-like neck, and fifteen to eighteen feet of body shaped rather like an upturned boat. It remained in full view of many onlookers for ten minutes. It swam around, a total distance of nearly seven miles, sometimes it moved so fast it threw up columns of water several feet high. Then it dived and disappeared about half-a-mile from Fort Augustus. Coming far closer to the present day, it was in 1955 that a systematic search of the Loch with underwater television equipment revealed something most unusually active below the peat-stained water. Then nothing more was said. The most recent expedition,” said the Professor, stubbing out his cigarette carefully, and reaching for another, “was sent out by the combined universities, in the summer of 1960. For five weeks they scanned the waters by day and night. They used an echo sounder, and their works and findings, their recordings from that echo sounding, were evaluated by the famous Chelmsford Laboratories. Somewhere in the mysterious thirty square miles of mysterious peat-stained water, seven hundred and fifty feet deep, shadowed by lowering mountains —” he gestured through the open window again, “somewhere, there is not one monster, but a whole group of them! A family of them! For the one possible conclusion at which we may arrive is not that of one monster living on for countless ages, but of a group of them perpetuating themselves and breeding through the countless time since the long-dead days when they lived and moved and had their being in the waters of the world. They are of course, as you know, believed to have been extinct for sixteen million years. Let me recall one of the highlights of this summer expedition. As their launch moved across the surface of the Loch, twenty feet below them, a huge moving shape appeared on the echo-sounder chart. It was somewhere in the nature of sixty feet long. Suddenly it shot almost vertically downwards to six hundred feet. No known animal is capable of such a submarine manoeuvre. A shoal of fish, if that had been the cause, would have scattered like leaves in the wind, on the chart, and certainly would not have sounded from such depths. What conclusions can we draw, then? Let us go back to the plesiosaurus, a creature that, as far as science is concerned, has been lost to the world since the steamy Cretaceous era. Is it possible that the race has somehow survived in the cold waters of Loch Ness? The evidence which the united universities expedition have been able to build up is largely speculative and is not necessarily the opinion of the entire expedition. But I think it is sufficient for us to work upon. The head, they suggest is about a foot long, and rather ferret shaped. It is equipped with two fleshy ‘horns’ which are retractable — not unlike the snorkel device of a submarine, through which it is possible for the creature to breathe while still submerged. It is also equipped with a formidable deep cut mouth and very sharp teeth! The eyes are round, and cover about a third of the head; they are surrounded by some sort of luminous substance, and are devoid of eyelids. The neck they estimated as serpentine in character, and something like four yards in length. The massive, streamlined body they suggest varies in length between thirty and sixty feet. It is equipped with four three-foot paddles, with which the beast propels itself rather after the fashion of a swimmer doing the breast stroke. It is possible that the plesiosaur in the Loch has an inflatable hump, which acts in the manner of an auxiliary lung. The tail would be about a quarter of the body length. The creature is most likely nocturnal, is believed to feed largely on salmon and other Loch fish, and is quite capable of swimming at up to thirty miles an hour, either above or below the surface. Three of this summer expedition actually saw the monster. One of them, who is a highly specialised, highly trained biologist, reports that he saw it at ten to seven on the evening of July 10th as he was standing outside the expedition camp, at Achnahannet on the north shore of the Loch. The creature surfaced about half a mile from the shore. The three members of the expedition seized their binoculars, and saw a ten foot long hump rise to about eighteen inches above the water, traveling north at a steady twenty miles an hour. It surfaced for less than a minute, and in colour it was a reddish-brown, peat-stained hue. From their position on the bank the expedition members who were privileged with this sighting believed the thing to be quite definitely plesiosaur. The expedition is hoping to use deep water television to investigate some of the other shapes which are plotted on the Loch floor. If they find nothing living, they hope they will at least discover skeletons. The theory of course, which they and I myself hold jointly, is that the monster came from the seas when the Loch was connected with them. Not, as I said before, the original monster, but their descendants. And now we come to what I believe our American cousins would call, the 64,000 dollar question,” smiled the professor. “So many of you have asked it, I will ask it myself rhetorically, ‘What are our immediate plans?’.” There was a sudden knock at the door.
“Come in,” called the professor, over his shoulder.
A tall, broad shouldered man, in his late thirties, with curly dark hair, beginning to grey at the temples, keen clear eyes, and a rugged face of the kind which can only be described as ‘pleasantly ugly’ — a face full of character and determination, and that spoke of many adventures; the face of an old-world swashbuckling hero, mellowed a little by time and experience, but nevertheless full of the fire and dash of youth, full of power. The woman who accompanied him looked ageless. Like an ultra-sophisticated Mata Hari. Her hair was jet, almost blue-black, and her eyes matched it perfectly. Her figure was breathtaking in its allure. She moved with the graceful ease of a leopard. Something about her made the professor think of Cleopatra. He looked from one to the other.
“I’m sorry if I’m interrupting you, Professor, but they said I’d find you here.”
“I’m afraid you have the advantage of me,” smiled the Professor, “but please come in.”
“Thank you,” replied the stranger. Suddenly a look of recognition sprang into Graham Gregory’s eyes, “There is a rather time-worn joke between my students and myself, about my so-called photographic memory. Do you mind if I ask you one or two questions before I commit myself? You are a well-known figure?”
“Yes,” smiled the stranger.
“Do you think I should have heard of you?”
“I wouldn’t like to be so conceited as to say that!” smiled the newcomer, “but a lot of people have,” he added ruefully. The beautiful, Cleopatra-like woman was smiling a deep, enigmatic eastern smile.
“Ah,” said the professor, “things are coming into place, to begin with sir, I believe you are a journalist?”
“Employed by the ‘Globe’? You specialise in — shall we say, off-beat, off-trail articles. You are an enthusiast for the unexplained, and the inexplicable.”
“You could put it that way if you liked. I think you’ve got me now.”
“Oh, let me go on a moment,” requested the professor, “I’m rather enjoying this!” The students were whispering quietly among themselves. “I’ve followed your career with the greatest of interest. I believe you first came into prominence several years ago, when you broke up a singularly unpleasant Black Magic Coven, and rescued the lady with you, who is now your wife? Am I correct?”
“You are,” said the stranger.
The professor was nodding, “Then I am on the right track, let me see how much more of your career I can remember. . . .” he thought hard, while he flicked ash from the end of a cigarette, “It was about a year later that I heard of you again. You made quite an impression up in Scotland — something to do with a castle. A castle and a secret room. . . .” The students were looking up in undisguised admiration. The big journalist was smiling. “On that occasion someone tried to kill you by rolling an unpleasantly large coping stone from a great height on top of your car. I’m very glad they didn’t succeed.”
“So am I!” agreed the stranger.
“You did the world a greater service than the incredulous were willing to believe when you destroyed a foul creature in a deserted churchyard — a thing which is known in popular folk lore as a ghoul. It was on the same occasion that a mysterious hunchback died of lead poisoning. I believe it was the lady who was responsible for his demise. On that occasion, madam, you did the world a great service as well.”
“You have followed our careers pretty closely!” agreed the big journalist.
“Please let me exercise my memory a little further,” said the professor. “There was a semi-human thing that called itself Baron Gestein, a thing which used to terrorise the Roskagg Valley, near Bruchsbergen . . . It was on that occasion that a very unpleasant man by the name of Van Haak also met his death. Am I correct again?”
“I haven’t finished yet,” said the professor, the students were watching in silence now. “And then you came into occult prominence once more, when you met a weird, silent stranger — a boy — who spoke to animals but seemed unable to communicate with human beings. I expect you recall the events?”
“Very well,” said the journalist, “Very well indeed.”
“You were also present when the time barrier, or the dimension barrier seemed to slip, and a train in which you were traveling lurched as it hit the points and then — you were on another line, a line you had never seen before. There was a minor derailment, and your carriage and its passengers were gliding at ever increasing speed along a strange disused track. A track that seemed to lead forever downwards, to an unknown destination. I’ll tell you how I know about that, because there was a gentleman on board that train — a friend of mine — a Dr. Vandom Vayne. He told me of the affair. He paid the very highest tribute to your courage and ability.”
“Thank you very much,” said the journalist, “I’m genuinely flattered!”
“I also heard of the strange adventure you had in the mysterious wilderness behind the Central American desert. You were flying to Monte Video at the time with Professor de Kerett, and a rather interesting gentleman called Silver Morcombe. Also on board were Captain Len Jenkins, and a man by the name of Clarence Buelanger — you remember that no doubt?”
“Good gracious,” said La Noire, “The green cloud! That mysteriously altered the direction and control of the plane.”
“— and then, there was the weird adventure which you gave to the world under the title of ‘Pursuit’. A series of weird hauntings, and then a psychic researcher contacted a spirit who told him that something from an unknown sphere was haunting it!”
“I also remember that very well indeed,” returned Stearman.
“You were also involved in a peculiar Time tangle . . . and the unfortunate death of a coloured man named Kwanga.”
La Noire shuddered, “Yes, I recall that,” she said.
“I didn’t think anybody took so much interest in our doings,” said the journalist.
“I have always been interested in the unusual and the bizarre,” said the professor, “as interested as you yourselves. It is a great pleasure to meet you. Perhaps you will allow me to introduce you to my students. Gentlemen, we are very privileged to have with us — and I mean that! It is not just the polite introduction that the popular chairman gives to the visiting speaker,” again he smiled laconically, “We are really privileged to have with us one of the leading psychic authorities in the country — if not in the world. A man who is noted, perhaps, more for action than for scholarship, but who nevertheless knows what he is doing. A man who has penetrated the veil into the other world more often than any other. It is not really such a long chalk from prehistoric monsters that have survived up to the present day, to weird, other-worldly occurrences, in fact I am sure that fresh in your minds will be the recent tragic death of Professor Blaine Fitzroy. You remember him? A strange, silent, giant of a man with a withered leg. . . .”
“The crawling fiend,” said La Noire quietly, “the thing that belonged to a culture older than Babylon!”
“Yes,” agreed the professor, “That was the adventure which I had in mind . . . Tell me what is your latest escapade? I have not yet had the pleasure of reading it.”
Stearman thought for a moment,
“I think the last time anything strange happened to us,” he said, “was in the theatre. We looked around — and the faces of the audience seemed vaguely familiar. You know how one does glance around quietly in the middle of a performance. One notices familiar gestures, and smiles. Then it suddenly dawned on me that those familiar faces belonged to the dead.”
The Professor drew a deep breath.
“Most unnerving I should think, even for you. . . .”
“It was rather,” they agreed.
“And since then — anything?”
“You mean immediately before we came up here. I’m just trying to think — oh, yes,” Val interrupted himself. “Oddly enough it also concerned water. We were having a holiday on the Norfolk Broads — I don’t know whether you are familiar with the legend? There is a great broad at Wroxham. . . .”
“Oh, you mean the Roman Legions that are supposed to appear?” said the professor.
“Yes, we called that adventure the secret of the lake,” said Stearman. “It was very, very unnerving.”
“I shall look forward to hearing about it fully,” replied the professor. “Gentlemen, you will by this time realise that we have with us Mr. Val Stearman and Mrs. La Noire Stearman.”
The students buzzed suddenly with excited interest, for a moment Val thought there was going to be a round of applause. Had there been, he wouldn’t have known quite what to do. He shifted his weight awkwardly from one foot to the other.
“As a matter of fact, you rather got me into hot water, professor,” he said quietly.
“I certainly didn’t mean to! I’m one of your greatest admirers. How did I do it? I assure you it was most inadvertent.”
“Well, somebody or other got wind of your expedition before I did. Most of the other papers carried it, and the ‘Globe’ didn’t!”
“Oh, you mean you were ‘scooped’,” said the professor, “Is that the term?”
“It is,” returned Val with a good natured shrug of resignation. “Well, and truly ‘scooped’. Not only scooped, but picked up and ditched!”
“Oh, dear me,” said the professor, “I’m most heartily sorry, but perhaps if you would join us, we can make amends?”
“Thank you very much indeed,” said Stearman, then he whispered to La Noire, “this is a lucky break I didn’t count on! Fancy this chap being one of our fans!” They sat down quietly at the back, conscious of furtive, over the shoulder glances which the students were casting in their direction.
“Well, just before you came in,” said Graham Gregory, “I was about to outline our plans briefly. We’re going to make a thorough search of the Loch with diving gear, sonar, radar and underwater TV cameras. You are very, very welcome,” he addressed himself to Stearman, “to accompany us and take part in what we do, if you are interested or willing.”
“Thank you!” said the journalist. He squeezed La Noire’s hand, “This will make up for being scooped,” he whispered, “We’ve got a good’un here! A real good ‘un!”
* * *
Val Stearman adjusted his oxygen valve, checked the rest of his equipment and slipped over the side of the boat. Far, far below him he wondered what waited in the peat-stained waters of the ancient Loch. He cast his mind back over the years, thinking of the things he had seen and done. And wondering why it was that that burning inextinguishable flame of adventure never let him rest. Why he had to go on and on and on, from one hair-raising scheme to another. Why he couldn’t live a quiet peaceful life. Why he couldn’t be an honest-to-goodness, straightforward crime reporter. He wondered why his world was always hounded by flying saucers, and monsters, and mysterious fire balls in the sky. Hairy giants in Canada, Abominable Snowmen in Tibet. Why was there something about him which made it seem as though the supernatural realm had singled him out as an intermediary, as a liaison officer between the real and the unreal, between the bounds of reason and unreason. Why did these fantastic, incredible adventures always happen to him?
The dark water was slipping up past the face piece, he struck down hard into the deep waters, pushing the camera before him.
“What am I going to see?” he wondered.
What was there down there to see?
* * *
Part of him, the little rational part of him, thought of the incredible things that had happened and tried to tell him to doubt his own memory. He kept on urging himself to go back to the surface. It was trying to tell him he should not have gone in . . . why waste his time? Why go through cold, peat-stained water when he could be sitting comfortably in his hotel? His mind was full of little nagging doubts. What if the legends aren’t legends? What if they are true? No matter how hard he tried he couldn’t rid himself of the feeling that he was plunging down into deep dark water and that he had no connection with the ship other than his radio . . . He had no protection other than the great spring gun which he carried securely in his belt. No means of defence, other than that and the knife. The bayonet-like knife, with an edge like a razor. He continued swirling down into dark inky depths of the timeless Loch. Past the submerged mountains, down, down, down, until his depth gauge showed that he was approaching the hundred and fifty foot mark. The type of equipment he was using made it unsafe to go much farther. He levelled off, and began swimming forward through the turgid gloom . . . the silence was terrifying. He decided to make contact with the upper world. His radio crackled into life.
“Hello, this is Stearman reporting, I’m a hundred and fifty feet on the depth gauge,” he consulted the compass on his wrist, “and moving south west. There is nothing to see, nothing at all, and yet I keep imagining dark shapes. It’s some strange trick of the water, no doubt.”
A nasty little feeling popped up again in his mind, he tried to put himself in the place of the monster. He would have made quite an interesting delicacy, he thought, for a creature sixty feet long, with a flat head and enormous jaws. And then, he saw the darker shape moving towards him. Quite clearly moving, in a leisurely fashion, the gigantic, dark, amorphous something . . . he felt something catch in his throat, he held his breath, staring through the dark waters at the oncoming shape.
“Professor,” he whispered over the radio. “I can see one. It’s enormous. It seems to fit your description of a plesiosaur. The body is anything between sixty and thirty feet long. I can’t tell, it’s still too far away. It’s got great flippers like a turtle, and the neck — a huge snaky neck! Waving, undulating. And the head, I can see the head very clearly now, it’s coming towards me. I don’t think it’s seen me, I think it’s coming this way by chance. It’s a gigantic head, far bigger than we imagined. Two or three feet at least! Maybe more . . . I’d say nearer three than two, the jaws are open now, I can see the teeth gleaming, a sort of pearly white, despite the darkness of the water. It can’t be more than ten or fifteen yards away from me now. Every stroke of those great flippers is bringing it . . .”
The wireless in the professor’s hands suddenly went dead. La Noire gave a little choked cry. “Oh, no!” exclaimed Graham Gregory, and slumped down to an inert heap. . . .
“What can it be? What can it all mean?” whispered La Noire. Gregory sat like a man in a daze, and thought of the danger.
“It’s all my fault,” he said bitterly. “I thought the things would be timid. I never dreamt they would come towards a man.” He looked despairingly towards La Noire. “We don’t know he’s dead yet!” she said with a quiet courage. “You don’t know how close Val and I are. If anything happened to him — I should know. Here, inside me.” She put her hand over her heart, “It would be as though an electric current had been turned off. As though a live lead had been torn from its socket. Believe me, I should know! And I haven’t got that feeling. I know it’s nothing solid or tangible to go on, I just know that I should know. Something has happened to him, but it’s not the end — yet.”
“I hope you’re right, but what are we going to do?”
“I know what I’m going to do,” said La Noire, “I’m going down after him.”
“You’re going to do what?” gasped the professor.
“I’m going down after him. And I’m going now. Help me with the suit, quickly.”
“I can’t let a woman go down there, after what’s happened to him!”
Her eyes blazed with dark fire. It was as if a surge of tremendous power came from her. The power with which Ayesha had bewitched Horace Holly. “I am going down,” she repeated in a voice that brooked no denial. There was command and authority in her tone. It was a command and an authority that would have reduced princes and emperors to humble subjects at her wishes.
A few moments later La Noire was sliding down through the deep dark water. She had scarcely got below the surface when the radio crackled inside her helmet.
“Three of us will come with you, as soon as we can get some more gear from the base camp, I’ve sent two of the lads across in the dinghy.”
“Very well,” she acknowledged, “Come as soon as you can.”
“At least, he had enough oxygen,” said the professor.
“There will be no shortage of air,” she agreed. Her voice was flat, her nerves had gone cold, hard, as though they were refusing to allow themselves to take up the strain.
She glided down into black depths, wondering what lay before her, wondering if she would find Val . . . or just his helmet. . . .
* * *
One moment he saw the enormous snake-like neck, the gigantic teeth, the colossal body and the fantastic flippers, and then there was a swirling maelstrom in the water around him and everything went black. When he opened his eyes a few seconds later he was aware that he was being carried forward through the dark water at a tremendous pace — but where? Where was he being taken, and above all what was taking him? He moved his arm, and wriggled desperately in the grip of whatever it was that held him. Then the blood seemed to turn to water-ice in his veins. He could feel the short hairs rising on the nape of his neck, and despite the coldness of the Loch a greater cold assailed his spine. Icy tingles of fear ran through every nerve and fibre of his being . . . The creature had him in its mouth. Yet it was holding him gently as a retriever takes a bird back to its master. Carefully, so as not to bruise or damage the prey. Stearman wondered just what the creature was intending. He could feel the rush of water past the suit. Travelling under water at thirty miles an hour at least. He only hoped there were no obstructions in the way. He only hoped the creature knew what it was doing. The gigantic thing, with the helpless journalist in its mouth, continued its powerful streamlined process, until ahead of them Stearman suddenly saw the black wall of the mountainside of the Loch, looming up through the darkness like the bulwark of a fortification. The creature twisted dexterously, and Stearman realised they were slowing down, and the creature was looking for something. But what? Why? He realised how little was known about the plesiosaur, realised that in all probability the thing had horrible, carnivorous, predatory habits, perhaps it kept a sort of water larder, where it put its prey until it was ready to devour it.
Stearman felt physically sick, and only his iron self control prevented him from vomiting. The creature was traveling very very slowly now, the luminous eyes peering into the gloom all around it. Searching. Searching. Then Stearman saw a darker darkness, a hole in the rock face, a great cavern forty or fifty feet wide, and almost circular. So this was the monster’s lair, was it? The thing executed a neat, ninety degree turn and swept inside, and Stearman felt as if he was an insect held in a lepidopterist’s hand. An insect being put into some kind of preserving jar, or specimen collecting box.
The creature thrust him inside, and its gigantic bulk blocked out the entrance as it paddled through in his wake. They seemed to be rising now, rising towards the surface. But that was impossible, thought Stearman, they were inside this cavern . . . and then despite the terror of his situation, the lightning keen, ice cool brain began figuring things out. He began to imagine the immediate geology by the Loch side. The cavern connected with the Loch, that was fair enough. A little elementary science told him that water would always find its own level. That meant, that if this cave connected with the Loch, the water inside the cave would rise no higher than the level of the Loch itself. He recalled pot holing adventures in Derbyshire, and Cumberland; he recalled the many occasions on which he had explored underground waters which opened out into gigantic caverns whose roofs were ventilated by thin rock chimneys, disappearing amid the beautiful crags and peaks of Derbyshire. That was it then. Realisation dawned upon him as the monster continued to carry him upwards . . . through turgid water.
This cavern was obviously ventilated at the top by just such a narrow shaft. A narrow shaft that was possibly quite invisible, or practically so, on the mountain itself. It might even be ventilated by a series of small fissures, just sufficient to allow the air pressure inside to regulate the level of the water, but not sufficient to be discernible from the outside. Quite suddenly it occurred to him that the water was growing lighter. On inspiration he glanced at the depth gauge on his wrist. It showed that they were less than thirty feet from the surface. The monster was still swimming upwards, powerfully.
Stearman held his breath, wondering what would happen when they broke surface. Would they be in some enormous underground cavern, or would it be an arm of the Loch, that was apparently not connected with the main Loch itself, and yet which actually was, by means of this strange subterranean tunnel. The fact that the water was growing lighter inclined him to this latter view. But the one thought uppermost in his mind was what the monster would do with him once it had him in its larder, or den, or whatever plesiosaurs called their homes!
They were still moving up — up through the last few feet of water, the depth gauge read ten . . . five . . . the light was quite powerful now, compared to the darkness he had previously been experiencing in the Loch. Then, with a splash that he heard, even through the suit, they broke surface. Although not by any means bright, the light was dazzling compared with the darkness to which he had been subjected under the water. When he could see the entire monster, it looked a great deal more hideous than it had done in the half light. The thing was gigantic! Its vast, broad body, streamlined and slippery; its enormous tail, and its fantastic neck, and the great broad head were a terrifying picture. It flashed across Stearman’s mind that if St. George had been confronted by a thing like that he would have regarded dragons thereafter as the veriest child’s play. Slowly and carefully the monster set him down on a shelf of rock that jutted out over the water’s edge, and then, a little way away from him, its enormous head alone protruding above the water it floated directly in front of him, riveting those great green eyes on his face, for all the world as though it was studying him. Stearman felt that this was the height of incredible absurdity. He wanted to laugh, the thing looked so stupid, so serious. This was the stuff of which nightmares were made. Prehistoric monsters just didn’t do that. Even if they existed . . . even if they seized unwary divers and dragged them away to their lairs, having got them there, they wouldn’t sit inspecting them. Another very sobering thought occurred to Stearman. We knew practically nothing of the habits of these ancient beasts. Perhaps they did. Perhaps they were a little more intelligent than we gave them credit for. Perhaps they enjoyed playing with their prey cat and mouse like. Perhaps the thing was about to indulge in some hideous game, letting him escape, only to swim after him again through the dark waters of the channel. He imagined being slowly mutilated by the monster before it ate him . . . The thought was not pleasant. Stearman had nerves of steel and sinews to match, but the picture which his vivid imagination suddenly conjured up was one that would have made the boldest man tremble. Icy thrills of fear were racing up and down his spine once more, as he stood staring into those great green phosphorescent eyes. The monster moved, very, very slowly towards him. Val could not take his eyes from the gigantic head, he was riveted, hypnotised and then, very, very slowly, pictures began forming inside his mind. Pictures of the plesiosaur swimming around in the Loch, pictures that conveyed an impression of almost endless time, coming and going, while the plesiosaur, and others like it, swam together, and lived quietly on the fish that abounded in the turgid, peat-stained waters. And then he saw men. Men in boats, men with guns, curious men crossing the surface of the Loch in tiny cockle shell craft, and in his mind’s eye he saw a plesiosaur coming to the surface, basking harmlessly in the cool Scottish sun. Basking harmlessly — then, in his mind, he was aware of burning pain. And a gigantic body floating downwards. The pain had been accompanied by the staccato crack of a gun. A great dead thing floating, like a tragic dying submarine, to the floor of the Loch, seven hundred feet below. Then he was aware that time was passing, aeons of time. And there were skeletons on the Loch floor, a plesiosaurus grave yard, the last resting place of gigantic bones. He was filled with a feeling of sorrow. It wasn’t his own sorrow. It was sorrow being transmitted to him from outside and the heap of enormous bones, and gigantic cadavers seemed to grow incessantly as the time passed. But he saw in this strange dream-like presentation that was filling his mind that there were fewer of the huge shapes swimming in the Loch. Perhaps two, three, a dozen at the very most. Getting fewer with each passing year. Like a tribe of Indians, dying out before the onslaught of the white man. Then the incredible truth burst upon him in a flash, like an explosion of an atomic warhead inside his brain. Twice he tried to tell himself that this could not be. This was far more fantastic than anything he had ever thought about. But why couldn’t it be? Why should it be so fantastic? Why should he regard it as so incredible? After all, his own experience had taught him, if anybody’s had, that there were more things in heaven and earth than were dreamed of in our philosophy. Far more things.
Could this be telepathy? Were these strange pictures forming in his mind an attempt at communication? He looked at the monster and then was aware that he was right. The thing was trying to communicate to him that there were so few of them, and that men with their curiosity, and their guns, would wipe out the lot — the last of the plesiosaurs. Could wipe them out so easily. The thing was trying to make him see its point of view. Was pleading with him, and Stearman knew then, that time had not left the plesiosaurs in Loch Ness untouched. Time had affected them. They had evolved just as surely as the rest of the world had evolved . . . they were not the animals whom time had forgotten, as all the enthusiastic devotees seemed to believe. Physically they had not changed to any great extent, but mutation had certainly taken place, as it had in all other evolutionary changes. The mutational change-over had been purely a mental one. While retaining the shape of the sixty-million-year-old reptile that they were, their brains had gradually improved in size and ability. They were almost as intelligent as men!
Perhaps in some ways slightly more so. But theirs was not a technological intelligence. Stearman felt sensations sweeping over him like the waves of a great lake. He felt things like love, hate, fear, and a longing for life. A great longing for life, a hunger for existence. Then he knew that he was right in his surmise. The creature that had seized him had meant no harm and had only wished to communicate with him. It had brought him here so that it could concentrate its thoughts on making some kind of telepathic communication with him. It wished to plead with him on behalf of its diminishing species, to be left in peace, to breed, to live, to go its peaceful way like any other fish in the Loch. Those savage looking teeth were a libel upon it. It apparently meant no harm, and asked only to be left undisturbed, to be allowed to live free from the danger of the rifle shot, of the curious sportsman. The shot gun blast of the foothill farmer . . . as he walked by the shore of the Loch.
Stearman tried to tell it mentally that he understood. He focused all his thoughts on a powerful thought transmission. He created mental pictures of men moving away, leaving the shores of the Loch. He knew, of course, that it was not in his power so to do . . . But at least, he could try. He threw up mental images of boats going to the shore and being tied up and men walking away. He knew that he couldn’t promise on behalf of the others but he could do his best. There was a long silence in that strange dark cave. A man from 1960 and a monster from sixty million years ago looked at one another, and Stearman felt deep within himself that his message had been received and understood. A primitive sensation which might have been gratitude filled the cavern. Then the creature moved slowly towards him and opened his jaws. Gingerly Stearman allowed the thing to settle the teeth around him, then it was diving with him, down, down, down, through the dirty water, and out through the cavern, back towards the spot where they had first met . . . It released him, and suddenly sank like a stone to be lost in the darkness below.
Val began streaking for the surface. His radio crackled into life, it was La Noire’s voice,
“Val, darling, are you there? Can you hear me? If you can hear me please answer. Val, Val!” Over and over again.
“Yes, I’m here,” replied Stearman. “Where are you? Anywhere near the ship?”
“Yes, I’m coming down, coming down to look for you.”
“Come slowly and put your torch on.” Above him in the water, and a little to his right, he saw a powerful beam of light. He glanced at his depth gauge. “My gauge reads a hundred, how’s yours?”
“Eighty,” came La Noire’s voice over the radio waves.
“I can see your beam,” said Stearman. “Keep still, I’ll swim up to you.” He kicked his way powerfully through the water, his mind a whirl of kaleidoscopic thoughts, of bewilderment. Hand in hand they regained the surface. Lee, Wilkinson, Hargreaves and the Professor helped them back into the boat. They got the diving gear off him. Val sucked in great lungfuls of the pure Scotch air. He looked out across the dark waters of the Loch. . . .
“What did you see?” questioned Graham Gregory.
“Everything and nothing!” He told the story rapidly, as though disbelieving it, Gregory and La Noire and the students looked at him incredulously at first, then suddenly the Professor’s eyes narrowed. He snapped his fingers.
“I’m afraid you didn’t see all that Val,” he said. “Do you know what happened?”
“What do you mean?” asked Val, “I’ll swear I saw it. I know I saw it, I’ll swear it upon affidavit before any court in the country!”
“Yes, I’m afraid you would!” sighed the Professor, “but you wouldn’t be believed, I’m afraid even I can’t accept it.”
“Well, why?” demanded Stearman.
“It’s my belief that you were suffering from Rapture of the Deep.”
“What the devil is that?” asked Val.
“It’s a condition familiar to divers, when they go below their depth and stay there too long. They see fantastic hallucinations. Look, if you’d just seen the monster, I’d have believed you — when you tell me that it carried you away to a cave, and there communicated with you by telepathy, can I believe you? Don’t you think yourself that it must have been Rapture of the Deep? The divers’ hallucination disease?”
“I don’t know,” replied Val, he remembered hearing of other cases now that the professor had reminded him of Rapture of the Deep. Remembered hearing other accounts of divers who had seen and heard fantastic things . . . when they had stayed down for too long, under too great a pressure.
“But I didn’t feel that it was an hallucination, I know the difference between hallucination and reality, between fact and fiction.”
“Maybe you’ve been working a little too hard lately,” said the Professor kindly, but it was obvious to Val that he would never convince him.
* * *
As they were driving back to London he turned to La Noire.
“What do you think of it?” he asked.
She shook her head gracefully, “I don’t know,” she whispered. “I only know that I was terribly frightened when you were down there. And I know that when you claimed that the monster was communicating with you, there was nothing coming through on your radio — nothing at all. Not a sound, not a whisper. Then, when you say it released you, your radio came back to life again, and I found you. Val, I want to believe you, but I just don’t know! I don’t suppose we shall ever know.”
“No, I don’t suppose we shall . . . I hardly know whether I can believe it myself now. As far as I’m concerned there’ll always be a double mystery in Loch Ness now. And you know I shall be very sorry if some well-meaning biologist hauls one of those poor devils up and kills it! ‘Cause I still feel somehow, that in their own way, they’re aware that they’re alive, and that to them life is sweet, and after all, what harm are they doing?”
La Noire shrugged her shoulders, “None I suppose — except to the salmon!”
“There are plenty of salmon,” said Val, “They reckon the monsters can be counted on the fingers of one hand.”
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