Long before our time, when America was young, and her corners a secret, when the basin of Hedges Lake rose far above our roofs, and only a splatter of houses painted the mountainsides, there lived a young boy named Rowan. His home was high up above he western flank of Hedges Lake. As we know, the waters back then covered nearly half the mountainside. The lake was a great cavern of water, clear as day and deep as dusk. Deeper than any man knew at the time. Despite its clarity, none had ever seen the murky floors of Hedges Lake. Some say the springs at her bottom are like fountains, dotted with ancient Indian coins and woodland wishes. Some speak of a sunken city, which thrives still. Some tell of great whales, and bird fish, and narwhals, and mermaids at the lakefloor. But these are tales for another time.
Rowan lived with his darling mother. She was soft spoken and beautiful, and she had a lovely smile. Mother let Rowan roam free through the green fields, and the woods. He could come and go as he pleased, so long as he returned for supper. Rowan would go down to the lake edge and speak to the fishermen. He would hike and swim and fish and boat to no end. He was as free as any boy could be in an infant America. Mother only had one rule: that at sunset, Rowan was to be all tucked into bed, with the shutters and curtains shut tight and bolted, and with his bedroom door locked as well. Rowan never protested this, as he usually was quite tired from his day’s adventures, and, after all, it was the only rule Mother had.
On a particular Tuesday, Rowan strode down to the docks to mingle with the lakefolk. He met a dismayed scene, and saw grown men scratching their heads. Old Todd, a man too old for all of the fingers and toes of America to count back then, and the best damn fisher Rowan had ever known, seemed to be the subject of the folks’ attention.
“And I’m telling you all, that fish was the size of a whale!” Rowan heard him exclaim. Now Old Todd wasn’t often one to exaggerate a catch, as he neve had a need to, being the skilled fisherman that he was, so Rowan listened keenly.
“…took me bait right down with it, and not only that, but it bit off the bow of me dinghy, as well. Damn terrified I swam like a seal all the way t’ shore. I’m just thankful that the bloody thing didn’t take me down with it!”
This story was particularly peculiar to the local folks’ ears. Every man has told a tale or two about catching a monstrous fish, only to lose her due to her own weight, but the bow of his boat?
Rowan saw it then. The dinghy on the shore; well, half of it. He wondered at how it didn’t sink, all open like a biology class frog and all, but Rowan squinted and knew that it was the wood that kept the boat afloat. Caelus wood was like air: it wouldn’t sink unless something pulled it down. The jagged splinters of it revealed great big marks, almost as if great big teeth had found the bow and bit.
There was chatter at the docks. The news had spread as if old Revere had shouted it through the streets himself. A mysterious tension filled the air, a spooked uneasiness set fears into the lakefolks’ hearts.
But there were still fish to catch, sun to shine, and fields to till. The people sedated whatever fears they had had. They drank from the waters, and ate of her fish. Hedges Lake did not scare them, for she was a haven, but on this particular Tuesday, and for a century after then, folk were reminded of the true wildness and mystery of a land so vast and so long vacant.
Rowan, however, was less afraid than he was curious. He had all of the boyish courage that most men lose too soon, that lets him climb trees a little too high, and hold burning sticks a little too long while drawing on the air with them.
Rowan knew Hedges Lake, and he knew that she held secrets. Until dusk came, he would sit dockside and ask her silent questions, and he would marvel at the diving hawks and leaping fish, until his mother’s echo tumbled down the mountainside, and called Rowan to bed. He wanted to know what great creature had tore up Old Todd’s boat, and sent him swimming for the safe shore. In a month’s time after that fateful Tuesday noon, no signs of the creature had revealed themselves to the lakefolk.
Rowan, with all of his youthful courage and age-old cleverness, decided to lay a trap, to discover a creature so massive. He ventured far north of Hedges Lake. Now, back in these days, the north side was nearly unseeable from the south, as the lake was swollen with sky and spring waters, and vast in her reach. No men often ventured this far north, as the roads didn’t pass through this way. It was in this discreet location where Rowan laid his trap.
He found a solid oak tree which even a hurricane could not beg to sway. The shoreside tree looked a thousand years old. Rowan’s was the first hand to even feel its bark. Rowan strung a sturdy sailor’s rope seven times around its trunk, leaving a tail end for his bait, and tied a knot nearly as firm as the trunk itself. If Rowan’s trap had failed, then surely this knot would be there still.
Next, Rowan tied the loose end of his rope around the largest bait that he could find: the body of a chipmunk from the woods. Rowan was too young to hunt, his mother said, so the chipmunk would have to do for now.
Rowan heard his mother’s call rolling through the trees, and he saw the sun as it sank low. He raced back home and into his bed. He heard the click as Mother locked his door.
As soon as he woke, Rowan sped down to check his trap, but as he arrived in sight of the receding shore, he slowed to a halt. His eyes began in the water. Its calm stillness was beautiful, and undisturbed by any protruding rope. The waters lapped gently onto the silt of their edge, peaceful as birdsongs. The landscape was scarred, however, in lightning patterns, from where the Great Oak and its roots had been ripped ruthlessly from the soil, after a thousand years of stretching and drinking and living. The air was not eerie, however, as Rowan stood in disbelief. The scarred soil and the uprooting of the tree had a sullen peace of their own. Maybe it was the daylight that made the truly fearsome scene seem less so. Nonetheless Rowan marveled at his discovery, and mourned for the great tree that he didn’t mean to sacrifice.
Rowan knew right then, as surely as you know now, that a profound secret of Hedges Lake was unfolding before him. It cast aside baby steps and began with man-on-the-moon strides. What Rowan was discovering was no small secret, but a monstrous one indeed.
The earth holds innumerable secrets. God had hidden pockets throughout each glade and desert and ocean, just to give them a home.
For the secret of the Moon Monster, the time was then, but the place was here.
Rowan was a boy with a golden heart and a lion’s courage, and, most strongly of all, an adventurer’s curiosity. He would see this Moon Monster, he decided.
His courage let him lie to his mother, that he would be spending the night at Ryan’s house, just down the road. Mother said okay, so long as he is fast in bed by dusk. Rowan promised her this with his second lie.
When dusk came and Rowan sat on the scarred shore of the northern end of Hedges, neither sunset nor his mother had beckoned him to bed. He sat in the growing darkness, with a worm on a hook on a line on a rod, resting numbly in his hand.
Rowan listened for the first time as the birds ceased their singing, and slept in their nests. He heard night crickets take up the job, chirping lullabies to the stars. And Rowan saw stars for the first time since storybooks. He saw Orion’s Belt, the queens and the bears, the scales and sky fish. He saw Venus and the Milky Way, and at last he saw the moon, all full and bright and beautiful. Rowan could never look at the sun the way that he saw the moon. He looked directly into her face and he fell in love with the way she was: so deep and distant and full, but not so full that she hid the stars. Rowan smiled sweetly as he dozed off to sleep, rod in hand.
He awoke to a tug, and jostling himself awake from dreams of stars and the moon, he watched as the end of his fishing stick had bent under the pull of its biter:
And beneath a moonlit night and trees as old as earth was, Rowan was pulled deep deep down into the depths of the water. In his panic, he could not let go of his rod. And Rowan was the first to know of just how deep Hedges Lake really dove. The moonlight was strong even in the depths, that he could see the truths that men could only ever guess at. I cannot even tell you of what new secrets Rowan had caught glimpses of, for I never got to hear of them. For now, these secrets remain as so.
The lakefolk had searched all the next day, but they could not find their Rowan. They found the lightning scars of the northern bank, where the trees were as old as sunlight, but Rowan was simply gone.
His mother shouted in terrible mourning, and her grief rolled down the mountainside for all of the day, even until dusk.
As the sun began to set, she stifled her tears. With an endless grief, she latched the window of Rowan’s empty bedroom. Out of old habit, she clicked the lock on his door, and with a stubborn tear in her stormy eye, she obeyed most unwillingly, as she followed the moon’s familiar call, which beckoned her to sink deep deep down, into depths no man could even dream of, deep into the moonlit waters, to stretch her mourning gills, and to feast.
Her tears were hidden by the waters, and the world knew nothing of it.