Mythology Abroad Excerpt

The Offical Monster Exhibition was in Drumnadrochit, several miles southwest of Inverness. The guide doing the presentation offered them walls filled with blurred photographs and written eyewitness accounts as proof of the monster’s existence. The multimedia program was more interesting, and dropped delicious hints that investigating scientists were on the edge of making an announcement as to Nessie’s species and location. They showed the audience films taken by spotters, who had accidentally caught sight of the mysterious denizen of the Loch. After glancing at the displays, which held far less scientific theory than they had hoped, Keith and Holl made their way through the turnstile to the book and gift shop.
     “Now here’s something that looks like home,” Holl said, spreading his arms out to the walls of books.
     “Are you going to have trouble living on the farm, since it’s exposed and all?” Keith asked. “I mean after living underground in a library, anything is going to feel less solid.”
     “No, but the walls are awfully bare without books. We’re budgeting to start our own collection of books. The Conservatives insist that we get a good grounding of textbooks, to keep up our education. The Progressives want literature, with an emphasis on science fiction. It’s still in negotiation.”
     Outside the Exhibition hall was a pond, in which a twenty-foot concrete dinosaur model was posed swimming. “It’s a plesiosaur, all right,” Holl agreed. “But is that really what’s in the Loch?”
     “No one really knows,” Keith said, thoughtfully. “But I might come back some day and try to find out.”
     The tour’s next stop was the ruin of Urquhart Castle, a fabulous ruin on the west side of the Loch. Keith slapped a new roll of film into his camera, and crawled all over the stones taking pictures. Holl followed him more sedately, stopping to inspect the layout and read the small signs describing what used to lie in each part of the castle.
     “Keith, let me take one picture of you,” Holl suggested, when Keith stopped to reload. “That way, you’ll have at least one piece of proof you were here along with your camera, instead of it having a nice vacation on its own.”
     “Great idea,” Keith said. “Let’s go back up the road so you can get most of the castle into the frame with me.” Together, they trotted over the rise and up toward the road.
     They gazed appreciatively around them at the scenery outside of the castle grounds. In the thick grass on the roadside, small blossoms of pink and yellow grew abundantly. Urquhart Castle was downhill from the road, so they had to walk some distance from the grounds to where they could see it again.
     “I have to have you take a picture so it looks like I’m holding the castle on the palm of my hand, or my father’ll be disappointed,” Keith explained. “It’s an old family tradition.”
     “Ah,” Holl acknowledged, amused. “How about seeming to pick it up between your thumb and forefinger? It’s already a ruin. You can do it no more damage.”
     “Ha, ha,” Keith said. He posed, and Holl snapped the picture.
     “How are you feeling now? It’s only been about three days since you got out of bed again. I haven’t given up on trying to find your flowers for you,” Keith said, solicitously.
     “I’m well enough,” Holl replied. “I’d prefer that you didn’t go charging up fairy mounds and the like again.”
     “Well, if I see one, I’ll go up it myself, with you out at a safe distance,” Keith insisted, “in case there’s something mean that just doesn’t like other magical folk. I guess I’m immune to whatever hit you in the first site, so you point, and I’ll fetch. Okay?”
     “Okay. So where’s your monster?” Holl asked, teasingly, gesturing with a sweep of his arm. “Now that we have seen the amazingly overpainted model, we know what to look for.”
     “I’ve got the bait right here,” Keith said, pulling half of a cheese sandwich out of his pocket and unwrapping it. “Just you wait. Here, Nessie, Nessie, Nessie,” he called, hurling a corner of it out over the loch. A seagull came out of midair and snagged the scrap of food. “Whoops. Took my bait. I’ll have to try again.”
     Holl grinned sheepishly. “Oh, you can’t be serious, Keith Doyle.”
     “Never more than half,” Keith assured him, unquenchably, breaking off a piece of the sandwich and giving it to Holl. “But wouldn’t they be amazed if it worked?”
     “You’ll never die of hypertension, that’s certain,” Holl said. “Your frivolity is quite an act. You give an amazing imitation of grasshopper, Keith Doyle, but I have always suspected you of being mostly ant.”
     They threw crumbs into the loch for a while, in no hurry to go back to the castle and rejoin the tour.
     “I wish I could drive a car over here,” Keith said wistfully, watching the spare traffic race past the lay-by in which they were standing. “If we’re going to have a lot of time to kill, I want to get out and see some more of the countryside. It’s beautiful here.”
     “It is,” Holl agreed, taking a deep breath of the fragrant air. “I wish I could show some of the others more of the world. They wouldn’t be so fearful of going out into it once in a while.”
     Keith made a noise that sounded sympathetic and derisive at the same time. “It could be 99 percent wonderful, and they’d hate it because of one percent of things that would be off kilter.”
     “You’ve shown more than one percent of going wrong, and they still accept you,” Holl pointed out.
     “By the way, I hope you notice I’ve been good, not trying out you-know-what in front of other people,” Keith said defensively
     “And for which I’m grateful. Such behavior deserves reward, is that your thought?” Holl asked shrewdly. “Never mind. It’s all right with me. Since Enoch isn’t here to continue your education, I’ll give you the next lesson. I’ve wanted a quiet moment to listen for home. You may as well learn something about that.”
     “What do you mean?” Keith asked eagerly, sitting down on a low boulder at the edge of the road and pulling his knees up. He glanced around. Behind him, it was almost a sheer drop to the Loch. He scooted forward, keeping as much of the rock between him and the precipice as he could. Holl sat on a rock next to him.
     “Concentrate and sit quietly, and think in the direction that the Folk are,” Holl instructed him, closing his own eyes. “Send your knowledge toward them. See them.”
     “With your third eye?” Keith inquired, screwing his eyes shut. “No, you innocent,” Holl said, rapping him on the head with his knuckles. “With your heart. Think of the ones dearest to you to make the best link.”
     “Well, you’re my best friend and the one I know best. Hmm. I don’t think I can use the Master as a focus. I think he’d disapprove.”
     “I’m sure you’re right,” Holl agreed. “How about Maura? You know her well.”
     Keith thought for a second, looking uneasy. He cracked one eye and peered at his friend. “Maybe not. I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on her with you here.”
     “Well, it’s like horning in on your date,” he explained lamely. “I may flirt, but I don’t poach.”
     Holl snorted. “You’re amazing, Keith Doyle. I wish everyone had your scruples. How about Dola? She’s fond of you.”
     “Okay. I’ll give it a try.” Keith concentrated, letting his body relax. He knew that thousands of miles to the southwest, sort of along the axis of the Great Glen, across the ocean in America, lay the village. He thought for a moment that he could see an infinitesimal golden spark on the horizon that felt right, in the correct direction. “I think I’ve got — what did you call it, a link? But there’s something like radio interference in the way. I’m not sensing anybody particular. Of course, I haven’t got tons of magical energy to use.”
     “All you need is practice, widdy, not tons.” Holl closed his eyes again and let his muscles go slack. After a few minutes, he sighed. “You’re right,” he said, disappointed. “We’re so far away I can’t touch them properly. There’s too much of the world between us. Something’s in the way.”
     “Ireland,” said Keith wisely. “Ireland’s that way, too.” They sat for a moment, quietly concentrating….

     ….He heard voices, and leaned over the edge of the bank. A couple of men were sitting on the footpath below them, fishing in the loch. Their creels sat beside them, as did a nearly empty bottle of Scotch and a couple of lunchboxes.
     “Hey, Holl, how’d you like to help me with magic practice?”
     Holl looked out across the vast expanse of water, and returned a questioning gaze to Keith. “What, a finding? A calling?”
     “Nope,” Keith replied, with glee. He parted the tall grass with a quiet hand, and showed Holl the two men quietly fishing. “A forming. On the surface of the water. I don’t have enough oomph to do it myself.”
     “It wouldn’t last long,” Holl warned, skeptically, but his own eyes were twinkling. He was getting caught up in the idea in spite of himself. “It’s flowing fairly fast.”
     “That’s okay,” Keith assured him. “It doesn’t have to last.”
     “You’re a bad influence, my boy.”
     “Aw, let down your hair a little,” Keith returned, innocently. “You’re just doing your part for Scottish tourism.”
     “Ah, there’s no harm in it, I suppose.” Holl thrust his arm forward. “Lay your arm next to mine, and lend me your strength. Concentrate. There, that’s the way. You’re not half bad at it, for a beginner.” With his other hand outstretched toward the water, Holl drew on the air a half loop, a whole loop, and another, and another, and finished off with a sharp little gesture like an apostrophe.
     “Beautiful,” said Keith, admiringly, staring at the loch below “I want to be just like you when I grow up.”
     “You’re never going to grow up, Keith Doyle,” Holl retorted, but he chuckled, too. “It is good, isn’t it?”
     “Look!” cried a voice below them, highly excited. “There’s Nessie!”