Fiction – “Gaasyendietha” by Marie Robertson
A loud knock on the front door roused Edith from her game of Spider Solitaire. Molson, curled up on her favourite blanket next to Edith’s desk, lifted her head at the noise, then decided to resume her nap. She was used to visitors knocking on the door of her master’s bed and breakfast.
Edith ignored the knocking. Her friends and neighbours knew where the doorbell was, hidden underneath the straw fish hanging next to the doorframe, and they never knocked. In addition, she had officially closed the bed and breakfast for the season just a few weeks ago. Once the cold weather hit, tourism to the island steadily declined, and Edith stopped taking in guests in favour of working in her friend Manon’s restaurant.
The knocking came again. Edith glanced at the computer’s clock; almost nine in the evening, and it seemed awfully late to be looking for a room for the night. Nobody just went passing through l’Île d’Orléans—located five kilometers away from the Québec mainland, it was accessible only by the ferry in Saint-Michel-de-Bellechasse, or by the long, single bridge onto the long, single road. No one ended up on the island by chance; it wasn’t like passing through a deserted town late at night, desperately searching for a room in an open motel.
When the knocking came for a third time, louder and more urgent, Edith sighed and rolled her computer chair back. She supposed it might be one of Sylvie’s kids, from across the road— she loved them, and never discouraged them from coming over and playing with Molson, though they knew where the secret doorbell was located. Maybe it was an emergency? Either way, whoever was at the door wasn’t going to leave without a telling-off.
“Come on, Molson,” she said. The boxer was on her paws in an instant, following Edith to the front door.
Edith turned the porch light on before unlatching the locks and swinging the door open. She’d been running the bed and breakfast for five years, and so was used to opening the door and seeing all sorts of intriguing characters standing on her porch—people from all over the world in all manner of dress, boisterous families, couples of all shapes and sizes—but the strange, single gentleman standing there in a long dark coat was a new one for her. He so resembled something out of a movie that the effect had to be deliberate.
“J’ai besoin d’une chambre pour quelques jours,” he immediately said, in a stentorian voice that reminded Edith of a grouchy old college professor, though the atrocious accent quelled the effect a bit.
Edith put her hand on Molson’s collar. She didn’t exactly feel threatened by the visitor, but there was something really unsettling about the way he stood there, looming, not about to take no for an answer. He was easily a head taller than Edith and old enough to be her father, with a handsome face creased by wrinkles and thick gray hair that must have been jet-black a long time ago. He was wearing a long coat, buttoned-up against the October chill, the handle of a rolling suitcase clasped in his gloved right hand.
“I speak English,” Edith said. “And I’m sorry, but I’ve closed the place down for the winter. But why don’t you try l’Orpailleur, it’s just across the road and they take guests all season.”
“Thank you,” the man said evenly, in a way that suggested he was anything but thankful. “But I must stay here. I will pay you double what you normally charge for a room.”
As he spoke, he reached into the pocket of his long coat and pulled out crisp twenty-dollar bills, no wallet.
Edith stared at the money. It was hard to say no, especially since the back porch would need some repairing before spring, but—
“Please,” the man relented, softening his tone. “You have a most exquisite view of the St-Lawrence river. I always enjoy travelling within view of the river.”
“Yeah, all right,” Edith said. She gently pulled on Molson’s collar to back her away from the door, leaving room for the strange guest to enter. Molson dutifully surveyed the man as he stepped inside the house, pulling his heavy-looking suitcase behind him.
“I’m Edith, by the way. I’ll get you a receipt,” she said, fishing for a pen as the man stood impassively in front of the now-closed door, primly holding the promised money. Shifting to hostess mode, she asked, “So what brings you to the island at this time of year? Some of the fun stuff is closed by now, but the forge is still open, and there’s the boat museum too. Unless you’re here for business?”
“Business,” the man said. Then, after a moment’s hesitation, “I’m a folklorist.”
“Really? That sounds neat.” Edith wasn’t too sure what that entailed, but it sure sounded impressive, and she was used to faking interest in her guests’ jobs. She could deal with that; renting a room to a stuffy old scientist travelling alone. She pulled out the receipt book she kept in the front closet and quickly filled it in. “May I have your name?”
“Belleau, Gabriel Belleau,” he said.
Bond, James Bond, Edith snickered to herself as she filled out the receipt information and tore a copy from the booklet. “Here you go, Mr. Belleau. I’ve got three rooms available—um, I imagine you’ll be wanting the one with the window on the St-Lawrence river?”
“You may call me Gabriel,” he said. “And yes, it’s quite important.”
“Right,” Edith said. “I’ll show you up.”
Gabriel gracefully hoisted his suitcase. Edith led him up the creaking stairs to the second floor, while Molson brought up the rear like a little soldier.
“Washroom is right here,” Edith said, flicking the light on and off as they passed it. She pushed open the door to the one room in her house with the window overlooking the river; it was the smallest room, with only one double bed and a dresser with a television on it, but the guests seemed to enjoy the view of the water. Evidently Mr. James Bond was no different.
“The TV works, but you’ll only get French channels,” she said.
As she spoke, Gabriel placed his suitcase on the hardwood floor of the room, unbuttoning his coat. He looked a little out of place surrounded by the orange paisley bedspread and kitschy art Edith had hung to brighten up the place. He didn’t look like the type to enjoy dried corn arrangements over the headboard. “Thank you,” he said.
She had the distinct impression she was getting kicked out. “Breakfast is at eight. But I guess we can be flexible since you’re my only guest right now. Um, if you need anything, my room is on the ground floor. Molson sleeps with me, so she won’t bother you.”
In other words, I’ve got a big dog, so don’t try anything funny. Though for all his looming aloofness, M. Belleau didn’t look very dangerous. Still, she did have a big dog, and Molson had managed to bark up a storm and scare off that one guest who had tried to rob her last year.
“Thank you,” Gabriel said again, and this time Edith took the hint, bidding him good night and ushering Molson out of the room. The moment she was out, Gabriel shut the door, and Edith heard the familiar click of the deadbolt.
“Thank you,” she muttered back. She patted Molson’s head and started down the stairs. “Come on, girl. I think there’s some M&Ms in the kitchen with my name on them.”
Edith had always been a morning person. It was a trait that came in handy once she’d inherited the bed and breakfast, always up and about and preparing breakfast before any of the guests woke up. She blamed that habit on growing up on Prince Edward Island; when there was nothing to do once the sun went down, one got into the habit of being active the moment the sun came up. And sometimes even before that.
Edith had often dreamed of moving somewhere with a night life, and was ready to jump at the chance to leave Prince Edward Island to find that. Agreeing to take over the bed and breakfast on l’Île d’Orléans after her aunt’s retirement had seemed like a great idea at the time, a way to get out and see the world, find a romantic partner, go a little wild. Five years later, and she still got up at the crack of dawn, with little else to do at sundown but bid good-night to guests and watch Simpsons DVDs on her computer.
At least Molson never complained; she enjoyed getting her breakfast kibble early. Edith cracked another egg and dropped it into the frying pan. She didn’t have much in the house for an elaborate breakfast; she never bothered buying bacon or sausage or fancy home fries unless she was planning to board guests. She hoped James Bond enjoyed eggs and toast with jam.
Leaving the eggs to sizzle, she busied herself with the coffee maker, eager for a cup of something warm. It was going to be a cold day; though the sun was shining brightly, Edith could see the cold fog hovering over the St-Lawrence river. She wondered what Gabriel had planned for the day.
She had just placed some toast and peanut butter and jam on the kitchen table when regular creaks from the staircase alerted her to Gabriel’s arrival; he appeared at the bottom of the stairs, fully dressed in what Edith could have sworn were yesterday’s clothes. The stern look had been replaced by a tired expression as he eyed her, then the food she had laid on the table. Molson raised her head and snuffled lazily at the visitor.
“Good morning,” Edith announced. “Eggs and toast. Help yourself, I’m just making some coffee.”
Gabriel nodded absently, bypassing the kitchen table to stand at the large bay window overlooking the shore of the St-Lawrence river. Edith had already pulled open the curtains and the orange early-morning light spilled inside.
“Right, then,” Edith sighed. She placed Gabriel’s eggs on the table and picked up the plate she had made for herself and ate quietly, watching him from the corner of her eye. He stood stock-still, staring out the window as the sun prickled the surface of the river, only once moving his head—to stare at the shelves that Edith had set up by the window. They were covered with her collections of knick-knacks and souvenirs and sorely needed dusting.
Fine, Edith shrugged. She finished her eggs while he continued to casually ignore her, and poured some of the freshly-brewed coffee into a mug for herself and her guest. She placed it on the kitchen table behind him; as she turned away, he startled her by speaking up. “I was just admiring your cryptozoological display.”
“My what?” Edith said. “You mean the trinkets? Yeah, I’ve got stuff from all over the place on there.”
“It’s quite the collection,” Gabriel said, and in stark contrast with last night, suddenly appeared to be more of a kind grandfather than a gruff professor. “May I?”
He had begun to reach for some of the trinkets. Edith nodded her assent. “It’s just silly stuff, really. Souvenirs that tourists bring me when they visit. I’ve got stuff from Cuba, Germany, Australia—you name it.”
She kept the Canadian souvenirs on the top shelf, as her international guests liked those best, and it was the top shelf that had piqued Gabriel’s curiosity. The most prominent piece was the mounted frame of the Chasse-Galerie—the flying canoe bargained, in exchange for their souls, to a group of inebriated voyageurs who wanted to visit their girlfriends. The frame depicted the Devil looming in the back of the canoe over the terrified men, who had broken the deal not to curse or touch any church crosses while in the canoe.
It was a story that Edith knew inside-out, since countless guests had asked about the frame. But to her surprise, Gabriel had no interest in the frame, instead focusing his attention on the ceramic, wooden and stuffed monsters. He delicately pushed aside a pewter Inukshuk to pick up one of the tackiest things on the shelf: a rubber trout dressed in a leopard-print fur coat.
“It’s kind of a jokey version of the fur-bearing trout,” Edith explained, trying not to sound too apologetic about the inane souvenir. “I don’t think the real one had a fur coat that was so stylish. Well, not that there was a real trout, but you know what I mean.”
“Yes,” Gabriel said, putting the trout back next to the Inukshuk. “As it turned out, the trout of legend only suffered from a rather unpleasant mold growing on their scales. The truth can be quite mundane.”
“Too bad. It’s nice to have a monster that’s just cute instead of scary.”
“Not all monsters are frightening. And also, not all frightening creatures are monsters. But we do need something to populate our stories, don’t we? And what better than the things that frighten us.”
Gabriel lifted a hand-carved wooden turtle to inspect its painted shell. “The gods of the ancient world were created with the explicit purpose of making sense of the things that frightened us the most. If the sea frightened you, you could give an offering to a god who would calm it for you. So your fear is controlled. In many ways, folk tales fulfill the same purpose; we huddle together, strength in numbers, and pass on the stories that justify the existence of the so-called monsters that scare us. They ease our fears and protect our minds. To avoid thinking of what might truly be lurking beneath the darkness.”
“Wow,” Edith said, a little dumbstruck before she remembered that Gabriel was supposed to be a folklorist. Maybe he was a professor after all.
She sipped her coffee and went to stand next to the shelves, slightly more comfortable around Gabriel now that they had found common ground. “Yeah, I get it. Telling a silly story makes the monsters seem less scary, right?”
“In a fashion. Take this fellow here.” He pointed to a mounted wooden bowl, half-hidden behind the frame of the Chasse-Galerie; the bottom had a creature painted on it, a skeletal and furred monster with large horns. It looked like a wolf reared onto its hind legs, its mouth open to reveal vicious-looking fangs. Edith didn’t care much for the mean-looking critter, keeping it mostly out of sight behind the other trinkets.
“Yeah, I don’t know what that’s supposed to be. Some guest found it in a gift shop somewhere.”
“Whether the artist meant it or not, it resembles popular depictions of the witiko.”
“Witiko?” Edith thought she knew her monsters, but the name meant nothing to her. In the kitchen, Molson rose and stretched, trotting over to the window as though she’d just realized the party had moved.
“Popular culture also calls it a wendigo,” Gabriel said. “It’s a monster of Algonquin folklore; the wendigo roamed the forests, waiting to prey on those who were lost and near death. They would then possess the unfortunate, driving them into a violent, cannibalistic frenzy.”
Edith shuddered. “I knew there was a reason I hated that bowl.”
Gabriel continued, “But once again, a folkloric monster is used to explain frightening human behavior. Did you know that when the Bible speaks of demonic possession, they are more likely referring to events involving schizophrenia, or epilepsy? The spirit of the wendigo serves the same purpose; to explain frightening human behavior—in this case, a psychotic break following great mental trauma—in a manner we can tame.”
“Huh, sounds like you really know your myths,” Edith said. “Some people study them for a living. Is that what you do?”
“In a sense, yes.” The smell of the coffee must have finally reached the man. He glanced behind him, at the kitchen table, and reached for the black coffee steaming quietly in a Montmorency Falls mug, sipping at it judiciously. His attention back on the shelf of cryptids, Gabriel picked up a furry, plush Sasquatch with a crooked arm; a small cloud of dust kicked off its fur.
Edith smiled. “I remember that one; some kids from Thunder Bay gave him to me. Molson pulled off his arm and I sewed it back on. It’s a little crooked now, but I guess I could have sewed in the middle of its chest and just told people it was a new monster.”
Gabriel gave a half-smile; it was the first expression that had graced his face beside “stern” and “tired”. He manipulated Sasquatch’s arm, making the creature look as though it was waving. “And that is how a new folk tale is born. Of course, everyone knows Sasquatch was a hoax. A man in a costume. Or, originally, a strange bear walking around on its hind legs.”
“If you’re going to start explaining all the myths,” Edith said with a crooked smile, “you’re just going to take the fun out of it.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I love myths,” Gabriel said. “But not everything has its roots in folklore.”
The half-smile disappeared as though it had never been there as he placed Sasquatch back on the shelf. Spotting a ceramic sea-serpent, he picked it up, cradling the figurine between his fingers. “Do you know the story behind this one?” he asked.
“I guess so,” Edith said with a shrug. “A family from British Columbia gave me that. That’s Ogopogo. He’s supposed to be swimming around in the Okanagan river, right?”
“Okanagan is a lake,” he said, correcting her tonelessly. The Ogopogo figurine was cheaply-made, the green paint faded from exposure to the sun; the hand-painted eyes pointed in different directions, making Ogopogo look more confused than fearsome.
“I’ve always liked him,” Edith said. “He’s like the Canadian Loch Ness monster. Nobody outside the country knows the other critters, but Ogopogo’s pretty big and cool.”
“Ogopogo is famous, but not alone. Did you know that Canada is teeming with water monsters?”
“According to legend, right?”
“The monster Amhuluk, a frighteningly large horned serpent, shares the waterways of the west coast with Ogopogo. And Ogopogo himself has a cousin in lake Manitoba, cleverly named Manipogo. And there is Kolowisi, a snakelike water monster who sometimes steals young girls to become his brides, and sometimes helps humans by holding back floods. And then—”
Gabriel placed Ogopogo back on the shelf. Losing interest in the cryptids, he circled the kitchen table to grab a piece of toast, elegantly biting into it. “And then, there is Gaasyendietha.”
Edith thought about repeating the strange name, but quickly gave up. “That one’s quite the mouthful. Is it a nice monster?”
“Gaasyendietha is not a nice monster,” Gabriel said. “He is a massive dragon who swims in Lake Ontario, and wherever else he pleases. The Seneca people saw him land in the water, on a great trail of fire, many centuries ago. He must remain deep underwater, or else his fire will set the world ablaze, and destroy us all.”
“That’s a horrible myth,” Edith said. “Who would start a story like that?”
“Well…” Gabriel said. He bit off another piece of toast, chewing and swallowing as he stared away from Edith. “The concept of the end of the world does fascinate many people. Not enough to try and prevent it, but enough to enjoy it on an intellectual level. You might say Gaasyendietha fulfills that purpose, as much as we wish he didn’t.”
“What a story to tell kids. Hey, better eat your vegetables, or the dragon will crawl out of the lake and burn down the world.”
“Do you have children, Miss Edith?” Gabriel asked.
“No. Not yet, anyway,” Edith said. “Right now it’s just me and Molson. The closest I’ve come is playing auntie to my friend Sylvie’s kids.”
“Pity,” Gabriel said. “I’ve never had children either. I have no one to pass the folktales onto.”
“I think kids could do without hearing stories like—what was your Seneca dragon’s name?”
“That’s the one. Best to leave him in the legends, I’d say.”
“Of course,” Gabriel said. He drained the coffee mug, placing it back on the table behind him. “I will return to my room now.”
“Got big plans for today?” Edith asked. “It’s cold out, but if you bundle up you could go for a nice walk.”
“We’ll see,” Gabriel said. “Thank you for breakfast. And for sharing your collection with me.”
“Yeah,” Edith said, embarrassing herself by smiling. What a strange fellow. “Sure.”
Edith didn’t hear from Gabriel at all for the rest of the day; he stayed shut away in his room, either sleeping, or doing something equally quiet. Only once did he leave his room, to use the washroom down the hall, and that was it.
Edith left him to his own devices, going about her own important daily business of eating M&Ms, playing with Molson, and speaking with Sylvie and her kids from across the road. It was only after the sun had set behind the buildings of Quebec City on the mainland, and Edith returned home after taking Molson for her bedtime walk, that she ran into Gabriel again. He was just exiting his room, carrying a duffel bag and wearing his buttoned-up black coat. He nodded tersely as he spotted Edith.
Ah, so we’re back to grouchy old coot, she thought as she unclipped Molson’s leash and let her totter off to the kitchen. “Are you going out? It’s dark and pretty much everything is closed. There’s a diner on the corner of the main road here, if you’re hungry…”
“Thank you,” Gabriel said. “I have some things to attend to tonight.” He hoisted the bag over his shoulder; its contents were bulky and the zipper wasn’t closed, and Edith frowned as she spotted flippers and the nose of an oxygen tank.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “But is that Scuba gear? It doesn’t seem like the best time to be Scuba diving.”
“Some of my research can only be done at night,” Gabriel said. He made to push past her, gently but insistently. “I am on a tight deadline, so if you don’t mind—”
“Um, I lock the door at midnight,” Edith said. “You’ll need to be back by then or you might turn into a pumpkin.”
“I won’t need to return until the morning,” Gabriel said, moments before he closed the front door behind him.
Edith stared at the closed door for several minutes after her guest’s departure. Well, the St-Lawrence river was an interesting place to explore via Scuba diving—she’d done it herself a few times—but, in October? And from l’Île d’Orléans? At least it gave her a story to tell Sylvie tomorrow.
She busied herself around the house for the rest of the evening. At midnight, with no sign of James Bond, she locked the door, and went to bed.
Molson’s alarmed barks woke Edith in the middle of the night. Her first response was to shush the dog with a sleepy grumble—though as she opened her eyes to do so, her heart skipped a beat, as orange light flickered behind her bedroom curtain.
Oh crap, fire! she thought with a shock. The house is on fire!
Edith skittered out of bed, pocketed her wallet and cell phone, and took hold of Molson’s collar to pull her along. But as she crossed the kitchen, she realized the orange flames were not coming from the house, but from outside, and she could swear they were coming from the water.
Utterly confused and frozen to the spot, Edith flinched as the flames suddenly died down. And then, she heard something that made her heart skip a beat again; frantic pounding on the back door, and frantic screaming. Molson barked and whined at the noise.
Edith ran through the kitchen to the door leading to the back porch, realizing with a shock that it was Gabriel screaming. She fumbled to unlock the patio door and Gabriel collapsed to his knees inside the house, struggling for breath. To Edith’s horror, she saw that his face and arms were covered in ugly burns. He was dripping wet and wearing a wetsuit that was singed and burnt; most of the Scuba gear had been shed, though the tank was still hanging from one of his scorched arms.
“Oh God, what happened?” she asked, her hands hovering over Gabriel’s burnt face and arms. Heart pounding, she dove for the kitchen sink, snatching up the dishcloth and running it under the cold tap. She laid it gently against Gabriel’s face, not sure at all if it would help, but he seemed to sigh in relief at the touch.
This was way beyond her experience. The worst medical emergency she’d faced with her guests was that time the lady from Indianapolis passed out in her living room.
“Just hang on,” she said, trying to wrap her shaking fingers around her cellphone. “Just hang on. I’ll call an ambulance.”
“No time!” Gabriel gasped.
“They’ll be here quick, you’ll be okay—”
“Not for me! I don’t matter. Miss Edith—” He tugged on her pajama sleeve with the strength of the desperate, pulling Edith down closer to him; the wet dishcloth fell to the floor. She gulped; she could smell the burnt skin of his face.
“… Not all myths are just tall tales.”
Edith shook her head. “I-I don’t understand.”
“Gaasyendietha,” Gabriel rasped, through burned lips. It took Edith a second to recognize the name; the nasty sea-dragon he had talked about yesterday.
“He’s… he’s that Seneca legend, right?”
Gabriel frantically shook his head, wincing from the pain. “Gaasyendietha is not a legend. He’s real, Edith. I’ve been watching over him my entire life. We’ve been watching over him for his entire life.” “I don’t—”
“The Seneca people saw him come to our world, travelling on a trail of fire, and land in Lake Ontario,” Gabriel said, pausing to cough harshly. “Gaasyendietha is… is not from our world.”
Edith shook her head again; this was too much, too overwhelming. She needed to call for help; Gabriel was delirious. “What are you saying? Now the monster is an alien? Why?”
Gabriel nodded shakily. “We don’t know why he came, but he roams underwater as he pleases. What we know is that he must not rise! If he rises, if his fire touches the surface, he will destroy the world.”
“No,” Edith whispered. Molson was pacing around them, sensing the distress. “No, that’s just a legend. A folktale. He’s just a water-dragon, not a gigantic alien monster. That’s what you said yesterday morning—”
“Gaasyendietha must not rise!” Gabriel said. The grip on her arm was beginning to weaken. “For generations, we have passed on the duty of watching over him, of tracking his movements through the waters, to protect our world. He has been roaming close to the surface lately, restless, and I have been following him, needing to stop him.”
“Is that why you went Scuba-diving?” Edith asked. She remembered the brief, flickering orange flames outside her window, coming from the river. “Is that why you’re all burned? Gaasyendietha did this?”
Gabriel nodded again, then groaned. “He wants to rise. Now you must take my place, Edith. You must stop him from rising. At all costs.”
“What? No!” Edith cried. “If there’s something dangerous out there, let me call the police or the army or something—”
“Gaasyendietha must not rise!” Gabriel gasped. “Whatever you do, you have to stop him. There is no choice. If he rises, he destroys the world.”
Gabriel shifted, and Edith realized he was trying to shrug off the Scuba tank, to hand it to her. She shook her head. “No. No. I don’t know what to do. What am I supposed to do?”
With a shuddering breath, Gabriel fell back against the refrigerator. “I don’t know,” he whispered. “But you must do it.”
Kneeling on the floor with the singed Scuba gear in hand, Edith watched as Gabriel fell unconscious. Beside her, Molson began to whine; Edith felt dangerously close to curling up and whimpering too.
Edith’s hands were shaking as she stood on the shore of the St-Lawrence river, Gabriel’s Scuba gear clumsily strapped to her back. Through her misting breath, she could see the ripples on the water, movement that wasn’t caused by the wind, or the tide, or playful fish.
Gaasyendietha was lurking close by.
The memory of Gabriel’s burns, and his terrified pleas, nearly made Edith hyperventilate. If it hadn’t been for the weird fire and the burns, she would have called the police right away, asking them to take away the delirious gentleman who was making up stories about sea-serpents and asking her to do dangerous things.
But here she was, standing on the shore.
The dragon couldn’t rise, she knew that much, but she couldn’t even begin to guess how she could battle it back to the bottom of the river. Gabriel was the dragon expert, and Gaasyendietha had kicked his ass.
Edith blinked away tears, staring at the dark water. It should have been like the movies, where the reluctant hero was given a magic sword or a talisman to fight the big villain, and managed to gather enough courage to fight and emerge victorious. But Edith had nothing but the Scuba gear that she barely remembered how to use, and a butcher knife she’d taken from the kitchen. No magic sword. Not even a gun, or a club, or something that could at least make her feel like she had a fighting chance. The sudden burst of courage wasn’t coming either.
Gaasyendietha must not rise.
The butcher knife fell to the wet sand; she wouldn’t be able to swim and stab, anyway, and the blade would probably just feel like a mosquito bite to the dragon. She fought a surge of panic at the thought; despite Gabriel’s tale, she had no clue what to expect, no clue what to do against an alien dragon who wanted to burn the whole world.
Gaasyendietha must not rise.
She thought of Gabriel, moaning away on her kitchen floor, and of Molson. She hoped one of the neighbours would find the dog and take good care of her if—when—Edith didn’t return.
Assuming there would still be a world, and that Gaasyendietha wouldn’t destroy it. She stuck the regulator in her mouth, whimpering at the uncomfortable object, and took two steps into the cold water of the St-Lawrence river. She didn’t have a proper wetsuit, and had only changed into long-johns and an old athletic sweater. The water seeped into her clothes, and she sucked in a breath through the regulator as she sank beneath the water, swimming clumsily towards the bottom.
Edith kicked her arms and legs, the cold water making her limbs heavy and sluggish. This was insane. Surely this was insane, and there was no river monster hiding here, and maybe there wasn’t even a mysterious stranger who had come to her door, and if there was, he was probably insane himself, and was now laughing like a madman that he had convinced the girl from the backwards city to go Scuba diving for invisible monsters in October, and maybe—
Edith flinched, startled by a shadow in the water. She blinked her eyes, fuzzy from the freezing water, until the water suddenly wasn’t feeling so cold, and wasn’t so dark anymore. There was light; glowing orange light.
She had never been one to curse, in English or in French, but… tabarnaque!
Gaasyendietha was swimming up to meet her.
It was long and serpentine with fins that flowed around its body like translucent ribbons. It wore a layer of fire like a mink coat, warming the water until it felt like a hot bath. Edith bit down on the regulator, fighting panic, and thought of Gabriel’s terrible burns. Her own skin prickled with terror as Gaasyendietha undulated through the water, swimming closer and closer to her body.
Seigneur Dieu, she thought frantically. It’s real! Gaasyendietha is real!
It was inching, lap by lap, towards the surface of the water. Edith struggled to think of a plan. Gaasyendietha was huge, twice as long as her house, with a body as thick as a car; there was no way she could physically fight it, even if she had a weapon that could hurt it. Besides, the thing was covered with a layer of fire that wasn’t even bothered by the water; hell, it had managed to burn Gabriel underwater! How was she supposed to kill that?
Maybe she could lure it to the bottom of the river, away from the surface. Gaasyendietha would probably eat her then, and it was only delaying the end of the world for a bit, but it was all she could do.
Struggling to swim with her waterlogged clothes, Edith tried to kick herself towards Gaasyendietha. With numb fingers she pulled the regulator from her mouth, and tried to scream underwater, “Monster! Hey! Follow me!”
It came out garbled, but Gaasyendietha heard; it turned its massive finned head towards her, but made no move to strike or attack, its serpentine body hovering in the water. Its bright, green eyes, each as big as Molson, focused on her and blinked lazily.
“You must allow me to return home.”
The water itself seemed to vibrate with the sound of Gaasyendietha’s deep, otherworldly voice, and Edith was so stunned that it took a moment for her to realize she had understood the dragon’s speech.
It wasn’t just an animal. She could talk to it. Gabriel hadn’t mentioned that part. Not knowing what else to do, she pulled the regulator out of her mouth again, and screamed, as well as she could under the water, “Can you understand me?”
“Why do you speak to me? ” Gaasyendietha said. “You must allow me to return home. ”
“I can’t,” Edith said. She stuck the regulator back in her mouth for a moment, drawing in gulps of oxygen. And then she wondered, since Gaasyendietha’s voice was in her head—would the dragon be able to hear her even if she wasn’t trying to warble away in the water?
She’d never talked telepathically before. She concentrated hard, sounding off each word in her head, picturing the noise travelling towards the dragon. “If you—if you rise out of the water, you’ll kill everything on this world.”
“But I am whole, ” it said. Its massive snout was undulating slightly as it spoke, revealing here and there rows of serrated teeth. “I must return home.”
“Where is your home?”
“Between the stars.”
Right. Of course. Gabriel had said that Gaasyendietha had plummeted to Earth. So he was an alien. Bet the Seneca people hadn’t known that tidbit. Sea-monsters were real, and now it seemed aliens were real. It was quite a bit to take in.
“Why now?” she asked. “You’ve been swimming on Earth for hundreds of years,
haven’t? Don’t… don’t you like it? Can’t you just stay?”
“I am whole. I came to this world to become whole. It is the way of my people.”
“Whole… You mean you’re grown up? Is that what you mean?”
“Grown-up…” Gaasyendietha repeated, tasting the word for its meaning. “Yes, I have grown. From hatchling to what you see now. I was spawned from among the stars, like my sires before me. Your world was my bower. I have outgrown it now. ”
Edith bobbed in the water; it was beginning to grow uncomfortably warm. “So… so your people, space dragons I guess, just send out baby alien dragon eggs to worlds all over the galaxy?”
“That is our way. A world must nurture the egg. ”
“And when you’re ready to go, you just… burn up the whole world? Kill everyone? Your people always have to do that?”
Edith could sense Gaasyendietha’s confusion. “Our flame must envelop the world of our birth. However… there are never ones to speak with. Never ones to share the world. ”
Now it was Edith’s turn to be confused, but then the meaning clicked; so the baby alien dragons were buried on deserted planets, so it didn’t matter if they were destroyed. Gaasyendietha landing on Earth must have been a mistake.
“Then you shouldn’t be here, because we live here. We’re humans; we’ve lived here for millions of years. You can’t kill us.”
“We do not wish to harm others,” Gaasyendietha said. “But I must return home. ”
“You can’t rise,” Edith said. If it was down to begging, so be it. “Please don’t. Please don’t destroy our world. This can be your home now.”
“But I will be alone if I stay here.”
“A lot of us here are alone,” Edith said. This was it; she had to try, and asked, “Wait, can you wait a bit? Before you fly back to your people, would you listen to a proposition?”
Gaasyendietha whirled about in the water for a moment, considering. Its fire ebbed and flowed in its wake. Edith shivered against the currents of hot and cold water.
“Yes,” Gaasyendietha said after a moment. “I will listen.”
By the time Edith crawled back onto the cold, damp shore, the sun had begun to peek through the buildings on the mainland. Shaking from cold and exhaustion, Edith spat out the regulator, collapsed against the rough sand, and cried with relief.
Spring reached l’Île d’Orléans early that year. Edith walked along the sand, smiling at the warm early-morning sun, Molson running around barking at seaweed and rocks. Ahead of her, Sylvie’s youngest daughter, Annick, was happily skipping through the waterlogged sand.
The ten-year-old was holding up Edith’s Ogopogo figurine, the one with the unfocused eyes, making it fly through the air.
“Ogopogo doesn’t fly, sweetheart,” Edith said, laughing. “He’s a sea serpent.”
“He’s a magic monster!” Annick said. “So he can do whatever he wants.”
“Well, you got me there.”
Edith closed the neck of her sweater against a sudden cool breeze. She wondered where Gabriel Belleau was today; after returning home from her adventure in the St-Lawrence river on that night in October, she’d called him an ambulance, told him what she had done while in the river, and saw him off to the hospital.
Not hearing a peep for weeks, she’d been afraid he had died, only to receive an unexpected Christmas gift months later; a detailed, expertly-crafted figurine of a sea serpent. There was no doubt who the gift had come from. She had cleared a special spot on her shelf of cryptids for the new arrival.
Annick giggled as Molson circled around her, playfully snapping at the old Ogopogo figure in her hand. Edith hurried up to join them.
“Molson’s trying to eat Ogopogo!” Annick laughed.
“She loves to eat monsters!” Edith mock-cried. “But I’ll make you a deal; if you keep Ogopogo safe from Molson, you can keep it.”
“Really?” Annick said, glancing at the figurine to make sure it was a good deal. “Okay, yeah!”
“Good girl,” Edith said. “We have to take good care of our monsters, you know. Did you know that Canada’s lakes and rivers are filled with other cool water monsters?”
“Really,” Edith said. She pointed out towards the river. “There’s one who’s super-secret, because he’s very special, and he lives right here. His name is Gaasyendietha; he came to Earth, from the stars, as a baby inside an egg. He landed in Lake Ontario, where he grew up to become a big, strong dragon.”
“He’s a space dragon!” Annick said.
“Yes he is,” Edith nodded. “But Gaasyendietha had a terrible problem. When the other dragons, like him, are all grown-up, they swim out of the water, and fly up to space to join their people. But, because they’re surrounded by a very powerful fire, leaving the water means they set the whole world on fire. When Gaasyendietha was grown up, a young girl swam under the water to see him, and asked him to please stay under the water. Gaasyendietha was very lonely, but didn’t want to hurt everyone who lived on Earth. So the girl made a promise; if Gaasyendietha promised to stay under the water, to keep the Earth safe, then the girl promised to watch over him, visit him and speak to him, and become his friend for the rest of her life. The girl also promised that when she would get too old, she’d share the story of Gaasyendietha with someone else, so this new person could also be Gaasyendietha’s friend. To this day, he swims around l’Île d’Orléans, happy, and not lonely anymore.”
Annick had been listening to the tale attentively, twirling the Ogopogo figurine between her fingers. “Is he really for real?” she asked.
“What do you think?”
Annick narrowed her eyes, trying to figure out if it was a trick-question. “Can I see him?”
“One day, Annick,” Edith said, smiling broadly. “I’ll make sure you do.”
About the Author
Marie Robertson is a speculative fiction writer and playwright from Ottawa, Ontario. Her work has appeared in previous issues of Crossed Genres, along with Canadian Stories, Three Crow Press, and locally in Ottawa whenever she can find an available stage. She enjoys obscure cryptozoology, spaghetti for breakfast, and hanging out with her husband and cats. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.