Set the stage: It's the first night out on the cattle drive. Everybody is still fresh and in high spirits. They're sitting around the campfire singing and telling stories. Levi, Andi's nephew from Family Secret, is also along on this cattle drive.
“I like cattle drives,” Andi announced around the campfire that night. The smell of wood smoke, leather, and strong coffee wafted over her. She shoveled another forkful of biscuits soaked in rich gravy into her mouth and sighed her contentment. “Where else can I get such great chuck?”
Andi liked the food. It was salty and greasy and full of raw flavor. She liked not having to eat with a linen napkin or take dainty swallows of milk. She could gulp hot coffee right along with the cowhands. Better yet, nobody cared if she spilled coffee down the front of her shirt.
Cook grunted his acknowledgment of Andi’s compliment and went back to preparing for tomorrow’s meals.
“I like ’em too,” Levi said. He’d put away twice as much supper as Andi. He sat on the ground between Bryce and Tripp, two of the temporary hands. “I’m not tired in the least.”
Chuckles rippled around the campfire. “Everybody likes cattle drives the first night out,” Wyatt quipped. “You two will change your minds soon enough.”
“I bet I won’t,” Andi challenged.Mitch grinned. “We’ll see.” Then he leaned back against his saddle next to Chad. They talked about the route until Toledo brought out his guitar and began strumming. Everyone quieted down, and the trail boss and ramrod joined the rest of the group.
“This song’s especially for you, Miss Carter,” Toledo said, “since you like cattle drives so much.” He broke into a lively tune about the Chisholm Trail. In no time, he had the entire outfit singing along with the last two lines, “Come a ki-yi-yippee-yippee-yi-yippee-yay; Come a ki-yi-yippee-yippee-yay!”
Andi blushed when—on the spot—Toledo made up a verse about how her being along on the drive “will charm the steers right along the trail.” His singing made her feel all whirly inside. With an impatient mental wave, she brushed away her silly, confusing thoughts and focused her attention on the merriment.
Left and right, drovers added to the song. Levi came up with a verse about his first-day’s mishap at being Cook’s helper. He’d tripped carrying an armload of wood and fell head over heels against a pot of beans Cook had set aside. Beans and water flew everywhere. Cook cracked a smile when he heard it. Andi laughed until tears ran down her cheeks.
After Toledo had strummed a dozen songs and everyone’s throats were raw from singing, young Bryce cleared his throat. “Have you heard what’s lurking in Bear Lake?” he asked in a low, eerie voice.
Determined not to look like a greenhorn in front of the men, Andi held her peace and didn’t answer. But she couldn’t help shivering a little.
Chad elbowed him into silence. “What?” he asked, playing along.
“A serpent ninety feet long,” Bryce said.
“According to the many who have spied the serpent,” Bryce said, “it has a thin head, a large mouth, and small legs that move swiftly through the water.” He wiggled his fingers. “It spouts water upwards from its mouth and moves so fast that it leaves a wake behind, much like a boat.”
Andi found herself holding her breath. She glanced at Levi, who sat spellbound at Bryce’s side, eyes wide.
"Folks have seen the monster crawl up onto the beach with short, flipper-like legs. Once ashore, it holds its head high and turns it from side to side as it looks about.” Bryce stretched out his neck and slowly moved it back and forth. Then he raised his hands and grabbed the air. “The Indians inhabiting the area tell stories of how the creature sometimes captures and carries off—”
Something grabbed Andi from behind and wrenched her away from the fire, immersing her in darkness. Terror seized her. She shrieked and clawed to get away. Strong arms held her tight.
“Hey, take it easy!” Chad said. Then he set her free.
Andi crumpled to the ground, too frightened and furious to cry. She shook so hard she couldn’t speak.
Chad hung over her, his blue eyes laughing at the success of his prank. He reached down to help Andi to her feet, but she slapped his hand away and found her voice. “If you ever, ever s-scare me l-like that again, Chad Carter, I’ll . . . I’ll . . .” She couldn’t think of anything bad enough to do to him. Tears threatened, but her ire kept them back.
“Don’t be sore at Chad,” Wyatt spoke up, laughing. “The youngest hands always get ribbed. It was either you or Levi, and”—he slapped his knee—“you looked so absorbed in the story that Chad couldn’t help himself.”
Feeling like a fool and still trembling from the fallout of the Serpent of Bear Lake story, Andi made her way back to the warmth and safety of the fire. She collapsed on a log and buried her burning face in her hands. The men were still tittering. All except Levi. When Andi raised her head she saw him eyeing her with an I’m-glad-that-wasn’t-me look.
Andi took deep breaths to steady her pounding heart then looked around. “So,” she said, putting on the bravest front she could muster, “what happened to the creature?”
“That, Miss Andi, is a story for another night,” Bryce said. “Why, lookee here! It appears it’s my turn for night duty.” He jumped to his feet and hurried off into the shadows. Laughter followed.
Do you suppose it was an aquatic dinosaur still alive and lurking in this Utah lake?
Just for fun:
Bryce never finishes the story or tells Andi what happened to the monster. Why not? What do you think happens on the trail drive that prevents the young cowhand from finishing his tale? Share your creative ideas in the comments!