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By STEVEN LAINE
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Steven Laine
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Chapter OneNorth Shore of Loch Ness, Inverness, Scotland December 24th, 8:00 am
'The Loch Ness Monster does not live in these waters.'
This somber remark, uttered to a crowd of just over five hundred, was punctuated by the sonic boom of a squadron of supersonic F-35 Lightning IIs from the nearby RAF Lossiemouth airbase. The deafening boom caused by the breaking of the sound barrier was no less shocking to their ears than the statement that preceded it.
It was not the fact that the statement was made that so affected the large crowd but the source from which it came. The confidence and certainty in the voice which delivered that one sentence was almost enough to dispel all of the rumors, myths, sightings, and speculation that had spanned hundreds of years, dating back to the first recorded 'sighting' of Nessie by St. Columba in the year 565 A.D.
Christian Hunt paid no heed to the momentary distraction of the jets overhead. He waited patiently while the statement sunk in for maximum effect. They had been expecting an answer, a revelation, but they were not prepared for what Hunt was to ultimately reveal to them.
Hunt stood on a temporary, yet solidly constructed wooden stage over sixty feet across and fifteen feet deep built in front of the ruins of Castle Urquhart, standing on a rocky promontory on the North shore of Loch Ness. Behind him, a black cloth over twenty feet high provided the backdrop to the stage. Two screens on either end of the stage showed close-up shots of Hunt as he spoke so that everyone in the audience could see him clearly. To the left of the stage was a medieval siege machine left over from the skirmishes over the castle and surrounding property between the Crown and the MacDonald clan. Known as a torsion engine or an 'Onager', Latin for wild-ass and so named because of the movement it made when fired, the catapult sat quietly cocked as if waiting to hurl its next shot.
Now, over eight hundred years after Castle Urquhart was first erected, its crumbling walls served as the perfect backdrop to Hunt's gathering; bleak testament that nothing lasts forever, that entropy, along with time and decay, marches on. The same simple maxim applied not only to man-made structures but also to man-made beliefs. The majority of people were not prepared for this type of thinking though, and the locals who woke up early this morning had not come to hear that their local legend was nothing but a regrettably perpetuated urban myth. They wanted to go on believing the earth was flat and the Sun revolved around the earth.
The tourists in the crowd were too bowled over by the fact that they were actually at Loch Ness to fully comprehend the historical nature of the conference they had stumbled upon in their travels. For all they knew, monster press conferences took place every morning.
A quarter of the crowd represented the networks. Hunt recognised many of the reporters and most, if not all of them, certainly recognised him from his years as a freelance investigative journalist. AP, ABC, BBC, CBC, CNN, ITV, NBC, SKY, if it could be abbreviated in three letters or less, there was coverage. They couldn't roll enough tape or squeeze in enough talking-head monologues with Hunt, the castle, and Loch Ness in the background. The bitter, hurt, and shocked visages of the locals would feature prominently in the day's video-bites. But not for long, for Hunt always kept the best for last. The man who had proven the Bermuda Triangle disappearances were nothing short of a random series of misadventures, and then some, was not going to disappoint the crowd today.
By now the crowd, or at least the media, was ready for the gory details and Hunt was not going to let them down. He had all his arguments lined up, all the facts to back them up, and over two years' worth of the most comprehensive data gathered on the search for the elusive monster.
'As you are all aware, sightings of your beloved beast date back centuries and occur at all times of the day and year at different locations on the loch. What is being seen and photographed however, is not the mighty creature you so wish it to be,but is almost certainly misidentified eels, otters, birds, and logs towed by toy submarines. Many sightings consist only of bow waves that could be caused by any underwater swimming animal. Even Robert Wilson's photograph, the most widely published of them all, has been revealed as a hoax, by the good surgeon himself on his deathbed.' Hunt paced the stage casually as he spoke, at ease in well-worn loafers, navy blue Austin Reed trousers, a white collared shirt by TM Lewin loosely covered by a black, Burberry overcoat which kept the biting cold at bay.
'The Loch Ness Monster is often thought of as a dragon-like shape complete with a long neck, fat body, and stubby flippers. A bird diving below the waves, however, can look like the hump on the back of a dinosaur. Nessie has also been described as having the following features; log-like, shape of an upturned boat, a neck like a horse, salamander-like, a long-tapered tail, eel-like head, thirty- to forty-feet long, two or three shallow humps undulating along its back, two humps with one larger than the other, width of mouth twelve to eighteen inches, a hump with disturbances behind, impression of two flippers, single hump, neck as six-foot round column, at least four humps, and I could go on.' What Hunt did not explain to them was that the type of illusion or misperception involving a vague visual stimulus and being incorrectly perceived as something which it is not, was a common enough phenomena amongst psychologists called pareidolia. Pareidolia explains why people see the profile of Margaret Thatcher in a cloud or the face of Jesus in a slice of pizza. This is why the Rorschach ink blot test is so revealing of a person's character. People genuinely see what they want to see regardless of what is objectively visible.
'I'll be the first to admit that the discrepancy between sightings is not conclusive evidence that the loch does not serve as home to a dinosaur. Now, that's not to say a previously thought-to-be-extinct creature could not still exist, or survive even. What we don't know about the two thirds of the planet covered in water dwarfs what we know about the terrestrial parts.' Hunt noticed many nods of recognition at this popular bit of trivia. They might not like him but they were following his argument. He just hoped they would all stay until the end. He noticed a few locals had thrown him looks of disgust at his opening remarks and walked away, trying to attract as much attention as possible.
'There is precedent for sightings of creatures once thought to be extinct. The fish, Coelacanth, not too long ago sighted off the coast of Africa had been thought to be extinct for over seventy million years. And the Neopilina, a snail-like creature, was thought to be extinct for three hundred million years. Neither the Coelacanth nor the Neopilina were happy to hear this of course,' Hunt risked this one small joke because when he had told it the night before to a paleontologist over Skype, his colleague thought it was quite funny. He should have known better than to place his faith in a paleontologist's sense of humor. Fortunately, some people did laugh, though more out of politeness than genuine levity. They wouldn't be laughing soon. Looking over the crowd towards the Loch Ness Visitor Centre, Hunt ploughed on; he had gone too far to turn back now. 'These are very small creatures however in comparison to a monster.'
'Those who live in and around Inverness are a selfish lot,' Hunt continued.
'There are other examples of Loch Ness Monster type creatures from around the globe; there is nothing special about Loch Ness. You have no monopoly on monsters,' Hunt said, and looked the locals in the eyes. If Nessie did exist, they would have fed Hunt to the monster in a heartbeat. 'More sightings and more media attention do not make it any more likely that there exists a monster in these waters,' Hunt swept his arm towards the loch.
'The people of Stockholm, Sweden report that a great dragon, named Necker, lives in the neighboring lake. In Central Sweden, in Lake Storsjo, there were twenty-two reported sightings of a creature between 1820 and 1898. The Skrimsl in Iceland was reported as far back as 1860. Reports of monsters in America in Lake Michigan and various Wisconsin lakes have dribbled in over the past two hundred years. In Flathead Lake, Montana in 1963, a twenty-five foot creature was reported. Lake Okanagan in British Columbia, Canada has the Ogopogo, reported as a series of black humps. In 1960 on Lough Lee on the Shannon in Ireland, a creature of Loch Ness Monster proportions was reported. In 1963, a creature was reported in Lough Bray, south of Dublin. And most recently covered by the world's press, we have Brosnya, a five-meter long monster with scales purported to be living in the depths of Lake Brosno in Russia. But Brosnya is also rumored to be a giant, one-hundred-year old pike or a mutant beaver.' Nervous laughter trickled through the crowd despite the overwhelming feeling of resentment to Hunt and his revelations. He pressed on.
'Lake and sea creature reports run into the hundreds around the world, from the distant past to the present day. From Loch Shiel not too far away to Lake Manitoba in Canada, to Lago Lagar in Argentina.' More locals began to walk away at this point.
'While large creatures such as the Anguilla anguilla eels and the primitive Baltic sturgeon which can grow up to nine feet long and weigh up to four hundred and fifty pounds inhabit the loch, our study, like many other studies on the loch's ecologys has conclusively determined that the loch, with its limited food supply, is capable of supporting no more than thirty metric tons of fish. Other known species within the loch include salmon, trout, and charr.
'The loch's food chain is driven by bacteria, which break down the vegetation found in the loch, rather than algae like most lakes. To survive as a predator in this food chain, a group of predators could weigh no more than ten percent of the total weight of the fish available for them to consume. In the case of Loch Ness, that equals 300 kilograms or 660 pounds.
'You may have noticed I said "group of predators" as opposed to one solitary monster. Since the Loch Ness monster story has been around for more than 1,500 years, if there is a monster living in the loch today it is not likely the same monster seen by St. Columba. In order to reproduce and perpetuate the species there must be more than one monster. Based on the loch's ecology, a conservative minimum of ten creatures would be needed to sustain the population. Surely if there were ten of these creatures in Loch Ness at any one time, we would be seeing them all the time. Wouldn't we?' Hunt looked directly at the scattered group of locals who remained as he asked this loaded question. Most of them could not hold his stare and averted their eyes to the sky above, to their feet, and some even to the loch itself, perhaps wishing a monster of Biblical proportions would fly out of the water and swallow Mr. Christian Hunt in one swift gulp.
'Not only are we not seeing a flock of monsters on a daily basis, but satellite and sonar surveys of the loch, the most intensive of which were carried out by my team over the past two years, reveal precious little that could pass for a monster, let alone ten of them!
'Since the first sonar survey conducted in 1954, results from these surveys and the satellite surveys that followed have provided ambiguous results at best. More recently, the BBC claims stating that their sonar sweep, using over six hundred sonar beams, proved the Loch Ness Monster does not exist have my support. The sonar and satellite sweeps carried out by my team have revealed the same.
'Despite the 'unexplained' sonar readings of Operation Deepscan in 1987, which I may point out covered less than 70% of the loch, it continues to perplex me that with all the sophisticated technology, the submarines, and the thousands of "sightings" we still don't have a single specimen after all these years. We don't have a carcass; we don't even have one bone to examine, misplaced tour-guide demos aside. With at least ten of these huge sea monsters swimming around in the lake at any given time, by all rights there should be at least one unambiguous sighting by now.' Hunt gave a little shrug of his shoulders and let his questioning eyes sweep the crowd. No one seemed to have a response to that statement.
'The myth of the Loch Ness Monster is great for tourism and crypto-zoologists. Myths however do not last forever. In fact, few things do. What does last, at least to a much longer extent than human myths and legends, is the earth's own particular method of recordkeeping. That is, the fossil-record. The earth's records in this particular region are most revealing.'
Without another word or any explanation Hunt walked the short distance to the left of the stage and pulled the lever on the side of the siege machine that launched the catapult. Instinctively, everyone in the crowd watched the rapid trajectory of the catapult's arm and inhaled in anticipation, squinting their eyes to catch a glimpse of the object that would fly from the catapult. To their disappointment, nothing was launched from the catapult itself but their disappointment soon turned to amazement as they looked back at the stage where Hunt was standing. While nothing had been placed in the catapult's bowl itself, the giant black cloth backdrop had been tied to the catapult's arm so that when Hunt released the catapult, the cloth was violently swept away.
Propped up majestically by a skeleton of aluminium support struts was the fossilised skeleton of a twelve-meter long Plesiosaur.
The crowd gasped. A grainy picture every few months was enough to generate excitement for years but a complete skeleton was beyond comprehension. Not one, not two, but a full seven people fainted at the sight.
'Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you Nessiteras Rhombopteryx, otherwise known as the Loch Ness Monster,' Hunt cried. He was instantly blinded by a brilliant burst of flashbulbs and the press went wild with questions. The resulting cacophony almost deafened him. Now he knew how a rock star felt looking out onto a crowd gone wild.
Four months ago, Hunt's discovery was confirmed by staff at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. It was under a team of the University's close and expert supervision that the specimen was clandestinely brought up out of its watery grave from under twenty feet of sediment and preserved for future generations to speculate on what else may rest below the loch's opaque surface and within its underwater caves.
'We now know at least one monster existed here, but whether any more do remains to be determined.'
Excerpted from Iconoclast by STEVEN LAINE Copyright © 2013 by Steven Laine. Excerpted by permission.
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