28 Oct

The writer named Amos Crane Pochard had grown sated with writing.

It was in the early summer of 1906 that he decided to spend two months up in the Catskills. His fourth novel had just been published and he realized that he was exhausted and needed a rest from literary work.

How best to refresh himself? July and August without mental toil, doing nothing beyond enjoying a natural setting. The idea of a hiatus from producing novels intrigued Amos as he approached the threshold of middle age.

Several guide books led him to consider and choose Lake Maingan. It was off the main path of summer tourists, a recessed location that few ever visited.

Yes, decided the tired author, the place promised him privacy and quiet. It seemed perfect for his weary frame and his soul. He wrote from his Greenwich Village apartment to make a reservation. An affirming reply came from a Miss Namew Strangler, the strangely named manager of the only hotel at the place.

A mainline train took him up the Hudson to Kingston. Amos admired the restful summer greenery of the great valley. He then switched to a local trunk line into the rising Catskills. Westward chugged the passenger liner. The stop at which the vacationer was to get off was called Big Indian. Someone from the hotel should be waiting for him with a horse and wagon, the manager had written him.

At last, the conductor called out “Big Indian” as the locomotive slowed, then braked to a stop. Amos, short and plump, hurried to climb off and find his horse-drawn transport, as well as transfer his luggage to it.

Once on the ground, it took only a second to locate the wagon and its driver.

A lanky, dark-complected young man with long black hair tied into a pigtail walked up to the traveler in white summer suit and straw hat.

This must be Chepe Strangler, brother of the hotel manager, the novelist told himself, remembering what the letter had said.

It took only moments for the two to introduce themselves and shake hands.

“Climb up on the seat,” suggested Chepe. “I’ll get your baggage and put it in back.”

Shortly, the wagon pulled by a single old rowan left Big Indian and headed west on a narrow, unpaved road that curved through thick forests of ash and then pines.

At first, Chepe proved taciturn until Amos asked a question that struck home.

“I hope that you don’t mind my inquiring about such a personal matter, but it interests me to learn what native tribe you and your sister are descended from. I could not find much written about this district and its original inhabitants.”

All of a sudden, a dam seemed to burst inside the younger man.

“For a very long time, perhaps close to three hundred years, the Mohawks of the Iroquois Confederation claimed us by right of conquest. All our ancestors were compelled to learn their language and customs. In public, we had to conform to what they wanted. But our fathers and mothers remained, in their hearts, the people of the wolf once known as the Maingan. Is that not the name of the lake we live by, even today? The language we speak among ourselves is not that of the Mohawk, but the old Algonkian of our ancestors. Those of us left have not surrendered our heritage, despite all that has happened. We remain what our fathers and mothers were.

“The Mohawks sent sagamores to rule over us, but our people resisted. They attempted to bewitch us with the evil onyare they settled into our lake, but we have never bowed down to that fiendish spirit. No, never will the wolf folk of the Maingan surrender.”

Speechless, Amos thought a good while before saying anything.

“I take it, then, that the onyare was some sort of demonic being placed in the lake to frighten and terrorize your forefathers.”

The driver gritted his teeth in anger.

“It was a specially evil snake of giant size. Only a few families gave in to the enemy. You will see the bicycle shop of the only descendant of these traitors left in our village. His name is Ben Kinonge. It is best to avoid him, though he speaks with a tongue of sweetest honey.”

“Yes,” responded Amos, realizing how interesting it might be to meet the despicable bicycle man.

The Maigan Hotel consisted of a large house with half a dozen apartments in it. Only two of these were occupied by tourists that summer, one being the novelist just arrived from New York City.

Namew Strangler and her brother lived at the rear of the first floor. Amos was given a front apartment facing the lake. He was able to see its placid surface any time of day or night. This is ideal for rest and recuperation, the guest told himself as the manager showed him his quarters.

She was unlike her brother in major aspects. While he was tall, his sister barely came up to Chepe’s chest. Her skin was a yellowish tan, while his was dark bronze. Namew lacked the brooding anger of her brother.

“Will the rooms suit you, Mr. Pochard?” she asked with a smile.

“Yes, indeed. The view from the front windows is marvelous. I think I could sit for hours and take in the lake. It is a surprise to me that your hotel is not packed with tourists. I intend to tell everyone I know back in the City about the place.”

She gave a slight laugh. “At the present time, you are one of our few visitors. But let me ask you a question of interest to me. Is your next book coming out soon? I read your “Appalachian Tragedy” and enjoyed it a great deal. It was inspiring and full of insight, may I say.”

“Thank you,” he beamed. “I have no idea that my work reaches here in Maingan.”

She hesitated a moment. “Oh, a few of us try to keep up with authors who have something meaningful to say.”

“Few critics describe me as you do, Miss Strangler,” he chuckled. “I must thank you again, for your generous evaluation.”

“Critics mean nothing to your reading public,” she declared. “I pay no attention to what they scribble. They don’t represent anyone but themselves.”

They exchanged long, searching looks, until Amos spoke again.

“My novels deal with what I know best: the mountain towns of Central Pennsylvania. That is the setting I grew up in. My characters and stories come out of my experience there. As well as local folklore, of course. That is why I am classified as a regional writer.”

Nemew grinned with delight. “It is something special to have a genuine author staying at the Maingan Hotel. That never happened before. Perhaps you will some day write about your stay at our lake.”

Both of them were laughing as the manager left the room.

Amos ate his meals at the family table of the Stranglers.

Chepe sat silent for the most part. But his sister was full of questions for the newcomer. How does a novelist obtain creative inspiration? What sources does he use? Is the work tiring or exhausting?

Her excitement increased with each conversation.

“I will have my publisher send copies of all my novels that you haven’t read yet, Namew. If only all readers had your sympathetic understanding!”

Suddenly, Chepe interrupted them.

“It would be a lot better for people if they read about real events, not things that are made up in somebody’s imagination. That could have some practical use. Why don’t authors write about the suffering of the Maingan people? About the curse the Mohawks threw over us long ago? Even I would read such a book, if it was ever written.”

Silence fell over the table. Namew was the one to try to restore cordiality and equilibrium.

“I have always dreamed of trying to write about our people. There is a lot that remains unknown to outsiders. What do you think of that idea, Amos? Is it a good subject, the history of one tribe, the Maingans? How would you advise me to start?”

“Not a bad concept, Namew. Not at all. There can be no clear boundary between the real and the fictional. My own works include many actual events and characters. I think the rich legends of the Maingan tribe could be re-arranged into the form of a novel. Take the story of the Mohawk conquest and the imposition of a devil snake into your lake.”

“The onyare!” cried out Namew, in a voice not at all her own. “I never thought it could be written down in a story. Is it possible?”

Amos leaned forward. “Why not? I promise to help you all I can. It can be done, I assure you.”

“How do I begin, though?” she asked him.

“Write down all that the old folks told about the fiend in the lake. Bring that to me and I’ll help organize the material.”

“I will start tonight, right after supper,” said the excited Namew.

Her brother suddenly rose from the table, his meal unfinished.

Without a word, he hurried outside into the murky twilight around Lake Maingan.

Amos, thinking that a bicycle might be of use to him, found the shop of Ben Kinonge the next morning. It was located at the far end of the village, in a large building that had once served as a barn.

A heavy, muscular man with unusual reddish skin was working on a rubber tire at a table. He looked up as the plump stranger came closer.

“Good morning. Can I help you, sir?”

Amos stopped, taking in the square, stern face that expressed an internal hostility to everything.

“I am considering riding a bicycle on the roads around here.”

“You are staying at the hotel?” asked Kinonge.

“Yes, I am here to get some rest. But I also wish to get around and see the region about the lake.”

Putting down the wrench he was holding, the owner of the shop introduced himself.

Amos gave his name, which rang no bell with the other.

But Kinonge asked an unexpected, awkward question.

“What do you think of the Stranglers, the brother and the sister?”

Amos considered his words with care before answering.

“Chepe is hard to get to know. He says little. His sister is the opposite, open and talkative. It is difficult to understand why the two are so different, but they are.”

“I never got along with that family,” continued the bicycle man. “Their parents thought they were better than anyone else. And Chepe holds to a very old grudge.”

Amos stared at him, waiting for more. But instead, Kinonge changed the subject abruptly.

“I have some bicycles that I can rent out by the week or month. Would you like to have look at them or try some out?”

“Yes, that would be fine.”

In a short while, the novelist chose a bicycle with which he planned to explore the environs of Lake Maingan.

It was hard going on unpaved dirt roads and country paths.

How did Ben Kinonge make a living in such rough territory? he wondered, returning to the hotel at dusk time. The sky was turning brownish-yellow, darkening further each passing moment. An eerie stillness, a noiseless calm reigned over the lake shore. Amos stopped and gazed at the placid, mirrorlike water. What was there so hypnotic about this particular lake? There seemed to be an uncanny, almost enchanted quality about the place.

Amos was about to move on, when his eye caught a shadow on the surface of the darkening water. A shadow? he muse. A shadow of what? There was nothing in the air above to cause the darker shade he believed he had experienced.

What did the figure in the water resemble? he asked himself.

The answer that surfaced made him tremble for a moment. A serpentine shape, underneath the water. A creature of some sort at the bottom of the lake. Was it only an illusion? Something insubstantial, as inky as coal, with only a shadow of it visible?

The first stars of evening came out in the sky above. Night was falling with full speed.

All at once, the shadow in the water was gone, nothing of it remaining.

Amos turned away in panic and walked the bicycle toward the hotel, where lights were already burning. He remembered that Namew was going to show him her notebook that evening. That was something to look forward to.

The novelist asked the new writer to read aloud the lines she had composed. Namew did so in a low, hesitant voice that grew in strength as she went on.

” Maingans take their name from the wolf of the forest. This animal was the beginning wakonda that gave life to the spirits of all the generations born to the tribe.

“It was always the wolf that protected us from misfortune and enemies. That was so until the coming of the wap, the men with faces of white. Everything was upset by those who came from a land called Europe. A warlike federation, the Iroquois, arose to our west. Its nearest member, the man-eaters called the Mohawks, invaded and grabbed our lands, the inheritance of the wolf people. Their victory was due to their evil ally, the onyare serpent that came with them to haunt and bedevil us.

“The onyare has enormous invisible power. It can seize the achak of any person and then destroy it. That means the annihilation of a human’s soul. That is what the Mohawk sagamores did to many of our ancestors. Control from afar was exercised by instructing the serpent to do away with both the body and the achak of any person who stood up against them. Our people were thus made subordinate to conquerors who did not speak our Algonkian tongue. Today, we are part of the United States and the state of New York. But the onyare still hides in Lake Maingan, coming forth on occasions to commit evil.”

She suddenly stopped reading. “That is as far as I wrote,” she explained.

Amos stared at her, but said nothing. Further questions would have to wait.

Sitting alone on the front veranda of the hotel. Chepe appeared to be listening for something from out by the lake. His entire attention was centered on what to others might be an impossible task. He would have been unable to describe for anyone what he was attempting to track.

At last, a moment of certainty struck him. Chepe was on his feet in an instant.

Soundless footsteps took him down the front steps, to the pathway there.

Like a forest stalker of old, his lanky figure blended into the moonless night, gliding into the lakeside shadows.

What was he thinking? For years the onyare had been his obsession, dominating him day and night. Many of his ancestors were known to have disappeared. Gone, with no trace or sign left. Body and soul destroyed somehow. As if they had never enjoyed any life. Only a fading memory, nothing more.

Chepe was determined to end the long nightmare, possibly that night. He was  ready to face the devil snake. There had to be a way to defeat it.

All at once, his eyes made out a shape lurking behind a pine tree. He stopped in his tracks and stared at it. Ben Kinonge stood there, watching the hotel from a concealed position.

In an instant, Chepe saw the truth. This evil man, obsessed with Namew, was spying on her through the window of her bedroom. That explained a lot of his odd behavior. A freak love made him a peeping Tom without shame, a crazed stalker.

Filled with rage, Chepe lunged forward, springing at the perceived menace.

Before he could grab hold of the Mohawk, though, an unseen darkness engulfed him from behind.

Next morning, it took little time for Namew to realize the fate that had fallen to her brother.

“It was the onyare, it had to be,” she told Amos when he appeared for breakfast. “I fear Chepe will never return. His life has been snuffed out somehow.” She started to cry softly. “We shall never see each other again. Chepe will be eternally absent from now on.” Tears flooded down her cheeks. “There must be a sangman behind this.”

“Sangman?” questioned Amos. “You mean someone who is directing the actions of the onyare serpent?”

The grieving sister nodded in silence.

“It has to be one of the Mohawks living in our region,” concluded the novel writer.

Namew once more gave a nod.

“Do you suspect the bicycle shop owner of involvement?” he boldly asked her.

She answered indirectly. “A sangman has absolute power over the devil in the lake. If he wishes, he can exploit that advantage for personal purposes. I fear that may be why my brother was taken from me. The individual in control of the onyare wishes to accomplish an ulterior end, whatever it may happen to be.”

“Can you guess what it is, Namew?”

She pursed her lips tightly. “That remains to be seen,” she muttered.

That afternoon, Amos found a reason to visit the business of Ben Kinonge. He had by himself loosened a sprocket on the bicycle he rented. Could it be tightened and properly adjusted? he asked the likely suspect.

“Of course,” grinned the unusually happy Mohawk.

The latter quickly corrected the problem that the novelist had intentionally caused.

When Kinonge was finished, Amos offered to pay him.

“Not at all,” said Ben. “It is I who am obliged to keep you riding.”

Amos went then to the object of the visit.

“Have you heard that Chepe Strangler suddenly went away? Without a word to his sister, who is in tears. She believes an evil lake spirit has made him vanish for good. Never to be seen again, never to return home. She is full of wild fears and suspicions of all kinds.”

The face of Kinonge darkened. “The Maingans are a superstitious tribe. As you know, I myself come from Mohawk stock. My mind is a rational one, like that of the white man. These locals have strange beliefs. They teach their children that we conquered and ruled over them through a killer spirit hiding underwater. Have you heard any of their nonsense?”

Amos avoided a straight answer to that.

“I have done some reading on my own about native legends of this district of the state. For instance, there are tribes who believe that underwater beings with special, uncanny powers exist. These creatures are friends and allies to certain human  beings, but enemies to other persons. It depends upon who has control of them. Some think that a lake serpent can be the twin brother of a warrior, helping to win victories for him. A particular person might be the guide of the water monster. What do you think of such an idea?”

Kinonge took time to think before he replied.

“A search for Chepe must be organized at once. I will talk to my neighbors about it. In the meantime, the sister needs counsel and support. I myself will visit the hotel this evening to try to convince her that there is nothing to fear from invisible spirits.”

Soon Amos mounted his bicycle and pedaled back to the hotel, his mind heavy with foreboding.

Informed that the Mohawk was going to appear, Namew seemed to take the news in stride.

“I shall be fully prepared for him, Amos,” she told the writer.

No more was said, leaving him puzzled. He did not see her the rest of the day. Was Namew in her quarters? he wondered. Or elsewhere?

Amos sat on the hotel veranda, alone and worried, as the sun set. Yellow became brown, then blue and black. Darkness thickened.

Where has Namew gone? She had not been present for supper. There was no light from the window of her room.

Sitting in an old rocker, Amos was not aware of when he fell asleep. After a while, though, a vision awakened within him out of he knew not where.

The lake, silent and unmoving, faced up at the night sky.

All of a sudden, an unlighted shape emerged from the waters near the hotel.

No human eye could have made out its features in detail. Its lack of defined form gave it a potent attraction unlike anything seen in nature. An awful strangeness surrounded it.

The unknown thing rose higher from the surface of the lake. No sound whatever came from the emerging entity. Its silence and invisibility were overpowering.

Somehow, Amos knew what it had to be.

The eye within his mind was focused upon the onyare, but only on the total whole of it.

Not a single of its features or attributes could be made out by him. No shape or form, no color, no outer surface at all. Nothing particular could be distinguished. How could it, then, be there?

Then, a sudden wakening touched the mind of the writer.

He glanced at his pocket watch. Nine had come and gone. He had slept a considerable time. Where was Kinonge? Was he going to be late arriving? What had happened to Namew?

Uneasiness seized hold of him. He rose and began walking up and down the veranda, again and again. Half an hour passed before he halted his frenzied pacing.

Something indistinct came out of the pines along the shore. It crawled up to the hotel, then climbed the steps to the veranda. Amos dared not speak, for Namew seemed in a trance or dream.

She sat down in a wicker chair, then he did the same. The stillness was overwhelming. Several minutes passed before the hotel guest dared to speak.

“The Mohawk did not come here. I was concerned about you, since you were gone for so long.”

Namew turned her frozen face toward him. “The sangman will do no more injury to anyone. He is gone for good.”

Amos felt his brain spin. “What are you saying?”

“Old legend says that a virgin eskaw can win a onyare snake away from its master, a controlling sangman. That is precisely what I accomplished tonight. My single command to the lake spirit was that Ben Kinonge be annihilated. That has now happened. Lake Maingan is free of his evil influence.”

The author became breathless. “But what about the future of the onyare? Will it no longer pose a danger to human beings?”

She grinned victoriously. “The serpent spirit will remain in the lake for good. I promised to swim with it the next moonlit night, and on into the future. As long as it obeys me alone.”

Amos looked at her with awe and admiration for what she had accomplished all on her own.


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