OGOPOGO LIVES by Sheldon Birnie

OGOPOGO LIVES by Sheldon Birnie

It was Canada Day by the big lake and everyone was right fucked up. 

After the fireworks show on the beach wrapped up, the crowd took to the streets. Things were getting messy. Drunk girls held on to each other, hiking miniskirts up around hips to piss off the wharf into the black waters below, howling. One fell in, came up splashing, laughing. Muscle dummies squared off in the road, blocking traffic, letting the blood out of each other. Strip clubs up and down the lakeshore were packed, dancers raking in the money hand over fist. A police helicopter circled above, spotlight illuminating scenes of depravity that would make Bosch blush. 

Kevin and his buddies were right in the middle of it. Floating on waves of psilocybin and pilsner, they drifted from a backyard barbecue and booze up just south of the highway over to the beach to take in the beautiful explosions, then stumbled aimlessly along among the throng as it poured back through downtown. One buddy disappeared into a dance club, one popped into the peelers, another just drifted off, mumbling at trees and trying to open locked cars he thought might be his, until Kevin was alone again, swaying slightly in front of a street punk busking for change.

“We’re gonna be rich,” the big boy in patched pants and a sleeveless jacket sang, voice gravelly as the arid valley soil all around. The battered guitar he strummed upside down had the words “Mr Awesome” scrawled in Sharpie along the body. “Because the Ogopogo lives.”

“Fuckin eh,” Kevin mumbled, tossing the dude a buck before shuffling off, away from the echoing horns and sirens and drunken hollering towards a park by the water. The song’s expression of hope buoys him onward. 

Squirrels chase each other up around and over the branches of an American elm. Crouched on a mattress in an alley, a man leans away from a dry handy to vomit on the hot concrete. Further up, among the aging bungalows, a couple are full on fucking on the hood of a beige Toyota Corolla. 

The road crosses a stream dried up in the summer heat. Little more than a ditch, really, full of trash and brambly weeds and emanating a foul stank. How many such streams, sometime and former means of shunting moisture down the valley towards the big sink, had been paved right over or rerouted beneath concrete? Fuck only knows. But Kevin follows the one he’s stumbled across west until he hits beach access.

Blessedly, nobody’s fucking here. Visibly, at least. Dogs barking, Kevin flips his rotting kicks off, letting the grimy sand squelch dryly between his toes. He sits down where the black water laps the shore, shoves his feet into the cool wet void with a deep sigh. That’s the ticket. 

Sounds of the city drift up the lake. The chopper, sirens, odd car alarm blaring, and drone of ceaseless traffic become background chatter, white noise. 

“We’re gonna be rich,” Kevin hums, sipping warm soda and rum, wide eyes staring out at stars rippling off the water. “Because the Ogopogo lives.”

The lake is deep. 

The lake is long. 

The lake is wide. 

Must be plenty of places for a big bastard fish or whatever to frolic or lay about down there. How long he stares, sitting there, Kevin doesn’t know or care to find out. He’s content, watching the interplay of light and dark, wondering if a prehistoric beast from the deep will emerge before his eyes or not. Isn’t counting on it. Isn’t disappointed when it fails to appear. Knows, if he were Ogopogo, he sure as shit wouldn’t be showing his face on Canada Day. No way José. Save that for the solstice. Or the equinox. A full moon, or maybe the new? Some pagan holiday, anyway, as ordained by the stars or the moon or whatever calendar the pagans planned their parties by. The alignment of the planets, perhaps?

Kevin wonders if Ogie ever gets lonely, cruising the depths of this primeval waterway? Is there a mate it has longed for, over the ages, who was lost, cut off in some upper channel, when the glacial flood waters receded? Does it pine, lowing in an age-old subsonic language, beneath the waves, for its long-lost lover? 

There’s no way they’ll ever be reunited, Kevin knows. But does Ogie? Has it accepted eternal solitude, or does it hold out, hopelessly, for a miracle? Ten thousand years is a long time to pine. How does a monster as ancient as Ogie measure the passing of epochs? 

Such solitude has Kevin feeling blue. Where has his love gone? Over the hills and far, far away by now. Of that he is sure. She told him that much, at least, when she left weeks earlier. What drove that love from him? Something akin to a change in climate, personal if not meteorological. Way it goes, he knows. The way it goes.

Would she return? She’d told Kevin not to hold his breath. So he won’t.

Kevin takes a long pull of warm drink, smacks his lips and gets back up to his feet. The sounds of the city have diminished, but not disappeared. Hours remain before the sun pokes above the valley to the east, though the sky is beginning to lighten. 

To the north, a small mountain looms. A provincial or regional park of some sort—he’s never really been clear—with dusty trails snaking up to its peak. Kevin’s climbed it before, sober as a judge, and high as a kite, and most everywhere in between. From the top, eyes can see far and wide before the lake swings out of sight behind the hills in either direction. 

Whistling the beggar punk’s tune, Kevin figures he may as well climb. See what he can see. Should Ogie or something of similar lost mythology pass by in the early light before dawn, could he spot it from up here? If not up here, then where?

He is off. Up, up, whistling away. 

Sheldon Birnie lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada with his wife and their two young children. The author of Missing Like Teeth: An oral history of Winnipeg underground rock (Eternal Cavalier), his fiction has recently appeared in Exoplanet, The Wicked Library, Parallel Prairies, among others. Find him lurking online @badguybirnie.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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