“The Redemption of Sandra Mansi” by Beau Barnett
Welcome to the kick off of the Lazarus taxon Project! First up is Beau Barnett’s “The Redemption of Sandra Mansi.” A story about Champ, the Lake Champlain monster.
First, a confession. I’ve lived about an hour away from Lake Champlain all my life. Champ is more personal to me than any of the cryptids in this project. On many a trip to Vermont on the ferry’s, my mother would say, “keep an eye out for Champy.” I would watch from the side of the ship our car was on, but I never saw Champ.
Champ’s legend is infused into Vermont and Plattsburgh NY, heavily. A plaque of recorded sightings sits on the bank of Lake Champlain, going back to Samuel de Champlain, himself. A Class A baseball team, affiliated with the Oakland A’s, called the Vermont Lake Monsters, is often featured on the local news. Sandra Mansi herself is a local legend, and is responsible for the photo at the top of the blog. The photo mentioned in Beau’s story.
In giving this cryptid to Beau, I had confidence that he could do this creature justice. He went above and beyond. If you don’t know Beau, a lot of what he’s about comes through in “The Redemption of Sandra Mansi.” He has a big heart, and he extends it to everyone. His proclivity for following sports of all kinds reminds me a lot of my dad. He’s the Stats Guy on Friday night’s for Write Club, and can convince you that Weredragons are real. You can follow him on Twitter @INukeYou.
Without further ado, “The Redemption of Sandra Mansi” by Beau Barnett:
The bemused look on my boyfriend’s face was the only thing keeping me from rolling my eyes. I had heard this story so many times — I didn’t believe a bit of it. My grandmother always got a kick out of telling someone new, which Daniel was. I loved him for being decent enough to listen to her story without ridiculing her. After her story, which I had heard what felt like a million times, it was time for us to go.
“I love you, Gran,” I said, standing up and making my way to her chair. “I’ll see you Tuesday.” I gave her a hug, which she returned, weakly. She was starting to get so feeble.
“I love you too, dearie,” she wheezed, “see you Tuesday.” Turning to Daniel, she added, “you come back, too, ya hear?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, with a wave. I stepped outside into the warm Vermont sunshine. Daniel dutifully followed, shutting the door quietly behind him. He took me by the hand and we walked to my trusty Honda. He was quiet on the drive home, which was most unlike him. As I drove, I stole a couple of glances over at him, by the thoughtful look on his face I was sure he thought I was a silly little girl who still believed in ridiculous fairy tales.
Turning into his neighborhood, I spoke. “I’m sorry for my grandmother. As she’s gotten older she has believed in her little story ever more fervently.” He said nothing, looking out the window at the passing scenery. “I know she’s crazy.”
“Baby, stop,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. “I’ve always believed that story.” I was so taken aback by this admission I drove right past his driveway. He chuckled something about women drivers under his breath; the fire of my embarrassment warmed my cheeks. I turned around and pulled into his driveway.
“You do?” I asked, shutting the car off.
“Of course. I mean, you can’t live here and avoid hearing about it. I’ve seen the photo, and always believed it to be legit.” I rolled my eyes at him, making him grin, and got out of the car. He followed, hurrying over to take my hand, walking up the steps to his front door.
“You can’t be serious. There’s no way that legend can be real.”
“Whatever,” I said, not hiding my irritation. “Anyway, I’ll see you tonight.”
He nodded. “Love you, Holly.” Daniel leaned in and gently placed his lips onto mine. My heart soared. One simple kiss and I practically forgot my name, much less why I was annoyed. He pulled away much too soon for my liking, though I couldn’t help but smile when he kissed me again on the forehead before turning to go inside.
I drove home thinking about the story my grandmother had shared with Daniel. See, my grandmother is Sandra Mansi. If you’re from here, or are interested in stories about creatures like Bigfoot, you’ve probably heard of her. She’s “famous” for taking the definitive picture of Champy, an alleged monster that makes its home in the waters of Lake Champlain. The funny part? The picture is obviously of a log. Even if, somehow, a prehistoric beast had managed to survive the often frigid waters of the lake, one of the innumerable searches since would have at least found some hint of evidence. Despite this, bless her heart, my grandmother’s belief in the existence of Champy grew only more fervent over the years.
That night, Daniel came over with some take-out. We were going to watch The Princess Bride, one of my favorites. He had never seen it. Weirdo. We sat down at the dining room table with our sesame chicken and dug in.
“So, hon, can I ask you something?” he asked, around a forkful of rice.
“Sure,” I said.
“Meeting your grandmother today got me thinking. Isn’t Saturday the anniversary of her sighting?”
I dropped my fork. To say I wasn’t pleased with the direction this conversation was taking would be an understatement. “It is. It’s also my birthday.” I said, evenly.
He took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. This meant he was aware I wasn’t going to be particularly fond of whatever harebrained idea he had come up with. “I was thinking,” he began timidly, “that maybe we could go up to the lake Saturday mor–come on, sweetheart, don’t give me that look–it’ll be fun.”
“Why not? It’s the anniversary!”
I sighed. “You know much I hate everything about that stupid picture. I hate that I’m even associated with it.” The smile on his face faded away. He looked like his puppy had just died. As usual, I relented. “But, I guess…if you really want to go, we can.”
“Really?” he asked, his eyebrows rising in surprise. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure. As long as it doesn’t ruin our dinner plans that night.”
“We’ll go early, before any crowds are there. I promise it won’t affect your birthday plans.” He reached out and tentatively placed his hand on top of mine. I took it and smiled up at him. He exhaled slowly; the tension and worry in his eyes just dissolving away. We finished our dinner in relative silence. The movie, of course, was awesome. Experiencing it, cuddling on the couch with my love, just made it that much better. He’d never admit it, but there were tears in his eyes at the end. I’m pretty sure that our kiss afterwards would have to be added to the movie’s list of perfect kisses, rivaling even Westley and Buttercup’s.
That Saturday morning I woke up nervous. I had this terrible feeling the lake would be crawling with reporters and tourists hoping to have their own Champy sighting. I called my grandmother to see how she was doing. She was ecstatic to hear I was going to the lake, hoping I had finally come around after years of dismissing her story. I had just gotten off the phone with her when Daniel rang the doorbell.
The sky was overcast and altogether dreary when we arrived at the lake. That, and the sizable chance of rain in the forecast must have scared everyone away. There was no one else there. Daniel and I staked out a spot for our things and stripped down to our swimsuits. The lake was cold but manageable. We were having a grand old time splashing and trying to dunk each other. Periodically, a fish would brush against my leg as it swam by. A break in the clouds had filled the lake with brilliant sunshine, making for an idyllic scene, the kind you’d see on a postcard.
Laughing and giggling as we frolicked, Daniel said, “See, Holly? I told you you’d have fun.”
I splashed him good in the face. “You were right. I am having a good time.” I swam over to him and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. “Thank you.”
Thunder rumbled off in the distance. Daniel, face serious, raised his eyes skyward, worry lines appearing on his forehead. “We probably need to get out of the water with the lightning close by.” I nodded, though I was disappointed that what had turned into a fun trip to the late would be coming to an end so abruptly. The thunder sounded again, closer, making me jump in the water. I really hated storms. Daniel wrapped his arms around me and held me close against his chest. “It’s ok, hon. Let’s go.” He broke free and started heading back.
Just before I turned to follow, something caught my eye, floating in the water. I laughed, and pointed at the object. “Look, Daniel, ‘Champy!'” I chuckled derisively. Daniel turned and muttered something under his breath about belief. Again, the thunder boomed, much closer this time… and the log, sticking a couple feet out of the water, clearly lifted it’s head to look at the sky. The thunder roared, the thing turned, and started gliding right towards us.
“It’s real,” Daniel said, eyes wide and mouth open in shock.
“We have to get video!”
Daniel tore off swimming for shore. I treaded water where I was, watching the beast. I probably should have been afraid but somehow I knew that the creature would not hurt me. It approached quickly, its eyes never blinking or moving from my own. Lightning streaked across the now foreboding sky and the thunder roared again, loud enough to hurt my ears. Champy came up and nudged me with its neck, the wet, slimy texture making me shudder, though I held firm. Again, it nudged me, pushing me slightly towards shore. Trembling, I reached my hand out towards it in what I hoped was a friendly manner. It twisted and swam away, then screeched, it’s mouth opening wide. It came back up to me and cradled its head against my chest and started swimming forward, forcing me towards shore. I turned and made my way towards shore, where Daniel was waiting, iPhone in hand, recording the monster. I got out of the water and stood next to Daniel. He kept recording for several minutes while the friendly beast swam aimlessly around the lake, until a fairly heavy rain started falling and the beast dipped back under water.
We stood in an awed silence for several minutes, ignoring the rain. Finally, Daniel broke the moment, saying, “That…was…incredible.” He pulled it up on his phone and we watched the ordeal. There was no question it was the legendary Champy.
“We have to tell my grandmother,” I said after watching it a second time.
“We’ll go back to your place and change, then we’ll go see her.”
“Ok, let’s go.” We hurried into his car and he drove as quickly as he dared through the storm to my house. My parents weren’t there, and if we took a while to make out some before we went to see my grandmother, then we did. It’s my birthday.
By the time we left, it had stopped raining and Daniel was able to get us to Shady Acres in just a few minutes. We ran into the apartment. My grandmother was sitting in her chair, with the television on, much too loud. When she recognized me, she reached for the remote and turned off the TV. “What brings you hear, child?” she asked. “It’s not Tuesday already, is it? Oh, heavens to Betsy, your Gran didn’t miss your birthday, did she?”
“No, Gran, my birthday’s today,” I replied. “Daniel and I went down to the lake this morning,” I smiled at her, “and we saw something you might be interested in.”
“The lake, child? Champlain?” She had forgotten we were going.
“Yes, ma’am.” She wriggled in her seat excitedly, her face appearing younger.”
“Well, what are you waiting for, let me see it!” Daniel took his phone to her and showed her the video. She watched, mesmerized, gasping every time it screeched. When it finished, she looked up, trying to blink tears out of her eyes. “That’s Champy.”
Daniel, kneeling, put his arm on her back. “Yes ma’am,” he said. “It sure is.”
“I’m sorry that I ever doubted you, Gran.” I gave her a huge hug. “Nobody else ever will again.” Gran wept in my arms. She had always known I didn’t believe her. “I love you.”
“I love you too, child.” She pulled back from the hug, and looked up at Daniel. “Can I watch it again?”
“Of course, Mrs. Mansi,” he said, handing her his phone.