I thought I might do something a little different tonight, for my blog entry. I wanted to share with you a bit of writing I did as an exercise, not really intended to be part of any book. It is, however, based on stories I heard from an elderly gentleman I met while camping near Lake of the Ozarks.
What I thought were just scary campfire tales, he assured me were based on stories he had heard from his own grandfather, growing up in the river valley that would become Lake of the Ozarks, after the construction of Bagnell Dam.
I don’t know if there was any truth to the stories, but he certainly told them well. I’m sure he passed away a long time ago, since it was the late 80’s or the early 90’s when I met him and he had to be in his 70’s, then. I won’t say his name, since I don’t know how his relatives would feel about it. I’ll just say that he was a very interesting man to talk to and leave it at that.
So, based on the stories I heard, I present this short story to you. I hope you enjoy it. I’d love to hear what you all think. Also, if you’re from the Ozarks and have heard anything like this, please let me know. I’d love to hear more about this and maybe even put it into a book, one day.
The Beast of Lake of the Ozarks
Beast of Lake of the Ozarks
Long before the days when Bagnell Dam was built, farms and homes lined the valley that was formed by the Osage River. Our family had farmed that river valley since before Missouri was even a state. My great-great grandfather, Ora McCready, settled this farmstead in 1816, by the sweat of his brow and the blood in his veins. That parcel of land was farmed by my family until the government took it from us when construction of the dam began in 1931.
Now I’m old but I still remember the days of running along that river when I was a boy; fishing, hunting and playing games with my brothers. My memory isn’t what it once was, but I remember clearly the tales my grandfather told me by the fire, when the winter wind would howl through the valley and shake the thin panes of glass in our little farmhouse. When the icy grip of old man winter would bite into your flesh like the ravenous jaws of the Beast of the Valley.
What’s that? What’s the Beast of the Valley? That’s an old tale from even older days, full of death and misery that dates to the times when the settlers first came to this valley. I used to think it was a tall-tale, told to scare us children at night around the fireplace. But I could see the haunted look in my grandfather’s eyes when the wind would rattle the door, and I knew that it wasn’t just a tale. Somewhere, in the dark past of generations long-gone, the Beast once walked this valley. I could tell from the look on his face that not only was the creature real, but he had seen it for himself. You don’t get that haunted look from second-hand stories.
There were tales of animals being torn to pieces, dogs going missing and the occasional traveler caught out after dark. My grandfather even told me a story of a homestead that was found with the door smashed in and blood everywhere inside, but no other sign of the family that had lived there was ever found. In the dirt outside were massive tracks that looked like they belonged to a gigantic wolf. A wolf that was walking on two legs. I didn’t believe him until I found some of those tracks in the fresh mud along the bank of our pond, fifty feet from my bedroom window.
Then there were the nights in the fall of the year when my grandfather and father would build large bonfires near the house and keep them burning all night long. Sometimes members of the local Osage Indian tribe would come to our house and help with the fires. They also brought a plant that my father called Aconite to plant around the house for protection. They cautioned us not to eat it or to let our animals eat it, either. I didn’t know until years later that the common name for Aconite is Wolfsbane.
It was even told that during the construction of the dam, several of the workers vanished while walking home late at night from the construction site. It got so bad that the construction crews started walking to and from work in groups and carrying guns. Many quit the job and never returned to work. Then, when the dam neared completion and the water started to rise, the attacks suddenly stopped.
I always thought that once the dam was built, we would have heard the last of the Beast. With the creation of Lake of the Ozarks, those farms were buried beneath the dark water of the lake. There were no more attacks on people and livestock. No strange howls in the night that sounded eerily like a wolf, but not exactly. A howl that had an almost human quality to it, a quality that would turn the blood in your veins to ice.
Once the dam was finished, it all stopped. It wasn’t long as more and more of the older generations either passed away or left the area, that the Beast of the Valley became a fading memory. It was all but forgotten by almost everyone. After my brothers died in World War II and my sister died in childbirth, I alone was left to remember the tales. Even I began to doubt them as age and time took its toll on me. That is until the winter of 2016, when everything changed.
I was rapidly approaching my 100th birthday. I still lived in my little house near Linn Creek, Missouri. It was less than five miles from where our farm had been. My granddaughter lived with me, partially to take care of me and partially because she had nowhere else to go. It worked out well for me, because it kept my two sons from putting me in a nursing home.
The winter hadn’t been all that harsh, but the cold still crept into my old bones. That first night in December, the wind howled in from across the lake, shaking the windows on my old home. That night, I heard that blood-curdling howl, drifting on the wind. My blood seemed to freeze and for a moment, I thought I was having a heart attack. The pain subsided, but it was replaced by an icy grip that went to my core. I don’t know what had changed, but the Beast was back.
I told my granddaughter to make sure all of the windows and doors were securely locked. She laughed at me and told me I was just being paranoid. She said it was just the wind, but I knew better. I refused to calm down until she had double-checked the doors. She scoffed at me, saying I was working myself up over an old wives tale. She even laughed when I told her the story that my grandfather had told me, those many years before.
When we saw the hellish-red eyes in the darkness and heard the heavy footsteps on the wooden porch, she stopped laughing. Footsteps that ended with the rasping scrape of claws against the wood. I could see the terror on her face as she slid the heavy desk in front of the door. I knew from the old tales that if the Beast wanted in, that desk wasn’t going to stop it.
“It’s just an animal,” she whispered as we hid near the stairs.
We both knew that was a lie. Animals don’t try the door-handle.
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