The Fisherman of Bolotnikovo
The lake in a central Russian village has disappeared overnight - BBC WORLD NEWS
The fisherman woke up to the early dark. The window above his bed was open and he smelled the air of the predawn May day and thought it would be nice day. He thought it was nice to wake up to this sort of day when the sun would shine on the lake and the fishermen would take their shirts off and stand on their boats above their water letting the sun warm their skin.
The fisherman rose, as was his custom and as has always been the custom of fishermen, before the day began, and went down to the lake. He saw the other fishermen on the road, friends and co-workers and competitors, and he waved, lightly lifting his hand from the elbow. You can see the lake, going down the road, splashes of blue between the trees. But the fisherman of Bolotnikovo wasn’t looking this morning and so it wasn’t until he came over the last rise, around the last bend, that he saw the lake was gone.
There was no water. The lake had entirely disappeared, vanished overnight. Now there was just this crater with a muddy, debris-strewn bottom.
The fisherman said, Oh my God, what’s going on?
It wasn’t the most eloquent thing he’d ever said, he knew that, but it did express the reaction of the fishermen as they gathered along the edge of the former lake and looked out the empty lake. They peered over the edge. They stood there and just sort of stared.
In some parts of the world, fishermen are known to be liars. In other parts of the world they are known to be crazy, always seeing crazy things like monsters and mermaids and gods and ghosts of ships. Sometimes, they are even known to be both. So when the fishermen came rushing into the village just as the sun was coming up on a May morning that looked like it would be nice, the people of Bolotnikovo were skeptical. Who had ever heard of such a thing, of a whole lake vanishing in the night? So they went to look and like the men said, the lake had disappeared.
The whole village took the day off and went to the vanished lake, standing on the edge of the crater and staring. An old woman got tired and sat down and said the Americans had done it. They dug a tunnel under the earth and sucked the lake dry. No one knew why the Americans would want their lake, but then, no one knew why a lake would disappear.
It was the fireman who pointed out that the trees around the lake were gone, carried away with the water, pulled out or down by their roots and tearing up the dirt of the beach. And it was the fireman who organized the men of the village to search the empty lake, in case someone was caught in the calamity of the disappearing lake and trees.
It would be a calamity, he said, if someone was caught in that. They could never survive. Some people were glad the fireman took charge, and felt safer since he said this with authority. Others thought he was silly, since no one was actually missing, but they wanted to go down into the lake bed and get as close as they could to this impossible thing that had happened, so they didn’t say anything. The fireman was trained for a variety of calamities. Fires, certainly, but also floods and generally the range of natural disasters. He was not trained for disappearing lakes. His first thought was to look for the lake water, which must have gone somewhere. Then he thought that sounded crazy, so he announced a search for the possible victims of the calamity. Besides, searching would give them something constructive to do until the officials came down from the capital.
The officials came down from the capital, with scientists and a television crew. The scientists walked to the edge of the empty lake and said hmmmmm, which was not the most eloquent thing they’d ever said. The old woman told them her theory about the Americans. The scientists didn’t know why the American’s would want to steal the lake, but thought that - yes - it must have been a tunnel.
It was an underground cave, or something, the scientists said, but it wasn’t very convincing.
The TV man said it was like a plug had been pulled on a gigantic bathtub and the camera man took a picture of him standing on the edge of the lake with all its water missing. They started interviewing people and an old man who said he was the mayor said, un huh, this is what happens.
I’ve seen this before, he said, which surprised everyone because they had never seen or heard of anything like this. Seventy years ago, he said, a couple of houses were swallowed into the earth whole. No one knew if he was joking, or lying, or crazy.
A pretty little girl said she'd heard the bells from the church under the lake ringing yesterday. Oh yeah, she said, there were stories about the church under the lake and sometimes people heard the bell, or saw the glint of the stain glass. The whole lake was, you know, kind of darkly mysterious.
The boys jostled each other to the front the camera to get on TV and to agree with the girl. Dark, said one. Mysterious, said another. They’d used to go swimming out there, dare each other to swim out there, because it was really deep and dark and there were rumors. The lake hasn’t always been here, a boy said, it just appeared one day, you know, back in the time of Ivan the Terrible.
The next morning the fisherman of Bolotnikovo woke up in the early dark. It was just his habit. He lay in his bed in the dark and smelled the air and thought it would be a nice day. It would be a nice day for fishing, but now the lake was gone. He wondered what he was going to do.