They were excited they’d won the lottery for the special early deer season that opened in six days and were eager to make friends with someone who had a job waiting after he left school and was well-liked by their professor.

Dr. Adkins was sending me north for the weekend, to the famous four-star resort where all of the class wanted to stay, the impressive Lakeview Inn on Sleeping Child Lake.

I was excited too, and confused. I tried to read the two assigned chapters that night in the one-room apartment but I kept seeing green water, something long and hidden purling the surface, swimming in a circle with a sudden shadow of a powerful head and tail that moved with certain intent.

I stared for a while out the window at the reflected neon lights on the Clark Fork of the Columbia River, half-remembering the fanciful legends Paul Banner had told Tug and me at The Mast in Oregon — by the dock where I’d been fired from The Blue Fin two hours before.

“Who knows?” Tug had joked 10 days ago in Mussel Bay. “You saved the yellow fish. Maybe we’ll find Paul’s Sleeping Child monster.”

Sleeping Child Lake was supposed to be the door to another dimension, there was a monster like the one at Loch Ness, and two divers had gone down in a diving bell but hadn’t found the lake’s source, Paul said, teasing about the creature and the world under the lake, but serious about its undiscovered tributary. Paul had read the report in a science magazine.

Tug ate with us at The Mast — he’d just been let go from the furniture factory and, over the phone with Joyce, he’d got us both jobs at the Kootenay mill where Ray Everett was manager.

I wasn’t a scared kid and my fear wasn’t about Paul Banner’s imaginary prehistoric lake-creature, but how without trying, like water running downhill with gravity, I’d suddenly been moving steadily toward Sleeping Child Lake. It pulled me like a magnet toward its aquamarine waters.

That afternoon at the college, Professor Adkins had lectured on “The Lodge As the Traveler’s Sacred Sanctuary and Perfect Home” and then, suddenly, to the other students’ surprise — and my own — announced that I’d be the season’s first intern at David Hamphill’s renowned inn on the deep lake.

“How’s that sound, Bill?” he asked as I felt all eyes turned on me.

“Okay,” I managed. “Thanks.”

“That’s good. I’ve got an appointment today but, next time, let’s talk.”

It didn’t seem right that I’d shown up late and out of nowhere and been chosen before the others but I figured that was the way business worked. Anyway, the oddness of my weekend visit to the lakeside hotel made me wonder if the last weeks had been planned out beforehand.

When class was over, the two deer hunters had run up and volunteered to drive me up north — just when I’d begun to wonder how I’d reach Sleeping Child Lake without a car.

The strange lake Paul Banner in Mussel Bay and Joyce in Kootenay had told me about bore the name of the carved antler statuette I’d carried in my pocket since Idaho.

The bit of elk horn felt heavier, as if it came to life, as the hunters arranged to pick me up early Saturday in front of the Elgin.