Weighed down by the drudgery of packing, loading, unpacking, arranging, rearranging, we hoped for normalcy and finally found it when we had time to explore our new surroundings in the hills overlooking Missouri’s beautiful Lake of the Ozarks. Our first time living in a condominium, we were overwhelmed by the number of neighbors and the genuine welcome wishes we received. We often reflected on how close-knit this little community seemed. A small complex with sporadic weekenders and only 13 units with full-time residents, we believed we had chosen our new home well.

As time passed and we settled in, we learned that the lake was man-made in 1929 when a Kansas City visionary built a power generation dam below the confluence of the Osage and Niangua rivers, creating what became the most popular recreational lake in America with more shoreline than the state of California. Winding between hills, these rivers stacked up behind the dam, flooding valleys with water both deep and dark.

Our condo on the shoreline backs up to some remote looking Ozark woodlands. Strolling out of our parking lot, we walk beside rock bluffs 40 feet high where deer and fox live undisturbed. As nice as the days are, the nights are better. Cool and clear after a blazing sunset burns the water to a burnished copper hue, the nights are black and star-filled with a ring of blue dock lights rimming the dark water.

Late on an October evening, I started up the hill from our complex, walking along the asphalt with just enough light to make out the large boulders used instead of guard rails along a precipitous drop-off. One of the boulders is flat enough to sit on as a chair and I had already claimed it as my observation spot where I could look up at the high, bare-branched trees along the ridge or turning to dark water where gulls and herons and pelicans swirled and dipped before diving into the water for small fish breaking the surface.

Others in our complex often take the same walk, either to retrieve mail from the community boxes at the entrance or just to enjoy the evening as sunset sparkles the gentle waves like diamonds before the rich, purple, full dark when the night creatures hoot and howl in the deep woods. But tonight, the road was empty. Climbing up the hill a quarter mile, I had an unobstructed view of road and boulders and bluff in the light of a full moon. I contemplated stopping at my boulder to sit listening to the sounds of a fall evening but decided to walk farther and perhaps stop on my return.

As I drew alongside the boulder I usually sat on, I glanced left and caught sight of a stooped, huddled man sitting on the stone. Startled, I quickly adjusted, turning to smile and introduce myself. He looked up, but not at me. He looked to the dark water split by the reflected, silvery path leading to a setting moon.

Still excited to meet yet another neighbor, I took one more step before the smell overpowered me. Now I was close enough that the moonlight showed me the slimy, shiny mud caking his clothes and face; showed me the rotting twigs and leaves in his wet hair; showed me the puddles of water on the rocks under his feet. My skin went prickly and cold. I stumbled back, looking down to keep my footing, I found the pavement edge and forced myself to look up again. I was alone.

A few years later, I learned a local restaurant owner grew up in our cove long before condos took over the shoreline. Bill has pictures of himself swimming in the cove with his uncle. During a chance encounter one day, I told Bill I experienced something very unusual and wondered if he had any thoughts on the sodden man. Bill listened, then asked, “You say he was alone this time?”