WHAT WAITS AT WEODUNE
By Simon Bleaken
 
 
AS I DROVE through the over-grown gates of Weodune a sink-ing coldness washed over me at the sight of the dreary house waiting ahead, veiled in shadow and all but swallowed by trees, windows like black eyes watch-ing my approach.
 
I hated that house, but loathed the land around it even more.
 
I slowed as I neared the front porch. The sides of the pitted driveway were swamped by dense growths of deadly night-shade, a poisonous ocean of mut-ed green and purple that had flooded most of the front garden and swamped the lawn entirely.
 
Poisonous. The perfect word for this place. 
 
Memories of childhood sum-mers spent here floated into my thoughts like bloated corpses ris-ing from the ancient silt of a riv-erbed. Those long-ago visits to my aunt with my parents should have brought fond recollections of freedom and adventure, and exploring the tangled secrets of this isolated place. Instead, they carried the awful oppressive taint of a world that had slipped out of kilter, and of waking nightmares I had never shed, giv-ing me decades of anxiety and night terrors.
 
It had been over twenty-nine years since I’d last been here. I had vowed never to return, but took a tiny glimmer of comfort from the fact I was here to sell the place, to finally be rid of it. I wish I could have done that re-motely, but, as the last surviving close relative, I needed to come here in person to oversee the process and determine just how much work needed to be done.
 
My phone chirped as I pulled up outside the house; a text from Sarah.
 
Hi Russ, hope you got there okay? Jay called–he didn’t realize you’d left already. He’s on his way but running late, should be with you in a couple of hours. Don’t let him bore you with his woo-woo. Take care out there. Call me later. Love you.
 
I sent a quick reply back–just a thanks and a kiss. 
 
Sarah had wanted to come. I couldn’t blame her for being cu-rious, but I didn’t want her or the kids anywhere near this place. She’d agreed, reluctantly, but in-sisted that her brother Jay come and help instead. While I didn’t like the idea of dragging anyone else up here, I secretly felt better knowing I wouldn’t be alone for long.
 
I slipped my phone back into my pocket, took a deep breath, and stepped out of the car.
 
Weodune wasn’t a large prop-erty, just a three-bedroom two-storey house a few miles outside of Averton, Massachusetts, that felt dwarfed by the encroaching half-wild landscape. I almost felt guilty about selling this place, as if it should come with a warning label. But, if I allowed my emo-tions to win out, I’d never be free of it. 
 
A quick inspection of the exte-rior revealed time had been kind-er than I had expected, the win-dows were in need of a clean, but intact, and although the gutter was alive with wild tufts of vege-tation, the roof had all its tiles and everything looked secure and salvageable. I fished the small envelope from my jacket and tipped the keys out into my hand. They felt cold and heavy. If I didn’t need the money, I might have just thrown them into the tangled chaos of that garden and left, to let the house crumble away and be swallowed up for good.
 
Silence and gloom waited within, the heavy mustiness of somewhere left empty and shut up for too long. I retrieved my case from the car and went up-stairs to the first bedroom, the boards underfoot complaining loudly. 
 
I didn’t like the idea of staying here, but there was nowhere else nearby. I wouldn’t unpack though; I preferred to live straight out of the case, not least because it made it easy to get out in a hurry if I needed to.
 
I made a quick check of the rest of the house, passing through rooms that still held the lingering ghosts of my aunt’s solitary life under a thin layer of dust. But, all the while I was moving through that hollow shell of a home, my eyes were drawn to the western-facing windows, to the sullen, brooding trees and to what lay beyond them. That dark forest beckoned softly, as did those shady depths beneath the tan-gled, mossy branches where the promise of ancient secrets whis-pered seductively.
 
I didn’t consciously recall de-ciding to go back out there. It wasn’t until I was ducking under the leaves and branches on that overgrown dirt track that mean-dered away from the house that I truly knew what I was doing. The day was airless, and I hadn’t gone far before I was dripping in sweat, my clothes sticking to me, and I soon wished I’d stayed in-side. 
 
It seemed I knew every twist and turn, every gnarled hulking tree and sinewy weed. I had walked this path a thousand times in my nightmares, though had only walked it a few times in real life, and the first of those had been with my older brother, Shane. I could still visualize him running along this path, laughing and calling for me to keep up, as if we were on some grand adven-ture, the potent possibility of wonder and discovery filling our hearts as we ventured into the unknown. 
 
That memory had also haunted my dreams for years after.
 
This place was not like the other forests I had visited in my youth. Those were realms where it felt as if otherworldly beings might flit beneath the mossy branches, or portals to other lands might open in sun-dappled clearings. Forests and woodlands had always felt a place for old magic, for things forgotten by modern society, or perhaps, hid-ing from it. They seemed the last vestiges of a wilder and more in-teresting world, before the re-lentless onslaught of civilization had torn so much of it away.
 
We had entered these trees expecting that same sense of wonder. Instead, we blindly wandered into an interdicted place, of malign sorcery and hos-tile intent.
 
I held my breath as I rounded the final bend in that meandering track and the still, ink-dark wa-ter came into sight. 
 
That lonely, weed-shrouded pool had been the focus of my grief and fear for so long it was hard to remember any time be-fore it. Though I hadn’t seen this place in years, I had carried it with me my whole life, poisoning my heart and gnawing at the edg-es of my mind. It was the source of everything that was wrong here.
 
No birds broke the oppressive stillness of that space, no animals rustled furtively in the under-growth. It was as if everything living knew to keep its distance, apart from buzzing black swarms of biting insects.
 
As a child, the adults had al-ways called it ‘the lake,’ but these days it was little more than a half-silted-up pond, the banks festooned with tall nettles and the surface choked by stinking layers of slimy green weed and algae. A rotting jetty stretched out a little way into it, the deteri-orating boards looking like the skeletal remains of some great creature that had perished while taking a final drink.
 
It wouldn’t have surprised me. This was a place of death.
 
After all, it had killed my brother.
 
Shane had been so excited when he’d seen it. It had been a hot day back then too. He’d pulled off his t-shirt and kicked off his trainers and socks before plunging in. 
 
‘Come on slowpoke!’ he teased. ‘Get in here!’
 
I’d hesitated on the bank, watching him laugh and splash as he called for me to join him. He was thirteen and on his school swimming team, while I was only ten and not a terribly strong swimmer. To me, that dark water looked threatening and ominous. You couldn’t see how deep it was, or what might be lurking in it. There was something disturbing-ly mesmeric about that glassy surface. I stood as if scrying, staring into the blackness. The numinous embrace of that place settled around me, but instead of tranquillity it fostered an under-lying sense of dread, of malign intent, and of being watched. I had just been too young to put it into words.
 
‘Come on, don’t be a baby!’ Shane splashed water in my di-rection. ‘It’s nice and cool!’
 
He had finally persuaded me, and I was tugging off my own t-shirt, when his shouts of glee turned to growing alarm. I re-member how pale his face looked above that darkly reflective sur-face, his eyes wide and his arms splashing furiously.
 
‘Russ! Something’s got my leg! It’s pulling!’
 
I stood like a statue, too afraid to move, unsure of what to do.
 
‘Hel–’ he spluttered and his head jerked down below the sur-face as though his body had been tugged. I was too young at the time to have watched Jaws, but when I caught that movie many years later all the trauma came flooding back like a savagely reo-pened wound. Instead, I had merely stood, jaw slack and body trembling as piss soaked my shorts. Shane’s head broke the surface one more time, his eyes wild and head wreathed in slimy weed so that he looked monstrous and distorted. 
 
He reached a desperate hand out as if begging me to pull him to safety. 
 
I still couldn’t move.
 
I was never sure what hap-pened next. Memories at best are shifting, imperfect things that warp unreliably over time, but it seemed the water behind him was bubbling and frothing. I re-call the weed moving around him as the surface lifted violently, as if something were rising out of the lake all around him. 
 
Then Shane was gone, dragged under with a final choked scream, leaving only fading air bubbles breaking the surface.
 
They fished his body from the lake less than an hour later.
 
The coroner said his legs must have tangled in the weeds. But weeds don’t pull people under like that, nor do they rise like some submerged monster.
 
As I snapped out of those memories, fury and grief bubbled to the surface, raw and unbidden even after all this time. I snatched a large stone from the bank and hurled it into the dark heart of that pool, irrationally desperate to inflict pain upon it the way it had once hurt me. The stone sank soundlessly, without generating any splash or even creating ripples on the surface. 
 
I stood for a moment, con-fused, before the silence of that place got too much and I hurried back along the path, unnerved by that unsettling perversion of nat-ural law.
 
I got about ten feet before a splash finally came, as if mocking me.
 
At that, I ran; just as I had all those years before.
 
There was still no sign of Jay when I got back to the house. I checked my phone but the patchy signal from earlier had given up completely. Hurrying inside, I paced restlessly from room to room to counter my growing nervousness. Outside, the long summer evening finally relented to the subtle approach of dusk, and the crickets sang from the undergrowth all around the house.
 
I didn’t draw the curtains, though I wanted to. I hated hav-ing the lights on and the windows uncovered after dark, knowing anything could be staring in at me, invisible in the night while I was lit up like some character on a TV show inside. But tonight, I wanted to be able to see if any headlights were approaching down that broken driveway. I checked my phone every five minutes, but there was still no signal, as if the outside world had evaporated within the darkness of night. 
 
I made myself a quick meal of bacon and eggs, but found my nerves had stolen away any trace of an appetite, so I went back in-to the front lounge to see if there was any sign of Jay’s car.
 
The first thing I noticed was the silence. The chirping song of the insects had ceased and the world seemed to be holding its breath, as if waiting for some-thing to happen.
 
I was just about to check my phone again when I realized I could hear movement beyond the window. I edged closer to the glass but saw only my reflection staring back. Something big was pushing clumsily through the tangles of weed and undergrowth though, making its way toward the front door. I had no idea what it could be, but it sounded far larger than a person. 
 
A steady patter of dripping water, like falling raindrops, ac-companied it.
 
I froze as a shiver crawled up my spine.
 
Had I locked the door?
 
Sudden panic spurred me for-ward and I raced into the hall. I threw my weight against the door and slipped the chain in place with trembling fingers.
 
The sound was closer now, al-most on top of me, and I knew that feeble chain wouldn’t be enough. I searched my pockets for the key just as the handle started to turn, slowly at first, and then more furiously.
 
There was an inhuman growl from the other side and the door shook in its frame as something pounded against it. 
 
I located the key and jammed it into the lock, grateful for the satisfying click as it engaged.
 
Water seeped underneath the door. It stank like rotting vegeta-tion and old silt.
 
I took off my jacket and jammed it against the base, trying to keep any more of that noxious fluid from getting inside. 
 
The handle stilled and the shaking stopped. 
 
The unseen thing started mov-ing again, continuing on around the house. I heard a heavy thump as something slammed against the window in the lounge, the glass groaning ominously in its frame. I held my breath, expect-ing it to shatter, but whatever was there pulled away and car-ried on around the side of the building.
 
Remembering the kitchen door, I darted through the house, not stopping to turn on any other lights, stumbling and colliding with half-seen furniture in my haste, sending lamps and a vase crashing to the floor.
 
Thankfully the door was locked and secured, and I bun-dled some old rags from under the sink around the base of it, in case more of that putrid water made its way in.
 
I could hear my unwelcome visitor on the other side, and pressed my back against it as the unknown thing thumped violently against the wood. Stinking fluid bubbled under the door, but the rags were keeping it from spreading.
 
The boards of the house strained and groaned, and rivu-lets of filthy water spattered down the window. I also caught a brief glimpse of a strange yellow glow from outside, but didn’t dare move to get a better look.
 
As before, the handle rattled violently, twisting and wrenching as if something were trying to tear it away.
 
Then… everything stilled ab-ruptly.
 
There was a final low growl, deep and menacing, as that shift-ing bulk retreated, slinking off into the night as if abandoning the house and returning to the woods.
 
All the same, I waited without moving long after the silence had returned.
 
It was the headlights beaming down the hall from outside that finally coaxed me from the kitch-en. Through windows speckled with beads of moisture, I could make out a car approaching the house, and I ran to the front door, still anxious in case the unknown entity should return.
 
By the combined light of the moon and car, it was clear that the door and outer walls of the house, up to about a height of six feet, were soaked and dripping, smeared with sludge. And, alt-hough the rest of the ground sur-rounding the house was bone dry, there was a wide wet trail run-ning all around it, like some vast soaking thing had sloshed and splashed and dripped as it circled the property. In places, large puddles had pooled, shining like quicksilver in the moonlight, some of them containing green pondweed. 
 
I was still examining them when the car stopped and Jay climbed out. 
 
‘Hey, Russ!’ he called over. ‘Sorry I’m late. You weren’t kid-ding; this place really is in the middle of nowhere.’
 
‘Jay–glad you made it!’ I hur-ried over. It felt too exposed out here, too many shadows, and I wanted us both safely inside as fast as possible. ‘Let’s get you settled.’
 
‘What’s that?’ he’d noticed the wet trail. ‘And, what’s that smell?’
 
‘Oh, yeah, that,’ I faked a laugh and waved towards the door. ‘It’s a weird story. Come on. I’ll tell you inside.’
 
‘Seriously,’ he lifted his bag out of the back seat, ‘is every-thing okay?’
 
‘Let’s just get in, shall we?’
 
I felt a flood of relief as he en-tered the house and I locked the door behind us. I retrieved my sodden jacket and carried it through to the kitchen, throwing it into the sink. I’d sort it out lat-er.
 
‘Do I have to guess?’ Jay spot-ted all the rags pressed up against the back door. ‘What’s going on here?’
 
‘It’s a bit of a long story.’ I could hear the tremor in my voice, and so did Jay. ‘I’m not sure where to start.’
 
He set his bags down. ‘Talk to me, Russ. Are you sure you’re okay?’
 
‘Me?’
 
‘You seem spooked, and it’s just that…’ he sighed. ‘Okay, look, Sarah’s told me how much you hate it here. I guess it’s no wonder you’re on edge.’
 
‘Has she? Sarah told you what happened here?’
 
‘Well, not really. She just said you’ve been completely terrified of this place since you were a kid.’
 
‘My brother died here. He drowned. I saw it happen and I’ve had nightmares about it for years.’
 
‘Oh, Jeez. I’m so sorry, Russ. I didn’t know. I can’t imagine going through something like that.’
 
‘It’s not been easy. But, that’s only half of it. Don’t laugh, but I swear this land is cursed. That’s why I don’t want Sarah or the kids within a hundred miles of it. I don’t even like dragging you out here.’
 
‘Cursed?’
 
‘I won’t put them at risk.’
 
‘Yeah, sure. I get that, I do. But, Sarah worries about you too, you know? She knows how hard this is for you, and take it from me she’s tougher than she looks. As for the rest, hey, it’s really none of my business. Just here to help, that’s all.’
 
‘There is something else,’ I ventured. ‘I didn’t want to say anything to you outside, and I know how this sounds, I really do, but something was out there.’
 
‘What do you mean?’
 
‘It tried to get into the house, just before you showed up.’
 
‘What, like a person?’
 
‘No, not a person. Something else. It was big–and it growled.’
 
‘Growled? I didn’t think black bears had come this far yet.’ Jay peered out of the window, but it was too dark to see anything be-yond. ‘I heard they’ve been spreading further eastwards, but still.’
 
‘It wasn’t a bear,’ I said un-easily. ‘It was larger than that.’
 
‘Larger?’ He shot me an in-trigued glance. ‘How big, exact-ly?’
 
‘Well, I didn’t go out and measure it. But the marks it left are a good six or seven feet high.’
 
‘That’s incredible. Mind if I go and have a look?’
 
‘Why would you want to?’
 
‘Are you kidding? It could be evidence.’
 
‘Evidence of what?’
 
‘Okay, listen, there are literal-ly thousands of sightings of mys-terious beasts every year in this country alone. It’s fascinating stuff. Cryptids are sort of a pas-sion of mine, you see.’
 
‘Cryptids?’
 
‘Yeah. Though, I’m not saying that’s what you have here, not yet anyway. But it sounds out of the ordinary. We should investigate this.’
 
I raised an eyebrow. ‘Are you saying you think it’s bigfoot?’
 
‘Who knows? You said it was big. But, honestly, there are lots of other things out there, too. Have you heard of the Dover Demon, or The Beast of Truro?’
 
‘I don’t really know anything about that stuff, sorry.’
 
‘But you can’t explain what you saw tonight, right?’
 
‘Sarah told me not to let you talk me into any of this stuff.’
 
‘Well, to be fair to my sister, she’s never believed in anything she can’t see or hear. Let me guess, she called it woo-woo, right? But you know there’s something strange here. Isn’t that why you didn’t want her coming near this place?’
 
‘Yeah, but…’
 
‘Look, believe what you want, but I’m curious if you might have something here. I just want to go and have a look. That’s all.’
 
‘There’s something here all right, but it isn’t friendly and it’s strong. That’s why I’d rather not take any chances.’ 
 
‘Oh, come on, just a quick look. What harm can it do?’
 
‘This doesn’t feel like a good idea.’
 
‘I promise I won’t take any risks.’
 
I sighed, handing him the spare set of keys. ‘Be careful, and come right back in at the first sign of trouble. And, don’t forget to lock up behind you, okay? I want the outer doors secured at all times.’
 
‘Understood.’ He took a step towards the door, then paused and looked back. ‘Hey, just one thing I’m curious about. Didn’t your aunt live out here alone for decades?’
 
‘Yeah, she did.’
 
‘Nothing ever bothered her?’
 
‘She never said anything,’ I shrugged. ‘She had her own odd ways. Maybe she did know some-thing, had a way of placating it–or maybe she just stayed out of the woods. I don’t know. She took all that to her grave. I only know what I saw and heard, then and now.’
 
‘Fair enough,’ he held up his hands. ‘I’ll be careful.’
 
 
 
‘Well, I couldn’t see any claw marks or footprints out there, or any hair or other traces,’ Jay ex-plained enthusiastically thirty minutes later as we sat around the kitchen table. I’d made some fresh food for us, and now that I had an ally against the unknown, my own appetite had returned. ‘But you’re right; the trail goes right into the forest. You can even see where it’s broken some of the branches; high ones, too.’
 
‘So, I’m not crazy?’
 
‘There was definitely some-thing out there. I’d love to get a good look at it if it comes back.’
 
‘You wouldn’t. Trust me, hear-ing it on the other side of the door was bad enough. I’m telling you, Weodune is cursed.’
 
‘Weodune,’ Jay mused, shovel-ling the last of his bacon and eggs into his mouth. ‘It’s an unusual name. Any idea what it means?’
 
‘I haven’t a clue. Probably means “really bad place to live”.’ I gathered up the plates and cut-lery and carried them to the sink to wash up. My soiled jacket was now tumbling around inside the clunky old washing machine in the corner, though I wasn't hope-ful about getting the smell out of it. 
 
‘You know, with some mainte-nance and a lick of paint, this place wouldn’t be too–’
 
‘No.’
 
‘No?’
 
‘People shouldn’t be here. I feel sorry for anyone who buys it, but I just want to be rid of it.’
 
‘Sure, I understand,’ he nod-ded, ‘too many bad memories.’
 
I bit my tongue and turned on the faucet. If only memories were the problem here.
 
‘Need a hand there?’
 
‘No, I got this.’
 
He stood and patted his jeans pockets. ‘Then, I think I’ll pop out for a smoke.’
 
I pointed a sud-covered knife in his direction. ‘No monster hunting.’
 
‘I’ll stay right on the porch, I promise.’
 
I let out a heavy sigh as the door closed behind him. Even with someone else here, I couldn’t relax, couldn’t let my guard down, and it was exhaust-ing. I tried to focus on cleaning the dishes, to slip into a monoto-nous routine in the hopes of let-ting go of the anxiety that gnawed constantly. I’d almost started to push it from my mind when the door burst open and Jay poked his head inside, a smoul-dering cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. His eyes were wide.
 
‘Hey, I hear something! It’s over in the trees, coming closer.’
 
‘Get inside!’
 
‘Wait. I just want to see it.’
 
‘Now!’
 
He bustled into the kitchen, flicking his cigarette out into the night, before locking the door. Then we stood in silence, listen-ing.
 
I heard the heavy, clumsy snap of breaking branches and the loud rustle of foliage as it emerged from the trees. Within seconds it was at the back of the house, scraping against the win-dow and along the boards. There were staccato cracks of tiny stones striking the window like a hail of miniature bullets, and then water spattered down the outside in torrential rivulets while the porch groaned under the weight and the whole house shivered. I saw a ghostly flicker of yellow light dancing in the darkness.
 
‘Is it the same thing from ear-lier?’
 
‘I think so. It sounds like it.’
 
He clamped a hand over his nose and mouth. ‘What’s that smell?’
 
‘Grab some towels from up-stairs. Water’s seeping in again.’
 
Something rolled loudly across the boards of the porch and hit the door with a heavy thump. At the same time, the scraping and dragging grew louder, more in-tense, until it seemed the whole wall was straining inwards, the door groaning in its frame, as if colossal pressure were being ap-plied. We backed across the room, half expecting the window and door to explode inwards.
 
‘What’s it doing out there?’ Jay shot me a puzzled glance.
 
I could hear more fluid spat-tering down the sides of the house. The stagnant stench waft-ing under the door was as dis-gusting as it was familiar. It was the smell of that awful lake.
 
‘Get your keys. We’ll make a run for the cars.’
 
‘Isn’t it safer to wait in here? It’s not got into the house yet.’
 
‘Doesn’t mean it won’t.’
 
‘We could barricade the win-dows and doors, or is there an at-tic or something we could...’
 
‘Wait – hold on, listen. I think it’s moving. Hear that?’
 
‘I think so–yes. It’s going back into the forest.’
 
Only then did I let out a long, shaky breath. ‘I think we got lucky.’
 
‘Come on,’ Jay grabbed a torch from the sideboard and rushed towards the door. ‘Let’s follow it, quietly, and from a distance. Maybe we can work out what we’re dealing with. It’ll give us the edge next time.’
 
I stared at him. ‘You can’t be serious.’
 
‘This could be our only chance. Don’t you want to know what it is? Or, where it goes?’
 
‘Not really, no. Besides, I’ve a pretty good idea where it goes. Beyond that, I don’t want to know.’
 
‘Well I do.’ He unlocked the door and darted out.
 
‘Jay, don’t! It could be waiting out there! Jay!’ I called, but I was answered only by the door swing-ing shut.
 
I paced anxiously for a few tense seconds, debating what to do. I didn’t want to go out there, I knew that much. But could I stand by and do nothing again while another family member ventured into danger?
 
Guilt finally won out, and I ran for the door. The entire back porch was dripping with water and stinking slime. But worst of all was the large rock that had been rolled against the back door with enough force to scratch the paint. I was pretty sure it was the same one I had thrown into the lake earlier that day.
 
I saw Jay disappearing into the trees ahead. His torch was switched off and he was navi-gating by moonlight to stay as in-conspicuous as possible as he fol-lowed the old dirt path. Cursing silently, I hurried after him.
 
The way to the lake seemed different after dark, longer and more twisting, with dense shad-ows that pressed in like a wall. I stumbled a few times as I en-countered unexpected rocks and broken branches, and I kept pausing to listen for sounds of Jay further along the path, or for any sign that the unknown crea-ture might be returning.
 
There was a strange glow com-ing from somewhere up ahead, a flickering luminescence that lit the deeper shadows between the trees like flashes of distant light-ning, just like the lights I had glimpsed in the darkness through my windows. 
 
It was then that I heard Jay’s screams. 
 
With my heart in my throat, I ran. 
 
As I turned the corner into the clearing where the foul pool lay, I almost forgot to breathe.
 
The lake was alive with light.
 
There was a strange rippling effect on the surface of the water that had broken apart large sec-tions of the slimy green algae. In those newly revealed depths, I saw sickly yellow lights shining below the surface, like some kind of impossible electrical discharge taking place deep in its heart. The night air was utterly still, the trees around the lake were mo-tionless, but the dark water con-tinued to ripple and churn, as if something large was uncoiling or thrashing underneath it.
 
Then I saw Jay.
 
He was up to his shoulders in the water, clinging onto a broken section of the old jetty, his fin-gers desperately gripping the wood. He looked just like my brother had, battling against the water and his own frantic terror.
 
‘Russ–help!’ he begged, des-perately trying to haul himself out of the water. ‘Something’s got me!’
 
Suddenly, I was ten years old again.
 
The strange lights continued to flicker and crackle all around Jay as he fought to drag himself onto the broken jetty.
 
‘Russ, for God’s sake!’ he screamed. His hands were slip-ping, his nails dragging rough trails through the old wood. This was more than just his water-logged clothes dragging him down. Something had a hold of him. ‘Help!’
 
This time I overcame my fear and raced to the edge of the jetty. I crawled out onto the first of those rotting boards and reached out my hand. The strange lights lit Jay’s face in lurid yellow hues.
 
‘Here! I’m here! Grab my hand!’
 
He gritted his teeth as he struggled to reach for it.
 
‘I can’t!’ he gasped. “It’s got my legs! It’s dragging me under!’
 
I crawled a little further out. I could feel the old boards moving and flexing dangerously beneath me and knew at any second they might all just give way and drop me into the water alongside him.
 
‘Come on!’ I screamed.
 
‘I’m… trying!’
 
For a moment our fingers brushed…
 
Then his head was dragged under the surface, just as Shane’s had been all those years before. By those strange flashes of light, I saw his body sinking like a stone and realized the lake was far deeper than I had ever ex-pected.
 
Something was moving around him, like a dense shadow in the water, highlighted by that dance of light. I saw it coil about his body, wrapping tightly around his legs, and then he was tugged vio-lently downwards, a final few bubbles rising up to mark his passing.
 
In terror, I scrabbled back-wards onto the shore, clawing through the nettles and mud in my frantic and uncaring haste to escape whatever was down there.
 
But it hadn’t finished with me yet.
 
By the moonlight, I saw the water crawling up onto the bank, as if it were stretching little flowing rivulets out towards me like thin liquid fingers across the ground.
 
I scrambled to my feet and staggered backwards as the en-tire lake shifted and lifted, rising up like columns of glistening streamers before coming together to form a vast, ponderous shape within which those flashes of light and shadow danced in swirling defiance of all known natural laws.
 
At last, I understood. For all these years I had feared that something lived within that foul water, but now I realized the lake itself was alive, and like some feral undine, driven by fury and hunger, it was coming for me.
 
It moved clumsily at first, as if waking; a shifting mass of churn-ing water that half-surged and half-rolled, leaving a long wet trail behind it like some colossal slug. Deep within that roiling globular accumulation were more of those sickly yellow flickers of light. Jay’s body was spinning around in there too, along with broken sections of jetty that had come away in his hands as he died, like the glitter in some monstrous snow globe.
 
I ran back towards the house, aware of that terrible, impossible mass of living water pursuing me, picking up speed and tearing branches from the trees.
 
I stumbled and staggered, struggling to draw breath. I ex-pected that shifting bulk to swal-low me up as it surged over me. I had no idea how close it was. I was too scared to look back, but I could hear the dreadful sloshing of the thing on the path as it closed in on me.
 
I all but hurled myself over the porch and through the back door, slamming it behind me and lock-ing it with fingers that were shaking so badly I almost couldn’t turn the key. 
 
I heard the ponderous creak-ing of the protesting wood as it slammed against the back of the house with a thumping groan, and I backed across the kitchen, holding my breath, as water flowed across the window.
 
I was playing a hunch, the only one I had left, but it seemed to me from my past encounters that it was wary of entering unknown or unfamiliar spaces. That must have been the only reason it hadn’t come pouring into the house, as it could so quickly have done, and why it had instead sent smaller amounts of water under the doors, as if testing what lay beyond.
 
My car keys were beside my bed upstairs, and I hurried up for them, praying that it would re-tain its caution of the house, and that I was right in my hasty as-sumptions. Those half-formed theories were all I had in the face of the impossible and unknowa-ble, but my aunt had lived there for decades, and people before her, and it had never come into the house back then, at least as far as I knew.
 
I was on my way back down the stairs, car keys in one hand and my small suitcase in the oth-er, when a loud pattering of wa-ter drew my attention, as if a sudden intense cloudburst was emptying itself onto the front porch. 
 
I peered out of the small win-dow by the door, and in the moonlight, saw the mass of water disgorging something pale and glistening onto the ground. With a sickening shiver of revulsion I realized it was Jay’s body, the eyes still open, the mouth slack, and the sodden limbs covered in weeds and slime. 
 
A portion of the greater mass of the lake was now pouring into his mouth, ears and nose, as if filling his corpse. I could see his stomach distending beneath his t-shirt as the water swelled him up like a balloon. Then his head twitched convulsively, his limbs shuddered and flexed, and he started to sit up. 
 
I backed away from the door, my case dropping to the ground, as Jay’s body shuffled forward like a zombie. I heard each squelching step. His unblinking eyes stared sightlessly ahead as he shambled awkwardly towards the front door. He slipped a life-less hand into his pocket and pulled out the key I had given him earlier.
 
That was when I understood. The water was using him almost the way a human might use a div-ing suit or hazmat gear when en-tering an unknown and possibly hostile environment. It was com-ing inside the house in the safety of Jay’s body–and once it under-stood what this place was, once it knew the conditions inside, there would be nothing to hold the rest of it at bay.
 
In a panic, I darted into the lounge and snatched the heavy poker from the fireplace before retreating into the kitchen and turning out the light. I crawled under the table, car keys clutched in my other hand and the poker tightly clasped against my chest.
 
The door creaked open as Jay’s corpse sloshed slowly into the house, his moist hands fumbling clumsily at the walls and furni-ture as if exploring. Thin tendrils of water stretched like translu-cent feelers from his ears, mouth and nose. 
 
I forced myself to stay calm, to slow my breathing, hoping it wouldn’t notice me until it was close enough for me to act. I knew I could outrun it, but I was less sure about evading the rest of the water that was patrolling the house outside.
 
Whatever happened, I had to get to my car.
 
Everything had assumed the surreal quality of a dream, and I closed my hand tightly about the keys, as if needing the pain of the metal cutting into my flesh to as-sure me that this was not all some crazed delusion.
 
I heard him wander into the lounge, followed by the clumsy crash of a lamp falling, a table toppling, and then he entered the kitchen. Peering out from under the table I saw his legs drawing close, and then his hands were fumbling across the table-top, hitting over salt shakers and scattering sugar as it struggled to master control of the new body it had taken over.
 
I could hear the rest of the wa-ter brushing up against the back of the house, and Jay turned, as if planning to open the kitchen door and let the rest of it inside.
 
Taking a deep breath, I smashed the poker against his left knee, hearing bone crack. As his leg collapsed he lurched but didn’t fall. I quickly drove the poker against his other knee but missed, hitting his thigh instead. He collapsed across the table, sending cutlery scattering.
 
I raced down the hall, heading for the front door.
 
The floor underfoot was soak-ing, but the residual water that had drenched the carpet and trickled down the walls seemed inert enough, as if it had no more independent life than shed hair or skin cells, but I avoided touch-ing it just in case.
 
Behind me, the thing that had been Jay was lurching to its feet and trying to give chase, one leg dragging uselessly. As if realizing I was now too fast for its current form, the fluid began to evacuate his body, pouring from every ori-fice and even seeping from his tear ducts.
 
There was a crash as the kitchen window finally exploded inwards and the rest of the water surged inside in a gushing tor-rent.
 
But by then, I was out of the house and running to my car.
 
I nearly screamed as I felt something wet speckle my face, before realizing it was only rain.
 
As I turned the key and the engine roared to life, I saw a shifting mass of water pouring out of the front of Weodune, smashing through the windows and bursting out of the door, re-forming into a single entity as it emerged.
 
I reversed hastily, slamming into Jay’s car hard enough to shatter one of my rear lights and crumple the fender, and then I was tearing away down that pit-ted driveway, not caring about finesse, only about putting as much distance between it and me as possible.
 
As I reached the road and turned left, I even let myself breathe a sigh of relief.
 
Until I saw the mass of the lake water oozing onto the road ahead, drawing on the rain to re-plenish its bulk. It rippled and seemed to swell, and started to roll towards me like a shimmer-ing ball.
 
Without thinking, I jammed my foot on the accelerator and smashed through it. The whole thing seemed to burst, spraying over the car and across the road like an exploding water balloon.
 
I didn’t stop to see if it would re-form. I just kept going.
 
 
So, that's my story. That's what really happened that night.
 
Not that anyone believes me.
 
It’s been ten months now, and my therapist tells me to write it all down, to tell the whole tale, even if I decide never to show it to anyone else.
 
Honestly, I can’t say this is helping at all.
 
Anyway, the house sale fell through–obviously, but that’s probably for the best. Let the place rot and fall into the weeds. Let that lake lie forgotten in the wilderness, where I hope nobody will find it.
 
I was lucky to have escaped that night. Though, that’s also where my luck ended.
 
Sarah left me. She took the kids with her, and as much as I hate to say it, that’s probably for the best too. I think she blames me for Jay’s death, and I’m not sure she’s wrong. Things just fell apart between us, happened pretty fast too, and I’m sure my increasing mania and paranoia didn’t help, but I couldn’t stop it.
 
I still can’t.
 
Now, I spend my days hiding in the house, constantly checking the taps to make sure they aren’t dripping and cowering in fear when it rains. I’ve stopped bath-ing or washing, probably another reason why Sarah left, and I keep a careful vigil on my neighbour’s swimming pool from the upstairs window. So far, I think it’s safe, but you can never be too careful.
 
I can’t stop thinking back to that first encounter, when Shane plunged into that water and be-came the victim of something we had no understanding of. Had he been the first victim? Was that why it hadn’t pursued me after taking him? Or had he merely stumbled upon a sleeping entity and been swallowed up on a re-flex? I doubted I would ever know.
 
I left more than a suitcase be-hind that night. I left another family member, and with his death, I lost my whole family as I knew it.
 
There’s a light rain falling out-side now. The sound of the water against the windows is madden-ing. I can hear it pattering on the roof tiles too. I’ve bolted all the doors and windows and have a panic room set up, deep inside the house, just in case. I’m hoping this time I won’t have to use it.
 
The rain is getting louder, though.
 
I can’t stand it.
 
I also have a horrible feeling that the swimming pool is a little emptier than it was a moment ago.
 
But, that’s surely just a trick of the light, right?
 
I’d better go check those bolts once more.


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