01 Feb The Mannequin Lake
I gently lowered the canoe into the calm water. Matt stood behind me, clutching the two oars, anxious to start fishing. Ripples rose to life and expanded out into the vast lake, quiet trumpets that announced our entry into the cool blue realm.
The sun crept over the looming trees that surrounded the lake, its golden rays filtered through the thick greenery. The air was muggy and humid, a teaser of the coming heat the day would bring. Wildlife chirped and cooed around us as we carefully stepped into the canoe, the beautiful morning bringing with it an air of excitement.
Matt and I had been trying to go fishing for weeks. Work and previous engagements delayed our plans until finally, gloriously, our schedules lined up.
Earlier that morning, Matt had picked me up at the apartment, already geared up for our big day. As I groggily climbed into his pickup, wiping sleep from my eyes, I saw an array of poles, tackle boxes, and coolers in the bed of his truck. We were finally going fishing. It didn’t take long for me to wake up.
“How did you find this place again?” I asked Matt as he handed me an oar and pushed us off from the bank.
He shrugged and told me one of his friends had heard about it. We were surrounded by New Hampshire wilderness, a two hour drive down a lonely, empty road that took us deep into the New England Mountains. When we had arrived a half an hour ago, the dawn was just giving way to daylight color. The perfect time to go fishing.
Our oars slid effortlessly into the calm water as we began to row out into the great expanse of serene beauty. A mist rose off the surface of the water and I imagined it was the nighttime darkness retreating beneath the coming sun.
The tackle box lay at my feet, a massive thing that held every sort of lure and bait imaginable. Matt was big into fishing, which in turn, had piqued my curiosity about the matter. This was the first time I was going, the anticipation of possibly catching something fueling my sluggish body.
As we drifted further and further from the bank, I heard a pop and hiss behind me. I stopped rowing for a moment and looked back. Matt sheepishly grinned at me as he took a sip of beer. I laughed and reached around to the small cooler and retrieved one for myself. Why not, it was part of the experience right?
The bank grew further and further away as we continued to row out into the lake. By the time I had finished half my beer, Matt called out for me to halt. I slid my oar inside the canoe and felt us drift a couple more feet, the craft slowing.
After taking one last pull from his beer, Matt set the can down and began to string our poles. I handed him the tackle box and he opened it. I watched, grinning, as he examined the contents. He looked like he a mad scientist trying to determine the best chemical for his new deadly potion. Finally, he snatched up a shiny lure and knotted it to the fishing line. He did mine next and then showed me the best way to cast.
It seemed simple enough, but on my first attempt, the pole jerked and the line remained immobile. Matt let out a laugh as he instructed me again on the workings of a good cast. I flipped the lock and pinched my finger to the string, trapping it to the pole.
In one smooth motion, I flicked it, releasing the line, and watched in delight as the hook soared through the air and into the water with a satisfying splash.
Matt slapped me on the back and turned to cast from the other side of the canoe. And then we waited. We sipped our beer (tasting unexpectedly delicious in the early hours) and chatted idly. Every so often, we’d reel our lines back in and re-cast.
It was a methodical experience and I found myself enjoying it immensely. The calm around us seemed to help, an isolated slice of nature reserved perfectly for us. The sky melted in brilliant color as the sun continued to timidly climb the sky. Morning birds chirped in conversation from the distant shore and I cracked open another beer.
As I took my first sip from the fresh can, I noticed something on the far bank. I squinted and tried to make out what it was. It was by the water’s edge, a lone, tall smudge of darkness.
It looked like a mannequin. An impossibly black, frozen mannequin.
“Matt, what the hell is that?” I asked, guiding his gaze with my finger.
His brow furrowed, a look of curious bewilderment creasing his face. He shrugged and said he didn’t know. And then he looked behind me and his eyes widened.
“Look, there’s another one!” He exclaimed.
I whipped around and sure enough, a second tar-black mannequin stood motionless on the opposite bank. It creeped me out, the strange display a direct contrast to the nature around us. I swallowed and began to reel in my line. As I did, I scanned the entirety of the shore, my eyes working like a spinning radar searching for abnormalities.
There were four of them, all on opposite sides of the lake. They just stood, right at the water’s edge, like they were watching us.
Matt was shaking his head, cracking open another beer of his own. He didn’t seem as weirded out as I was, but that was just his nature. In all the years of our friendship, I was always the cautious one.
And from deep inside of me, I knew something was wrong.
Suddenly, just a couple feet from our canoe, the surface of the lake rippled as something broke the surface.
The noise captured our attention and both of us turned to address the sound.
“What is that?” I asked, leaning forward.
It was round and glowing an abnormal shade of yellow, almost like a light bulb. It bobbed on the surface, pulsing, the strange glow blinking in the water.
I grabbed my paddle and maneuvered our canoe until we were right next to it. It looked like a rock, illuminated by some strange source in its core.
With a puzzled look on his face, Matt leaned down and picked it up.
No sooner had his fingers breached the surface then something came rocketing out of the water. I didn’t have time to register what it was as Matt suddenly screamed and clutched his arm, falling back inside the boat.
My eyes went wide as realized what Matt was clawing at.
The length of his arm was wrapped in tight black wire with a long curled hook burned deep in his shoulder. Blood poured from the wound as he howled, fingers grasping at the source of agony. I gaped, unsure what to do, my mind blanking in a panic.
“Help me! Get it off!” Matt screamed, gritting his teeth as he tried to pull the sharp point from his flesh.
I scrambled into action, taking his arm and carefully examining the hook. It was about three inches long and had sunk into his skin just below the collar bone.
Before I had time to do anything, Matt was suddenly jerked forward, his body slamming into the side of the boat. He screamed as the line binding him tightened, the wire a chaotic pattern that snaked up his arm.
“It’s trying to pull me under!” He yelled, blood running down his arm. “Cut me free! CUT ME FREE HURRY!”
I scrambled in a panic, knocking over the tackle box in my confusion. What the hell was going on? What was happening? Where had the line come from?
What was down there?
I snatched up the filet knife, its blade dangerously sharp, and turned back to Matt. He was bracing himself against the side of the boat as the line continued to tighten. Angry, bloody lines began to form along his arm as the wire ate into his flesh.
“HURRY!” He screamed, spittle flying from his lips, tears forming in his eyes.
I snatched the dark wire and slashed the knife across it.
The blade bounced off harmlessly.
Breathing heavily, trying not to go into hysterics, I tried again. The result was the same. The knife did nothing.
“No, no, no, no!” Matt howled as his strength suddenly gave way.
A sharp jerk on the line robbed him of his remaining resolve and he was pulled into the water with a terrified howl.
He disappeared under the surface with alarming speed. I sat, gasping, eyes wide and bloodshot, staring at where he had been pulled under.
I gripped the side of the canoe and began to scream his name, heart thundering in my chest. I scanned the clear water but couldn’t see him.
“Matt!” I screamed, throat tightening with fear.
Suddenly, he sputtered to the surface behind me. A desperate gasp of air was all he was afforded before being pulled down under again. I spun just in time to see his terrified eyes disappear into the splashing water.
Without thinking, I stood up, still gripping the knife, and dove in after him. The water was surprising cold and I felt a ripple of shock shoot through my body like freezing electricity. I broke the surface and gasped, spinning and searching wildly for any signs of my friend.
About ten feet away, he splashed to the surface once again, his face exhausted and filled with horror.
“HELP ME!” He howled before getting sucked down.
I took a deep breath and plunged beneath the surface. I opened my eyes, the clear water revealing a dark world beneath me. I spotted Matt struggling desperately as the line tried to drag him deeper into the depths.
I kicked out towards him, my eyes following the line that bound him, down to the bottom of the lake.
I froze, eyes bulging in the water, fear paralyzing my mind.
I spotted the source.
Standing on the bottom of the lake were two dark mannequins holding fishing poles.
And their faces were painted to look exactly like Matt’s and my own.
They were grinning and the one with my face was helping the other one reel in Matt. They were pulling him deeper towards his death.
I forced myself forward, pushing through my terrified horror. I clutched the knife between my teeth and swam deeper into the cold depths towards Matt. I could tell he didn’t have much time.
Muscles burning, I pulled myself through the water and finally reached him, steadying myself against him, one hand on his shoulder.
Matt thrashed wildly and tried to grab at me, but I spun him around quickly so I could confront the source of his slow death. I gripped his shoulder and tried to wedge the knife between the hook and his flesh, but as I did so, I realized that it wouldn’t matter. The tangle of line that wrapped up his arm was keeping him under just as much as the hook was.
I began to feel my chest ache and I realized I didn’t have much air left. My lungs groaned for oxygen and I could hear my heartbeat growing louder in my ears. I knew if I went up for air that Matt would die. I looked down and saw the mannequins fighting against us thirty feet below. The one that had my face smiled at me and I felt cold evil swirl around us.
I had a decision to make.
I looked into Matt’s fading eyes and gripped the knife.
I began to cut his arm off at the shoulder.
Blood diluted the water around us as Matt’s muted screams echoed in my ears. I grit my teeth, shock pumping through my veins as I hit bone. Jaw popping with effort, chest now screaming for air, I sliced through, my muscles aching.
And then suddenly, Matt was free.
His head rolled aimlessly in the water as consciousness abandoned him. Darkness crept into my vision as I wrapped my arm around his body and jetted us towards the surface. My heart crashed into my head, begging for air, and my brain fired as much adrenaline as it could muster through my exhausted body.
Struggling against the coming blackout, I looked down at the mannequins.
They stared back up at me, their bodies now frozen in furious anger.
I had severed their lifeline.
Gasping, I broke the surface, sucking down desperate lungfuls of sweet air. I sputtered and hacked, struggling against the weight of my unconscious friend. Blood trailed behind us, a path of gory carnage.
Blessedly, the canoe was only a few strokes away. Wheezing, I pulled my soaking body over the side and then tugged Matt inside behind me, screaming with effort. The bottom of the boat filled with blood and Matt’s skin was a deathly pale. His eyes remained shut, but I saw that he was still breathing.
I tore off my shirt and pressed it against the wound, praying it would be enough. We were hours from help, hours from anyone, and my friend was bleeding to death right in front of me. Tears welled in my eyes as I begged God for help, raking my mind for some kind of way to stop Matt’s fast approaching death.
I grabbed an oar and began to furiously paddle towards the shore, my vision blurred as I wept, my mind rocked from the horror I had just gone through.
Matt was dead by the time I reached the bank.
Matt’s funeral was yesterday. I sat quietly in the back as I watched his distraught family sob around me. I don’t know what to tell them. I don’t know how to explain the terror we went through. The police don’t know what to make of my story and neither do the wildlife rangers. I was hysterical when I arrived at the hospital on that fateful day. I’m sure they interpreted my distraught account however they needed to so that it made sense to them. It doesn’t matter.
Matt is dead.
And somewhere out there, in the upper corner of New Hampshire, there’s an evil that wants to go fishing again.