01 Feb What waits across the lake
I thought that I was running away from hell and headed to a paradise on earth—Turns out, hell’s gates were open wide, and I was happily walking in.
For most of my professional career I have been in sales. I never was one for school, so continuing in education didn’t feel like an option for me. I got my first job right out of high school, traveling door to door selling over-priced security systems. When I was first hired, I was told that I could make a ton of money if I was willing to put in the effort. Thinking back, it should have been a colossal red flag that the guy who interviewed me spent the entire time trying to sell me on working there instead of the other way around. It was the sort of place where you never worked with the same people twice because the turnover rate was so high and they constantly threw around phrases like ‘We work hard and play harder!’
I grew up in a religion where it was expected of us to travel locally and pester others into listening to our holy message. We were given time quotas, and if you didn’t put in enough hours you were labeled a sinner. I have long since left that faith and with it, lost my friends and family. I can’t complain too much, all those hours walking and knocking gave me the confidence and skills to be a damn good sales person. I was one of the lucky few that actually made money in the company I worked for, and even still I hated it. You would be torn apart by the other employees no matter what you did. Did you make a lot of sales that week? They hate you for being successful. Didn’t meet the sales targets? You’re a useless piece of trash. Long hours, crap pay, and absolutely no appreciation.
After three dreadful years, I finally had enough. I always loved the outdoors, but living in the middle of a busy city, there weren’t many options available unless you were willing to travel long distances. When I saw a job posting online for a sales position in a small town ten hours north of the city, I decided I had nothing to lose and submitted my resume. I don’t know why, but I was surprised when I actually received an email asking if I was available for a video interview. Before I knew it I had quit my job, signed a lease for a place I’d never seen, and was on my way to start a new life far away from that hell I called home.
I packed all my belongings into the back of my old Nissan, and began the journey to my new abode. I was nervous that my beater of a car wouldn’t be able to make the trip; but since I had impulsively spent my life savings on a canoe after learning that my new apartment was next to a lake, it was my only option. I hadn’t even considered how I would transport the canoe, so I resorted to haphazardly tying it to the roof of my vehicle. I guess luck was still on my side back then, because I made it the whole way without any issues.
Eventually, I settled into my new life. My new job wasn’t anything special, but I loved the people I worked with. After just a few weeks, I was invited to join some of them on a camping trip over the long holiday weekend. The plan was to portage out to a remote area, and bring as much alcohol as we could carry. It was only supposed to be four of us, but Mike’s girlfriend Madison invited herself under the guise of wanting to get to know his friends better. It seemed pretty clear to me that the real reason she came was because she was insecure in the relationship and was convinced that our friend Amy would try and steel Mike away from her. Truth be told, Amy would much sooner try and make a move on Madison then any of us guys—but Madison didn’t seem convinced.
Dallas was the other guy in our group and he was the one who organized the trip. His parents were frequent campers and had lent him the equipment that we needed. Mike and Amy were in charge of Food and I brought the booze and my canoe. It was a good thing I did, otherwise we wouldn’t have had enough space in the other ones for our unexpected guest.
It took us all day to get to our camp site, the sun had already begun to set by the time we arrived. We rushed to set up our tents, after which we were all more than happy to relax on the ground around the fire.
“Let’s get this party started!” Said Mike, Breaking the silence.
Mike reached into the nearby cooler, pulled out a bottle and raised it high into the air.
“Really Mike, you can’t go one night without drinking?” Madison muttered, yet still loud enough for everyone to hear. “Today was exhausting, nobody wants to party right now.”
Mike looked down, not making eye contact with any of us, obviously embarrassed by what had just transpired.
“Actually, I don’t feel tired at all. Mike, toss one over.”
I’m not sure if Amy was trying to make Mike feel better by asking for a beer or if she was cleverly putting Madison in her place but either way it was like pouring gasoline onto a fire.
“Hey, me too” said Dallas.
Not wanting to be left out I chimed in “Yeah pass one my way as well”.
Grunting loudly, Madison stood up and without a word she furiously marched off towards the tents. We stayed around that fire for hours, swapping stories and just over all having a good time.
“Well, I should probably go check on Madison” Mike said.
Dallas was quick to tease him. “She’s going to make you sleep outside tonight man!”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if she tried to drown me in the lake while I slept.”
“Why do you put up with her Mike? She’s so awful to you.” Amy may have been the one to ask, but we were all thinking it.
“You know, lately I’ve started wondering about that as well.” Said Mike as he slowly rose to his feet. “Anyway, goodnight.” And with a nod he trotted off toward his tent.
Dallas was the first to speak. “Well that killed the mood now didn’t it? I’m done too, see you in the morning.” Then he got up and disappeared into the night. Leaving Amy and I alone.
I turned to Amy and started to say “Well Aims, Should we…” but like I hadn’t even said anything she interrupted.
“Mike deserves so much better than her, you know?” there was a slight quiver in her voice.
“Don’t let it get you down Amy, he’ll figure it out.” I said as I stretched my arms above my head. “You should try and get some sleep, I’ll clean up out here.” I got to my feet and held out a hand to help her up.
“Yeah, okay thanks.” She said while taking my hand and standing. ”Night Ethan” She gave me a quick smile as she left, but I could tell it wasn’t real.
I sat alone by the fire till it burned out on its own then I called it a night and headed to bed. Dallas must have fallen asleep right away, his drunken snoring echoed across the lake we’d paddled in on. My tent was set up closest to Mike’s and I could hear muffled whispering coming from that direction. I’m sure Madison was scolding him for what had happened earlier. Being nosy, I tried to listen as intently as I could, my ears straining to hear what was being said.
“…why don’t you just go over to her tent and sleep with her already since she clearly wants you so bad…” I heard Madison aggressively whisper.
“I told you, it’s not like that. Amy is…” Mike’s sentence was cut short, there was a ripping sound followed quickly by a thud. I jolted upright as the sound of Madison’s Screams filled the air. I searched frantically for my flashlight and struggled to open the zipper on my tent. My hands wouldn’t stop shaking.
“Help me! Please somebody help me!” Madison’s shrieks had turned deafening and shrill.
I burst out of the tent, and spun to point my flashlight towards the screams. I caught a glimpse of Madison just before she disappeared behind the tattered remains of her tent. It looked like something was dragging her away by her hair. I started towards her but at that same moment something grab my shoulder from behind. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest.
“It’s not alone.” It was Amy who had grabbed my shoulder. She pointed her own flashlight towards the tree line. All along the forest edge the dull shine of pale eyes could be seen. I stood frozen, unsure what it was that I was even seeing. Madison’s cries kept moving further and further away.
“The Boats!” Dallas shouted. His cry restoring function to my limbs.
Looking towards the lake I saw Dallas was already stumbling down the hill towards where we had tied off our canoes. Amy and I instinctively chased after him. The moment we turned our backs on the watchful eyes, a piercing guttural roar filled the area all around followed by multiple others.
As drunk as I may have been only moment’s ago, I was stone cold sober now. As we got to the bottom of the hill we saw the canoes had drifted out into the lake and Dallas was already in one desperately rowing away.
“Dallas you bastard!” Amy’s voice cracked—I had never heard anyone yell so loud. “He left us, he actually left us!” She said with a disgusted look on her face.
I didn’t know what to say, I stared blankly at lake, unable to believe what was happening. Another ear piercing screech sounded directly behind us. I looked back just in time to see a moonlit shadow flying towards me. I instinctively ducked and felt something graze my hair as it sped by and landed in the water behind me with a splash.
“Is that a… a spear!?” said Amy.
I barely had time to look before the crunching of gravel stole back my attention. I flicked my flashlight around searching for what had made the noise, and then I saw it. It looked like a person except its skin was grey and it walked like a beast, hunched over with both hands on the ground in front. Its spine and rib cage protruded out so far that it was as though they were attempting to escape the fleshy prison holding them together. Two more of these things appeared from behind the one in front, one moving to each side in an obvious effort to surround us. I backed away slowly until I reached the water.
“We have to swim.” I whispered.
“What, we can’t” Amy whispered back.
“Swim!” I yelled.
I dove into the water and started swimming as fast as I could. My clothes were really slowing me down; I had only just started swimming and I already felt exhausted. I rolled onto my back, trying to float. Amy was not too far behind me. If the look on her face didn’t give it away, the continuous sobbing did, she was panicking— she was not a good swimmer. The three creatures slipped into the water and disappeared under the surface.
“Wait… don’t leave me.” Amy said. “Don’t lea…”
But before she could finish, two hands erupted from beneath her and dragged her down into the void below. She didn’t even have time to scream before she had vanished. One of the creatures surfaced only feet away from me. I could only see its head as it glided closer. Its eyes looked white, and its teeth were filed into fangs. I turned back onto my front and kicked as hard as I could doing my best to remember my childhood swimming lessons. I could see Dallas had almost reached the other side. There was no way I’d make it that far. My only chance was to swim to a small nearby island and try to fight for my life there. I don’t know if I imagined it or not but it felt as though the thing pursuing me was grasping at my feet and the tips of its fingers occasionally touched me.
I crawled out of the water and onto the stony island. I looked back and prepared to kick as hard as I could expecting to see the horror behind me—but it had stopped. It was wadding in the shallow water but it had stopped its chase. It sat glaring at me, until finally it sunk back below the surface and was not seen again. I could see at least five of those things had managed to swim across the lake to where Dallas had left his Canoe and they disappeared into the forest on the other side.
I sat on that small island all night until the sun came up. Eventually I worked up the courage to swim over to the canoe Dallas had left behind. I got in and began the short trip back to our campsite. I really didn’t want to go back but I reasoned that I at least needed to get the keys to my car if I was going to make it out of here alive.
I tried to be as quiet as possible while getting out of the boat and pulling it ashore. I probably stood on that beach for over twenty minutes trying to convince my legs that walking up the hill into camp was a good idea. I could hear the water gently splashing against the rocks. I tried to focus on the beautiful symphony of nature to help me calm down. There was a chorus of chirping frogs, and the occasional song from a bird harmonized with the sound of the trees swaying with the wind.
“Alright, it’s fine. Just run up there, get what you need and get out. You can do this.”
I took a deep breath and began the climb up the hill. The place was trashed, our belongings were scattered throughout the area. All three tents were nothing more than piles of shredded fabric now. Inspecting further I saw that there was a spear like the one that had almost skewered me during the night sticking out of the remains of the tent Mike and Madison had shared.
“Maybe I should bring that with me in case I need to defend myself.”
I pulled it free. As it came away it made a horrible moist sound like your tongue does when you move it around inside your mouth—but tenfold. The tip of the spear was soaked in blood. I was pretty sure I knew what was waiting for me underneath the lining of the tent, but I had to see for myself. I pulled back the material. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. It was Mike, or rather what was left of him. His body had been butchered, literally. All of his flesh had been cut away. Arms, Legs, Ribs, every inch of his body that had once contained any sort of meat had been torn away. As soon as my brain realized what it was seeing it reminded my gag reflex that it had a job to do. The torrent started before I even managed to hunch over. A putrid cocktail of bile and beer ran down my chest. Most of it splattering on the ground below.
“What the hell. What the hell.” I panted, struggling to catch my breath.
A little past Mike’s tent, I saw the grass was flattened down making a path towards the forest. Chunks of grass and earth had been ripped up which I’m sure was from Madison trying her hardest to get away. I can’t imagine she got off any better than Mike had. I tried not to dwell on that too long. I rummaged through my stuff until I found my keys and then I sprinted back to the boat.
The trip out of the felt like an eternity. The worst parts were the sections where I had to carry the canoe over land to the next body of water. The way I had to carry it really restricted my field of vision. With every sound I’d find myself imagining monsters. I couldn’t help but think that they were hiding in the dark with their sinister friends, waiting to get me. Along the way I found Dallas’s blood soaked shirt, but I never did see him again.
I had never been happier to see my crappy Nissan when I finally made it back. I was certain that I would run into those grey-skinned freaks again on my way out, but I never did. As soon as I made it to civilization I called the police and tried to explain as best as I could what had happened.
Search parties went out but they never found anyone. I’m pretty sure I was the main suspect in the murder investigation of my friends, but eventually they gave up and I moved back to the city.
A while after, I saw on the news that a previously undiscovered cannibalistic tribe of natives had been found living nearby the very place we had camped. They even made a documentary about it. At one part they talked about how the natives appeared to use the small islands in the area for some kind of ritual. I had always wondered why the cannibals hadn’t followed me that night. Why wasn’t I devoured just like my friends? Even now, I’m still not certain.
It was four years ago today that these events happened. Every night those things still haunt my dreams and I am forced to watch Amy as she is pulled under again and again. I can’t take it anymore, I plan to put an end to it tonight. It just didn’t feel right to leave without telling the world our story first. I haven’t been religious for years now, but if there is a God my only prayer is that you never have to see—what waits across the lake.