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The Dark Below

the dark below


Estimated reading time — 49 minutes

“There it is again. 37 feet down. It’s right below us,” I shouted over the hum of the engine. The white and green 26-foot Bayliner, lovingly dubbed the Karmanos, slowed as I brought the boat to a crawl. Dark waves lazily slapped against the dull, aged hull. The sun vainly tried to pierce the overcast sky, causing the waters of Falls Lake to appear a murky brown with a large summer storm creeping upon me. Thunder had not yet begun to announce the arrival of the storm, but the sheer black wall of encroaching clouds was foreboding. It was my third year on the job serving as an assistant park ranger. With duties mainly consisting of cleaning up after campers and rescuing lost bicyclists on the trails after sundown, this was my first real charge that was anything but mundane.

I worked with Jeffrey, a ranger on staff. We were quite the opposites but got along very well together. Jeffrey was old enough to be my father, and he was one of the longest tenured rangers at Falls Lake. He was overweight and always sported a Captain Picard haircut. He often walked with a limp. He was a former football player, but time and injuries had taken a toll on him over the years. He wore the duty belt daily, causing more wear on his aging hips and lower back. His dry humor and pessimistic view of the world contrasted with my youthful exuberance. Jeffrey was technically my superior but let me drive the boat when no one was around. It was a small crack in his otherwise gruff demeanor. Over the years he had warmed to me, and I began thinking of him as family. My senior project was coordinated through a local university to map the winding bed of Falls Lake for the first time since its’ creation in 1978. The hours would finish up my degree. It was my first day back since last fall and I was anxious to get to work.

We began the day near Rolling View Park, one of the largest parks on the lake. We were six hours into the day and were making a lot of progress. We discovered and noted the positions of downed trees and logs by the hundred, massive graveyards of semi-calcified stumps, large rock formations, and unusual dips and drop offs, possibly caused by demolitions before the lake was created. One of the more interesting things discovered was the farm equipment. Old plows and small tractors were left behind by farmers who couldn’t or wouldn’t move them before the Army Corps of Engineers took their land and livelihood via imminent domain for the lake. It was nearing the end of the day. The sun began its journey towards the tree lines which surrounded the lake when we located an unusual, roughly rectangular-shaped object twelve meters below the surface. After several passes, we determined the object to be approximately fifteen feet in length and sitting directly on the bottom. Jeffrey, grizzled from years of working the area, slumped down into his chair and hung his head. His mood, constantly just one notch above tetchy, devolved into downright exasperated anger.

“We are going to be here a while. Damn it. And I left my sandwich at the Marina.” My head snapped up, an inquisitive look on my face after such an unusual outburst.

“What? Why?”

“People always disappear out on this lake. It’s happened ever since they built this place. People drown or they get drunk and fall off their boat or they jump off the Highway 50 bridge. There was this one lady, she tied bricks to her feet and popped a bunch of prescription meds one time. Sad soul. Look at that shape on the screen there. That’s a car, my boy.” I stared blankly at the various screens in front of me for a minute. The relatively new screens and instruments were haphazardly retrofitted into the center console of the 90’s era boat. I was not nearly educated enough on sonar equipment to make the same conclusion Jeffrey did.

“Bring us around, kid. I will call in the diver. We only have about 30 minutes before the rain comes.” Jeffrey picked up the radio. “462, this is 467. I think we found a car out here. Can you call the Sheriffs? We are gonna need their dive team.” Jeffrey stowed the radio and turned to me as I powered the twin Mercury engines down completely.

He let out a droll laugh and said, “This is not how I wanted to end my day.”

His gravelly voice echoed across the lake, carried by the water and open space. He opened a pack of Maverick unfiltered cigarettes and lit one, taking a long drag.

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“I’m glad you came back this year, kid. You’re better than that other little miscreant we had. They let him go. What was his name?”
“Those things are going to kill you, you know. And if you fall out, I’m not going to kiss you.”

Jeffrey grunted but said nothing. He took another long drag and a thick cloud of smoke was carried by the wind into my face.

“Shawn,” I said as I rolled my eyes and coughed. “His name was Shawn Temple. He was from NC State too. I was wondering why he didn’t come back.”

“He nearly sunk the Karmanos. Greg lost his mind over it. Thought he was going to burst that blood vessel in his forehead. The one that pops right here when he gets ornery,” Jeffrey tapped the center of his forehead just above the eyes. “Complete mess.”
I burst into a fit of laughter. “How did that happen?”
“That kid didn’t put the plug in the back before they launched. Fancy college education can’t make up for lack of common sense sometimes. No offense, ISH,” Jeffrey chuckled and dismissively waved a hand in my direction, sprinkling ash onto the deck. “You are alright, though.”

“Greg is in charge now, right?”

“That’s right,” Jeffrey replied while blowing two streams of smoke from his nostrils. He flicked more ash over the side and put the cigarette out. Never a litter bug, Jeffery put the butt into a small bag near the cockpit. “Superintendent Greg Urquhart. Bully for him. He worked his ass off to get it. He’s the head ranger in charge now. Besides you, he’s about the only other person around here I can still stand.”

The late June air hung thick over us, the North Carolina humidity causing my gray park staff polo to stick to my skin along my chest and back. Having lived here all my life, I was used to the heat. I glanced at the dashboard. 97 degrees Fahrenheit, and 80% humidity. Not as bad as it had been earlier in the week. A light breeze picked up, gently rocking the Karmanos, her old bones creaking, and causing us to lazily drift in the channel. My hair tossed briefly as the gust died, providing momentary relief from the oppression. I took a swig from my jug of water and snacked on a pack of peanut butter crackers while I listened to the birds. After about thirty minutes, I heard it.

A low hum echoed from far away but moved closer. I glanced over my shoulder as an alabaster SeaHunter speedboat streaked towards the inlet. Brand new and state of the art, the speedboat was a class above our old dinghy in technology and design. ‘Wake County Sheriff’ was stickered in gold and white on the side in massive letters, with ‘Marine Unit’ just along the bow. A deputy in SCUBA gear sat near the railing. She situated a mask and checked her regulator. The SeaHunter moved into position next to us and the deputy at the console called over as he slowed to an idle.

“This the spot?”

“Yes, just off our bow,” I chimed up.

Jeffrey snorted and rolled his eyes at me. “Bow. Really? Bow? Just say the front of the boat, kid.”

“I’m being proper, Jeff. You should try it.” I laughed a little as he cut his eyes at me. He hated being called Jeff.

The diver rolled over the side with a splash into the brown water. I studied the bank of the lake, barely 30 feet to our stern. There was a steep drop off from the shoreline to where we floated. It appeared to have been a place the Corps demoed to make room for the bridge pylons, some fifty yards further out. Light traffic passed by on the bridge, rush hour traffic long gone. I stared off at the scrub brush on the hillside leading down from the bridge. There was a small gravel spot where cars could turn around or pull over. The plant life there was flattened in a straight line coming off the roadway and directly towards the shoreline. In the law enforcement world, this is what we call a clue, Greg would say. Regular Sherlock, that one.

A burst of bubbles broke me from my trance. The diver surfaced and turned, spitting her regulator from her mouth. “Marcus, it’s a Jeep,” she shouted to the Deputy onboard the SeaHunter. He turned to face her, and she continued. “There’s a body in it. What’s left of one anyway. Been there a little while.” The deputy, Marcus, removed his hat and adjusted the cap which covered the waves in his hair. He nodded to her with a concerned look on his face and began speaking into the radio. He looked young. Maybe he was new. A bolt of lightning cracked the sky open. The first raindrop fell a few seconds later. Damn it, I said to myself. Looks like I will be getting wet.

It was 9:50 in the evening when the wrecker finally hoisted the Jeep Grand Cherokee from the choppy murk. The red paint was badly weathered, and every window was smashed out. A massive dent from an impact had caved in the passenger side door. The front grill was battered, and the left headlamp was missing. I clutched at the edges of my raincoat as the downpour continued. The Jeep was hauled up to the roadway to the waiting forensics unit to photograph the occupant. As the Jeep was dragged up the hill from whence it had come, I noted something odd. The bumper of the Jeep was bent and twisted into a mangled shape. A tree limb was lodged through the back window. It was almost as if someone driven the Jeep down the hill into the water, backwards. The driver was in worse shape than the Jeep. His clothes were tattered, and it appeared fish had begun to devour him. His left arm was missing just above the elbow. Jeffrey visibly winced as a gust of wind blew the scent of pond scum and putrefaction towards us.

I tapped my G-Shock, causing the backlight to activate. 10:47 PM. Lot of comp time for this one. We had begun to slowly back towards Rolling View Marina. Our trip was hampered by the downpour. Eventually, the rain settled down to a drizzle. A thick fog bank formed from the intense temperature drop. This left our visibility near zero. Jeffrey kept us in the channel, the deepest part of the lake, for safety. The Channel was the last remnant of the Neuse River before the dam transformed the area into what it is today. He grumbled at the pace but dared not speed up beyond 3 miles per hour. The massive 25,000 lumen search light barely penetrated the fog which enveloped us, and we were forced to navigate using the GPS built into the console. The cockpit was covered by a hardtop, but the wind blew the rain into us from the side. I was utterly drenched from head to toe. The raincoat did little to help me at this point, but it helped to fight the sudden cold snap caused by the storm. I felt a distinct squish in my shoes as I shifted my weight with each small bump as the Karmanos dragged herself home.

PING.

Jeffrey glanced at the sonar screen and furrowed his brow. A tall, slender line spiked upwards, denoting a hit against an object. Jeffrey said nothing, not that I could have heard him all that well anyway. The twin Mercury engines were old, and they ran at an extremely high pitch at low speeds. The intense whine left conversation difficult unless you shouted. He did not seem to be in the mood for questions and I was not exactly in the mood to ask them. I just wanted to go home.

PING.

The screen of the Humminbird sonar was set to night mode, and the green glow washed over my face as I stared intently at the screen. Two pings in the last 20 seconds. They barely registered at all unless we had the mapping equipment on. Perhaps we were detecting logs which had been washed into the lake by the storm. In such low visibility, they could be very hazardous to the boat. The Karmanos was nearly as old as I was, and she wasn’t exactly in the best of shape. Jeffrey was seasoned and experienced on the lake, though, and I settled back into my chair to relax a bit as he steered us home.

BUMP.

The boat rocked hard on its side as we struck something underwater. Jeffrey swore loudly. The back end of the Karmanos swung around almost 90 degrees. He cut the engines to stop them from taking damage if we had run into a fallen tree. Suddenly, devoid of the mechanical sound of human technology and I was aware of the eeriness of the night. It swept over me for the first time and stood out as unusual. Normally at this time of night, the lake was alive with the sounds of insects, frogs, and other assorted nocturnal animals. But tonight, there was nothing. The dense blanket of fog was borderline preternatural.

The soft pitter patter of the rain against the surface of the lake was broken up only by the dull slapping of small breaks of water against the faded green paint of the hull. I began to think about our current situation, and I realized how dangerous it was. No one could see us. No one could find us if we needed assistance. What if the boat were damaged from the impact with the tree and began to sink? I was an excellent swimmer, but Jeffrey… his smoking had rendered his cardiovascular endurance something to be desired. His massive frame carried excess weight in his gut, causing a paunch to hang over his belt. Could he keep up if we had to swim? Would I be able to drag him to shore if he got injured?

The Humminbird showed the nearest shoreline to be 580 feet to our left. Water depth, 15 feet. The Karmanos was a small cartoonish emblem of a boat on the surface of the water. We were in The Shallows. Before the dam was built, this entire area was made up of fields with row upon row of tobacco and corn. The Falls of Neuse River would have been to the right of the Shallows, with rolling hills leading up about 30 feet above those fields. Those hills were now a shoreline for a massive park, giving it the name Rolling View. The fields were now fifteen to twenty feet underwater in a vast open expanse of lake known as The Shallows. The park itself consisted of a massive peninsula jutting out into the lake. A white sandy beach covered one side, with kayak launch and restroom building roughly 300 feet back from the shore. A large parking lot with streetlamps separated the beach from the rest of the park. This contained hundreds of acres of hiking trails and campsites. Massive rock outcroppings dotted the shore as well, giving the area a serene appearance when it wasn’t under a deluge and wrapped in inescapable fog. On the other side of those hundreds of acres of forest was Blackwater Cove. I squinted at the screen, now soaked with water droplets. It obscured my view and made the details of the map difficult to make out. I could make out that we were at the tip of the peninsula and had just moved beyond Blackwater Cove. I wiped the screen clear and noticed something unusual. A small red dot was directly next to the icon depicting the boat. Odd.

A sound broke the silence. It was a strange one, almost like the snapping of a bullwhip. I couldn’t place it. The boat turned slightly, and the starboard side dipped ever so slowly towards the water. It kept dipping and kept dipping. Jeffrey’s eyes widened and his mouth opened to say something, but I couldn’t hear him. A sudden wave of warmth washed over the left side of my face. It took me several seconds to realize things were moving in slow motion. Time slowed to a crawl as I saw Jeffrey’s feet lift off the deck. A soda can slid across the deck. A pen and paper were launched in the air. I saw my entire world tilt to the right. The impact was so powerful it lifted the Karmanos on her side and threw Jeffrey and I into the water. The rain had cooled the uppermost layer of water considerably. My head broke the surface and I took a deep gasp of air. Everything was illuminated by an otherworldly blue hue. I realized it was the searchlight. It was still on and burned away the darkness under the water around the tilting Karmanos in a cool and soothing teal green.
Her console was partially submerged as she laid on her side. I kicked over and grabbed the side railing as the boat very slowly rolled back towards buoyancy. I touched the side of my head, wincing immediately. A gash ran near my hairline, the source of the sudden warmth as blood coated my face in a crimson mask. I reached into my hair and found small chunks of fiberglass. I had been struck by shrapnel from the impact. The left side of the boat was still exposed. I looked over to see the fiberglass hull had shattered into a crater nearly two feet in diameter. Cracks crisscrossed the side of the Karmanos all the way to the railing upon which I now gripped.

“What the hell happened,” I said aloud, even though no one was around.

I screamed as something grabbed hold of my right arm. I turned and a burning white light blasted directly into my face. It robbed me of my night vision. After a second and a frantic tug, I felt the familiar cloth of a polo shirt in my grip. Jeffrey’s brown eyes shown wide as he clung to me. I helped him towards the rapidly listing boat. He took hold and established a firm grip on the side. The Karmanos was beginning to sink.

“How bad are you hurt,” Jeffrey seemed concerned.

“It burns. I think I might need stitches,” I answered.

He looked me over and held his gaze for a long while on the cut. Perhaps it was worse than I thought. I made sure he was okay, took a deep breath and dove under. Finding the compartment in the blazing light of the search light was simple enough. I pulled two life jackets from the side and a first aid kit. I went to the cockpit and attempted to activate the emergency button on the radio, which would broadcast our need to Wake and Durham Counties. The radio, however, was dead. It must have been fried by the water. We were on our own. I surfaced and tried to help Jeffrey put his life jacket on. He refused and instead lay across it like a flotation device.

“We need to swim. Shore is that way,” I said as I pointed to our left.

“How far,” he asked me. I saw his flashlight shake in his hand.

“Not far. You can do it,” I replied, not wanting to tell him it was nearly six football fields away. Jeffrey’s flashlight died. He tapped it several times, but it wouldn’t come back on. The eerie teal glow was disrupted, and I looked down below us. The searchlight must have flickered.

The rain relented as we began our journey, but the wind continued. We moved roughly ten feet from the Karmanos when the power gave out. Our whole world was cast into complete darkness. The wind continued and pushed the clouds out as the storm passed. I felt a chill roll over me. The fog on the water was dense but broke apart to reveal a choppy surface. Soft, pale lights began to penetrate the weakened fog in the distance. I changed my direction slightly and began to swim towards them. A three-quarters moon illuminated the surface, casting an incandescent glow on the breaks in the water. I took a glance back at the Karmanos, now 100 yards behind us. She had sunk, her 26-foot frame sticking partially out of the water at an angle. The engines had buried themselves in the thick, sandy bottom. At least she would be easy to locate in the morning. A distant rumble of thunder echoed far away. I could see the rim of Blackwater Cove on the other side of the peninsula as we approached the beach.

“I think Greg will fire your ass tomorrow,” Jeffrey called out.

“Why you say that?”

“You actually did sink a boat. You’re officially worse than Shawn.” We both let out a soft laugh, but Jeffrey’s was more labored than mine. He was tired. I turned my attention to the beach.

“I think we are at Rolling View. I can see the parking lot lamps from here,” I said to Jeffrey. He didn’t answer. I turned back to check on him. He huffed and breathed shallowly as he struggled to pull himself along at my pace.

“You okay,” I asked. He grunted but didn’t immediately speak. After several long minutes, he replied. “What hit us?”

That was truly a strange way to phrase the question. I assumed we had hit something. A tree. A stump. But I hadn’t considered it the other way around. I continued my breaststroke until my nearly six-foot frame found squishy, sandy purchase. I realized I had lost a shoe. “Jeffrey, I can touch bottom. We are almost there!” Jeffrey was still thirty feet behind me. I could barely see him as he trudged closer to the place where I first found my footing. I made my way into knee deep water and waited for him to close the distance in case he needed help. He approached up to chest deep, then waist deep, then stopped.

“Hey, Hey! What the hell?”

“What is it,” I asked.

“There’s something in the water.”

Jeffrey slapped the water with his palms as he momentarily lost balance and then steadied himself. He appeared concerned. No, not concerned. He was scared. He looked to his left, then his right. Jeffrey opened his mouth to speak again but did not get the chance. The water behind him erupted and waves were thrown in all directions. It was as if a bomb had detonated. A shadow of unnatural speed tore through the wall of water and rose behind him three feet over his head. It plunged downward and attached itself to Jeffrey where the neck met the left shoulder. The darkness enveloped nearly all his chest.

His eyes bulged from his head. A gurgling choke emanated from deep within his throat as gouts of blood spurted from his mouth. His arms were frozen, one hand reaching out to me. It trembled. the other hand grasped at the insidious thing which had latched itself onto his body. The black skin was slick and reflected the moonlight with an oily sheen. I was frozen. Fear and horror overwhelmed me. My mind could not comprehend what I saw. Four nightmarish eyes, orange and reflective in the dark, opened. The eye lids opened at a strange angle. A thick black slit cut through each pupil. They revealed eyes not like a human eye. These were the eyes of something soulless and uncaring. A predator.

They seemed to stare directly into me, two sets on each side of what I could now make out as long, sturdy head. The place where the nostrils would be bore only a rounded snout. A hideous jawline distended from the skull. I could make out pink fleshy gums tightly wrapped around twin rows of dozens of hooked fangs. Blood pumped steadily from the punctures to Jeffrey’s neck and shoulder. Thick lines of crimson shot across the thing’s head. A small sliver of its back broke the surface as it coiled around Jeffrey at the waist like a serpent. Much of its true size was still somewhere underwater.

There was a sickening snap, and Jeffrey was bent in half. The brutal sound of air being forced out of his lungs resonated as I saw his body fold backwards across the ribcage. One leg flopped uselessly out of the water and bent the wrong way as my friend was ripped off his feet. The lake opened itself and the thing took him, massive ripples disrupting the peaceful surface. An oily pool floated across the top of the water, rocking back and forth from the disturbance. It slowly drifted toward me and left red stains on my shirt. I backpedaled ashore as fast as was humanly possible. I sat on the beach of Rolling View, staring at the calm oasis of water as if for the first time. I sat very still for a long while. I did not move until the light broke the tops of the trees to signal the arrival of dawn.

It took seven hours for someone to find me. It took four days to find Jeffrey’s body. I stood on the bow of the Sheriff’s Office SeaHunter. The sun beat down on me in a relentless wave, but I didn’t care. I adjusted my sunglasses to relieve the pressure the arms put on the 11 stitches in the side of my head. We sat at anchor near the center of Blackwater Cove. Blackwater Cove was some 150 yards wide and so deep the water took on a navy-blue tint. It was the largest alcove on the lake and nestled against the edge of the camping grounds of Rolling View Park. The left side of the crescent moon shaped Cove was the closest to the lake and was a sheer rock wall ten feet high, with a small thatch of grass growing at the top. A few trees dotted the far edge, but many had fallen into the Cove due to storms over the years. It tapered down in height to a small sandbar as it encroached further into the lake until it disappeared underwater. The right side of the Cove adjoined the campgrounds and was separated from campsites thirty-eight, thirty-nine, and forty by massive oak and hickory trees. The campsites sat on a beautiful clearing large enough for multiple RVs if need be. A serene walking path cut through the thatch of forest between the campground and the cove. It led directly to Blackwater Pier. The pier was nothing fancy, but it’s aged wooden planks and thin railing were carefully constructed and held up well against the elements. The pier was nearly seventy-five feet long and sat four feet above the deep blue waters.

I watched as the Sheriff’s deputies onboard the second SeaHunter hauled the twisted and mutilated corpse of my friend from a fallen birch tree wedged against the shore. It was a truly terrible sight. For some reason I could not bear to look away. Jeffrey’s left arm was torn away at the shoulder. His ribs were savagely broken open in a macabre display, revealing the empty cavity where his organs should have been. Due to the massive trauma suffered to the left shoulder, his head was almost completely severed from his body. Only thin strips of skin kept it attached. His spine was no longer attached to the base of his skull. The vertebrae stuck out from his crushed body with tiny pieces of flesh hanging from it like a grotesque flag. Worst of all, Jeffrey’s face was mostly still intact. His lips were peeled back in agony and his eyes sat open, milky white and glazed over with a sickly green hue.

The Sheriff’s Office questioned me thoroughly in the hospital about what had occurred. I was, after all, the only surviving witness. They asked for any clue I could give as to when or where Jeffrey had disappeared following the accident. I did not know how to tell them what I saw without being labeled insane, so I feigned ignorance. They trawled the channel and all the coves south of the wreck of the Karmanos, following each possible course the current could have swept him off to. All of it was in vain. Jeffrey had been dragged far from the beach where we had sought refuge. He was spotted by a local fisherman. The man had come down to the pier and canoe dock with his loyal Jack Russel, Charlie, and was setting up for early morning fishing when he saw Jeffrey’s body. I broke from my trance as the SeaHunter docked and the deputies disembarked. Two men from the Medical Examiner’s Office took Jeffrey away in a black plastic bag on a gurney. In life, he had been a grump, sure. But he was kind in his own way, and always took care of others. Now he sat in something just a step above a garbage bag. Death was so undignified. Ranger Urquhart stepped up beside me and placed his hand on my shoulder.

“You okay?”

“Stupid question, Greg,” I responded.

“I know. But that is what people do when someone dies. They ask questions like ‘are you okay’ and ‘do you need anything?’ People do it all the time, knowing it’s the worst day of someone’s life.”

“He didn’t die. He was killed.”

“The deputies are still going with boating accident,” Greg said. When I didn’t reply, he continued, “Are you sure you don’t remember anything?”

“Head injury. I don’t even remember getting to shore.”

“I understand. I’m putting you on leave for the week. You need to take time off. No rush to come back unless you’re ready.”

Greg drove me back to the park’s main office in silence. I got into my SUV and began to drive home. My mind was filled with images I couldn’t push away. Jeffrey’s face was seared into my mind. I could still see the look of terror in his eyes, frozen in time forever for me to remember. I crossed the Northside Bridge over the lake. It was nearly 700 yards long and offered a breathtaking view of the lake. I saw a bass boat sitting near Blackwater Cove. I stared against the setting sun at it for a few moments, and I could just make out a man sitting in the captain’s chair, rod in hand. It was as if no one had ever died in that exact spot. The world kept on turning without my friend. Further out, I could see The Shallows. A solitary object jutted from the lake. It was the partially submerged Karmanos. My mind raced as I thought about Jeffrey’s last moments. The fear he must have felt. As I continued towards home, I stole one last look at the lake. A single wake rippled in Blackwater Cove, and then I was over the bridge and gone. I stayed at home for 6 days to rest and recuperate.

I picked up my phone Monday morning and rang Ranger Urquhart. “Greg, it’s me. I was thinking I should come back to work. Is that okay?”

“Sure! Come by the ranger station. We can talk. There isn’t anything for me to do in the park until nightfall.”

The park was mostly quiet, probably due to the large law enforcement presence while the deputies finished their investigation. I pulled into the ranger station and parked next to ranger Urquhart’s white Dodge Ram. I stepped inside the rustic style office and took a blast of air conditioning to the face. My skin rose with goose flesh at the temperature change. It may have been 85 degrees Fahrenheit outside at 9:00 AM, but it was a crisp 69 degrees indoors. I could see Greg in his office through the large bay windows of the lobby. He was a tall man, nearly six foot three. His dark brown hair was cut close and he sported a neatly trimmed goatee. His round face was all smiles as he caught me out of the corner of his eye and ushered me in with his booming voice. I stepped into his office, which was decorated with posters depicting local flora, fauna, and an autographed Hurricanes hockey stick. A large hardwood desk sat to one side, with the rear wall completely covered in shelves containing mountains of books. Another smaller bookshelf sat on his desk, containing some of his more frequently referenced texts.

“Superintendent Ranger Urquhart. How does it feel to only answer to the governor now,” I asked as I entered the room. He swiveled around in his chair and balked at the announcement of his title.

“Don’t start with that shit. Good to see you are healing, though. How are you holding up?”

“As well as can be, I guess. I have some questions for you if you have time.”

“Go right ahead. No one is really coming in anyway, not until the Sheriff says the park isn’t a crime scene anymore. That and the fact that it will be 104 degrees Fahrenheit by noon. We have a few campers but that’s it. Whatcha got?” Greg’s eyes beamed at the thought of doing something other than organizing park pamphlets for the thirtieth time this week.

“What do you know of the people who lived here before us? Not the settlers from Europe. The indigenous people, I mean.”

Greg immediately reached for a leatherbound book tucked neatly on his desk shelf. “There were several tribes that lived in this area for thousands of years. Any one you particularly want to know about?”

He leaned back deeply into his plush chair and began to nonchalantly flip through the pages, looking for some chapter he felt would be helpful. I thought carefully for a moment. Greg was trustworthy, a friend. He hired me. Greg had worked with Jeffrey for years. But could I tell him this? Would he think I was crazy? I decided it was worth the chance.

“Any tribe that may have talked about a monster in the old river,” I said in a shaky voice.

Greg’s mouth opened as if he were about to speak, but then he closed it. He opened it again and furrowed his brow. “Not where I thought you were going with this but go on.”

“Is there anything local, Greg? I don’t really know how else to put it.”

“Native people didn’t really talk about monsters. Things were more like spirits or animals from nature. Not big on monsters in those days.”

Greg rotated in his swivel chair and stood, crossing the room to the larger bookshelf. He thumbed through several different ones until he settled on an ancient looking green hardback. It must have been more than a century old. He settled back into his tall backed swivel chair and laid it down before me on the desk. Legendary Spirits and Malformations of the Indian Culture and other Curiosities, Vol. 3: Piedmont Rituals, Legends, and the Like.

“What a title,” I said.

Greg smiled. “Written in 1876. It’s very wordy.”

He flipped to a page already held with a lime green strip of paper. “I marked this for the animal seminar. Elementary school was supposed to come tomorrow. Not happening now, obviously.” He spun the book around and tapped a paragraph towards the middle of the left page. I scanned down and read the passage aloud to no one in particular.

“Curiously, the ancient tribes of the Neusiok river basin described such wondrous creations of the mind which paid visit upon their villages in vivid detail to us. Albino deer herds glistening in moonlight, foxes prattling foreboding messages from the Great Spirit and the queer Inadu Tagaluna scooping up children to drag back to its underwater cave. The Inadu is first described by Explorer Phillip Amadas in 1586 in detail as a water spirit of great evil…”

“The Inadu? Evil water spirit,” I did not like the language at all.

“The Eno people talked about it a little with explorers. Inadu Tugaluna at its root was a Cherokee word. It meant fish snake. Or snake fish, I suppose they were interchangeable. It was a river spirit that ate children who misbehaved near the banks. The Neusiok was renamed the Falls of Neuse River when the English settled. It’s an old legend, and an obscure one at that. Even though this area was a main trade route, the story stayed local.” Greg stared at me. His eyes cut to my left hand, and I realized it was visibly shaking.

“What’s this about?”

“Jeffrey. He didn’t drown. He was killed.”

Greg sat up in his chair. “You said that on the SeaHunter.”

“I didn’t have a concussion. I remember everything. Jeffrey was killed.”

“How was he killed?” Greg’s face took on a hard demeanor.

“He was attacked by something. I don’t know how to describe it other than a thing.” I kept my head down. I didn’t dare make eye contact; I was scared to tell the truth about what I saw.

“SOMETHING? You’re going to have to do better than that,” Greg retorted. He leaned forward and placed his hands together and interlocked his fingers. He stared at me over his glasses, waiting for me to continue.

“A thing. A creature. A water spirit. A monster. I don’t know what it was. It was strong and it was fast. Pitch black with four orange eyes. I think it rammed the Karmanos and sank it. I saw it come out of the water and attack Jeffrey. It practically tore him apart and dragged him away six feet from me.” I felt lightheaded, and I reached for the spare chair across from Greg’s desk. He pushed it out towards me and helped me sit as the weight of what I had said washed over me. “I couldn’t tell the deputies. They would have sent me to Holly Hill in two seconds. I am not crazy.”

Greg took a deep breath. “So, you’re telling me, in a lake frequented by tens of thousands of people every year for the last forty years, there is now all of a sudden a monster in it that’s decided to start eating people.”

“No. I’m telling you there’s a monster in the lake and I think it’s been eating people for a long time. Remember the Jeep we pulled out of the water? The back of it was all mangled and twisted, and the guy inside was torn to shreds. Dozens of people disappear in this lake every year. We always chalk it up to accidents or suicides or boating mishaps. It sounds like it’s been doing this since the indigenous people were here.” I tapped the book between us.

Greg sighed. He rubbed his jawline and chin with a hand as he carefully thought out what he would say next.

“460, 469. Greg, you there? Come in.” A female ranger’s voice broke the silence in the room through Greg’s radio on his belt.

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“Yeah I’m in the office.”

“Need you at campsite 39. Some customers want to talk to the boss.” The radio chirped as the transmission ended.

Greg frowned at the prospect of a camper dispute. “Wanna take a ride?” I got the feeling Greg didn’t want to let me out of his sight. Nodding my head, we got into his truck and we drove deep into the park. The route took us down winding roads through picturesque natural areas. Large picnic and patio tables dotted the shoreline overlooking the lake. As we approached campsite 39, I could see a cluster of people standing on the shore. Greg quickly activated the emergency lights on his truck and a steady blue glow illuminated the trees and surrounding clearing for a moment to get everyone’s attention. I could see four tents set up around the fire pit and plenty of assorted gear. Two people came walking out of the wood line towards the truck. A female deputy and female ranger were in a heated discussion with several campers and when we arrived, they all began to speak at once. A dispute over who occupied the campsite was quickly squashed as Greg played diplomat. The campsites at Blackwater Bay were prime locations for fishing, boating, hiking, and seeing the stars without the hindrance of light pollution.

Once things calmed down, Greg decided to conduct his rounds while the female ranger returned home. The female deputy left as well, speeding off in her white Dodge Charger. We stood near the grassy opening between the campsites and the trees near the walking trails and spoke to a polite gentleman in his early sixties. He told us he was the fisherman on campsite 37 who first saw Jeffrey. He took the short walk over to do a bit of night fishing from the pier. The sun was setting quickly below the trees at this point. The sky blazed with fire in the dying light in a dazzling display of yellow, orange, red, and purple. The man was accompanied by Charlie, his faithful Jack Russell Terrier. Charlie couldn’t have weighed more than ten pounds but stood with his chest puffed out like a dog ten times his size. I bent down and petted the little fellow on his head as they walked to the end of the pier. The man was carrying a small waterproof speaker that blazed with LED lights of green, purple, and pink in tune to the rhythm of the music. It was playing an old song I had heard somewhere before but couldn’t place the title. I could clearly make out the lyrics as they carried across the open air above the water.

“I’ll be sittin’ when the evenin’ comes, watching the ships roll in, then watch ‘em roll away again yeah…”

I remarked to myself how pleasant and calm the tune was. Greg stopped to write a citation to some campers caught with liquor in the park. As he explained the ins and outs of the charge, I became distracted by Charlie. He had run the entire length of the pier and was standing at the very edge by the wooden rails. He was barking over and over. I noticed the old man had left his bucket of bait at the entrance to the pier. He sat his rods and speaker down on a small bench and made his way back for his minnows. Charlie was practically jumping with excitement as he waited for his owner to return. But as I looked, I noticed Charlie wasn’t facing his owner. He was looking at the water below. He bounded up and down and continued to bark while looking straight down. I felt a knot begin to tighten in my stomach. Oh no. Oh dear God no. I began to walk towards the pier over Blackwater Bay.

“I left my home in Georgia, Headed for the Frisco Bay…”

The knot in my stomach tightened as the deep waters came into view. An iridescent orange hue from the dying light stained the surface and made them flash brilliantly as the sun fell below the tree line. There was a ripple at the bottom of the pier, directly below where Charlie was. Concentric circles slowly drifted in unison in all directions, breaking against the tiny legs of the pier. I caught sight of a small pontoon boat as it loitered some fifty yards outside of the Cove. The elderly gentleman retrieved his bucket of minnows and began to sing along with the song as he walked back to his prime fishing spot.

“Hey,” I shouted as loud as I could. “There’s something in the water! It’s at the edge of the pier!”

He turned with a smile plastered on his weathered face. “I certainly hope so!” He tossed up a hand to wave and placed his belongings on the edge near the railing as Charlie’s barking became feverish. “What you see down there, boy? Is it a fishy?”
I screamed to Greg as I began to run to the pier some fifty feet ahead. A family was on that pontoon boat, drifting carefree in the current of the lake. They were completely unaware of what was out there. Greg began to follow me as I broke into full sprint. I felt my heart racing as the knot in my stomach threatened to turn me inside out, squeezing bile into my throat as horrifying memories flashed before my eyes. The man set his hook, completely ignorant to what I was saying. I shouted as loud as I possibly could to get his attention. He leaned over the rail of the pier as Charlie’s barks reached a crescendo. He released the line and dropped a weighted hook down into the rippling murk.

A geyser of water erupted, and the end of the pier shattered. Planks of splintered wood tore through the air and embedded themselves in the bank some seventy feet away. Boards cracked and nails popped for a third of the length of the pier due to the raw power of the impact. A loud, high pitched yelp sounded momentarily but was swiftly silenced. Greg nearly slid to a halt in the grass as a large chunk of wood landed just a few feet in front of him. Amidst the ruined wooden frame, a mass of muscle coiled at the end of what remained of the pier in the dying light. A monstrous serpentine creature at least twenty feet in length with jet-black oily skin sat before us. Twin pairs of orange eyes were fixed and stared us down. I could see small pieces of skin flittering on each side of the head, denoting the location of gill slits. A small row of bony spines connected by a thin membrane ran from the base of the skull down the length of the heavily muscled body to form a kind of sail or fin. A large bristling caudal fin in the shape of a leaf waved back and forth. It sat at the end of a disgustingly powerful tail. The speaker had been launched into Blackwater Cove and bobbed up and down, igniting a strange pink glow in the water as it continued to blare music.

“Oh my God,” Greg whispered.

The creature gained its bearings and set its sight on the old man, who was face down and semiconscious on the pier a mere five feet from it. Lying between them sat the shattered remains of Charlie. He had been pulverized upon impact when the pier was destroyed. As the old man let out a soft moan of pain, the beast indiscriminately flicked Charlie’s crushed body off the broken planks and into the lake with its tail. With a clear path, it moved in for its meal. It attacked with a strike like a rattlesnake and bit down on his left thigh. The poor man let out a wailful scream. The horrifying jaws clenched until the needlelike fangs sank through the muscle to bone and out the other side. The fisherman’s leg snapped in the creature’s mouth. Greg stepped in front of me onto the damaged pier. He drew his sidearm and took aim.

The creature lifted the man off the pier six feet in the air and shook him violently from side to side as a dog shakes its favorite toy. He screamed for help momentarily until my ears were filled with a disturbing popping sound. It was the sound of the fisherman’s joints dislocating from sheer physical force. The creature ceased and let him hang limply from its mouth. The fisherman’s arms dangled at awkward angles and his right leg hung over his torso, dislocated at the hip. He let out a soft sigh as air escaped his lungs from agonal breathing. The horrifying behemoth in front of us hoisted the fisherman in the air and slammed him down three times against the pier. Each blow was delivered with such savage ferocity that his bones broke and it snapped the man’s neck. Broken splinters of wood embedded themselves in his torso with each strike and skewered his torso. Massive streams of blood poured from his mangled body and fell through the pier planks to the water below. Greg fired several rounds from his Glock, but I could not tell if they found their target. The monstrosity unleashed its coiled frame and dragged his prey down into the dark below. My heart pounded in my ears. Greg sat like a statue in utter shock. I fell to my knees in the grass and vomited. As I gagged on my own stomach acid, I could still hear a pleasant melody drifting across Blackwater Cove.

“I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay, wastin’ time…”

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am Randi Ayala with CBS 17 News. I am reporting live from the banks of Rolling View park in Durham. An incredible scene just behind me as law enforcement presence and park officials have blocked the entrance to Rolling view since 8:45 PM last night. An accident at Blackwater Cove claimed the lives of a fisherman and his dog. We have been told by visitors leaving the park that Blackwater Pier, a signature landmark of the area has collapsed into the lake. No word yet on if these two incidents are related…”

Greg made the decision to close the park down that evening. Campers currently staying were given refunds and when the last patron left, we closed the large steel gates at each entrance. A rumor began to spread that the fisherman had been killed in an animal attack, but no one would comment on such rumors. The remnants of the pier were cordoned off as a crime scene. Several fishermen spread stories at the Marina of seeing a dark shape in Blackwater Cove, and a blurry, shaky photo from an old phone showed a black object cutting across the surface. The next day, I patrolled the park as usual to make sure no one wandered in through the hiking trails. I finished my last round and made my way back to the ranger station to waste the last bit of my shift.

I sat in one of the plush office chairs in the conference room and scrolled on my phone. It was nearly 8:00 PM, and my shifted ended in one hour. I was about to play a game when I received a text from a friend from college. He told me there was someone live streaming from the park and forwarded me the link. A live video was playing with 17 people viewing. The numbers changed every few seconds, rising and falling as emojis floated across the comments box. I thought I might as well also have a look.

“Nick Darby, PhD. Professor of Zoology and expert in cryptozoology. There is a creature in your lake my good North Carolinians, and I am here to classify it, just for you!” The skinny little man barely filled the seat of the kayak he was balancing on. His oily, slick black hair was thick with product and his face was coated in a layer of sweat as he baked in the southern summer heat without sunscreen. He spilled a bit of coffee onto his orange Hawaiian shirt as he rambled into a camera mounted onto the end of his kayak. His page link indicated he was indeed a professor of zoology, though he seemed to have dedicated more time towards the hunt for mythical creatures than real ones over the years.

“I have studied this lake for literally days and recorded as many firsthand accounts as I have been allowed. I and I alone have determined our newest cryptid is indeed an offshoot of the anguillidae species spread throughout the world. Yes. You heard it here first! The Beast of Blackwater Cove is a heretofore unknown and undiscovered species of gigantic carnivorous eel! And I, Dr. Nicholas J. Darby, am here to find it, classify it, and scientifically name it! I have carefully tracked sonar movements over the last week from every fisherman willing to help and have determined the Beast is patiently waiting for nightfall to leave it’s lair, Blackwater Cove!”
I hadn’t noticed Greg as he walked up behind me to look at my phone. He stared, almost dumfounded. “How long has he been doing this? Why does he talk like that?”

“According to his stream, he’s been live for hours. It looks like he has been setting up cameras all along the Cove. I think he may have put his kayak in at Ledgerock or Woodpecker Point and paddled over.”

The sun was arching downward as the day passed. Dr. Darby did not adjust the camera and he was badly backlit, casting him in almost perpetual shadow as the water around him sat overexposed. The wall of limestone making up the eastern edge of Blackwater Cove was visible in the right corner of the screen, with the open expanse of Falls Lake behind on the left. Darby rattled on about the possible similarities between the aptly named Beast and other proposed cryptid lake monsters throughout the world as he hoisted a large black case into view of the camera.

Darby popped the case open and lifted what appeared to be a cross between a sting ray and a torpedo from the thick foam padding. The drone was black on the sides and white on top, with the words Power Vision painted in lighter grey on the left side. A small camera was mounted directly into the front of the body, with two little lights on each side. Darby fiddled with it for a few moments and the lights activated. He dropped it over the side and picked up a tablet to send the little drone off.

“Due to the unique placement of Blackwater Cove, it is directly adjacent to the channel which used to be the Neuse River, and the sweeping currents turn the waters in the Cove into a murky, swirling abyss. Visibility in the dark below is near zero, so I am sending in my trusty underwater drone to explore this realm for us. Our instruments indicate the bottom is 76.37 feet below us, and the cove is at its deepest point here, on the western side.”

The image flipped suddenly to a light brown, with particulates floating through the water as tiny white flecks. Occasionally, a leaf would float by. After thirty seconds, the water turned to a dark brown, almost black. The bottom came into view, and the little drone righted itself from its nosedive, so it was level again. The current wasn’t as strong at the bottom and allowed for much better visibility. The drone swiveled into a position Darby approved of and shot off.

“I am taking the drone to the western cliff, where I have determined there to be an anomaly in the current,” Darby said via voice over.
The western face of the Cove came into view. I inhaled slightly as I heard Greg swear under his breath. It was a graveyard. Bones littered the floor of the Cove by the thousand. Deer skulls stared at us with empty eye sockets. the drone slowly swept the area with its tiny lights. Human waste such as beer bottles and soda cans stuck out from the sand and mud like little headstones. As it approached the western wall, a darkness deeper than the water itself took form. A void.

“Oh my goodness,” Darby exclaimed. “The lair! What a find!”

The cave was roughly semicircular in shape, slightly tilted to the right, and maybe twelve feet high. A skeletal human hand stuck out of the mud as if beckoning the drone to turn back. That’s when I saw it. My heart skipped a beat, I could feel it. Fear wrapped itself around my chest. The soft orange glow from the four eyes pierced the darkness like twinkling stars. The blackness in the mouth of the cave seems to manifest and writhe to life as the Beast detected the drone as an intruder. The screen was filled with a burst of bubbles and disturbed soot before cutting out. After staring at a blank screen for a few seconds, the camera feed cut back to Mr. Darby, staring dumbfounded into the lens.

“We um, seem to have—”

Darby’s sentence was cut short when everything turned upside down. I watched on in a mixture of fascination and shock as the kayak was launched five feet into the air. The red plastic flexed under the impact and cracked. The blunt, thick head of the Beast of Blackwater Cove climbed into view. The powerfully muscled body pushed itself out of the water in an up and down motion. The kayak slammed back down and rolled upside down with Darby still buckled in. It rolled ride side up and Darby gasped for air as water spewed from his mouth. The Beast’s back came into view as it rammed the side and flipped the kayak back over again. The waterproof camera Darby had been using was jostled at an odd angle and now showed him from mid torso up as he struggled to unhook himself from the safety harness which connected him to the kayak. The camera otherwise continued to film the murky abyss.

A growing shadow from below signaled its arrival. The Beast slowly, almost elegantly, slid into view. Its four orange eyes had an animalistic glow from reflected light in the darkness and its mouth hung open slightly as if it wanted to taste the water. Darby ceased his struggle momentarily as the monstrous face eased up towards his. They stared at each other, eye to eye for just a moment to stare in disbelief. The Beast wasn’t coiled up on itself and let its body hang in the water. I could see just how massive it really was. The tail fin fluttered in the edge of the darkness. The bony spines on its back sail were fully visible. They started at the base of the creature’s skull and ran all the way down to the tail, where it merged with the massive leaf shaped tail fin. The Beast lunged forward and snapped powerful jaws shut around Darby’s entire head and neck. All I could do was watch in horror as the Beast opened its mouth and its gums retreated, revealing hideous rows of needle-like teeth. A red cloud formed and began to float around the screen as blood leaked from the dozens of puncture wounds to Darby’s body.

The Beast revealed itself to be more monstrous than I had imagined. I realized it still maintained its grip on Darby’s head even though its mouth was open. A second set of hideous pharyngeal jaws sat where a tongue should have been. They held fast as their own set of teeth sunk into his face. A muffled cry sounded out and a torrent of bubbles escaped from the Beast’s inner mouth. I thought it might have been from Darby as he futilely screamed underwater. After flexing and unhinging its outer jaw, the Beast slammed it shut on Darby’s head and neck again. It coiled around Darby’s body, which was still out of view because of the camera angle. He twitched and his arms flailed as it began to wrench him back and forth. The violent assault shook him loose of the kayak, and it bent in half roughly down the middle. Red plastic floated by in strips as the camera bobbed up and down. The tail fin flashed into view and slapped the twisted kayak as the Beast retreated. The camera detached and floated into pure darkness, landing lens down in the mud.

Greg shook his head in disgust and stepped out of the room as his mobile phone rang repeatedly. After several minutes of staring at a black screen with the sound of water rushing by the camera, I turned my phone off. Greg re-entered the room shortly thereafter and told me to go home. I had the weekend off and decided I would avert myself from anything to do with the Beast of Blackwater Cove. This proved difficult. While Mr. Darby’s page did not allow for his videos to be shared, rumors began to pop up about a monster being recorded in Falls Lake. Many quickly said it was faked for media attention. It wouldn’t have been the first time Darby faked finding a monster. Several commenters on his page said this was even worse than the time he was trapped in a cabin by the Werewolf in Arkansas. By Sunday evening, the video was ruled a hoax and quickly forgotten about.

I entered the office Monday morning and walked into the conference room. Greg was sipping from a mug of coffee as he stared at his work in front of him. The news played at a low volume on the wall-mounted television. A large map some eight feet wide had been laid out on the oak table in the center of the room. Blackwater Cove was depicted in shades of green and blue on the topographical display. Red pins were placed throughout the map, each showing the last known location of a missing person. The sum totaled 147 in all, going back thirty years.

“I didn’t think our little friend was this active, but it looks like he has been, all this time,” Greg said matter-of-factly. “It obviously hunts regular wildlife. There have been stories about a creature in this river for hundreds of years… and we never noticed it. How is that possible?” He looked up at me, but his body remained hunched over. A heavy weight sat on his shoulders.
“We began mapping the lake,” I said. “The sonar equipment emits a powerful sound wave. I don’t know for sure, but that could be it. It attacked the Karmanos after we pinged all day near the bridge, the Shallows, and Blackwater Cove. Maybe it thought we tried to challenge it in its home. Look what it did to Darby.”

“It has proven to be extremely dangerous. Darby’s body has not been found yet, but he has been reported missing. I had no choice but to tell the Sheriff what happened. They did not believe me, of course. But in the meantime, I have been forced to close all the parks on the lake down.”

“Are we going to try to kill it, Greg?”

“That does go a bit against our motto of protecting wildlife. It might be a new species. But… most new species we find don’t kill and eat five people, Including our Jeffrey.”

“Five?” Who else had died? I shook my head at the thought.

“Two guys from Nat Geo went missing on Saturday, the day after the attack on the zoologist in the Cove. The Fish and Game guys have done a good job of keeping people out of the parks so far this weekend, but some have snuck in. We haven’t found their bodies yet, but we found a big camera on the shoreline and some gear covered in blood. We looked all weekend but did not find any other trace. I assume they are dead at this point,” Greg tapped a red pin on the map. He marked two more spots after double checking his phone for the correct positions.

“They had a few documents in their gear which may have been given to them by Darby or Darby’s assistant. Could have been a tip for some show they wanted to make.”

“Sucks to suck, I guess.”

Greg arched an eyebrow at the expression, and I left the office.

We conducted some rounds and it was business as usual that day at work. No one came in or out, and I got to enjoy a morning of relative quiet. I dared not go near the water, though. I ate lunch in the office and spent the afternoon walking a trail. That evening, I headed back into the office. I met with Greg in the parking lot. I was about to suggest dinner when Greg’s radio came to life.
“Ranger Urquhart,” the radio squawked from Greg’s belt.

“Go ahead,” he answered.

“Sir, this is deputy Jones with the Sheriff’s Office. Four boats just put in at Ledge Rock Boat Ramp. They are headed for Blackwater Cove. Sir, Hoyt Grayson is on one of them.”

“Damn it. Okay. We can meet you at the marina. Mind if we catch a ride on your SeaHunter? Our boat is still out of commission.”

“Hoyt Grayson? That stupid monster hunter from TV” I exclaimed. “He’s going to get himself killed.”

“Guess we get out there and stop him. I need a vacation.”

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Hoyt Grayson, the intrepid host of A&E’s In Search of Monsters, had never actually found anything larger than a catfish in 88 episodes, but he played the part well enough for the cameras to keep the show running. His eccentric attitude and pseudoscientific mumbo jumbo fit in well with the late-night stories about aliens and the ghosts. We left the office as Greg made the necessary phone calls to get manpower on the water. The Sheriff’s Office deployed both SeaHunters, each manned with five deputies from the Marine Unit. We left the Marina at 7:00 PM. Greg and I were on board one of the SeaHunters. I found myself suddenly uncomfortable being back on board a boat, knowing what lurked below us. The SeaHunter cut through the water with ease as we passed through The Shallows. We passed the wreck of the Karmanos, and my uneasiness grew. Both boats made their way towards Blackwater Cove.

As we made our approach, I scanned the surface with my binoculars. I could make out four boats near the mouth of the Cove, spread out at equidistant intervals. Three boats were roughly twenty-five feet in length, but one was much larger than the others. They all were stark white with “ISOM” painted on the hull for In Search of Monsters. The A&E logo was stitched into a flag which fluttered of the end of each boat. A tall, tanned man in a sleeveless khaki button-down shirt, khaki shorts and a large cowboy hat was standing on the bow of the largest boat, labeled ISOM One. He was talking animatedly to a camera crew as they filmed his every word.
“Hoyt Grayson. Look at this jackass,” Greg muttered.

We watched as the crews of the other boats began prepping massive nets, which they stretched out onto small cranes on the deck of each boat and attached weights to their undersides. The men hooked the nets to lines to cover as much of the mouth as possible. They were then raised up out of the water and bundled up, weights hanging just at the edge of the surface to deploy. We moved the SeaHunters nearby, then stopped.

“Hoyt Grayson, this is the North Carolina Park Service. I am Ranger Greg Urquhart, assisted by members of the Wake County Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit. You are currently trespassing in a restricted waterway,” Greg spoke calmly and evenly through the loudspeaker on the SeaHunter.

Hoyt turned to us, his face displaying mild annoyance. The cameras continued to film him.

“Ahoy. I’m Hoyt, this is my team for In Search of Monsters. Now that we are done with pleasantries, you can kindly fuck off now. I have a monster to catch!” He turned, looked back at Greg, and gave a curt “Thank you.” He then went back to the camera. Greg’s face showed more than mild annoyance. The vein in his forehead started to bulge.

“Alright. We tried nice. Deputy bring us alongside him, please. Someone needs to go to jail.”

I glanced at the furthest boat, ISOM Four, which was hovering near the far wall of the Cove. It was the spot just above the cave. A crewman threw an object over the side, then another. A soft thump echoed from somewhere below. Then, the water seemed to vibrate slightly. The deputies glanced around at each other in confusion.

“Hoyt, what the hell are you doing,” Greg demanded an answer as he tossed a line to a concerned crew member.

“Just a little firecracker in the water to wake sleeping beauty up. This is going to be my highest rated episode ever!”

The radio on the SeaHunter burst to life. “Sonar contact, Cove side. Depth is seventy-five feet, distance, one hundred feet out from our position and rising, sir. I think it knows we are here.”

The ISOM crew member tied the rope to connect the two boats. After a minute of silence, Greg picked up the microphone to radio the other SeaHunter.

“Give us updates, please.”

“Speed is two knots. It’s closing in on us slowly,” the deputy said.

I felt a surge of adrenaline as I pictured the Beast sizing us up from below. I could imagine those four menacing orange eyes burrowing into mine. Fight or flight response kicked in and my legs felt jittery. Would it attack us instead of trying to escape? There were six boats in total here. It couldn’t possibly try to challenge all of us… could it? Lights on board the boats activated, and cameras and boom mics were put into position with the assistance of the last rays of daylight.

“Seventy feet out and closing. It’s rising, again as well, sir. Fifty feet. Now forty-five feet. Still closing, sir.” There was a painfully long silence. It couldn’t have been more than a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity.

“It is forty feet off the front of ISOM One, sir. Depth is fifteen feet. Still rising. It stopped sir. Depth is nine feet. Distance, twenty feet from ISOM One.” The group held a collective breath. But nothing happened. The Beast did not surface. Complete darkness settled upon us, save for the powerful flood lights.

“Come on you bastard,” Greg swore softly as he gripped a shotgun.

“Kill the lights,” I said suddenly. “It’s a marine predator that lives in the dark. It hunts primarily at night. The lights are keeping it down.”

Greg hoisted the radio to his mouth, “shut down the spotlights. Burn the scene lights. All other lights off.”

A moment, then the ISOM boats shut down all their lights. The crews of the SeaHunters activated their scene lights, bathing the area in soft LED white and casting an eerie glow on the surface. The lights illuminated only a fraction of the dark water which surrounded us.

“It’s rising, sir. Five feet to breach.”

Ripples appeared on the surface of the water. The crew cheered as a dark, elongated object pierced the inky depths. One pair of orange glowing eyes opened, followed by another. They reflected the scene lights and gave the Beast an otherworldly appearance. It surveyed the boats, unsure of what to make of the array of challengers before it.

“Drop the nets,” Hoyt whispered to his helmsman. “Start closing from the left and we can nab it.” There was a sharp metallic click as the clamps holding the nets in place released their hold, sending the weighted lines dropping just behind the blockade.

“Shit, we lost visual. Sonar, do you have it,” a deputy asked over the radio. I looked back and it was gone. It left no sign that it had ever even been there. It reminded me of when a crocodile retreated underwater.

I stared into the deep and could see it approach like a submarine, four glowing orange orbs penetrating the darkness above it. It accelerated forward and the orange glow went out. A sudden crash rocked ISOM One as the crew were thrown sideways. There was a screeching of metal and the hull gave way. Hoyt’s eyes widened and he realized his boat was sinking rapidly. The impact knocked ISOM One away from us and pulled the tie line taut. A deputy hit the line with an axe, and we began to drift away. We scrambled to restart the engines of the SeaHunter to get underway. A scream brought everyone’s movement to a halt. I turned to my right and saw the Beast had jumped clear out of the water and landed on the deck of ISOM Four, which had been dropping depth charges on its home.

The weight of the Beast caused the ISOM to lean and it mercilessly mauled a crew member, ripping his right arm off at the elbow in one bite before smacking him off the side of the boat with its powerful tail fin. It then lashed out, snapping another crew man up in its mouth. It slammed him against the soft top roof over the center console and caved it in. He shattered the windscreen and gouts of red sprayed across the pure white decking. The man let out a scream and was tossed into the lake. A third crew man grabbed a magnesium flare and lit it, casting a bright crimson hue over the scene. The creature appeared to be momentarily blinded and recoiled from the brilliant flame. It closed its eyes and blindly dove back into the water, smashing the Honda engine off the back of the boat. Gas began to pour from severed lines onto the deck. The sudden shift in weight caused the ISOM to rise suddenly and the crew member stumbled and fell over.

A brilliant orange fireball erupted from the deck of ISOM Four as the entire boat exploded. Screams pierced the quiet as a man began to drown in the water, his arms and head on fire. He suddenly jerked to the left and was dragged rapidly towards the next ISOM boat by an unseen force from below the surface. He continued to scream until he smacked against the hull of ISOM Three and was pulled under. Debris had begun to rain down from the disintegrated ISOM and the surface of Blackwater Cove was ablaze from motor oil and fuel. A large piece of deck from ISOM One landed against the rail of the SeaHunter, tiny flames burning at the end like a torch.
Hoyt’s crew continued to film as we moved the second SeaHunter in to look for survivors. Onboard ISOM Two, the crew was trying to salvage the net for another attempt at capturing the Beast. ISOM One, fatally wounded and drifting, lazily floated out of the Cove, losing its battle with gravity as it took on more and more water. The soft canopy over the cockpit was on fire, and embers floated off to meet the stars against the dark backdrop of Falls Lake. ISOM Two and Three remained afloat, with Hoyt finding safety as the crew transferred to ISOM Two. He practically bellowed into the microphone, trying to describe what had happened for future viewers.
The inferno continued to burn on the surface, and I could just make out the long, webbed dorsal fin and bony spines on the back of the Beast as it accelerated towards Hoyt’s position. It rammed the ISOM at the bow. Already dangerously close to the western wall of the Cove, it made impact with the limestone and the grating sound of rock against metal reverberated across the water. ISOM Three abandoned its net and fired up its engines. It turned and made its way out of Blackwater Cove with all haste. Hoyt, his boom mic operator, and his camera man climbed off ISOM Two as it began to list to port. They found purchase on the sheer stone of the western edge of the Cove and slowly made their way to safety.

The Beast broke the surface, streaking towards the stricken vessel in an up and down motion as he gained speed. I watched as it elevated out of the water with amazing power and speed. It bit down on the left leg of Hoyt Grayson and he tried to scale the side of the Cove and snatched him into its mouth. The cameraman steadied himself and found solid footing, then focused the camera as the Beast pulled him underwater. A few bubbles broke the surface, then Hoyt’s head rose above it. His eyes were filled with terror as he continued to rise out of the water. Thick frothy blood was falling from his open mouth in chunks. The Beast had now latched onto him around the waist and hoisted him skyward. His mangled left leg spewed blood and his femur stuck through the skin. The needlelike teeth had punctured his chest cavity and skewered his lungs. The Beast shook him from side to side and the inner mouth bit down on his spine, nearly ripping it from his back. The crunch as his ribcage collapsed was like a gunshot. The Beast fell backward, and Hoyt disappeared.

“We need to move,” the deputy driving the SeaHunter said.

The SeaHunter’s engine began to hum as the deputy turned us broadside against the wall of the Cove. We made our way to the camera crew and assisted the lighting man and boom mic operator aboard. The cameraman tried to hand the deputy his camera and cited the importance of the footage. A cacophony of screams caused the cameraman to drop the camera. It cracked open against the limestone wall and fell into the lake. I saw that ISOM Three had nearly escaped the Cove. It was rocking back and forth but it was too dark at that distance to see what was happening. One by one, the screams died out until silence once more filled the night. The only sound I could hear was the burning of the oil on the lake. The ISOM continued silently into the darkness as a huge splash disturbed the water near it.

“Get us the hell out of here,” Greg bellowed into the radio.

The SeaHunter turned and accelerated to the mouth of the Cove. The other SeaHunter joined us and we powered towards the lake. The Beast lashed out from the water and ran headlong into the side of the boat near the engine. The force of the impact bent the side railing in nearly two feet. It shook its head and sank back into the dark waters as everyone stumbled to find footing. The engine sputtered and we lost speed immediately. We watched as the second SeaHunter sped forward to loop back around.

“SeaHunter Two, we are losing power. We need you to take on all crew and continue to evacuate the area,” the deputy at the helm said.
Another impact rocked the SeaHunter as the Beast rammed us again. It jumped out of the water and landed with a wet, repulsive splat on the deck, its oily skin reflecting the glowing flames around us. It extended its serpentine body up, rising nine feet above the deck and looked down upon us. Its massive tail fin backhanded the engine of the SeaHunter and it bent in the frame, rendering the boat powerless. Greg leveled his shotgun, but the Beast’s coiling body slammed him against the side of the boat. The shotgun fell overboard into the Cove. The four glowing eyes locked on me. The jawline flexed and the pink gums became visible. I snatched up the four-foot piece of decking lying against the rail. The fire had burned out, but it was my only protection.

It struck me so fast I could barely react. I involuntarily snapped my eyes shut and raised the piece of deck like a shield. Searing pain ripped through my right arm and I was thrown backward into the windshield of the SeaHunter. I gasped as the air was forced out of my lungs by the impact. The deck plank had blocked most of the teeth, forcing the Beast’s mouth open and not allowing it to clamp down on my body. It was barely a foot away from my face, and I stared right down its open mouth into its throat. The massive jaws gaped open but were stopped from crushing me by the decking. It was wedged in the mouth of the Beast and had stabbed its lower jaw in the soft tissues. The fangs wrapped around the board, and my right forearm was pierced by seven of them. They penetrated on the outside of my forearm and went straight through the other side. I could feel them press against my radius. I wanted to scream in pain but could not get enough breath in me to do so. The Beast had me pinned against the smashed windscreen. A vast spiderweb of cracks formed as the glass gave way to the pressure being applied. My entire right arm went numb and I could see an irregular lump jutting through my shirt where my collarbone should have been.

I felt sick to my stomach as the stench of the Beast’s gullet wafted out and burned my nostrils with the odor. My tunnel vision broke as a deputy came from seemingly out of nowhere and slammed an axe down on the side of the Beast’s head. He struck it again and again. The fangs buried into my arm snapped and I was suddenly free of its grasp. Greg opened fire with his sidearm, emptying the magazine into the right flank of the Beast. It forced air from its gills, causing them to flutter and create the sound of a menacing hiss. Its mouth now free of the board, it turned towards its latest attacker as Greg reloaded and fired again, aiming this time for the head. Rounds struck the skull of the Beast but didn’t seem to cause fatal injury.

Greg was out of ammunition, but the other SeaHunter was swiftly approaching. Two deputies onboard readied Remington 870 shotguns and took aim. Blood was pouring in a steady stream from my forearm. I couldn’t catch my breath, and I felt like I was about to lose consciousness. The Beast cast its gaze upon me, orange eyes mirroring the flames around us. Blood oozed from a brutal cut on the right side of its head and another near its gills. The left side of its mouth was split open where the axe had struck it in the jaw. Several bullet holes were visible along the side of its body. A shotgun blast rang out, and I collapsed to the deck of the SeaHunter. As the world around me faded to black, I saw the massive tail fin flutter off the deck over the side railing. I vaguely remember hearing a splash before I was swallowed by darkness.

“Can’t make it up,” a voice said matter-of-factly.

I opened my eyes for the first time in two days. A massive headache immediately welcomed me to reality. A numbness had settled over my entire body, but I could feel a dull ache in my arm and chest. I glanced over to see Greg sitting in the chair next to my bed, reading the News and Observer.

“Your parents just left to go get lunch. I told them I would sit with you in case you woke up.”

“What, what happened? Why am I in so much pain,” I weakly asked.

“Four broken ribs, broken forearm, broken clavicle, dislocated right shoulder, and some nasty puncture wounds. Should make for some cool scars. Also, you are the only person I know that can break and dislocate their shoulder at the same time. Just pick one.”

“The Beast?”

Greg paused. “We don’t know. It was wounded when it decided to make a run for it. But I don’t know it was enough to kill it. The Lake has been closed until further notice to all visitors, effective immediately. Campgrounds, boat launches, hiking trails, all of it. I took a deep breath, feeling a wave of narcotic induced nausea sweep over me.

“It’s still out there.”

“Afraid so. A lot of people are dead. Some folks high up the food chain want to turn it into a publicity stunt. Our own Loch Ness Monster. But others just want to cover it up and be done with it. There’s a plan for that, for better or worse. Someone very high up doesn’t want the public to know about this.” Greg sighed deeply and leaned back in his chair.

A small container was on a table on the left side of my bed. I stared at it for a moment, and realized it was a plastic jar containing the seven teeth pulled out of my arm, each over six inches long. I glanced up at the television through the mental haze. I used the tiny white controller next to my left hand to turn the volume up to an audible level. A nurse walked in to check and record my vitals. A young woman spoke into the camera from the local CBS 17 news desk.

“…Meanwhile, Mark Calloway, president of Duke Energy, touted the decision to close Falls Lake to all visitors effective immediately as a necessary act. We have been told by a government official speaking on condition of anonymity that Falls Lake will continue to operate under the Department of Natural Resources as a quarantine zone until further notice. Scientists from several prominent watchdog groups have petitioned to establish research sites near the lake. The 50,000 metric tons of coal ash dumped into the drinking water of 2.5 million people is already being called the worst natural disaster in the company’s history. The decision comes just days after authorities confirmed toxic gases from the accident killed all seventeen crew members of a documentary program filming around the lake…”

Credit : t4bullock

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