Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
“In local news: Blackwater Lake, a long-time staple of Blackwater, Florida has been bought by Amos Entertainment Company. The company recently came forward, citing that they intend to drain the lake to make way for the development of an addition to their new chain of movie theaters. Although wildlife enthusiasts lobby for the preservation of the lake, local officials voted for the drainin—”
“It’s about damned time!” Mac Harris said. His eyes, along with most of the patrons of O’Brian’s pub, were focused on the flat screen hanging over the bar. The reporter (‘a pretty blonde thing,’ Mac’s wife often said with no shortage of contempt) faded into the background as the pub turned their attention to the old man. “Good riddance. That lake has been nothing but problems.”
The pub buzzed with murmurs—some nodding in agreement, some skeptical. The only exception was Harry Tomlin. Shadows played across his wrinkled face as he hunkered over his beer glass. The only sign that showed he was paying attention—that is if he was paying any attention—was the subtle twitch of his mouth beneath his unkempt mustache.
“Oh, get off it,” Tim O’Brian (the very Tim O’Brian of O’Brian’s pub) replied. Tim was probably in his mid-thirties Mac guessed by the man’s deep laugh lines and thinning hair. A far cry from O’Brian senior, but that’s what happens when you leave town and go to the community college in Ocala, Mac supposed. They fill your head with so much useful drivel that you can’t use common sense anymore.
“There is nothing wrong with that lake. Just a bunch of wive’s tales. I’ve been out there plenty of times.”
“Nothing wrong with that lake, he says,” Mac scoffed. “Laugh all you want, but for all that learnin’ you got, you ain’t got a lick of sense. You forget the old legend of Thomas Dunn!”
“Here we go,” Tim muttered, shaking his head.
“Back in 1752, way back before this town existed, Dunn set up shop by Blackwater Lake. Moved here with his two girls and wife. He was out there for only a few months before all contact was lost. When they found him, they caught him as he was dragging off one of his daughters into the lake. Turned out he had already drowned his wife and the other girl out there, saying the lake itself was telling him to do it.”
“I heard that story too,” Tim replied. “Usually as a boy around a campfire—”
“Sharks live out in that there water!” Dick, the proprietor of the local fish and tackle shop, said. The pub patrons turned to the man, some looking at him incredulity while the other half listened with wide-eyed amusement.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Tim replied, rolling his eyes. “Maybe you should stop drinking for tonight.”
“Don’t patronize me, boy!” Dick snapped, the lines on his broad face deepening. “It was about ten years ago now. Me and my boy, David, liked to take the boat and go fishing out there. Not anything big biting but it’s a nice way to spend a lazy afternoon.
‘It was a lazy day like that last day we were out there. It was rearing the end of spring, about the beginning of April. I remember because I remember the heat that day. Hot enough to cook eggs on the sidewalk, I tell ya.
‘Anyways, we’re out there in the middle of the lake. It’s about black as sin in that part—the deepest part. My boy would go out to that spot to fish with me—it’s the spot with the best bite—but he’d never swim out in that part. Frankly, I don’t blame him.
‘We’re out there in my two-seater rowboat. It was a fine day and we had our lines out, enjoying the day. I was lounging about while Daniel was on his…Gameguy? Snitch? Damn things are all the same to me.
‘He’s playing on the damned thing when our boat rocks lightly. I yell at him to stop shaking. Said he hadn’t moved an inch. So, I look back into the lake but with the glare of the sun off the water and that darkness, I couldn’t see nothing.
‘As I’m lookin’ in the lake, the boat rocks again. It nearly flips the boat over and David’s yelling. I’m holdin’ onto the sides of the boat so hard my knuckles are turning white. It nearly settles on the surface of the lake when whatever’s been hitting it does it again. Next thing I know, the boat capsizes and we are both thrown into the water.
I couldn’t find my way out. It was just too black. I thought I was going to drown, could feel my lungs about to explode, when I saw the sun. Then, I saw a figure swimming straight toward me. I thought it was David at first, ‘cept it was moving too fast…too unnatural—like it floated more than swam. Then, it came into the light and I nearly drowned right there on the spot.
‘I was face to face with a shark. That narrow face was inches from me and when it opened its mouth, all I saw was teeth. Opening wider and wider until it could have swallowed my head.”
“Whatchu do?” Mike, a youngster about twenty-two, asked, leaning in.
“I did the first thing I could think of,” Dick replied. “I swung. I swung as hard I could. With the water, it felt like my fist was going slower than a snail. I was lucky my arm didn’t go straight into its mouth. Instead, I hit it right on the snout.
‘It swam off. I found my boy and got the Hell out of there. Didn’t even bother getting my boat back. It’s probably still floating out there somewhere.”
A moment of silence befell the room. It was only broken by Tim’s laughter.
“You can’t be serious,” the young bartender spat back. “Sharks in a freshwater lake? Give me a break.”
“It’s true,” Harry replied. His voice was hardly above a whisper, but the whole pub seemed to have heard it. In an instant, the chatter died. Many patrons bowed their blushing heads at the realization that Harry had been amongst them during the conversation. Most others (like Mac) kept their heads up, hiding their embarrassment through their own stoutness. As to the younger patrons like Tim, they turned their confused or curious faces toward the man in the back of the pub. Whatever the patrons’ reactions to the man, Harry didn’t seem to notice as he remained with his head down.
Several seconds passed and yet no one dared speak. His gray eyes surveyed the pub under two bushy eyebrows before finding Tim leaning forward on the counter.
“It’s true,” Harry repeated, this time his voice softer. “Believe me or not. I’m not here to convince you otherwise. I don’t really care. But I will tell you what happened. It’s all any of you want. Been wanting it for years, I guess.”
Harry took a long drag from his beer. In the span of a few seconds, it seemed as though he had aged a decade—his eyes looked more sunken, the creases in his face deeper. There was a faraway look in his eyes, as though he didn’t exist mentally within that moment. Harry Tomlin was in another time and place. Finally, he put down his mug—at least three-quarters of the beer gone—swallowed hard, and began.
“It started back in ’71. Me and the family were one of the first families out there. Lakeview Homes. That’s what they were going to call it. Get a gorgeous home with a lake view! I was working for the company in charge of the development project. I get a nice house with a view, a nice pension, and all I had to do was draw up advertisements for the place. Make sure everything went smoothly.
‘We were barely out there a month before the trouble started. I would be in my den, working on another deadline, when someone would shout somewhere. I thought it was Becky—my wife—or the television. It was always a woman’s voice, you see. Every time I’d go to investigate, I’d never find anything. I’d walk around the house, then head outside until I was left dumbfounded by the edge of the lake. It would be so quiet out there, especially in the evening, you wouldn’t even hear the birds. Not even a goddamn cicada.
‘I could live with that. It was probably something that could be explained. Maybe some animal howling, sounding like a woman. Wind through a crack. Hell, I’d be satisfied with just ghosts. Leave it at that. Except, it wasn’t.
‘Billy…my boy…he started having these…episodes. He’d start sleepwalking a few weeks after we got there. First, it was just around the house. Nothing terrible. But then he started going outside. He’d walk out to the edge of the lake, just standing there. Whenever I went out to shake him awake he’d always ask, “Where did she go?”
‘I’d ask him who he was talking about. He always said the lady in the water.
‘Checked him in with the doctor. Said that he was just a sleepwalker…nothing to worry about.
‘I should have packed us up then. Left that damn place. But no, I didn’t. It was a good job, a good home. I thought it was just some ailment. I thought if we just went and got help…got the proper medication…”
Harry’s voice cracked as they escaped his trembling lips. He bowed his head, his whole body quivering. A wave of guilt rushed over the pub and even Mac found himself shifting uncomfortably in his seat. Within seconds, Harry coughed and raised his head again. The trembling was gone but his eyes were glossy in the dim light.
“It was that night. I woke up to screaming. It sounded far away. At first, I thought I was dreaming. But then I recognized it as Billy’s. Becky was up too by that time—she checked the house and I checked outside. I no more than walk out the front door than see splashing about a quarter of the way into the lake. Billy was out there, thrashing about. Screaming. God…those screams…
‘I dove out there, swimming as quick as I could. I still remember seeing him flailing, just staying over the water’s surface. I had him in my hands…I had him. I was dragging him out and then…”
Harry’s voice trailed off, leaving the pub in silence once again. He sat there for several minutes, staring into his now empty glass.
Mac cleared his throat before rising from his stool, the money for his tab already on the counter, and made for the pub’s exit. Better get home before Maggie starts up, he thought, hiding the jitteriness in his aging limbs. The slamming of the pub’s door seemed to bring Harry to.
“I was dragging Billy out,” he said. “But…there were hands. Coming out of the water. Another person’s hands. They grabbed his shoulders and yanked him down.” Harry’s head bobbed to and fro lightly as he set for several minutes. Everyone waited—for Harry to either fall out of his seat drunk or to continue talking. Harry set his eyes on O’Brian. “Put this on my tab, will you?”
With that, Harry rose from his seat and staggered out into the night. The pub eventually devolved into a low murmur, though the topic of Blackwater Lake was left out of the conversations. Nevertheless, an eerie shadow hung over the pub, even as the last patron left O’Brian’s and Tim closed for the night.
Davis lit a cigarette as he watched the last bit of water flow out of the man-made canal connecting the lake across fifteen miles out to the Gulf of Mexico.
Good riddance, he thought, taking a deep inhale from the Marlboro. Amos had contracted his company from Sarasota. Davis had been in Blackwater for two months and was ready to go back. The weather was still hot as Satan’s left tit and the mosquitos buzzing around made anyone paranoid about Malaria. But, Jesus, the backwater yokels here were enough to drive him crazy. He was lucky that they had a Walmart here. Besides, this place—the lake in particular—gave him the creeps. There was something in the air, the way that there never seemed to be any wildlife or how the wind barely blew. It that made the hairs on his arms stand on end. Like the Earth here was holding its breath.
Davis glanced up, watching orange hues start to tent the once blue sky.
Davis’s body tightened so tightly that his joints creaked. He turned his attention downward to find his crew swarming to the center of the muddy pit. There was something in their movements—something frantic–that made him sit up straighter.
“Shit,” he muttered, pulling himself off the hillside and replacing the cigarette in his pocket. He recognized that scene below, the cry for help. Fuck, I need workman’s comp paperwork like another asshole, he thought, descending into the empty lake. Davis was pushing fifty and was in relatively good shape (ate as healthy as he could in modern-day America and went to the gym at least two days a week) but that didn’t stop his knees from popping. He knew that his legs would be yelling at him by the time he got back to the hotel. Take it easy there, he told himself. Yet, the second chorus of “Help!” forced him to push on.
A figure ran up from the crowd—one of the younger guys he had hired just before this little expedition to central Florida. He thought his name was Gibbins. Sweat ran down Gibbin’s thin face, plastering the bangs of his short brown hair to his forehead. It was the lack of color in his face that made Davis’s heart beat faster.
“Jesus, what is it?” Davis asked. “Who’s hurt.”
Gibbins stood rooted, opening and closing his mouth as he turned from Davis back to the crowd of workers a yard away. Davis had half a mind to slap the young man back to his senses when Gibbin’s finally answered, “It might be better if you come see for yourself.”
Davis grunted and rushed forward. The ground under his boot sucked at the sole of his foot, as though the ground was trying to suck him in. When his step didn’t land just right, the mud underfoot threatened to make him do a split.
“It’s going to be alright,” Davis said, pushing his way through the crowd. “Someone call the 911—”
The words died on his lips as Davis reached the center.
When Davis was a kid, he and his family would go down to Rainbow River. His brother had a nasty habit of yelling gator! Davis would run back to shore, his body struggling against the river before the gator got him. Of course, every time he reached land, his brother would be doubling over in laughter. Davis couldn’t help but fall for it every time. The rational part of his mind knew that it was his brother just being a little shit. Still, that primal part kept replaying the same image—an open maw lined with pointed teeth.
It was that primal urge in the back of his head that told Davis to run.
“What the fuck is that?” he asked breathlessly.
At first glance, he thought it was a seven-foot shark writhing in the mud. Its black eyes stared up at them, its gaping mouth of razor teeth opening and closing as though struggling for breath. Its lean body narrowed toward the midsection, where two arms flailed about with webbed hands raking at the earth. Two mounds protruded from its chest, and it took Davis several seconds to realize they were breasts. The creature’s bottom ended into a fin that struck the damp ground with a wet thump. Bits of white surrounded the creature buried in the mud, littering the ground for feet around them. Bone, Davis thought in horror. Hundreds of buried bones.
The creature’s black eyes locked onto Davis.
It opened its mouth and gave a single utterance—
Credit : Steven Winters
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