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Estimated reading time — 6 minutes
Cryptozoology has always been a minor interest of mine. I say minor because it was something I’d only enjoyed casually: a few internet articles here and there, scrolling through a couple of pages on a Tumblr blog dedicated to it, maybe watching one of those Bigfoot documentaries. You know, that kind of interest. Nothing serious.
Generally, that would be pretty common for most people. Most people, however, do not live in my little town where a supposed cryptid is how many folks here make a living.
See, I live in a small town in the UK, more specifically in the North West of England. It’s a tiny place not many people outside of the country have likely heard of, unless they’ve already been there for whatever reason or have an interest in cryptids. My small town is situated by one of the many lakes that dot this part of the country, and as so many bodies of water do, we have our own Loch Ness Monster.
So many people claim, anyway. I’m sure many of you are skeptical of that as you are of any such monster. Who can blame you? I grew up here and I didn’t buy into that. I found it interesting, but I didn’t believe it. Same as I didn’t believe those people who claim aliens probed their backsides or that Bigfoot had destroyed their camp. It was something to read about and enjoy, but not something I believed.
Most of my generation and that of my parents felt the same, but many of my grandparent’s era clung to the belief in the monster. They stayed away from the lake unless they were in decently-sized boats or one of the many ferries that traveled the length of the lake to nearby settlements.
Not us kids and teens though, especially not in summer. Most of the time, British summers are nothing to brag about: they’re pretty warm, but usually cloudy or wet. Sometimes, however, we were blessed with a heatwave. Nothing was better than a dip in the lake during the heat of the day.
During the school holidays, the older kids would hang out by the lake well into the evening. The worst that ever happened was that someone would get a cramp whilst swimming and we’d have to get them back to shore, or someone would get their foot tangled in some lake weed and freak out until they realized what it actually was.
Nothing sinister, nothing serious. Most certainly, no lake monster.
One particular day during the Easter break – where it was much too cold to spend more than five minutes at a time in the lake – I was spending my time climbing the many tall trees that covered the areas around the lakes. Maybe I was a bit old for tree climbing, most likely, but it had always been something I’d enjoyed doing. Something about climbing as high as I could go and settling down on a sturdy branch, just looking over my surroundings, was something I enjoyed. Most of the time I’d just watch boats going up and down the lake, people going about their business, cars passing down the country roads. Just typical stuff not worthy of merit. But this day in spring was different.
The day itself was like any other; a chilly but sunny day in late March. I’d already taken up my temporary church in an old oak, where I’ stay for an hour or so before going off to meet friends.
From where I was perched I could see two young kids – maybe around eight or nine – playing down by the shore. They weren’t close to the water, just sitting in the grassy area a little ways off the bank. Two girls. I couldn’t really see what they were doing beyond that general observation. This was nothing out of the ordinary.
What was unusual was the large, dapple-grey horse trotting along the shoreline towards them. Horses weren’t exactly an unusual sight themselves out in a rural town. But they were usually in their fields, or accompanied by a rider. There was no one else in sight and this horse had no saddle, bridle, or any other sort of riding gear.
There are no true wild horses in the United Kingdom, and the only semi-wild horses make their home in the New Forest, somewhere right at the other side of the country. That left the option of it having somehow gotten out of its field. For all it seemed weird to me, in hindsight it wasn’t all that unusual. Tourists were always crossing through private land and leaving gates open. Animals were bound to get out on occasion.
The kids took immediate notice of the animal, looking up from their chatter and letting out delighted squeals I could hear even from my spot up in the tree. I watched as they ran up to it, fearless as all children were, oblivious to the fact that if they spooked it, one kick from its front or back legs could shatter their developing bones.
I watched as the pair gleefully pet the animal. The horse itself didn’t seem to mind the attention, which led me to think it was one frequently used for riding, most likely one of the horses rented out to tourists so they could enjoy a ride through the countryside. The horse lowered its head, allowing one of the kids to press a hand to its muzzle. I could hear their delighted laughter as the pair took turns alternating between stroking its flank and head. It was pretty cute, I have to admit. There’s always something magical about an unfamiliar animal being content with your presence.
With how calm this horse seemed to be, I didn’t bat an eye as it lowered itself to the ground. The pair of kids seemed ecstatic about this, climbing onto the animal’s back. Not exactly safe or smart, but kids don’t really think like that, and I’m sure the horse would’ve made it very clear it didn’t want them clambering all over it if it wanted to. It was a pretty damn big horse.
It took me a few moments to realize the children were no longer letting out happy squeals and giggles… they were screaming. I couldn’t understand why at first, but as my vision focused more on the horse I knew.
How I hadn’t noticed the change, I don’t know. But where once it had been dapple-grey, it was now black. The kind of black that seems to absorb all light around it, distorting it. It seemed to be dripping wet. Even from my spot in the tree, I could see the tangled mess of its water-logged mane and tail leaking water onto the ground.
Its eyes were the worst of it. I shouldn’t have been able to see them clearly from such a distance, but even in the dull spring sun, I could see the glowing from those sickening, milky eyes. It threw its head back, rising to its feet with the children still on its back. They were trying to get off, but… but they couldn’t. I don’t know how, and I’m sure they didn’t know how either, but no matter how much they struggled and screamed, they couldn’t get off of that horse. It was like they were super-glued to it.
I couldn’t move from my spot, no matter how much my mind screamed at me to jump down and do something… anything! I’m ashamed to admit fear consumed me. Sweat dripped down my brow as my breathing grew more rapid by the second. My heart was beating so hard and fast that it hurt. I have no proper words to describe the primal terror that gripped me, the same terror I imagine gripped our ancestors when confronted by a giant cave bear or an angry mammoth. Though where their fight or flight instinct would kick in, mine didn’t. I was simply frozen.
Frozen as the beast charged towards the water, screaming children on its back, their cries not silenced until their heads dipped under the water, water that frothed and bubbled as they struggled beneath the surface.
Then nothing. Just an eerie stillness on that spring morning.
Not even the birds sang. I think they knew. Animals just know these things.
I don’t know how long I sat up in that tree just staring out over the water where that horse had vanished into the murk. I don’t know what became of those kids, but I know they were never found and that they never will be. It was written off as accidental drowning. Their parents beat themselves up over it as any parent would. Nothing like this had ever happened before in our little community. Kids who grew up around the lake pretty much knew how to swim by the time they could walk, and they knew to be careful by the water. It didn’t add up, of course, but beyond that, no one could explain it. I think the parents cling to the hope that their children simply ran away or were kidnapped, so that they might one day find them again, and I can’t blame them for that.
I never told anyone what I saw. No one would have believed me anyway, save for a few ancient crones nobody took seriously, who frequently babbled about ghosts and ghouls. It haunts me that I did nothing, that I simply watched as those innocent children were pulled into a watery grave. I never went into the lake after that. To anyone that asked, I simply said that I didn’t like the way the smell of the lake water clung to me.
I didn’t think I’d ever tell this story. But I still live in this town over a decade later, and last night I saw a dapple-grey horse stalking along the lakeside.