It was nothing new. Just a normal trip to the lake. My friends and I had gone to lake Thunderbird many times on weekends, it was our favorite retreat from college and family and everything else that stressed us. I was 19 at the time, fresh into college and fresh out of a bad place; so happy to be free. But this trip was different. The moment we stepped out of Leanna’s jeep I felt it, a wisp of darkness curling around us even though it was midday and the sun was in full view. The feeling stuck as we moved our blankets and toiletries and such into Livia’s father’s tiny cabin 20 feet from the water.
As the day progressed, we ended up sitting on towels near the water’s edge, watching the small waves lap at our toes while the sun set over the nearby forest. I can’t remember hearing them talk, even though I saw their mouths move and their chests shake with laughter. I can only remember staring out on to the water and seeing two little yellow dots just above the ripples. Only a stick until it blinked and rose just enough to reveal a nose. My breath hitched and stuck in my throat, a sinister cold spreading through my entire body, starting in my toes and climbing.
Then there were fingers snapping in my face and Leanna shaking my shoulder gently. “You ok? You zoned out for a second.” I looked back at the water, but there was nothing other than the small waves.
“Yeah. I’m fine. Just got distracted is all,” I whispered, trying to shake the chill off of my spine. I did my best to wipe away the image of whatever the hell it was in the lake as we waded into the water, soon reaching the point where we could no longer touch. We floated on our backs for a while, enjoying the call of the early cicadas. And when the last rays of sunset disappeared behind my closed eyes I opened them and looked to the shore. My friends had already swum back, now beckoning me to swim in. But as I paddled towards the bank, I felt a tug. Starting at my ankle and traveling up my calf, a cold force began to pull me under. I panicked, kicking and yelling as I tried to keep my head above the water.
Then I was under, cold water filling my lungs and stinging my eyes as I was dragged deeper and deeper, my ears popping. Just when black dots began to coat the edges of my vision I stopped my descent. I tried to swim back up, but the water wouldn’t let me rise, keeping my feet stuck in the lake bed’s deep clay mud. Silence. Then came the whispers; light little wisps that I couldn’t understand hitting my ears and then disappearing. I could feel my lungs straining when a shadow began to arise, encasing me in even more inky darkness, cutting out any slivers of light.
“Hello little one,” a rasp of a voice echoed around me, making me swivel my head around only to find the dark. “Do not struggle. Do you not want to stay?”
I opened my mouth to tell it to let me go but gritty lake water filled my mouth and I gagged. The voice continued, “Here there is peace. Silence. Is that not what you want?” I simply shook my head. And as if it read my mind it spoke again. “I am the collector of innocent. The beaten and the broken. The children who have been hurt and defiled and unloved. And in you, I sense many broken pieces child. I can give you the silence you want. Let me give you peace. Let the lake take you. You won’t be alone.” And then children began to emerge from the ink, going from two to a hundred in a matter of seconds. As I scanned the faces I recognized some, printed around rangers stations as missing persons. This wasn’t a haven. It was a graveyard.
“Let us give you peace. Let me take you.” I looked at the children that surrounded me and then to the two yellow eyes that burned inside of the ink and shook my head as my lungs continued to tighten. “Very well then.”
And with that, the darkness evaporated and the children disappeared.
I fought my way to the surface, choking and sputtering as I broke the water to gulp air into my lungs. I tread water for a minute staring at the pure full moon and the billions of stars above me. And then there was a light in my eyes and someone yelling my name. It was my friends in a small motorboat with another man. I read “PARK RANGERS” on the boat’s side. They came back. They pulled me out of the lake, rubbing my back as I coughed up water.
“Where have you been? You were gone forever.” I stared at them. “What? I was gone for like five minutes.” They looked to each other, and then at the ranger. “You’ve been gone for three hours…. We thought you were dead.” I looked at them wide-eyed. That wasn’t possible.
Then looked down at the water and saw a pair of yellow eyes slowly sink into the muddy lake until they disappeared.
Credit: H.M. Brooks
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