He jumps in the lake, even though he can’t swim.
“If you don’t help me, I’m going to drown,” he says, forcing her to follow. She won’t. In truth, she hates swimming.
Of all the lakes in the world, all the ones filled with sparkling waters, sunlight shining through to the base, even the ones barely considered lakes in the first place but are far, far more pleasant than this one, he chooses a mildew-filled lake in the middle of nowhere.
Algae has made her head spin, ever since she was in third grade and a too-excited fish grabbed it out of her hands. All she wanted was to clean the fish tank—she hadn’t wanted to feel the slimy insides of a goldfish’s throat. Definitely hadn’t wanted to freak out and fling the poor creature across the classroom, prompting the laughter of all her peers, starting her reputation as a fish-hating weirdo.
She knows lakes aren’t for swimming. Especially when you can’t swim to begin with.
“I’m not getting in there,” she says, ignoring how his movements are growing frantic, his arms flailing about.
Instead, she goes to the truck and pulls out a pool floatie. One she bought from the dollar store on the way over here, because she knows how his mind works.
She tosses it to him, thinks her timing perfect as his eyes widen, facing the horror that he’s about to sink. She taught him to float, once upon a time. She knows he’ll be alright.
He catches it, but his eyes widen further, despite having something to hold on to.
The floatie doesn’t matter.
His arms disappear a second later, then goes the rest of his body. Pulled under as water rises around him in an arching circle. He barely screams. She doesn’t make a sound.
There’s no bubbling. No struggle under the surface. He’s there one second and gone the next, and she wonders, for the briefest of seconds, if she came here by herself. If he was the illusion of some boy she had never truly met. But then, she remembers she’s at a lake, and she hates swimming.
She sits on the ground, waiting and watching the waters, wondering if she should leave. Wondering why she agreed to take a truck with stick shift, when she had never driven stick in her life. She hopes he’ll come back, for no other reason than getting her back home. She’s not really sure how far out they are, but she knows it took a few hours to get here and they’re in the middle of nowhere. She’s in the middle of nowhere. Her cell doesn’t even have service. She lets the thought of jumping in after him cross her mind, before remembering she hates swimming. Goosebumps tickle her skin when she sees the algae resting at the top of the lake, swaying back and forth. Which is weird, because there’s no breeze, nothing here to push the water except for his splash, but that happened an eternity ago.
She thinks shock might be hitting her now, because she’s sweating even though she was shivering when they got here and she’s starting to see things. Bubbles are rising, pushing up through the layers of algae, but he’s been under far too long for any air to be left in his lifeless body.
The pool float jumps into the air, bursting out of the water. She shuffles away from the edge, falls back onto her hands when the water gets a little too close and the algae almost splashes her shoes.
It lands with a plop before her, dark green and soggy and it takes everything she has to keep the vomit from rising up her throat.
The lake is bubbling and she’s stumbling further and further back. She wants to run to the truck, but the fear takes her by the throat and holds her in place, choking her. She wonders if this is what he felt like just before the air in his lungs was replaced by murky water.
Before she can run, there’s a face coming out of the lake, drenched in green. But the green doesn’t slide off when the creature rises, and she thinks that maybe the murky water is the creature, because a second later it takes her by the arm and knocks away any hope she had of running.
She doesn’t scream—screaming is something she’s never done and she’s in the middle of nowhere anyway, no one around for miles. Screaming is something they do in horror movies, not in real life, and she refuses to be one of those comedically overly dramatic women who screams at the first mention of a monster.
But she’s tempted.
She’s dragged closer and closer to the algae, and the thing that finally makes her scream isn’t the creature with the outrageously long arm holding her, pulling her closer, closer, until her feet finally hit the waters. No, the thing that finally makes her scream is the feeling of slime on her skin, and the memory of when she learned to hate water and all the living things within.
She takes one last look into the face of the creature pulling her under, and thinks it looks a lot like the boy she came here with. Had he always been a lake monster? Or did he become one not even a minute ago?
She curses the fish, curses herself for letting some boy drag her to a lake, and curses algae for being so disgusting.
But at the end, all she can think about is that stupid fish as she’s pulled under.
Catherine Kleindienst has an ever-expanding library, a dog who might be a demon in disguise, and an unhealthy obsession with black clothing. You can find her other work online at HerStry, and you can follow her on Twitter @CDKleind.