Behind our house was a large, deep lake, stretching out about three miles shore-to-shore at any given point. It was ringed by beautiful, multi-storied, wood houses built close to its quiet shores. And I hated it. I had hated it ever since we first moved into a house next to it. My parents had never seemed to notice anything strange about Mishipeshu Lake, but I felt a chill in my bones the very first time I laid my eyes upon it. I had never seen a real corpse before, but I imagined it would evoke the same feelings of revulsion and icy dread.
My parents, older brother, and I moved into the lakeside house when I was thirteen. I was distressed and anxiety-ridden the whole drive up there from our old home two states away. I would be in a new neighborhood, an unfamiliar house, a new school, and I would have to make new friends. It was all very daunting. I hadn’t been very popular at my old school, so how was I supposed to make friends here? Maybe I could reinvent myself, be someone new? But all nervous thoughts about my social life vanished when my dad pulled up the long dirt driveway and parked the car, and I got out to look at our new home. Instead of the gorgeous, two-story log house, with its multiple gables, large windows that would let in plenty of light, and charming stone chimney, my eyes were immediately drawn to the lake that the house overlooked, its green water softly lapping onto the sandy shore about fifty feet from the back porch. That was the first time I felt the dread.
I had an unobstructed view of the water from my bedroom window up on the second story. I would watch it at night as the pale moon reflected off its pristine surface, a surface frequently so smooth you would think it was made of glass. But then, every so often, something would briefly breach the water and then return beneath its darkness, sending small ripples outward, becoming smaller and smaller, until everything was still once more. Fish? Perhaps it was. But the dark shapes I could make out rising and falling in that water some nights were far bigger than any fish I ever saw caught there.
All things considered, the first year of my new life by Mishipeshu Lake was relatively uneventful. I was in school, in eighth grade, preparing to transfer to high school. My brother, Sam, was two years older than I, and already a sophomore. We didn’t hang out much during that year. He was also trying to make friends in this new place and said he didn’t have time for his little sister. Unlike Sam, who slowly became friendly with most everyone, I hadn’t really made any friends. I was the perpetual outsider, the “weird girl.”
A few months into the school year, my brother introduced me to one of his new friends, a tall, brown-haired boy named Ben. He seemed nice enough. He had lived in this community his whole life, was in the same grade as Sam, and was, I came to learn, obsessed with the paranormal, conspiracies, local legends, and the like. I had never been into that stuff, but I had been interested in learning more about the area my family now called home.
One cloudy Friday evening, Sam had brought Ben over to have dinner with us. After we had eaten, and while our mom and dad did the dishes, Sam put in some old 70’s horror movie.
“Could I ask you something, Ben?” I asked him, kneeling down beside the couch as he and Sam watched the flick.
“Sure thing, Blaire,” he said, his eyes still glued to the television. “What’s up?”
“You know a lot about this town. Are there any…stories surrounding Mishipeshu Lake? Like…weird stories?”
“Haven’t learned anything about it in school, huh?” Ben chuckled, turning to look at me with a grin.
“Well, sure we have,” I replied. “But just things about the first settlers here, how they raised livestock and grew crops, braved harsh winters, blah, blah, blah. Then they up and left, and the land wasn’t resettled until about a hundred years later. You know, standard, boring history stuff.”
Ben chuckled again, stretching out his legs and putting his arms behind his head. I could tell he was excited to share some of his weird knowledge with me. “Of course the teachers wouldn’t get into the neat stuff.” He glanced over at Sam who seemed uninterested in our conversation.
“Like what?” I asked eagerly, my heart beginning to race a little.
“About all the mysterious deaths and stuff,” Ben whispered. He paused dramatically, then raised his hands and wiggled his fingers at me. “Ooooo!”
Both he and Sam laughed at the disappointment that must have been written all over my face.
“Fine, whatever,” I replied grumpily, turning away and waving my hand dismissively at Ben.
“Okay, okay,” he said, settling down and placing his hand on my shoulder. “Sorry. But there really were creepy things that went on back when the town was first settled around the lake.”
I turned back around with an eyebrow raised. “Are you going to tell me? Or are you going to be dumb?”
“Feisty one, your sister is.” He elbowed Sam in the ribs and chuckled, but then continued on in a more serious tone. “Anyway, when the town was first being settled, in 1856, one of the local tribes came down from the hills and told the townsfolk to move on. They said that this was a cursed place belonging to the Mishipeshu and nobody should be near those waters, let alone live next to them.”
“And what exactly is a Mishipeshu?” I asked.
“An ancient spirit that lived in the water, I think,” Ben answered, scratching his chin in thought. “It was supposed to resemble a panther or something.” He shrugged. “But who really knows?”
“So, this spirit was dangerous, I assume?”
“Well, this is where it gets interesting,” Ben said, rubbing his palms together eagerly. “The settlers chose to ignore these warnings, of course, and make a home here anyway. They believed that either the natives were spewing some local superstition, or that the land here was valuable and the natives wanted to scare them away from it.”
“Seems logical, I guess,” I said slowly.
“Yes, seems so, doesn’t it?” Ben continued, leaning closer to me as Sam went back to watching the movie. “The settlers lived well and built a thriving town. That is, until fifteen years later.” His eyes glittered with excitement.
“What do you mean?” I could feel goosebumps rising on my arms and legs.
“Everyone simply vanished. One day, traveling traders and merchants discovered the town empty. In some of the houses there were signs of a struggle, some blood here and there, but the weirdest thing was that all around the lakeshore were clothes-as if people stripped down naked and swam into the water. No bodies were ever found though. Not on land, anyway, and no one’s ever searched the lake itself properly. They didn’t really have the proper gear back then. And there’s not much interest these days for the town to hire all the equipment to go down to the very bottom of the lake. It’s quite deep in the center.”
“Weird,” was all I could say, trying to keep my voice nonchalant. The story had creeped me out, though. Was there any truth to any of this? Could it explain why I disliked the lake so much? I couldn’t be sure. Who knew where Ben had gotten this information? Books? The internet? I didn’t know, but I liked the lake even less after hearing it. I wished I hadn’t asked at all. Being near the water made me feel even more uneasy now.
I didn’t bring up the subject again with Ben or Sam after that night. I tried to stop letting my mind dwell on the lake; the dark unexplored depths, the softly lapping waves upon the shore, the occasional mysteriously loud splash at night, or the way the moon reflected off the sleek water, making it appear as if the twin orbs were two monstrous silver eyes staring at me.
The lake frightened me, but somehow also enthralled me. In a way I couldn’t even explain myself, it called to me and enticed me, even though I had never once stood closer than twenty feet from it. I would sometimes catch myself staring out the window at the dark waters as I sat in my room trying to complete my homework, imagining a strange lizard-panther hybrid prowling about. I was doing exactly that as darkness started to descend one evening, when I noticed my brother standing outside by the lakeshore. How long he had been standing out there, I had no idea, but the sun had slipped about halfway below the horizon.
Dropping my homework, I went downstairs and hurried out the back door. Sam was just standing there, a foot from the water’s edge, arms crossed, staring out across the lake. The sun had sunk even lower now, turning the sky and water the color of dying embers. I hesitated, seeing as he was so close to the water, but eventually mustered up the courage to walk over to where he stood, my feet dragging reluctantly as I moved closer toward the water. I had never been so close to the lake’s edge before.
“What’s up, Sam?” I asked, looking around to see what had caught his attention. Turning away from the water to look at his face in the gloaming light, I noticed that his eyes appeared red and puffy. “Everything okay?”
He remained silent for a moment before answering. “It’s Ben,” he said, his voice barely a whisper.
“What about Ben?” The flat expression on my brother’s face and the tone of his voice began to worry me. “Did something happen?” My eyes searched his face, trying to glean the cause of his obvious distress.
“Ben’s gone,” he said in the monotone voice he always acquired when he was upset.
“Gone?” I repeated. “Gone where?” Dread began to creep down my spine, sending shivers throughout my body.
“I don’t know,” Sam replied in the same dead tone, shaking his head slowly. “I hadn’t seen him at school for a few days. He hadn’t been answering my texts. I thought maybe he was really sick, so I went to his house. His parents told me that he’s been missing since Sunday evening.” He turned to look at me. “They’re frantic.”
Sunday? Today was Wednesday! That did sound strange and very worrying. Of course I didn’t know Ben as well as Sam did, but he didn’t seem like the kind of guy to cut class or just run away.
“His parents told me,” Sam started up again, fear now pervading his voice, “that before he went missing, Ben said something about going for a swim in the lake. That he wanted to ‘check something out’. His exact words. People go swimming in the lake all the time. His parents thought nothing of it.”
“That’s…weird,” I whispered, a cold feeling permeating my stomach. The story Ben had told of the Mishipeshu gripped my mind and I instinctively took a step back from the water. “Have they searched the lake yet? For his—for him?” I couldn’t look away from the incoming waves.
“Not yet,” Sam said, as he cleared his throat loudly. “There is only one qualified police diver in the county and he is on vacation.”
“How convenient,” I said sarcastically, kicking at some sand on the ground, trying in vain to think of something to reassure my brother. “I’m sorry, Sam. I know you two were becoming good friends.”
“Don’t say that,” Sam said softly, a tinge of anger in his voice. “Don’t talk about him as if he’s dead!” He glared at me briefly before his expression softened and he turned back to the lake. “We don’t know what’s happened. He could be perfectly…fine.” His voice trailed off with uncertainty.
“Yeah, of course,” I said, meekly. I looked upward at the shadowy sky. The sun was gone by now, and I could see the moon trying to peek out from behind the dark clouds that had been slowly rolling in since this morning. I thought I heard a faint rumble far off.
Where could Ben be? Had he really gone swimming in the lake? Or was he somewhere else?
I had trouble getting to sleep that night, so I ended up sitting up in bed, propped up on pillows; the unnatural glow of my laptop the only source of light in my room. I had been looking up anything I could find about Mishipeshu Lake; it was a search I had avoided undertaking until now. According to Native American lore, a Mishipeshu was a lynx or a panther covered in scales. Some stories said it had spines covering its back, while others said it had large horns on its head. It supposedly lived deep underwater and could either be malevolent or benign, and had the ability to conjure storms. The information I found wasn’t clear if there was supposed to be just one or more than one Mishipeshu, but either way, it sounded about as plausible as Bigfoot or Nessie. I couldn’t find anything specifically relating to the story Ben had recounted. Where had he gotten his information? I tried to convince myself that he had just made everything up to spook me.
It was then that I heard a soft tapping on my bedroom window, and looked up. It had finally begun to rain. I closed my laptop and rubbed my eyes, sending stars and colors swimming through my vision. With a sleepy groan, I got out of bed, stretched, and walked over to the window. Pulling aside the half-closed curtain, I looked out into the darkness, barely able to see anything, since the moon was again covered in clouds. I stood there listening to the taps on the glass. I loved the rain, it made me feel at peace, even the sound of the rain on the lake was soothing.
But then I noticed the soft orange glow of the back porch light below my window flicker on. I thought it must have been the wind messing with the motion detector. But as I looked down, I saw a figure standing by the water’s edge. By the faint light of the full moon that had just made an appearance through the clouds and the illumination from the porch, I could see that Sam was out there, staring across the water. He had come inside for dinner earlier; what was he doing standing back out there in the rain? He must have been really worried about Ben. Poor guy.
I slipped on my coat and rain boots, then quietly made my way out of my room, down the stairs, and out the back door as I had earlier. Sam was standing there, arms crossed, staring at the lake, the same as before.
“Sam,” I said, just loudly enough so he could hear me over the rain and rising wind. “Come back inside, you’re getting soaked out here.” I pulled my coat tighter around me, trying to keep Sam between the water and me.
He said nothing, and didn’t even seem to have heard me, so I stepped closer and tugged on the wet sleeve of his shirt.
“Sam, come on,” I begged, feeling cold, wet, and more than a little uneasy at our proximity to the choppy water. The little whitecaps the wind formed on each waved seemed to be reaching for me.
“He’s out there,” he suddenly said, not turning to look at me.
“I’m sure he is, Sam, but not in the lake. And I’m sure he’s fine. Now let’s go inside.” I pulled his arm, trying to ignore the dread building up inside of me.
But Sam wouldn’t budge. “He’s out there, Blaire. He wants me to join him. I heard him calling.” His expression was blank, and he almost looked hypnotized.
“He…he called you?” I asked, perplexed. The rain was coming down even harder now and the wind was blowing my wet hair into my face. I turned to glance quickly, yet longingly, at the house. I desperately wanted to go back inside, snuggle under my blankets, and forget all this weirdness. But what was Sam going on about? Had he actually heard from Ben?
When I turned back to look at Sam, he had his eyes closed, the heavy rain spraying his face. His arms were stretched out, as if he were going to catch a giant beach ball.
“Can’t you hear him, Blaire?” he said loudly above the sound of the rain, startling me.
I strained my ears, desperate to hear whatever he was talking about. But all I could hear was the rain splattering down and the wind. The wind. Was that a voice? No, it was just the wind messing with me. Sam was mistaken.
“Sam, let’s go inside now!” I demanded.
But he either didn’t hear me or didn’t care, because at that moment he tore off his clothes and launched himself into the black, choppy water. I was momentarily stunned as I saw him splash determinedly through the water, being knocked around by the churning waves, and finally begin to swim furiously out into the depths of the lake.
“Sam! What are you doing?” I screamed after him upon overcoming my initial shock. But I quickly lost sight of him as the wind and rain tossed the lake waters violently about. A deep, rumbling boom sounded somewhere behind me. That thunder didn’t sound too far away. “Oh god, oh god!” I shouted. “Mom! Dad!”
Before I could turn and run into the house to get my parents, a beam of moonlight penetrated a small opening in the blanket of black clouds and shone down upon the churning water like a spotlight. Out in the distance, about halfway to the center of the lake, I could see something…someone. Someone was floating there; a body being thrown about by the waves. The figure looked as if it was floating face down!
“Sam!” I screeched, terrified as I had never been before. I hesitated for only a moment. If Sam was unconscious in the water, I couldn’t let my stupid, irrational fear of the lake keep me from helping him. He was my brother!
I frantically ripped off my coat and kicked off my boots, and ran into the raging water, slipping and stumbling on the smooth stones that littered the bottom. I was instantly chilled to the bone as the icy lake sucked every bit of warmth out of me. Feeling the lake floor drop off into the depths, I launched myself farther out into the water, moving my arms and legs as best I could, trying to focus on reaching Sam, and silently thanking my dad for all those swimming lessons he made me take.
I paused after what I thought was several minutes to tread water and catch my breath, the wind howling in my ears. I could see the dark shape floating there, rising falling in the waves just ahead of me. I put all of my energy into reaching him. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get back with Sam if he was unconscious, but I couldn’t give up. I coughed and spluttered as I swallowed icy water in my struggle. My arms and legs were turning to jelly, and it was a struggle to keep my head above water, but I finally reached my brother.
I made to grab him, but it didn’t feel like Sam. Something was wrong. And in that moment there was a blinding flash overhead and a deafening boom, and I could clearly see what I had swum out to rescue.
“No,” I panted. “No!” It wasn’t Sam, it was a log! A damn log! Is this what I had seen? It couldn’t be. “Sam!” I yelled into the air as I frantically treaded water, my limbs almost completely numb. He was in the water somewhere! But I couldn’t see any other object floating nearby. In fact, I now couldn’t even see the shore. The heavy rain and darkness obscured everything around me. I couldn’t have swum that far out, could I?
I told myself that it didn’t matter. I knew I would reach shore no matter what direction I decided to swim in. I just hoped whichever way I chose was the shortest distance. I surveyed the area as best I could for Sam, but still couldn’t see anyone. What else could I do? Without further delay, but with a sinking heart and sick feeling in my stomach, I randomly chose a direction and began kicking.
But I wasn’t moving. By the time I realized that something had hooked my frozen and numb left ankle, I had been violently pulled completely underwater. I hadn’t had time to get a proper breath. That, along with my instinctive scream, and I had no air in my lungs as I was dragged deeper into the lake’s black depths. It was utterly dark and I couldn’t see what was gripping my ankle. I thrashed and flailed, trying to free myself, my lungs burning for fresh air, but I couldn’t escape. I suddenly understood that I was probably going to die here.
As I was pulled farther down into the crushing abyss, I saw a light beneath me, a growing red luminescence. I realized with fresh horror that I had been dragged all the way down to the bottom of the lake, and my bare feet were now touching the cold, slimy sludge of the lakebed.
By the light of the steadily increasing glow around me, I could just make out a hole in the mud at the bottom of the lake. But it was much more than just a hole. A tunnel? A passageway? A portal? It was big enough for several people to fit inside at once. And there was that light. That was where the reddish illumination was coming from. But it wasn’t a bright light, it was a dark light. It looked dark, felt dark. I couldn’t quite understand it.
It was then that it occurred to me that my lungs were no longer burning, and that my leg was free from whatever had gripped it. But my mind didn’t care. I was transfixed by this light. It was if I could sense it, hear it, taste it even. I could feel myself sinking toward the hole. Or was I being sucked into it? I was terrified, yet at the same time a part of my brain wanted, no, needed to know more. I floated right over the aperture, looking down into it.
That’s when…it…appeared from out of the darkness within that mystifying tunnel. At first it was no more than a dark shape, but the strange dark light soon made every detail as clear to me as if I were standing under a bright streetlight. I saw the thing and it was large, menacing, and horrendous. It had the general form of a beastly man with ferociously clawed limbs. The gray flesh covering its enormous body, tinted red by the surrounding illumination, looked scaly and armored like a crocodile’s. In places the skin was torn and ripped, hanging off in chunks, rotten and decayed. What I thought was another limb at first turned out to be a long and powerful-looking tail, similar to that of a lizard. And its head, if it could be called a head, was grotesque. Elongated and unnaturally stretched out, the head looked like the body of a grub with a ragged gash near the neck where a long, black tongue slid hungrily across brown, jagged teeth. All over its body, seemingly at random, were what I could only describe as rusted pieces of metal. They looked like they had been grafted and embedded in the thing’s flesh. Metal plates and blades adorned its torso, while what looked like steel wire was wrapped around its limbs. And on the top of its squirming head were two metal rods that were securely lodged where eyes could have been.
I wanted to scream. I wanted to yell. But I was held there like a deer watching two bright lamps flying ever closer. The thing reached out of the hole and grabbed me by my throat, its claws digging painfully into the sides of my neck. It was then that the spell broke. I suddenly felt the crushing, icy water all around me, the desperate burning of my lungs for air, and heart-stopping dread at what I saw before me.
The creature pulled me closer and licked its hideous teeth with its black tongue. From the thing’s clawed hand, I felt a surge that made my skin burn as if it were being torn away from muscle. There was an excruciating pounding in my ears and chest along with the sickening feeling that my stomach had been filled with poison. My mind began to rupture as if it was trying to destroy itself to escape this terror.
A single bubble escaped my mouth and I was pulled into the endless darkness of that watery pit to witness and experience horrors beyond comprehension.
Bio: S. Alessandro Martinez has had several stories published in various horror magazines such as Sanitarium and Deadman’s Tome, and three of his stories have been selected to appear in anthologies. He has self-published a book of twisted poems, and is working on several short stories and a fantasy novel. Some of his inspirations include H.P. Lovecraft, Clive Barker, Joseph Delaney, and Brian Lumley. Alessandro lives in Southern California. Find out more at: salessandromartinez.com