A Strange Day In July

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Short story by Corrina Angel

Victor was ten and Maria was eleven when their parents took them out to the lake in the valley. The mountains and woods that separated their little cabin by the water from civilization seemed to go on forever. Their mother was originally from around the area and every summer it was practically a requirement that the family take their leave of the city. For all of July they’d spend their time in and around the cabin, hiking through the woods, and generally enjoying the fresh air. They did not, however, go into the lake. The waters were dark and made their father nervous, enough so that he wouldn’t budge even when his wife went sprinting off the short dock and dove in to show him just how fine it was.

“Who knows what may be swimming down there,” he said to the children, giving a nervous glance toward the lake.

From the water, their mother laughed as she treaded water and replied that he worried too much but that was the end of it. Victor and Maria were strictly forbidden from swimming in the lake. But that rule became harder and harder to obey the hotter the summer grew. The shade of the trees and fans inside the cabin proved insufficient against the summer sun and humidity. Not that the adults seemed to particularly notice; their mother would often sit on the edge of the dock with her feet in the water, and the spare moments not with his family their father got were spent in the cabin’s basement – he was remodeling and the kids weren’t allowed to go down there either.

“It’s like they want us to be bored.” Victor lay sprawled in the grass, his hair stuck to his forehead with sweat.

“Or you just can’t have fun without causing trouble.” Maria was well on her way to ruining another outfit. She didn’t care about grass stains, or ripped tights, or how all her running around messed up the hair her mother spend every morning meticulously styling.

“Maybe,” Victor replied. “But at least we’d have some fun before getting grounded.”

Maria’s reply was a noncommittal shrug as she picked up a pebble and gave it a gentle toss toward the still lake water. It sunk with the smallest of splashes. But after a long moment of stillness the stone seemed to fly out of the lake on its own accord. The siblings shared a shocked glance, silently asking if the other saw what they did. Victor scrambled to his feet and picked up another stone, a bigger one, from the bank. He threw it as close to the center of the lake again and the world seemed to go still, then it came skipping back. Before Maria could react, Victor heafted a much larger stone he could barely get his small hands around and spun around a few times to get some momentum. He threw it with all his might, but the third stone came skipping back. In shock, his mouth falls open and he looks to his sister. They found themselves at a loss for words and didn’t have the chance to find them as they’re called in for dinner.

“Don’t tell Mom and Dad we were messing with the lake,” he whispered to her as they walk back toward the cabin.

When the sun’s set and they’ve been sent off to bed while their parents go downstairs to work on the basement, the children try to sleep for all of five minutes before Victor sits up again.

“Mari?” he says into the dark.

Maria opens her eyes. “What?”

“I wanna go for a swim.”

She sits up more slowly. “Vic, what if there really is something down there. What if we get eaten or something.”

He doesn’t seem convinced and hops out of bed, crossing the room to tug his sister to her feet. “Come with me. I’m scared to go alone.”

“Then don’t go,” she replies. “We should look at it in the morning. I don’t wanna go out in the dark.

“Mariiiiii,” he whines, his voice starting to raise above a whisper and in response she covers his mouth and worriedly glances toward the door.

“Fine,” she whispers. “But only real quick. I don’t wanna be out in the dark.”

The children snuck out of bed and past the basement door, where they heard voices and saw a strange flickering purple light coming through the cracks. But they ignored it and slipped out the front door toward the dock. Maria held a toy electric lantern in hand as her brother gathered up stones. She dipped her toes into the lake, for a moment terrified that something would snap up and bite them off. But all she felt was the chill water. Well, and something else, a feeling of correctness in her chest; like when she was sure she’d gotten a question correct. Pulled in by this feeling she slipped into the water up to her neck.

“Maria!” Victor exclaimed, what she could make out of his face was tight with horror.

“Water’s fine, Vic,” she drawled back, kicking further out toward the center of the lake.

“Maria!” her brother exclaimed again. He dropped all of his stones into the water and outstretched his hand to try and grab her. Instead, she pulled him in too and he screamed at full volume before being submerged.

In the hand that wasn’t holding on to Victor, Maria still had the electric lantern. As she treaded water it lit up the area around them. Victor opened up his eyes and saw a scaly, swimming thing coming toward them. He screamed again and thrashed in the water. But the creature grabbed him and in its throat made a humming noise that sounded a lot like ‘shhhh’. He didn’t stop screaming though, and only grew more panicked as it grabbed the hand holding the lantern and pulled Maria under with them. Its webbed fingers kept a tight grip on each of the children as a voice in their mind began to speak.

“It’s you.” The voice was musical almost, warbling, and familiar in a way that neither could place. “You have returned. At last the promise has been kept.”

Maria tried to speak and got a mouthful of lake water. She couldn’t breathe, she could barely think. Her lungs screamed for air and she got the very distinct feeling that she was dying. The fish creature didn’t seem to notice; it pulled the children close and tucked them under its arms as it started to swim deeper. Victor thrashed but Maria began to grow weak, unable to expel the water from her lungs. Without warning, the creature suddenly released Victor and turned all its attention toward his sister. As he swam like mad toward the surface he watched in horror as the creature tore gashes n his sister’s chest, sending blood and shreds of fabric into the water around them. He could make out the silhouette of the creature raking its claws over Maria, tearing her apart as more and more blood clouded the water until both were invisible.

Just as the surface was in sight, when he could clearly make out the moon shining high in the sky something seized his ankle and dragged him down, back down, all the way back down to the lakebed. The electric lantern lay discarded down on the floor and he could most clearly make out the shape of the thing that had snatched him back. It was a smaller creature, bits of flesh and fabric clung to its scales. But the most distinguishing trait was the hair that floated around this creature. Tied in a braid, like the one his sister had always tied her hair in when she settled down for bed. The claws of the creature struck toward his chest, but instead of searing pain all he felt was a gentle skritch. The nails of this creature were dull, and soon positions were switched as it took to holding him down as the other creature approached. He thrashed and screamed as the smaller creature forced him down and held his head in his lap just like Maria used to when he was little. When the sharp claws of the first creature finally came down on him at first he only felt blinding pain. Then, a sense relief as that tight burning in his chest began to give. Out of instinct he continued to resist breathing in the water, but when that will finally gave out he found that it wasn’t so bad. As the claws continued to rake down and tear off his skin he first felt horrible pain, and then a sense of freedom as though he’d taken off a jacket that was too tight. In the light of the lantern he could make out bluish-green scales on his on skin with just bits and pieces of flesh still clinging to him.

The smaller creature released him, and through the current of the water he heard a high,warbling song that he knew instinctively, how could he not? The larger let out its own song again, and in the recesses of his mind he could recall it from his childhood, and the cold arms of his grandmother.

They would tell stories about Victor and Maria Deagon, the children who drowned in the lake one terrible summer. Their bodies, bloated and bloody floated to the surface slowly as the course of several days. The mother followed them into the great unknown not long after, seeming to purposefully end her own life in the same lake in which hre children drowned two summers ago and her body reappearing in a similar way. And the father remained in the basement, remodeling done, outfitted with a glass observatory that jutted out into the lake. He spent the rest of his days living in that cabin, locking himself in the basement. Even when the cabin went up for sale it was nigh impossible to pry open the basement door. The Deagon family was a warning, a ward against the dark lake.

Who knew what may be swimming down there.