Short Story: The One in the Lake (ca. 1200 words)


It rose out of the water like an ancient god, a pale giant. And maybe a god was exactly what it was.

I was standing by the lake, watching the trees on the other side. It was getting dark and I should have headed home but instead I stood there, staring at nothing in particular.

My heart was heavy.

There were branches sticking out of the lake, like fallen branches do. And I remember thinking they looked a bit like antlers that belonged to a giant deer. When they started moving, rising out of the water I found I wasn’t a bit surprised.

It had human features, I’ll tell you that. It had hands and feet, a head and a midsection. It had eyes and a mouth but that’s where the similarities ended. Its body was sleek, pale white and looked jointless, but rubbery as if it could keep itself up and still bend any part of the body it wanted to. Its movements were slow, not threatening in any way and it didn’t seem hostile at all.

I guess that’s why I didn’t run. I must confess that I was a bit awestruck. You would be too if something as strange as this suddenly rose out of the lake in a forest where you played as a kid, a place you’d known your whole life, where you walked so many times that it felt like you knew its every detail. They say that places don’t belong to us, but that we belong to them and I guess that’s right.

The being came to me and as it stopped out there in the water, among the reed, it looked at me and I think it smiled.

  I wanted to run then. I wanted to but I was frozen stiff. Wether it was because the beast tricked me or if it was because my fear had me numb, I’ll never know, but the seer strangeness of the beast had me terrified. It wasn’t out of my imagination, it was real, standing there before me and all I could do was stare.

The wind whistled slowly in the branches above me and I found myself hoping that someone would come out of the woodwork and be there with me to witness what I was seeing. I found myself feeling lonely, even then.

It didn’t say much. It just moved slowly until it was out from the water, towering over me like the giant it was and when its finger touched my cheek I felt myself crying. Overbearing sadness overtook me and I felt all the sorrows of my life pile up within me and become so heavy that I couldn’t breath. The child that had never been born, the death of my father, my mothers sickness, my own inexplicable sadness that had accumulated over the years — it all exploded in my head and the tears welled up and fell down my cheeks until I crumbled down on the muddy path I stood on and just cried hopelessly, relentlessly.

Then it touched my cheek and the notion went away. I looked up at it, its antlers were slowly moving back and forth as it cocked its head. The tears were still on my cheeks and delicately it wiped the tears away with its thick finger. The sound from its throat wasn’t more than a gurgle but I took it for sympathy.

Then it touched my forehead and I felt a different feeling overpower me. A feeling of endless joy overtook me. I remembered all the small moments that had made my life worth living and I remembered every single moment I had shared with everyone I had known and not known throughout the years, every single joyful moment, no matter how small the encounter.

It smiled again as I sat there on my knees with tears in my eyes, laughing from the endless happiness that welled up in my heart. It was so overpowering that I couldn’t do anything but stretch my arms out into the air and laugh at the darkening sky.

It laughed then and touched my cheek again.

The break from the emotional rollercoaster got me back on my feet, and I stood before this creature and wondered what it wanted from me, wondered what it was and what it would do to me. When it touched my forehead for the third time I thought for a moment that nothing had happened. But then it started. All the tiny things I had done wrong in my life. Every single moment when I had tread upon others, stepped wrong or done wrong in any way. Memory after memory came to me, like fast forwarding on the TV, the images recognisable, devastating but somehow a bit distanced.

And it touched my cheek once more and sighed a deep sigh.

And that’s when I turned around.

I don’t know why. I guess it was something in its manner that made me do so. And I saw my body lying there on the bank of the lake. It lay there completely still, eyes open, staring at the sky.

And I remembered the pain I’d had in my chest and I remembered falling over but I remembered nothing more until I was watching the trees and at the being rising out of the water.

It held my shoulder, as if to give me strength or perhaps it was just making sure I didn’t do anything stupid. I mumbled “it’s all over” and I heard a whisper from the creature, it was as if the entire forest was whispering with it.

“Yes,” it said simply.

It turned me around and touched my forehead for the last time. Images of my loved ones went through my mind. Not images I knew but images I didn’t know. Things from their lives, moments they were living at the moment.

I don’t know how I knew that, I just did.

And the creature started to walk into the lake. And I followed closely on its heels, with the images of my loved ones in my head and I can still see them, when I want to. I can see their grief and their joy, I can keep an eye on them and I do and I wait with the creature of the lake, I wait for things to change, for my loved ones to arrive.

I guess it’s not worse than I thought it would be, death. It’s no worse, perhaps even a bit better, because waiting in the lake is a calming thing, we float and we wait — for what I’m not sure, but I know they will arrive eventually and I long for that.

And I belong to this place, as it never belonged to me.

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