The hazy sunbeams vanished under Lake Vera’s icy surface while a bald eagle dove and captured a rainbow trout. The bird and its victim soared to a padded nest up on the top of the cedar. Cathy snapped shot after shot on the camera she’d saved all year to buy. The heavy new lens gave her a close-up of the steely determination in the eagle’s eye and the blood seeping from the squirming fish. The eaglets would eat well tonight.
Cathy sat still on the red plaid blanket as a deer, and her fawn drank from the water’s edge. She slowly turned the camera on the gentle creatures, adding to her growing collection of nature shots. When they finally got their fill of the algae-ridden water, the deer disappeared into the forest’s shadows. She took a break from photography and pulled out the carefully packed roast beef sandwich with mayo, mustard, pickles, and lettuce on a sourdough roll or all the fixings, as her mom used to say before she faded away into dementia.
She wiped her mouth with a soft red cloth napkin that smelt of spring and cleaned up her area to reflect her love of nature, or pack it in, pack it out. It had been the perfect day to go to the lake and have it all to herself. Today was how Cathy pictured retirement, but until now, she’d spent it as her mother’s sole caretaker, which was the real reason she was here.
“Goodbye, Mom. I hope you find some peace now.”
She bent down at the lake’s edge and released the ashes into the place her family had come for summer picnics. Now Cathy was the only one left as she snapped pictures of what remained of her childhood, slowly floated away on the mirror-still lake toward the bald eagle’s nest and haunted tree.
Cathy shook her head and stood up. “Seems like you are still trying to get to that tree, Mom. I never understood why you liked that mangled old oak so much.”
She remained in contemplation a few more minutes before turning to go. Right then, a tremendous splash came from the lake that landed a few drops on her hand. She spun around, expecting to see a tree had fallen, but only saw waves.
“The ashes are gone!” Cathy’s heart quickened, and her instinct to run was overruled by her curiosity to see what had happened.
Glowing green cat-eyes peered from the water, and the smell of rotting fish overwhelmed and made her dizzy. She dropped to her knees as the eyes that now mesmerized her moved closer to shore.
She gasped. “What the…”
At that moment, the bald eagle dove by the hypnotic eyes but quickly retreated to the sky when the lake appeared to reach for it. A hairless-misshaped gray head broke the water’s surface and paused as if it was a dog on a leash. Its eyes narrowed while the massive alligator-shaped mouth showed its teeth and its unhinged snake-like jaw opened wide. Those few seconds brought her back to reality.
Cathy bolted upright like a jack in the box. She left her backpack and pumped her legs faster than they had moved in over twenty years. Her camera bounced against her chest like a jackhammer. It would leave bruises, but that was the least of her worries as she raced up the hill to where the well-trodden trail started. A roar echoed across the lake as water battered the shore. Then heavy, gloppy steps on the rocky beach followed.
Cresting the hill, she refused to look back. The stories about the lake monster were true. That thing ingested her mother’s remains, and now it wanted her.
A gentle voice cut through the distance that sounded a lot like her mother. “Wait, Cathy. I only want to say goodbye.”
Cathy hesitated as long overdue tears filled her eyes. She couldn’t resist the powerful urge to turn around. The rays of the orangy-gray sunset were breaking through the heavy clouds and offered a well-lit picture of a nightmare. It was not her mother. Without thinking, she snapped a shot of what was before her.
“Sweetheart, what’s wrong? It’s me.” Laughter gurgled out.
Then the thing started creeping closer. Two long, pallid tentacles jetted out like arms, and whatever they touched left behind a slimy trail like a snail. The neon eyes gleamed with madness, and its wrinkled, s-shaped form was expanding on legs that were the same size as her.
Cathy’s whole body shook. Her heart couldn’t take too much more of this, or at least that’s what the doctor had told her last week. “No! Stay away from me!”
She ran up the trail, careful not to trip over anything. The sucking sound followed.
Why did I come here alone?
She breathlessly kept running as night enclosed. Luckily, her cell phone and keys were in her pocket, not in that abandoned backpack, and it wasn’t too much farther to her jeep.
Sweat trickled down her face, and a pain in her chest threatened to slow her down. She didn’t have the luxury to indulge in her discomfort.
“Doesn’t. It. Need. Water?” She panted now, like an old dog.
Relief coursed through her as she exited into the parking lot where only one vehicle sat—hers. The sucking sound stopped, and the pain in her chest subsided. One beep opened the driver’s door. She jumped inside and locked the door with an enormous sigh of relief.
“What just happened?” Hopeful, she glanced at her phone—no signal. “No one will believe me anyway, even with a picture.”
She set the camera on the passenger seat and inserted her key. There was only a click.
“The battery is dead? Are you kidding me?” Cathy hit the steering wheel and burst into tears right as the sucking sound started again.
Pain exploded in her chest and the jeep door popped open. Darkness shrouded Cathy and silenced her weak cries.
Three weeks later, Brad nervously drove his Camaro to Lake Vera to drink some beers with his best friend, Randy.
Randy pointed with the beam of light from his cell phone as he got out of the car. “Dude, there’s a camera by that old jeep.”
Brad’s arms filled with goosebumps as he slipped on his headlamp and followed Randy to investigate. “The keys are right here and no one is inside. But the smell... Let’s get out of here. I think the lake monster was here.”
Randy shook his head, making his long brown hair swirl out like a skirt in Brad’s beam of light. “There’s no such thing as a lake monster. I keep telling you that. But something bad happened here. I bet it was a serial killer. Maybe this camera has a clue. Let’s party somewhere else, dude, and figure it out later.”
Both were safely back in the car with the doors locked when Brad let out a loud exhale. “That’s a dead smell. We need to call the cops.”
Randy ran his fingers through his hair and popped open a beer. “They will ruin our good vibe, but it’s your car, so whatever.”
“Hey, don’t drink while I’m driving!”
Randy chugged the beer and tossed it outside. “Done.”
Brad rolled his eyes at his childhood friend and put his car into gear right as a booming female voice came from the darkness. “Wait, come back! I need a ride home.”
“Let’s go. We’ll make that call.” Randy urged his friend.
Brad couldn’t ignore someone in trouble. He rolled down his window and squinted into the moonless night. “You need help, ma’am?”
“I sure do. Boy, am I glad to see you. My jeep broke down.”
Randy leaned out of the window. “Where are you?”
“Right over here. I hurt my ankle and could use some help.” Neon green eyes cut through the darkness.
Randy grabbed Brad’s arm. “Do you see those eyes, dude? They aren’t human. Drive!”
A loud sloshing sound sped toward them.
“We’ll send help back, ma’am!” Brad stomped on the blue Camero's gas pedal.
The wheels squealed in protest against the asphalt as something held the car in place. Hollow laughter filled the parking lot as Brad and Randy screamed.
It was over as quickly as it started, and then the night was heavy with welcomed silence. The two empty vehicles became the dessert. It had been a feast, and now it was time for a very long sleep.
Vera slowly made her way back to her lake, only stopping once to dine on a lovely deer family. She let out a loud burp that rumbled the ground beneath her and then sank back into the icy water.
Living creatures offered her the blood she needed, but the cars added some nice fiber taking years to digest. Metal, oil, or plastic—nothing hurt her. Vera burrowed into the muddy lake bottom where she’d digest everything over the next several years. Her dreams, though, allowed her to relive their lives much like those movies they so enjoyed. Satisfied, she closed her eyes.