What lives in the bottom of Redskill Lake?
They were called the bodysnatchers. One of the more innocent names to come out of a twelve-year-old boy's mouth, but it didn’t make Dolly feel too hot to hear those scrawny kids whisper ‘here comes the bodysnatcher’ whenever she was out to fetch some milk. It made the parents stare at her funny - as if Dolly wasn’t eye catching enough in a town like Pike, a high school drop out with a tire on her belly to spare, still wearing her mother’s hand me downs.
Dolly worked for the Pike Town Council, but she and a handful of other unsightly's were shuffled out of the town to Redskill Lake. Picking up trash along the shoreline, stomping around in the brush and cleaning up after parties and the odd campsite. She always felt a bitter twinge in her heart with every beer can she stabbed with her picker.
She’d grown up in Pike. Outlived both of her parents in their cramped trailer, walls gone yellow from years of chain smoking. She’d never been invited, or welcome, at any of the infamous Redskill parties. But the Redskill parties weren’t known for how fun they were. The Redskill parties were infamous for the bodies that turned up afterwards.
After dropping out of high school - Erin McKinnon dumped a litre of sour milk over her head in the cafeteria and Dolly had decided enough was enough - Dolly was wearing her town worker vest and kicking up and down the shore of Redskill Lake, picker in hand. The beach was too rocky with forest debris for camping, but since Redskill Lake was technically apart of the municipality, it fell to the good town of Pike to keep it clean.
The task was left up to Dolly and her partner for the early summer day. A beanpole named Jasper, who had a lurching forward gait that made him look like a skinny Sasquatch lumbering along the shoreline. Dolly was focused on not losing her balance on the slippery stones. She didn’t like Jasper, but she didn’t want to make herself look the fool in front of him either.
She almost didn’t notice the hand bobbing in the shallow water. But her eyes snagged like a fish on a hook. She felt the Blue Ribbon she’d tossed back earlier curdle into a sour little ball in her throat.
Dolly forced herself to look.
The girl - the torso - had been torn into by something gone savage. What was left of her bottom half were her soggy, bloated entrails bobbing indecently in the shallows. The scabby little claws of a spine poking out of intestine and organ. She was wearing a grey hoodie that proclaimed HOME OF THE PANTHERS. One of the hoodie sleeves had been completely ripped off - along with the accompanying arm - leaving a bloody, jagged hole. The hoodie was soaked through.
She’ll catch her death wearing that.
Dolly had screamed. Screamed as though the sound of her voice could shock the body back into living. The thought of the corpse blearily waking up and rubbing its head with its one remaining hand made her scream even louder.
“Shut up - shut up, you bitch - shut up -” Jasper had yelled at her, and then threw up on his boots.
The body had belonged to fifteen-year-old Hannah Grouse. She’d gone missing from a lakeside party the night before - her friends had just assumed she’d found a ride home. There’d been memorials and candlelit vigils. Dolly had spent months trashing bushels of moldy flowers.
Wildlife Removal Services were called. While they combed the surrounding woods for the animal in question with local police, it fell on Dolly and her compatriots to search the lake for the remaining body parts. They were equipped with a tin fishing boat and pool nets. A regular rag tag team of losers, in their rubber boots and neon vests. Dolly’s vest didn’t fit properly and flapped out from underneath her armpits like a pair of demented wings.
Since Dolly was the only one who knew how to steer the boat, she was required to go on every sweep. She’d felt charged with both dread and twisted anticipation. Every time the net snagged, her heart leapt while her stomach sank.
They recovered Hannah Grouse’s right arm. It’d mottled green and black in the water, and, unattached from Hannah, it looked strangely alien. There’d been no sign of Hannah Grouse’s lower half, or any feral woodland beasties, and the search ground to a halt.
Dolly was getting out of the town truck, admiring the way the white fog thickened over the water, making Redskill an unknowable thing in the early morning, just soft sheets of grey, like rippling mirrors. “It’s still today,” she said.
“The lake. There’s, like, barely any waves.”
“Well there’s, like, barely any wind?”
“Do you hear that?” Dolly asked as they made for the shoreline, pickers and bags in hand. Her neck was craned to the Douglas firs fringing the lake.
Dolly snapped her fingers. “That’s it. There’s nothing. Not a loon, or a - a fuckin’ chickadee? What the fuck, man?”
“It’s a Saturday. Mother Nature’s taking a goddamn nap.”
Halfway through their trek around the perimeter, stabbing at stray bags of chips and empty yokes, Jasper stopped.
“….oh no not again not fucking again ohmyfuckinggod oh nooo…”
Alarmed, Dolly wondered if he was having some kind of panic attack. “Jasper? Jas- oh fuck.”
Half of his face was caught on a piece of driftwood. The other half slumped unnaturally against the trunk, a mush of grey matter, pink and red. His eyeball bulged against the gored bridge of his nose. The exposed cartilage was yellow. His tongue was a fat lolling pink. The rest of him was in the water, both of his legs mutilated. Underneath the rags of his jeans, shorn muscles and flesh delicately floated.
Dolly’s forehead broke out in a cold, clammy sweat and she heard herself say faintly, “Oh Jesus. Oh, not again.”
The boy was Daniel Hiddlestock. His distraught friends confirmed that there’d been people skinnydipping at the party, but that they hadn’t seen Daniel go in.
Wildlife Removal was called. Dolly and her crew were sent back out on the fishing boat.
Dolly found his left leg - the one that had been chomped (chomped? Where did that word come from?) off at the knee. There were two more bodies that summer. More bloated limbs scattered across Lake Redskill.
It’s getting bigger, Dolly thought, and hungrier. And then she’d shoved the thought to the back of her mind, and nursed a bottle of cheap whiskey to sleep.
Towards the end of the summer, after Jennifer Emerson’s head had been found sunk in the mud like some kind of grotesque soccer ball (bigger, the voice in Dolly’s head chanted, bigger bigger BIGGER BIGGER - ), Wildlife Removal shot an 1100 pound grizzly bear five miles outside of Pike.
Autumn swept in with an icy wail. The town of Pike breathed a sigh of relief and said, “It’s over.”
It’s waiting, said the voice in the back of Dolly’s head.
She told it to shut the fuck up.
A greyness settled over Dolly that winter. She’d seen too much. She dreamt of Hannah Grouse waving her severed right arm, the hand flopping limply, saying solemnly, “You’ll have to do better than that if you want to snatch me.”
Until one morning Dolly blinked, and it was summer, and she felt a tentative shift in her spirits that did little to help her hangover.
“Slow down,” she told Jasper as the town truck rundled and trundled over the dirt road towards Redskill. The sun was almost fully risen, turning the mist that hovered under pine boughs a shimmery gold.
Jasper scowled, knuckles white around the steering wheel. “I want to get this fucking over with.” He glanced at her. His eyes were bloodshot and glassy. “You don’t seriously think it’s over, do you?” he demanded.
Dolly snorted derisively, but her good mood soured into something with teeth.
There was a silver Volvo parked in the makeshift lot that the town truck had bullied out of nature, a patch of dirt close to the lake. As they got out and got their gear, Dolly squinted and saw a slim, feminine figure doing stretches on the shore. She was wearing a black one piece and a swim cap. She turned sharply at the sound of their heavy trodding over shale and sand, and Dolly realized that it was Erin McKinnon.
“Yes, hello?” Erin said impatiently. “Can I help you?”
“We’re with the town,” Dolly said. Jasper was applying serious dedication to staring at Erin McKinnon’s thighs. Dolly’s tongue felt thick in her mouth. She stupidly held up her pick and bag. “Just cleaning up.”
“Well, you could do a better job of that,” Erin sniffed.
Dolly glanced at the lake sprawling outwards, ringed by secretive firs, and trees just beginning to unfurl their first green shoots. The waters were still, almost idyllic, and hardly an insect chirped. The sky was like a porcelain bowl overhead, baby blue and smooth to the touch. She looked at the shallows and couldn’t see so much as a tadpole flitting amongst the beige stones.
“It’s not really safe for swimming,” she said. “I don’t recommend it.”
“And you’re an expert?” Erin snapped. She narrowed her eyes. “Actually, do I know you?”
“We went to school together,” Dolly said vaguely. A chill of premonition crept over her shoulders. “Erin, I really don’t think you should go for a swim today. What’s wrong with the community pool?”
“Crowded,” she said blithely. Erin stepped into the water. She craned her neck to look at them with pursed lips. “If I suspect any funny business from the two of you I’ll be reporting it to the town. You have my word on that.” Dolly watched helplessly as Erin waded out further until the water was level with her waist, posed, and dove in. The small splash broke the silence, and then the wet sounds of Erin McKinnon carving easily through the water.
Jasper muttered, “Pretentious bitch,” under his breath, and strode ahead.
Dolly worked mechanically, one eye on the shape of Erin McKinnon’s neat front crawl.
And then Dolly saw it. What she had been, she realized, waiting for.
The sinuous cut of black fins knifing through the water.
Needle pointed and scaled membrane. The saliva in Dolly’s mouth turned to sand. The soundless ripple as the spine slipped back beneath the water, and then emerged again with the same supine grace, angling with a hunter’s precision for the white length of Erin’s smooth legs flashing through the glassy water.
“SWIM ERIN!” The scream exploded out of Dolly. Leaves rustled in the fragrant summer breeze. “SWIM GODDAMMIT!”
“Jesus fuck -!” Jasper swore.
Dolly stumbled out into the shallows. Erin had - godDAMN her - stopped swimming. Her pale face bobbed above the water and contorted in a frown. She was twenty - thirty - feet from the shore. Behind her, Dolly saw the fins curve like a snake winding through long grass, faster - faster - and they were bigger than she’d thought, bigger and thicker, as though whatever hell that was underneath them was roped with muscle -
“SWIM YOU IDIOT!” Dolly screamed, waving her arms so frantic and quick that she broke into a sweat. She was going to puke. “SWIM!” Erin’s neck jerked. She looked behind her. Dolly heard her thin wail. Erin burst into movement. She looked, Dolly thought hysterically, like a fish who had forgotten how to swim.
But Erin was gaining on the shore, she was only ten feet from where it would get shallow enough for her to stand - for her to run - Erin scrambled to her feet, slipping on the stones and almost falling face first into the lake again, righting herself with pinwheeling arms. Dolly reached for her uselessly -
Instead of cutting its losses and turning in towards deeper waters, the thing behind Erin started to rise as the water became more and more shallow. The water sloughed off of its sleek, scaled body with a noise like glass shattering. Dolly thought stupidly, oh fuck it has arms.
It looked almost like the bass she used to catch with Grandpa. If bass could grow to the size of a small bear, and had four limbs that jutted out in proximation with boney human elbows and stocky arms and scaly, webbed hands that propelled them over land as their fins did in the water. If bass had raptor like beaks that snapped and chittered, and amber, owlish eyes that were bright with malicious intelligence. Its thick tail lashed and Erin tripped into Dolly and the two women went down hard. Erin’s weight pinned her below the surface. She pushed the other woman off and broke the surface just in time to hear Erin’s bloodcurdling scream -
“MY FOOT IT’S GOT MY FUCKING FOOOOOOT!”
The beast’s black jaws clamped around Erin’s ankle, now a bloody, shorn mess of bone, and was tugging hard, jerking her back into the water inch by inch as she scrambled against the slippery rocks for purchase.
Dolly lurched to her feet, looking wildly for what she’d dropped in her fall - there! She snatched up her pick, an object so ordinary that it nearly caused her sanity to crack down the middle. She pushed into the water, feeling its resistance sucking and dragging at her, and when she saw the beast adjust its grip on Erin’s ankle - the first flash of soft, brackish coloured skin beneath a reptilian black tongue - She stabbed down with all her strength. The pick broke through soft tissue, and Dolly twisted it with a grunt. The beast snorted and released Erin’s ankle. It made a wet, coughing noise and shuddered all over. Erin was sobbing and crawling desperately up the beach, her mangled foot leaving a trail of red in the water.
Dolly chest heaved.
It - he - stared back at her, sides bellowing, the pick jutting out his tongue like a ridiculous underbite. She slowly backed away. The beast lumbered after her, step for step, its muscled bulk heaving back and forth, its awkward, alien arms hitting the water with obnoxious splashes. She turned and started to run. Jasper was staring open mouthed. Erin was curled in a ball. Dolly felt a surge of wild hatred for them and she screamed like a banshee - “YOU JACKASS - THE PICK!!”
He threw it clumsily. It still had a Lays Original chip bag stabbed on the end. She lunged to grab it and tripped, falling heavily into the water. She got a mouthful of brackish water, and then a heavier force ground her face into rock and silt and she felt like she was choking on wet sand - like it was shoving its whole goddamn fist down her throat. White fire tore into her shoulder. Dolly thrashed. It was biting her! The thing - it - he - was biting her! Had sank its alien fish fangs into her - was pulling, jerking, at her, like she was a meaty bone in the jaws of a dog. Its freakish arms digging into the silt for leverage on either side of her head. She couldn’t see anything but the silt that bloomed like mushroom clouds with each thrash and shift of their bodies, soft flesh against hard scale. She felt more animal that human as she fought against the weight pushing her down.
Some numb part of her brain remembered the pick the pick!! She scrabbled for it, grabbed the plastic handle and she stabbed -
she stabbed she fucking stabbed that motherfucker
The pressure released from her shoulder. Spluttering, Dolly scrambled out from underneath the beast. She broke the surface with a gasp. She rolled onto her back to see the beast’s maw open and lunging for her again. She shoved the Lays Original chip bag down its throat. Felt the shredding of its teeth like lines of fire. At the taste of salt, the beast froze and choked for a split second and, chest heaving, Dolly pushed herself to her knees with a grunt and a gasp and felt like she was wearing a vest of iron, her body was so heavy - so cold - throbbing with heat and ice - and she stabbed the pick into his owlish eye.
It sunk in with squelch and suction and ooze. The beast made a low, bovine noise. She grit her teeth and pushed harder. The pick drove further and further into his skull. He juddered hard. His jaw fell loose around Dolly’s arm. It looked like she’d shoved it through a paper shredder, flesh curling away, blood flowing thickly. The smell of shaved copper caught and clung in the back of her throat. She watched dully as the beast dropped into the water. On his side, he revealed an underbelly of softer, creamier scales that looked oddly vulnerable for a mutant predator.
The pain hadn’t set in yet. Dolly walked woodenly up to the shore, water sloshing in her boots. Her socks were soaked. She’d have to make Jasper drive her home so she could change.
Jasper and Erin were staring at her utterly pie faced. Dolly felt a flash of irritation. Fat lot of good they did her.
“Someone call fucking Wildlife Removal,” she snapped at Erin McKinnon, and then she fainted.