Microfiction-Echoes-27 Undertow Jake Jackson

Micro-fiction 027 – Undertow

The dark waters of the storm-racked lake toss the small craft and its terrified occupants. So much for a weekend break!

Echoes | Undertow

The thunder overhead had raged around them as they drifted helplessly across the dark lake. If they had sailed closer to the banks, they would have stopped, secured everything, and sat out the storm. But they were too far away, and the grinding and the bumping under the boat had begun to scare the skipper and his mate .

It had started as a fine day across the lakes, with the surrounding mountains topped by reflections from the blameless skies. It was late in the season so not so many boats had taken to the waters, but Eowen and his childhood friend Gordon, had chanced upon an advert in a local newspaper which offered a weekend away, on a old boat, with food and beer, for less than half the price. Neither of them had planned for a holiday this year, their money was fully committed, they worked every hour they could in the streets, running from one trade to another. They were exhausted, their young lives withering away in the rout of everyday life.

So the boat had been a gift from Heaven. Both managed to organise the weekend off, faking illness or, family disaster, and so would rendezvous at the wharf.

Eowen arrived first, battling down the twisted lane, ducking the brambles and low, groaning branches, of the ever-reducing path until he faced a broken gate. A number was painted roughly across the wiry frame, with other decorations that had flaked long beyond recognition.

“Hey! You made it!” Eowen turned to greet his friend who had also just emerged from the entrails of distressed, ancient trees.

“Yeah, just about.” Gordon wrestled with a grin. “Difficult to find.”

“Me too, been past the top of this lane so many times before, ” he shrugged, “never noticed it. So, this is number 6?” Eowen looked up at the fractured frame. “What happened to 1 through 5?”

“Well, if they’re here, they don’t want to be found,” a slight sneer played across Gordon’s thick lips. He was hot, sweat making islands in his shirt. His eyes flickered between his friend and the decrepit portal.

The gate screeched open abruptly, and sent them backwards by a short step.

“So, you made it.” An improbably old man, his head bent low, eyes peering up at the visitors, fixed them with a stare that rattled down their backs.

“Oh, yes, it took a while to get here!” Eowen attempted to make polite conversation but it fell into the dusty cracks of the path.

“Indeed.” The old man gave a short nod to Gordon, then raised a ragged eyebrow at Eowen. “Follow me.”

The next hour was filled with preparations. The boat lay still in a small, covered bay, rocking slightly in repressed waters. The long shed within which it was housed, was almost completely dark, with only the light of the door to confirm its existence. The old man had taken the cash from the boys, and looked at them, almost ruefully. He took them onto the boat, gave them the instructions, the beers, and a simple map.

“So, you enjoy your time on my pride and joy here.” The old man placed a gentle hand on its bow, patting it, before performing an odd gesture with his right hand and alighting.

“Gordon?” Eowen called out to his friend who sat at the back of the boat, with the tiller and the engine key. “Hey, you ok? Seem awful quiet?”

“Sure, just tired, good to get away.” Gordon shrugged.

“Yeah, me too, let’s go.” Eowen felt the boat surge beneath him, and the doors to the shed shuddered apart, swilling quietly to the side, and Gordon navigated out to the huge lake.

Bump. Bump. Grind.

“Wooh!” Eowen felt his way to the back of the boat, “Did you feel that?”

“Probably just some silt. We’ll be free of it in a minute.” Gordon grimaced, annoyed.

“That was one weird guy back there.” Eowen turned his head to the shore and tried to pick out the shed. Already, it had disappeared into the gloom of the surrounding trees.

“Yeah, now we know why it was so cheap, not exactly throbbing with trade!”

“No.” Eowen paused. “I said I’d text my sister to tell her––” He sighed. “Damn! No signal!”

“Well that’s a surprise!” Gordon half-laughed. “Didn’t expect anything else, did you?”

“‘Suppose not.” Eowen slumped his shoulders. “I should have texted earlier. She’s looking after our mother, seemed fed up.”

“You’ll be back soon enough, I guess.” Gordon smiled.

Eowen looked out at the wide stretch of water. The two males were typically taciturn. Minutes drifted by with just the sound of the engine chugging beneath them, and the gentle lapping of the water all around. The occasional bubble from below heralded the presence of other creatures.

“FIsh?” Gordon queried, wondering at the absence of birds. He noticed the gathering clouds from the South, scudding in towards the dark lake.

“That’s quick.” He pointed.

“Yeah, weather changes so fast round here. It’ll come and go”

“Ok,” Eowen looked up at his friend, “you’ve done this before.”

“Yep.” Gordon seemed to swallow a shadow, and gulped. The clouds had arrived above the lake, their bold, burgeoning curves reflected deep onto the surface of the Lake.

And then the storm broke.

The little boat was flicked across the water, almost turning over.

“What they Hell!” Eowen shouted, gripping the side of the boat, water lashing into his eyes, his stomach lurching.

“It’ll be over soon.” Gordon remained steadfast at the tiller, feet apart, his face was turned into the storm, his hand on the engine throttle, chasing it hard.

The rain burst across them, a wave smashed into the bow of the little boat, and the sound of a heavy wrench cranked hard. The engine stopped.

“Damn.” Eowen muttered, his face white.

Bump. Bump. Grind.

“Gordon? What is that?” He knock his head against the side.

“Not sure.” Gordon looked back at his friend, his eyes narrow and fringed with great drops of water.

The thunder overhead continued to rage around them as now they drifted helplessly across the dark lake. If they had been closer to the banks, they’d have stopped, secured everything, and sat out the storm. But they were too away, and the grinding under the boat had begun to worry the skipper and his mate.

The storm abated. Eowen had scrunched his eyes and prayed to the God he’d ignored for the last decade of his life. Gordon shook his friend. “Hey, it’s ok now.”

Eowen could feel the craft was no longer rocking, so he opened a single eye. “But it’s so dark. Is the engine ok?” He could smell the mist on the water. Perhaps it was smoke.

Gordon tried to start the engine. “Nope. Too waterlogged. Battery’s gone too.”

“Oh great.” Eown struggled up, still holding the side of the boat. “Oh!” Another jolt from below, and more grinding. “Where are we then? Look!” He pointed at the shore, which was crowded with trees, but its banks were stripped of vegetation, fallen trunks strewn like discarded bodies. Long shadows stretched across the water as the boat drifted on.

Bump. Bump. Grind.

“I thought we were on the lake?” Moist leaves slipped across the Eowen’s cheek. He jumped back, and winded himself against the edge of the boat. A faint mist seemed to linger across the water, burning at its touch.

Bump. Bump. Grind.

Time passed. Night passed.

“Gordon?” He could just see his friend, still at the tiller, his legs firm. Eowen struggled for breath, and looked around drowsily, wondering why it was still dark. All around was silent except for the rutting noises below, as the prop shaft seemed to grind against rocks and silt underwater.

Eowen found his eyelids dragging down, as though drowning him in the agony of sleep. As the darkness descended he surrendered to its charms.

Bump. Bump. Grind.

A warmth swam a cross his face, and woke him. In a half-lucid state, his back aching, and left leg numb from its awkward position he looked up at Gordon still at the tiller, then shook his head and allowed it to loll in the direction of the water.

Bump. Bump. Grind

He thought he saw a reflection, just below the surface. He blinked. He realized it was a face, eyes closed, grey, mouth drawn down, and following the path of the boat, alongside, was a head, and another, and another. Eowen looked across and saw that everywhere was crowded with bodies.

“Gordon, have you seen––?”

“Yep.” The response was distant.

Bump. Bump. Grind.

A skull now emerged, bobbling alongside the boat, and banging sickeningly. Then a broken ribcage materialized.

“Oh my God.” Eowen looked down again, beside the boat, the face he stared at, opened its eyes.

For a long moment Eowen and the face gazed at each other, separated only by the swilling surface of the dark waters.

And he realised he looking at his own face. But it was not a reflection.

Eowen yelped as hands reached up and hauled him overboard, splashing black water high into the air, until he disappeared below, scrambling, screaming until, bubbles skittered up and across the surface, and the sounds of choking subsided

* * *

Later, as the morning cleared the remnants of the night Gordon navigated slowly back to the boat shed, and waved at the shore. The little old man emerged from the bushes, and responded in his own desultory way.

“Is it done?” The old man cried out, his voice carried echoes of the heads still bobbing on the other side of the lake.

“Aye.” Gordon passed the mooring rope across, mumbled his last words, and shimmered back into the lake.

“One day, we shall all rise my friend.”


More in two weeks, (more from What is Time? next week)

There are many other stories in this series, including:

Here’s a related post, 5 Steps to the SF and Fantasy Podcasts

And a post on the life, work of Robert Bloch.