Post series: See the Lake

Serial Killers: I See the Lake. Part 4

  1. Serial Killers: I See the Lake. Part 1
  2. Serial Killers: I See the Lake. Part 2
  3. Serial Killers: I See the Lake. Part 3
  4. Serial Killers: I See the Lake. Part 4

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

I See the Lake. Part 4

“I- I know the way back. I’ll be fine,” I said.

“You know your way back, really?” said Tex. “Then why didn’t you move your ass back to your tent ages ago? I know. ‘Cause you weren’t finished spying on us from your tower up there.”

“No, I was…”

I didn’t tell them the lake was evil. I’m sure they wouldn’t believe me if I did. Simple truth is I was too scared. The water layered their bodies, and you might call me a senile old geezer, but I knew the lake was using them as a raft, clinging to them the same way the fire clung to my nail. The lake was trying to sink hooks in me, burn me, strip me down to muscle and bone and never let go. Consume. I didn’t know the word back then, but I know now. The lake wanted to consume me.

“I was going to leave, but I wanted to listen to that song you were singing.” Seemed a bad lie at the time.

Charlie lit up. “Really. Did you like the song, or was it the singing you enjoyed?”

I shrugged. “Both.”

“Good,” he nodded. “Right on.” And the intensity eased in his eyes, like he’d finally found me, figured out my game and knew my last name. If you catch my drift.

We stood there without anyone attempting to break the silence. I wiggled my toes in the mud, using the dirt as a stress ball and the gash on my toe hurt less than the panic stabbing my chest.

“You’re right Tex,” Charlie said. “Getting late.”

Charlie walked away without a goodbye, finished with the idea that I existed.

“One more swim, please Charlie?” Leslie called out after him.

Sadie made a huffed noise, one manic eye twitched. Before she left, she walked up and kissed the side of my mouth. I was too surprised to flinch. Her breath was warm and her lips sent a melting sensation into my gut. If there’d been water on her lips, I would’ve vomited all over her bare chest. I bet my last meal on it.

Tex told me to get moving and I did as ordered. I apologised as I left but sounded like a hamster head first in the hay. No one heard me.

As I approached the opening in the trees I looked over my shoulder, but the five naked strangers had already descended to the lower banks of the forest. I suppose they went for another swim in the lake, the stars their only audience.

I reached the bottom of the dune slope to see Dad wandering outside the tent with a flashlight, calling my name. I don’t remember running to him, but I remember how the rough wool of his shirt hurt the graze on my face.

“It hurts. It hurts.”

“What? Tommy boy, where the heck are your clothes?”

He half carried me inside and Ma patched me up. When she tried pouring water on my foot, I kicked.

“Whatchya doing?” Dad said. “Come on now, Tom, you have to earn your chest hair.”

I was going to tell Dad to shut up, which would’ve gotten me a clip round the ears. But seconds after I laid on Ma’s trundle bed, I passed out.

We left a couple days later. I refused to explain my evening ventures, refused to leave the tent too even after a wallop from Dad. In the end, it was my toe that saved me. Ma didn’t much like the look of the scab turning green.

I kept quiet through most the drive home except for one comment; if they ever planned a trip to the ranges again, I’d sign up for summer school. Dad sighed and said he was taking all feedback on board.


You know the story from here. News broke of the murders nine months after our camping trip and by then I’d stopped having nightmares of water rushing under my bedroom door, of wet fingers stroking my cheeks. The whole nation set their clocks to coo-coo. Our LA town acted Mother Theresa in public, heads flung in disgust, but in private we were dogs lapping up every blood-soaked detail.

The papers shoved the woman’s photo in my face every day, you know who I mean, the actress with the big eyelashes. Something-Tate? Headlines mourned her unborn baby in bold letters, but I guess you know that as well. I never read the names of the other murdered people.

Leslie was first to appear on our television set during the morning bulletin. When the camera zoomed out, manic-eyed Sadie appeared at her side. I watched them over my bowl of cornflakes, two brown haired girls dressed in identical blue, being escorted through the courtroom. My insides dissolved. I sprinted to the kitchen sink and chucked up my breakfast. Right there, right on the corner of my mouth is where Sadie kissed me. Do you see a mark there? No, suppose you wouldn’t.

Linda was invisible amongst the chaos that followed, I only saw Tex’s name in print. Then, days later, Charlie made his television debut. His coke-jacked glare penetrated the barrier between the glass screen and my sanity, and I touched my own cheek when I saw his face so gaunt. The cops discovered his jig and, quick-smart, Charlie became the focus, the ‘ringleader’, the ‘Father of Killers’. Christ, I dreaded seeing him every morning, on every paper and every news report. I waited for someone, anyone, to mention the lake and it boiled my guts that no one did. Of course, I didn’t say a word either.

During one evening report, Charlie appeared in a courtroom cuffed, tongue stretched over his chin, a red cross carved between his eyes. He scared me so fierce I had fresh nightmares and pissed the bed at sixteen. Afterwards, I avoided the news and the papers and I vowed never to see Charles Manson’s face again.

I didn’t mean to create a secret, but a secret is what I had. Wasn’t until I met Bess that the dam finally broke. We were in college and dumb in love, so I unloaded my heart thinking the truth would lighten under a second pair of shoulders. I told her everything, my crippled foot, the flame on my nail, the hiss of liquid running from Sadie’s hand to my cheek. I told her how the water clung to their bodies and then, talking like a bullet train, I said out loud the idea that had haunted me for years; the water found a way inside their bodies and stayed there, using them to inflict bloodshed.

Bess pursed her mouth in a way that would one day brand and break our marriage.

“How do you know it’s not the other way round?” She said. “They were all such monsters. Let’s suppose they swam in this lake of yours and leaked evil into the water. If the lake is magic, then those awful people created the magic lake.”

If. I’ve always hated her for that if. I hated the way she said ‘magic lake’ and hate her still for introducing an idea rivalling my own. See, she confused me. I saw the lake for the disease it was, but Bess was like you, all she knew were the murderers. I was a fool for thinking she’d believe me.

We never mentioned the lake again, at least not to each other. Bess was a talker — I’m bet she still is — and it wasn’t long before half of Stanford University heard my tale. Psych students asked for an interview and, for some reason, I agreed. The funny thing is Bess must’ve spread an edited version of my story because those students didn’t ask one damn question about the lake. Oh no. Their only interest was Manson and his crew, my guess is they had no clue the lake was anything more than a pretty setting. I was a good sport, I pretended to pause to recall moments hot-ironed in my mind, and warned them I was no talented storyteller, just as I warned you. The interview must’ve been a success, because a week later a local reporter called wanting an interview of his own and this time with cameras instead of notepads.

I’ve offered my tale to whoever asked over the years. There was a ninety-minute-special for the thirty-year anniversary of the murders called Manson Family: the Blood that Bonds Us. I had a small clip, but didn’t enjoy my cameo. Too much dramatic music if you ask me.

And though it’s made the roots of my teeth itch, I’ve never mentioned the lake.

I had chances. Problem is, those flashing red lights above the camera lens can easily be mistaken for eyes. Judgemental eyes.

Now I’m dying and for the first time in a long time, I’m scared. I’m scared if I stay silent, the story will keep me company in the grave. Students like you are the only ones I can trust, nurses would only increase my meds and reporters will paint me as a fool. Ma and Dad are gone, the twins live overseas and enjoy their own families. We don’t much talk. Never had kids myself.

I hoped to pass away the same way as Dad, warm in his sleep, but since I found out, my chances are low. I heard about it on the news a couple weeks ago. About Charlie, I mean. He’s dead. Charlie the killer is now Charlie the corpse. I heard and two days later the doctors nailed me with my own diagnosis. If I could stand, I’d stamp my feet. I think about screaming, I sure as hell want to but I’m scared I’ll squeeze out my last drops and die trapped in a rage. Charlie reached the other side before me and now all I think about is seeing him perched on a rock shelf in the forest, singing a Beatle’s tune while he waits. I tell myself the true evil belonged to the lake, only the lake, but the nightmares have returned and my old mind is confused. Bess confused me, time and too many crime documentaries have confused me. I’m not sure which I should fear; the dead man or the water. You might say both, but I think not.

I don’t sleep. Anger and terror are the only company I keep and my thoughts have become as unhealthy as my body. I can’t sleep.

One more thing before you go. My toe nail never grew back. Doctors couldn’t figure out why but I never needed an explanation. I’d dipped my toe into the lake and the water sapped out all the life in reach. Yeah, you could say I’m lucky my toe was the only part that touched the water. I suppose.

Ash Tudor

Ash Tudor is a horror writer from Perth, Australia who hides from the sunshine while she scribbles dark tales. She has a degree in ancient history and is a trained ancestry researcher, but now devotes her time to creating nightmares. Her debut short story released last year on Writer-Writer and her work has been shortlisted in several competitions. Currently Ash is writing a collection of short horror fiction and hording werewolf teeth in her attic.

Find Ash on Twitter @AshTudor888


Serial Killers: I See the Lake. Part 3

  1. Serial Killers: I See the Lake. Part 1
  2. Serial Killers: I See the Lake. Part 2
  3. Serial Killers: I See the Lake. Part 3
  4. Serial Killers: I See the Lake. Part 4

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

I See the Lake. Part 3

I don’t remember much of Tex, only that he was a regular looking guy with real thick eyebrows that hung low over his eyes. He must’ve circled around the rock shelf at full speed to catch me, but he breathed easy like a man on a stroll. He was butt naked too. A quick peek and I saw his balls tight and goose-fleshed. I considered my chances of out running him and felt like crying. Damn, I’ll be honest, I was crying a little.

The others arrived at a slow pace, Tex yelled them over. Leslie found us first and I was horrified to see her so close, so naked. She was gorgeous, not simply for her body but her eyes slanted down and her full mouth opened in glowing smile. Believe me, I found no pleasure in seeing her so close, her nude body seemed as disturbing as Tex’s furrowed testicles and I turned back into the dirt. Linda and the other girl — her name was Sadie — followed on either side of Charlie, both holding his hand. It was Charlie who told me to stand and I did, as slowly as I could, not daring to brush the layer of soil off my belly.

“Hello sweetie,” said Sadie.

“What were you doing up there, watching us like that?” Linda said and she sounded genuinely hurt.

“He’s a pervert,” Tex stepped closer. I flinched. “Aren’t you? Go on, say it, you were up there touching yourself.”

I couldn’t say anything. My mind hadn’t moved past the fact they were all naked, and the looming night and roof of trees created only a gentle darkness, not enough to hinder my view.

“Not nice, kid,” Leslie grinned.

Linda crossed her arms. She was frail with razor cheek bones and spoke with a dreamy sigh.

“He’s a kid” she said. “Probably here on a school trip.”

“Geez, Linda. I’ve told you, it’s summer break. Everyone is cruising around,” Tex said, and then eyed me up. “But people don’t come down here.

I glanced at Tex and it was only then I saw. Suppose my brain was beating on a slower rhythm with the fear of it all. Tex dripped with water. I turned to the others and, sure enough, all of them were drenched. All of them. Water glossed their skin, clumped their lashes, shimmered down to their feet, and every hair on my body prickled because all I saw was the lake attempting to claw me again.

“Lemme see him,” Sadie said and stepped so close I could make out the pattern of freckles on her nose. Her eyes were too wide and twitched like she hadn’t slept for days.

She gripped my face and I made a turtle-like movement with my head. Sadie held on.

“Behave yourself, Sadie,” Charlie said.

“He’s not a baby, he’s a big man.”

I wanted to burrow into the mud, not because the girl was terrifying– and boy-oh those eyes were scary–but to hide from the water. Lake droplets made a bridge with her fingers and I watched the water, I damn well saw it gallop towards my face. I was paralysed, expecting to feel arrows of pain and instead felt thick liquid like warm milk on my skin. I thought, the water must be weak in small doses. But the droplets began to fight. They dribbled down, sank into the graze on my cheek and the burn was instant, poisonous. I bit down to stop moaning.

Sadie squeezed. “Tell them you’re a big man.”

More droplets tinkled down to my mouth and wormed into my hard-pressed lips, my gums sizzled and I tasted copper. I scrunched my bad toe to stop from kicking her.

“Get off him.”

Charlie pushed passed Linda. Sadie released me and moved aside, her wide eyes aimed on the ground. Her fingers left a hot imprint.

“Don’t be scared, kid,” he said. “Nothing in the world deserves your fear. We certainly don’t.”

He opened his arms and gestured to his group, or maybe he was gesturing to the world. I’m not sure.

“Tell me, what’re you feeling right now?”

I didn’t understand the question. He’d placed a hand on my shoulder and by some miracle his hand was dry.  He stared at me full blast, as if I were the most interesting person he’d ever met. His beard was thin, his hair drying into wavy locks and I realised he was older than the rest of them. The others looked like they could’ve been seniors at my high school but Charlie looked old enough to be a teacher.

He waited, his brown eyes refused to blink. I must hand it to him, he made me feel important.

“I hurt myself.”

Charlie looked down and whistled at the chunky mess of my toe, a paste of blood and dirt. I must’ve sounded like a toddler to them, I certainly felt like one.

“It’s only the meat, kid, and that’s not what really matters,” Leslie said.

Charlie ignored her.

“Hurt, does it?”

I nodded.

“Good, that’s what you get,” Tex said. “It’s how the world works. Do you know anything about karma? It something that makes sure creepers have their toes cut up on rocks. Remember that.”

And I have, most of the time.

“You could’ve joined us,” Sadie said. I shivered. My gums had settled but the bad taste stayed.

Tex crossed his arms. “What’re we doing, Charlie? It’s getting dark.”

Charlie gave Tex a real brutal look then turned back on me.

“What about this young man, will he be able to find his way home safely?”

I nodded fast. “I can find my way. I’ll be fine.”

Charlie crossed his arms and the water on his nose slithered down, onto his moustache. I can’t really explain the disgust I felt as he stuck out his tongue and slurped up the drop. It was damn hard to watch. Look. Given me goose bumps thinking about it.

“And where is it you call home?” Charlie asked. “Can’t be anywhere close to here.”

“I’m camped a little way over there.”

“You here in a RV?

I shook my head. “A tent.”

“Got many people with you?” Leslie asked. Sadie nudged her and giggled. I didn’t consider lying.

“My parents. And my sisters.”

Charlie smiled. “Well, we better walk you back to your tent. Do the good Samaritan thing.”

They nodded in unison, exchanged looks. The idea of arriving back to camp with five naked strangers was enough to send smoke out my ears.

Ash Tudor

Ash Tudor is a horror writer from Perth, Australia who hides from the sunshine while she scribbles dark tales. She has a degree in ancient history and is a trained ancestry researcher, but now devotes her time to creating nightmares. Her debut short story released last year on Writer-Writer and her work has been shortlisted in several competitions. Currently Ash is writing a collection of short horror fiction and hording werewolf teeth in her attic.

Find Ash on Twitter @AshTudor888


Serial Killers: I See the Lake. Part 2

  1. Serial Killers: I See the Lake. Part 1
  2. Serial Killers: I See the Lake. Part 2
  3. Serial Killers: I See the Lake. Part 3
  4. Serial Killers: I See the Lake. Part 4

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

I See the Lake. Part 2

Then they began to undress and the cry stuck in my throat. Each wore a shapeless dress, one I remember was bold green, and when they lifted them over their heads, there were no panties beneath. The girls tossed their clothes aside and were as bare as newborns.

Try understand. I’d never seen nude women other than the two-dimensional creatures that lived inside my magazines and even with the distance between us I could make out the happy circles around their nipples and fuzzy patches of hair, two brunettes and one fair.

Not surprising to say, but the flaming nail lost my attention, so it was by complete accident I realised it had disappeared. I scoured the surface but the lake had returned to glass, no trace of disturbance. Five decades of self-doubt was the price I paid for taking my eyes off that fire, but at the time I didn’t care. I was happy to say goodbye, felt a knot loosen in my chest once the flame was gone.

The surrounding rock megaphoned the girl’s voices. One was so close to the water I half expected the lake to jump out and swallow her.

“Don’t go in the water. Go back to your campsite.”

No wonder they didn’t hear me. I didn’t want to yell, didn’t want the water to hear me.

One of them whistled and ran in. I clasped both hands over my mouth and my scream turned to saliva in my palms. She fell forward and became a blurred mass of brown hair and pale skin under the surface. I held my breath as if I were underwater with her. When her head burst out, I thought the noise was a gurgled scream.

“Ah! That’s better,” she said.

I removed my hands.

The other two waded in holding hands, then paddled chin deep into the water, the ripples circled and then happily disappeared. I even heard a sigh of bliss as one of them massaged the lake into her scalp. Those girls expected pleasure and, yes, the water obeyed, the lake loved them. The fair haired girl splashed her friends and the water landed on their faces as rain, not bullets.

But it was the same lake. There was no great space between us, no divide. I scrunched my bleeding toe and released a fresh ripple strong enough to make my eyes run. My pain, mixed with the sound of their happiness, twisted me and an unsettled feeling burrowed deep. I still feel it now, stuck to me like tar on the lungs.

A new voice blasted out the trees, made me jump.

“Hay minx, what’ya doing? You said you’d wait for us.”

Two men weaved out from the drooping branches, one walking behind the other. They were both tall, their hair long like mine, one was topless and so thin I could count his ribs from the distance.

“Aw. Tex I’m sorry babe,” one of the girls called out. She stood up and the water coursed down her back and over the curve of her buttocks. “It’s too hot. Get in here already.”

Another girl waved her hand at the boys. “Charlie, this was a perfect idea. I feel so much better. You’re coming in too, right?”

“You know I am, sweetness, be patient,” said the man named Charlie.

The boys talked with low heads and lower voices and I wondered what they were discussing so seriously. I figured they were talking about the lake, felt like nothing else in the world existed except the damn lake. The girls hooted, beckoned them in with long leg strokes. The boys attempted to ignore them, which seemed like a superpower to my young mind.

“Fuck, Linda I’m coming alright,” said the skinny man, Tex.

Charlie gripped his shoulder and made a gesture that I took to mean ‘we’ll talk later’ and the two of them undressed down to their nothings.

I didn’t call out, not this time. Those two men strolled into the water without a flinch, without even a light bruise. I puffed out. I don’t know what I did wrong but seemed I was the only son-of-a-bitch bitten by the lake.

The men sank real slow and their obvious relief felt like a massive fuck you smack in my face. I stepped backwards, feeling ultimately finished with the lake – finished with the entire holiday – but kept watching. The first stars lit up on the navy blanket above me and I continued to play chicken with the growing darkness.

Tex swam up to the fair haired girl named Linda and wrapped his arm around her teeny waist. He kissed her mouth and then her neck, and I figured that’s what love must look like. He lifted her up in his arms mid kiss, and then pulled away with a grin.

“No, Tex don’t-”

Linda kicked too late. Tex tossed her sideways and dunked her head several times under the surface. She thrashed, a drowning lamb struggling against a hyena.

“Nah man, stop it,” Charlie said. Charlie walked through the water with a girl on his back, her wet arms draped over his chest. The lake parted against his step with such infuriating ease.

“Don’t disturb the spirit of the water. There’s life in water, you know that, and if you show it respect then your body will drink up the spirit. Show some respect.”

“Yeah, Tex,” said the girl on Charlie’s back. “But don’t actually drink the water.”

“Leslie, hush,” Charlie said and Leslie was quiet.

Tex nodded and floated on his back. The third girl rested her head on Tex’s feet, as though she could fall asleep. Poor Linda took Charlie’s hand and they swirled together, Leslie holding tight as his jet pack.

“A song?” said Linda.

Charlie kissed her hand and started to sing. It was a Beatles song, goes something like, ‘she’s well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand like a lizard on a window pane…’

His voice swarmed the forest and the five swimmers moved in drunken sways. The guy had a good voice, strong without that airy hiss of breathing between the words. Leslie slid off Charlie’s back with her eyes closed and her arms moved under the water below Charlie’s waist.

Charlie stopped singing. “Thank you baby, but don’t do that, not while we have someone watching.”

He pointed towards the rock shelves above him. At me. Every muscle in my body screamed.

Someone whistled. Tex turned to where Charlie pointed and stood up in the water, and all of a sudden he didn’t look so skinny. He was certainly bigger than me.

“Howdy,” Linda waved with both hands. Someone slapped her hands down, but I wasn’t watching to see who. I was climbing. I lurched up the rough stairs of boulders, ducking under branches as I hopped off the rock shelf. A bright pain radiated up my leg, the gash on my toe left a trail of bloody breadcrumbs. The rocks I’d skipped down not so long before I now scrambled to climb up. I never took a backwards glance of the lake and I’m mighty grateful I didn’t.

I reached the top of the sunken forest ledge, the opening between the trees lay dead ahead. That’s as far as I got. Tex caught me by the elbow and pushed me into the dry mud, I caught a rock with my face and grazed my cheek.

“You make yourself comfortable in the dirt, alright?” He yelled without volume. “Don’t move.”

I nodded and sank my head into mud. My t-shirt and pants lay on the rock shelf where I left them, and the sticks and snags prodded my bare chest. My heartbeat prodded right back.

Ash Tudor

Ash Tudor is a horror writer from Perth, Australia who hides from the sunshine while she scribbles dark tales. She has a degree in ancient history and is a trained ancestry researcher, but now devotes her time to creating nightmares. Her debut short story released last year on Writer-Writer and her work has been shortlisted in several competitions. Currently Ash is writing a collection of short horror fiction and hording werewolf teeth in her attic.

Find Ash on Twitter @AshTudor888


Serial Killers: I See the Lake. Part 1

  1. Serial Killers: I See the Lake. Part 1
  2. Serial Killers: I See the Lake. Part 2
  3. Serial Killers: I See the Lake. Part 3
  4. Serial Killers: I See the Lake. Part 4

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

I See the Lake. Part 1

I visited the lake many years ago and only once. I’ve lost many memories between that day and this one, can’t tell you what my ex-wife said for her wedding vows, don’t remember what those damn nurses fed me yesterday. But my summer in the ranges has a stick that won’t go slipping and when I close my eyes, I see the honey-baked colour across the sky. Close my eyes a little harder and I feel the desert’s hot breath on my neck. The lake remains firm in my thoughts but, boy-oh, I’ve tried hard to forget. I’ve tried.

I was fifteen and wasn’t too thrilled about our family vacation that year. “Why can’t we go to the beach-house at Salando like every summer? Why are we tenting in the desert like hicks? Why do you hate me?” You get the picture.

My folks ignored my bitching and off we went to the piss-hot California mountain ranges– ma, dad, my twin sisters and me. It was a long drive and I wasn’t mighty pleasant to be around, ma used to say I went five years straight without cracking a tooth. Funny to think about now, considering the ol’ fart box I’ve become. Oh ma, I do miss you.

Anyway. We arrived and I thought we’d parked on Mars. Seemed the ranges spread out forever, a sterile blanket of sand made lumpy by boulder fields and rolling dunes. In the distance I saw patches of forests scattered on the base of the mountain, each one half a mile long and looked like acne marks along the clay slopes. We set up camp besides a mini canyon of stacked rocks, a spot where the dirt winds whipped our necks with gusto and even the tumble weed looked thirsty. I whined about sand filling my socks until Dad turned purple.

“Enough Tom,” he slapped my backside. “This trip is our way of re-connecting with nature. You know, hippie shit.”

Remember, it was the sixties. My folks liked to believe they were members of the new age because they listened to Bob Dylan and allowed me to grow my hair to my shoulders.

Dad tried his hardest during those itchy summer days. He dragged my city ass on hikes, this way and that way over the dunes. We stopped for breaks between the patches of forest, the trees were our sanctuary from the brutal sunshine, but we never ventured far inside the greenery. I can’t rightly say why. Nearing the end of another day’s trudge, I slipped pass the rows of trees for a splice while dad sat out in the sand. That’s how I found the lake, one hand on my tool while dehydrated piss covered the tree bark. I noticed, past the shrivelled bushes, the forest just, well, it dropped. I poked my head over the edge and saw a second level, a lower forest hidden by rugged shelves of rock. And at the bottom, glistening at the centre of it all, and a little smaller than a football field, was the lake. There was no one around to see me crack a tooth.

We walked back to camp in silence. I considered telling dad about the lake and decided, no. To hell with my family. In my cruddy little head, the lake was a matter of finders’ keepers.

While Dad slept off the hike that evening and Ma read the twins ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ for the fiftieth time, I left camp.

I lit a joint on the walk there, tried to puff smoke rings and coughed my damn heart out. When I reached the forest and strolled through the opening in the trees, I was close to happy.
Strange little lairs, those forests. I’ll try explain best I can but keep in mind, I’m no grand storyteller. The trees wore that flaky type of bark that dropped brittle in the dirt, the branches arched high and looped together. No traces of sand either, the ground turned from desert floor to mud in a snap. It felt strange. After spending so many days amongst the single sand-tones of the mountain range, facing a thick greenery seemed wrong, like a bright smudge on a white shirt.

It’s hard to believe looking at me now- just look at this gut- but I was wide as a rope back then and moved like a grasshopper down the rock shelf, used overhung trees as a Tarzan swing. By the time I reached the bottom, the sky was blossoming.

I still think of that lake as one of the most beautiful sights of my life. You might’ve seen photos but the black and whites don’t compare, I promise you. I stood beside water so pure, I could see right to the bottom where long grass swayed like human hair. Diamonds of light sparkled the surface, in a sunken place where no light should rightly reach. The lake was a lord-mighty pool of flowing glass and no leaf or tree root or speck of mud touched it.

You may think I’m exaggerating, that the weed was working magic on me. I don’t think so. Suppose I got no way to prove it.

My shelf of rock— and I call it mine because it damn well was mine— was a lip hung over the water. I stopped there and stripped down to my whities before sucking out one last puff. I almost flicked the roach into the water but hesitated and aimed for a shrub instead. You know, I often wonder how everything would be different if I’d thrown that stub into the water instead. Best not to think about it.

I remember clearly that last childish moment, running fingers through my hair to keep bangs out my eyes. Then, without thinking, I did what every California kid does at Salando Beach; I tested the water. I planted my butt on the rock and, slowly, tapped my toe to the surface.

Slow wasn’t slow enough.

The searing cold took a bite and I yelped backward. I’d never felt a cold like that and never have since. It was a cold that burnt, seared my toes and jumped up my leg through to the bone. I was a jittered rat, scrambling on my butt away from the water. My hands shook so fierce that, when I grabbed my foot, my damaged toes rattled to a blur.

Three of my toes were glowing red, the skin shrivelled like they’d spent too long in the bath. My big toe bled and when I squeezed my foot tighter the blood oozed out in thick blobs. I tried wipe the blood away and, boy-oh, that stung to hell and back. See, the entire nail on my big toe was gone and I was wiping the fleshy under-part. I hissed at the gaping. My whole foot throbbed.

“What is wrong with you,” I yelled. I fancied yelling. Seemed like a good idea to yell.

I leant over expecting to see a snapping animal in the water. Instead, I saw a tiny leaf floating alone on the crystal surface. Except it was no leaf, but my toe nail.

I didn’t see a speck of blood, the nail was clean and it danced in circles on the water, moved by a breeze I couldn’t feel. I tried to stand, still watching my severed nail twirl, and fell on my knees.

“I hate this fucking place.”

I stood on the second try. My toenail made an abrupt stop, dead still for only a second, and then sailed out into the lake’s belly. The ripples around it pulsed and in a sudden rush of feeling, I wanted to swim. A mighty thirst dried my body and every stringy tweak of muscle screamed to be swallowed by water. A terrifying feeling, I’ve got no shame in saying, and I shivered in the evening heat, because even through the wanting — crave seems the better word — I knew the water meant pain. I scrunched my bleeding toe and winced at the reminder.

And then my toe nail caught fire.

I thought I’d lost my mind. I glanced away into the trees, blinked hard to clear my eyes, but when I turned back the nail was still on fire, a slim flame rising above the water. I squinted every which way and the flame stayed true. Pretty sure it was growing too, turning into a thin and flickering cylinder of fire.

I’ve spent fifty years with open-eyed dreams questioning that flame. I had no doubts back then. Back then my eyes were strong and my mind young, full of stone conviction, and as I watched the fire and nail float further, I knew the lake was to blame. I damn well knew the water was the culprit in the same way I knew my sisters apart. That lovely and putrid water destroyed my nail. How dare you touch me, that’s what I heard the water say and I wanted to run. But you know what? At the same time I wanted to swim. Damn right I was scared.

I didn’t run. I took a limped step forward and watched the sailing fire, no blinking allowed.

The sun completed its dive behind the trees. I’d been standing on my rock slack-jawed and half naked for several minutes, long enough to age me. Laughter snapped me awake. On the opposite side of the lake, where the water became a shore over hardened dirt, three women emerged from the trees. They draped their arms around each other, walked as if they shared the same footsteps. The fiery nail stopped its sail and I had a maddening idea that it heard the women too.

They stopped far too close to the water. I opened my mouth to yell and for the first time I noticed my feet. I’d been inching myself forward on the rock and now my blood-soaked foot hung over– try imagine meat dangling above a waiting shark. I jolted backwards on my heels, landed real hard on my good foot. I came this close to falling face-first-ass-last into the water. Thinking about it churns my insides.

I looked up and the women were a hopscotch jump away from the shore. An image flashed of each one diving into the water and skin falling off their faces, blood spreading and then dissolving into pristine blue water. I imagined the lake conquering their bodies, I imagined their bones being used as a dead raft for living flame.

“Don’t go in the water,” I called.

No one heard me. I was drained and frightened and thirsty for the lake, but inhaled deep to try again.

Ash Tudor

Ash Tudor is a horror writer from Perth, Australia who hides from the sunshine while she scribbles dark tales. She has a degree in ancient history and is a trained ancestry researcher, but now devotes her time to creating nightmares. Her debut short story released last year on Writer-Writer and her work has been shortlisted in several competitions. Currently Ash is writing a collection of short horror fiction and hording werewolf teeth in her attic.

Find Ash on Twitter @AshTudor888