“And as for you, River, there will be a day when you will flow with blood more than water. And dead bodies will be stacked higher than the dams. And he who is dead will not be mourned as much as he who is alive. Asclepius, why are you weeping? ”
The lake house was always a place of good memories. I couldn’t help but remember the countless summers just like this one, where I had spent days down by the lake, beside my father, catching rainbow trout with nothing but a line and a little bread or bait worm. The sound of crickets chirping in chorus at dusk, while just a slither of gold managed to peek over the mountain range that hung like curtains, draped across the horizon on every side. It was our paradise on earth, the Coulter families’ personal heaven. A humble log house nestled in the heavy shadow of the Rocky Mountains. Standing peacefully beside our private little lake, cradled within a thick pine forest. It was our pine forest.
We had arrived at the house two days ago, on a particularly overcast Friday afternoon. But the grey sky had parted, and left us with clear blue skies almost as soon as we arrived. Now nothing but the occasional broad, pearl-white, sky conquering clouds would dare to appear. This made the weather perfect for a swim in the lake, as well as an afternoon frying the day’s catch of trout in the fire pit just outside the cabin. I was inside the cabin, stuffing the weekend’s filthy clothes into my pack, in preparation for the long journey home tomorrow morning. Dad was gathering a load of firewood from our great proud pile of logs outside. I always liked adding to the pile the same way I found a mundane joy in saving money, I watched as we built it up into a neat pyramid, then imagined how long it would last us and how many cold nights they would ward off.
After packing my last well-worn flannel shirt into my now plump olive duffle bag the sun had disappeared behind the mountain; leaving a quickly dying amber streaked across the western sky.
I could hear my father’s footsteps as he entered the house, dropping a collection of heavy wood at his feet in front of the fireplace. Then quickly transporting the two best-looking ones straight into the warm mess of crackling flames that kept our cabin warm. I climbed under the covers of my bed and sat with my back against the wall, with a clear view into the living room.
I am Curtis, and George Coulter was my father, a broad man with dark brown hair, a short cropped haircut, bright blue eyes and dark stubble with traces of silver sneaking through. He was a weathered man with a tough 37 years over my easy 16, and always seemed to dress like a cliché lumberjack. Apart from the weathered appearance, sprouting grey hair and working class fashion sense, we were practically a splitting image. My mother would always say that looking at me was like stepping back in time and that every day I looked more like him.
“That should keep it going for a while.” George said, obviously exhausted from the events of the weekend and He slowly moved just inside the doorway and leaned against the frame, rubbing his eyes with his right hand before bringing it down to form a soft v shape on his chin.
“I’ve already loaded the truck, so we’ll be able to leave bright and early tomorrow.” He turned his head quickly as if to listen carefully for something else in the room. I found this to be a perfect opportunity to shoot a question I’d been wondering recently.
“Do you think there really is life after death?” I asked him abruptly and he looked straight at me with a quizzical expression and replied “Why do you ask, did someone say something?” I sat up straight on my bed pulled my hands into my lap.
“No, no one said anything. It’s just that I rode my bike by the cemetery last week, and there was a statue of an angel in the middle of all the gravestones, it just made me wonder, you know. Does all that stuff really exist?” I had a lump in my throat and swallowed hard to keep in down. My father sat down beside me at the foot of the bed.
“I think…” He started, still searching for the right words to say. “I like to think that there’s a place somewhere up there for us.” He turned his gaze towards the window and observed the last light in the sky before turning quickly back to me.
“Do you think mom will be up there?” I asked, and his face dropped a little.
“Your mother is up there waiting for us and the first thing she’ll do is tell us to take our shoes off so as not to get the cloud *****.” He said with a slight smile, I laughed at the idea as he continued. “But you don’t have to worry about that for a long time Curt.” He grinned, roughed up my hair, and then forced me into bed playfully. “I’ll do my best to make sure of that.” He rose from the bed and advanced towards the door. “Now get some sleep. I don’t want to have a conversation with myself on the ride back.” He disappeared into the main room and slumped into a lazy boy chair to gaze at the fireplace in the warmth of our now quiet cabin, as my room was filled with the soft lullaby of crackling fire. I turned towards the window and stared out towards the stars, my mind wandering as I closed my eyes. Tomorrow we would begin the long journey home.
Without any warning I was startled awake by a terrifying ripping sound. A great rip echoed throughout the house like a plastic bag violently flailing about in heavy wind. I immediately sat up on my bed, and blindly stared out into an ocean of black. A strange loud thumping sound rang from the living room in regular intervals. It had seemed like no time at all had passed since I had closed my eyes, my heart was thundering like the gears on a full-speed freight train and my eyes fed off the darkness in the room, starving for even the slightest idea of a source for the noise. But all I could see was darkness beyond my doorway. I struggled to pull myself back together from my state of screaming fear and cautiously got to my feet.
As far as I could tell the thumping was coming from outside, as I moved towards the doorway and peered into the living room. For some reason the fireplace that should still have been flickering with hungry flames was now dark and dead, as though it had gone cold days ago and the house completely vacated. The warmth that the fire had supplied moments ago had now been replaced with a cruel cold midnight breeze sailing in through the wide open swinging cabin door. The cabin door was clashing against the cabin wall outside in the wind I now knew was the source of the horrifying thumping that my imagination had played so helplessly with. My breath became shallow as I contemplated my situation, how long had I been asleep, and where was my father? I turned to the lazy boy in the living room and noticed it upturned and vacant. My heart started firing again like a machine gun and cold sweat now dawned on my brow. There was no sign of dad, not in the cabin at least. With my heartbeat slowing to the manageable speed of a cruising passenger train, I wondered where he could have gone while struggling to tame the rising feeling of dread as I hurried towards the front door and looked out over the hill and down towards the lake. There was no jagged black figure or human form in sight. A great deal of me was hoping to catch him investigating the same noise that startled me. But he was nowhere near, which made my blood run cold.
The unforgiving night’s ice cold wind stung my ears and pinched my face, my breath trailing off in vapour. “Dad!” I called out, towards the southern wharf down by the water, nothing. Again I called, towards the vegetable patch on the eastern side of the house, nothing. I tapped my fingers anxiously on the door frame before proceeding down the few steps leading into the cabin, closing the cabin door behind me to stop the jarring thump. With that I was engulfed in the darkness and violent wind. Disoriented I called out once more towards the pine forests to the west, “Dad!” my voice cracked from desperation and bounced through the gale, ringing in the distance as if it had been carried by the wind and exploded skyward, amplified by the mountains surrounding the lake.
A light! A light darted between the tree line and danced in the darkness before disappearing just as quickly as it came. I stared in awe as the wind found its way through my clothes and now chilled me completely. My bare feet screamed from the cold grass that I tortured them with and I could hear the abhorrent ripping sound bellowing back at me from the distant forest. I stood still, confused and staring hopefully. I heard him, faint at first, but I was certain that I heard my father’s voice on the wind.
I followed the voice out into the darkness, past the fire pit and towards the western tree line. I waved my arms in front of me pathetically probing the air for something to guide me. My eyes squinted hard to try and make out detail from nothing. “Curt.” Again it whispered from the distance. I stumbled across the field until I reached the outskirts of the woods and I could feel the first cluster great pine looming overhead. The wind and chill was slowly cut off by the wall of trees, as I followed the origin of my father’s voice.
The forest bed was thick with undergrowth and as familiar as this place was during the day, at night it was like another world, a world in which sight had to be thrown to the wind and I was forced to rely on my other senses for navigation. I could smell the heavy musk of the leaf litter, and hear the wind from the field. But I could see nothing more than the glare of the full moon hanging behind the thick clouds and the faint outline of the countless pine trees that shot skyward.
It was strange, I could smell him now. I could smell my father laced upon the air, boot-polish and old sweat. The same smell hanging among the trees as the red plaid shirt that he'd use to polish his boots and labour all weekend around the lake house. It was as if he was right beside me, this idea urged me to quickly turn side to side hoping that this was in fact, true. But all I found was more vague lines in darkness, freezing fingers and whipping wind songs from the distant clearing. The smell slowly disappeared, replaced with an eerily familiar, metallic, pooling scent…
My heart thundered at the realization, Blood. I could smell blood swimming in the air, as if someone painted the trees with buckets of human blood. I could taste it on the tip of my tongue the air was so filthy with the scent.
My eyes opened wide, panicking at the lack of visual aid as I stopped dead in my tracks. Something felt awkward, space felt strange, warped and twisted. It was like the world was turned on its side. It felt as though someone somewhere had invaded the space I now stood in. And I could feel its presence, I felt its eyes burning a hole in the back of my head, and the hair on my neck stood upright. My heart began racing faster and faster, thumping now like the cabin door, slamming against the wall in the wind. I could feel something out there, watching and waiting. I could feel it getting nearer, getting ever closer and growing. It was as if it was feeding on the shadows and becoming larger, filling the darkness with its horrid presence. I couldn't bare it anymore; I felt it creeping up on me and my skin was crawling. My head screaming for me to turn around but I couldn't move. I felt an impossible grip encompass my entire body and swallow me in darkness. Cold sweat like ice running down my cheeks and my clothes were now saturated.
My breath was pounding rapidly in short, sharp bursts as I watched it fog and pillar upwards through the cutting wind. I couldn't hear anything past the roaring noise in my head, raw panic like nails on a chalkboard. My thoughts were like a game of Ping-Pong, bouncing back and forth and I couldn't focus on anything. I felt it slithering at my heels now, like a python slowly constricting its prey, playing with it before a sudden death. A twisted cold breath falling onto my shoulders as every muscle in my body tensed to point where it felt I could explode at any time. I it leaned in closely beside me, with its face hanging inches away from my ear. I could hear its lungs gathering the icewind for speech, and its tongue slithering in between razor teeth, preparing for the first terrifying bite.
“It’s so close.” Hisses from its jaws in several thunderous voices spawning from the darkness in every direction, the trees dissolve, the sky falls apart and my entire world collapsed away into pitch black.