The water was still. Not smoothed over like “glass,” as they called it, but it was the middle of winter, so there were no boats and the wind wasn’t more than a light breeze where Jack stood on the dock. There were ripples moving over the surface of the lake, as there always are with a living body of water, but they were small enough to only make any given line of reflection dance back and forth a little without breaking.
It wasn’t the fact that he could clearly see the reflections of the far bank on the surface of the water that made him strain his eyes, looking out over the surface, while feeling his pulse slowly climb in terror. The glass hadn’t surprised him at all; that was normal, maybe even expected, this time of year. No, Jack’s eyes flitted around the surface of the lake in panic because of the disturbance he had seen way out there. If it was closer, others may have assumed that it was a fish, but as the rings spread out from that one violent splash, he made the estimation that it had been at least a thousand feet off shore. For him to have noticed it at all, it had to have been big.
The feeling of that cold tentacle slithering up his leg and taking hold crept into his mind. He tried to think of other things, but its sickening grasp was fast this time, unlike that summer when he had been a boy; that summer when five kids had gone missing over the course of a month, pulled down into the depths, their bodies never recovered. He had been the lucky one, the one that, for some reason, the creature had felt and not taken. Perhaps he lost the creature in the murky water when he swam for shore, or perhaps his scrawny legs hadn’t had enough meat on them. He wasn’t sure, but he knew he was luckier than at least three boys and two girls that summer, whatever the reason.
The disappearing children had been attributed to changing downwelling in the lake. Jack had known better, he had felt that slick appendage wrap around his leg and tug slightly before letting go. The rash of drownings had only happened that one summer thirty years before, that Jack could remember, but he had done some digging in the archives. It happened like clockwork, every three decades.
This was the year.
He could tell somebody, but who would he tell, nobody believed what was coming, and thus, nobody could stop it but him.
As he dumped his dive gear and harpoon gun into the front of the boat, Jack reminded himself that he still had a few months before the tourists started showing up and recklessly zipping around the lake. The tourists that were loud, obnoxious litter bugs with no respect for anything; the tourists he was struggling to save.
This elephant at Wild Things in Monterey, Ca was dancing. So, obviously, I set it to “I Wish” by Skee-Lo.
Disclaimer: I’m aware that when elephants dance it is out of stress and usually a sign of less than ideal living conditions. I’m not an elephant behavioral pyscho-whatever but I don’t think this one was indicative of overall unhappiness. Prior to this, the elephant was playfully throwing dust at the tour guide and showing off, until she snapped at him. Again, I’m not an expert, but I think this was more from him being stressed that he thought he was in trouble, which is pretty cute in a way… I may be wrong, but it makes me feel better about making jokes.
He hadn’t done it because he wanted to be famous, nor because, as he sat contemplating his fate from his deathbed, it seemed able to lend some small manner of immortality. He had buried the treasure because the only big thing that he hadn’t gotten a chance to cross off his bucket list was a real treasure hunt. He had decided that designing one was the next best thing.
Sure, treasures had been buried, some of them for similar reasons even: yet there weren’t very many, and none of them seemed to be something that he could accomplish, so he had made one of his own. It was a puzzle that he could have figured out, given the time. The prize at the end wasn’t much: a couple thousand dollars worth of gold (which amounted to a few ounces), an old pocket watch, and a copy of a novel he had written and never published with a document signing the rights over to whoever found the chest. He hadn’t published that novel because he hated the story; it had been his first book and was about vampires, but perhaps, with his death, it would be worth a little money for whoever found it. That, though, wasn’t likely.
As he lay in his bed, he could feel the life draining from him: it would happen any moment. He was a little afraid, but he tried not to think about that; instead he focused on his treasure hunt. Most of the hints were strewn through the poorly received pages of his novels, but there was a piece of the puzzle hidden in his favorite tree out in the backyard. It was a gnarled old oak tree. He loved that tree. Its twisting, curving, gnarled limbs perfectly captured the dichotomy of static and turbulent. He thought of it as a symbol of his life, and most good lives, for that matter. He had never particularly enjoyed excitement, but had relished in the sedentary moments of reflection after an adventure. It was reminiscing about the adventures after they happened that made life worth living. A life had to be a balance of chaos and stillness to be a content one; the tree reminded him of that.
He looked to his side, where his wife was looking down at him. She was still beautiful in her old age; the spark of youth shined in her eyes when she smiled, but she didn’t smile much anymore. He figured that was probably his own fault for up and dying on her. He grinned at her, hoping she would smile back. He wanted to see that sparkle one last time. She didn’t smile, though.
He tried to explain to her that it was all going to be okay. “You know,” he started, finding that it was difficult to talk and that it took him a long time to speak, “that old oak tree in the yard?” he asked.
“Don’t worry, Honey,” she said sweetly, trying to save him the effort of speaking, “I know it’s a fire hazard.”
Panic started to rise in his chest. He tried to speak, but nothing came out. It was finally happening: he was dying.
“There’s a tree trimmer coming to take the ugly old thing down next week,” she assured him, placing her hand on his shoulder.
He struggled to speak, but the struggle was internal; he could no longer move, and breathing no longer seemed to be doing anything. The panic subsided to terror. All that work would be for nothing if that oak tree no longer stood in the yard.
“Don’t worry, Love, try to get some rest,” she said, smiling down at him, her eyes twinkling.
Edit: I uploaded the wrong version initially… there were a bunch of typos, my bad.
I told him not to come for me, but there he stands on the screen to my security monitor, pounding on the front door screaming my name. He said he would save me. He said he would swing by and pick me up before it all happened, and that we could drive off into the wild together. He wanted to drive far enough so that it would no longer affect us, for a little while at least.
I told him not to come, he thought I was being a hero, but I wasn’t, I was tucked away in the shelter, safer than I would be in the passenger seat to his ’69 bug. I wasn’t allowed to tell him about it, so I told him to leave me behind and go on without me, but he wouldn’t leave me behind to die.
The camera didn’t transmit voice, it was just a little black and white image, but I knew what he was saying. He was begging and pleading with me to come out, so we can go before the bombs started falling.
I stared at the screen, wishing he had left when I told him to. Then, just as predicted, there was a white flash and the camera ceased to function. A murmur ran through the twenty gathered people in the shelter as a rumble tore over the surface above, wiping away buildings like so many marks on a dirty chalkboard.
The town was gone now. He was gone. A small twinge of guilt settled in my chest as I imagined his body instantly turned to ash, his fist still in motion to knock on my door. Chivalry wasn’t dead, but it seemed the chivalrous had died for their troubles.
It was his own damn fault, I told myself. I stood up from the monitor and walked to settle down on my bunk. It would be several long year’s wait for spring.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, I guess. He never had been a very good listener.