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Dead Oaks: Skookum Lake


I was thirteen years old when the lake took my brother. If you read the papers, the story is he drowned. Swam out too far and got tired. Maybe got tangled in some weeds. Tragic, right? The real story is a hell of a lot scarier. 'Least I think so. You can decide for yourself.
The year was nineteen sixty-five. Dead Oaks was different then, just a small town with small-town people living in it. Simple folks. People worked hard all week, went to church on Sunday, minded their own business. Nowadays everybody’s got their face stuck in their fancy phones and their heads stuck up their asses. They wouldn’t be able to pick their neighbors out of a police line-up. No sense of community. Shit, now I’m just rambling. You asked about my brother.
Larry was the best big brother a kid could ask for. Always looking out for me, taught me how to fish and hit a baseball. One time, earlier that summer after the Wilsons had an unexpected addition to the family, he copped a couple “It’s a Girl!” cigars and we took ‘em out into the woods and smoked them. I puked my guts out, and we both went home dizzy and green around the gills. But, boy, did we laugh. Don’t get me wrong, Larry got into hot water plenty. Him and Joey Newman and one of the Kelly brothers - there were so goddamn many of those freckle-faced bastards it was hard to tell ‘em apart - dropped m80s in the toilets at the junior high school and blew them to shit. Pardon the pun. Everyone knew it was them but Principal Cheevers and the local police had no proof. It was supposed to be a harmless prank, you know, maybe flood the boys room and get an early release. They just had no idea how much power they were dealing with. Just like that day on the lake.
Sixty-five was a bitch of a summer. Hotter than blazes, started in May and kept right on blazing. The heat was all folks were talking about. Old Lady Norton said it was an omen, that it was unnatural. Us kids, what the hell did we care about omens? And how could the weather be unnatural? Most natural thing in the world. But even us kids, we sat around and bitched about the heat. The schoolhouse was an old brick thing, it held the heat like a goddamn pizza oven. Even with the windows wide open, it never caught a breeze. ‘Course once school let out, we drank in that hot summer weather. The older folks, though, it was all they talked about. Once kids started disappearing, people stopped talking about the weather and started heeding Old Lady Norton.
It was July the first when it happened. By that point in the summer, the town had already fallen into the void. People were going crazy. Everybody accusing everybody of such damn horrible things. I can’t remember how many kids had disappeared or been found dead around Skookum Lake, but it was more’n a handful. Remember now, this was before Son of Sam or Ted Bundy or any of those nut jobs. Hitler was the only serial killer we knew, and that term ‘serial killer’ wasn’t even something anybody said.
July the first dawned like every other day that summer. Least it seems that way. The night hadn’t had a chance to cool from the day before, and next thing you knew the sun was up and so was the mercury. Maybe that contributed to what happened. People were tired, irritated, scared… nobody could ever be comfortable, you know? When kids started going missing, people did what they thought was best to protect their families. They thought locking the windows and dealing with the heat was a better bet than never seeing their kids again. Closed windows in that heat…
At least three babies died in their cribs that summer.
Larry was up early that day. Too hot to sleep. I don’t want to belabor the point about the weather but Dead Oaks doesn’t get that kind of heat and humidity for more’n a day or three at a stretch. This was weeks of it, not a drop of rain. Anyway, I heard him rustling around in the kitchen and went downstairs to see what he was up to. Said he was meeting Joey Newman and the Kelly kid--why can’t I remember his name--down at the lake. I begged him to let me go with him, but he was in a mood, just like everyone else that summer, and he refused. Normally he let me tag along unless there was some trouble they were planning or there were girls involved. I thought it might be the latter, and the idea of seeing Trish Benson or Audrey DiCeasare traipsing around in a bathing suit was pretty appealing. Like I said, I was thirteen and Larry was sixteen. You remember those days?
I was pretty disappointed that he wouldn’t budge, so I decided I would wait until he left and then head out to the lake myself. Back then in the summer kids were invisible. Unless it was raining, you got up, ate breakfast, and went out. Maybe the lake, the baseball field, the woods, down town to check out the new comic books at the five and dime. Maybe you went home for lunch, maybe not. You definitely went home for dinner--families actually ate together back then--then back out until the street lights came on. Times were simpler, like I said, there were no killer clowns or guys in vans snatching kids or perverts in the park showing their privates to little girls.  Kids could just be kids and not be afraid. That all changed in sixty-five.
Even with everything going on, we were still allowed to do pretty much all the things we always did. So when I told my mom I was meeting some of the guys at the lake, she told me to have fun and off I went. Truth is, I hadn’t even talked to any of my buddies. I don’t know why, too many Hardy Boys books maybe. I had it in my head I was going to spy on my brother and his friends, and have some great stories to tell my own crew. In that regard, I was right.
I knew most of the spots Larry and his friends liked to go. One was ‘the rocks’ which is pretty self-explanatory, I guess. Over away from the public beach there were a few different outcroppings where you could jump off the rocks into deep water, then lay up on those same rocks in the sun to dry off. There was also ‘Little Beach’ which was just a small sandy patch of shoreline surrounded by pretty deep woods. Very secluded because the lake had a small island about a hundred yards off of Little Beach and it completely blocked the view from the public beach or the docks. Unless you hiked through the woods or got there by boat, it was as private as you could get.
I was right about a couple of things that day. There were girls involved, the two I mentioned and Audrey’s little sister, Marie. The second thing was that they would be at Little Beach. Even though the rocks was easier to get to, I took a shot that trampling through the woods would pay off. For a while it did.
To get to Little Beach I had to walk to the south end of town and cut through the Billings’ farm to access the woods. That was no small feat--Dan Billings was as mean as they came, especially if he caught you on his property. His son, John, was a no-good son-of-a-bitch who seemed to serve no purpose on God’s Earth other than to bully me and my friends. That day I was lucky and didn’t run into either one of them. There was always a god-awful smell about the Billings place. They had pigs they bred and slaughtered. It was a smell you never got used to. And it was so much worse in that heat, it just hung there in the air then clung to your nostrils.
I entered the woods after cutting across the field at the back of the Billings’ property, then followed a well-worn trail through about a half mile of woods. The bugs were fierce and even in the cover of the trees the heat was like a weight on my shoulders. I wanted nothing more than a cool dip in the lake by that time. Even the promise of Trish and Audrey in bathing suits was an afterthought.
I could hear Larry and the others before I could see them. Voices carried weird off the lake. It sounded like they were behind me as I got closer. I slowed down and moved off the trail, cursing under my breath when I felt a bunch of ‘pinchers’ --I learned when I was older they were called Burdocks--attaching themselves to my clothes. Already hot and tired, now I was getting pretty pissed off, too. Finally I was close enough to see them. If the pinchers didn’t have me riled enough, seeing that Marie was with them sure did. Two things popped into my head, ideas colliding against each other, grappling for my attention.
First, it would have been cool to hang out with Marie. She was part of a different clique at school but we did have one class in common. I thought I caught her looking at me a few times. Once, I swear she smiled at me after I answered a question right. The idea that won out was that one of the others was sweet on Marie. It made me mad and a little uncomfortable. Larry and his friends weren’t grown-ups by any account, but they were too old to be chasing after a thirteen year old. I almost stepped out of the trees and joined them. Larry would have been pissed for sure, but what were they going to do? Then I saw the cooler and I knew it wasn’t full of Cokes. Blackmail is a powerful tool.
I crouched behind some bushes getting as close as I could without risking getting caught. I’m not sure what it was that stopped me from just walking out and saying hi, but I sure wish I had. Things might have turned out very different, who knows? I crouched behind those bushes for a while watching my brother and his friends playing grab-ass and drinking beer. At one point I saw them smoke cigarettes, but when the smoke wafted my way, it smelled like they were smoking burning leaves. At the time I had no idea what it was. Simpler times, remember? I was getting tired and hungry by this point and had stretched out on the ground and was peeking out through the bottom of the bushes. It was nice and cool in the shade of the bushes, the cool earth under me. Despite my hunger, I dozed off.
I remember waking once and being completely delirious. The sun had shifted and was glaring off the lake straight into my eyes. I squinted, still half asleep, trying to make sense of what was happening. There was a radio playing, something by the Beach Boys I think. Trish was talking to the Kelly kid and looked pissed. They started yelling at each other and ended up walking away as I dozed back off. Just before I fell back asleep, I got this feeling, like something was about to happen. Kind of like that feeling in the air right before a big thunder storm. I wrote it off to that dreamy place you go between awake and asleep where all your thoughts are muddled and a little weird. I let sleep take me.
It was the screaming that woke me up the next time. The sun had slid behind a cloud, drenching the scene in a weird light. I could hear the sounds from the public beach--splashing and laughing--you know how sound carries over water. I wondered idly if they could hear the screaming too. It was Audrey standing at the edge of the lake just screaming her head off. I could see beyond her into the water where Larry and Joey were diving under, coming up, then diving back under. All the while Audrey just kept screaming. As the veil of sleep lifted I realized Marie was missing.
I stood up and ran to the edge of the water. I felt all sluggish and cramped after being on the ground for so long but as I ran that quickly faded. The magic of being thirteen. I stripped off my shirt and sneakers and splashed into the water. Larry came up from one of his dives and our eyes met. I’ll never forget the look we shared. Not a word was spoken, I just started diving in and trying to find Marie.
I don’t know how long we looked but it seemed like forever. At some point the three of us surfaced at the same time and shook our heads and waded to shore. Audrey was sitting at the edge of the water sobbing. Finally I asked my brother what had happened. He told me that Audrey saw a monster come out of the lake and take Marie. Larry, Joey and I were still trying to catch our breath and Audrey was just weeping and mumbling. I looked at Larry, my eyes begging him to tell me he was playing a joke on me. The idea hit me suddenly. They had found me spying on them while I was asleep and planned this elaborate gag. His eyes told me I was wrong.
Larry told Joey to take Audrey to the Billings place and call the police while he and I stayed at the lake to keep looking. Joey quickly dressed and helped Audrey to her feet. She moved like a robot, and I knew she was in shock. They started walking away, but suddenly she froze. She turned slowly to face me and her eyes were brimming with madness. “It was just like that movie.” Then she turned and walked away with Joey. I would never see either one of them again.
I knew she was talking about The Creature From The Black Lagoon and I shivered despite the heat. We had all seen the movie and I can tell you it scared the shit out of me. Nowadays, with all the special effects and computer generated crap, the movie looks pretty corny. But back then, it was terrifying.
I asked Larry if he believed her, if he’d seen anything. I was scared, and I wanted my big brother to console me. But he couldn’t. He told me he didn’t see anything, that he turned around when Audrey screamed. I knew he was lying. As much as I didn’t want to hear the truth, I begged him to tell me. He walked over to the cooler and came back with two beers. We sat there and drank them before he said another word.
It was my first beer and I remember wondering why people drank it, it tasted like cold piss to me. But I drank it just the same. Finally, he spoke. He told me Marie was in the lake with Joey. She was a really strong swimmer and he wasn’t. She had swam way out but Joey didn’t follow. He started heading back to shore when Marie screamed. Larry paused, and I could see him struggling with what he was about to say.
Marie had begun to swim back to shore when something came up from under water and grabbed her. She screamed and struggled but it took her under and that was it; she or the creature never surfaced again. Larry said it was hard to see because of the sun. Remember, I said it was reflecting off the water? But he said the cloud passed just at that moment and he saw something that looked like a man, but it had skin like a lizard or a snake and it was a greenish-brown color. He didn’t get much of a look at it but--and he said this next part like he was ashamed--he said it did look like that creature in the movie.
A cold fear spread through me. I didn’t want to hear that kind of talk, didn’t want to think about such things. The sounds of people having fun drifted across the lake. I wanted to be over there, doing normal kid things. Not listening to my brother talk about some monster that took Marie. A horrible thought leaped into my head. All those other missing children. I stared at the water, intently watching for the telltale swirls of something moving just under the surface. The beer and heat were making me nauseous.
Larry stood up and said he was going to keep looking for Marie. I begged him not to go, not to leave me alone. He assured me he would be fine and that the police would be there soon. He waded into the water. Feelings of fear and pride battled for supremacy inside me. I had always looked up to Larry and here he was, going into the lake where he believed a monster dwelled. It was resignation that won the battle of emotions. I somehow knew he would never come out of that water.
I watched him dive under the water, then come back up. Over and over. Each time I was sure he wouldn’t come up. Without thinking about it, I walked over to the cooler and got another beer. I sat there watching my brother tirelessly keep searching for Marie. After a while, guilt and shame began to silence my fear. I should be out there helping. I put down the beer can and with a deep sigh began walking toward the lake. I was about to yell out to Larry that I was coming to help when the water behind him erupted in a chaotic splash. I saw Larry start to turn as something large and black enveloped him. Then they were gone.
I blinked as if I could erase what I’d just seen. And what did I see? It happened so fast that my brain was unable to comprehend it in real time. I sat down on the beach and waited.
***
They found me at dusk. Some guys fishing off their canoe saw me sitting there. I was sunburned to the point of blistering, and dehydrated. One stayed with me while the other went and got the cops. They questioned me for hours. Turns out they never got a call from Joey or Audrey. I told them they went to the Billings farm to make the call. They believed this part and went to check it out. The rest, well, let’s just say I ended up talking to a lot of doctors and had a few months vacation in a special kind of hospital.
The cops called Joey and Audrey’s parents and found out they never made it home. They searched Billings farm--in those days there wasn’t such a fuss about search warrants and citizens’ rights--and found a nightmare. Dan Billings was slaughtering a lot more than pigs and his son John was his helper. Papers said it like some kind of medieval torture chamber. I don’t know how many of the missing kids they found in the Billings’ basement but I know Joey, Audrey and Marie were among them. Larry wasn’t. Of all the weird shit they found, the weirdest was a modified beaver-tail wet suit. It was painted green and brown instead of the traditional black and there was a helmet painted to look like that creature from the movie. There was a cave on their property that somehow led to an underground extension of the lake. Since they didn’t find Larry’s body, they figured he just got tangled up in the weeds or swam out too far looking for Marie. Mystery solved.
The part the police never believed me about was what I saw that day. Like I said, it happened fast. But I sat there all day on that little strip of sand going over it in my head. As near as I can describe, what I saw take Larry looked like a tentacle. It wasn’t the green and brown color of the suit they found at Billings--they even brought that in to the hospital to “help me remember”--this was shiny, black, and much thicker than anyone’s arm in that suit. And they never found Larry.
Dan Billings went away for life. I heard someone gutted him in prison. Justice, karma, whatever you want to call it. John went to the loony bin. I visited him there one time. Losing a brother, especially the way I lost mine, it haunts a man. Preys on him is probably a better way of putting it. I made up a story about being a cousin from out of state. No computers back then to check identity--this would have been some time in the seventies. He was mad as a hatter. Nurse told me he stared out the window all day mumbling.
I walked in and that’s exactly what he was doing. I said his name and he turned to me. The expression on his face is something I’ll never forget. His eyes were empty, an abyss. I felt like I could look into them and see straight to the depths of Hell. Then he smiled and those eyes changed to a different kind of crazy. He said, ‘Hi Frankie,’ and I just about pissed myself. It had been ten years - ten hard years for me--no way he could have recognized me. I’d given them a fake name at the nurse’s station so they couldn’t have told him either.
He said he’d been waiting for me. That he wanted to tell me about Larry. His voice started out quiet but by the time he was done, he was practically screaming. The nurses ended up coming in and giving him a shot to calm him down. He told me that after his father took Marie, the old man went back out to get me. While his dad was gone, Joey and Audrey arrived. John let them in to use the phone. He laughed like a lunatic for about five minutes at this part: they didn’t even have a phone. He killed them both with a hammer.
When his father got back he said he was done doing the creature thing. They cleaned up the mess that John had made and Dan told him he’d seen something take Larry. It was just a dark shape but it scared Billings pretty bad. John said he’s been waiting all this time to tell me. He was crazy as a shithouse rat, but I believed him.
Kids still go missing every now and again from Skookum Lake. I bought a house out there on the lake and I watch. I won’t go in the water or on a boat, but I watch. I know something’s in there.

About the author:
Tom Deady is a horror author living in Holliston, Massachusetts. He holds a master's degree in English and Creative Writing and is a member of the Horror Writers Association. His first novel, Haven, is due out from Cemetery Dance this summer.

Connect with Tom at:


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