A Short Story
It is impossible to fully describe to you the quality of the setting or the experience. Remembering it is like grasping at shadowy gossamer wisps in a freshening wind.
We were coming to the end of a ride down a narrow gravel road. Close on the right rose up cliffs, giving way to nearly vertical slopes, rocky and lightly grassed. On the left the slopes had ended, replaced by a short ridge, slightly too high to see over from our seats. The driver was in shadow and he didn't speak. The occasional break in the ridge became more common until it seemed to be a series of boulders. These claustrophobic surroundings opened up at the end of the road to reveal a most stunning tableau.
The gravel road widened into a tiny stretch of pebbled "beach." The boulders of the ridge stopped short, the last one about six feet high. The mountains to the right continued and swept in a grand curve around the water. They rose directly out of the water, as though the whole area were a valley that had been flooded. They ended abruptly at the right far side of the lake. On the left, like a black iceberg, rose a single mountain out of the water, so that it looked as if to my left beyond the boulders and also between the range and the single peak, the lake might flow down as twin waterfalls into unseen lands below. But there was no roar. The water seemed still, and there was no sound but for very gentle lapping.
The moon hung almost full between the range and the single peak, and the sky refused to appear black. Instead it seemed a deep pearly blue. What was most shocking was the water itself. I gazed at it finally as we stepped from the car, and it seemed...
"Hey y'all! Come on, time's wastin'!"
On this tiny stretch of beach, towards where it disappeared into the steep slopes of the range, stood a bungalow of possibly three rooms, partly on the pebbled shore and partly on a tiny homemade pier. To the left, where the boulders ended, was a smaller one which was likely a single room, perhaps with a hot plate. The wall facing us was made of screens, like an old-fashioned porch. Dim lamplight shone inside.
Standing in the open doorway was a thin, short woman. In the lamplight I could see that her hair was reddish, poker straight, tied loosely back. Her form was sheathed in a housedress suitable for a farmwife. Her face was a country face, wrinkled but not too old, wearing no makeup. It was she who had spoken, and she beckoned us with a welcoming smile.
We approached somewhat hesitantly, climbed the three steps and entered the back door. She chattered merrily to us, and invited us to get comfortable while she got us a bedtime snack. The guest house was prepared with clean linens and we should find it comfortable for the night.
"We better get a move on' so we aren't late for cherch tomorra'!"
"I don't go to church," flatly stated my companion (daughter? sister? I never knew.) She turned and walked to get her bag from the car, which was idling in preparation to leave us here.
The woman's friendly face went cold. Her blue eyes turned to steel. Her friendly voice became ice as she stated bluntly, "Well might as well get settled in your room then."
I turned to her apologetically and explained, "She's going through a phase, right now. Just be patient with her, she'll come around." The woman turned away abruptly.
I exited through the side door nearest the water and walked the 20 or so feet towards the one-room bungalow. My companion rejoined me as the vehicle pulled away into the blackness of the narrow road, the only ingress or egress. Our feet dampened with the water between the rocks that made up the shore. We were alone with the water and the landscape now, and stopped to look and listen.
No sound but gentle lapping reached our ears, but our eyes could not quite reconcile the wonder of what they were seeing. The moonlight was beautiful and bright, yes, but it was the water. It didn't seem to be merely reflecting moonlight, and we went closer to the edge. We looked out upon the expanse of liquid and though we could see the reflection of the silver moon there was much more than that. The whole body seemed luminous, and the color...what was it? The word escaped me. We stepped closer to the edge, and a foot or two in from the edge. I bent curiously and saw that yes, a few inches below the surface that reflected the moon, the water was phosphorescent. It gave off its own light. I recalled as I put my hand into its warmth to scoop some out that the color is called "seafoam," though it is that color which real sea foam never is. A color that always looks unnatural, but here it didn't.
I scooped up a handful of the slightly effervescent liquid and laughed as I saw that the tiny amount was not luminescent except with the reflection of the moon. Only with depth would it give off that eldritch glow. I recalled the Great Salt Flats, and how it seems to give off a faint light of its own, and I joyfully went to taste this water, as I remarked in wonder, "This must be a Great Salt Lake," when a noise alerted me.
The woman had come out of the bungalow and was staring at us with blackest hate. No longer was there anything but murder in her previously friendly demeanor. I knew immediately we must run. Before I could turn away she raised something high above her head, and it flashed in the moonlight - a large cleaver. She hurled it with uncanny speed, and as the moment briefly froze, I also noticed it flew with unearthly accuracy. As I turned in slow motion, hearing the sound of its flight, I knew that the trajectory would sink that deadly weight directly between my shoulder blades, right in the spot you can never reach yourself. The area began to twitch maddeningly as I started to scramble away. I briefly considered dropping but she had already started to come towards us, and any delay would be death. My only chance was to flee.
I had almost reached the last boulder to try and scramble up its face when the cleaver struck the rock to my side. I glanced back and the woman was on her hands and knees, crawling with the preternatural speed of fast-motion film, and the distance between us was almost closed. The sight of her scuttering like an unholy insect gripped me in dread so profound I didn't know if I could continue. It might be better to submit to death from this demonic apparition than to flee and be chased, or even to continue to know of its existence. While the thought of remaining crossed my terrorized mind, the sure knowledge that at the top of the boulder lay the window into a different reality made me realize I had to at least try.
She closed the distance and - where did she get it? - started a mechanical instrument of death much like a chainsaw. She grinned damnably as she looked at me and said, "Which part do we cut off?" and with her free hand rolled a die that sounded like dry bone. It came up a one, and she looked at it disappointedly, muttering, "Damn!" I took that instant to begin my scramble to the top of the boulder. I could feel her hands clutching at my legs and feet but she could gain no purchase. I could see the window at the top of the boulder, though I could not se what was behind it. The ungiving rockface dug into my ribs painfully as I got to the top and began squeezing through the window, and I had a brief regret that there was no time to spare a glance back at what had promised to be an exceedingly beautiful world...
I felt a sharp pain in my lower calf that might have been her teeth as the last of my body fell through the window, but she could not pass. That part was over, and what remained to be seen was where I found myself currently, and what I would have to do to get through it.