Mistress of the Deep. Short Story.

Dan took a deep breath, filling his lungs with the fresh, country air. This was just what the doctor had ordered. He closed the door to the car and went around to the trunk to start unloading his things. Three weeks in this cabin which was in the middle of nowhere. Somewhere over the nearby hill there was a neighbour and he passed another house about fifteen minutes ago on the drive down the small, winding road. He carried the bags he had brought with him up the few steps and onto the small porch, he left them down and opened the door, smiling.

The cabin matched the pictures almost exactly, Dan entered and took it all in. A main sitting room which held a comfortable looking couch and recliner, on the wall was a reasonably sized television. There were a few touches about the room that lent it a homey feel, a thick rug, a crocheted blanket across the couch, a few knick knacks. Already feeling at ease he moved past the sitting room and into the kitchen, it too was a good size, having everything he’d need and decorated in a rustic style. He had been worried that the cabin might have been updated since the pictures were taken, that everything would have been changed to look sleek and modern, all shining steel and stark contrasts. He turned and went back to the sitting room and through to the bedroom, inside was a large double bed, a locker and a lamp, everything he needed. He carried his suitcase inside and set it on the floor of the bedroom, he’d unpack in a little while.

He spent some more time looking around the cabin, there were a few things in the fridge already, some milk, a few eggs and some ham. It took him only a few minutes to find the bread and make himself a sandwich. He hadn’t eaten anything since his quick breakfast that morning. After eating he looked through the cupboards properly before making a quick shopping list. It was still pretty bright out and he wanted to pick up a few things in the nearby town before it got too dark. The roads were thin and twisty, and he didn’t want to crash into a bush or something on the way.

He stepped out of the cabin and locked the door behind himself out of habit, he walked a few steps then smiled. It was probably completely unnecessary, after all it wasn’t like there was anyone out here to actually break into the place. He started whistling as he got into the car, it really was so quiet and peaceful out here.

The drive to the town took about forty minutes, Dan knew that he could easily have made it in a half an hour, but the roads still made him nervous. He was used to wide, open roads that curved gently rather than the sharp snakelike curves of what he began to think of as “The country trail.” The town was reasonably sized and held a supermarket, part of him was a little disappointed, hoping for a quaint old timey general store, but the days of those were quickly passing. He stocked up quickly and the town was large enough that the cashier made no remarks on his newness, though he had faintly hoped there would be some kind of “new around here?” banter. With the shopping done he loaded up the car and did a quick tour of the place, he had driven around the outskirts of the town when he had picked up the keys from a lovely older couple and didn’t really get a lay of the land. He wasn’t planning on being in the town that often, only for picking up a few things in the supermarket, but it was good to know what else was on offer. There were a few shops dotted around the place along with some bars and a dingy looking nightclub, all of which were useless to him as he was certain no taxi would take him back to the cabin. There was an antique store that looked interesting and a few second hand book shops around. He decided he’d come in one of the days, get a nice breakfast in one of the cafes he had seen and wander through, see if there was anything interesting inside them.

The drive back passed quickly, though Dan was getting nervous as the light started to fade. He made it back to the cabin while there was still a little daylight left, by the time he entered the cabin and started to unpack his things, night had fallen. After he put away the food he grabbed a beer and went to the back porch, outside there was some wooden chairs and a small table, he brushed some cobwebs from one and sat down, sipping the beer. It was dark, darker than he would have expected, but he still felt at ease. It was a relaxing kind of darkness, where nothing lurked or stalked through it. Occasionally he heard animal cries, a few moos, one or two horse whinnies and, at one unpleasant point, the shrill cries of a fox. He spent some time looking at the stars, bright pinpricks in the blackness of the sky, the longer he looked the more appeared. After a while his stomach grumbled and Dan decided it was time for dinner, standing he took his empty beer bottle and went into the cabin.

Dinner was steak with mashed potato and some vegetables, both of which were heated in the microwave. He ate at the kitchen table, already deciding that he would eat inside rather than out. The days were warm but the night held a faint chill to it. Once he was finished eating, he cleaned up and went into the sitting room, reassuring himself that he was only watching the TV because he was tired after the long day of driving. He flicked around the channels and found some TV show that was watchable. After it was over he stood and went to the bedroom, he grabbed out his toiletry bag and promised that he’d unpack everything else in the morning.

He woke early the next morning as light filled the room, the curtains weren’t thick enough to block out all the light. When he woke, Dan felt quite refreshed. He got out of bed and went to the bathroom, once done he went back to the room and unpacked everything.

In the kitchen he made himself a cup of coffee and grabbed out a bowl for some cereal. He wanted to go for a walk around the area and didn’t want to be uncomfortably full for it. He brought the coffee and cereal outside and ate on the porch, there was still a slight chill from the night before, but the sun was warming everything up nicely. When he had finished breakfast he went inside and dressed comfortably.

He couldn’t remember the exact size of the land he was on, but he had been told that the neighbours would have fences around areas where they didn’t want him to go and that, for the most part, he’d be free to wander the land. The only thing he knew for sure was that there was a lake around here somewhere, he had been told about it by the owners, seemingly just so they could warn him to not go swimming in it. Something about dangerous currents or some such. It hadn’t sounded all that dangerous when they described it, but he expected it to be too far away to even consider it. They had mentioned that a few people had drowned in the lake, though they didn’t specify a number and he didn’t ask. He stood on the back porch for a moment, then he started to walk.

As he walked he tried to create landmarks for himself, he was sure he wouldn’t get lost, but if he did he didn’t want to rely on just stumbling across someone, after all there was a fair distance between himself and anyone else. Luckily there were some easy to remember places, a few large boulders clumped together, an old tree that looked like it was dead and going to fall over at the next breeze and the remains of an old cottage. The last interested him the most and he spent a few minutes climbing around it, careful not to disturb anything for fear a wall could collapse on him. The cottage was small and had only a few rooms, the roof was long gone as was the door. He found nothing too interesting around it, he thought it was likely that either locals or teenagers had taken what ever had been left behind. He had half expected to see signs of recent usage, like cigarette butts, old condoms or beer cans, but there were probably more interesting places for local teens to go for that kind of thing. When he was done looking around the cottage he continued on, enjoying the fresh air and the light breeze that helped cool him as he walked. After about an hour or so he decided to head back, the trip was easy enough as he followed his landmarks, as the cabin came into view Dan was quite proud of himself for getting back so easily.

In the cabin he had a small snack and decided he would head out again, perhaps there was something interesting in the other direction. He scaled the hill and stood, surveying the land around him, he was surprised to see that the lake was just a short distance away, the hill continued on in a sort of ridge that had hid it from view. He had expected the lake to be at least a twenty minute walk from what the owners of the cabin had told him. He started down the hill, heading towards it as it seemed to be the most interesting thing in the area.

He stood at the edge, looking across the water, the breeze had stilled and the surface of the lake was smooth, reflecting the sky. The water seemed dark, darker than he would have expected. Stones covered the shore, worn smooth by the water. He walked along the edge, occasionally picking up a stone and skimming it across the lake. It was much larger than he had thought from the hill, but it curved out of view behind another set of hills, he followed the shore for two hours before it started to curve back again, at this point he was starting to feel quite hungry. He continued on around until he reached roughly where he had started. It was quite a nice lake, very serene, he had even walked with his feet in the water for a stretch and the water was surprisingly warm. As he walked back to the cabin he wondered if perhaps there was some kind of hot spring nearby. He didn’t think there were any, but it would certainly help explain the warmth of the water. He wondered why there weren’t people around it, after all the warmth of it would make it an attractive spot for people to go swimming. Ok, so a few people drowned from the currents, but that was the same for hundreds of lakes, surely if people were careful they would be fine. He hadn’t even come across a dock when he had circled around it, it was certainly large enough for a few fishing boats and a couple of jet skis. He tried to think if the owners of the cabin had said anything about fish in the lake, but he couldn’t quite recall if they had or not. They probably wouldn’t have mentioned it, he decided, especially if they didn’t want people swimming. Despite thinking it was unwarranted, he understood their concern, it would be bad publicity for the area, and in turn their cabin.

He sat on the porch again while he ate a late lunch, considering the warmth of the water, and how close it was, perhaps he would go for a bit of a swim at some point. He was a strong swimmer after all and surely it wouldn’t be that dangerous. Besides that the owners were quite old, and probably worrying more than necessary. As he finished off his sandwich he decided that tomorrow he’d go have lunch beside the stream he had come across, it had been easy to cross, he wasn’t sure of the depth, but there were plenty of rocks which he was able to use as stepping stones. Perhaps he’d even go into town and pick up a fishing rod, he hadn’t brought one with him, but surely there was a place he could buy one. As he thought about it, Dan decided that he’d try and spot fish tomorrow and if he saw one, he’d get the rod. It wouldn’t be much use to get one and then not catch anything.

A week into his vacation and he had never felt so relaxed before. Every day he had gone for a walk, which usually ended up quite long as he didn’t feel the time passing, and he had been eating a lot healthier than he normally would. He kept his phone off and in the kitchen, he turned it on twice so far to check messages, but there had been nothing important to worry about. Most people knew he wouldn’t have his phone on and didn’t bother trying to contact him. He kept it charged in case of an emergency, but everything felt so serene and tranquil he couldn’t even begin to imagine what kind of emergency might strike out here. Life was too sedate for an emergency. Before he arrived at the cabin he had been a little worried that the nights might be a little unnerving, being alone with darkness all around, but they were just relaxing, it was a quiet kind of dark, the animal noises were soothing rather than eerie. He didn’t bother closing the curtains around the cabin after the first night, something he would never do in the city, but the area was just so empty, it seemed a shame to block out nature and the light of the morning.

He had gone into town once again to stock up on some food, the little trip was nice, just to get out and seem some people, but he found himself missing the peace and quiet of the cabin. He wondered just how he’d manage to readjust to the noise of the city when he got home.

He started to eat his lunch beside the lake, bringing it with him when he went for his walk in the mornings. There was a boulder that was nice to sit in, it had a dip on one side that made a ledge which was perfect for sitting on. It was still a little cool by the time he reached it, but the sun had warmed it enough so that it wasn’t uncomfortable. He would roll up his trouser legs and walk in the water for a short while, leaving his shoes and socks beside the boulder, one or two days he took them off and waded out deeper. The more he walked in it the more confident he became that he could swim in it easily. There hadn’t been any currents that had grabbed at his feet, even the waves were gentle whenever he stood at the edge.

Midway through the second week Dan decided to go for a swim, he went for his walk as usual, then after he returned to the cabin and grabbed a towel and his swimming trunks. He had picked them up in town the last time he went shopping, he never bothered with the fishing rod, there appeared to be a few fishes, but there seemed little point in trying to catch them, he realised, as he stood in the store looking at the poles, that he wouldn’t know what to do once he caught it. He had vague ideas about cleaning it and cooking it, but he didn’t really know the specifics of either, and to catch them just for fun seemed like a cruel game to play.

At the lake he looked around furtively, feeling slightly guilty, before he stripped naked and put on the swimming trunks. He hadn’t seen anyone around the area, but as he slid off his clothes he felt as though someone would round the top of the hill and see him. He walked into the water, enjoying the warmth and dunked his head under. When he stood up a faint breeze picked up causing him to shiver. He stayed to the shallower parts of the lake, reassured that should he need to, he could simply stand up and out of the water. Surely there could be no danger in that? He swum until he started to feel a little tired, then he simply stood and walked to the shore. There he dried himself quickly, shivering in the cold, and dressed in his clothes which were warm after sitting in the sun. Feeling refreshed and pleasantly tired, Dan headed back to the cabin, there he lay out the towel and trunks to dry. He made himself a cup of coffee and went into the sitting room, there he sat in the warmth of the cabin and read one of the books he had brought with himself.

After the first day it seemed to naturally become part of his routine, a walk in the morning and a swim in the afternoon. The water was always warm and inviting, but he never ventured too far from the shore, despite not coming across any currents, the warning stayed in his mind. The deeper water would probably be colder and he reasoned that that would mean stronger currents. The swim was relaxing, though occasionally a thin strand of seaweed would brush against his leg, once or twice it even wrapped around his foot, it was a simple affair to extract himself from it, but the feeling was always unpleasant, despite the warmth of the lake the seaweed itself always seemed cold and without fail, felt slimy against his skin.

Towards the end of the second week he met some of the neighbours while he was out for a walk. They introduced themselves as being from over the hill, they chatted for a moment until Rosie mentioned that she had seen him swimming in the lake one of the days, Dan blushed slightly, hoping she hadn’t seen him change and made a mental note to wear his swimming trunks from the cabin next time.
“I’m surprised that John and Linda didn’t warn you off swimming there.”
“The might have mentioned that it wasn’t the best place, but I’ve been keeping to the shallows of it.”
Rosie shook her head, “Normally they put the fear on thick with guests, more so when there’s children about.” She leaned in conspiratorially, “their son drowned about twenty years back, he was only seventeen, poor thing.”
“That’s terrible, I didn’t realise.”
“Yeah, they don’t like people knowing really, they’ve a bit of a vendetta against the lake because of it. Scare most people off, though usually a few people come during the summer, mostly when it gets really hot out. Not that many people bother since the pool in town opened up. Easier for most people to get to, besides that there’s a proper beach about twenty minutes the other way from town.”
“So it’s safe then?”
“Well, there were a few other accidents around it, but it’s always been foolish stuff. A few drunk teenagers, some people too young or too old to be out there alone. Really it’s as safe as any other lake, I think the problem is how secluded it is. With the teenagers, if one of them gets into trouble there’s only other drunk idiots there to try and help in time. They’ve stopped coming here though, they have to drive past our place to get there, we usually call the cops. I know it makes us sound like killjoys, but it’s better for them. We wouldn’t even mind so much if they came in the daylight. Most of the time they’d have already had a few drinks in them.”

They chatted for a short while longer, Dan feeling better about swimming in the lake, obviously it wasn’t nearly as dangerous as advertised. As they said goodbye and continued on their own ways, Dan felt a little bad for Rosie’s husband, whose name he hadn’t really caught, Rosie had dominated the conversation, telling him about some local gossip he didn’t really care about. It seemed her husband had pretty much given up any chance of actual conversation once she got started. Still, they were nice enough people from what he had seen, Rosie had pointed out the general direction of their house and told him to pop by if he needed anything. He wouldn’t take her up on that offer, but it was still nice to be offered it.

After meeting the neighbours, Dan started to swim in the deeper parts of the lake, but he was still careful to stick close enough to the shore so that he could get there easily if he needed to. Though the water became colder the further into the lake he went, it was a gradual process that made it refreshing rather than shocking and it was always nice leaving through the warmer water of the shore. The only downside he found with swimming in the deeper sections was that there seemed to be more seaweed that would brush lightly along his legs and feet sometimes, mostly when he was treading water.

It was his second last day in the cabin, he had already packed most of his things away, he didn’t want to spend the next day worrying about getting everything together, he wanted to be able to relax and enjoy the last few moments he had. The thought of leaving was hard enough as it was, he didn’t want to make it worse with unnecessary stress. He had bought himself some nice food in town the last time he had gone in so he could make a good last meal in the cabin. He wanted to enjoy his final few hours here, already he knew that the next time he could get away, he would be renting this place again. Even though he was just renting it felt like home. Perhaps one day he’d even be able to buy the place. Hell if he got internet set up here there wouldn’t really be much of a problem with moving here. Perhaps he’d mention it to the owners, they might be amenable to selling, sure the rent was probably bringing in some nice money for them, but a lump sum would be better. The more he thought about it on his walk the better the idea became. Why would they turn him down? After all they didn’t live here and they said themselves they only came out to clean after the last guest and throw some food in the fridge for when the next arrived. When he returned to the cabin Dan decided he’d sleep on it, then if he felt the same way in the morning, he’d float the idea when he was returning the keys, maybe even make an offer. After all he’d be able to fetch a good price for his own place, so he’d be able to pay them a fair and decent amount for the cabin.

Back at the cabin he made himself a light lunch, a salad and a sandwich, and put it into his bag, then, he gathered his things and went to the lake. It was as empty as it always was, the sun was shining down, it was the warmest day yet, and as Dan ate he reminded himself to be careful in the water, lest he get a sunburn. Over the three weeks his skin had slowly darkened, giving him a healthy colour. He hadn’t expected to come back with a tan, nor had he thought to pack sun screen. He had thought he’d spend the three weeks reading and maybe jotting down ideas or thoughts, passing the time idly. Despite it being only three weeks he felt stronger, healthier and some of his clothes were slightly loose even though he wasn’t even trying to lose any weight. It was all this healthy eating, exercise and fresh air. In the city he never felt like he had time to go to the gym, or to cook his own food. Out here everything was just perfect. After tidying away the remains of his lunch, Dan shucked off his clothes and changed to the trunks, he waded into the water, enjoying the familiar warmth. It was almost like the lake was just one giant bathtub meant only for him. He did a few lengths in the shallow end to warm himself up, then he swam deeper into the lake.

This time he went deeper than he normally did, eager to make his last proper swim a memorable one, he planned to swim again tomorrow, but it would only be a short one, to round out the trip. He was surprised at how cold the water was starting to get, though he hadn’t swam here before he didn’t think it would get that much colder, he swam a little faster to keep himself warm, but the water kept stealing his heat. He stopped swimming and started to tread the water, it really was abysmally cold this far in, he started to shiver lightly, he took a few breaths, then started to swim back towards the shore. The cold was draining him of energy pretty quickly, much faster than Dan would have expected, he didn’t panic, he knew he would get to the shore soon if he just persevered. He stopped occasionally for a breather, he hadn’t realised he had swum out so far. He took another breath, preparing to swim again when he felt seaweed drift against his leg, wrapping around it lightly. He scrunched his face slightly as the unpleasant feel, the water here was a little warmer, but he wanted to be closer to the shore before he tried to pull it free, chances were good it would just slip loose as he was swimming. He took another breath and started to swim, the seaweed seemed to tighten at his ankle, slowing him down a little. It must have been a bigger piece than he realised. It was only a little further and he’d be able to untangle himself, his breathing became heavier as the seaweed seemed to tug him down. If he didn’t get it off him it would take him forever to get back to the shore. He started to tread water, after a few breaths he reached down to tug it off. His fingers quickly found the seaweed, it held onto him tightly, he felt around trying to keep his face out of the water, he frowned as he felt along it, it seemed almost solid and there was more than one point wrapped around him, he let go and took another breath, then he reached down again. It felt quite odd, if he didn’t know better, he’d almost say they felt like fingers, long and thin. He pried one of the strands free and felt the others loosen, he relaxed slightly, soon he’d be rid of it and be back on the shore. This was certainly did turn out to be a memorable swim. He pulled the rest of it off and felt it drift away, he put his head above the surface and took a deep breath in preparation of continuing his swim. Something grabbed him, hard and tight around his wrist, there was no mistaking the feel of fingers this time. It pulled at him, dragging him under the water, he let out a cry of surprise, air rushing out of his mouth and water rushing in. He shut his lips and looked down, trying to see what had grabbed him. She was large, larger than he would have ever thought, about ten feet in length, she had a long tail, curving in the water as she dragged him deeper, it looked as though she once had legs but they had fused together. Her skin was pale, and slimy, he kicked out at her body, landing a solid hit, she turned and he froze. Her face was at the edges of humanoid, her eyes were a deep black, her nose was replaced by a set of flaps, her mouth was just a large hold ringed with teeth, around her head floated long strands of green hair, it looked like seaweed. He kicked out again and she let go, as though in surprise. He started to swim upwards, he broke through the surface and took a deep breath, but before he could start to swim her hand closed around his foot again, her arms were long and thin, but they were strong. Immediately he was pulled under. This time there was no way to kick at her, he tried to bend forward to try and pry the fingers from him again, but the force of the water rushing past made it too difficult. His lungs started to scream for air, he slowly released the breath he held, trying to make it last, each bubble flying upwards, away from him. She started to slow her frantic swimming, taking his chance Dan bent over and started to scrape at her hand, the other one reached towards him, he let go of the one that held him and grabbed onto the second, he brought her wrist to his mouth and bit as hard as he could. Her taste filled his mouth, cold, salty and a strong taste of fish. She recoiled from him and he again raced to the surface. Air, glorious, clean, fresh, filled his lungs, he breathed deeply twice before he started to swim for shore. He couldn’t hear anything over the noise of his swimming, he didn’t pause to listen. He glanced up and saw someone standing at the shore as the hand gripped his ankle again. He was pulled back, the force stopping his movement, he floated for a second and raised an arm, he called out once, the figure on the shore waved back. He managed to get another breath as he was once more dragged beneath the surface.

This time she didn’t slow, she swam fast and deep. Dan saw they were approaching what looked like a cave in the distance, but as they got closer it started to look like a sunken house built into the wall of the lake. He struggled, trying to get free. She didn’t pause or look back at him. Her body thin and lithe she shot through the doorway, Dan dragged behind her. It was difficult now, too difficult, he needed air, he needed to breathe. He opened his mouth, trying to hold on but unable, water flooded his mouth, he retched and gasped, filling his lungs. His vision started to go black, she stopped swimming and turned to him, she brushed some of the hair from his face, caressing it, her tail wrapping around his body, she leaned towards him. The last thing Dan saw before blackness consumed him were those teeth, sharp and terrible.

Rosie stood on the shore, staring at the lake surface. There was no sign of Dan. She turned, sighing. He had been close, only another hundred feet or so. She left the rocky shore, not touching his clothes or the remains of his lunch. She’d have a quick look into the cabin, see if he left anything good, then she’d go tell Tony that it was done. He’d be pleased, of course she was too. They’d contact the police tomorrow, say they saw his body floating out there. By that time she’d have had her fill of what ever it was she consumed from them. She had seen Bob and Mary, the owners of the cabin, the last time she was in town. They looked older, almost frail. Soon they’d die and people would start to flock back to the lake again. The Mistress of the Deep would have her pick. Rosie looked at her hands, how wrinkled they had become. Not that that mattered so much. Once the mistress had her fill Rosie and Tony would be fine, that was the deal they had made so long ago. Perhaps when more people came it would be safe to swim with the Mistress again, neither Tony or Rosie wanted to risk it these last few years, she had been getting hungrier, it was no longer safe for them. She rubbed her hands together as the cabin came into view, hopefully there’d be something good. The last person they’d given had been homeless, there was slim pickings on him. It would be nice to get some variety. Lot of rich people were coming to the area lately and they always had nice stuff on them. Smiling, Rosie let herself into the cabin.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 24 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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