By Jake Kale
Walking arm in arm, Greg and Monica left the cottage and made their way out of the short drive and into Harley Road. It had gotten dark very quickly, the silvery moonlight only making occasional forays from behind the thick clouds, but it was still early enough that the late summer air had not chilled noticeably. Greg was still on a high, the image of those falling lights fresh in his mind. It was like something from a dream, and even now, less than ten minutes later, he was having difficulty believing it had actually happened. He wished he had risked looking for the batteries now—Greg had a feeling this village was about to become very famous, and it would’ve been nice if they had something to show for it. Having said that, it had drawn the two of them closer together, and for however long that lasted it was enough for Greg.
Greg and Monica ambled along Harley Road before turning southeast into Hill Lane and continuing downhill past a row of exquisitely preserved 17th century cottages, wordlessly enjoying the walk and each-others company. The Lakeview Cottage was built to resemble those cottages but was considerably more recent, having been constructed on the site of an old farmhouse on the outskirts of Dunstone Village, a peaceful little hamlet in the East Midlands. Quite literally on the outskirts in fact, as Harley Road was the western route out of the village. Coming here had been Monica’s idea, though Greg had wanted to visit Dunstone for years. He’d stumbled across old photographs taken here while researching his family tree—his grandfather had briefly stayed here when he was a boy—and had fallen in love with the place instantly. While it was not particularly well-known outside the midlands, it had through the years cultivated a reputation among the neighbouring towns and villages as an unassuming holiday spot. One day, Greg hoped, he and Monica might make a home here. Maybe even raise a family.
It was a two mile walk from the cottage to the shoreline. Halfway Greg and Monica arrived at a side road that lead north to the main body of the village, the quaint old cottages giving way to early Victorian houses, and Greg spotted Andy Palmer trotting jauntily along on the opposite side of the road. Andy saw them immediately and waved. “Alright, guys?”
“Hi, Andy,” Greg shouted back. “Off to the pub?”
They’d met Andy on their first night in Dunstone at The Boat Inn, the pub just up the road from the lake, and the three of them had quickly become firm friends. He was five years younger than Greg but looked older, and he offset this with a boisterous and deliberately juvenile sense of humour. He’d showed them around the village, pointing out the local landmarks for Greg’s brother’s camera to fail to capture, and had taken great delight in getting them lost among the labyrinthine streets and alleys across from their cottage. He’d also shown Greg the best fishing locations on the lake. All in all, he’d struck Greg as a pretty decent bloke.
Andy jogged across the road to join them. “Nah, I’m going down to the lake,” he said, smiling an unmistakeable I know something you don’t know smile. Greg guessed he must have seen the lights, too. Obviously he thought they hadn’t.
“Why’s that? Did you see those meteors, too?” Monica said innocently.
Andy’s smile faltered a little and Greg smirked, knowing full well that she was winding him up. “Yeah. I was round my mum’s house and we saw ’em through the window. Weird, weren’t it?”
“I don’t suppose you took any pictures?” Greg asked.
Andy shook his head. “Sorry, mate. Ain’t got a camera. Yours pack up again?”
“Yep,” Greg said dejectedly.
Andy shrugged. “That’s a pain. So you think they were meteors?”
“That’s what they looked like to me.”
Andy shook his head again. “No, they weren’t meteors. They were UFOs.”
They both stared at him, amused and not sure whether to take him seriously—sometimes it was hard to tell. “I wouldn’t have taken you for a conspiracy nut, Andy,” Greg said.
“Yeah, you seem so level-headed!” Monica teased.
“Piss off!” Andy told her, and she laughed. Unabashed, he continued. “Honestly. This village is a hotspot. Some copper got abducted here back in the eighties.”
Apparently he was being serious. Softly, Greg sang, “Do do do, do doo!”
“The truth is out there!” Monica whispered conspiratorially.
“Trust no one!” Greg shot back.
They both started laughing now, though Andy didn’t seem to find it so funny. “Yeah, you just wait till we get to the lake! You’ll see. And that was Close Encounters, not The X-Files!”
The three of them set off again, and as they neared the lake houses and cottages became sporadic as they trudged past increasingly dense woodland, only the odd street lamp to assure them that they hadn’t wandered into the wilderness of the fells. In another five minutes they’d passed the pub and entered the gravel path that served as a road to the shoreline. The woods closed in around it, and Greg thought it was pretty spooky out here at night. Monica apparently agreed as she had tightened her hold on his arm. The path lead to a short embankment, and once they’d left the trees behind them the view made Greg stop in his tracks. Underhill Lake extended before them, and up close it looked even darker than it had from the cottage. Even the moonlight seemed to be swallowed up by its obsidian depths, giving Greg the unnerving impression that they were standing at the edge of a black hole. The lake was something like a mile in length and half that in width, though to him it looked much bigger, and Greg’s imagination stirred, conjuring all manner of nameless beings that might lay in wait just below the surface, ready to snatch unwary visitors from the bank with barely a ripple.
There would be no shortage of prey for said imaginary monsters—visitors had already arrived, a modest crowd that Greg supposed must have come from the scattered houses along the lakefront that comprised Underhill itself. Nearby he spotted another couple of familiar faces, locals Don and Robby. Monica called over to them. “Hi, boys. Whatcha up to?”
Don shot her a Who, me? expression, while Robby took his customary five seconds to consider his response before delivering it in subtle Irish brogue. “Hello there, you two. Hello, Andy. Well, we saw those lights and decided to have a little look-see.”
Greg and Monica exchanged a look. During the last week they’d gotten to know these two rascals quite well. Both men were in their sixties but possessed a mischievous nature that seemed common to old folk from rural areas. Don was the elder of the two and English, with a soft, gruff voice and a reserved but with an affable personality. With his snowy white beard he reminded Greg of Father Christmas. Robby was younger and more boisterous, bespectacled and retaining colour in the thin covering of hair that clung determinedly to his head. The two of them were something of a local double-act, and it came as no surprise to Greg that they should be among the first people on the scene.
“Find anything?” Monica asked.
“Not yet. Looks like they all landed in the lake,” Robby said. “So what do you make of it, Greggy-boy?”
Greg looked out at the still, black waters. “Meteor shower. Anyone film it or take any pictures?”
Even in the dark he could see the glint in the older man’s eyes. “Now do you seriously think ol’ Don here could find his way around that new-fangled technology?” The target of his gentle ribbing dropped his mouth open in mock exasperation. Getting back to the subject at hand, the Irishman said, “So you think they were meteors, then? We don’t have to worry about no little green men?”
Greg nodded. “I’ve never heard of a meteor shower so large, but that’s what they looked like to me.”
Andy scoffed. “Nah, they weren’t meteors, they were pods! It’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers time.”
Greg chuckled, while Don regarded Andy as if he’d spouted a second head. Robby said, “Well, their quite welcome to my body.”
“That’s if they can find some use for it!” Don said quick as a flash, and Greg had to smile. Over the last five days they’d watched Robby relentlessly if good-naturedly poke fun at the stoic Englishman, and not once had he returned fire with anything more barbed than “You cheeky bugger!” To see him finally get his licks in was a glorious sight to behold. For his part, Robby looked surprised but accepted the insult with good humour.
“D’ye think we can expect a visit from Patrick Moore, then?” Robby asked.
“Roger Moore, more like,” Don said, his confidence buoyed now.
“You never know,” Greg told them. Actually, he thought there was a good chance of that happening. Whatever had happened here was sure to be of scientific interest, and might just be the thing that finally put Dunstone on the map. It had certainly piqued Greg’s interest, and he wasn’t alone—the small crowd was already growing. They all stood in silence, watching the lake for . . . well, Greg wasn’t sure. A cool breeze ruffled his hair.
Monica said, “Well, looks like we missed the action.” She sounded disappointed.
“Looks like it,” Greg agreed, kicking himself again for not looking for the batteries earlier. Deciding to look on the bright side, he said, “I might take a few shots of the lake anyway.” It wouldn’t make up for missing the meteor shower, but the view from the shore was undeniably potent. Retrieving the batteries from his jeans, Greg put them in the camera and fumbled with the ‘on’ button. However, as it had done the day they arrived, it suddenly decided to go on the blink again. Greg cursed. “This camera’s useless! I can never get it to work!”
“Oh, give it here!” Monica said, snatching the camera out of his hands. “Your pictures are crap anyway.”
“Uh-oh, trouble in Paradise!” he heard Robby say before Don chided him.
Monica responded with an impish poker-face, and knowing better than to argue Greg said nothing. Monica fiddled briefly with the camera’s exposure, then took several steps back and aimed at the lake. Greg looked away as the flash exploded, and in that split second of illumination he thought he saw something in the water. It happened far too quickly for him to be sure what it was, but it looked like something flashing back. Greg stared at the water but saw nothing, and had almost convinced himself that in was merely the reflection of the flash when Monica took another picture and he saw it again. It looked like an oily film reflecting the light, but a fraction of a second too late. He felt his pulse quicken. “There’s something in the water!”
“Where?” Andy yelped, his voice high with surprise.
“I can’t see anything,” Monica added, lowering the camera to look.
“It’s on the surface,” Greg said. “Has anyone got a torch or something?”
“I’ve got a lighter,” somebody said, but Greg discounted that straight away, just in case it was oil. Finally someone else produced a torch and aimed the beam at the water. The strange phenomenon Greg had spotted was readily apparent—an oil-like substance coated the lake water in a thin layer, and whatever it was it reacted to light, flaring up bright yellow when the torch’s beam fell on it. The reaction was delayed but sustained, and its source seemed to extend all the way along the visible shoreline and presumably beyond it. Greg squatted down by the water’s edge, watching the phosphorescent swirls and eddies caught in the wide circle of light.
“Oh yeah,” one of the assembled onlookers said. “What is that?”
“Looks almost oily,” somebody else added. Greg said nothing, his attention focused on the water. He extended a finger to the surface.
“Well, don’t touch it!” an elderly woman in the crowd said.
She was being overcautious, but Greg pulled his hand back anyway. He leaned forward slightly and sniffed the air, but detected no obvious odour. Monica bent down next to him, while Andy and the rest hovered over them. Monica said, “What do you think it is?”
“I don’t know. Whatever it is, it’s luminescent. It really does look oil-like.”
“You think it came from the meteors?”
“I don’t know. Maybe,” Greg replied. He stood and again looked out into the softly rippling water, wondering just what the hell it was that those ripples concealed. “I’d be very interested to see what’s down there.”
Nervously, Don said, “We thought we might take a boat out and see if anything’s come to the surface.”
“Oh, no you bloody well won’t!” the same old woman told him firmly. Evidently she knew the two of them quite well.
Greg agreed. “She’s right, it’s probably not a good idea to go on the water until we know what that stuff is.”
“Why? D’ye think it might be dangerous?” Robby asked.
“I don’t know, but it’s best to err on the side of caution.”
“You don’t think it could be some kind of alien bug?”
“Panspermia!” Andy shouted excitedly, as if showing off that he knew the word.
“No, that’s the theory that life on Earth originally came from a meteor,” Greg corrected him. “And I’m not saying that’s what this is—it might just some kind of chemical reaction. But don’t drink the water, just in case!”
Robby nodded, casting a sideways glance at his partner in crime. “I think he might be right, there, ol’ Don. I don’t think the chemist has anything for Martians.”
Greg and several of the locals chuckled at that.
“So what should we do now?” Don asked.
Greg wondered about that himself. He didn’t want to panic anyone, but he thought it might be a good idea to inform the local authorities so they could arrange for someone to check the water. “Well, we should definitely tell someone, just to be on the safe side.”
Andy said, “Like who?”
“Give ol’ Sergeant Clay a bell, he’ll know what to do,” Robby advised.
Calling the police had been Greg’s first thought, but he’d been hesitant to suggest it in case he set Andy off again. Monica dug into her handbag and pulled out her mobile phone. “What’s the num—”
The phone trilled suddenly in her hand, making them all jump.
“Sell those shares!” Robby said cheerfully.
Looking sheepish, Monica answered, her next words confirming what Greg already suspected. He felt his good mood darken. “Oh, hello Lionel,” she said. Then to Greg and the rest, “Sorry, I’ve got to take this. Give me a sec.” She wandered off, engrossed in conversation with her supervisor. Greg watched her go.
“That was good timing,” the man with the torch said.
“I’ll go and call Sergeant Clay,” another man volunteered, dashing back along the embankment towards Underhill. Greg didn’t answer—he was watching his wife. Andy sidled over to him.
“Is that her boss?” he asked, keeping his voice low.
Greg and Monica had had an extended “discussion” about Lionel earlier that day, of which Andy had caught the opening salvo. Judging by his companion’s tone, Greg’s contempt for his wife’s employer had been obvious. “Yep, that’s him.”
Andy considered that. “If you’re really worried about her—”
“I’m not worried about her,” Greg snapped. “I’m worried about him.”
Andy looked away as if scolded, and Greg regretted his shortness. Then Andy patted his shoulder. “Just remember, mate—you’re the one that married her. Let the bastard be jealous.”
Greg turned and found himself looking at the younger man anew. He nodded his appreciation. “That’s good advice, man. Thanks.”
Andy nodded back. “Anytime.”
Slowly the crowd started to disperse but did not leave the lakeside, instead forming small groups that chatted quietly amongst themselves and glanced occasionally towards the lake with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation. Greg and Andy waited for Monica, and after a couple of minutes she sauntered back over, looking weary and doing her best to extricate the phone from her ear. “Yeah, OK Lionel. OK. See you—what? Yeah, OK. See you Monday. OK, goodbye, Lionel . . . Yep, bye. Bye.” She returned the phone to her handbag and gave an exaggerated shiver. “Urgh, thank God for that!”
“Someone else is calling the police,” Andy told her.
“Oh. OK.” She sounded put out. “So what are we going to do now?”
Greg decided he was going to follow Andy’s advice and not let Lionel spoil their night—to hell with the old pervert. He had considered taking a walk around the lake to see what he could see but he was feeling a little weary himself. He thought it might be a good time to take a break and refuel. Keeping a straight-face, he said, “Well, we could get a sample of the water.”
“What with?” Andy asked.
His straight-face cracked and he grinned. “Beer glass?”
Monica said, “Sounds like a good idea to me!”
Andy thought about it for a while. “Yeah, OK. I might hang around here a bit longer, though. I’ll join you in a while.”
“Fair enough,” Greg said.
He and Monica watched as Andy went to join Don, Robby and the rest, shouting over his shoulder, “Tell Selena I’ll see her later!”
“We will!” they both called back. By the lakeside Robby said something that caused several locals to burst out laughing, and going by Andy’s response Greg guessed it was aimed at him. He felt Monica’s arm snake around his waist and turned to face her.
“So are we going, then?” she asked.
Greg wrapped his own arm around her shoulders. “Yeah, we’re going already!” he said in a pretend whiny voice, and his heart just about melted when she giggled back. Greg took one last look at Underhill Lake, and allowed himself a moment of wonder as he imagined the discoveries that might lurk within its depths. Then he and his wife walked arm-in-arm back up the path.
Out of the Depths by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.