By Jake Kale
The Boat Inn was an isolated mock-Tudor building just off Hill Lane that looked decidedly out of place among the Victorian architecture that dominated the outer regions of Dunstone Village. Like the majority of those buildings, it was also more modern—Underhill was the site of a disastrous fire during the late 19th century, and very little remained of the original settlement, just the odd portion of sandstone wall here or there. The Boat Inn itself was constructed of the site of an older pub that had been destroyed during the Blitz. It was a fine-looking building, though, long and low and homely, and Greg found the half-timbered framing very pleasing. He enjoyed the name, too.
Greg and Monica strolled through the empty car park (most of the pubs regulars lived within walking distance) and Greg elbowed the heavy door open for them. Inside, the lighting was low and relaxing and the décor enthusiastically traditional, consisting of partitioned booths along the windows and a smattering of tables in front of a tall oak bar. Greg inhaled the heady, reassuring alcohol aroma. It looked like it was a pretty quiet night. He counted a total of five people scattered around the expansive room, and guessed that the rest were still at the lake. Greg saw Bill, the landlord, a podgy, scruffy and disconcertingly cheery character of an indeterminate age, though he didn’t look quite so cheery at the moment—he was doubtlessly wondering where the hell most of his regulars were.
Carefully avoiding the traditionally low beams, Greg led Monica to the bar. The barmaid, Selena, smiled warmly. “Hi guys, you look happy!” She spoke in a deliberately euphemistic tone, and Greg and Monica exchanged a self-conscious glance. Selena grinned cheekily. “Oh, don’t be embarrassed, we’re all grown up here! So what’ll it be?”
Selena was a slight brunette with wide, mascara-tinged eyes who looked barely eighteen, though Greg suspected she was probably older, in spirit if not in years. Andy had something going on with her, though Greg thought most of that was limited to his imagination. Selena appeared to him to be flirtatious by nature, and while he could accept the possibility that he was wrong Greg saw no noticeable escalation in her exchanges with Andy. In any case Bill was her father, and very much acted the part of the overprotective dad from what he’d seen. Greg doubted he’d approve of any of the locals going near his daughter, and certainly not Andy.
“I’ll have a white wine, thanks,” Monica said when they reached the bar.
Greg said, “And I’ll have something more manly. Gimme a Bruskey!”
“A ‘Bruskey’?” Monica repeated quizzically.
Selena’s grin broadened. “Put some hair on your chest, eh? And a little lead in your pencil?”
Monica shifted uneasily, and Greg revelled in her discomfort. “Damn right! By the way, Andy says he’ll see you later.”
“I’m sure he will,” Selena said as she fetched Monica’s drink from the shelf. “So did you guys see those lights?”
Recovering from her embarrassment, Monica said, “Yeah. Actually we just came from the lake.”
“I missed the whole thing! Typical,” Selena complained as she poured Monica’s wine. “Did you see anything?”
“Not much,” Greg told her. “Except that little green guy with three eyes.”
Selena chuckled at that, then poured Greg’s pint. Greg and Monica waited for their drinks, then Greg paid—decrying the price as “daylight robbery”, though in all fairness it was quite reasonable—and they went to take a seat at a booth near the door. They sat facing each-other, Greg on the left, Monica on the right. Coolly, Monica said, “Was that your revenge for when I took the camera?”
Greg saw through her playful baiting straight away. “Nice try, Mon.”
Monica tried to keep up the act, but finally admitted defeat. “Why didn’t you tell her about the lake?”
“Leave that to Andy.”
“You old sweetheart!” Monica said. They drank in silence for a while, the effect of the last hour’s strangeness still sinking in. Getting comfortable in the sunken leather seat, Greg stared at his wife—she looked almost wistful. Eventually she noticed him looking at her and smiled back. “You know, this hasn’t been a bad trip after all,” she said.
“Nope, not bad at all,” Greg agreed. He swilled his beer around in his mouth, savouring the taste, and thought carefully about how to word his next question. “Not that I want to spoil the mood or anything, but what did git-face have to say?”
Monica’s smile didn’t falter, but did shrink somewhat. She set her own drink down. “One of the day supervisors is leaving. He’s recommending me for the job.”
Matching her nonchalance, Greg said, “Really?”
“Yep. Which’ll mean a pay rise.”
Greg nodded and took another swig of beer. “Cool. That’d be nice.”
“True. And it also means we’ll get off at the same time in future.” Greg raised his eyebrows, and Monica cracked, blushing. “I mean work!”
Keeping his voice even, Greg said, “I wonder what made him recommend you.”
“Thank you for that vote of confidence,” Monica said, sounding insulted.
Greg realized he was letting Lionel get to him again, and tried to keep his reply jovial. “Oh, shut up. You know what I mean.”
“Hey, don’t worry. I can handle Lionel.”
She smirked. “Yeah. I handle you, don’t I?”
Greg did a double take, speechless, while his wife gloated, rubbing extra salt into his wounded ego—she’d got him that time, not that he hadn’t been asking for it. Taking pity, she rubbed his forearm with her hand, turning serious again. “So what do you think that oil was? Really?”
Swallowing more beer and what was left of his pride, Greg said, “I don’t know. I do think it has something to do with those meteors.”
Monica nodded. “It was weird how reacted to the light like that. Almost as if it were signalling back.”
“I know. It did look deliberate.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You didn’t say that earlier.”
“I didn’t wanna start Andy off,” Greg admitted.
“You think it was? Deliberate, I mean?”
“I don’t know,” Greg said honestly. “Why am I suddenly the paranormal expert?”
The smirk returned. “’Cos you’re into that crap.”
Now it was Greg’s turn to take pretend offence. “Why do you mock me, woman?”
Monica replied, “’Cos you’re easy!”
Greg folded his arms and turned his head snootily. “I don’t have to sit here and listen to this!”
“Hey, I kid because I love.” That made Greg look back, and he saw Monica beaming widely. He reciprocated. She was right—this hadn’t turned out to be a bad trip after all.
Suddenly the door swung open, slamming into the wall next to the entrance with enough force to make the locals look round and Monica jump. Andy barged in. Greg said, “Ah, here comes the man of the hour!”
But Andy ignored him, heading straight for the bar. He looked excited. “Selena, has your Dad got his video camera handy?”
The barmaid regarded him dubiously. “Yeah. Why?”
“Can I borrow it?”
Curious, Greg and Monica stood and went to join him. Monica said, “What’s going on, Andy?”
He turned to face her. His eyes were wide. “We spotted something in the lake.”
Monica glanced at Greg. Turning back to Andy, Greg said, “What?”
“I don’t know. It looked sort of like an upturned boat or something, but it was shiny.”
Selena raised an eyebrow. “Oh, yeah . . ?”
“Honestly, Sil,” Andy said. He was talking quickly. “Don and Robby went out in a boat to check it out.”
Selena looked at Greg and Monica as if expecting them to admit it was a joke. When they didn’t say anything she looked worried. “OK, hold on a second. Dad?”
Selena ran along the bar to her father, who’d been keeping a keen eye on her and Andy’s conversation from a distance. Andy stayed where he was, but looked distinctly restless. Greg said, “So what exactly did you see?”
“Like I said, it looked like an upturned boat,” the younger man informed him, “but smooth and sort of tube-shaped. We saw the light glinting off of it.” He paused, as if wondering whether to go further and risk their ridicule. “It was big, too—I thought it was a submarine to start with! Mickey said he thought the water in front of it was glowing. You know, like when we shone that torch on it.”
Greg couldn’t think of anything to say to that. Next to him, Monica said, “How come you didn’t go with Don and Robby?”
Andy fidgeted guiltily. “I told ’em to wait while I got the camera, but you know what they’re like. I’m going out in another boat when I get back. Are you two coming?”
Monica looked up at Greg. She looked excited now. “We might as well check it,” she said. Greg didn’t reply, too lost in thought. It was tempting to think Andy and the others had just got caught up in the excitement of the meteor shower and everything else and had misidentified some perfectly ordinary object, but after watching that luminescent oil responding to the torchlight Greg found he wasn’t so sure. That sense of apprehension he’d experienced at the cottage was back again, and more acute now. Greg wondered if he was getting caught up in the hysteria as well.
Andy certainly had been, and was growing more impatient by the minute. “Where’s she got too?” He took off down to the other end of the bar, where Selena was still talking too her father.
“We’ll wait outside for you, OK?” Monica called after him.
Andy shouted back distractedly. “Yeah. Sil, you got it yet?”
Greg heard Selena say, “No,” as he and Monica finished their drinks and headed out the door into the small car park. Outside the air was surprisingly brisk compared to earlier. Monica folded her arms and snuggled close to him. “What do you think?” she asked.
Greg shrugged. “It’s probably just a boat.”
Monica nodded, her expression unreadable. “Yeah.” She cocked her head, listening. “What’s that?”
Greg noticed it, too—a faint but sustained noise, coming from the direction of the lake. It sounded like combination of high-pitch and deep base that built rapidly, and Greg had just worked out that it was the sound of people screaming when the crowd emerged from the wooded path down the road, running straight for them. It looked like the entire population of Underhill sweeping towards them, and Greg saw some of those familiar faces from the shoreline, including Andy’s friend—Mickey?—and the man with the torch, but now those faces were pulled taut, eyes bulging and mouths gaping, and as the crowd rushed past them Monica grabbed Greg’s hand and they started to run with them, racing to try and keep ahead, Greg terrified that he or Monica might trip and be trampled to death, the noise of the terrified villagers deafening but still not loud enough to drown out the faint undercurrent that caused his eardrum to vibrate, and even as sheer panic flooded his body Greg wondered just what the hell they were running from.
Out of the Depths by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.