By Jake Kale
After racing to keep ahead of the terrified villagers for several minutes Greg realized it would be safer for him and Monica to get as far away from them as possible, both to avoid being trampled and to elude—well, God only knew what. He saw his chance when they reached the intersection where they’d met Andy earlier, and dodging up the left fork he yanked Monica bodily after him, while the majority of the crowd went in the opposite direction, towards Dunstone Village proper. Greg, Monica and the few villagers that followed them made their way north-west, and he lost sight of the others sometime before they spotted Lakeview Cottage on the crest of the hill. Rather than head for Harley Road they scrambled straight up the hill to the cottage, and stood at the patio doors as Greg fumbled with his keys, absurdly thinking about the game they used to play where they pretended they were being chased by an axe-wielding maniac and had to get in the house as quickly as possible. Greg forced the key into the hole, turned the lock and wrenched the doors open, shoving his wife roughly inside and glancing back to see nothing but the empty valley sweeping down towards Underhill Lake, and then he was inside and pulling the doors closed again.
The two of them stumbled their way into the living room and fell onto the sofa, overcome by exhaustion and panic, and sat gasping in the dark. Greg’s mind was genuinely spinning—so much had happened so quickly, and now that he had time for reflection he found he was too disorientated to even begin to put events into the correct sequence, let alone determine what they meant. He knew he needed to calm down, he was no use to Monica in this state. He willed himself to breath regularly, and his heart rate began to slow. Next to him the shadowy form of his wife coughed, then managed to coerce her vocal cords into action. Keeping her voice low, she asked, “Did you see what they were running from?”
“No,” Greg said, matching her volume but grateful that his voice sounded steadier. He’d been too concerned with staying ahead of the crowd to dare look back. “You?”
She shook her head. “No.”
Greg leaned back, sinking into the soft padding. “I’m exhausted!”
“No stamina,” she said, but the humour was forced and not remotely convincing. She bent over and buried her head in her hands, and for a second Greg thought she was going to cry. “God, I’ve never been so scared in my life!” she mumbled through her fingers. Then she looked up, and her mouth dropped open. “Oh, my God, what about Andy? And Selena, and Don and Robby . . ?”
Greg started to say, “They might be alright . . .”
She turned to face him, and even in the dark the abject terror in her face was apparent, and striking. “Those people were running from something, Greg!” she whispered forcefully, her fear preventing her from actually yelling, and Greg couldn’t think of a good way to answer that. Monica turned away and closed her eyes, breathed deeply, then opened them again. She repeated this several times—it was an old trick she used to calm her nerves. “Do you think we’re safe now?” she said at last.
Greg shook his head uselessly. “I don’t know,” was the best he could manage. Safe from what? Monica glared at him again, making him extremely uncomfortable, and Greg decided he’d had enough of this. He was not going to let them be drawn into this insular little village’s mass hysteria any further—it was time to find out exactly what the hell was going on. Standing up with much less difficulty than he imagined, Greg started to walk to the window. Monica just about jumped out of her skin.
“What the hell are you doing?” she hissed.
“I’m gonna take a look outside.”
“Greg, be careful!”
Humouring her, Greg clung to the wall left of the window and cautiously peeked around the edge. He wasn’t sure what he expected to see—the lake glowing bright yellow, flying saucers filling the sky, more gigantic meteors raining down upon them—but whatever it was, it wasn’t there. The hills and distant fells were empty, the sky was untrafficked, and the lake just as black and forbidding as it had looked an hour or so earlier. Speaking normally, Greg said. “I can’t see anything.”
“What about the lake?” Monica asked.
“It doesn’t look any different.”
He heard her sigh. Looking back, he saw her sitting with her hands in her lap, watching him. “So what do we do now?” she asked, and Greg was relieved to hear her voice had raised an octave or two.
“I don’t know,” he answered. “Do you want to leave?”
She didn’t even hesitate. “No, we can’t just leave. We need to get help, call the police or something.”
That was more like it—the practical response. She was in control again, and that made him feel less jittery, too. He thought she was getting ahead of herself, though—they still didn’t know what the hell had happened at the lake. It probably was a good idea to inform the police anyway, but before they did he wanted to know exactly what they were informing them of. Greg said, “Before we call the police I think we should make sure we’re not panicking over nothing. How about I give the pub a ring? The number’s bound to be in the book. I’ll call them, and see if they answer.”
“And if they don’t?” she asked.
“Then I’ll call the police. And we’ll get out of here.”
She nodded, and with his eyes now adjusted to the lack of light he saw she’d actually managed a thin smile. Greg went to sit with his wife but she wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him tightly before he could. Greg ruffled her hair, and when she let go he went to the small phone on the desk in front of the stairs, next to the telly. He found the phone book in the bottom drawer and started leafing through it, squinted to look for the pub. Now that he was sure they were safe and actually had a plan Greg could think more clearly. They’d overreacted, simple as that, but perfectly understandable given that they’d had a panicked crowd rushing at them. As to what caused said crowd to panic Greg could only guess, but he was pretty sure good old fashioned superstition had played a part. He held the phone book up close, carefully scanning each page.
Softly, Monica said, “Greg.”
He glanced over his shoulder and saw that she was now standing by the window where he’d been a moment ago, looking down towards the lake. Leaving the phone book on the desk, Greg went over to join her. “What is . . ?”
Greg spotted what she was looking at straight away, though what it was he couldn’t tell. He saw streaks of briefly exposed moonlight reflected in dark metallic undulations radiating from the woods around the lake, and his first thought was that he was looking at a tidal wave. But even as he dismissed that as impossible he realized that what he thought was one continuous object was in fact a series of smaller objects loping up the hill towards the village. Towards the cottage. Greg felt a stinging coldness flowing through his chest and out into his arms.
Quietly, he said, “We’re getting out of here, now!”
He grabbed Monica by the shoulder and steered her toward the patio doors, formulating his plan as he went. There was no time to pack, to worry about anyone else or even wonder what the hell was going on, they were just going to run outside, jump in the car and get the hell out of—
“Shit!” Greg cursed, remembering. “The car keys!” He’d put them in the draw of the telephone desk. Leaving Monica where she was he strode back around the sofa to the desk and yanked the drawer open with enough force that the keys slid to the front with a clink. Greg snatched them up, and as he did he noticed a strangely familiar sound, a deep resonating that seemed the echo intensely in his ears, and leaving the desk he was about to pass the window again when a momentary parting of cloud cover outside cast a looming shadow onto the floor through it. It was there and gone in a heartbeat, but that was long enough for Greg to understand that whatever had caused it had to be huge—and right outside the window.
Greg stopped in his tracks, thinking for a second he must have imagined it. From the patio doors Monica stared at him uncomprehendingly, and realizing that whatever was outside might see her he waved franticly at her to get over by the wall. At first she didn’t seem to grasp his intention, but then awareness dawned and she did as he instructed, moving nimbly and silently. Greg pointed to the window and carefully mouthed, There is something outside, exaggerating each syllable to make sure that she saw it in the faint light, and he knew from the watery glint in her wide eyes that she understood him this time. She looked more afraid than he’d ever seen her, but she understood.
Greg tried to think what the hell to do now. He knew they couldn’t risk going through the patio as it was just round the corner from the window. They’d have to go out the back way, through the kitchen. He pointed to the floor and indicated for Monica to crawl under the windowsill. She nodded almost spasmodically, getting down on her knees and onto all fours and starting to crawl slowly, sticking as close as she could to the wall, her whole body shaking enough for Greg to worry that she might bang against it. He could actually hear his heart beating in time with the rhythmic throbbing in his ears, the throbbing that he now knew he’d heard when he, Monica and the rest of the villagers were chased from the lakefront, that was coming from whatever was outside. Looking back up to the window, he saw a yellowish glow illuminating the glass and the movement of some immense, trunk-like object beyond it—
—and then Monica reached the other side and he bent to help her stand before shoving her past him and into the kitchen, and as he whirled to follow the room whipped past him and he saw the large framed picture opposite the window, and reflected within it a snapshot of a long, silvery, torpedo-like body with four fat, glowing extremities erupting and hanging limply from it, and then he was running after her, the two of them somehow negotiating the wooden kitchen table without tripping over the chairs and tearing out the kitchen door into the small back garden.
Outside Greg saw the edge of the hill on their left and the outskirts of Dunstone on their right, Harley Road threading west between them. There was no way they could possibly escape on foot, they would be far too exposed. At the same time he wasn’t sure they could risk going for the car. Greg turned to his wife, saw the uncertainty in her eyes, and felt his stomach lurch as he realized he just didn’t know what to do. Then he heard the crash of glass behind them, and grabbing Monica’s hand he ran with her though the garden and out into the road, finding his way to the narrow street Andy had shown them four days before through memory more than sight. Then they were disappearing into the maze of the village, the heavy thuds of what could only be enormous footfalls behind them, the two of them running up and down dark and deserted cobbled streets, past houses and the towering silhouetted steeple of St. Francis Church, blacker even than the starless sky behind it. Greg’s body ached, his lungs working wearily to draw in abrasive gasps of air, he had no idea how long they ran for but he couldn’t stop, he had to put as much distance between them and that thing, those things as possible, and he felt Monica slow and start to drag but kept a tight grip on her hand and pushed on, the blood pulsing in his ears so loud that it took several minutes for him to hear her begging, “Greg, wait! STOP!”
Greg did as she asked, almost falling on his face through his own momentum. They had been running parallel to a high wall, and letting go of his wife’s hand Greg collapsed against it, the uneven brickwork digging into his spine, desperate for oxygen but only able to take shallow breaths. Monica took position next to him, her head low and her hands gripping her knees, her feet tucked in to stop her from sliding to the pavement. Once he was able to talk, Greg said, “I think we lost them.”
Monica coughed, then said, “I don’t think that’s the only thing we lost.”
Greg’s head snapped up as the implications of the sentence set in, and felt a fresh wave of terror as he realized he had no idea where they were. He’d gotten them lost! “Ah, shit!”
Out of the Depths by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.