By Jake Kale
Greg scanned the street they’d ended up on, the dim light not helping, but it was no good—the roads in Dunstone Village were all so similar they could have been miles from the cottage or just around the corner, and they wouldn’t have known the difference. They were lost. He’d gotten them lost!
Recovering from their flight a little quicker than Greg, Monica said, “It’s OK, we’re safe. We got away from those things, that’s all that matters.”
But Greg could only shake his head. “We’ve got to go back.”
“What?” Monica yelped hoarsely.
“We can’t stay here,” he explained. “We need to get to the car if we want to get out of the village.”
Now Monica was shaking her head. “No, we should try and find the police station. Remember Andy said it was near the church? We have to get to the police and get help—”
Greg stood clumsily, using the wall to steady himself, and faced her. “Mon, do you really think the police are gonna be able to do anything?”
She met his eyes forlornly. “No,” she said. “No, probably not. But what if we get away, and those things have landed elsewhere?”
That thought had occurred to Greg, but he’d decided he wasn’t going to worry about it right now. Besides, he knew what she was really thinking was, We can’t just leave these people behind, and he didn’t particularly feel good about doing that himself, but there was nothing they could do. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” he told her. “For now, we know they’re here, so we have to get out.”
Monica closed her eyes and turned away from him, and Greg could see tears seeping through the cracks of her eyelids. At last she nodded her head. They really had no choice, and she understood that. They were just going to have to learn to live with it.
Greg moved away from the wall and studied their surroundings. He figured the best thing to do was to try and retrace their steps. Opposite them he saw more ancient cottages, the road beyond them curving sharply to the right and downhill, the slope so punishing Greg was amazed they’d managed to run up it. No wonder his legs were killing him. He and Monica walked over to the other side of the road and up to the corner, then warily peeked around it. The visibility was not great as the old road was characteristically narrow and densely packed with cars, but it was well-lit and looked empty. They started walking down it, eyes peeled for the slightest movement, ears attuned to pick up the smallest sound. The sharp angle of the slope made walking surprisingly treacherous, and Greg was glad he hadn’t worn his old trainers with the nearly smooth soles.
After about twenty feet the road levelled out and they were able to fully concentrate on finding the way they’d come. Greg realized they were in the interior of the village, the oldest part of Dunstone. Their path gently twisted and turned as they walked past houses with low thatched roofs and lovingly landscaped front lawns, past antiquated shops and the occasional bus shelter, and one incongruously modern supermarket whose opaque windows were uncomfortably reminiscent of the lake. Just a few hours before this same street would’ve excited a deep affection in Greg, a longing to spend the rest of his life here. Now it inspired only disorientation and intense paranoia, and he could only hope that both of them would get out of it alive.
Greg couldn’t stop thinking about the thing he’d seen reflected in the picture frame in the cottage. It was hard to tell because he was tired as hell and couldn’t be sure how much of his memory was accurate and how much was his imagination filling in the blanks, but the closest analogue he could conceive was a kind of mechanical squid. Or possibly biomechanical—he’d taken to thinking of it as a machine but he wasn’t certain it was, at least not as he or anyone else on Earth understood it. The only things he could picture clearly were those fat tentacles, glowing yellow like the oil in the lake, and Greg could have sworn he even detected the same swirling, liquidy texture on their surface. He wondered again what the hell had emerged from the depths of Underhill Lake, and remembering the legion of silvery shapes sweeping up the hill Greg picked his pace, wanting nothing more than for the both of them to get the hell out of Dunstone Village and never come back.
Soon they saw an offshoot on the opposite side of the road that Greg thought he recognized, but Monica felt sure they’d run by it earlier. Another fifty or so feet from that the road forked, and they stopped—neither of them could remember that at all.
“I told you we came through that other street,” Greg said pointedly.
Monica ignored him and glanced back and forth between the fork and the offshoot. “Maybe it looked different from the other side,” she said.
“I really don’t think so, Mon . . .” Greg said.
She flashed him a brief conciliatory smile, and Greg knew his wife well enough to realize a compromise was in order. “Look, I tell you what,” she said. “We’ll just have a quick wander down the right road and see if it looks familiar. If not, we’ll go back to the other road. Deal?”
Greg considered making a politically incorrect joke about women and directions, but held his tongue. “OK, deal,” he agreed.
Unfortunately that “quick wander” turned into a slightly longer one, as the road was so generic it was impossible to tell if they’d travelled this way or not. Eventually they came to a point where it inclined slightly to the left ahead of them, so that they couldn’t see how much further it extended. The shadowy edifices of tall, gothic-looking buildings preceded the turn, and Greg knew for a fact that they’d gotten lost again. He sighed despairingly. “The phrase, ‘I told you so,’ springs to mind . . .”
Monica said, “It’s OK, we can backtrack . . .”
Greg felt his temper flare. Her pragmatism was admirable, but their lives were in danger and she was treating this like an orienteering exercise! He whirled to face her—she’d hung back a few steps when she’d realized they’d gone the wrong way—and was about inform her that they would be going back to the first turn-off forthwith when he spotted the towering steeple of St. Francis Church rising above the line of houses on the other side of the road, and instead of yelling he broke out in what he didn’t doubt was a very goofy-looking grin. “Monica, look!”
She followed his gaze, and he saw her relax. “Oh, thank Christ for that! How the hell did we miss that?” she said.
Greg didn’t know how they hadn’t seen it, but he didn’t really care—they’d got their bearings back, that was good enough for him. Monica pointed out a footpath cutting between two houses and they ran across to it, losing sight of the steeple as they made their way through the shadowy passage. They ended up at a T-junction and turned in the presumed direction of the church—tall hedges obscured their view of the steeple—until they reached a short offshoot that led to the end of a cul-de-sac.
Emerging from the path Greg realized they’d gone past the church. He looked south, or at least in the direction he assigned as south, and soon located the steeple again. “I think we need to go out that way,” Monica said, indicating the road going “west” out of the cul-de-sac, but Greg was only dimly aware of what she was saying. He was too busy staring at the steeple—it didn’t look right, it seemed as if it were closer to the houses than it had looked from the street. It almost looked as if it were right inside someone’s back garden—
The steeple moved.
Greg’s squinted in surprise as he found himself wondering for the umpteenth time whether he’d really seen what he thought he’d seen. Then the “steeple” moved again, shifting closer still to the house, its laborious movement giving the impression of something tremendously powerful, and then it was Monica’s turn to play the leader as she grabbed his wrist and pulled him out of his terrified reverie and out of the cul-de-sac into the street beyond. They ran uphill and around yet another turning, and Greg knew they were going to get lost again but he didn’t care, and he doubted Monica did, either, because he was convinced that whatever the hell it was that he’d just seen must have seen them, too. They turned another corner onto a reasonably straight road, and good God his calves ached! Every muscle ached, and his lower back felt as though his spine was trying to pull itself apart, but somehow he found the energy to go on, at least until Monica stopped suddenly and this time Greg couldn’t stop himself from tumbling over, searing pain shooting through his elbow as it connected with the concrete pavement.
Monica was at his side immediately. “Greg, are you OK?”
Greg rolled onto his back, holding his left arm against his chest, teary eyes tightly shut. Through clenched teeth he hissed, “What the hell did you stop for?”
“Answer me, will you?”
“Yeah, I’m OK,” he said, her genuine concern softening his anger. “I’m alright, Monica. Why’d you stop?”
She pointed back down the street. “I’m sure we went came through this alley with Andy.”
Oh God, not more alleyways! Greg thought. He struggled onto his knees and, with Monica’s help, to his feet, still clutching his injured arm. He tried to move it and a fresh jolt of pain travelled up his humerus. Greg winced. It hurt like hell, but he could move it so it probably wasn’t broken. Greg realized he did recognize this area after all. They were right in the centre of the village, the intersection of three roads, and he saw that they’d actually been running past the wall that bordered Erlington Park. The focal point of the area was a grassy roundabout on top of which sat St Luke’s Cross, an ornate three-tiered monument built in memoriam to the victims of the fire more than a century ago. Andy had cajoled their camera into taking a picture of the two of them perched on its steps four days before. Andy, the friendly, helpful, gullible young man who was likely dead now, along with the young barmaid he’d lusted after, her overbearing father, and those two rejects from Last of the Summer Wine, Don and Robby, and God knew how many others. Greg felt an intense grief as he recalled how happy they’d been the day that picture was taken, how happy they’d been just a few hours ago, as well as a depthless shame that he knew would be with him for the rest of his life.
Lightly holding his right shoulder, Monica guided him to their latest potential escape route. The alleyway cut between the high wall of the park and a silent, boarded up pub, The Heart of Dunstone, and dipped in a gentle but visible gradient. It looked pretty lengthy, tapering off into shadow, which meant it either curved ahead or it was a dead end. Neither option made it a particularly desirable prospect. “I don’t think we did come this way,” Greg said, glad his throaty voice masked his unease.
But Monica was convinced. “Greg, I know we’ve come up through here. I remember it plain as day.”
“Everything looks the same round here, how can you tell?”
“No, I’m sure of it. I think it leads out onto Main Road,” she said, but Greg was in no mood to argue about this. They needed to keep moving, and they couldn’t risk taking a detour at every street, footpath or alley that looked vaguely familiar because if they did they’d be wandering around for hours. Greg was just about to put his foot down and tell her they were not going to go down this alley—
—when a thunderous crashing sound erupted in the distance, it sounded like a house being torn apart, and Greg could swear the ground actually shook. He went to grab Monica’s arm with his good hand but couldn’t manage it, so instead he shouted, “Come on!” and started running again, away from the alley, past the abandoned pub and stalwart cross and up the “northern” road. He heard more explosions behind them as that steeple-shaped thing laid waste to Dunstone Village, as well as the sound of people screaming, and he felt his own terror rise. His pace was slowing, he was practically limping, and he knew that if any of those things from the lake saw them they wouldn’t stand a chance, but Greg didn’t care, he’d lost all fear, he’d lost all hope, he’d lost all sense of direction—
And he’d lost Monica!
Out of the Depths by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.