by Brian C. Petroziello
part 2 of 3
Ralston eased the boat up to the gasoline pumps. Morgen and Murdock tied off the boat and Ralston killed the engine. He leapt from the boat carrying two plastic gas containers.
“You gas up, and we’ll grab some supplies. We’ll meet you outside the restaurant. A couple cold ones wouldn’t hurt,” said Morgen, grinning.
Morgen and Murdock made their way into the village. They stood out from the locals and tourists. They towered over most of them, and their rigorous physical training was obvious — biceps barely hidden by the t-shirts that they wore. They found a rustic general store and bait shop. They fanned out in the store, picking up food and other supplies.
Morgen lingered in the corner of the store that contained guns for sale. Several items hanging on the wall caught his attention. Bright yellow spear guns were displayed in a special cabinet.
Murdock came up behind him, and noticed what he was looking at. “You plannin’ on goin’ after crappies or catfish with those things?” asked Murdock.
“Beauties, ain’t they?” asked the clerk that came up to see if he needed help.
“I’m just surprised to see them here,” replied Morgen.
“There’s some around here think they’s somethin’ bigger than fish to fry in ol’ Sawtooth Lake,” said the old timer.
“You mean like the Loch Ness Monster,” chided Morgen.
“They’s strange things happen hereabouts. Have been for a long time. Them that don’t keep a gun in their boat, likes to have one of these. If you stick to the main channel and the coves on this side of the lake you should be all right.”
“We were planning to dive where the town of Morburg used to be,” said Morgen cheerfully.
“Why would you wanna do a fool thing like that? Best thing that ever happened to the Taylor Valley was when they flooded that accursed place. Forced them Morgens outa here, it did!” The old man was animated now. Morgen detected a genuine look of horror on his face, and fear in the old man’s voice.
“My family came from there. I just wanted to see what was left,” said Morgen, hesitantly.
“What’s left there is best left there. If you really be a Morgen, young man, I would watch your back. They’s a lotta folk that won’t take kindly to have Morgens back here, tho’ you don’t have the Morgen look about ya.”
Morgen and Murdock traded puzzled glances. “Master Chief, maybe you ought to take him up on the spear guns. We might need them just to get back to the boat.”
Morgen told the old man to get three of them out of the case. They took the weapons and the supplies to the cash register. As they walked, the men could feel the intense, not so friendly stares of some of the other locals. They could hear hushed whispers. Two men walked rapidly out of the store, and they could see them talking to a small knot of men that were gathered on the sidewalk.
As the clerk swiped their credit card, Morgen turned to Murdock. “We should get back to the boat double time,” he said. “Do your best not to antagonize the natives. I say we just keep to ourselves.”
As they made their way back to the marina, they noticed other locals pointing in their direction, and whispering. Several made a strange gesture as they passed, and a small crowd seemed to be following them.
They found Ralston sitting leisurely at a picnic table outside of the restaurant. Three bottles of beer sat on the table. Ralston held them up as if he were displaying freshly caught prize fish.
“Bring ’em!” barked Morgen. Ralston knew that it was the voice of command — an order from his Master Chief — an order from the leader of a crack Seal team, and not just a directive from a drinking buddy. He jolted upright and led the way to the boat. They stowed their purchases in the back of the boat while Ralston fired up the motor. Morgen and Murdock untied the ropes and followed them into the boat.
The crowd was nearing the dock. “Gun it, Ralston,” ordered Morgen. Ralston paid no attention to the no-wake zones as he exited the marina out into the main channel. Murdock brought Ralston up to speed on their shopping trip while Morgen poured over the maps and coordinated their course with the GPS unit. There were fewer false starts this time, and it wasn’t too long before they entered the eerie dark waters that seemed to surround the now drowned Village of Morburg.
Ralston killed the motor as they approached the shore, and the boat gently glided to a stop in the mud. Murdock tied off the boat, and the men started unloading their burdens. Morgen unscrewed the cap from a glass jar, scooped up some of the murky water, and replaced the cap.
They spent the rest of the afternoon checking their diving gear, and making preparations for the next morning’s dive. Morgen sat a portable table testing the sample of the water that he had scooped up from the lake. Finally, he was satisfied. “It won’t kill us,” he announced. “It’s very high in mineral content, and more acid than I would have expected, but it’s okay to dive in.”
They ate dinner, all the while debating the merits of the next day’s dive. “Well, we’re here. One dive, and then we bug out.” The others nodded agreement. “Let’s hit the rack early and get this over with,” he said.
Morgen tossed and turned. Strange dreams haunted his sleep — eerie wisps that seemed to be just out of his mind’s reach. He had dreams of sleek creatures cutting through the water, and of far-away planets.
As the scenes played out in his restless mind, the loud report of a gun caused him to bolt upright. He pulled his side arm, and headed for the front door of the camper. Murdock was kneeling on the ground near the front of the RV. Ralston was directly behind Morgen, his weapon also at the ready.
“Report, sailor!” Morgen demanded in a loud whisper.
“I felt something hit the side of the vehicle. I figured it was a critter, and I thought I saw something heading down towards the boat landing, something strange, and I took a shot.”
“You didn’t shoot a local, damn you?” shot back Morgen.
“Master Chief, this wasn’t human. I don’t know what the hell it was, but it sure as hell wasn’t human.”
They grabbed some lights and checked the area around the van. They found several sets of muddy tracks. Morgen whistled involuntarily at the discovery for these tracks were definitely not human, or those of any animal he was familiar with. They were shaped almost like a maple leaf, with webbing clearly visible. Morgen knelt down, and examined them more closely with the lantern.
“I would say at least four individuals,” he said. We have different sizes of tracks.” They appeared to come from the direction of the boat, circled the camper several times and headed back toward the water.
Ralston played the beam of his flashlight on the decaying house. It was evident that one or two of the creatures had gone into, and came back out of the house, adding to the men’s unease.
Ralston held his flashlight under his chin, pointing upward in a bad parody of Halloween. “We need to rethink this boss,” he said in a matter of fact way.
“They’re pissin’ me off now. Aren’t you just a little bit curious? It seems we have a pretty good mystery on our hands. This goes way beyond my family,” said Morgen.
“Sorry, Master Chief, but I think your family was smack dab in the middle of whatever this is,” replied Ralston, shining his flashlight back in the direction of the house and the still-wet prints that covered the shabby steps.
“Murdock, grab the fishing line, and the flares. Let’s start thinking like Seals. We’ll establish a perimeter. Ralston, you’ve got first watch.”
Murdock pointed at the trail that led to the lake. There was a trail of glowing dots that were quickly fading, slowly winking out. “Ralston, I think you hit something,” he said.
“Yeah, something,” replied Ralston.
They set up trip wires in several likely places, and Morgen and Murdock went back to sleep. Ralston hunkered down in the stairwell of the camper, pistol at the ready.
Two hours later, Ralston had just shaken Murdock to wake him for the second shift when a red flare shot skyward in the vicinity of the path to the lake. They tapped Morgen awake and the trio took up defensive positions in the camper.
“They’re determined som’bitches,” said Ralston.
“I think maybe they got the message,” said Murdock.
When the men were convinced that there were no further signs of activity from the intruders, they made their way down to the trip wire, zigzag fashion, and reset the warning device.
* * *
It was Morgen who was on the last watch when the sun finally came up over the tree line. He roused his companions. Murdock and Morgen checked the area around the camper while Ralston cooked a hasty breakfast in the camper’s tiny galley. The prints were just as they had been during the night, but in the morning light they realized that were far more of them than they had guessed. They also noticed that there had been quite a few visitors to the ramshackle house.
After wolfing down breakfast, they hastily checked their gear, and made their way down the dirt road to the lake. The boat was still where they left it, and it did not appear that it had been molested. After stowing the diving equipment, Ralston jumped behind the wheel, and the boat shot out into the tea-colored water of the lake. Morgen directed him in the direction of the sunken village, while he and Murdock struggled into their wet suits.
Morgen and Murdock swished water in their masks, and then Morgen tumbled into the water followed by his companion. They had descended only a few feet when the rays of the strong morning sun no longer penetrated the water. They turned on the lights they carried. Morgen checked his underwater GPS, and motioned for Murdock to follow him.
They approached the bottom of the lake. Morgen was disappointed with what he was seeing. Very little was left of the actual village. Most of it had silted over since the lake covered the town. The outlines of walls and an occasional roofline were illuminated by their lights, but nothing of historical significance seemed to still exist.
He looked again at the GPS unit and motioned for Murdock to follow him in the direction of his family’s property. The men were stunned when their lights lit up a dark tower. Playing their lights over it, it reminded him of a lighthouse that Morgen had had in his aquarium as a youngster.
A tiny Chinese algae eater had taken up residence in the ornament, and as it grew far larger than the rest of the fish in the aquarium, it would emerge, and with a quick flick of his tail would kill the other fish. He felt for the spear gun, just in case.
They swam around the tower and noticed that, like the aquarium lighthouse of his youth, there was an entryway about ten feet above the lakebed. Morgen swam for the entrance, and Murdock followed. He felt uneasy as they floated into the tower. Although it was not visible from the outside, there was a second arched opening on the inside of the tower.
They swam cautiously over to the second portal. Morgen stuck his hand through the arch. The water on the other side seemed to be of a similar color, but it was much thicker, slowing the movement of his hand.
They looked at each other and decided to go through. Movement was difficult through the water that was the consistency of gelatin. After clearing the tower, both men began to sink. Morgen was having a difficult time maintaining his depth, despite his massive muscles and vast diving experience. He unbuckled his weight belt, and it sank quickly into the murky depths. Murdock was having more problems and was sinking faster.
Copyright © 2008 by Brian C. Petroziello