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What Happened at the Lake

by Lori R. Lopez

Kicking back on the rim of a lulling basin,
diet soda in hand, among breeze-rippled pines,
I chucked the rat race and embraced
the solace of non-judgers —
opinions, controversies, criticism
kept to themselves, not aired or vented.
My sole inkling, beyond a sense of contentment,
was idle wonder at what those orbs in the water
could be. Globes of light seemed afloat
on ripples stirred by a zephyr, nipped by feeding fish,
tattooed on every drop
like glistering pearls or gems.
Hovering above and below the lazy swish
of the surface. Hard to tell what they were except
what they were not: Strings of manmade bulbs.
Reflections of stars. That I felt certain.

In dreary fascination I stared, senses dulled
by night’s solemnity, doughnut eyes semi-glazed.
Immersed in a mellow stupor, a daze,
rather than contemplation, a mood. Disinclined
for too heavy a riddle, a puzzle too large.
Reluctant that anything rob me of this zombie state:
zoning out the best defense against
binges of excess labor, marathons of obsessed toil.
The bright spots a complication for a daydream
on a quiet eve. Trivial, unimportant, yet there
they were, a distraction, difficult to ignore.
Requiring immediate attention, to be dealt with
and stored in a tidy pigeonhole; organized and labeled,
tucked in some drawer, the matter shelved
an indefinite period of procrastination.

Which I was prone to do when surprised by
the odd inconvenient anomaly that couldn’t or wouldn’t
be swept aside, covered up like the fate of
Amelia Earhart. Though I had no more wish
to solve a mystery
as to play a game of chess, the shiny polkadots
did at least intrigue me, were they real.
Perchance I was hallucinating, seeing things from stress.
A sure sign of overload. I preferred to dismiss,
not explain them in epic conspiracy theories.
No need to disrupt a pleasant trip, a weekend alone
with my thoughts at the lake.

I sipped the soft drink, tasted sugar-free lime cola,
focused on shallow musings in an effort to relax.
The whole purpose of my retreat,
being chronically uptight. A modern disease.
Technology was making nerds and geeks of us all,
replaced by robots, tethered to screens, wired to
electronics day and night. Seldom time for
anything else. Only gadgets and career —
the concept faint, a wisp, at the moment bobbing
like one of those hollow plastic balls
attached to a sinker, indicating
a fresh one was hooked, the next fool.
I couldn’t quite grasp... remember
what I actually did for a living. The knowledge
drifted, shimmered, a heat mirage
in the distance. I squinted, almost saw it again.
Far away. Over a toll-bridge rainbow.

Gone. Like vapor. Smoke. Empty-headed
of sundry notions, memories, clues to existence.
My history obscure, vanished. Blank as an erased slate
with ghostly residue. It must not have been that
spectacular. I gawped at dancing orbs,
till the uncanny balls dimmed then flared. Sitting up
I frowned. Water roiled. Glowing bubbles winked
off and on, flickered like swamp lights.
What the heck? This never happened before!
Maybe it had. I was confused. And miffed at
the intrusion, the uninvited suspense.
Now I regretted not bringing a smart-phone or tablet,
a link to the Internet. I needed to look this up.

Unhooking was painful enough; soon as I yanked out
the umbilical, things started to go haywire.
And I couldn’t seek answers with a pocketful of coins
at a row of mechanized vending machines, an automated
teller. I was left to my own unplugged devices.
But I had one thing!
A deep swallow of whatever they put in these bottles.
I didn’t care before. At present it gave me pause
and a shiver. The willies. “This isn’t my imagination!”
I said it aloud with faulty confidence
summoned on short notice.
I wasn’t great at spontaneity. Or courage.
A typical everyday drudge. In my reverie I missed
that the orbs had multiplied, concurrently shrinking,
forming a layer upon the lake. To my horror,
this eldritch mantle crept out toward a pair of feet
stretched in front of me.

I should go inside! I couldn’t move, couldn’t
get up from my chair, let alone rush to the cottage
and bolt the door. A sea of luminous spheres
surrounded, blanketed me. Cool and slimy.
Pulsating. Imbibing energy, they brightened,
phosphorescence recharged, while I was drained.
Thermal radiance warmed them as my waning body
chilled. The organisms doubtless a product
of Man’s interference... of disturbing Nature,
throwing off the balance and harmony of the planet.
Or some evolved form of self-protection, a lure
fashioned to attract and consume the human menace.

Leech-like, they collectively absorbed my power.
I slipped forth, dragged, submerged in water,
breathing through them. We descended, eyes wide,
a single entity. At last I unwound, feeling at peace,
muscles flaccid, heart detached from the world,
mind severed, head decapitated from Society.
Touching bottom they continued to
ingest, devour, feasting in silence, a horde of
gentle parasites; a pack of subtle predators.
For a moment I experienced a heightened sense
of purpose: I had many mouths to feed.
But that was crazy. I went a little mad.

Gazing at remote sky, bitter questions arose.
Am I to lie here and disappear completely...
physically as well as mentally?
Will anyone note my absence, declare me lost?
Didn’t I mean something to someone?
At that point survival kicked in,
a necessary instinct.
They might be justified. We had committed
terrible crimes, yet this was more than I could bear.
Death by a mob of mutant fish eggs or grapes,
whatever the creatures called themselves.
I would oppose, resist, shake off their hold on
a lethargic apathy-ridden slug. Thrashing, struggling,
twisting, I fought to the surface and swam ashore.
Emerging from the drink, I swore to never take
another swig of the latest artificial sweetener
in the murky mysterious brew spilled at the base of
my chair. But I knew it was no illusion.
Weird and surreal. Obliquely nightmarish.
What happened at the lake
was bizarre, frightful in hindsight, and probably
only the beginning.

Copyright © 2017 by Lori R. Lopez

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