Bogleech.com's 2017 Horror Write-off:
Submitted by Hisham Hasan
"Please Travis, not this. Not this again. Anything but this."
Frank Yamamoto looked over at his friend, Travis Henderson, with mild annoyance. Their friendship was a casual one, born out of proximity/convenience and a general lack of young people his age around town. Still, he valued it; better than being a lone outcast, especially in a town like this, smack dab in the middle of nowhere.
"C'mon Frank, it's a new sighting! Why won't you at least consider it?"
Frank sighed. They had already gone over this, and he normally wouldn't have even bothered to give a reply if it hadn't been for the fact that it was a particularly boring afternoon, and he needed something stimulating to save his brain from atrophy.
"Because lake monsters are an impossibility. It can't be a plesiosaur, a mosasaur, or whatever you think it is. It probably just a fish."
Travis snorted in mock outrage. "A fish he says! The Oldhill Lake Monster, a fish?!"
Hearing it said out loud made it all the more preposterous and silly. The Oldhill Lake Monster was the local cryptid of the town, their very own Bigfoot. A few people actually claimed to have seen it, and although Travis hadn't, he was a fervent believer. And while Frank was quite forgiving of Travis's many faults, this was one that he refused to indulge him.
Size estimations varied; some said twenty feet, others said thirty, and one particularly irate drunk swore up and down that it was 60 feet. Nobody really got a proper look at it; just a massive shape swimming through the water. Most people didn't believe in it (idiots like Travis excluded); it was something of a local inside joke, or running gag. A snipe hunt for the gullible visitor.
Not that people went looking for it. Few people went out on the lake. There wasn't anything worth catching, just the occasional carp, despite several fish stocking efforts by officials. The water was often cloudy, and the shores littered with garbage either dumped there purposefully or blown in from elsewhere. And after all that talk about brain-eating amoebae, nobody was willing to even touch the water, let alone swim in it.
Every few years, some officials or scientists or whatever would come down, take a few water sample readings then move on. As far as he knew, the lake wasn't really polluted, at least not with anything serious like heavy metals. Large areas were choked with plant-life; the shallows almost looked solid with the large masses of pondweed that floated just beneath the surface.
A lake packed with weeds, and so little fish; a poor habitat for a lake monster.
But all that wouldn't discourage one Travis Henderson, full of that energy and wide-eyed wonder so plentiful in youth and with none of that rubbish called common sense, who had taken up monster-hunting as a hobby, going so far as to even set up a website dedicated to the beast.
Frank sometimes wondered if this quest was just a product of Travis being bored, or whether it was borne of something deeper, a need for validation, a sense of purpose in world that had declined to give him a clearly defined goal.
Travis scoffed. "Frank. FRANK. You think people could be fooled by a fish? These people, sensible, stable men and women, have lived here for years, decades even, and you somehow they would mistake a fish, or even a whole school of fish, for a monster?"
Frank leaned back. "What else can it be? Granted, some whales can go for a couple of hours without breathing, but you've staked out that lake for hours, in fact for the better part of a day. If it was an air-breather, you'd think it would break the surface more often, wouldn't it? And in case you forgot, the lake freezes over completely in winter. No air holes, nothing!"
"I've thought about that!" countered Travis. "We have no idea about what its metabolism is like! Maybe it's like a turtle or frog, breathes through its skin! Maybe that's why it can go so long without takin' a breath! And in the winter, it buries itself in the mud, and-"
Frank rolled his eyes. "A lake monster, hibernating in the mud? Granted, that's a bit more 'plausible', in the loosest, most generous sense of the word. Still, even if such a thing existed, it would still have to come up for air at least during the warmer seasons.
"Anyway, you said it yourself, the thing swims with S-shaped movements. No frog or turtle can do that. An alligator swims like that, but it's too cold up here for alligators.
"So big giant thing, swims in S-shapes, rarely (if ever) comes up for air? Big-ass catfish. That's all there is to it. There is one called a wels catfish that can grow to sixteen feet! They have long tails and swim by undulating, they're from Europe so weather's not a problem. So it's probably just some catfish some aquarium guy dumped into the lake when it got too big."
"No way it's just a big catfish!" Travis insisted. "I talked to Harold, and he saw arms! Tentacles like an octopus! Allen Baker too!"
"Harold was, and is probably perpetually, dead-drunk. He also said the thing was sixty feet long. I wouldn't exactly classify him as a reliable source. And Baker would say anything just to get people to pay attention to him."
Frank sighed exasperatedly. "Why are you so fixated on a prehistoric lake monster? Can't you be happy with a sixteen foot catfish? That's a perfectly serviceable lake monster, capable of devouring cats, dogs, and the occasional child."
Travis seemingly ignored that last remark and drew himself up importantly. "The latest sighting? Susan Whatley."
That caught Frank's attention. Susan was a no-nonsense type of woman, easily the most level-headed and sensible person in town. The last sort of person you'd expect to engage in this nonsense.
"All the way back in May, actually. She decided not to tell anyone. She had her reasons, I guess. And I think she is one person who you'd think could tell if something in the water was a catfish or not."
Frank had to concede that. "Fine. So why did she decide to tell you now?"
"She caught me paddling out in the lake one day-
"You actually swam in the lake. You poor idiot."
"-She figured out what I was up to, and she seemed pretty adamant that I come to shore. Well, I needled her after that until she gave in and told me."
"Well, go on. What did she see?"
"She was out in a canoe, gathering duckweed or something, whatever. Then, like twenty, thirty feet away. Something big. Something HUGE! Swirls around, just breaking the surface. Massive."
Voice dropping to an excited whisper, Travis leaned closer. "She paddled towards it for a closer look. She didn't think it was a lake monster or anything, she thought maybe it was a snake swimming at the surface, and the ripples or splashing made it seem huge. And then..."
Frank's interest grew in spite of himself. "And?"
"She stopped before she got too close. She saw several huge serpentine shapes, maybe as thick as the canoe, swimming underwater. Shaggy, like they were covered in long fur. They snaked towards her. She paddled away as fast as she could."
Travis leaned back triumphantly.
--- Frank sighed. How did he get roped into this?
Here he was, freezing his ass off in a tiny inflatable raft, with the idiot clown that called itself Travis, ladling chicken livers out of a bucket into the chilly water.
Travis had rigged up some sort of underwater camera attached to a pole, and now stared at a tiny screen.
Frank flung liver bits at the water vindictively. "Three days, and we've seen jack shit! Why do I let you talk me into this shit?" The past two days, they had used some whitefish as bait, but then Travis read up on chumming for sharks and decided they lake was so big that they needed to put out a massive chum slick, something more potent and hearty.
So today they brought a truly pungent stew of sliced chicken livers, hearts and gizzards, with several cans of expired sardines thrown in for good measure.
Travis didn't even glance up. "The scatological vocabulary has emerged. Yamamoto is officially angry."
Frank waved the ladle threateningly. "This lake is DEAD! Nothing, not even a single minnow! I've been ladling this shit for hours and NOTHING! I might as well start actually shitting into the lake, for all the good this is doing!"
"Oh pipe down! We just started using liver chum, give it a chance to-"
His words died away. Frank looked up.
Travis' eyes bulged, his face pale, mouth slack. His fingers gripped the screen so hard, the plastic creaked.
Frank scrambled over. The sudden movement jolted Travis from his trance.
"What?! WHAT IS IT?! LET ME SEE!"
"DON'T PUSH DON'T PUSH CALM DOWN FRANK! SIT DOWN! LOOK!"
They huddled over the screen as Travis fumbled with the controls. He rewound the video, then played back the last minute.
At first, nothing but murky water. Frank couldn't even tell which way the camera was oriented until he saw a glimpse of the raft on the top of the screen. Along the surface there was an almost opaque cloud, with bits and chunks sinking through it; the chum.
A dark shape glided just at the edge of visibility.
Travis squealed, and was quickly shushed by Frank.
It swam slowly, almost leisurely, waving its head from side to side, seeking the source of the spoor.
More dark shapes, serpentine, immense.
More than one?!
Almost vibrating with excitement, Travis switched back to the live feed. ""We've got 'em now! Quick! Frank, bring them closer!"
"The chum you idiot!"
In his excitement, Frank threw both bucket and ladle overboard.
On the screen, it showed the ladle sinking rapidly through a spreading cloud of offal.
Several dark shapes moved sluggishly in the gloom, seemingly luxuriating in the chum like a sauna.
They followed the slick towards the raft. And as they got closer, their outlines became more irregular, fuzzier...
No, not hairy, but covered in weeds. Absolutely wrapped and entangled in waterplants
The shapes approached closer. So smothered in weeds it wasn't even possible to tell if they were all parts of one creature, or several.
Frank tore his gaze away from the screen to glance at the lake surface.
Whatever it was, it brought a whole carpet of pondweed with it, which was now spreading out over the surface.
Back on the screen, the image darkened as the cloak of plants started to blot out the sunlight. The weeds spread, unfurling their branches as they writhed...
Writhed? No, it must have been his imagination...
He glanced at Travis, who stared at the screen with immense concentration, and showed no sign that he noticed anything was awry.
Frank looked more closely at the foliage that was starting to fill the screen. Maybe it was just the way the monster moved that jerked around the limp plants, sloshing them around and making them seem to...
It was most noticeable at the tips, waving around like antennae, but the movement was apparent all the way down the plant. Writhing. Groping. Slithering.
It was like watching sped-up footage of plant-growth.
He looked over the raft edge, to get a clearer look.
The pondweed was mostly various shades of olive green and brown. Thin, almost stringy or straw-like, tubular branching stems. The leaves were small, feathery, and finely-divided, like fennel or dill. And dotting the foliage here and there were small, translucent balloon-like capsules. Some were tiny, like the size of a sesame seed, while others were the size of a pea. Still others were the size of an olive. Some branches had leaves with only a few scattered bladders; others were absolutely packed with swellings, like vines overloaded with glistening clusters of grapes.
And this pondweed didn't just lay there, inert and floating. He could see that it indeed moved, seethed and writhed like a mass of worms.
And as he looked around, and saw that the vast blanket of plantlife had surrounded the raft, he realized what they beheld before them
The Oldhill Lake Monster was a plant.
A plant of titanic magnitude.
Some branches brushed up against the raft, and he watched, entranced, as the tendrils actually started to creep up the sides, seemingly using the little capsules as suction cups to find purchase on the raft's surface. However, they soon seemed to lose interest and slipped back into the water.
"Dude," whispered Frank, "Dude!"
Travis let out a noise of frustration. "Dammit, I can't see anything with all this green crap in the way!
"Dude, just look! LOOK! It's right in front of you!"
"What's right in front of me?"
"Just shut up and watch. REALLY watch! Look at the pondweed. Notice anything funny about it?"
Frank watched and waited, then grinned as Travis's jaw went slack.
This was amazing, he thought. Sure, Travis was going to be a smug, insufferable asshole for the rest of his natural lifespan, but still, this was amazing! going to answer questions alongside Travis at the press conference. He could almost already hear some smartass ask whether a childhood obsession with kaiju led to him being a believer; he needed to come up with a good, snappy comeback to that one...
Travis spluttered, sounding like he choked on his own saliva, then finally croaked, "It's bladderwort!"
"Frank, it's bladderwort! A carnivorous plant! This is amazing!"
A carnivorous plant? Frank looked around. The bladderwort had completely surrounded the raft.
The scene looked serene. Peaceful.
Frank shivered. "Okay, you got your proof. Now let's get back, I'm cold, I'm hungry, and I gotta pee..."
Just as Frank reached for the oars, Travis seemed to snap out of his trance.
"Wait!", he spluttered, "Maybe, uh, we oughta take a sample? Pluck a sprig of this stuff?"
His eyes gleamed. He looked jittery, exhilarated. Frank frowned.
"I don't know. Might piss it off for all we know."
Travis laughed, a high-pitched giggle. "Piss it off? What'll do?" He peered over the edge. It looked inert, harmless.
"No seriously, look; it's a bladderwort, it catches water fleas and stuff. Look how tiny the traps are, it can't do anything to a human!"
"I dunno. We are dealing with an unknown here. Most plants don't swim and move. Besides...", Frank motioned at the lake. "No fish, remember? Do you think this thing is the cause? Maybe not so harmless as you think."
Travis scoffed. "Don't be such a baby! Look!"
In one swift motion, he reached down with his gloved hand and yanked out a clump before Frank could even make a peep.
A small splash, then ripples as the plant jerked and swirled around.
Travis held up the soggy clump. In spite of himself, Frank leaned in for a closer look. It still writhed around, the branchlets curling and probing; even the feathery leaves moved like the filaments of some sea creature, They could see the little bladders glistening and they seemingly inflated and deflated, sticking and unsticking to the glove.
Travis was giggling excitedly. Frank was mesmerized by the slow, constant writhing.
But then he noticed several stems crawling along the glove, right into Travis's sleeve. And just as he was about to point it out, Travis yelped and whipped his arm around.
"It stung me!"
The clump cling tenaciously to his hand despite his efforts to shake it off. He ripped it off using his other hand, then pulled up his sleeve.
Several branchlets had torn off and were now attached to his skin, clingng on with the little bladders on the leaves. Bladders that were swelling up, and turning dark crimson.
"It's sucking my blood!", Travis said incredulously.
He started ripping off the branchlets, leaving oozing pinpricks of blood showing where the plant had pierced his skin, but some of the leaves remained fastened by the bladders.
He cursed, then started scraping his skin furiously, trying to remove the bladders. As they burst, blood dripped onto the bottom of the raft.
"Okay, I'm done. We're done, let's get out of here before I bleed to death."
"You're not going to bleed to death," Frank grabbed the oars and gave a mighty pull. The raft surged forward.
But as he tried to raise the oars, the bladderwort, formerly lethargic and sluggish, seemingly sprung into action; stems wrapped around the oars and clung, and actually actively pulled. The raft came to a stop, as if the water had suddenly turned to molasses.
Then he heard Travis mutter, "Oh, shit."
From all sides the plant was now sending multiple creepers crawling into the raft. Travis began pulling them off and throwing the overboard.
Frank heaved and pulled at the oars, struggling to free them, but his efforts seemed to only spur the plant into further activity, causing it to tighten its grip even further.
A continuous stream of expletives gushed from Travis as he yanked creeper after creeper in a desperate attempt to free the raft. He was clawing at the stems, tearing up huge swatches and tossing them back, but the torn clumps clung to his arms and hands. His efforts only seemed to encourage it, as more creepers surged forward. He was starting to get tangled up in stems.
The creepers that did manage to get past Travis were now slithering to and fro at the bottom of the raft.
They're seeking Travis's blood from earlier, Frank realized with a chill. Maybe he should go after those creeper first? Or should he focus on the oars for now?
He concentrated his efforts on just one oar, using both hands to try and wrench it free. It gave slightly, then held as the plant clung ever more tenaciously. The plant was now sending creepers crawling up the handle.
Travis's panicked cry caught his attention. Creepers were going down his sleeves as he desperately tried to yank them out.
Frank abandoned the oars and rose to help him, but yelped as he felt something cold and wet up his legs.
The creepers were going up his pants.
He cursed, bent over to yank them out. He was only partially successful; he broke the stems easily enough, but the detached parts still stuck to his legs. He felt dozens of needle-like stabs as the bladders attached. At least he was free to move now.
Multiple creepers now held Travis and were pulling him towards the edge. His eyes bulging and his arms enshrouded in leafy stems, he shrieked and leaned backwards. Frank tried to tear them away, but the stems, individually weak and brittle, collectively had a grip like iron.
He tried breaking them just a few at a time, but more piled on faster than he could pull them off. Even the detached parts continued to cling and grapple with him, and now they ensnared him too. He started feeling the needle stabs on his wrists, on his neck...
He wrenched away, but at this point he was so entangled with Travis he pulled him down with him. He fell onto a bed of waiting creepers. He tried to get them off, but Travis was on top of him, Travis whose screams were becoming muffled. His arms were pinned, he couldn't get enough leverage to pull them off.
More and more of the plant started piling into the raft, covering them with wet foliage. He felt cold, wet, feathery stems go down his neck, under his shirt, attach to his chest and in his arm pits. He felt the needle pricks all over. He felt them on his eyelids. He felt them snake up his nose.
--- Susan brought her car to a stop, and peered through the trees.
That was definitely Travis's old pickup.
She sighed. The monster-hunting idiot was probably on the lake again, despite all her warnings.
Like a complete fool she had blurted out what she had seen. She should've known that would only encourage a manchild with no sense of self-preservation.
She hesitated, then turned the wheel and headed on down to the lake.
The pickup had a whole bunch of stuff in the back. Backpacks. A camping set. Electronic stuff. A covered bucket that smelled absolutely revolting. Next to the truck was a sad sorry excuse of a tent that looked like whoever was setting it up had given up halfway through. Travis was certainly well-prepared, at least in terms of material supplies if not in ability.
She walked down to the lake edge and scanned the surface.
There. A small inflatable raft. Covered in weeds. Was this his idea of camouflage?
The wind started blowing, and something caught her eye. The raft was covered in little purple and yellow specks that fluttered about in the wind. She squinted.
Flowers. Tiny little flowers sprouting from the weeds covering the raft. Interesting; nothing had ever bloomed in the lake before. Great; the first plant to ever blossom in the lake, and Travis proceeds to rip it out. She needed talk to him about local laws and protected wildflowers.
She called out, received no reply. Well, it was pretty windy.
Nevertheless, she still felt a twinge of unease. Would calling the deputy right now seem a bit foolish? Deputy Miller was a man who economized action as much as possible (lazy) and definitely hated false alarms; she was pretty sure he was still mad about the time she called in a possible dead body in a car, but it was just Old Harold snoring off an all night-bender.
Maybe she was just overthinking it all, worrying about nothing. Was she really this spooked by some vague shape in the water? She hadn't been on the lake since the incident. Really, she was just as bad as Travis at this point.
She was just being silly. There was a less hysterical way to deal with this, a better way to preserve her dignity; for now, she was going to drive home, get her canoe, and paddle out to see if Travis was alright. At the first sign of trouble, she'd call for help.
As she turned to go, she thought about those little flowers. Maybe it was a good sign, a sign that the Oldhill Lake's health was improving.
She should take a sample.