My childhood memories start to feel more like dreams than remembrances as the years pass, but the last day at the lake house remains crystal clear. My parents were melancholy about selling the house, but I never cared for the place. There was not much for a young girl to do other than swim, and I never liked swimming, at least not in the lake. I once tried to tell my father about it, but he did not understand, thinking I was suffering from some form of watery vertigo. It was not the depth of the lake that bothered me; it was the idea that should I go down far enough there would be a presence waiting for me.
I first sensed the presence two years before they sold the lake house. I lay in bed, looking out at the night sky, and what felt like a snake slithered over the top of my blankets before curling around my right arm, tugging at me. In horror, I turned on the lights and saw nothing, and I convinced myself it was a dream, but, deep inside, I knew something had been in the room, and that it wanted to pull me into the lake.
I feared that presence, yet I also wanted to know it, to see it, to conquer it. When the last day at the lake came, I was resolute that I would put to rest my childish fears and prove I could soon be an adult. I had all the courage of a ten-year-old in a bright, safe setting: unending.
So I took the rowboat out. I was not supposed to go out on my own, but my mother and father were fighting, so I knew they would not notice.
Rowing the boat proved more difficult than I thought, my arms hurting like they did when they made us climb the rope in gym class. After fifteen minutes, I’d managed to row the boat into the center of the lake. I wanted to peer over, to see if I could see anything below, but the bravery I had on dry land had ebbed.
The lake house looked small from the center of the water, more like a cabin than a house. Other houses dotted the edges of the lake, but they were vacant, their owners selling them thanks to the recession, the one my parents argued about. It would have been nicer if there were others here, people to wave to. Maybe if the lake hadn’t been so empty, I would have been brave enough to look over the side. Instead, I hugged my knees to my chests, waiting for my arms to stop hurting so I could row back to shore.
Yet the lake was not so willing to let me go. Without warning, the boat capsized, shoving me under the water. I had the good sense to keep my mouth shut, but water snuck up my nose, and I had the image of it seeping into my brain, turning it into wet mush.
Beneath me, there was not so much darkness as there was a void. I thought that this must be what it feels like to float in space. I should have tried to swim back towards the surface, but the idea of there even being a surface seemed foreign. Instead, I floated above the void. There was both nothing and much to fear beneath me. There was no threat, no hint of that presence, but there was an empty space from which it could emerge.
And it did. From the depths came a mouth, one that seemed as large as the lake. Its lips were red and chapped. I could see the hint of a tongue as the lips moved, its whispers barely audible beneath the water. I didn’t know what it said, although I could have sworn that, at one point, it stated, “Hello, Miranda.” I did not know who Miranda was, and, for the rest of my life, I’ve turned cold whenever I hear that name.
The whispering was unbearable; that the words were unintelligible only made it worse. I wanted to swim away from the mouth, but I could not move. It seemed that the mouth wished for me to hear what it had to say, its voice growing louder but no more understandable. It spoke faster and faster. I suspected it wanted to share very deep secrets with me.
Finally, perhaps in frustration, the mouth shouted. The force of the shout pushed me up to the surface of the lake. The rowboat was still overturned, and I climbed on top of it. I did not look back down at the water. I stared at the lake house, wishing I could call out to my parents to come and get me, but I did not have the energy. The capsized rowboat began to float towards the shore, as if it, too, wanted to get back to land.
I have no idea how long it took for the boat to move close enough to the shore. It felt like hours, yet I do not recall the sun’s position changing much. Time is always malleable, especially when you’re young.
I gave my parents some excuse for being drenched. They nodded without interest and resumed packing up our belongings. I remember the long car ride back home. It was windy. The wind sounded like the mouth’s whispers.
I’ve been back to the lake since then to find that it’s polluted, brown and sick. I stood at its shore and looked out at the water, trying to spot any hint of a disturbance on the surface, any sign that the presence in the lake still wanted me, but I saw nothing.
Donald McCarthy is a writer from New York. His works have appeared in literary magazines, books, and political magazines. You can find more of his original work at donaldmccarthy.com.
The Mouth is a Fiction War Magazine Open Call submission.
Please do not reproduce without permission from the author.
Originally published at fictionwar.com. Image credit: