It came from space in a fiery cluster of molten steel, shattering the solitude that covered the blue water below as it plunged deep into the cold darkness. There it would lie dormant, to be stirred by life that flourished both in the water and above.
The sun was a hazy object in the sky as dense mist hovered over the gray water of Lake Champlain. The cries of the sea gulls overhead were the only sounds heard other than the low droning noise of the 21-foot boat's engine as the water splashed up against the hull of the Coast Guard's navigational vessel. Anna Mae Hart leaned her petite body against the railing as her short brunette hair flapped in the brisk breeze. Her green eyes studied the dark dot of an island ahead that could barely be seen within the wall of white haze. She reached into her jacket's pocket and pulled out a stick of gum and placed it onto her tongue.
Chewing heartily, she studied the sky for a moment. The sun was already a crimson color in the early morning hour which signaled another hot day in the North Country. As a native from Georgia she welcomed the steamy days while the locals moaned and fretted. She liked it here even with the cold, hard winters that plundered the northern state for well over seven months at a time; it was the quietness and the slowness of life that enticed her to stay.
For most of her thirty-four years of life, she had known nothing but instability and chaos; she came from a dysfunctional family, and as soon as she graduated from high school she joined the Navy and spent the next nine years traveling the world, and was trained in skills and knowledge shrouded with secrets never to be revealed to the common people. By the time she turned thirty Anna wanted a normal life. It was during her visit to upstate New York where she met Darren LaMonde and his family. After a short time, he offered her a position with Division 15 for the 1st District Coast Guard as a Patrol Specialist. She accepted it without hesitation, and never looked back.
"Looks like it'll be another scorcher." Darren was saying as he stood behind the wheel in the center of the boat. His dark mass of hair flew in every direction in the wind. He was handsome even at the age of fifty-six with no signs of gray or wrinkle. His hazel eyes were dark as they studied the lifting mist.
"You call this a heat wave? Oh, pl-lease." Anna smirked as she continued to stare out across the lake to the island ahead.
"I don't get how you like this humidity. It just saps all the energy right out of me." Darren throttled the engine down as they quickly approached tiny Green Island, one of the 70 plus islands of the lake.
"Sweetheart, you just weren't raised right." Anna drawled in her thick southern accent and then chuckled as she leaned further into the railing as the boat gave a gentle lurch forward when Darren put the engine into reverse. They slowly drifted up to the wooden dock where there was also another boat for the Plattsburgh City Police Department.
This was the one part she disliked about her job; having to deal with dead bodies from time to time. Darren had called her around 4am to relay that a body has been reported and the police had asked for their assistance in the investigation.
As soon as the boat was aligned against the short dock, Anna jumped out and anchored the boat. Quietly they walked off the dock and down a graveled pathway towards a small cabin that was nestled in the trees. Suddenly, Anna stopped.
"What is it?" Darren asked in a whisper.
"I'm not sure." Anna strained to see through the fog. "I thought I heard something."
They continued until they reached the rustic cabin where they were met by two individuals dressed in dark clothes. The tall, stocky black man was the first to speak as he held out his hand. "I'm Lt. Jean Picaur, and this is Dr. Madeline D'Louverne, a member of the crime scene unit."
The older woman was taller and thinner than Anna. She took Anna's hand. "We're glad you both could come out so quickly."
"We came as soon as we heard." Darren said. "What do we have?"
Picaur and the doctor exchanged a look as they stepped aside.
"You better come inside." Picaur spoke as he opened the door and led them into the building.
It was a two-bedroom cabin with a large living area in the center. The small kitchen was on one side, and the bedrooms on the other side. As Anna studied the largest room she could see stark evidence of struggle everywhere. The back door's window was smashed. The couch in the living room was overturned. There were dried blood and mud splattered on the walls and floor. The kitchen looked as if it was hit by a hurricane with utensils and dishpans scattered all over the floor and countertops.
Anna then saw a distinct trail of blood that ran from the kitchen floor over the carpet of the living room and into the den where it ended at the desk. She walked over and stood over the desk that held an older computer model; there was blood splattered over the monitor and across the keyboard, and a single bloodied handprint near the mouse pad with no mouse. The computer had been turned on. Anna assumed that it was being checked for evidence.
"Jesus H. Christ!" Darren exclaimed as he glanced at the shocking sight spread before him.
"This isn't your ordinary homicide." Anna spoke as she looked directly at Picaur.
The officer met her gaze and slowly shook his head. "No."
"And we were called here why?"
"To help us sort through evidence."
Darren turned to the Lieutenant and asked. "How many were staying in this cabin?"
Picaur pulled out his Blackberry and glanced at the little green monitor and answered. "There were two couples staying here for the weekend. They were from New York City. University students."
Anna took a step forward. "How many bodies were found?"
Darren looked over at Anna before turning to Picaur. "Then what happened to the others?"
"At this point we're assuming they're also dead, but without any bodies we can't be certain."
Dr. D'Louverne replied with an even tone. "We do have some evidence that seems to point the time of death around 11pm Saturday. The body that was found was one of the women who we think was the last survivor to die."
"Not a domestic homicide then?" Darren questioned.
"No. These kids were not killed in a conventional sense."
"Dr. D'Louverne seems to think they were killed by something ... not human."
Anna's eyes widened slightly as she turned to the older woman. "Animal?"
"I can't make a determination at this point. We were hoping you would be able to offer any insight."
Anna turned and studied the officer intently, without replying.
"I've seen your record, Ms. Hart. You have a background in Marine Biology and various classified military experimentations." Picaur stated.
Darren shook his head. "You're saying that some marine creature came out of the water and killed four people in a matter of days?"
"In a matter of hours actually." Dr.D'Louverne corrected. "I'm saying we're not sure at the moment."
Anna looked around the cabin once more. "Okay. Show me what you got."
Dr. D'Louverne sat down at the computer and brought up a blog site on the internet.
"The deceased, Shelli Watson, blogged on this site regularly. She recorded their last hours."
The doctor, with gloves on hands, worked on the keyboard until she leaned back. "You can start here."
Dr. D'Louverne then stood up, stepped aside as Anna took the chair. She accepted a pair of latex gloves from Darren and pulled them on over her hands. She then read one of the postings.
"July 7th, Friday, 7:45pm. Whew! We finally made it after driving for God forever long, all 7 hours of it! We spent another 2 hours at a lakeside boating store trying to find a boat we could afford to rent. Lisa and Mark are making dinner, spaghetti I think; and Dru, not sure where he took off to, probably out exploring the island. I can't believe we're actually spending an entire weekend on a tiny little island in the middle of a lake, not an ocean, but a fresh water lake! Dru and Mark have been dead set on going out on the lake to fish, and hopefully also catch a glimpse of the local legend monster, Champ. Lisa and I keep telling them that those were only stories to lure tourists to the area, but boys will be boys. While they are doing that, we'll be out on the beach sunning ourselves. Well, I'm being paged ..."
Anna, using the keyboard, advanced to the next posting.
"July 8th, Saturday, 8am. The guys are off on the lake, fishing and looking for Champ. I keep telling Dru, in vain I know, that he wasn't going to find anything. Oh well. Lisa and I are now off to relax for the morning."
"Sounds like typical 20-something kids to me." Darren commented.
"Yeah." Anna replied with a nod. "Next post."
"July 8th, Saturday, 12:35pm. The guys came back all excited. Dru claimed he got a picture of Champ. Lisa and I didn't believe them, not until they showed us the picture. It doesn't look quite like the pictures I've seen online of Champ, but it is definitely something. I've included the link here in case anyone was curious to take a look. Feel free to comment on what you think of it."
Anna tabbed until the link was highlighted and hit the enter key. A picture filled the screen. Darren leaned over Anna's shoulder and they both studied the picture. It was slightly blurry but there was a definite dark form rising partially above the surface of the water; the boat filled the bottom of the picture as one of the men had taken the photo looking across the lake towards the mainland. Anna studied this form. The sun was directly overhead, casting shadows on this figure, which obscured any clear view.
"What do you think?" Darren asked.
Anna shook her head slightly. "Not sure. Shelli was right. This doesn't fit what we know about Champ. This doesn't look like any amphibious being I've seen before. This here looks like a head." She ran a finger along the profile of the form. "Champ is much more rounded. This looks like an arm, and a hand, or more like claws ..." Anna leaned closer to the monitor. "To me it looks as if this creature was swimming towards their boat."
"And perhaps followed them back here to the cabin." Darren said blandly.
Anna exited out of the picture and continued to read.
"July 8th, 2pm. A strange thing has happened. Our boat's gone. Mark swore he tied it to the dock. Now we're stranded. Grr! None of our cells seem to be working now. Odd. We have no choice now but to wait until someone shows up to get off this island."
Picaur then spoke up. "When we arrived there was no sign of their boat."
Anna gave a quick nod and read on.
"July 8th, 6pm. I'm freaking out. Dru's gone. Lisa's hurt bad. There's something out there trying to get in. I want to go home now. I'm so scared."
"Someone that was wounded had been on the couch." Dr. O'Louvern pointed to the torn, upturned furniture. "I found dried human blood."
"There were also tracks around the cabin. They are unlike any animal prints I have ever seen." Picaur added.
"Let's see what happened next.
July 8th, 8:30pm. There's still no sign of Dru. I can still hear him screaming in my head. He had gone into the woods to find Lisa while Mark stayed with me. Then I heard Dru screaming, and Lisa came running back a few moments later. She was covered in blood. And her right arm was completely gone! My god. What is happening here?"
Anna leaned back in the chair, rubbed both hands on the back of her neck. "This creature's intelligent. It stalked them, watched and studied them. Waited. Dru was the first to die. Lisa was allowed to get away. Kind of like a cat and mouse game."
"Like a predator hunting its prey." Picaur muttered. "Would this be anything the military's responsible for?"
Anna glanced over at the big man and eyed him momentarily before she answered. "No, this creature was not created by the military, or by any other country that I know of."
She turned and focused on the monitor for a moment. "Nor is this any marine specie I have ever encountered before. This is either specie we've never seen before now or ..."
Anna looked up at Darren as he asked. "Think this has anything to with the meteor shower we had several months ago?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "I'm not sure. Perhaps."
Picaur took a step closer. "What are you suggesting?
Anna nodded. "I still have some connections in the military and I inquired about this meteor shower we had here a few months ago. I was told that an unidentified object exploded just above the earth's atmosphere. Pieces of it rained down and landed in this lake. Nothing was ever recovered. Not too long afterwards people began reporting strange sightings of a creature that wasn't Champ. Fish and other water life became scarce."
She paused to glance over at the closest window before she met Picaur's dark brown eyes. "The point is that this creature didn't appear until after the so-called meteor shower, and as far as I know it never killed ... until now."
"Perhaps the guys did something to provoke it." Darren suggested.
"That is a possibility. Okay, the final posting.
July 8th, 10:40pm. I can hear it scraping around outside. It's growling. Mark is standing watch by the back door. God, I don't want to die. Please, anyone who's reading this send help. Please! "
They were quiet for several moments before Anna stood up and peered over at the back door where the window was shattered.
"It came through the window." Anna began. "Killed Mark on the spot. It then came after Shelli. Shelli fought and died hard. Then it killed Lisa, or perhaps she was already dead."
"How would it have gotten out?" Picaur asked.
Anna walked over to the back door and studied it for a moment. "It simply just opened the door and walked out." To demonstrate she turned the door knob and the door slowly swung open on its own. She then stepped out and onto a small deck. "Doc, shine your laser light over here."
Dr. O'Louvern did just that. "Blood. It goes down the steps and into the woods."
"This is where we go as well." Picaur said.
When Picaur and Darren started down the steps Anna reached out and touched Darren's arm. "Wait. The sun's gone. Looks like a storm is coming."
Darren peered up at the sky and sure enough, the sky was now covered with dark clouds. The wind, now cooler, had picked up in intensity. He looked over at Anna. "You're thinking it's still out there?"
Anna's eyes were focused on the moving shadows of the trees as the wind whipped through them. "Yes."
Everyone stood still for several moments as they listened to the howling of the wind and the rain started to splatter on and around them in big drops. Just then, Picaur gave a shout as he stomped to the other side of the deck.
"God damn it all! The boats are gone!" He bellowed.
Darren moved besides him. "Both of them?"
The women came to look as well and saw that both vessels had simply vanished.
"We should get inside." Darren muttered.
They quietly went back inside the cabin with Picaur being the last one in as he shut the door behind him. He ran his fingers through his wet hair and said almost in a whisper. "So, now we're the hunted."
"It appears that way." Anna replied. "We need to be ready. The doors need to be secured."
Darren gave a nod as they worked together to drag the ragged couch over and leaned it against the back door. The other door they barricaded with the heavy oak coffee table.
Picaur took a step back to study what they had done. "These probably won't hold it back for very long."
"No." Anna answered as she checked her weapon to be sure it was fully loaded. "But it should buy us enough time to respond."
They all suddenly froze when they heard large branches outside cracking and snapping.
"The winds have died down some." Darren whispered.
"The creature?" the doctor asked in a shaky voice.
For the next several moments, they stood completely still as they waited. The silence in the cabin was eerie. Anna held her breath as she strained to listen for any sound from the approaching creature. She heard nothing until suddenly, a loud bang slammed against the back door as the couch literally shot across the room, smashing into both Darren and Dr. D'Louverne as they flew across the living room floor.
Before either Picaur or Anna could react, the officer yelled out as a claw-like hand reached inside and grabbed one of his feet and pulled him effortlessly outside into the rainstorm and fog. It happened so fast the creature and Picaur were nothing but a blur to Anna.
Next thing she knew, she stood alone.
* * *
The wind had died down as the fog settled heavily over the island. Rain came down in large droplets. As she stood in the doorway, Anna stared out in disbelief. The fog was so thick she couldn't see beyond the deck. As she looked back into the cabin, she saw both Darren and Dr. D'Louverne lying on the floor, still breathing. They were alive. For now. She listened for sounds but could not hear anything above the pouring rain. It would make no sense to go out into the storm, blind and practically deaf. It would be suicide, not to mention foolish. Picaur was most likely dead. Her responsibility now was to the injured inside.
Anna stepped inside and went to close the door but saw that the hinges were damaged, so she left it partially ajar. She needed to get them off this island; however, she had a feeling this creature didn't intend to let any of them leave alive. This left her with only one choice. She must find a way to kill it.
* * *
Darren moaned as he tried to sit up, but Anna, as she knelt beside him, pressed him back down. "Easy there, cowboy." She spoke gently. "You have a head injury and I don't want you moving too quickly right now."
He met her eyes that held no emotion. "Picaur?"
She shook her head. "I don't know. He's gone now. The doc is fine. She's over there sitting up with a broken arm."
He turned his head gingerly to see Dr. D'Louverne sitting on the floor, with her back against the kitchen's counter. "Did you see how fast it moved?"
"I did. I saw a glimpse of it too. It's bigger than I thought, about seven feet tall."
"It was standing?"
"Yeah, like a human, yet it's not human. I'm not sure what it is."
"So, now what, partner?"
Anna was finished with his head bandage as she stood up. "You and the doc are going to try and get a message to the mainland to send help. We still have power, for now."
"Done." Darren slowly sat up and leaned against the wall. "What about you?"
Anna avoided his eyes as she looked away, "I'm going hunting."
"Bullshit!" Darren attempted to stand up, but intense dizziness threatened to overwhelm him so he sat back down. "Anna, I'm not letting you go out there alone against that thing."
This time she met his panicked gaze as she laid a hand on his shoulder. "You are in no condition to help. I need to buy you two time to get help out here."
He shook his head. " No talking you out of it, is there?"
"Help me up. Shit."
As she placed her hands under his arms Anna helped Darren up to his feet. As he stood he leaned against the wall until the dizzy spell passed and he was steady. "You come back, ya hear? Or else the chief will have my sorry ass."
Anna smiled at her partner and friend. "I come back in one piece and you owe me an extra week's vacation."
* * *
With the loaded gun in hand, Anna stepped down off the deck. The rain had stopped, but the fog remained dense. She slowly made her way towards the woods where her instincts told her she would find the creature. It was mid-day, but with the thick mist that hung over everything it felt like dusk. The woods ahead of her were dark and full of shadows. She swallowed hard, and knew that any of the shadows could be the creature. As she moved into the trees she felt pressed by the overwhelming sound of silence where even her shallow breaths sounded too loud.
Anna glanced at the fir needle-riddled ground; she could barely make out the path. Then something shiny caught her attention as she bent down to inspect. It was Picaur's badge. Picking it up she turned it over a few times in her hand, and fought back the hot tears that threatened to spill from her eyes. She slipped the badge into her pants pocket and continued onward. She was on the right path. It was only a matter of time now.
The narrow path led her up a steep incline and deeper into the fog. She could barely see inches in front of her. Then, somewhere behind her, she heard branches and dried fir on the ground crackling and snapping. For an instance, Anna froze as her heart pounded in her chest and she could hear the blood roaring in her ears. It was coming directly behind her. She must act now or die, like a coward.
She was no coward.
When she heard the low growl, Anna swung around, dropped down to her knees, aimed and fired into the fog. The bullet found its mark as she heard the creature screeched, and then came loud crashing sounds, and then silence.
A voice. She heard a voice. It sounded like Picaur! Cautiously, Anna stood back up and jogged towards the source of the sound. As she looked down the hill, she spotted a figure on the ground.
Anna quickly ran down the fir covered path to the figure of Jean Picaur as he sat on the ground, leaned back against a dead tree stump. He had an open gash in his left thigh, but he was alive.
"By the devil, Anna, it's you!"
"Yes, sir." Anna answered with a smile as she knelt down beside him.
He placed a bloodied hand on her arm closest to him. "I thought I was a goner."
"Don't thank me yet, lieutenant." Her eyes scanned around them. "I only wounded it, and I'm sure it's really pissed now."
He gave a solemn nod. "Gotcha."
With her free hand, Anna pulled the man up to his feet as he leaned heavily against her.
"Alright there?" She eyed him closely.
"Just feeling woozy."
"It's from the blood loss."
One step at a time they slowly made their way back up the hill and down the other side towards the cabin. Overhead the sun was now visible as the fog began to retreat.
"Thank goodness the sun will be out soon."
"Not soon enough." Anna barely whispered as they came to a sudden stop. She focused ahead. They were close to the cabin now as she could barely make out its outline beyond the tree lines. To their left was Lake Champlain. Just ahead on the path, she saw the dark shadow of the creature as it stood between them and the cabin.
Anna couldn't quite make out the body other than it was tall and lean, but she saw the eyes. It was like tiger's eyes, red and black. Its face was human like but scaly and greenish like a reptile that held no nose, only two slits. The mouth was as wide as the width of its head, and as it seemingly grinned at them the mouth spread open to reveal razor sharp teeth of a carnivore. The growl that escaped from its body sounded so deep and low it resonated through her body from the feet up to her head.
She'd known fear and death, and had faced predators, but nothing like this. All she wanted to do was curl up on the ground and whimper.
"Holy mother of God!" Picaur exclaimed in a hoarse voice.
They both stood, unmoving, as did the creature.
"What is it waiting for?" the officer breathed in a whisper.
"For us to make the first move."
"Jesus, we're dead."
As she kept her eyes on the shadowy form ahead, Anna tightened her grip on the gun.
"Do you still have your gun?"
"No, I dropped it by the deck after it grabbed me. I-er-can see it from here, on the ground."
"When I count to three, I'm going to give you my gun. You keep it busy long enough for me to get to your gun, and we'll blast it to hell."
"Beats just standing here."
In one movement, Anna placed the gun in Picaur's waiting hand and dashed to the right. The officer instantly began firing as she ran as fast as her legs would go. She could hear the creature hissing and growling somewhere nearby. She didn't know exactly where it was anymore. Her focus now was the gun on the ground, as she bounded forward, dodged low branches and leapt over rocks and fallen trees.
The deck was now only a few feet away, but so was the roar of the creature. Anna took a deep breath and jumped high up into the air and flew for the gun that lay on the hard, bare ground. As she landed on her side, she felt the air whooshed right out of her lungs with a loud thud. She wrapped her hand around the gun, rolled over onto her back just in time to see a flash of white teeth, and fired. Then there was nothing.
* * *
Her head roared and spun as she slowly became aware that her body was on the cool, wet ground. She opened her eyes to see both Darren and Picaur standing over her; both wore wide grins on their faces.
"Damn, girl! You gave us a scare!" Darren cried.
Anna tasted blood as she carefully stood up onto her feet. Her eyes scanned around her.
"Where is it?"
Picaur sat down on the steps of the deck as he spoke. "You shot it point blank in its face. I don't know how the hell you got the shot off; it was practically on top of you."
"So, I shot it. Where did it go?" Anna asked again.
Picaur looked over towards the lake. "It crawled into the water. It was wheezing and bleeding. Then it was gone."
Anna, steadier now, walked to the edge of the shore. She could see its blood on the rocks and sand. It was a black-red color, and lots of it.
Darren and the hobbling Picaur came and stood on each side of Anna as they studied the water. Everything was still. Calm. The fog was completely gone and the sun shone brightly.
-- Carrie Golden