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Friday, October 2, 2015

Lake Effect by Kai Strand

The lake may have claimed him, but Kira will get him back!

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They were so wrapped up in each other, their passion alive with smacking lips and breathy moans of pleasure, that at first Kira didn’t realize they were no longer alone on the dark lakeside beach. The lap of waves on sand was replaced by the sound of rain dripping from a rooftop.  Reluctantly, Kira pulled her lips from Jayden’s and glanced toward the sound. She blinked in confusion and paused to wonder if she’d fallen asleep. But the heated trail Jayden’s lips burned along her neck was too real to be a dream.

“What the hell?” she whispered, leaning forward to get a better look, drawing Jayden’s attention away from her.

The Lake by Abby McClean
Water burbled and flowed upward out of the surface of the lake like a fountain you might find in front of a fancy hotel. But instead of falling back into the lake, it drew together into a humanoid form. The sight was so unrealistic Kira expected it to be accompanied by a horror movie soundtrack of roars and growls, not the pleasant patter of water droplets of a waning summer storm. She stared with dread as the liquid man emerged from the lake, with too long of arms and eerily elongated fingers, already reaching forward even as they formed, curling and grabbing at the air. Oversized feet took shape at the bottom of thick legs as the creature rolled across the sand like a tidal wave.

The ceiling of stars reflected on the creature’s domed head and wide shoulders, as if the universe crowned him king. Kira screamed, but fright stole the force behind her voice and only a squeak escaped from her lips. Jayden clutched her arms and stared in shocked awe at the reformed water that stalked toward them. Within seconds the creature was upon them. Oozing between them. Pushing them apart until Jayden’s grip slid away as the creature forced him backward, toward the lake.

Jayden struggled. His cries muted and gurgling under the watery hand pressed over his lips, making it sound as though he was drowning. His hand pushed right through the liquid body doing nothing to slow their progress to the lake’s edge.

Kira tried to pull the creature off her boyfriend, but her hands splashed right through the surface and came away wet and empty. She screamed Jayden’s name frantically, repeatedly, her voice clear and shrill. Why didn’t anyone come?

When the creature successfully reached the water’s edge lake water sucked into the air, as if eager to reunite with a long lost friend, swallowing most of Jayden in the process. The inky blackness swirled around his struggling form, making it appear as though he was being erased from existence. Blotted out entirely. Jayden’s eyes grew wide with fear and Kira’s lungs constricted with terror.

Jayden, swathed in a liquid blanket sparked a flash of memories, the myriad of times they’d slept under the stars. Their summertime friendship extended back as far as she could remember. Was this some sort of punishment for allowing their friendship to develop into something more?

Her attention snapped back to Jayden when he and his captor floated slowly toward the center of the lake. With a yell of despair, Kira splashed into the mild surf, only to be ejected right back out. She slammed into the damp sand, her jaw snapping shut on impact. She spit out a mouthful of blood and scrambled to her feet, wading into the waves, only to be tossed out a second time. Her wrist bent unnaturally as she broke her fall, and she sucked in a lungful of warm, humid air. When cold mist coated her throat, she realized she was inhaling the spray of the water creature. Her stomach twisted in disgust and she gagged.

The site of the creature and Jayden sinking into the water made her spring to her feet. Panic welled inside her and she scanned the shore for something—anything—that might help him. There was nothing. She mewled and pulled at her hair as if the action would dislodge an idea that could help Jayden. They had sunk low enough that soon he would be completely underwater. His black eyes—wide, wide open and surrounded by white—seemed to be bathed in a spotlight. Kira reached uselessly toward him, whimpering his name.

As soon as Jayden disappeared, she ran. Toward the dock. Toward the little motorboat.

The warm night breeze whispered unintelligible secrets in her ears as she raced along the waterfront. The lake lapping on the shore sighed compelling requests, like “Let go,” and “Forget.” Even the moldering scent on the air enticed her to investigate the nearby woods as if more than the water conspired against her. But the memory of Jayden’s jet black eyes just before the dark water swallowed him—their pleading expression loud enough to drown out the croak of the largest bullfrog—kept her on task.

Kira’s lungs strained to suck in as much oxygen as the humid air would forfeit. The dock came into sight, dimly lit by the pale porch light of her family’s rundown summer cabin. She barely registered the burning in her thighs as she raced toward the pier. She considered calling out for help, but she was afraid to put anyone else in danger.

Her feet slammed on the rickety dock as she dashed toward the boat. She leaped in carelessly, almost toppling out the other side when the boat tipped precariously. Losing her balance, she stumbled to the front to untie the tether from the dock. Turning toward the back, and the motor, she tripped over a life vest. Her knee slammed into the bench seat that stretched across the back of the boat shooting pain up her leg.

It took two yanks of the cord to start the old outboard motor, the whine deafening on the still waters. Certainly this would wake her father and he’d come out to investigate. But she didn’t have time to wait. She sensed that Jayden was still alive, and she had to get to him. Unbidden, an image of five-year-old Jayden—missing a front tooth, obsidian eyes sparking with mischief as he sat at the end of the dock daring her to eat a worm—filled her mind. She had to save him.

The moment she angled toward the center of the lake Kira realized she didn’t really know where to go. Using the shore for reference, she steered the boat to where she thought Jayden had disappeared under the water. But the lake was dark and quiet. Her boat upset the surface as if it were the first stirrings in hours. Eyes squinted, she peered into the inky depths, but it was like looking for a picture when a television was turned off. She steered in ever widening circles around the area where she thought Jayden and the creature had disappeared, but her view never changed. Finally, she turned the engine off and let the craft float to a stop.

A deep voice shouting her name drowned out the water lapping against her boat. Heart pounding, she stood so fast she almost toppled over the side. Her gaze scanned the lake’s surface, but then her attention was drawn to the shore where her father jumped up and down.

Breath hitching and heart seizing, Kira’s gaze fell from her frantic father to the water – as dark and fathomless as Jayden’s eyes. Her mind almost shattered. She was going to have to return to the dock. Have to tell her father that Jayden had disappeared. They’d call the authorities. They’d tell his family. Soon red and blue flashing lights would reflect off the water and the summer residents would gather on the shore in their bathrobes and whisper to each other while divers searched the lake bottom.

Kira was terrified of what they’d find. Or what they might not find. She couldn’t bring herself to return to shore. She collapsed heavily onto the bench seat, her gaze never shifting from the shimmering dark water.

“Jayden,” she whispered. She stretched a hand toward the surface, but snatched it back when a small knoll developed, as if to smack away her reaching fingers. The creature wouldn’t even let her touch the surface, skim a palm over the coldness. “I’ll find you Jayden. I’ll get you back.”

A shiver ran down her spine. Questions raced through her mind. Had he already drowned? No. Her intuition revved in overdrive. He might be underwater, but he hadn’t drowned. Yet even still alive, would Jayden be worth saving? Would he be the same?

She didn’t want to truly acknowledge her questions. Just like returning to the dock would force her to admit that Jayden was gone, giving voice to her thoughts would make her fears real.

Anger and despair boiled inside her as she leaned over the side of the boat. Her reflection stared back at her, shaking apart and reforming with the lapping water. Then her image distorted into the featureless face of the creature. Even without a mouth, it appeared to smirk up at her. She glared at it and hissed, “He isn’t yours. I’ll get him back.”

The reflection shifted again and Jayden’s panic stricken eyes stared up at her. A hand shot out of the water, splashing her face. Instinctively she jerked away, but then with a cry, she reached forward, rocking the boat. Their fingers brushed, but his hand was yanked under and he disappeared from view. When the surface of the water calmed, Kira once again stared at her own distorted image.

“I’ll get him back,” she repeated. Frustration rippled through her when her voice cracked with fear, not wanting the creature to think her weak. Swiping away the tears that hadn’t already fallen into the lake, she closed her eyes, and pushed to a sitting position, sipping a few calming breaths. Resolved to rescue Jayden, she yanked the cord to restart the engine. Everything inside her screamed that the creature hadn’t stolen Jayden to kill him. And she trusted her instincts.

With a straight back and her chin jutted forward, she steered the boat toward shore.

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I hope you enjoyed this introduction to my new (as yet untitled) young adult fantasy. It’s my plan that the book be published in the fall of 2016, barring interference from any trickster immortals. Join my mailinglist to receive notification of this and other projects.
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When her children were young and the electricity winked out, Kai Strand gathered her family around the fireplace and they told stories, one sentence at a time. Her boys were rather fond of the ending, “And then everybody died. The end.” Now an award winning children’s author, Kai crafts fiction for kids and teens to provide an escape hatch from their reality. With a selection of novels for young adult and middle grade readers and a short story blog, Lightning Quick Reads, Kai entertains children of all ages, and their adults. Learn more about Kai and her books on her website, www.kaistrand.com.