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The Lake That Whispers
A The Ones Who Call story
Start at the beginning of The Ones Who Call series
"Would you look at that." Said Rob Pawluk, chewing at the corner of his thick moustache as he stared out the window. "Even with all the spring melt-water coming in off of the hills, the lake barely reaches up to the docks. How the hell are we going to keep this place operating in the middle of frickin' July?"
Kyle made a non-committal noise as he served himself a piece of roast. He'd heard this particular gripe from his uncle several times over the past week, and knew that it was better to simply nod and agree. The one time he'd made the mistake of asking why the water-level of the lake was so low, his uncle had ranted for over an hour before Kyle had been able to excuse himself from the conversation and flee for the safety of his room.
"We'll figure something out, dear." Said Aunt Bernice. She set a pitcher of juice down on the table and then bustled back to the kitchen as microwave beeped. "Even if it means we have to haul those boats down to the water's edge ourselves."
Rob snorted and turned away from the window. "That won't do us a damned bit of good if they close the lake like they were talking about last year. They came real close to a boating ban, and the water level last spring was almost a foot higher than it is this year."
He joined Kyle at the table, resting his thick forearms on the worn "Saskatchewan is Beautiful" placemats. He glowered at the newspaper for a long moment before he finally picked it up and thumbed through to the weather section. The news reports didn't seem to improve his uncle's mood, and Kyle knew that while the warm, sunny weather was great for his soccer team, it was bad news for his uncle's business. The Pawluk's were semi-retired, but still relied on the income from their boat rental business to get them through the year and the financial uncertainty was weighing heavily on Uncle Rob.
Kyle felt bad for his uncle, but had trouble working up the effort to care about the man's business after his own life had been so chaotic recently. His parent's relationship had never been particularly stable, but over the past year things had gotten so bad that he'd begun staying at a friend's house in order to avoid the constant fighting at home. So, while his parent's eventual separation hadn't come as a surprise, Kyle hadn't expected his mother to drag him away from the city.
"It's only for a few weeks." She had promised, but they had been living with his aunt and uncle for nearly six months now and there was no sign that they were going to return to Saskatoon.
Kyle pushed the mashed potatoes around his bowl and wondered what his friends were doing at this moment. He'd heard that his basketball team had made in into the finals this year, which only made the fact that he was stuck in the middle of nowhere that much worse.
"Don't let your uncle get you down." His aunt's voice snapped him out of his thoughts. She smiled at him and patted him on the shoulder as she joined them at the table. "He's just an old grump."
Bernice's tone of voice hinted that Rob shouldn't be burdening Kyle with his troubles and Kyle scowled, resenting the implication that he couldn't handle hearing anything upsetting. That was his mother's problem, not his. He'd been the strong, responsible one this entire time. He'd been the one to get her to eat again after the divorce papers had been served, and he hadn't once complained about being taken away from his home and his friends without consultation.
"It's those damned Indians again." His uncle said, stabbing a finger at the article he was reading. "Says here they're still not letting anyone near the controls for the dam."
"Robert." Bernice said sharply. She worked with several Natives and was quite careful to always use politically correct language around them. Rob ignored her and continued to glare at the paper.
"The police say they won't do anything about it." He brushed the grinned wickedly as a thought occurred to him and looked up at Bernice. "You know what they should do? They should send the army in there to sort them out. What the hell gives them the right to take over the dam, anyway? It's not even on their land, and if the dam was regulating the water levels like it's supposed to, we wouldn't have a damned thing to worry about."
He snorted, amused by his own pun. Bernice rolled her eyes and scolded him to be quiet and drink his coffee, and Kyle turned back to his dinner. He wondered briefly why the Natives in the valley cared about the dam, but quickly forgot about it in lieu of his own problems. After a few minutes, he pushed his half-eaten meal away and told his aunt that he was going out on the lake to think.
Once, Kyle would have turned to his Xbox to work out his frustrations and ignore the worries of the real world. These days, his uncle usually wanted the TV in the evenings for his sports programs, which left Kyle without his usual means of coping.
That was why he'd begun taking a row around the lake in the evenings. He wasn't particularly into boating and was too young to take out one of the motorboats, but at least working the oars of his uncle's rowboat gave him something to do. The physical exertion felt good, and sometimes the repetitive motion of rowing even managed to lull him into a sort of hypnotic numbness. However, even exhausting himself could not still his mind tonight.
He could not stop thinking about the letter his mother had received earlier that day. The letter from his father's lawyer had said that his Dad wanted full custody of Kyle. This had, of course, devastated Kyle's mother, who had gone into another one of her crying fits. That alone was enough to make Kyle feel sick with worry, but the worst part was that he couldn't quite decide how he felt about the possibility of living with his father.
They'd been close when Kyle was younger, but had drifted apart over the years. It seemed to Kyle that as soon as he'd was old enough for school, nothing he did was good enough for his father. His grades were good but not excellent, and he'd never been particularly good at football, his father's favorite sport. Every time he thought he'd done really well at school, his father was there to tell him that he wasn't trying hard enough.
But, try as he might to hate the man, he couldn't. He still wanted to see his father again, even though their last outing together had ended in the two of them screaming at one another. Maybe, if they were living together once again, it might bring them closer together and he could finally prove to his father that he was a good son after all.
On the other hand, he didn't want to leave his mother on her own. She needed him right now and he was glad he could be strong for her, but it was starting to wear him out. He needed a break. He wished he could go back to worrying only about what he'd have for dinner that night and whether or not his soccer team would make the playoffs.
He paddled for a long time, running over those same thoughts in his head. He wasn't paying much attention to where he was going, and so he didn't notice when the shores grew indistinct as a huge fog bank rose off of the lake. By the time he looked up, the fog had grown so thick that he could barely see the end of his rowboat.
He had a moment of intense panic. The dark water stretched all around him, cold and implacable. He'd forgotten to bring a lifejacket with him, something his aunt would no doubt scold him about later, so if a storm blew up and tipped his boat, he would be in trouble.
"Shit." He said quietly, staring around himself at the tendrils of fog that rose up off the water like ghosts.
He tried to calm himself down so that he could think. With no landmarks in sight, he couldnít tell where he was in the lake, and he didn't know which direction he'd been paddling before the fog blew in. He thought that the sun had been at his back, which should have meant he'd been paddling east, but he couldn't be sure. He also remembered paddling past an island, though he could remember how far he'd come since then. He turned the boat around and headed back towards it, knowing that it was better to be on land than in the water during weather like this.
As he paddled, the fog did strange things with the noise of his paddles. Once or twice, he could have sworn that he heard something splashing not far from him. It was only after he'd heard it a third time that he wondered if it was another boat, and not just the echoes of his own paddles.
"Hey?" He called out tentatively. "Is anyone out there?"
His words disappeared into the air. He could hear the distant echo bounding off the hills, calling back to him, 'there, there there'.
He frowned, annoyed at his own stupidity. Even if there was someone else stupid enough to be out on the lake in the fog, there was no way that they could find him. He turned back to his paddles and was about to continue on his way when he heard a voice.
The quiet voice sounded like it had come from right behind him. He started, nearly dropping his paddle, and fumbled to catch it before it could slip out of the oarlock. When he had it firmly back in his grasp, he craned around to look behind him, but all he could see what the swirling mist of the fog bank.
"Hello?" He called.
The invisible hills took his cry and sent the echoes back to him, softly whispering 'hello, hello, hello...' in his ear until the silence won over once again. He strained to hear the sound of distant splashing that would have indicated another boat out on the lake, but all was still and silent. Even the shore birds had ceased calling out to one another, and the only sound was the quiet 'shushing' of the water passing under the hull of his boat. The sudden lack of noise made his ears hum.
"H... Hello?" He tried again.
A thin, chill tendril of mists drifted past his face, but nothing else on the lake seemed to move. Even the waters had grown unnaturally placid and calm, and his boat hardly rocked. The humming in his ears began to pulse in time with his heartbeat, making his head seem like it was wrapped in a thick layer of cotton. He shook the sensation off, sure that at any moment he'd hear that voice again.
He could feel someone out in the fog. The back of his neck itched, and the hairs along his arms were standing on end. He set his paddles and turned around in his seat, staring in the direction that he thought he'd heard the voice, but the thick mist hid their presence.
"Hey, who's out there?" He yelled.
The air rang with the echoes of his voice, but no one answered. He sighed, wondering if he'd simply imagined the voice and turned around in his seat to take up the paddles again.
A raven cried out, its harsh cry shattering the silence. He could hear the sound of its wings rowing against the air as it flew overhead and even feel the wind of its passing, but he could not see it. It took him a moment to realize that he'd ducked low in the boat and was now shaking.
"Screw this." He muttered to himself. "I gotta get out of here." He was going to find that island and wait out the mists even if it meant he'd have to spend the night outdoors.
He set his paddles back in the water and began to pull, steering towards where he'd last seen the island. The sound of his rowing felt like a violation of the silence, and as he picked up speed, the water began to whisper along the bottom of his boat. It sounded uncomfortably like small, thin voices hissing at him, speaking in a language that he didn't understand. He tried to ignore the sound, but the faster he went the louder the voices grew until it seemed that the entire length of the boat was speaking to him.
He shuddered and concentrated on rowing as the taunting voices got louder. Cold sweat began to trickle down his back, and in his panic the droplets felt like the touch of fingers. He shut his eyes and paddled blind. Running into land, any land at this point would be preferable to remaining in the middle of the lake.
The voice was recognizably female. The note of annoyance in the voice was reassuringly normal, and Kyle was sure that this time it wasn't just a product of his imagination.
"Hey!" He shouted. "I'm lost out here! Keep talking and I'll row towards you."
A second voice laughed harshly and the lake felt silent again. The mist seemed to crowd closer to him, beading on his skin and soaking his clothes. Despite the still air, waves began to rock his boat, tugging him off course. He gripped his paddles tighter and continued rowing, fighting down the urge to panic.
Kyle could still hear the voices, but they sounded muffled and distant, as though the fog had choked him off from the rest of the world. Though he couldn't make out any of the words, it sounded like there was a vicious argument occurring. After a few moments of rowing, he heard a loud shout followed by vigorous splashing. He had no idea what he was rowing towards, but finding himself in the middle of a fight was still preferable to being alone on the water. The splashing continued and he veered towards the noise.
Finally, he felt his boat bump up against a sandy shore. Relief made him so giddy he nearly upended the boat in his scramble to get back onto dry land. He stumbled onto the beach, panting, and then froze as the sound of the fight nearby grew louder. He edged his way behind a scraggly, wind-twisted bush, hoping to avoid getting caught in the middle of it, and peered through the branches at the shoreline.
Two people struggled to their feet in the shallows, regarding each other warily. They were both soaked and covered in mud, and Kyle guessed that the splashing he'd heard earlier had been from them fighting in the water. The man looked to be a year or two older than he was, but the girl seemed to be about his own age. She had her back to Kyle, and was shaking her fists at the man who stood before her.
"God, you're such an idiot!" The girl shouted. "Hurting him will only make things worse for everyone!"
"I don't care." The man shouted back. "He's not supposed to be out here. This is our lake, not theirs. It's time they learned that."
"Maybe, but that's no reason toó" The girl stopped talking suddenly and looked over her shoulder towards where Kyle was standing. He froze despite himself, trying not to flinch as her gaze passed right over his hiding spot.
"Oh, shit." She hissed, and shoved the man backwards with her hands. "He's here. Go on, get out of here. Now!"
He looked like he was going to protest, but his eyes flicked towards Kyle as well. Kyle watched as the man's features grew dark with anger and wished that he'd brought the paddle with him. If he had to fight this man, he didn't want to be unarmed.
The girl stepped between Kyle and the angry man, hands on her hips. The man's gaze shifted down to her now, but she didn't back down. "Devon. Leave." She said, and then lowered her voice. "He can't know."
They stared at each other for several seconds before the man broke eye contact. "Fine." He said, and shoved her roughly out of his way. "Make friends with the moniyas if you like. I'm going back to the dam. Our dam."
He stalked off into the mists, leaving the girl alone on the beach. She stared after the man for a moment until she was sure he wasn't coming back, then slogged her way out of the water and onto the beach.
"Sorry." She called, waving at him with one hand while she pushed damp hair out of her eyes with another. "My cousin's kind of jerk. He shouldn't have scared you like that."
Kyle watched her warily but did not come out of his hiding place. She sighed in frustration and held out her hands, beckoning him forwards.
"It's ok. He won't come back." She said. "Come out. Please?"
He waited silently until he heard something slide into the water. He hoped that it was the sound of the man getting into his boat and leaving. When the sounds of something moving through the water grew distant, he slowly unfolded from his hiding spot and stepped out onto the beach.
"How did you do that?" Kyle hissed, staring suspiciously at the girl. "The mists and voices..."
She bit her lip. "I didn't." She said quickly. "It was... The mist just happens sometimes when the weather is right. My jerk of a cousin heard your boat out on the water and thought it would be funny to try and scare you by yelling stupid things. He does that a lot."
She rolled her eyes and took a step towards him. He stepped back reflexively, wary of her despite her unassuming looks and short stature. There was something 'off' about her, and the obvious lie in her voice as she'd mentioned the weather 'just happening' didn't reassure him.
"Okay, okay. I'll just stay here." She said, taking a half step back. "You can leave, if you like, but good luck out on the lake. The mist probably won't clear off for another hour or two."
She offered him a nervous smile, and the gesture seemed so much like any of the girls he'd gone to school with that it began to ease his previous distrust of her. He felt a little foolish for being scared of her in the first place, since she was several inches shorter than he was and seemed harmless enough, but some part of him still felt uncomfortable whenever he looked in her eyes. He tried to ignore the feeling, chalking it up to nerves from his time on the lake.
"No, it's ok." He said, rubbing at his neck with a hand. "I can wait, I guess."
He stepped forward and held out a hand. "I, uh. I'm Kyle."
She took his hand and gave it a quick shake. "Jenny. You're new out here, huh?"
He frowned, taken aback. "Yeah, I guess. How did you know?"
"It's a small valley." She shrugged. "And I haven't seen you before. Plus, most of the locals know to stay off the lake when it's foggy like this."
He smiled ruefully, angry at himself for not noticing when the weather turned back and a little stung that she'd called him on his stupidity. She seemed to notice his discomfort and flapped her hand to ward away any blame.
"Oh, no, it's not your fault." She said. "It's the lake. It's hard to read if you're not familiar with it, and the weather from the plains gets channelled down here in strange ways."
"I guess." He said. "But I still feel dumb for getting lost."
"Donít worry about it." She said. "It could happen to anyone."
"Is that why you're out here?" He asked, curious why she was out on the island in the middle of the fog.
She shook her head. "Nah. I know the lake pretty good. I was out here thinking about stuff, and my cousin came out and found me so that we could talk."
"In the mists?" Kyle asked, suspicious.
"Err, no." She replied. "Before."
She hesitated before she spoke, and Kyle wondered again if she was lying to him. But that was crazy. What reason would she have to lie to him? She seemed a little young to be out on the lake by herself, but he had taken his uncle's boat onto the lake by himself, so why couldn't she?
He glanced around, looking for any sign of how she'd gotten to the island. "Where's your boat?" He asked. "Your cousin didn't take it, did he?"
She looked confused for a moment, and then nodded tentatively. "Yeah. I guess he did. It's ok, though. I can get home again."
"How?" He asked, raising an eyebrow and gesturing around them at the tiny strip of land in the middle of the lake. She ducked her head, blushing.
"Err... I don't know." She admitted, though the hesitance in her voice made Kyle frown.
"Well, if you want, I can give you a ride back when the lake clears off." He said.
She smiled brightly at him. "Aww, thanks. You don't have to, I mean, after everything we did to you..."
His frown deepend. "What did you do? From what I saw, you're the one who stopped your cousin from making me completely flip out. Giving you a ride back is the least I can do."
She grinned gratefully up at him, and he couldn't help but notice that she was rather attractive, in a mud-smeared, messy sort of way. Her wet clothing clung to her body, making her small chest and hips seem more alluring than they might otherwise have, and her face wasn't as round and flat as some of the other Native girls he'd seen. She had a pretty face, with high cheekbones and large, expressive eyes. She seemed to have noticed him watching her and she quickly looked away, staring at a patch on the ground as she ran her fingers through her hair. He found her shyness rather endearing.
"Actually," she said. "If you want to go now, I can find the way back. Like I said, I know the lake really well."
"We don't have to, but I guess if you want to go now, we can." He said. "Up to you."
She shrugged, uncertain, and then began making her way to his boat. He followed, and held the boat steady for her so that she could climb in. He climbed in after her and took up the paddles.
"So, which way?" He said as they pushed themselves away from shore.
"Over there." She said, pointing. She seemed utterly confident that she'd picked the right direction, even if he couldn't see how that section of lake was any different. He set to paddling, trusting her to tell him if he was veering off course.
"So." He said, trying to make conversation so that the silence of the lake didn't press in so closely. "What was your cousin saying about the dam?"
Jenny chewed at her nail, then spat as she tasted the mud and dirt on her hands from her earlier fight. She sighed, and dipped her hands in the water to clean them. "He's one of the protestors out there. He was trying to get me to come help him block it off, but I don't want to get involved."
Kyle frowned, remembering his uncle's complaints earlier that evening. "Why are you guys blocking off the dam, anyway?"
She shrugged. "It's complicated. My cousin knows more about it because his mom's one of the people who started the protest, but I think it has something to do with the fact that it was built on our land without permission, and now our part of the valley gets flooded out each year."
He felt suddenly irritated with her. "Yeah, but donít they know it's hurting the people who live by the lake? I mean, my uncle runs a boathouse, and he'll be out of business if the dam doesn't get opened soon."
She frowned, taken aback. "I hadn't thought of that." She considered that for a moment, and then shook her head. "I dunno. I think it'd more important if the government listens to us about the dam, even if it means your uncle has to shut down his business for the year. When it floods really bad, our farmers lose their entire crops and sometimes our wells get contaminated. I bet you've never had to boil your water before you drank it!"
He was stunned. His uncle had never mentioned anything about the effect the dam had on the reserve. "It gets in your well water? Jeez. That didn't make the papers."
"Yeah, it wouldn't." She said, rolling her eyes. "My mom says that reporting how the lakeside resorts might get closed is a way more profitable story for the newspapers than reporting on how a bunch of Indians don't have proper sanitation. That's just standard."
She sounded a little bitter, and despite his earlier misgivings, he found himself sympathising with her.
"Huh. I didn't know that it was so bad here for you guys." He said, and then chuckled quietly. "Hell, before I got dragged to this valley, I didn't know anytó."
He stopped, suddenly too choked up to continue. His words had come out sounding harsher than he'd intended, and he gripped the paddles tightly as he fought back tears. God damn it, he wasn't going to break down in front of her! Not when he'd been so solid lately!
He turned his back to her, pretending to search for the bailing scoop, but she saw through his ruse. He felt a soft, tentative touch on his arm.
"What's wrong?" She said. Her voice was very soft and full of compassion.
"Nothing." He said through gritted teeth.
"I've seen that kinda 'nothing' before." She slipped off of her seat and knelt beside him, one hand resting on his knee. She stared up at him with bright, searching brown eyes, and he might have been turned on by the gesture had he not felt so horrible. "Look." She said. "I know we donít really know each other, but I've been where you are before. It's not gonna get better until you tell someone about it, and, well, there's no one else around."
She made a show of looking around the boat to the endless, cloying mist beyond, then leaned in close. "It's ok. I promise I won't laugh, or tell anyone what you say."
He blew a derisive snort through his nose and looked away, ashamed that he'd broken down like this, and ashamed that he needed her help. Slowly, however, her patient, insistent gaze and the growing ache inside his chest wore down his pride.
"My parents are getting divorced." He forced out the words one by one, trying to make them sound casual, but each one hurt to hear out loud. He shrugged and looked away from her. "It sucks, but there's nothing I can do about it, I guess."
She was quiet for a long moment, staring at his feet. Then, she said very softly, "My parents are divorced, too. They split when I was still pretty little. I hardly remember my father."
That surprised him. He glanced up at her but she did not meet his eyes. She seemed lost in thought, and he saw an echo of the pain he felt pass over her face. She picked at a spot of mud that was beginning to dry on her arm, but only succeeded in smearing it further.
"Yeah, it sucks." She said finally. "It sucks for a long time. But you get used to it, after a while, until you don't even really think about it anymore."
She looked up, one corner of her mouth quirking up in a sad smile. "I know that's probably not a big comfort right now, but it's the truth." She shrugged. "If you were one of my friends, I'd probably lie to you and say that everything will work out fine in the end, but you seem like a tough guy."
She patted his knee, and he appreciated that she didn't try to lie to him. Platitudes just made him angry, and he'd heard more than enough of them from his aunt.
He sighed and stared down at her. "So what do you suggest, then? Just grit my teeth and bear it? 'Cause that's what I've been doing, and it hasn't done me a whole lot of good."
She faltered, staring out at the mist for guidance. "I dunno." She admitted after a moment's thought. "I don't know you, so I don't know what would help you feel better, other than just talking. But, if you do need someone to talk to, you can talk to me."
She lowered her chin, looking up at him through her muddy eyelashes, and he felt the anger and shame he felt ease as he looked into her deep, understanding eyes.
"I... I'd like that." He said, swallowing hard. "But, not today. Right now, I just want to get back to shore. This mist is freaking me out."
She chuckled and climbed back into her own seat, giving his knee one last reassuring pat. "Well, keep on rowing, then, unless you want me to take over. The shore's a few hundred meters that way."
They got back underway, and in a relatively short time had found their way back to the docks. He exchanged numbers with her and said an awkward goodbye, promising to call her soon. She nodded her agreement and was about to leave when she suddenly rose up on her tiptoes and gave him a quick, muddy hug.
He was taken aback by the gesture, and mechanically patted her on the back, feeling the warmth of her body through her damp shirt. He was more surprised than comforted by the gesture, but when they broke apart, he wished that he could hold her again.
She smiled up at him, still picking at the mud on her arms. "Sorry." She said, looking at the damp spot she'd left on his chest. "But you looked like you needed a hug. I, umm, I'm gonna go now. Call me, okay?"
She waved to him and began down the path that ran beside the lake. He stared after her, but she faded quickly from sight as the mist swirled between them, thicker here by the shore. He secured the rowboat to the dock and gathered up his belongings for the walk back to his Uncle's house.
He took the same path that she had taken, and it wasn't until he had walked for several minutes that he realized the path didn't lead towards the reserve. He thought that was strange, but assumed that she knew her way around better than he did and put it from his mind.
The trail of muddy footprints continued on for several minutes, and if he hadn't been so wrapped up in his thoughts, he might have noticed when the footprints suddenly veered off the path. Mist curled around a break in the bushes where the footprints led down the muddy bank and into the lake, changing as they hit the waterline from human footprints to something longer, something sleeker...
Something entirely inhuman.
Story by Alina Pete, Copyright 2011
Image by Tara Willett, Copyright 2011