“The Blood-Red Lake” by Stephen Kozeniewski 

I wake up to the feeling of something tugging on my hand, which is dangling off the bed.  That might normally be the start of a crummy spook story, but I assure you this is no crummy spook story and there is no monster under my bed.  It is only Marina, my daughter.  And while she is holding her rag doll Petunia under one armpit, as is customary for her.  I can surmise from the fact that she is attired in her blue and white bathing gown why she is bothering me so early.

“Why all atwitter, little apple-of-mine-eye?” I ask.

“Papa,” she replies,” I should very dearly like to go swimming.”

“Well, what’s to stop you?” I says.  “You have my permission at all times, provided it is not past sundown and neither do you swim out past the buoy.”

I had lain that buoy myself, no more than an airtight cask attached to a heavy rock, in order to mark for myself the finest fishing spot in our lake.  That it could delimit the girl’s safest swimming area was merely happenstance.

“And I can see,” I continue, “though it is a mite early for an old man such as myself to rise, the sun does indeed shine on God’s green Earth.  So why do you disturb my slumber so?”

As though stricken, the girl casts her face downward.  She is ashamed to explain herself to me, but I am even more ashamed that I have made her feel so.  I take her chin in mine hand and raise her eyes, not quite tearing up, but not quite not, to look into mine own.

“Tell me what is amiss, child,” I say, as kindly as I can.  I know it has been rough on her since the passing of her Mama, and I have no desire to make her life any rougher with unkindness.

“The lake is red like fire, Papa.”

Now this is a tale I have not heard before, though I have heard many from her of various imagined people and events.  I shall beat her roundly if she is lying, but I have a queer feeling in my belly, and there is no deception in her face, lighthearted or otherwise.

To my feet I rise and, slipping into my morning shoes I walk to the window.  It is a beautiful morning in Zarephath and the sun is nearly risen, casting a full painter’s palette of purples and oranges across the horizon.  And though it may be a trick of those same early morning lights, I see that Marina is not fibbing.  The lake we live upon is a bright red, or as near to be as to make no difference.

“How queer!” I say in wonderment, “Though I have heard of such things before.  This must a bloom of red algae, daughter of mine.”

“Is it safe, Papa?” she asks.

“So far as I know, though admittedly that is not very far.  Come, let us investigate further.”

Our cabin is set up higher on a hill to avoid flooding in the rainy months.  I must be careful to make it down upon two legs, but Marina, being yet young, delights in rolling down the hill to the dock.  I no longer chastise her for such behavior.  Her clothes would be no less muddied at the end of the day either way, I think.  And it brings me joy to see such joy in her since her mother’s passing.

Consequently, she reaches the dock before me.  It is a most unusual vision.  The lake is red like carpenter’s dye.  I have seen nothing like it before.  But I have heard many a tall tale at the various public houses and others dens of iniquity I visited in my younger, less godly days of such an occurrence.  It is a bloom, I have heard theorized, of algae or some other diminutive animalcules, but of no real harm, and will likely fade soon enough.

“I think it is harmless, enough, my dear.”

“I don’t know, Papa,” she says, shaking her head to and fro, “I’m scared.”

Now this has me concerned.  No child of mine, man-child or woman-child, ought to live life in fear.  I see no harm in the color of the lake and I intend to teach her not to live the life of a coward.  A coward dies every time he shrinks from life.

“Well, then, perhaps I shall show you there is nothing to be fearful of.”

Having said so, I doff my outer clothes.  With an almighty whoop I tear down the dock and leap into the air as high as I am able.

I have done this many hundreds of times since we settled in Zarephath.  But as I strike the surface of the lake it feels not at all like it should.  The texture is thicker than it ought to be.  I do not even sink in what seems like a reasonable amount of time.  I would not call the material thick like a gelatin, but neither is it runny as water ought to be.

I have overleapt, perhaps, and the lake’s red fluid ensconces me totally.  I struggle to the surface, and cannot swim as normal.  The feeling is dreadful unpleasant and highly bizarre.  When I open my eyes again, my lids stick together.  I must practically force them open.

And that smell.  Oh, merciful Jesus, that awful smell.  I’ve smelt nothing like it since my time in Mexico, during that charnel house of a war.  I might be there right now, back in that field hospital, the sawbones supposedly attending to my wounds, dying men all around me.  Oh, yes, it is the stink of blood.  And this lake has turnt to blood entire.

I whirl, such as I can.  I am a strong swimmer but whirling in this muck is a mighty undertaking.

“Marina!” I try to shout.  Knowing the girl’s proclivities, I must warn her off.  She will not have allowed an old man to be braver than her and will be jumping into the lake herself directly.

No word can leave my lips, though, for it is instead swallowed by a yelp of pain.  I am bitten on my foot, and again on my chest.  There must be half a dozen angry, biting fish latching on to me all at once.  But perhaps it is not so much the bite of a fish or shark but the suckling of a leech.

I must fight to stay afloat with one hand, but with my sinister I grab the leech a-biting on me just below my solar plexus.  It is a struggle to grab ahold of such a creature, soaked, as I am, in blood.  My fingers are not as strong as they once were, and the beast is slippery, so perhaps it is more through sheer will and devotion that I am able to yank the heathen beast off.

I hold it aloft.  A vile thing.  A jawless eel.  I recognize it, and have heard it called some places a lamprey.  A blood-drinking monstrosity.  But why, with the lake’s water itself transubstantiated to blood, would the lampreys flock to devour me?

My strength is fading and my head dips below the surface.  My mouth is full of the blood of the lake, just as their mouths are full of my blood.  The sanguivores are draining me of my very vigor.

I’ve lived a long life.  And in other circumstances I might even have accepted my end and succumbed to their cruel embraces.  Only one thing makes me fight.

Marina.  Someone must look after her.

With all my strength I fight, putting one hand after the other.  It is a scant few yards to shore, but it feels like the journey of a thousand miles.  Thank God and Jesus almighty in Heaven, Marina stands yet on the shore.  She has not, as I had feared, plunged into the bloody water to be attacked herself.  Perhaps she saw what happened to me and was frightened all anew.

“Marina, darling!” I cry out.

But she is not herself.  Petunia is in the dirt, ground underfoot.  This is not like her at all.  She has always taken enormous pains to attend to that unliving doll as though it were her very own child.  Something terrible has afflicted my daughter.

“Marina?” I repeat tentatively.

A loud, sickening noise punctuates the morning stillness.  It takes me a moment to apprehend what has happened.  My daughter’s left eyeball has popped out of her skull, pushed out from within.  Her eye dangles at about the corner of her lips, dangling only by a bundle of nerves.

I am frozen in place, unable to move even as the lamprey eels that yet hang from me swarm and viciously attempt to pull me into the water.  Then one of them emerges from daughter’s brainpan.

“Old man,” Marina intones in a hollow, scooped out voice, “there is nothing left of your daughter.  We have devoured her brain down to the stem.”

“We.”  That horrible word.  Like an actor responding to his cue on stage, Marina’s right eye violently explodes outward as well, with the speed and practically the noise of a pistol shot.  The “we” that has eaten my child from the inside out is now revealed, as a second lamprey unfurls from the now-empty eye socket.

These things, not ordinary terrestrial fish, but possessed of some arcane and downright blasphemous intelligence, have burrowed into my darling child’s head and taken control of her body.  They have possessed her, as Satan’s legions are sometimes said to do.  But my daughter was an innocent, never ungodly.  I saw to it that she said her prayers each night.

Perhaps they are something other, even, than my simple imagination can conceive of.

Marina’s body kneels down, both of her eyeballs swinging in the air like the strings of a marionette, unceremoniously cut.  She takes both my cheeks in her tiny hands, those hands I’d held each day on our walks around the lake and into the woods.  A smile lights up her face.  But it is not my daughter, pleased to see her papa.  It is those piscine devils, delighting in human misery.

“Now it’s your turn,” my child’s toneless voice says.

Both of the eels rear up into the air, and, as one, the creatures of pure and inhuman muscle batter downward into the crown of my head with a stunning force.

I tumble backward into the blood-red lake.


Stephen Kozeniewski (pronounced “causin’ ooze key”) is a two-time winner of the World Horror Grossout Contest. His published works have been nominated for several Splatterpunk, Voice Arts, and Indie Horror Book Awards, among other honors. He lives in Pennsylvania with his partner and their two cats above a fanciful balloon studio.


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