Beneath the Surface

For one family, the waters of Cowichan Lake were once a place of picnics, laughter, and treasured memories. But as resentment ripples through their perfect family, they discover something more sinister lurking beneath the surface.
Autumn woods across the lake

Daylan lowered the old anchor into the cold waters of Cowichan Lake. Unable to afford a real anchor, he used six shoes tied together filled with rocks. It wasn’t the best, but on days when the wind didn’t gust too hard through the valley, it was alright. 

Birds chirped, insects hummed, and the sun’s rays were warm against Daylan’s skin. He closed his eyes and breathed in the lake air. The smell of fir and pine dominated his olfactory senses, with soil and other organics coming a close second. He could hear the eerie whisper of lapping water against the hull of his 12-foot boat, along with the distant laughter and din of voices from campers on the lakeshore.

He cast out a fishing line. For an angler, it was the perfect day. The only thing that would make it better would be seeing Shylah, his four-year-old daughter, across from him in the little pink hat that had her name knitted across the front. Without his daughter there, it wasn’t the same. Sometimes he swore he heard the sound of her laughter, but it was always just the hum of the wind over the rippling water.

Shylah and Daylan were inseparable before his divorce from Agatha, her mother and his now ex-wife. He, Agatha, and Shylah used to drive to Cowichan Lake in the evening to soak in the peace and serenity of the rippling water and ever-present breeze. They would fish for hours in the boat and often cooked their catch over a fire on the bank when they had caught their quota for the day.

The lake was once Agatha’s favourite place to come on her own, too, especially after the constant arguments between her and Daylan. Now, he couldn’t even remember what they were arguing about.

“You know how I feel about that fishing bullshit, Daylan, and the answer is no. You can forget it, you’re not taking my daughter on another one of your stupid trips! The last one nearly got all of us killed when the boat capsized!” Agatha slammed the heel of her hand against the top of the counter and glared at Daylan.

“Our daughter,” he corrected. “That was a freak accident and you know it … there was no reason for the boat to tip. No wind, no sunken logs. Nothing. And you can’t just decide, Agatha. I have as much right to spend time with her as you do. I’m her goddamn father!”

“Oh?” She fumbled in her purse and threw a file folder at his face. “Tell that to the judge, and tell that to your daughter! She had nightmares for weeks after the boat went over, and she still won’t tell anyone what they’re about. Not even me!”

He barely caught the folder before it connected with his nose, and the papers within scattered everywhere. He narrowed his eyes on her and stepped closer, his heart pounding in his chest. “You can’t do this. There aren’t any grounds for taking our daughter away from me. Only your selfishness, which is why I fucking divorced you.”

“I can and I will. It’ll be easy, considering your mother was a crack whore and your dad’s only real relationship was with drugs. Add in the number of times you have actually been here for her and you’re screwed, Day, because there haven’t been many. So it isn’t like you don’t deserve it. You’re never here and when you are you still aren’t here. We’re done … you’re done.”

In court, Agatha had claimed he was never there for Shylah and that she had spent more than one night alone. With the strength of her lawyer’s smooth words, the judge had leaned in Agatha’s favour. Daylan was supposed to have weekends with Shylah, but Agatha disappeared with her after the trial and they hadn’t been seen since.

He felt a tug on his fishing line. When he saw no further movement, he placed a hand on the butt of his fishing rod and felt for the faint vibrations of a fish on the end of his line.

After nearly a minute of waiting, he felt nothing. Perplexed, he looked around the lake. A light wind was picking up, but it wasn’t strong enough to cause too much of a stir. His boat barely rocked in the subtle waves. He focused on the shore some fifty feet away and then slowly scanned along until it vanished into the blue of the lake.

He twisted around and looked behind him at the small island, but again he saw nothing. All was quiet.

An abrupt splash disturbed the water’s surface and he whipped his head around. This time he saw it, multiple rings throbbing outward from the center until they faded into the lake. With an excited grin, he reeled in his line before casting it toward the disrupted water.

“Come on, fish,” he murmured.

The narrow tip of his rod twitched. He jerked the rod back and tightened the line to set the hook. He felt the struggle and surge of energy as a fish fought deep below the surface.

Another splash erupted, one that sounded like a beaver tail crashing against the water. A hand reached up from the water, fingers moving sluggishly as a faint ripple of movement radiated from around its wrist.

Daylan froze. His body felt like it was made of molten lead without the heat.

The buzz of the line as it ripped from the reel snapped him back into reality and he threw the rod into the boat. He forgot all about the line and the fish on the end of it as he set out to help the drowning person. Daylan’s fingers were numb as he heaved the anchor up and turned on the motor.

“Hold on, I’m coming.” At first, he spoke in a strangled whisper, but his voice came back to him the closer he got to the reaching hand. “I’m almost there! Just hold on!”

When Daylan was close enough to touch the hand, he cut the motor and tossed the anchor down again. He reached out and grasped the hand, but when he pulled, nothing happened. It was like yanking on a car that had been sucked into the mud. He yanked again, biceps straining. The boat started to tip and the edge of the hull grew closer to the water.

The hand snapped around Daylan’s. Thick, sickly grey fingers squeezed his wrist and his muscle, bones, and tendons began to give way. Raw terror wracked his body as his free hand gripped the edge of the boat, feet digging into the hull. He braced himself against the force around his hand and pulled back with all of his strength, but it was no use.

He felt his gravity shift and he screamed for help just before his face plunged beneath the surface.

Even through the shrouded darkness of the lake’s depths, it was impossible to miss the immense beast before him. The creature was off-white, the colour of vomit. Its flesh wasn’t scaly but was instead smooth like the skin of a whale. The hand and arm seemed to go on forever but eventually ended at its skull. An expansive grin was plastered on its face as it stared at him with shrivelled eyes.

Daylan screamed without sound as the hand still clutching his own dragged him toward the labyrinth of teeth. His body thrashed as he clawed at the fingers and wrist. Nothing gave.

The pale maw of the beast cracked open. Daylan screamed again, this time sucking in an agonizing lungful of water. Tears pinched from the corners of his eyes and blended into the lake water. His lungs burned and a sharp, painful pressure of water flooded his nostrils, his trachea, and his lungs.

The beast gurgled, a sound not unlike the rumbling baritone of boulders smashing into one another. Closer and closer, the hand brought him toward the jaws of death.

A scrap of fabric caught his attention, a shredded pink toque snagged on the monster’s incisor. Across the bottom, knitted with care—he knew because he had made it—was the name Shylah.

Rebecca Segal

Rebecca Segal studies Creative Writing at VIU. She wrote this story in CREW 221, a Genre Fiction Workshop, where she was experimenting with horror writing. Her hobbies include writing, reading, and horseback riding. When she’s not writing, she’s working as an electrician. She finds working with complex electrical systems is very much like a story—with a beginning, a middle, and an end. If any pieces are missing, the story is incomplete.

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