Please bear with me. My story will come in parts. Between the lake's waves, thick like oil, black like ink, fetid like a body that's been soaked, bloated, partially eaten. My body. Yeah, I lay here as the lake's waves wash my own disintegrating body over me, drowning me, repeatedly, in my own decay.
The waves, they aren’t regular. I never know when they will wash over me. I can’t prepare. Can’t hold my breath. I know I’m dead, yet I feel each crab claw ripping softened flesh from my body, the crows poking at my eyes, the worms slithering into my ears and eating my brain. Yeah, I’m dead, but the pain is--
What did I do to deserve this? I was a simple fisherman, like my father, his father, and all my family as far back as we knew. Every day, the Lady of the Lake would fill my net with enough to feed Unpleasantville’s 666,000 people. I would simply go to the lake, cast my net, take a nap, and when I woke up, my net would be full. But it was a lonely job. I wanted a friend to pass the time with, so I cut my net and gave part to my best friend Mann, and he gave part of his to Shelley. They figured out how to make more, and soon, there was a whole gang of us working the lake.
Oh boy, we had some good times there. Every day for about a month, we pulled out all kinds of creatures that we’d never seen before. Some of them we could eat, so we sold them in town. People ate up the new food like starving animals. They even came to my home, demanding more.
Sometimes our catch made them sick, but they didn’t care. Like addicts, they wanted more. One creature never made it to market, though. It had claws that could reach through the net’s holes. It pulled Thomas Goodboy right up to the net, wrapped a claw around his head, and sucked his face right off. But, that’s the kind of thing that happens in Unpleasantville, so we didn’t think much of it. We were just glad that thing jumped back into the lake instead of coming after us. But we made sure to bring daggers and clubs with us after that.
Then one day--
One day, I went to the lake alone. It was early morning, really early. The sun was just peeking over the forest in the north, as if it feared for its safety. I’d just woken from a dream. In my dream, I was staring into the lake’s dank waters. Utterly despondent. I wanted to die. Then, streams of mesmerizing light squirmed just below the lake’s blackness. They formed into a maiden’s face. They glowed. She was so beautiful I held my breath, fearful that any change from that moment would make her go away. She smiled and warmth spread through me. I think it was something called love. I’ve heard myths and folktales about love, and now I understood its power. The lady in the lake called to me. I woke and immediately made my way to the lake edge and peered into its depths.
She was waiting. She was more beautiful than in my dream. I reached my hand beneath the waters. She pulled me in. As she watched me drown, she told me, “You gave them what was not yours to give.”
I came back to life, then drowned again before I could explain.
I came to life again, my brain screamed with pain, but her voice, calm, cold resonated through the screeching, “You gave them power over my realm. They capture my subjects. They kill, they eat the residents of my world.” I drowned again.
One final time, I came back to life. “You will suffer for giving a god’s power to those who can not control themselves. You will drown again and again for your ignorance, and your body will be eaten, then regenerate to be eaten again for eternity. You have doomed my realm to the whims of those who will abuse it. You. Will. Pay.”
She released me. I floated to the surface and am now lodged at the base of a rock. I can see my friends at work with their nets, but the lake’s creatures have learned to evade this area. My friends often go home only with a few crabs that have feasted on my flesh.
Linda Gould is the Managing Editor of White Enso, an online journal of creative work inspired by Japan and the host of the Kaidankai podcast. She is a lifelong book-lover who spent many summers as a child high up in the branches of a tree reading. Her fiction and non-fiction work has been published in outlets around the world. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Delaware and has extensive writing, editing and design experience. She is the founder of the Women's English Writing Group of Japan, writes fantasy and ghost stories, and is the author of The Diamond Tree, a dual-language book in English and Japanese.