It was the darkest, coldest place she had ever been. It conjured images of outer space, floating through the darkness, relying completely upon a rubber skin and a tank of air. But there the comparison ended. Here, the only stars were the fleeting reflections of her flashlight off the passing fish. No planet hung in space above her, although the rocky surface below was eerily reminiscent of moonscapes she had seen. No plants grew at this depth; there was no light that could penetrate.
The lake never ceased to amaze her. While deep, it was not enough so to completely repel light like it did. The lake seemed to consciously block the sun, trying to keep everybeam from reaching its depths, as if it had some evil secret to hide, the darkness closing in around any who would dare brave the lake.
It was beautiful, really.
He had collected the rocks for his son. The boy had an impressive collection already, not of scientific samples, but of stones with stories or unique appearances. He was too young to care that this was quartz or this sandstone; he wanted fossils, colorful specimens, rocks from the family camping trip.
So his father had collected the five rocks early that morning before his son awoke. He took three colorful, strangely shaped stones from the shoreline and was fortunate enough to find a fossil with the impression of some ancient snail or shellfish partially buried in the sand. Finally, he dove from the end of the dock and took a fist-sized rock from the lake floor. He left all five at the end of the dock then went back up to the rented summer cottage for the breakfast he knew his wife would have waiting for him.
When he took his son swimming later, they were gone, replaced by a string of seaweed. The boy didn't notice their absence as he splashed among the shallows, of course, but the father couldn't help but wonder who had made off with his handiwork. Surely the lake couldn't have washed them away, he thought as he bent stiffly to pick up the seaweed. He remembered them being larger than that, and the dock was set well above the water level. But then, who would come to their private dock so early in the morning. He twirled the moist seaweed between his fingers as he stared out at the black waves.
Soon, he dropped the seaweed into the water and turned back to play with his son.
Everybody thought he was the nicest man on the lake, and though he would never admit it, he agreed with them. He had lived there year-round since his retirement, one of the few who lived through the famously harsh winters. He was most noted for his remarkable garden, a huge, sprawling thing that took up most of the lot behind his home and of which he was immensely proud. Every year he invited every family in person, going door to door, to share in the harvesting of the garden. It was a huge event; everybody came. He felt it was a noble and gracious thing to do. Besides, he grew far more than he would be able to eat by himself.
The garden was his life, his reason for existance. Every day, he made dozens of trips to and from the garden with his huge watering can, filled with lake water and some secret formula that made his plants delicious. Whenever anybody asked his secret, he would just smile and continue watering his plants. He knew full well that if he never told, they wouldn't be able to get the information from anywhere else. His wife, the only other person who knew the truth, had drowned herself in the lake ages ago.
It was evil. Of that much he was sure.
Every summer he came to the family cottage where he lived alone. He didn't know why he came back to this accursed place. Year after year, looking out on the dull black waves, he vowed he would never come back, knowing he would repeat the vow while staring at the same waves the next year. Nothing ever changed.
But no more. He smiled, a weak, shaky smile, a tearful smile, a smile of prolonged suffering finally at its end. This year things would change; he could guarantee it with the contents of his basement. It had taken several years to collect what he felt was a sufficient amount of the noxious stuff without attracting suspicion. During that time he had planned out everything, down to the finest of details. This year, things would change.
People would thank him if he could take credit for his great deed. But he was happy with the secret satisfaction of victory. Things were going to change.
The father watched his son run joyously up to the hammock from the beach, something clutched tightly in a small fist. The father set his magazine across his chest and turned to face his grinning child. "What have you got there?" he asked with sleep muffling his voice. What had he been reading?
"Look!" the boy cried. He held out his hand, palm open to display a small fossil with the impression of some ancient snail or shellfish etched clearly in its side.
The father blinked twice, something dancing eerily just past the edge of his memory. "That's quite the stone," he said finally. "Where did you find it?"
His son smiled broadly, his grin marred only by a gap where one day a canine would grow in, probably crooked like both his father's and his mother's had. "In the lake!"
Chuckling slightly, his father mussed his wet hair. "Well, go put it inside with the rest of our collection." The boy bounded off towards the cottage, calling out for his mother. The father smiled after him for a while, then draped the magazine back over his face to blot out whatever it was that was still dancing out of his reach. A piece of seaweed dangled into his mind's eye before sleep washed back over him in a black wave.
The lake had hurt her. She had been swimming and having fun pretending she was teaching the baby brother she wanted how to swim when the wave of bad water had pushed her under and made her swallow it. She had run up to the house crying. Mom hadn't believed her, but she sure showed Mom. She got sick all over the couch less than an hour later. Mom believed her then. Daddy would have believed her right from the start.
The doctors at the hospital said she would be very sick for a while. When they started asking her questions, she told them it was the lake that had made her sick. They didn't believe her at first (nobody ever did). But after a few days, they told her that she had been right. She had told them so. The doctors tried to explain it to her, but they used big words. She heard Mom talking to them outside the door afterwards, and she heard her say "Rat Poison." The lake was trying to poison her like she was some rat. Pretty soon she was feeling better and they let her go home.
She stayed away from the lake for over a week after she got home. When she finally went wading again, a wave crashed over her foot and hit her with a rock. It was the prettiest thing she had ever seen, almost like a diamond or something. She went swimming later.
"So, how's your little girl?"
"Oh, she's doing much better. She was afraid of the water for over a week after she came home."
"That's understandable. She had quite the scare there."
"She did! Can you imagine what I went through?"
"What about her father?"
"Yes, well. Anyway, she seems to be over it. She went swimming just yesterday afternoon. She said the lake said it was sorry. Imagine that!"
"Did she? A smart little girl you've got there. Did you hear they caught the guy that did it?"
"Yes and thank god!"
"The most amazing thing is that it didn't spread."
"What do you mean, didn't spread? My daughter almost died from it!"
"Yes, I know, I'm sorry. But she's the only one. Not even a single fish washed up dead. Simply amazing. Anyway, I'm sorry to disturb you. I'll let you get back to picking. Make sure to get a tomato or two, they're amazing." As if to prove his point, he plucked one from the vine and, saluting her with it, retreated into his house.
It was a tradition of sorts for him to be seen in his garden with his watering can at the annual harvest, so he felt he had to oblige. Everybody was expecting it, after all, and he couldn't disappoint them. Stooping to pick up the large watering can, he made his way down to the beach, tomato still clutched in his weak left hand. He stood at the end of the dock, staring into the water. It was clear enough at this point to see down to the concrete block he had never bothered to have removed.
He stared at it a while, then looked out over the dark waves, racing placidly as though a living hand were making gentle ripples. His wife had understood, just as he did. But she refused to accept it. She forced the point, and the lake was not one to refuse gifts. But neither did she forget what she was given.
He tossed the tomato out into the water then kneeled jerkily to fill his watering can. He went straight back to his garden. When his friends approached him and asked yet again what his secret was, he just smiled and went on watering the zucchini.