Myth of the Lakebed 2014-06-08 21:11:48
Decades ago, the boy who lives at the bottom of the lake came into being. At his birth, the silt and reeds were his bed. He was a foreigner in a dark land, though he adapted quickly. The fish became his hands and eyes, familiarizing him with every corner of the lake. The toads were his voice, groaning the words that he couldn’t. The turtles and water-spiders were his sluggish guardians, keeping at bay at least the lowly pests. The sunlight would pierce the liquid ceiling by day, and the moonlight by night. Father Time had such a strong grip on the land above, but in the waters, the immortal boy was free from his effects.
He lived in a home he built in the cool sand. A humble dwelling of nonuniform construction and empty eye sockets, it was just large enough to house himself and the other denizens of the lake. The halls were padded with seaweed and mud, decorated with the boy’s etchings. In the miniature palace, though, one room had none of these qualities. Its walls were cold and without a touch of life. The air was stale, difficult to yield energy from. In this room, the boy’s three brothers resided. None ever moved, none ever spoke. They hid inside their morose bones for eternity, perhaps afraid to brush the sediment from their skin or to take a deep breath from the water.
Despite his frozen brothers, he found warmth in the other pieces of the lake. The boy never saw a reason to leave, to climb towards the shore, crawling into a possibly hostile environment that could never know his name anyway. Besides, he could easily eke out an acceptable existence in the water.
However, there was a time when the boy who lives underneath the lake was not alone. Each day since the day of his unnatural birth, when the sun was high enough to cast a shadow behind the boy’s home a bit taller than his shortest brother, the man with the jade glass would arrive. The water’s surface always rippled and splashed in his presence, making it impossible for the boy to distinguish anything but vague features. This stranger’s presence was never bothersome or fear-bringing; he carried with him a weight of guilt and worry that he wore around his neck alone, far above the surface. As soon as he arrived, each day, he would puncture the blurry sky with his feet, pressing the bottle to his red lips. During his visits, he would stay as still as a moss-covered statue, minding only his bottle or the dog he would often bring. He and his companion would stay until the sun started to warn that the night was coming soon. Sometimes he would dump the rest of his drink into the lake. Its bitter poison always made the boy choke on the taste of guilt, but he would swallow it without a word in protest every time. As the man’s reflection skewed before fading, the water child would try to count the stars in the sky, attempting to create a clock from a natural framework. It could never be done; like even the most pure of intentions, they were shifty, unreliable. The man’s arrival alone was the only constant.
The seasons progressed. As the sky could barely bleed away the blackness, and the sun could hardly re-crown itself on a daily basis, the air grew thin, cold, and sharp. However, even winter’s grip couldn’t hold the man from returning daily. Just as easily as he would in the sun’s glory days, the man would dip his feet into the water, breaking Frost’s spinal network with heavy boots, shoving them into the water and negating the cancellation of movement. The dog would huddle close to the man, trying to conserve the heat that the boy could never consider.
The boy always wondered if the man would ever notice him. He entertained the idea that his ceiling may be a murky one-way mirror, but that always seemed to be a bit too hard to swallow. Perhaps the man was a greater being, knowing that the boy, his brothers, the inhabitants of the lake and the home were there, but never acknowledging them. The concept of a Godlike figure visiting his creations was easier to accept.
The years carried themselves relatively gracefully. The spiral of trees radiating outward from the edge of the lake would become naked as the clouds huddled in the winter, and they would dress themselves again as the sky mimicked the lake’s hue. Just as the seasons repeated themselves with little change, so did the man’s visits. His appearance would change the smallest bit day by day, just as the dog’s did, but for an immeasurable number of days, the man would visit the precise same place at the precise same time, doing the precise same thing.
One day, the man stopped coming, and the once-reliable clock mechanism failed. His absence was no less than the fall of time itself, an undeniable constant being removed from the environment without warning. Though his dog would occasionally come back, staring into the lake as he always had, his faith waned eventually as well. Just as the world began to escape from hibernation as it had on a yearly basis, the dog’s visits ceased. As the visitors lost interest in the lake, so did its inhabitants. The mosquitos, water moccasins, frogs and bass who once thrived began to litter the sandy floor.
Once the life left the lake, breathing became difficult for the boy. There wasn’t a spot in the entire lake that didn’t feel like his brothers’ room. Being reminded of them, he went back to see them for the first time in years. Opening the gray algae-covered door, he found their frames sprawled out and cracked. They looked more worn than ever before, as though glancing in their direction was enough to make them dissipate. The boy took a step towards them, and as he did so, each of the brothers made small, nearly imperceivable movements. Their joints creaked and echoed, rattling and sending their message clearly:
The boy heard it. He wasn’t sure if he saw their mouths move, or if their eyes signaled, but the message was heard nonetheless. Not knowing any home beside the one he built with his own cold hands, the boy assumed that he was expected to voyage to the world above the surface.
The first steps towards the shoreline were easy enough. The bravery required for facing the unknown is easy to muster when one has never known true fear. His aquatic home did not seem as willing, though. As he ascended, the water restricted his movements more and more until his limbs felt like iron weights. He forced his muscles to obey his commands just far enough so the tip of his icy fingers could touch the ceiling, though they could not puncture it. The lake’s surface may as well have been made of stone. The boy fell back, losing the last reserves of energy he hoarded in recent dark times. The dawning of realization came to him as he fell, rising like the influence of the poisonous drink. His body became half-buried in the silt as he touched the lake floor; perhaps it intended to let him go at another time. For now though, he would be given time to think. He spoke the first and last words he ever would:
“I am an unmarked grave.”
The WNG has an anthology coming up, and this is the piece I'm going to submit. I definitely have a few significant edits in mind, but before I made any, I wanted to ask for a little critiquing. Thanks!