The Other Side – Chapter 1 – The Lake (Original)
It’s the Summer of 1946. Charlie and Freddy are best friends and bored so decide to go fishing. Their day becomes far from boring when strange things begin to happen beneath the surface of the lake.
The oak stood at the top of the hill, its branches twisted like old arthritic fingers. It stood alone basking under the sun’s afternoon glare.
Freddy watched his friend Charlie staring at its shape and height. Every time they came to the lake Charlie seemed hypnotised by it. Freddy didn’t see the fascination with it. It was just an odd looking tree. Freddy sat on the grass, his legs crossed and plucked the petals off some daisies and watched them float onto the blades of grass by his feet. He plucked the head off the nearest dandelion and flicked it with force at Charlie, making him jolt.
“Oi.” Charlie spun around, rubbing the side of his ear. “I’m bored. Are you?” He asked.
“Yeah,” replied Freddy, shielding his eyes from the sun. “Got any ideas?”
Charlie shrugged. “Want to go fishing? Catch some supper.”
“Yeah, got to be better than sitting here.”
“Mam’s cooked trout would be a treat,” said Charlie. He already felt hungry and his stomach gurgled.
They put the boat down and sat near the water’s edge. Charlie took off his white vest, which he used to wipe the sweat off his face and sunburnt chest. Freddy watched and rolled his eyes then looked at his own skin; as pale as the moon. He would never have a tan like Charlie’s, whose skin would eventually turn the colour of an overcooked sponge cake. Freddy always burnt too easily and if he did catch the sun, he peeled within a couple of days. He admired his friend. Girls always had the hots for Charlie, but not him; he had manure coloured hair, pea-green eyes and a body that would scare a ghost.
Large Willows were dotted around the outskirts of the embankment. Their thick branches adorned with light green leaves; cascaded like a waterfall, the tips almost touching the grass.
Freddy noticed Charlie was staring at the tree again. He picked the head off a nearby daisy and twisted the stem around his finger.
“Well, are we going fishing or what?”
“Yeah,” Charlie replied in a dazed tone.
They dragged the boat onto the water until it reached below their knees, then took turns getting in. They rowed until they were in the middle of the lake.
After almost an hour their lines sat in the water perfectly still.
“This is useless. So much for our supper!” said Freddy.
Before Charlie could answer he felt a gentle tug on the rod’s line. As he peeked over the side of the boat, the movement became sharper. It tugged hard and the water rippled, spreading large circles across the surface.
“Freddy. I got one, I got one!”
“About time too. Quick, reel it in.”
“I am. It’s a wild one, this,” he said, standing up. The rod bent as he wound the line in. With one last pull, the fish emerged from the water. It squirmed and dangled in mid-air on the fishing line.
“Gee, look at the size on that trout,” shouted Charlie.
Freddy’s jaw dropped as he watched the trout’s large body wriggle feverishly. Its mouth opened and closed, gasping for air. Charlie laughed at his friend’s expression.
“How come you always get the whoppers and I get the tiddlers? asked Freddy.
“Because I’m good at fishing and you’re useless,” Charlie replied with a grin.
“No, I’m not.” Freddy rocked the boat playfully as Charlie unhooked the fish.
“Hey, I’ll drop our supper in a minute, quit it will you.”
The trout squirmed in his hands as he tried to keep his balance. Freddy chuckled and rocked the boat a little more. It slipped out of Charlie’s hands, but he caught it, only for it to slide out of his grasp again and landed with a loud splash, back into the lake. Freddy stood up and looked into the water. He could just make out the fish swimming away.
Charlie prodded him hard in his chest with his index finger. “Look what you made me do. Just because you’re no good at fishing.”
Freddy laughed and pushed Charlie’s shoulder with the palm of his hand.
“Well as you’re so good, you can catch another one.”
Charlie stumbled backward: his heels rubbed on the side of the dinghy. Instinctively he flung his arms out for balance, but he couldn’t stop himself and plunged into the water. Freddy let out a hearty laugh and watched as Charlie descended in the water.
“Go see if you can catch that fish, butterfingers.”
Still grinning at Charlie’s sudden departure he relaxed and looked up to the sky, the blue hue.
Freddy laughed loudly at Charlie’s short, dark blonde hair stuck to his head like seaweed. “Been looking for that fish?” He held his hand out to Charlie.
“No! But I did see something – it shone like a jewel,” he said, gripping tightly to Freddy’s arm.
“What was it?” he asked, pulling him out of the water.
Charlie sat down, combed his hair back with his fingers and sucked in the humid air. “I’m not sure, I couldn’t see it properly. ”Want to take a look? You owe me that much.”
“Yeah, sure. May as well, you probably scared all the fish off.”
Charlie rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Actually, I didn’t. There’s plenty of trout down there.”
“Really! You’re not pulling my leg now, are you?”
“No, I’m not. Let’s find out what it was. If it’s worth anything we can take it to the pawnbrokers and get some money for it.”
Freddy looked thoughtful. “Yeah, okay.” He liked the sound of that idea. If it came to it they could buy a big trout from Jolly’s fishmongers, never mind catching one.
They looked at each other and jumped, sending ripples across the water. Submerged they became deaf and mute. Charlie swam ahead and looked back at Freddy. He pointed downward and Freddy nodded and followed. Charlie swam in the direction he had seen the shimmer of light. He pointed repeatedly at a swaying green plant whose foliage had entwined around a rusty bike; its frame bent and twisted and the front wheel buckled. Something glinted between the leaves and spokes of the back wheel. They went closer to get a better look. The object looked like a key; the top part of it engraved like a skull, its eyes as red as hot coals. Freddy stared at it for several seconds. What could it be for? If the eyes were rubies, it could be worth a fortune. Maybe there was a treasure chest somewhere. Charlie reached out to free the key and remove the foliage and mud that clung to part of the metal.
A small childlike skeleton hand lunged out. Its bony fingers curled tightly around the key stem, snatching it from sight. Charlie’s eyes widened. He glanced at Freddy. A deep fear flashed in his green eyes. Freddy wondered if what he saw was a figment of his imagination. Charlie beckoned him with his hand to take another look. Freddy shook his head and pointed to the boat. He didn’t like it. Were there really such things as ghosts? His Grandfather had told him stories over the years but he never fully believed him, even though they did scare him. Freddy pointed to the surface again. He needed air. Charlie shook his head and swam to where the skeleton and key had been. Freddy didn’t want to stay a moment longer; this was more frightening than any stories he’d been told.
Freddy told himself that there were no such things as ghosts. So what had he just witnessed? Where had the hand come from and who did it belong too?
Large rocks sat behind the bike where the hand had appeared from. Charlie couldn’t see any opening as such. He fumbled around on the rock’s surface trying to find something…anything but found nothing. Freddy gestured impatiently with his hand, urging him to swim back to the boat. He wanted to get out of the water quickly, he didn’t know what was down there and he didn’t want to find out. Charlie shook his head and indicated one more minute with his index finger. Freddy knew his friend had a curious streak and wanted an explanation, but he didn’t want to go back into the water once he’d got out. He looked behind him and saw Charlie still searching for clues, muddying the water as he brushed the dirt away. He waited for Charlie for a few seconds, saw him behind him and began to swim towards the boat.
Freddy broke through the water’s surface. He gasped, sucking in mouthfuls of warm air. His heart thudded so hard he thought it would break through his flesh. His whole body trembled, as he looked for Charlie. There was no sign of him. He swam towards the boat, hauled himself up and waited a few seconds. The water was still and calm. What is taking Charlie so long? He should have been up by now. Hesitant, he cursed under his breath and jumped back in.
A sickly taste rose in his throat and he gulped, pushing it back down. There in front of him was Charlie; in the dead man’s float. His eyes stared into nothingness and tan had started to fade, turning a deathly white. His lips began to turn frost blue. There was a slight movement in his chest. A bubble escaped from his gaping mouth. Freddy had a quick pang of relief but knew there wasn’t much time. He held him around his waist and pulled him towards the surface, but his body jolted back. Freddy looked puzzled then noticed the f foliage wrapped around his ankle. He wrestled with it for a few seconds and freed him from its grasp, then gripping on to Charlie’s body he pulled him with all his strength.
A bright, white light blinded him, he winced and covered his eyes with the back of his hand. When he thought it was safe he looked again. He could see Charlie, two feet in front of him, looking transparent. The bright light glowed and outlined his whole body. He looked radiant, the way he had always known him. What was going on? It was like a nightmare, he couldn’t wake up from. He wished that his sister, Daisy would wake him up with her constant chatter.
He glanced briefly at Charlie still tucked beneath his arm. He was as limp as a dishcloth, his chest became still and no bubbles drifted from his mouth. The pigment of his skin looked chalky white and his lips a darker blue. This wasn’t a nightmare…
Freddy felt his own heart become heavy. They had been best friends since they were four years old. This couldn’t be happening. He held Charlie and swam back towards the boat. He had to get him back to dry land and resuscitate him. Freddy told himself that he would be all right then. The apparition of Charlie smiled at him and waved, still glowing, bathed in the white light. Freddy’s mind raced. Ghosts weren’t real were they? And if they were did they look like this? The more he thought about it the more it frightened him and he wanted to get out of the water as quickly as he could.
Vibrations in the water sent an icy chill all over Freddy’s body. An eerie shadow floated towards him. A dark liquid spiralled around Charlie’s spirit tried to scream, but made no sound. Within seconds it engulfed him. Its ink like shape altered in appearance into that of human form; a man wearing a gothic type coat that reached his ankles. Black knee length boots, with silver skulls attached to the buckles. Its long, black hair squirmed in the water like eels and his fiery red eyes burned with hatred. It leered at Freddy revealing uneven, yellow teeth.
The ink-like creature held out his arm; his skin as pale as sugar. A flash of green lightning escaped from his palm and the liquid ink melted away to reveal Charlie. The magic attacked his soul as green fluid crept through his veins. He screamed silently under the water, jerking violently for a few seconds. His appearance began to fade. He looked weak and frightened as his soul glided unwillingly towards him. The dark apparition opened his mouth wide to reveal a long, black tongue. It twisted around Charlie’s spirit like a conga eel, pulling him into its mouth.
Freddy stared in horror. He couldn’t believe it. This couldn’t be real? He glanced down at Charlie’s body in his arms. Strips of flesh tore away; melting in the water like it was acid, leaving only the skeleton intact. If this was a nightmare it was the scariest one he’d ever had and it beat his Grandfather’s stories.
Freddy dropped the remains and stared petrified as the bones drifted to the bottom of the lake. He kicked his legs frantically and in a blind panic, he swam for his life.
Once inside the boat, he huddled in the fetal position against the rubber of the dinghy. He shivered and his teeth chattered. Numb and confused he struggled to come to terms with what he’d sen in the depths of the lake. Had he really witnessed Charlie’s death? Who would believe him?
Things like this didn’t happen in real life, at least not to boys like them. The images of Charlie’s flesh being stripped away from his body repeated in his mind. He shut his eyes tight, but it wouldn’t go away. He screamed hysterically and his voice echoed around the Willows. He got up slowly onto his knees; his legs too weak to stand.
The old gnarled oak caught his attention. It stood prominently in his view, beckoning him. Startled by the sound of gushing water, he broke his stare. The water loomed upwards and morphed into human form. The boat rocked upon the lake like it was caught up in a storm and he clung to the sides.
Darkness smothered the lake. Dark clouds rolled in, blotting the burnt orange sky. The liquid image snaked towards him. It stood as high as his house.
A face appeared before him; its eyes red as fresh blood. A sly smile crept across its face. “You have been spared, this time. But I will wait for your soul before it gets to Heaven’s gates.”
Freddy couldn’t move. He stared terrified into his eyes and shuddered. A flicker of evil raged inside them.
“W-what are you? Who are you?”
“Questions, questions dear boy! I am your worst nightmare. You will find out in good time.”
“W- w-what do you want?”
“Your soul,” it sneered. “I will feed on your spirit and others until I have what I need.”
“W-what do you need my soul for?”
“Silence,” he yelled. “When it’s your turn you will know, and your turn will come,” he said with a wry smile.
A strong wind blew, whipping the willows to writhe and dance. Violent flashes of lightning lit up the lake, highlighting Freddy’s fear-drenched face.
The creature laughed as it raised his arms towards the sky. Surges of electrical light crackled and emanated from its fingertips. It twisted and spun out of control. The black ink merged together into a funnel; spinning recklessly like a tornado. Its spray saturated Freddy spluttered and gasped almost choking as it submerged back into the water. Daylight returned as he clung to the boat and calmness once more embraced the lake.