I’ve been here since I was two years old, and by all accounts I had a normal upbringing. That’s owed to the fact that this is an altogether normal place. The people work in other nearby towns or craft wares here that they sell in those aforementioned places.
Lives lived here are all those of typical small town residents, save for one aspect: a law that has been around since long before the town itself came into existence.
A law that was set in place by unknown peoples at an unknown time.
A law that has been tirelessly enforced by all peoples who have called this place home since.
A law that has been abided by by all who set foot in this place…except one.
The law is simple to abide by: Never touch the water.
All children who are brought up in Humming Lake (which, by the way, is a colloquial name) are taught from the youngest of ages to never touch the lake itself. For me personally, I never knew why the law was put in place, nor did my parents, nor theirs. The reason for the law, and the consequences that would arise from breaking it, has been lost to history.
Simply put, it was a rule that is always followed, an inherent regulation by which we all abided, however blindly. You might ask, “well why would you live on a lake that you apparently can’t enjoy?”, and it’s a fair question. The reason is that along with that law being passed down, so too has been the residents of Humming Lake’s unwavering protection of the lake. For us, the lake has always been treated as a decoration, a massive, idyllic painting on display at the edge of the northernmost residents’ backyards.
And besides that assumed responsibility, it’s simply a wonderful place to live. Out here, the nature around us is a part of our town itself. Beautiful views, hiking, camping, rock climbing, it all amounts to an ideal, simple place to live for people seeking a simple way of life. We’re about 40 minutes from a larger town, so while secluded, we aren’t totally disconnected from the rest of the world.
We just don’t go in the lake.
Last summer, we found ourselves under the oppressive thumb of an overwhelming heatwave. As it surely isn’t difficult to imagine, the seductive gazes from the curiously dark yet still glistening water were frustratingly tempting, but still the townspeople of Humming Lake obeyed our cardinal law.
It was easy enough; other summers had proven similarly unbearable and we made it through. Above ground pools provided the same respite that cold showers and sprinklers did, but for 8-year-old Rodney Hartul, such substitutions weren’t enough. For Rodney, the siren song of the 1.7 acre lake was too alluring to resist.
While spending the afternoon running around with friends in the Danforth’s backyard (which, after a small ditch, leads directly into the lake) under the watchful eye of all their parents, Rodney went inside through the back door to use the bathroom. Shortly thereafter, while Cal Danforth manned the grill, he saw in his periphery a shirtless Rodney Hartul sprinting from the front yard down the side of the house.
It took Cal a moment to realize what was happening, and by the time he did, it would soon prove to have been a moment too late. In a split second the spry 8-year-old had breezed by him, all while screaming in the kind of defiant voice only a child can truly muster, ”I’M GOING SWIMMING!”
Everybody’s heads turned with faces of abject terror as Cal dropped the spatula to the ground and tried as he might, the only person with even a hope of catching the rebellious boy before it was too late. The rest of us watched with wide eyes as Rodney took step after rapid step with every intention of plunging himself into that forbidden abyss.
He took a barely noticeable larger step over the shallow ditch and in two more steps he would be feeling the water that none of us had ever felt against his skin…were it not for Cal Danforth. His long strides caught up to Rodney Hartul and he stretched out his arm, just able to hook around Rodney’s waist.
But it was too late. The force behind Rodney’s dash pulled Cal with it, sending the two tumbling down. Cal’s entire right side became soaked in the impermissible waters, while Rodney wound up on his hands and knees.
The rest of us stayed frozen in apprehensive anticipation as Cal scrambled to get himself and Rodney back on the grass. Amber Hartul screamed and buried her face in her husband’s shoulder as we all waited for whatever unspeakable horror was surely about to befall the man and boy by the water, and in many of our minds, us.
But nothing happened. As the two sat terrified on the grass just out of reach of the first manmade ripples Humming Lake had seen in innumerable eons, Jim Hartul began screaming at his son, tearing himself away from his wife who desperately tried to hold him back to no avail. Jennifer Danforth hurried over to her husband with towels and dropped them, then quickly stepped back. Jim grabbed a towel on his way over and used it to snatch his son up.
Rodney attempted to wrap his arms around his father, frightened at everyone’s reaction and his dad’s own ire, but Jim pushed his son off of him at the very last moment, sparing himself from getting any of the water on him. Cal dried himself off, wisely telling everyone to stay away from him.
It seemed like an eternity that we all stood there. The burgers that had been on the grill were charred to a crisp as we watched intently, half at the lake, the other half at the only two people who had touched it in our lifetime. But nothing happened to either. Cal Danforth and Rodney Hartul dried off, with the latter being taken home by his parents, the former then politely asking his guests to return home as well.
I left Cal with a sincere “call me if you need anything” and went home. And for the next 10 days everything was as it always was. Rodney Hartul was kept under a closer eye than he had been, but after a week’s grounding and a stern talking to, so too was his life back to normal.
On that tenth night, however, while John Derby and I sat on his back deck overlooking the lake, cracking our seventh beer each, a rustling came from the trees over to our right, the ones just past Cal Danforth’s house. John and I each turned a bit and watched as something emerged from the shadows, lit only by the cloud-covered moon behind it.
We joked that Rob LeGrasse, the closest thing we had to an archetypal ‘town drunk’, had gotten lost on his way from the bedroom to the bathroom and was returning from defiling the side of a tree. But the longer we watched, the less it looked like Rob LeGrasse…the less it looked like anyone we knew.
The less it looked like an actual person.
It lurched along in a broken gait, taking one step in the same time any able-bodied person could take five. Whatever it was, it was grossly thin, leaning slightly to the front and to the side. Its gaunt, skeletal arms dangled freely, hanging nearly to its bony knees.
We watched as the silhouette of this hellishly-shaped monstrosity trudged along at its own leisurely pace. As our eyes adjusted to whatever it was we were looking at, we saw thin black protrusions poking out from its pitch black shape, as well as the fact that it was dripping.
John and I both rose to our feet as the thing continued its slow march towards Cal Danforth’s house. John ran inside, telling me in a half breath that he was grabbing his gun, and moments later he returned with a hunting rifle for himself and a pistol for me. We each took slow steps towards Cal Danforth’s, and even at our slowest we were moving just a bit faster than this thing that came from the trees.
“Stop right there!” John yelled out.
The thing didn’t obey John’s order. It was as though it didn’t hear him at all. John loaded a bullet into the chamber of his gun.
“You hear that, motherfucker?! I said fuckin’ stop!”
Still, the thing didn’t appear to have heard any of it, although this time, as it made its slow way across the Danforth’s yard, coming up on their grill, it stood up straight. We were now able to see the thing’s height in its entirety, and it stood conservatively at 7 feet.
Perhaps it was adrenaline that kept me from hearing it, perhaps it was my inebriation, perhaps again it hadn’t happened until this moment, but as it stood up, it made a stomach-churning cracking noise, as though its bones were all resetting. That noise persisted as it took its next step, and the one after that, and every step thereafter. Each time it lifted one of its feet off the ground for one of its heavy, short steps, it sounded like countless sets of knuckles cracking for the first time in years.
John told me to run back and grab his flashlight from inside his back door. I returned moments later with the high-powered handheld floodlight and turned it on, bathing the Danforth’s backyard in light and giving us our first real look at the thing from the trees.
Its skin was smooth, a dark, murky gray. The protrusions we’d seen in the silhouette were revealed to be twigs and sticks clinging to its body, and while it possessed no hair, parts of its body were splayed with what looked like seaweed.
“Motherfucker, I will shoot you!” John screamed, and a moment later a light turned on near the front of the Danforth abode.
The thing still paid us no mind. Another light turned on, this time in Cal’s kitchen, which is situated nearer his back door.
“Cal, stay inside!” I yelled.
“The fuck is that thing?” John whispered to me. I offered no speculation.
“What the hell are you guys doing?!” we heard Cal call out from his open kitchen window.
“There’s some fuckin’ thing in your yard, man, headin’ straight for you!” As John yelled back, the thing stopped.
Its bones sang their crunchy song as it turned around and faced the water. There was a deafening silence that lingered between myself and John, the lanky creature, and Cal Danforth. What finally broke that silence gives me chills just thinking about it now.
We were still a fair distance away from it, so its features weren’t readily apparent, but from what I could see, its eyes were little more than sunken holes in its face and its mouth stretched much farther up the cheek than any normal person.
And then it opened that mouth.
It opened an average amount, like your mouth or mine would open when we spoke. But then, accompanied by the sickening crunch of snow being packed under a boot, its jaw unhinged. All the while, water spilled from the openings in its face. It then began making sounds. They weren’t words; that was clear even despite the fact that it was talking with a mouthful of water. It was…undulating. The sounds it made came from deep within its throat, horrible, ghastly, terrifying sounds.
John aimed his rifle at the gray creature and prepared to shoot, but I think he was as curious as I was regarding what this strange being was trying to communicate, and to whom. After a few more seconds of those hellish noises emanating from deep inside the thing’s stomach, it stopped, and for a few fleeting moments, the only sounds I heard were my breath, my heartbeat, the soft whistle of a light breeze, and the invisible cicadas chirping their midnight song.
But then the cicadas stopped, and it was that silence that made my heart sink to my stomach, that absence of all sound that registered in my brain as a signal that something was very, very wrong. And after a single moment of that silence that felt like an eternity…the lake responded.
In that moment I learned from whence Humming Lake had gotten its colloquial sobriquet. It didn’t have a source, at least one that I could discern as I stood there, but a distinct hum simply materialized in my ears. It surrounded us, and it sounded as though it were coming from behind me, in front of me, on both sides of me, from under me and from above me and from within me and without me all at once. It was low, as if someone with a deep voice was simply going hmmmmmm.
I can’t say for certain, but at that moment I looked at the lake, and it seemed…darker. There was always an uncharacteristic dimness to the body of water, a sort of absence of the color that might come to mind when one thinks of such a geographic feature, and more of a deeper blue, especially towards the center of the small inland sea. At that moment, even under the moonlight, the lake seemed to swallow all light, and appeared a pitch black pit of uncertainty.
And that pit hummed, and then it stopped, replaced then by the abnormal figure in Cal Danforth’s backyard and its guttural nonsense. The cicadas returned as the creature and the lake finished their indiscernible conversation, with the former turning back towards Cal. A small man but with the courage and brashness of a hundred larger men, Cal Danforth yelled out for John not to shoot it, and that he would take care of it.
After disappearing into his house for a moment, and while the dripping, gray mass of bones and smooth skin made two more of its crooked, audible steps towards his home, Cal returned with a metal baseball bat. John and I watched, he through the ironsights of his gun and me through my disbelieving eyes, as Cal Danforth stepped out through his back door, ranting and raving about how “some fucked up cripple wasn’t gonna threaten” him.
“You wanna come onto my property?” he shouted rhetorically. “Think you’re gonna come onto my property and do…some shit?!”
He clearly hadn’t thought of what to say beforehand and was winging it in the moment. But it didn’t matter what he said. Cal approached the lumbering beast, baseball bat cocked back and ready to swing. But it didn’t matter.
With a speed it hadn’t exhibited until then, it stretched out its lanky arm and rammed two of its thin, tendril-like fingers, fingers that I would swear got longer at its whim, underneath Cal Danforth’s jaw, up through the fleshy part underneath his mouth, and pulled the left side of the lower half of his jaw off.
It happened in the blink of an eye. With an ease akin to a giant brushing away a fly, this thing had torn skin and snapped bone, leaving Cal Danforth standing in stupefied shock as the lower half of his face hung to one side, a mess of blood and viscera and a lower set of teeth displaced from their rightful fixture on Cal Danforth’s visage.
He stood there silently as the creature retracted its hand and flung it up once again much in the same way it had the first time, but now without the impediment of the lower half of Cal’s face to slow its thrust. Its fingers, longer again yet, plunged into the top of Cal’s mouth, but this time they didn’t retract. This time, I watched as Cal’s body went limp, held up only by the unnatural strength of his killer, and his eyes began bleeding.
John and I too were in shock, and he snapped out of it first. He yelled as he began firing his weapon at the thin, murderous beast; the deafening bangs of his gun shaking me from my stupor. I began firing at it too, and after my second shot it dropped Cal to the ground. Our shots didn’t seem to affect it at first, but the more John unloaded into it, it looked to be putting up its arms, though it seemed not in defense, but in annoyance.
Even still, it essentially ignored us. It resumed its slow, laborious gait, seemingly aiming to go around Cal’s house; in that stressful time I wasn’t sure where its destination might be. John quickly ran the few yards back to his home and disappeared for the briefest of moments inside before returning with a machete.
I voiced my concern, noting that a bevy of bullets hadn’t been able to harm it. But still John persisted. He made a wide berth around the thing, machete in hand. It was nearly to the side of Cal’s house when John made his move. He swung the machete, cutting cleanly and easily into its head, splitting it from ear to misplaced jaw joint. And he continued hacking away at it, with an apparently endless supply of water seeming to splash against the ground – and against John.
The thing collapsed to the ground in a puddle, its entire body turning to water as it perished, dousing John and soaking his shoes and the grass they stood on.
“Yeah motherfucker!” the drunken John shouted. “You fuckin’ see that, man?! Fuck this fuckin’ thi–”
He stopped speaking abruptly and stood up perfectly straight, dropping the machete to the ground with a light splash. Then he turned back, first towards what I thought was me, but I would soon realize was the lake.
“Johnny?” I asked meekly, my voice shaking as my friend started taking rigid steps.
He walked right past me in jerky, unnatural motions. I called out to him several times, each time ignored. I watched helplessly as John walked down the grass and right past me as though I didn’t exist. When I realized he was walking towards the lake I ran to try to stop him, but whatever force was compelling him to walk to the lake compelled me to stop. I wasn’t capable of moving, unable to stop my friend.
I was forced to watch as John slowly walked into the lake. First up to his ankles, then his knees, then up to his waist. And then he stopped. He stood there for what felt like an eon and, without any indication that it was about to happen preceding, John Derby was ripped underneath the surface of Humming Lake.
The same moment he was under was the moment I was freed from whatever it was that was keeping me in place. And not a moment later did that hum return, only this time it was loud enough to hear a mile away. By this point, other people had come from their houses to see what all the commotion was about, and one by one people saw Cal Danforth’s mangled corpse and asked me what had happened, a question to which I didn’t truly have an answer.
The hum raised in volume, and before long glass started shattered. And then, as quickly as it had started, it stopped. And moments later, from the trees on either side of the four lawns that sat on that part of Humming Lake, came more monstrosities. All of them had humanoid shapes as vague as the first of their kind that had arrived, but their limbs were all mangled, misshapen branches jutting out from their emaciated trunks, and all of them dripped the same water as their fallen associate.
There must have been at least thirty of them, and all of them started towards us with the same hurryless stroll. Just as I was about to address the rest of my fellow townspeople, something was launched from the lake, landing on John Derby’s yard, and then a second something landed not three feet away from it.
I picked up John’s flashlight and cautiously walked over to whatever it was. Upon shining the light on the unsolicited gifts from Humming Lake, I saw that John Derby had been returned to us. He was split at the torso, missing his left arm, and had the clear absence of a head, with maybe three inches of his spine peeking out through the cranial wound. Jess Randolph screamed, Mike Ward vomited, I nearly passed out.
But a message I needed to get to the townspeople kept me conscious.
“HEY!” I shouted, then lowered my voice to a hushed whisper. “I think they’re coming for the Hartul kid.”
The threat of unspeakable horrors befalling a child was enough to kick everyone into gear. Myself and three others began running to the Hartul’s house while three others who had joined the ruckus stayed behind to combat the creatures from the lake, against my strongest objections. As we ran, we began hearing the screams of our unfortunate, bull-headed neighbors, and a look behind me at the angular, hobbling shadows slowly but surely swarming them turned my legs to rubber and nearly made me fall.
Our town doesn’t have a typical structure. It’s more or less just an area where houses are sporadically placed, seemingly at random, with a single road that leads out into the rest of the world. We ran through yard after yard until finally we stepped foot onto the one belonging to the Hartul’s. Jess and I pounded on the front door, screaming for the Hartul’s to wake, and after a few moments the lights inside the house began turning on.
Brian Hartul opened the door in a half-asleep rage with a “What the fuck?!” to greet us. We told him that something was coming for his son as a result of the young Hartul’s failure to adhere to the law that had overshadowed the town of Humming Lake since long before any of us came into existence. Naturally, the elder Hartul expressed his willingness to shoot whatever that “something” might be, but I told him it would be a fruitless endeavor.
I made the decision that Rodney needed to be hidden elsewhere. I told Brian to take his family and drive far and fast away from Humming Lake. And so we went back into the Hartul’s house while the patriarch woke up his wife and son. I peered out the front window and saw in the distance the limping, jagged silhouettes heading our way, and yelled to the family to hurry.
And at that same moment, me, Bill Dyer, Jess, and Mike heard the shower turn on. Fearing that we didn’t adequately express the urgency with which they needed to be moving, Jess and I ran through the living room and turned down the hall, where we saw all three Hartul’s standing in fear, all three of them also wondering who turned their shower on.
And then to mine and Jess’ right, the kitchen sink turned on at full blast.
“Is that…” Jess started, but she didn’t need to finish. Not a moment later did the flow of water become too strong, sending the faucet soaring into the kitchen ceiling. The water was dark and murky, the unmistakable water of Humming Lake, not the clear well water the town had come to rely on. The knobs were next, landing on the now wet linoleum with a tin ring from each.
The Hartul’s yelped when similar sounds came from their bathroom, the showerhead and bathroom sink faucet and all the corresponding knobs bursting from their right places, flooding the bathroom with the forbidden liquid. After a moment, that very same water began pooling out of the bathroom and into the hallway.
“Jump over it! We have to leave, now!” I yelled.
The family obliged, and all three made it to the living room without so much as a drop of water on them. Brian grabbed his keys from a bowl on a small table at the end of the hallway and we all made our way outside, where our hope was crushed.
The lights on all the houses we could see were on, and coming from inside the houses were shouts of anger, fear, and confusion, as well as water. So much water. It came from under all of the Hartul’s neighbor’s doors, and before long it came from the Hartul’s house too.
We did our best to avoid it, but Mike Ward wasn’t lucky. As he tried to step over a stream of water he tripped, landing hands and face first into a shallow river. Over him, Bill Dyer similarly stumbled, ending up on his backside, soaked. Jess yelled at them to run the other way, so as not to risk us getting wet, and wished them luck in a single breath.
I looked behind us and saw the Hartul’s car with water surrounding it on the ground below. Then I saw them. The creatures had made their way up to the neighborhood, with some breaking off from their groups to go inside the houses belonging to whom I can only assume were those not lucky enough to avoid the fountains the lake had created from their fixtures.
Finally, we reached our destination, which was three houses down from the Hartul’s, Bob Harrison’s house. Bob was in the middle of reshingling his roof and had what we hoped would be our saving grace: a ladder already set up against the back of his home.
With the water closing in from three sides, our only route was to hope and pray that the spots on Bob’s backyard that we took weren’t yet soiled by the lake water coming from his and the other houses. Brian had Rodney over his shoulder, and only moments before we reached the ladder, his foot made a loud squelch. Before I even realized what had happened, Brian grabbed me, flipped me around, and threw Rodney over my shoulder.
He told me to go, and that he was going to climb the lattice on the next house over. Rodney climbed the ladder first, then Jess, then Amber Hartul, then me. As we climbed to the roof, I looked over and saw Brian sloshing through Bill’s yard and over to the side of Hal Chalmer’s. Once we made it to the roof, I kicked the ladder to the ground.
I can’t be certain how long it was, but we were safe for a few minutes. We took the time sitting on the half of Bob Harrison’s roof that was shingled to try to regroup, but none of us could come up with a plan. All the while, there was a cacophony of fractures and cracks and splinters and breaks blended with the close and distant screams of the unfortunate residents of Humming Lake surrounding us, and before we knew it, the lake’s grotesque agents were shambling to the ground below.
We were surrounded, by the swamp of lake water to the back and sides and by the slick, gray, jagged beings to the front. There was a brief standoff, wherein we on the roof simply watched in terror as the creatures belows congregated with a single goal in mind. The silence was haunting as they looked up at us, and that silence was only broken when one of them raised its arm, with all the creaks and cracks that accompanied its movement.
It pointed to the 8-year-old.
His mother yelled down they weren’t going to take her son, as any mother would, at which point the creatures craned their crooked necks and arched their mangled backs to face the direction of the lake, now roughly two blocks away. One of them spoke loudly in its indiscernible language, and once it had said its piece, they all made the turn back towards us, spine-tingling for us and spine-shattering for them.
Then the lake replied.
The hum came from all around us, steadily raising in volume.The glass on several more houses shattered, and it became disorienting. While the rest of us covered our ears, Amber Hartul released her son and stood up.
“What are you doing?!” Jess yelled out. But Amber didn’t respond. Amber simply stood up and took three steps forward, the last of which sent her tumbling off the roof to the ground below, a fall that culminated in a sickening crunch that I was thankful I didn’t have to see the visual for.
“Oh my god.” Jess said, looking past me to our right. We had been so focused on what was going on in front of us that we had nearly forgotten about the just-now-became-a-widower Brian on the other roof.
Two of the lake’s emissaries had wandered their jagged wander two houses down. Brian too was blindly walking down the roof, and we watched helplessly as he went headfirst over the edge, but instead of simply hitting the ground below, one of the creatures reached its hand up, which went through Brian’s skull and down the inside of his face, throat and chest, and caught him, then tossed his limp cadaver to the grass.
Jess and I sat there in horror, in shock, unable to move, while Rodney wrapped his arms around Jess, sobbing, presumably at the revelation that he was now an orphan.
The lake then spoke again, but this time it was less booming. It’s hard to describe a hum, but whereas before this moment the lake’s tone had been menacing, it now sounded almost…calming.
It hummed its hum, then quieted, never fully stopping, and instead of being replied to by the monsters it sent to do its bidding, a response came from Jess’ lap.
“What?” Rodney said.
The hum continued, and so too did its exchange with the boy.
“I don’t wanna……why……..will my mom and dad be there….no….” Rodney cried. “NO! I WON’T!”
The creatures below all screamed. From deep in their stomachs by way of their throats, they all screamed out shouts in tones entirely foreign to the human ear. The hum joined them, returning to its horrible booming roar. Rodney buried his face in Jess’s shoulder, sobbing. The noise was overwhelming, and I could almost feel the headache materializing in my forehead. And in an instant, the beasts stopped and the hum returned to a tolerable level.
At the same time, Rodney stopped crying and tried to push away from Jess, but she held on to him. I only saw his face for a moment, but in that moment I saw that all emotion, all life had left him. Everything that made little 8-year-old Rodney himself, all the adventurousness, the personality, the hopes, the dreams, all of it, was gone.
The moment I saw his face was when he pushed his head away just enough to get into position, and then he sank his teeth into Jess’ throat, tearing away a chunk of skin and sinew and sending blood flooding down her neck. In an instant Rodney had turned around and was walking down the roof. As I did my best to stanch Jess’ wound, I watched Rodney step down the shingles and topple forward and squinted my eyes as an inherent reaction to the blood-curdling sound I was expecting to hear.
But I didn’t hear that sound.
Instead, the humming stopped and I heard the sounds of one of the creatures vocalizing. And in reply I heard Rodney. I can’t be certain of what he said, but it was something along the lines of “Okay, let’s go.” And then they all began walking back towards the lake, the lake’s envoys with their lumbering gaits and Rodney with his surefooted 8-year-old steps.
They walked and walked and walked until they were enveloped in the shadows and out of sight. I tried my best to help Jess, but I’m not a medical professional. I used my shirt to keep pressure on the wound, but within minutes she was dead.
I stayed up on Bob Harrison’s roof for the next 16 hours, with Jess’s dead, bloodied corpse roasting in the summer sun not three feet away from me. After a time, people started coming out of their homes, carefully avoiding the spots on the ground still damp with the lake’s vengeance. They used plywood and furniture and vehicles to create bridges for those who were trapped, myself included.
27 bodies were pulled out of the neighborhood’s flooded houses in the coming weeks. We crafted waterproof suits and footwear to traverse our town until such time as the water dried up or was otherwise cleared out.
When the lake claimed its revenge, it resulted in the most harrowing 30 minutes of my life. It was a half hour (roughly) of chaos, death, confusion, and sorrow.
But it put one thing into perspective. The one thing that so many of us had pondered for so long. The answer to the question that so many residents of Humming Lake had asked for so long, but for which none had ever dared seek. That half hour of dread gave us the reason for our town’s oldest law, the source of which had been lost to time itself.
“Never touch the water.“