Sunlight glistened off the water with the reflection of the surrounding trees adding to the multi-colored surface. Wanda looked out over the calm surface and shook her head. She should be in her office working on her current projects. Instead, she was looking at a conundrum. What happened here? And why? Why she was there was still beyond her comprehension. She was hundreds of miles from her home looking at a riddle that wasn’t very funny. Yes, she knew the why of physically being there, but the reason behind the why was still a mystery to her.
“What is the plan?”
The silence broken, she turned around to address the question of her assistant, Wendell. He had been her assistant for three years. She had never had anyone work with her that knew her so well. Bringing him with her only made sense. Having no clue what to do next made her even more grateful he came; he could be a great sounding board and a never ending pool of moral support.
“Touch base with the local authorities first.”
He rolled his brown eyes. “That won’t be hard. He’s right behind me.” Wendell pointed his thumb over his shoulder.
Her eyes moved past Wendell to the edge of the trees where a path led from the highway. Stepping out was a large man who had to have been related to the local bigfoots. His shoulders were three times the size of the average man. His face was symmetrically shaped with high cheekbones and perfect lips that pulled into a smile when his dark eyes met hers.
Wanda couldn’t help but swallow hard. The man before her in a grey police uniform was perfect eye-candy.
“You must be, Dr. Yates.” He held out his hand to her.
Wanda mentally screamed at herself and forced her mind to get back into academic mode. She had to be professional here. Getting doe eyed at the man wouldn’t help her solve the mystery.
“Yes, and you are Officer Goodwin?” Her hand was lost in his. A chill ran up her arm.
“Yes, ma’am. Got your message day before yesterday. Decided just to meet you out here.”
She gave him a polite smile. “Thank you. You could have sent a deputy.”
“No deputies. Just me.”
“Only one of you?” She raised one eyebrow.
“Yes. With a town of only three hundred, not much need for more than me. If we need more help, I let the county sheriff get a piece of the action.” He walked toward the edge of the water and looked around. With his foot, he kicked a pebble. “You folks think something happened here?”
Wanda’s fascination with the man quickly turned to irritation. Being questioned was something that always plucked at her nerves. “All I know is that two of our people came here to do some research and they haven’t been heard from since.”
“Probably headed out when they were done.”
Wendell gave her a warning glance she ignored as she turned to face the officer. Anger was quickly taking over. Wendell had seen it before and knew what was coming. Good looking or not, the man was questioning her sensibility. “They never reported in at any time after their initial arrival. Standard protocol of the institute is to have them report every evening with the status of the day.”
“Why were they here in the first place? And what company do you work for?”
She put her hands on her hips. “I thought they stopped by your office when they got into town.”
Goodwin turned with a smile. “Yes, but I’d like to hear what you have to say about their assignment.”
With a long look, Wanda answered, “We work for Sloan Scientific Research, focusing on anomalies in nature. We investigate the cause and then work with partners to see how, as a society, we can benefit from it. There have been several reports of strange incidents here. We were checking into it while taking water samples and pictures.” Working at Sloan for the past six years, she had moved up to Director of Projects and was able to assemble her own team. It was part of that team she was looking for. When she left the small town, she expected to have them with her.
“That’s what they said.” He turned to point to the far end of the lake. It was one of the few areas where the trees were set far from the edge. “I suggested they go over at Kinder’s Point where it was level for camping and high up from the water. I marked it on the map I gave them.”
“When was that?” She shielded her eyes as she looked across the water. It was obviously a good spot for the crew to set up.
“About two weeks ago, on Tuesday. I remember because that is the day May had cherry pie at the local diner. I invited them to share it with me but they declined. Boy, did they miss out on something good.”
Her teeth clenched. Pie was not her concern. “You didn’t see them after that?”
“No, George Anderson said they came in a day or two later to get more supplies. One of them commented about other campers, which didn’t make sense. There hasn’t been anyone else up here in months.”
His physical appeal waned by the second. “What about those that reported missing people?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Never recalled seeing those people around these parts.”
Wanda huffed and shook her head. “Several people called the state police to report missing members of their group after coming to this very lake, and you say they were never here?”
“That’s what I’m saying. People just want their few minutes of fame.”
“These missing people are really missing. They can’t be found. Every person interviewed said their loved one was coming to this lake.”
“People just pushing for attention. If you folks want to investigate, go ahead. I’ve got to get back to work.”
He tipped his hat at them and walked off. He began whistling as he disappeared down the path.
“Yep, lots of crime here,” Wendell mumbled as he moved to stand next to Wanda. He turned to look at the area indicated as Kinder’s Point. “Think they did just walk away? Just gave up the job and moved to Mexico? Really?” He huffed.
Wanda shook her head and took in a deep breath. “No, never. Kristi and Eloise are not like that. Something happened, and Mr. Small-Town-Cop doesn’t want anything to interrupt his pie schedule.” She wiped her hand over her face and sighed.
“We’re going over to that point?”
“Yes, but I don’t plan on camping right now. Let’s go get a room at the hotel I saw just outside of town. I think it was between here and the next puddle of civilization.”
“After we go look at the spot, right?”
“But of course. Shouldn’t take us more than half an hour to walk around to where he directed them.”
“But of course.” Wendell grimaced.
An hour later, with sweat rolling down their faces, the two scientists arrived at Kinder’s Point. The location was confirmed by the sign. Stuck in the dirt, ‘Kinder Point’ was carved into it. Beyond the sign was a path that led up to the top of a bluff.
“He said they went to the top.” Wendell pointed up.
“Let’s head on then.”
It didn’t take them more than a few minutes to get to the top of the level bluff. The path wasn’t as daunting as it looked and was relatively easy to climb. The area was flat just as the cop had stated, but what stopped them cold was the absence of any sign that their colleagues had been there. Wanda took a deep breath and looked around. Her eyes detected nothing that a human would have left behind; there were no remains of a campfire, no disturbed earth where a tent had been set up. Nothing looked like a human being had been there for months or even years.
Wendell walked over to an open space and scratched his head. “I don’t get it. They were here. We know that, right?” He turned back to look at Wanda.
She blinked. “I got the message they had arrived and made camp right here. In town it was confirmed that two days later they went to get supplies. That was the last time anyone heard from them.”
“Is this the spot?”
Wanda pulled out her phone and her text message screen. “Yes. It says they had settled down at Kinder’s Point and were ready to start research the next day. Everything was normal.”
“So, everything we know puts them right here, yet…the nice lawman says this is the spot he directed them to. We are here and see nothing of them.”
“Sums it up. Look around some more. There has to be some sign they were here.”
For the next half hour, they searched the small area for anything that would tell them that their friends had been there. In the end, they found nothing. There was no trash left behind. There was no sign of them being there.
Wendell kicked at a rock. “I can’t believe this. Do you think that man directed us to the wrong place?” Irritation nudged him.
Wanda shook her head. “Then he set up the sign and everything. This place should be where they ended up.”
“Do you have any better answers? I’d love to hear them.”
“None. I have no other explanation. But it doesn’t make sense.”
“It’s getting late. Why don’t we go to the hotel and talk about this over some food? Maybe we can think of something we’ve missed.”
Wanda hated to admit he was right. There was nothing they could do right then. They had to regroup and then start looking for their friends. Nothing was making sense and standing there was not going to help them.
Something was not right.
Two hours later, Wanda and Wendell were bent over beer and burgers as they assessed the situation. Neither one was especially hungry, but they knew they couldn’t just not eat. They had no idea what lay before them. They were going to need everything they could get, and that would involve staying fed and rested.
“Okay, they texted to say they made it. That is the last we know of them, right?” Wanda asked for the umpteenth time.
“Aside from the man at the hardware store who said he saw them.” Wendell took a sip of his beer.
“If we take him out of the picture, how do we know they really did arrive?”
He wiped his mouth before responding. “They texted?”
“But I didn’t talk to them. What if it wasn’t them who texted me?”
Wendell paused. “You mean, what if someone else took their phone and pretended to be them?”
“Why would someone do that?”
She sighed. “That I don’t know. Again, nothing makes sense. Okay, they arrived here. They got supplies. Now there is nothing left. Sheriff suggested they just decided to leave.”
“What would prompt them to?” Wendell shook his head. “They have never abandoned a project.”
“Unless they had to. But they would have contacted us and told us what was happening.” She leaned back. “I’m grasping at straws. I keep coming back to foul play. With other missing people, that could start to make more terrifying sense.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t try to force it to make sense.”
Wanda raised an eyebrow at her colleague. “What do you mean?”
“We’re trying to put the picture into our minds in a way we understand it. Maybe it doesn’t fit there. Like the round peg in the square hole. We have to find the right hole to put it so we can see it properly.”
Silence descended on the table as the two explored the idea. Only the noise of the other patrons could be heard over the old time jukebox in the corner.
“Then we start with the town and ask questions.” Wanda took a sip of her own beer.
Wendell nodded. Neither realized what they were facing.
The next day the two found themselves walking into the town’s only hardware store. As they entered, a bell jingled overhead, and several curious faces appeared over and around shelves. Each one watched with suspicion as the newcomers made their way to the back of the store where the register was set up and a man stood behind the counter. After introducing himself as the owner, he willing answered their questions. He was adamant he had seen the two women a week earlier.
“Yes, those two women did show up here. Actually, they came twice. The first time to get directions because the sheriff’s office was closed. Though it was funny how they ran into him right afterwards outside the store. I could see him pointing toward his office where they followed him.”
“What about the second time?” Wendell asked.
“Some of their supplies turned up missing and others damaged. At least, that is what they said. They needed some supplies to fix things.”
“What kind of things?” Wanda leaned over the counter. The musty smell of the store tickled her nose.
The old man scratched his head. “Nails. Glue. Rope. They even needed tarps. Something about their tents having holes in them.”
Wendell and Wanda exchanged glances. “Holes?”
“Not sure what happened. Probably didn’t know how to put up a tent.” He snickered. “Two women alone like that with no man to do the work. Not right. Then again, could have been some harmless critters trying to get at their food which I doubt they knew how to store right.”
Wendell raised an eyebrow. “What’s not right, there not being a man to put up the tents?”
With a nod, the man pulled a box onto the counter and began to unpack new wrenches. “Right. And just two women? We don’t take to their kind.”
Wendell stood up straight. “Their kind?”
“Yes, liberals. Women thinking they don’t need men. Unnatural. There’s an order to things. People who disrupt it…well, they don’t need to be around here.”
Wanda put her hand on Wendell’s arm once she understood what the man was implying. Continued discussions down that path would not end well. She knew how sensitive Wendell was to bigots. He had fought them his entire adult life from his family to his co-workers. Wanda didn’t want Wendell to lose control and cause problems that would prevent them from finding their friends.
The muscle in Wendell’s jaw flexed. With a slight nod, he moved away and pretended to look at the merchandise in the crowded store. Wanda let out the breath she held once she knew Wendell had taken her hint. That was one disaster diverted.
“Besides picking up supplies, do you remember anything else about their visit?”
The man scratched the days-old stubble on his chin. “Well, let me see. They asked for all the items, and when I asked why, they mumbled something about things that go bump in the night. I just assumed that they did it themselves.”
“They did it?” Wanda’s could feel the anger burn within her. Maybe it wasn’t Wendell who she should be worried about.
“Yeah, like they got scared from some natural sound and overreacted. Maybe threw something at it and ended up ripping a hole in the tent. I don’t know, but they seemed a little nervous.”
“They kept looking at each other as though they had a secret. A shovel fell off the wall and they just about jumped out of their skin. Overreacted about everything.”
“Did they say anything else?”
“No, except that they were going to fix what was broken and then call in the cavalry. Their words, not mine.” He raised his hands. “Strange couple if you ask me.”
Wanda heard Wendell mumble, “We didn’t.”
She struggled to not let her smile show at his response. “Ah, yes. Anything else?”
“Nope. That’s it. Then they left. I assume they went to the grocer.”
Wanda nodded, not too sure if the local store would be any better. It was in a room adjacent to the local hair salon which was in the back room of a car garage. Knowing Kristi and Eloise, they’d have traveled a few miles to a better store.
“Thanks. We appreciate your help.” Wanda gave the man a tight smile and patted Wendell on the arm. He nodded and headed for the door. Wanda turned to follow.
“Wonder if the creature got them,” the store owner mumbled.
The two froze and turned slowly back to the man who was starting to unpack a ragged box. The hole on the side allowed a few nails to escape.
“Creature? What creature?”
He looked up at them. “The Cabyll-Uisge.” He looked up at them.
Wendell snorted. “The Cabyll-Uisge? That’s a legend in Ireland, not here in the middle of the United States.” He looked at Wanda’s surprised face. “What? I love mythology.”
The man glared at them. “Say what you will. People swear it exists here.” The friendly demeanor was gone.
Wendell turned and slapped Wanda on the arm. “Let’s get out of here before he tells you where the little green men land each full-moon.”
The man’s eyes narrowed at Wendell. Before he could respond, Wanda ushered Wendell out to the SVU.
Wendell slammed his door closed. “What are we doing here?”
“We’re finding our friends.”
He took a deep sigh and waved his hand in the direction of the town around them. “They probably realized how crazy these people are and left town.”
“Maybe. Let’s continue looking. Once we go through the stores here, we’ll search further out in neighboring towns.”
“Yep. Hopefully found some people with a little sanity.”
It didn’t take them long to go a few blocks from the hardware store to the open garage, a tilted building with several cars parked in front. A man was bent over into the one with the raised hood.
Wanda parked the car. Wendell shook his head as his eyes surveyed the scene. “Do you really want to go in here?”
“Do we have a choice?”
“I guess not, but I still don’t like this.”
“We’re doing it for Kristie and Eloise. Remember that.”
Wendell grumbled, but Wanda knew he’d do anything for them. They had been there for him many times over the years. One too many times they had rescued him from getting his lights knocked out. He wouldn’t give up on them now when they appeared to need him.
Getting out of the car, they began to walk to the far side of the garage where the salon/grocery was located. The man under the hood raised up to look at them. Grease smeared across his face; It even looked like it had been used in his hair to keep it out of his eyes.
“You folks needing help?” He turned and spit to the side. The brown slime hit the stained concrete and disappeared into the stains that had built over the years.
“We’re just going into the store.” Wanda pointed to the far side of the building where a sign hung sideways announcing haircuts and grocery. The paint was faded to a grey color.
“‘Kay.” Seconds ticked by as he stared at them. Motioning with his head toward the building, he added, “It’s in there.” He returned to his position under the hood.
The sound of metal grinding against metal followed them through the creaking door. An odor mixture of ammonia and dust hit them hard. Wanda’s eyes watered as the smells attacked her senses. Wendell coughed as he tried to cover up his own reaction. All eyes in the room turned to look at them.
Three women sat in various chairs with their hair covered up with foil or nets. One sat in front of a row of mirrors while another one stood behind with scissors in hand. An unsettling quiet settled on them.
The woman with the scissors reached down to the table in front of the woman getting her hair done and picked up a smoking cigarette. She placed it between her bright red lips and let it hang there as she turned back to the blue tinted hair in front of her. The smoke curled up in front of her face and made its way into her high-piled orange hair.
“Hi, folks. Need a trim?” Her voice was raspy, probably from years of smoking.
Wanda coughed slightly and shook her head. “We were just wanting to ask a few questions.”
That stopped everyone again. Magazines lowered. Scissors stopped in mid-cut. It was like they had never been asked anything by strangers before.
“Want kind of questions?”
Wendell mumbled, “Not about what you are smoking.”
Wanda held back a smile. “We had a couple of friends come through here last week and thought they might have stopped by here for some food.” Wanda motioned with her hand toward the small room set off to the side with shelves of canned goods. The light from the window showed the thick layer of dirt on them. She somehow doubted they did buy anything, but she had to make sure every stone was turned.
“Nope. Don’t know what you’re talking about, but they didn’t come in here.”
Wendell grasped Wanda’s arm. “Thank you.” He leaned in and whispered, “Let’s get out of here before I die of asphyxiation.” The smoke from the cigarette seemed to take on a life of its own and began to thicken and move to swallow the two up.
“Thank you.” They quickly left the death trap and, with a wave at the man working on the car, jumped in their own SUV. They sat still, breathing in the clean air.
“They didn’t go there.”
Wanda raised her eyebrows at him. “Do tell!”
“What do we do now?”
“We head over to the store near our motel. That is the closest one I know of.”
“Go. Get me out of this stupid hick town.” Wendell shook his head as he looked at the man working on the car. His pants had slipped down revealing the upper crust of a moon. Wendell choked back a gag.
“No problem.” Wanda put the vehicle into gear and was quickly on the road leading them out of town.
The scenery of woods sped by them as she applied the gas to get them to the next town. She had to agree that she didn’t like the small town and the reception they had received. Chalking it up to small town paranoia was one thing, but she couldn’t push aside the fact that there was something more. Did they know something? She had no idea. She just wanted to find her friends and go back home.
It wasn’t long before they pulled up in front of the grocery store. Though much smaller than the supermarkets they were used to back home, they saw that it was a busy place. Numerous people moved in and out with their bags of groceries. If their friends needed groceries, they would have come here for them.
It didn’t take them long to get the manager to show them the security tapes. There on the screen were Kristi and Eloise pushing a cart through the aisles. From what they could see, the basics were put in the cart along with some garbage bags and several containers of salt.
“That’s weird,” Wanda mumbled as she counted fifteen salt boxes placed in the cart.
In one aisle, a child knocked over a can of food. The noise brought out the strangest reaction from the two women being watched. Both jumped and turned around with arms raised in defense. It was though they expected to find Jack the Ripper behind them. After that, they quickly paid for their items and left the store.
Wanda sat back in the chair she had been hunched over in and sighed. Nothing was making sense. It was obvious that their friends were scared about something. And all that salt? It was all so confusing.
“Have I said that nothing makes sense? Salt? They want to ward off something evil? They fell for this?” Wendell mumbled.
“Well, there are your two friends. Strange. Very strange.” The manager of the store turned off the screen. “You say you can’t find them?”
“No, they texted us they were here. We have witnesses here and in the other town who saw them. That was on the day you taped them here last week. No one has heard from them since.”
“Did you go out to where they were staying?”
They nodded. “Yes, we went out to Kinder’s point…”
“Kinder’s Point?” The manager stood up straight. His face blanched and he tugged at the tie around his neck. “You didn’t say they were camping out there.”
Wanda watched in interest at the man’s reaction. “No, I didn’t. What is it about that place that brings about such reactions from people?”
“There are rumors.” He moved toward the door. “If you want to know more, you might want to talk to Father Rafael. Now, if you don’t mind, I have to get a shipment unloaded.”
Before they knew it, they were back on the sidewalk facing their vehicle.
“Did we just get kicked out of a grocery store?”
“I think so.” Wanda pulled the keys out of her purse. “Let’s find the Catholic church.”
Sitting outside the church, Wanda watched the quiet town move about their daily lives. A young woman with one child in a stroller and one grasped in her hand moved down the sidewalk. An older man parked his car in front of a storefront and slowly made his way in.
Wendell tapped his fingers on the dashboard. “I don’t like these people.”
“That much is evident.” She pulled the key out of the ignition and twirled it around her fingers.
“I want to say they had something to do with it.”
Wanda whipped around. “With what? Their deaths? I refuse to accept that. They are alive somewhere.”
She sighed. “I don’t know. I don’t think anyone around here did anything to them, but I refuse to dismiss it completely. There have been stranger mysteries before with reasonable explanations discovered eventually.” She opened the door. “Let’s go”.
“Kinder’s Point?” The collared man nodded his head at their question. “Why do you want to know about that place?” He moved around the altar and rearranged the candles.
“Our friends went there, and they haven’t been seen or heard from since.” Wanda leaned forward on the pew she was sitting on.
He paused with his hand mid air over a candle. “Missing, you say?”
“Yes. They were seen in town as well as here, but after they returned to their campsite…it is like they disappeared from the face of the earth.” Wanda didn’t know how else to explain it.
“They might have,” he answered softly. When he turned around, Wanda’s stomach clenched at the look of fear on his face.
“What do you mean? That is impossible.”
“Things are not so…logical here.” He sighed and sat down on the steps by the altar to face them. “Ms. Yates, do you believe in supernatural powers?”
“Do I believe in God?”
“Well, yes and no. Step away from my religion. Do you believe in the supernatural world as a whole?”
“No. I believe in science.”
“Then we have a problem.”
“What do you mean?” Wendell interjected.
“What you are looking for is completely supernatural.”
Wanda stood up. “This is ridiculous. We don’t want any mumbo-jumbo. We want our friends.”
He raised his hands to her while remaining seated. “Please, sit down. I know this is hard to believe, but I’m serious. Did your friends purchase a large amount of salt by any chance?” Noting the look between them, he gave a small smile. “Yes, I know they did. Small town. People talk, especially when it involves what no one wants to talk about.”
Wendell took a step forward. “Why would they buy so much salt? I can’t believe they’d fall for this and see the legend as real.”
“They obviously thought beyond science. Salt is a known deterrent to the supernatural world…according to old wives’ tales. Please sit.” He waited until Wanda sat back down. “Mysterious things have been happening here for many years. In fact, the stories go back past the settlers and into Indian folklore.”
“We’re listening to legends now?”
“There is a lot of fact wrapped up in legend. The more legends are studied, the more the truth is exposed. It is just enhanced and embellished.”
“What does this have to do with our friends?”
“Everything. I’ll confess that I was skeptical as well when I first moved here twenty years ago. I thought everyone around here had been dipping too much into the homemade cider, but as time went on I began to see that it was more than that. There might actually be some truth to the tales. Too many turned up missing. Local women who took on a dare or wanted to proof it all wrong were gone for good.”
“They might have just left this hick town.” Wendell arched an eyebrow at the priest.
“Yes, we did consider that. Many young people have packed up their bags and left for the adventures in the big city, but these did not.”
“How do you know that?”
“For one thing, none of them packed a single bag. None of them told a friend or left a note. None disappeared with a boyfriend or anything that would suggest such a move. We’ve had the FBI involved, trying to track them. There was even a time when they suspected a serial killer, but there was no evidence to support it. Nobody ever saw anything. We never discovered a body. They just disappeared.”
“Boyfriend? Were they all women?”
He nodded. “Yes. All women, and all were at Kinder’s point or in its vicinity.”
“When did the disappearances start?”
“Hundreds of years ago.”
“What? And it hasn’t hit the national news?”
“Oh it has, but it is all attributed to runaways, though many of them are older women. Not all are teenagers looking for excitement.”
Wanda sat silent for a moment. Not even Wendell interrupted her as he sat in his own thoughts. “Tell me more about it,” Wanda prompted the man. She plucked from her mind lessons learned in the scientific community where legends had been found to be real, though not quite as the stories told. To dismiss anything at this point would be foolish and not a way to find her friends.
“The lake has always been surrounded by mystery. The Native Americans learned to avoid it quickly. They said that too much evil lived within its depths. Periodically, the evil would rise from below and walk the ground around the cursed waters. Any woman found was then its victim.”
“How?” He had their attention then if only for a good story.
“Do you know the ledge of the Cabyll-Uisge?”
Wendell huffed. “It’s an old Irish tale. We’re not in Ireland.”
“No, but who says it can only occur in Ireland?”
Wanda snapped, “What is the Cabyll-Uisge?” Legends of the Old World helping them seemed far-fetched.
The priest gave her a smile. “It is a creature of evil that lives in deep water. When it rises to the surface, it takes the form of an attractive man to entice beautiful women to him. When he gets them, he commences to seduce them and then takes them below the waters to eat them.”
Wanda shuddered. “Okay, so that’s the legend of a date gone bad. What is happening here?”
“Women disappear. Only women.”
“How do you know it is something in the lake? Why give credence to a tale with no scientific proof? I mean a creature eating them is one thing, but a sexy man?”
The priest sat back and sighed. “A few people over the years have seen something. One old man, who was committed to an institution some years back, swears he watched his only daughter be dragged down into the depths after being molested by a man that turned into a hideous creature as it went into the water.”
“What have others seen?”
“A man. Always a man. A handsome man. That is all we hear aside from the drowning of the women. Some see the women meeting a strange man here, and then they are never seen again. Though no story is exactly the same, there is a familiar thread.”
Wanda waved her hand toward the window. “How reliable are these people? I mean, one man was committed. Crackpot witnesses don’t hold water.”
“He was committed because no one believed him. His family didn’t want to deal with his rants so they put him away.”
“Of course not. Most families don’t. What do you think? Was he crazy?”
He didn’t answer immediately as he stared at his clasped hands. “I think there is merit to the reports.” His voice came out low.
“You’ve seen it,” Wanda whispered. There was no question in her words. She could see the confirmation in his face. Disbelief filled her.
His dark eyes slowly moved up to meet hers. Pain etched his face at his secret burden. “Yes. No one believes me either, but I saw it.”
“I was going to talk to a young lady in our church who had had a fight with her parents and ran off. She said she was going to go sacrifice herself to the lake monster to get even with her parents. They called me and asked if I’d stop her before she got hurt. I didn’t believe in monsters until that day.
“It was broad daylight. She was standing near Kinder’s Point looking down at the water as though she was going to jump. I rushed toward her, but… I saw then the man she was watching. He was walking up the bluff toward her. She wasn’t running away. In fact, she seemed to welcome him. I watched as he kissed her and led her to the water’s edge. It was there…it was there it changed. The man became a…thing.”
Wanda stared at the man’s bowed head, unsure whether or not to believe him. He was a man of the cloth, which had her wanting to take every word he said to heart. Surely they wouldn’t lie about such things. No one she knew in that profession would have done so. Then again….they were human. What he told her was too unbelievable. Just because he was a priest didn’t mean he couldn’t lie.
“What did it look like?”
He quickly stood up and moved about the altar, rubbing his hands down his pant legs. When he turned around, sweat beaded his forehead.
“It’s a nightmare I relive every time I go to bed. I see it whenever I drive by a body of water. To describe it would be too much for me. I cannot. All I can say is that if your friends were there and were women, they are gone. They are gone for good. You need to accept that and move on.”
Wanda shook her head. “I can’t accept that.”
“Then you’ll end up like them.”
“I can’t accept that.” Noting his agitation, she raised a hand. “Okay, let’s give it the benefit of the doubt. You kill the closet monster by shining a light into the closet and the goblin under the bed is defeated with a nightlight. Even if this is true, can’t you defeat it?” She could see how he fully believed what he had seen. Telling otherwise would have been futile, yet maybe he could say something that would give them a clue…Straws needed to be grasped at.
“Legends say that it cannot be defeated. It eats the flesh of women. Nothing has been known to vanquish it.”
“Really? Legends have a monster that can’t be defeated. Werewolves have silver, and vampires have garlic. It has to have a weakness. Something has to bring it down in the stories. If this thing is real,…and I’m not saying it is, it is not immortal. Everything has a weak point.”
He laughed. “Define immortal. To me, God is real, and He is immortal. He is also supernatural. Why can’t this be just as mystifying?”
Wanda stopped herself from rolling her eyes. “It’s a god?”
The priest shook his head. “All I know is that it is a creature of the devil.”
Wanda met Wendell’s gaze. Both were shocked and confused. The man really believed in the creature. His words were strong and sure. To him it was real; that didn’t mean it was real enough for them to follow up on.
“Thank you for your help.” Wanda stood up with Wendell.
“You don’t believe me, do you?” The priest turned to them. A frown creased his forehead as he noticed their posture to leave. “You are going to your death.”
Wanda sighed. “Even if it is true, I refuse to believe that something cannot be defeated. I don’t give up that easily.”
The priest laid his hand on his heart. “Maybe you are the one.”
Wanda pulled back. “The one?”
“Maybe you can. I always hoped…and prayed we’d be sent someone to save us.”
“I doubt that is me.”
“I never question actions that are beyond me.” He watched as they slowly made their way out of the church and closed the door behind them. Never in all his years would he have thought the forces of good and evil were so strong. Even his own Irish grandmother and her stories hadn’t been convincing. Not even seminary showed him the truth. He had to venture to the small town and find how fierce the battle was.
“I think he really believes what he says.” Wendell said as they got back in the SUV.
“I know he does.”
Wendell frowned as he looked over at his partner. “Do you believe him?”
“Believe he saw something, yes. Believe it is a mythical monster? Of course not.” Wanda ran a hand over her face.
“I say we head back to the motel and do some research. Somewhere out on the internet, there has to be some kind of information on this creature. Real or not, there could be something in it for us to use and find them.”
Two hours later, they sat in Wanda’s motel room looking through information they had pulled up on their laptops. Wanda was propped up on her bed with her legs crossed and the laptop laid on them. Hair back in a ponytail, she had her reading glasses perched on the tip of her nose.
Wendell sat on the floor on his own laptop scanning pages. Neither one spoke. Around them were the remains of a dinner of takeout pizza.
“Anything?” Wanda asked as she clicked on another link.
“Aside from the fact that this cabyll-uisge thingy is supposed to transform into a sexy hunk of a man to lure unsuspecting women to their deaths? No, not a thing.” He fell onto his back and tossed his pen up in the air and caught it. “Plus it lives in Ireland.”
“Seen any leprechauns around here?” Wanda grimaced. “What are we doing talking about mythological creatures while trying to find our friends?”
“Grasping at straws.”
“What else do we have to go on?”
“I think the idiotic, in-bred townspeople did them in.”
“Come on, Wendell. Really?”
“Sounds more logical than a cabby usage thing.”
Wanda couldn’t argue that point. “Why would they do such a thing? I just don’t see a reason behind their disappearance.”
“Because they are smarter than these people.” Wendell stood up and made his way into the bathroom.
The door closed and Wanda looked up from the screen and stretched. She felt like they were running in place and achieving nothing. Mentally, she went over everything they knew. Their friends were missing. They had arrived in a town that acted strangely. They had stayed at the campsite, but there was no evidence of it. Oh, she couldn’t forget the strange creature everyone believed was eating people.
“I need a drink.” She fell back on the bed.
“I’ll go get you one.” Wendell stepped out of the bathroom.
“Let’s both go. There is a bar a few blocks away.”
“In this town with one street light, they have fifty bars. Shouldn’t be too hard to find one.”
“Wendell, don’t exaggerate. They have three street lights.”
The bar quieted when Wanda and Wendell walked into the room. Heads with caps on them turned toward the two. Eyes narrowed.
“Have they never seen outsiders?”
“I keep telling you….” Wendell began. He stopped when Wanda raised her hand in his face. Behind her, he rolled his eyes at her action.
“Stop being childish, Wen. Smile and let’s order a beer. Who knows what we might find.”
Wanda pasted a smile on her face and moved toward the bar. With grace, she wound through the tables, ignoring the heavy smoke and glaring eyes. She perched herself up on an empty barstool. Wendell followed meekly and sat on the one next to her.
Raising her hand to the bartender who was eyeing them just as the other patrons were, she called out, “Two Coronas, please.”
The bartender didn’t respond for several seconds. Without a word, he eventually pushed his bulky body away from the bar and reached under the counter. He straightened up with the requested beers in hand. Without saying anything, he sat the bottles down with a resounding thump and moved back to the where he had been holding the bar up.
“Friendly sorts,” Wendell mumbled. He picked up the bottle opener the man had laid down with the beers. “Sort of a self-service kind of place, I see.”
Wanda pursed her lips and whispered, “Don’t forget Kristi and Eloise. We are here for them, not to make friends.”
With a doubtful huff, Wendell quieted. He knew Wanda was right, but he didn’t have to be happy about it. He wanted his friends back as much as her. He also wanted to tell the locals a thing or two.
They silently drank their beer. When it was about gone, a figure pulled up to the stool next to Wanda. She looked up to a heavy set man motioning with his hand for his order. He gave her a glance under his skewed set baseball cap with a faded insignia stitched on the front. With a brief nod at her, he turned back to take his beer in hand. With a quick gulp and a wipe of his sleeve, he leaned back slightly.
“Found your friends yet?” His voice sounded like a gravel pit.
Wanda blinked in surprise. They had so few people they had encountered on the trip approach them first. This man not only did that but actually sounded interested in whether or not the women had been found.
“Sorry. Not used to friendly talk here.”
The man chuckled. “We’re not used to strangers, especially ones coming here about the lake.” He patted his chest. “Me? I’m not a native. After fifty years I barely fit in.” He grew serious. “Have you found anything more about your friends.”
“Uh…no, not yet.”
“I doubt you will find them.” He took another swig of his drink.
“Why do you say that?” Her shock at his approach was replaced with irritation. She was seriously getting sick of hearing everyone tell her that.
He raised an eyebrow at her. “I think you know why.”
“Another person believing in ghost stories?” She put her bottle down and stood up.
“Not ghost stories, my dear. Monsters.”
Wanda tugged at Wendell’s arm. “Let’s go.”
The laughter of the man followed her out the door which Wendell let slam hard. They didn’t say a word until they had walked halfway to their motel.
“What is it with these people?” Wanda threw her hands up in the air and twirled around to face Wendell who almost ran into her. “Are they crazy? Do they put something in the water around here?”
“I told you that already. I say we call the FBI, CIA, or whoever and get them down here to investigate. Enough time has gone by.”
The mention of the time their friends had been missing sobered Wanda up. “You’re right. We’ll call them tomorrow. But before that I’m going to go back to the lake.”
“I don’t know. Maybe to prove these yokels wrong.”
“That’s my girl!”
It didn’t take them long to arrive at the lake. They only made one wrong turn along the way. The night had changed the landscape just enough to make it a little confusing. Wanda put the truck in park and looked at the water, lit up by the headlights. Only a faint ripple from the soft summer breeze disturbed the surface. The stars, unhindered by urban pollution, reflected brightly on the water. She scanned the area.
Wendell looked behind them. “Any ideas?” He asked in a low voice.
“Nessie?” She cut her eyes at to him. “Aliens?”
“Nope. There are no weird looking green lights hovering over the water.”
Seconds ticked by as they stared at the water. Anger filled Wanda. It was foolish to be scared of a myth. After all, it probably started when someone was killed and then the blame on a supernatural creature. She was above all that. She had her doctorate from a prestigious university. Her brain could figure it out. She hoped.
She pushed open the truck door. Wendell turned to her in shock. “Where do you think you are going?”
Wanda grasped the door as she narrowed her eyes at the lake. She looked back at Wendell. “I’m going to prove it isn’t something from the Tales of the Crypt. There has to be logic here. We have to start by proving the locals wrong.” She slammed the door closed and marched to the edge of the water.
Wendell sighed as he watched her determined march toward foolishness. “Stubborn woman.” He paused before opening his door. “Damn it, she’s right.”
She heard his door close and waited until he was beside her before speaking. “Is there a special thing we have to do to call this thing forward?”
“Not that I read. He just seduces women and then kills them in the water.”
“Okay, that means I have to draw him in. Should I show a shoulder or an ankle?” She kept her eyes on the dark waters.
“How should I know what attracts a woman-eating thing from the depths of the waters?” Wendell rolled his eyes.
“Good point. Okay, what if I walk around without you nearby? From what I gather, it doesn’t attack unless the woman is alone.”
Wendell shook his head. “And it’s hungry. Now listen. I don’t believe in all this monster crap, but I sure don’t like the idea of you wandering off alone in the dark. You’re a city girl, and this ain’t Park Avenue.”
“I know that, but how else are we going to prove this wrong?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t want you out of my sight.”
“What if we use our cell phones? We get on it and talk to each other as I move a little down the edge of the water. That way you can know for sure that I’m alive and well. If I scream ‘I’m being eaten by a sexy man’, you can come save me.”
Wendell frowned. “The things you make me do.”
“Me? Shall I remind you of a few late night phone calls and….” She thought back on how they had been there for each other when stranded, needing a ride, or just helping with a good laugh.
Wendell quickly pulled out his phone. “Great idea. I’ll call you right now, and you start walking.”
“Knew you’d see it my way.” She pushed the button to answer his call. “Okay, can you hear me clearly?”
Wendell nodded. “Get the flashlight out of the truck. I’ll stay right here with the tire iron from under my seat.”
Wanda found the flashlight and turned it on. She pointed it around her, checking the strength of the beam. Wendell took a little longer to find the piece of metal which had shifted to the far back of the cab. When he did find it, he met her by the water.
“Tell me everything you see.” He took her by the arm. “I mean it. I can’t be left alone with these crazy backwoods people.”
With a laugh, Wanda patted his hand. “I promise to not die and leave you at their mercy.”
She moved away from the light of the truck. Stepping into the inky blackness, Wanda hesitated. Despite not believing any of the legends, a sense of foreboding crept over her. Too many late night horror movies had conditioned her to anticipate something lurking in the shadows around her. She pushed herself forward, determined not to let an overactive imagination get the best of her.
The silence around her was heavy. Always something she enjoyed, now it frightened her. Something felt wrong, like a vibration in the air that wasn’t supposed to be there. She paused and cocked her head to listen. Not even frogs chirped. No crickets sung in the grass around the lake. The Dead Sea would have had more life to it.
The ground was not as level as she had remembered, and this time she didn’t have the sun lighting the way for her. Several times she stumbled. Hearing her grunt, Wendell’s panicked voice came through the phone.
“Are you okay? Wanda?”
“I’m fine. There are just more rocks than I remembered.”
“Do you see anything?”
She paused in her walk. Her eyes scanned the darkness around her. The flashlight revealed trees and more trees along with a vast expanse of empty water. “Nothing out of the ordinary. Not even footprints. You’d think that some animals would come down here. If nothing else, the male ones would as they would be safe.” She gave a short laugh.
“Not funny right now.”
“This has horror film all over it. Hurry up with your seduction scene and get back here. I want the feel of a warm bed right now.”
“Okay. Let me go a few more yards and see what happens. I will not go all the way to Kinder’s Point. That is too far alone in the dark with or without a monster.”
She continued on with silence between them. A crackle on the phone drew her attention. She frowned. It sounded more like a walkie talkie than a cell phone connection.
“Can you imagine anything so beautiful?”
“What are you looking at?” She paused and looked back in the direction of the lights she could still see. Her heart stopped as her eyes played tricks on her. “What is going on? From here the shadows make it look like two people standing in front of the truck. Is that the sheriff?”
“Where have you been all my life?”
“Wendell, cut it out. What is going on?”
“Oh, yes, I will.”
Panic seized Wanda as the shadows in the light drew closer. “Wendell?” she screamed into the phone. A piercing screamed answered her. The shadows flailed about. She broke into a run back to the truck. “Wendell!” She fell over a rock she didn’t see. She was focused on the screaming figure being dragged into the water.
Pain shot through her arms as she landed on them without time to brace her fall. She scrambled up and continued moving forward. There were no silhouettes in the light this time. She yelled Wendell’s name only to find she had dropped her phone when she had fallen. A part of her wanted to go back and get it, but her fear for Wendell was greater.
She ran into the middle of the headlights and looked around. “Wendell! Where are you?”
Below her she saw the dirt torn up as though a fight had occurred. Her heart pounded and her palms began to sweat. “Wendell!” She shone the light on the water and took a step toward the edge. A rumble stopped her in her tracks. The water rippled, but it was not from any wind. These were large waves moving toward the bank, toward her.
Out of nowhere a hand clamped down on Wanda’s shoulder. She screamed as she was whipped around, her arms raised to defend herself. She screamed all the louder at the sight of Father Rafael.
“Come. We don’t have time!” He pulled on her arms.
“But Wendell” Wanda turned back to the water to see the churning increase.
“It’s too late. It has him.”
“No! I have to…”
The priest shook her. “Shut up and get in the truck! It’s coming for you now.”
It was the right thing to say. She just moved toward the passenger side he shoved her toward while he ran to the driver’s side and jumped in. He had the truck in gear as she jumped in. The man looked over his shoulder as he backed out of the park road. Wanda’s eyes were fixated on the large dark figure rising from the lake.
Father Rafael put the truck in drive and whipped it around, taking the frightening sight out of Wanda’s view. She stared straight ahead at the road, slipping under the fast moving wheels of the truck. No sound came from her.
Shock replayed the scene in her mind. Wendell’s whisper and scream filled her heart. The images of his thrashing body were imprinted on her soul.
He was gone. He had waited on her after warning her to be careful. All the while, he had been the one attacked and…
They were halfway to the motel when she felt the flashlight in her hand. She looked down at it as though unsure of what it was. Her whole body was numb, including her mind. She saw the flashlight as though in a fog. A jolt brought her back to the present.
She looked up to find them parked in front of the church. The driver’s side door opened and closed. She barely registered her own opening. Hands took her arms and pulled her out and into the church. She remembered nothing until she was sitting in the front pew and water was splashed on her face.
Wanda shook her head and sputtered. “What?” She ran her hands over her face. Gradually the face of the priest came into focus. “Wh…Wendell!” She tried to stand up but his hands held her down. “Let me go! I have to save Wendell!”
The priest shook his head. “It is too late.”
“No! It can’t be.”
“Yes. I saw it take him under as I arrived. I had hoped to stop you.”
“How did you know we were there?”
“I saw you pass by me headed that way. Something inside of me told me you were going there.”
“What was that thing?”
He sat back and released Wanda. “That was the Cabyll-Uisge.”
“There is no such thing. Some man is out there killing people.”
“Man? Yes, when he wants to be.”
“It can’t be what you think. It’s not possible.”
“Many things are possible.” With those words, Father Raphael disappeared through a door next to the pulpit.
Wanda closed her eyes and focused on getting her breathing under control. She could feel herself starting to hyperventilate. Her mind kept replaying the events over in her head. The spiral vortex of unconsciousness threatened to consume her. The priest’s voice broke through to her.
“Here. I think you need this.”
She looked up to see his arm loaded with a blanket and a bottle of brandy. She quickly took the bottle and opened it. The liquid burned her throat, but she didn’t care. Wanda needed it. Coughing, she leaned forward to let the priest wrap the blanket around her. The alcohol hit her stomach and rolled. Anticipating something like that happening, the priest opened up a bag he had brought with him that had communion crackers in it.
“Eat this. It will settle your stomach.”
In the haze of shock and alcohol combining, she blurted out, “Isn’t that sacrilegious?”
He gave a short laugh. “Wouldn’t it be more so to ignore your immediate needs? Funny how our Savior faced that same question and similar situation in His own life.”
“He watched a monster eat other people?”
Sadness filled his face. “In a sense, yes, He did. And He continued His work.” He patted her arm. “Eat it. You are in shock.”
For the next half hour, they sat in silence as Wanda nibbled on the crackers and felt her stomach settle, along with her nerves. The images of Wendell and the creature were etched in her mind. She knew she’d never forget them, but now they were not sending her into a near panic. She was starting to get control of herself, and the scientist in her began to kick in. Despite everything, she had to be professional.
“How is any of it real? It cannot be possible in this world.”
“I thought the same thing, though I am confused this time.”
“He took your friend. The creature only attacks women.”
Wanda paused and looked at the priest. “Then your creature isn’t caught up with the times. Wendell is…was gay.”
“Ah.” The priest stood up and began to pace. “Then maybe we have looked at him all wrong. He doesn’t go by appearance then.”
Her curiosity rose. “What? From what I know there is little known aside from that it eats people.” Her voice began to shake.
He stopped to look at Wanda. “We have always said he kills women which is true, but it cannot be about how women look. If he took your friend, he must go on something else that pulls him to his victims. That is the first man I have heard of it attacking.”
They sat in silence until Wanda broke it. “Maybe it is a sexual response.” He gave her a confused look. “You say it appears as a sexy man which would explain some of Wendell’s last words. What woman would not react to something sexy with rippling muscles rising out of the water? They become easy targets for it. They would respond to it.”
“Your friend would have reacted as a woman would have.”
Wanda gave a sad laugh. “And he did many times.” Her memory of one particular incident at a party hit her. “He had good taste.” With a guilty look, she smiled at the priest. “Sorry.”
“No need to apologize. So, Wendell liked men. He reacted like you might have if you saw the man come out of the water. Therefore, the creature knew it had a victim. But then that would mean it appears to men and doesn’t get reactions.”
“It appears to anyone at anytime? So what if it had appeared to you and gotten no reaction? Go back in the water? There would be more stories then.”
She tapped her chin. “Unless there is a pheromone it can detect to help it choose its victims. Or it got confused because I had been there. I don’t know. I’m spit balling.”
“You might be onto something. But why didn’t it go after you?” He raised an eyebrow at her. “Are you…?”
Wanda shook her head. “No, I’m straight. So I should have given off a signal to him. But if we are talking scents, both of us would have had fear predominantly on us. Would our sexual preferences still have called to it?”
“Sounds good, but doesn’t hold water. What is it that draws this creature in?”
Wanda felt the tears flow down her cheek. Wendell’s screams echoed in her head. “I shouldn’t have gone off by myself. He warned me not to. But I was so determined to prove everyone wrong. Why didn’t I listen to him? He called me stubborn, and he was right. I got him killed.”
“Don’t kick yourself too hard. I’ve been doing that for years. Right now we need to collect ourselves and look at it from a distance.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re a scientist, right?” She nodded. “Then we have to use your logic for answers, just like a detective. We’re missing something. What does a good detective do?”
“Uh…gathers all the information.”
“Right. And he doesn’t come up with a conclusion before he does that. He might have a theory, which we have in abundance, but he doesn’t have a conclusion until all angles are exhausted and tested. We’ve been so focused on the female angle. Wendell’s death threw a monkey wrench into that idea. We must now step back and rethink this.”
She closed her eyes to the tears that continued to flow. She knew the man was right. Logic was heavy in his voice. She almost laughed that a religious man was telling a scientist how to do their job, and she couldn’t argue he was wrong. With a sob, she said, “Maybe his death is what will solve all this.”
He paused in his pacing and gave her a reassuring smile. “All things happen for a reason. We just have to find out what that reason is.”
The floor of the sanctuary was covered in paper. Wanda was seated with her computer at a makeshift table in the corner. Father Rafael was bent over old record books. He would call out a name and a date that Wanda would then use to research online in various newspaper databases and other archives. When she confirmed the information and gathered additional data, she read it out to him. Father would find the right paper scattered on the floor and fill in the information and then move the paper around to where it fit chronologically.
“Okay, that makes over two hundred women missing in the last hundred years. If we add the men, we have closer to three hundred.” Wanda stood up and looked at the information they had compiled and placed all over the church altar area. It looked more like a tornado had hit the Library of Congress than a religious altar.
Father Rafael reached up and stretched his back. “There were only a handful I removed due to family members claiming to have had contact with them in later years. They were probably runaways or just were looking for a better life.”
“That wouldn’t include any transients.”
“We have quite a bit to start with.”
“I did see several references to disappearances in the 1800s, but knowing their names and gender would be about all we might get on them. Too much was vague.”
“It at least tells us that the creature has been here for a long time. Legend around here has it present during the Native American days.”
Wanda moved back to her computer and began typing away. Scanning the results, she replied, “I see many references to an underwater cannibalistic creature. In fact, many tribes have it in their legends.”
“It’s an old monster. What do these victims we know about have in common?”
“They are women.”
“Only about two-thirds of them. Since most were, and they were relatively young, the legends focused on them.”
“Age. Let’s look at their ages.”
Between the two of them, they had a large spreadsheet filled out with names, gender, birthdates, and dates of disappearance. Wanda then added a column to calculate their age when they were declared missing. Sorting it, she frowned.
“Yes, most of the women were young but many others were older, including several who were in their fifties and sixties. The men also span anything from fourteen to forty.”
“Age doesn’t seem to be a factor then if all of these were victims.”
“We discussed the sexual aspect. Were any of the men listed here gay?”
The priest scanned over the names. The few he knew, he shook his head at. “Not the ones I recognize. Trust me, I hear a lot in the confessional and these men didn’t confess those activities in their lives. In fact, one of the women listed here was rumored to be but I didn’t know her well. She wasn’t a religious person.”
“If she was, then the theory is completely shot out of the water.” Wanda muttered a curse and began pacing back and forth. “The gender is not the factor despite the legends. Sexual reaction is not the factor due to Wendell and that other woman as well as the men who were taken. Any other ideas?”
The priest moved away from the computer and scanned the papers on the floor. For several minutes he let his eyes wander over them hoping to find a pattern. Nothing jumped out at him.
Wanda’s stomach lurched. She looked at her watch and realized that dawn had come and gone. They had been working through the night looking for answers, and now it was mid-morning. The thought of food was revolting, but her body was in such turmoil that food might be the only thing to calm it down and help her think straight. Aside from brandy and crackers, she had had nothing in over twelve hours.
“I think I’m about to be sick. I have no desire to eat after what happened to Wendell, but…” Another wave of nausea hit her.
The priest looked up at the stained glass windows. The sunlight sparkled through them. “I had not realized how much time has passed. I’ll get us something to eat. We have to have nourishment if we are going to get anywhere.” He pulled out his cell phone and made a call.
Wanda’s eyes wandered about the church at the glass artwork and the statues. Many of the scenes depicted were familiar ones she would have expected to see in a church. Her eyes moved over scenes from the Passion as well as others that she assumed depicted early followers. It was then she realized how little she knew of the religion. The sound of the priest ending his call drew her attention.
“What is there in church lore?” She asked while looking at a painting of an angel fighting the demons of hell.
He put his phone back in his pocket and turned to her. “What did you say?”
“Every culture has its legends. That includes the church. What is there about a demon or spirit that does something similar?” She moved back to the computer.
The priest concentrated as he thought back on his readings and education in the seminary. “The only thing that comes to mind is the incubus. That was the male version of the demon, but they only appeared to their victims in dreams or a sleeping state usually to procreate. Supposedly the magician Merlin was the result of such a union.”
“No water involved?”
“Aside from holy water? No. In fact, nothing was known to defeat them.”
Wanda sat back and pushed her hair from her face. “Does evil always win?”
He met her eyes. “No, it doesn’t. But until we have the answer from God, we give it the power to continue controlling us.”
“An…and the incubus? Really nothing could defeat it?”
“Not even the purest priest performing an exorcism could defeat it. Or so they said.”
“Not promising. Anything else?”
He shook his head. “Nothing that comes to mind. You might want to research it some more, but I’ve never come across anything else in my studies.”
They fell into silence as Wanda scoured the internet for information and the priest pondered the papers. The doors of the church opened. A young boy walked in carrying a bag in one hand and a tray of drinks in the other. He stopped short at the change the two had done to the altar overnight.
“Thank you, Nate. Tell your mother I’ll come by and pay for it later.” The Father took the food and dismissed the boy. With another glance behind him at all the papers, the teen disappeared out the door. “Here. Eat. You won’t do Wendell any service by starving yourself.”
Wanda reluctantly took the wrapped sandwich from the priest and sat down on the floor. He sat a bag of fries and a soda next to her as well before sitting down with her and opening his own food.
She stared blankly at the food. Her stomach tightened and rumbled.
He swallowed his bite. “Think of it as medicine. That is all food is. You don’t always have to enjoy it, but your body does need it.”
She lifted the sandwich up and took a bite. Her body almost sung for joy at the nourishment while her heart ached.
“Tell me how you met Wendell.”
A smile pulled at her lips. “I hired him about five years back. We needed more personnel and there was something about him. I was new to the company. A lot of drama was in the staff from the old regime. I wanted to find my own people who I could work with and…trust. Turned out to be the best decision I ever made. We got along like a brother and sister would have. He turned out to be a great assistant, wonderful with networking and making contacts. I relied on him to help get the resources we needed. But he was my brother in so many ways. If he needed to talk about a relationship, he came to me. Many nights we consumed a few bottles of wine as he cried about some lost love.”
Wanda sniffed. “He was. We were close. Kristi and Eloise fit right in. Hired them as field personnel and lab supervisors. We were one family that fought, teased, and loved each other. That is why we came down personally to look for the others. Oh, my! I forgot about them with Wendell…”
She sat the food down and let fresh tears flow. “We have to kill this thing before it kills anyone else!”
“We have to have faith.”
“Faith? You saw it. You’ve seen it before. Nothing we have found even in church material has shown us that it can be killed. So we sit back and sacrifice people to it.”
He let her rant, knowing she had to release the anger and grief within her. Even he wasn’t too sure of what was to happen, but a voice deep within him gave him peace that answers were close. He had to hold on to that, or his faith would fall completely apart.
Faith was a fragile thing. Rafael knew better than anyone. He had been tested many times, but never as much when he had to help someone through a situation with no answers. And this was one with no answers…none that were logical. How could he reassure her when he wasn’t sure faith was enough? But a part of him knew hope was the answer. That was why he didn’t just let them be taken.
He had taken his bike and followed the truck to the lake. Having his car in the shop couldn’t have been at a more inconvenient time for him. Arriving at the lake, he saw the dark figure loom up out of the water before Wendell had. He was still some distance away but the lights from the truck had illuminated the area well enough for him to see what was happening. He had tried to scream, but his voice had been lost on a wind that suddenly rose from the lake.
It was all happening again. He was arriving too late. He had tossed the bike to the side of the road and began running down the hill. It had never felt so long before. His eyes looked around for Wanda and saw a light bobbing off to the side. She was alone, but the creature was making its way to her male companion. Confused, he had hesitated. Should he move toward Wanda or Wendell? As he weighed his options, the creature had pulled Wendell forward into the dark water. Wendell’s screams echoed around him.
Seeing Wanda running up to the illuminated murder scene had sent a shock of panic through him. He could not see her taken as well; another life lost because he couldn’t do anything was too much. With renewed energy, he surged forward and grabbed her just as the water began to tremble with the advancement of the creature. They had gotten out just in time.
Now he sat across from her, filled with guilt. He had to remind himself that he had succeeded in saving Wanda. Two had slipped through his grasp, but one had survived. That was a first in the story of the cabyll-uisge.
“We discussed pheromones. Maybe there is something there. Why don’t you research that? I’m going to pray. My mind is cluttered and I need direction.”
Wanda nodded as she picked up the remains of their food. She had managed to eat a few bites but anything more would have returned itself.
Father Rafael moved to his office located behind the altar. He pulled out his worn Bible. It had been given to him when he had turned thirteen. The edges were faded and peeled back. His constant use of it aided in the haggard look of it. He had no idea where to turn to inside of it. Sections of scripture came to mind but he quickly dismissed them all. Something was waiting on him within the pages, but he had no idea where to look.
He closed his eyes and prayed for guidance. With his eyes still shut, he reached out and opened the worn book. He looked down and saw his hand resting on 1 Kings 18. He frowned as he saw it was on the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Confusion set in as to what that scripture could do to help him with the creature in the lake. Determined to follow his faith, he began reading. Suddenly he stopped and moved back a verse further up and began reading aloud.
Then said Elijah unto the people,…and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.
And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal,… and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under….
And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me…. And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood. And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time. And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.
And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God. And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.
He sat back and stared at the words. “What is it saying to me?” He raised his hands toward the heavens. Looking back down at the scripture, the word water kept drawing his eye. He shook his head. Nothing made sense to him. He picked up the Bible and walked back into the sanctuary where he could hear Wanda clicking away on her computer.
He looked down at the scattered papers again. “Water,” he mumbled. “Water is his home. Water was used on the altar.”
Wanda’s voice interrupted him, “There are some studies on pheromones but nothing that really seems to apply here. I think that is a dead end. I decided to look back at church lore and found quite a bit in the Middle Ages. That seems to be the time when the focus was on demons. In fact, I’m surprised at how much the church accepted back then compared to now. I mean even astrology was used in the religious studies.”
Father Rafael froze. His mind began to whirl. “Astrology,” he whispered. He looked back down at the scripture in his hands. “Water. Fire.” His voice rose to a shout. “Water! Fire!” He sat the Bible gently on the pew closest to him and began to scan the papers in front of him.
“What are you shouting about?”
His body began to shake in excitement. He rushed to her side and pointed at the computer. “Look at their birthdays.”
She gave him a confused and worried look before she looked down at the screen. With a click of the mouse button, the spreadsheet appeared in front of them. “What are you looking for?”
“What do you see? What do they all have in common?”
“Uh…March, March, October, February, November, November, June… Well, I don’t see a December or January birthday if that is what you are referring to.”
“Yes…uh, no. You’re right but look deeper. You mentioned astrology.”
“Yes, but…” Her voice trailed off. “These do have something in common. Look! This one is a pisces on the zodiac chart. This one is a cancer. Another cancer and a scorpio.” She scanned the list of over three hundred names. “They are all one of three signs: cancer, scorpio, or pisces.”
“Those are water signs. The ones missing are all born under the element of water.”
“And he lives in water.”
“He must sense something about them that draws him from the waters when he needs to feed. It might be a mutual water attraction that pulls his victims to him.”
“It has to be.”
“Okay. Then we know why he chooses his victims. Now how do we kill it?”
“Elijah put water on the altar and called down fire from Heaven. The fire appeared and destroyed all the water.”
“We use a flame torch on it?”
“No. If it is choosing its victims based on their birth, then it has to be one born under fire to kill it.”
Wanda looked at him. “Something tells me you know who.”
Wanda gathered the scattered papers into a pile and placed them on the altar. The priest was in the back room rummaging through a closet. He returned with a bow that was almost as large as he was. He laid it on a pew and pulled a quiver from his back.
“Going to play Robin Hood? I’d have thought you more the Friar Tuck role.”
He gave her small smile. “Sadly, Tuck has to step aside and let Robin move in on the fun.”
She put her hands on her hips. “What’s the plan?”
“We need to ask ourselves what gets his attention.”
Wanda didn’t hesitate. “Anyone born under a water sign.” Wendell had been born on November 15th. Kristi had been born in late June. Eloise had been an early March birth. Each of them were clearly water births.
“The first thing is to draw him out with a water baby. When is your birthday?”
This time she hesitated. “February 19th. I’m not water.”
“But you are born on the cusp. Astrologists believe that you have the traits of both signs.”
“So I’m part water?”
“Yes. That might be enough to draw him in.”
“I’m the bait?”
His face tightened. “Yes. I don’t want to bring anyone else into this.”
She nodded in understanding. “Then I assume you are the fire to my water?”
“Yes. I was born July 31st. Leo.”
“Okay, so we have the water to entice and the fire to vanquish. But with what?”
He lifted up the bow and quiver of arrows. “I placed in regionals back in high school. A long time ago, but I practice here and there.. All I have to do is fire a flaming arrow into his heart.”
“All you have to do? We still are not sure any of this will work.”
“I know.” He pulled his Bible out from under his shirt where he had tucked it. “This tells me it will happen. Remember that it is all about faith.”
Wanda wasn’t too sure, but at that moment she agreed that they really didn’t have much of a choice.
The mid-day sun was warm on them as they drove the truck back to the lake they had fled from in panic just hours earlier. Wanda felt apprehension as they approached the entrance to the park surrounding the lake. The memories were still fresh from watching Wendell meet his death. Knowing her other friends had met a similar fate only made the hurt more intense. Now she was possibly walking to the same death.
Father Rafael parked the truck several yards from the lake. They both sat and looked at the serene waters. The irony of it wasn’t lost on Wanda. She had done the exact same with Wendell the day before.
“I wonder how much they suffered.”
“I wish I could tell you none, but….”
They had both heard Wendell’s terrified screams.
“Did the other girl you saw scream like that?”
“No. She went with him willingly. She may never have realized she was dying.”
“I hope that’s true. I also hope that I’m enough on the cusp that I won’t be drawn to him.”
“If you aren’t, act like it at first. He has to have the desire first to come out. He has to think his seduction will work.”
Wanda nodded. “Okay.”
They both got out of the truck without saying any more. Wanda wiped her hands on her jeans. Her companion took the bow and arrows out of the back. He pulled a lighter from the quiver and put it in his pocket for quick access.
“I don’t know how long it will take him. Maybe a bit since you aren’t a full water child. Keep a few feet between you and the water. If you need to, move up and down the beach here but try to stay more to the right side so I can get a clear view of him.”
She only nodded. Her legs would not move. She jumped when she felt a hand on her arm.
“Don’t worry. I’ll be right here. I will die before I allow you to be harmed.”
“I don’t want it to come to that.”
“Neither do I, but I will. Keep that in mind and remain strong. You are a very strong woman. Do it for your friends.”
She wasn’t too sure about that but she couldn’t let Wendell and the others down either. She moved toward the water and stopped with five feet between her and the serene liquid. It seemed so calm and peaceful. Nothing about the water or the surrounding area gave a hint as to the death awaiting anyone who was unlucky enough to be born under the wrong sign.
Minutes ticked by. Nothing moved. No sound could be heard. Wanda began to move up and down the beach at a slow pace. She tried to stay to the one side. But nothing was happening. She began to gradually move more to the left with each turn.
Half an hour had gone by when the water rippled slightly. She paused and looked out. Quiet returned. It could easily have been a slight breeze. She continued walking. Another ripple of water lapped the shore. This time it was larger and consisted of multiple waves. She froze. Only her eyes moved toward the water as memories of the surging water the night before flooded back to her.
Father Rafael pulled his bow up and nocked the arrow. As the ripples grew in size and strength, he pulled the lighter out and lit the arrow. It burst into flame. He sent up a prayer that the creature would be more intent on its prey than on him several yards away behind a tree.
“Move to the right,” he whispered. Wanda was too far on the left of his view. If the creature came up anywhere other than the far right, he would be hard pressed to get a shot off without hitting Wanda.
Wanda took a half step to the right, but fear gripped her. The water began to churn. It was coming, and she knew it. Death was approaching her.
She had no idea what she was expecting to rise up from the murky depths. Would it come up a dark demon and turn to a man when exposed to air? Or would a hunk appear? She saw hair float to the surface. Long, black tendrils snaked out over the water. A head followed. Her heart began to beat wildly in her chest. She was afraid of dying of a heart attack before the creature made it to her. Would he then want a dead victim?
Her eyes widened as the creature rose up from the waters. No wonder women were known to go to him willingly. He had to have been the sexiest man she had ever laid eyes on. Broad shoulders held a face that most movie stars would kill for. Dark eyes enticed her while sculpted lips pulled up in a smile, beckoning her. His physique was perfect in every way from the rippled abs to the muscles on his chest and arms that screamed to be touched.
Wanda took a step back. Never had she seen such a specimen of a man. He had to be perfect in every way. Her mind snapped open at that thought. Perfection? Nobody was perfect.
He moved closer as she took a step backwards. His lips pulled up into a seductive smile as his hand reached out, beckoning her closer. Wanda couldn’t deny the pull. It was strong. She wanted to go with him. She wanted to experience the pleasure his smile promised. She just knew it would be a taste of heavenly bliss.
But it wasn’t pleasure he would give. She would find hell quickly.
She shook her head and screamed “No!” Confusion crossed over his handsome looks. She dove to the right just as the arrow was released.
With a grunt she hit the ground and looked up just in time to see the creature staring at her. He never saw the flaming arrow. It hit his body with a sickening thud. He moved as in slow motion. Looking down, his eyes widened in shock. The handsome face twisted into a scarred mass of decomposed flesh. The sculptured body fell away to be replaced with something that might have once been skin but had become more of a muddy mess. A hideous scream erupted from its mouth. It tried to twist away from the flames that licked at its body, but the flames only grew larger.
The flaming face with holes where the bedroom eyes had been looked down at Wanda who was still frozen on the sand. With a fierce scream, it arched and aimed his flaming hands at her as its mouth opened wide. She screamed.
The priest ran forward and pulled Wanda up. Her body dripped water onto the sand. As the creature had thrown itself on her to exact its revenge, the flames had covered its body and returned the creature to the watery state it had come from. Instead of a flaming demon covering her, she had been drenched in lake water.
“Wh…what happened?” Wanda shivered.
The father looked out over the water. “It’s gone.”
Wanda turned her eyes up to him. “It worked?”
“Yes. There’ll be peace here now.”
Wanda looked out over the water as she pushed her wet hair out of her face. “Yes, peace.” Peace for those who would miss the clutches of the monster. And time to heal for everyone else.