On Monday mornings, I send out a story via email: ultra-brief tales of 1,000 words or more, usually in genres including horror, science fiction, and the supernatural. Those stories collectively are called Once Upon A Time. I’ve also published several ebooks and compendium volumes of those stories so far.
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The Pine Ridge Cabin Vacation Complex was completed in March of 1985, and opened for business the same year. Not so much as a single member of staff was either replaced or added between then and the summer of ‘89. The manager was a small, balding, good-natured man called Harold Sackley, and the other permanent employees amounted to twenty-four people, mostly consisting of administrative, cleaning, and catering staff, although there were also two groundskeepers. And, of course, there was Charlie Beckman.
Charlie was in charge of the maintenance of Pine Ridge’s pride and joy; three Kawasaki V800 speedboats and ten Kawasaki P5600 jetskis, as well as a few lesser craft, and he loved his job. He lived in an apartment attached to the boathouse down by the bank of Darkwater Lake, and he served as winter caretaker for the whole of the complex between October and April. He’d been a resident of Stanleyville, a small town only about a mile from Pine Ridge, all his life, and he’d never left the area. So there was a chance that he might have known certain things about the town’s history which might have made him at least slightly nervous when that fateful summer came around.
But he’d never much cared for the town itself or its people, and had taken as little to do with either as he could over the years, seeing the opportunity to move away (but still stay in the general area he knew) as a stroke of good luck. So, the summer of 1989, as far as Charlie could see it, would be just like the last four summers for him and the guests and the residents of Stanleyville, and that was just fine. He didn’t particularly like change, as small-town people often don’t, and his position and location didn’t bring much of it, so he was happy. He didn’t watch the TV, he’d hated Reagan until January and he was well into hating Bush now, and he kept himself to himself whenever people would goddamned let him.
The usual month-long preparation for opening began on the third of May with Mr. Sackley’s olive-green Dodge pulling into the staff parking lot behind the reception building. Charlie was waiting to greet him along with the other members of staff, who all always arrived before Sackley, and the work began immediately. By the time another few weeks had passed, the place itself was well on the way to being ready for opening, and Charlie had started to notice the usual vague anticipation he always felt around this time of year.
The day that fell three days before opening was a Saturday, and Charlie was in his bed and asleep early that evening, the constant work driving away the possibility of dreams. He slept soundly right through the night, and any sounds which might have drifted towards him over the lake went completely unnoticed.
At just after one-forty-five in the morning, was a sudden blast of icy cold wind across the rough centre of Darkwater Lake. The moon’s reflection in the water slowly began to become murky, then it disappeared altogether.
There was a harsh sizzling sound, like when a piece of hot metal is dropped into water, and a thick mist rose up, obscuring each bank from its opposite within a few seconds. The sky was completely clear, the moonlight casting glowing shrouds of blue light over the mist in a hundred places, and all of the stealthy night-sounds of the surrounding pine-forest stopped abruptly, as if even the trees and plants were waiting for something to happen. Then, less than a minute later, it did.
A single flash of light illuminated the whole of the lake-bed for a moment, and then it was gone.
The mist started to dissipate, and no sign of it remained after a further minute. Gradually, one by one, the crickets and owls and everything else began their calls and chatterings again, and the steady rustling of branches in the breeze accompanied them. The lake looked the same as it ever had, but the animals knew something was different. That something had come, or perhaps that something had come back.
What the animals did not know was that, as soon as the strange light had vanished, fifteen of the residents of Stanleyville who had previously been in as sound a sleep as Charlie Beckman began to shift restlessly, each of them having the same nightmare of a half-glimpsed dark shape moving over an infinitely-wide body of water, coming closer and closer.
The one sound all fifteen people heard in their dream was a small splash, splash, splash, and had Charlie not been so deeply asleep, he too may have heard it, coming from somewhere out over the cold surface of Darkwater Lake in the small hours of the morning.
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