Every year, Banner Bold gets an overwhelming amount of submissions. Due to the limited amount of room we have in the magazine, we continue talented pieces online. Below is Masterpiece by Hannah Eubanks and Silverdust Lake by James Schulfer.
by Hannah Eubanks
The year was 1948 and I had just turned 16 years old in beginning of spring, just before the snow starts to melt and everything becomes warm, green, and full of life. Living in the high mountains, rain comes often and heavily, filling the river that runs into our small, shallow lake near our little farm house. Our quaint little home had only two rooms. One room, for my mother and one room for me and my five year old sister, Clementine. Our cozy little home may have not been much, but was just enough for the three of us. It sat on a hill facing the west so we would see the sunset every night before me and Clem would eat supper.
When I would work late in the fields near my home, the house would turn a vibrant orange and the windows would glisten and reflect the sun’s magic. Even though I would be miles away I would still see it shining on top of our hill that stood over the town. Our family never had very much money, but every year father would make us something special. That year he didn’t, nor the year after that or the year after that. He always called our gifts the “masterpiece.” Even though it would only be rocking horse, book shelf, or something of that kind. Every year was different. The year I turned thirteen I was given a slingshot.
“Arlo, you are now a man, son, and it’s time you are treated like one.” My father told me as he handed me my new slingshot. I was so excited to have finally earned my first, so called weapon, but little did I know that my father didn’t mean since I was a man I could handle a slingshot, he meant I was now ready for my first job. He handed me a sack of news papers and pointed to the door.
” Alright now, go on and sell those papers.” Once again my father had tricked me, like the many other times he had. The year before last, he had built and painted a red wagon for me to pull Clemintine around in. I, of course sighed and looked at Clem as she sat in the wagon. Clem just stared at me with her big blue eyes and whimpered. Eventually, I gave in and hauled her around my fathers wheat fields. She was so happy that day, her smile and her laugh made me want to smile with her. Her innocence and purity was so contagious that anyone who would come in contact with her; would end up smiling along with her. Everything was perfect, until the accident.
Every year during fishing season in the fall, my father would take his boat and haul in as much fish as he could, just to make a little extra money on the side. One rainy day we heard a knock at the door, it was the constable saying my father was killed in a boating accident. His boat was tipped and he became trapped under it and soon drowned. Meanwhile, I was sitting at the dinning table listening as I heard my mother collapse to the ground and sob. In the fifteen years I was alive, I had never seen an adult cry. At least not anyone that I knew. Clementine heard the commotion and came down the stairs in a slow manner.
“What’s going on? Oh, hello constable! Did my father stay out on the lake to late again? He always told me how you took care of him like a brother. You should come over next time me and father go fishing I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.” Everyone froze and just looked at the wooden floor. Soon my mother quickly got up and ran to the kitchen to wipe her tears away. The constable put his hat back on and looked at me. His eyes were bloodshot and a stain where a tear had fallen was left on his cheek.
He tipped his hat and walked back into the rain until he disappeared into the thick mist. I shut the door and stared at my clueless sister. She smiled at me, the one thing I wasn’t able to handle at that moment. I looked away quickly, clenching my teeth, as I placed my hand over my eyes trying to keep the tears from running down my face. I soon was startled by a slight tug on my coat. Clementine stared up at me with worrisome and confused expression.
“It’s okay Arlo. Whatever it is, I’m sure everything will be fine. So, please don’t cry. That’s what I’m suppose to do not my strong older brother, silly goose.” She chuckled.
“but if you need to cry, that’s okay too. We all need to cry sometimes.” I kneeled down an pulled her into my chest. I held her, but I held her softly. Her body was so small and fragile that I didn’t want to crush her. I dug my face into her shoulder and listened to her heart beat. She was so warm yet small. How a tiny child could feel like a flame was something that picked at my curiosity.
Ever since my fathers funeral I began to have a slight fear of deep waters. I refused to step on a boat, let alone swim if I was unable feel the ground with my hands over my head above the water. Little did I know I would soon be put to the test.
Having no father was difficult on our once perfect life. Being the man in the family I had to steer the ship and take care of my mother and most of all my sister. For being so young she understood more that I ever would. She knew that father had passed and yet she accepted it, unlike me, who cried until I accepted the fact he was gone in my life.
Clem was always there for me. When we would visit fathers grave, she never let go of my hand. When I left to hand out papers in the morning, she would sit on my handlebars waving to the kind folks of Oak Wood. She made me forget, forget the memories of father, of the handmade “masterpieces” he gave us for our birthdays. I would forget the hot days that I would work in the fields with him. Everything of my fathers life would be temporarily erased from my mind. Even though, he was fighting in the war for most of my life, he still would spend every moment he had with us, especially with Clementine. She got her happiness from him.
When Clementine’s birthday neared, she suddenly asked what her masterpiece would be.
“You aren’t getting one this year. Dads not here to make you anything.” I avoided her smiling face.
“Why don’t you make one for me then?” I quickly turned to her and just as I predicted, she was standing there beaming with happiness.
“I’m not that great with wood.” I softly said.
“You’re a wood carvers son, you’re going to be naturally good.” she chuckled.
“He wasn’t just a wood carver, he was a farmer, a pilot, and a fisherman. On top of that, he built things out if wood and metal.”
“So you must be good at everything then! Arlo, you really are amazing aren’t you?” We laughed for a moment then, stood there quietly. I looked at her and she looked at me with her smiling eyes. I squat down and smile back.
“What kind of masterpiece would you want me to build for you?”
“A boat.” Those words stung. I felt a throbbing pain in my lungs and a lump had begun to form in my throat.
“I would never let you go on a boat and I am certainly not building you one.” Clementine stared at me with a puzzled look.
“Because dad died on a boat.” There was a short pause.
“But dad didn’t die on a boat, he died under a boat.” Clementine said with her head cocked to the side.
“Can you please not say that so lightly?” I calmly said.
“Say what? Died?”
“You can’t just talk about dad’s death like it was nothing, Clementine.” Her happiness soon faded.
“I was just saying what happened. I wasn’t trying to make it seem like I didn’t care.” She sniffled.
“Yeah, well, you always seem like you don’t care.” Tears begun to form under her eyes. One fell, then another and another. She tried to hold them back, but the streaks and stains seemed to be glued to her face.
“You fight about stupid things! You don’t know anything about anything! You asked what I wanted and I answered! What is so wrong with boats?”
“The boat isn’t the problem okay!” No one spoke for a few short minutes. I soon felt her intense emotions decreasing making it easier to fit them within her tiny body.
“Are you scared of water?” I hesitated.
“Yeah, I’m, I’m scared of water.” Clementine looked up at me with pity. I tried to avoid her sweet, loving eyes.
“Arlo, a boat is a boat. Water is water. They are things that can be scary, but you will never learn how to not be afraid if you don’t face your fears.” I quietly stared at her. I squatted once again. I cleared my mind and watched her look up at me, as if I were a god to her. Even when she was mad, she always had a little bit of love weaved into her anger.
“Clementine, I love you so much. You are the smartest five year old I know. You are such a good girl, you deserve something amazing. For you, I will make you a boat. I am so lucky to have a little sister like you.” Her tears suddenly stopped and a smile lit up her face once more. She ran to me and hugged me.
“And I’m lucky to have an amazing big brother.” She kissed me on the cheek and hugged me once more. Soon, she skipped away with her tea stained white dress. Suddenly, she stopped and turn to me.
“You know, dad would be proud of how much you’ve grown up.” Clementine continued to skip, with a trail of happiness following behind her
.Everyday, I worked on that little rowboat for two. The trim was painted a light pink with waves carved into the wood itself. The base of the boat was the color of Clementine’s eyes. The blue-ish green color reminded me of the lake nearby and of the horrors that swam within its waters, but every stroke of paint and every piece of wood nailed together, became a piece of magic. Everything fit together perfectly. I enjoyed creating masterpieces. Yes, that’s what it was; a masterpiece. I had realized why my father created them every year and why he called them what he called them.
Finally, after two months of splinters, bruised fingers, and breathing in wood flakes, I had finished a week before Clem’s sixth birthday. She knew it was done. She noticed my smirk whenever she brought it up. She noticed that I stopped going into the workshop as often as I did. It was always hard to keep a secret from Clementine.
When my mother had taken Clem birthday shopping, I hauled the tiny boat to the lake. As the murky water became more visible, I could feel a heavy presence. I stood at the water’s edge staring into the water that killed my father. The water that filled into his lungs and murdered him. My throat began to tense up when I thought of the awful event.
Slowly, I pushed the boat into the water. It floated perfectly. I cautiously climbed into the death trap. It rocked, I froze. When I felt safe I sat down on the tiny bench I had attached. I sat in the boat for a long while as it rested in the shallow water. I watched the cattails sway and dance with the dragonflies nearby. The water sparkled and glared into my eyes. The sky was the bluest I had ever seen. The sun though, it felt cold, unwelcoming, harsh, even though it was bright and looked cheerful sitting there in the sky, it was certainly lying. Everything felt wrong, like there was a dome of uneasiness surrounding the lake. The cattails, the dragonflies, the sun, sky, and water were all testing me. Everything knew what had happened here. They knew the terror he felt as he watched the bubbles from his mouth disappear to the surface. They felt the sorrow of everyone who heard the awful story. They took in the negative energy and whisper it into the ears of those who come to the water’s edge. The water hid everything. The water’s surface was a disguise for the sick, twisted happenings that occurs below.
I carefully climbed out of the boat. I pulled the gift onto the shore and stared at it for a moment. Even the gift I created with good intentions, begun to breath in the toxic fumes of the sorrow around me.
Her eyes widened, her jaw dropped, her head turned to me. She screamed while running to the boat that sat in the water.
“Clem be careful!” She ignored me. She was to busy admiring the pink and blue boat sitting at our small dock near our farm house.
“This is amazing, Arlo! You must have put a lot of work into this.” She smiled cheerfully.
“Luckily, father taught me a few things before he passed.” My heart ripped in that moment. Slowly, my smile faded. Clementine calmly walked over to me. We didn’t exchange any words, no glances, we just silently stood there. Clementine quickly grabbed my hand. She didn’t look at me, she didn’t say anything, she just studied the lake with a straight face. I nudged her. Startled, she looked up at my half smiling face. Seeing this, she smiled back.
“Come on, I’ll row the boat for you.” I said with hesitation.
“Are you sure? If you don’t want to you don’t have to.” I kneeled down and kissed her soft, warm forehead.
“I’ll do anything for you. It’s your birthday today.” Clementine had begun to jump with joy, grabbing my hand, dragging me to the thin, rickety dock. I listened as the wood creaked and groaned with anger. That heavy feeling still lingered around the lake. Clem jumped into the boat without hesitation.
“Clem, please be careful! I don’t want you to fall in.” She looked back at me with a sarcastic expression.
“I’ll be fine.” She sat on the bench I had rested on the morning before. I stood on the dock looking into the water. It seemed to be bottomless.
“Come on Arlo!” Clementine laughed. I struggled to move. Somehow, I managed to set one foot into the boat.
“Hurry up!” Clem hopped in her seat, shaking her new masterpiece.
“Please, don’t shake the boat like that.” I said as I set the other foot inside.
“What? Like this?” She said with a mischievous look. She swayed from side, rocking the boat. I had begun to loose me balance.
“Clem, please stop.” She continued while laughing.
“Clementine, stop!” She still shook the boat with content. As I tried keeping my balance, I tripped over the side of the boat. Everything seemed to slow down. I watched clementines face fill with horror as I hit the water below us. I splashed and kicked trying to stay above water. I could feel my body slowly sinking. It seemed as if the water was dragging me down. It was cold, harsh, and felt thick like blood. I screamed, but to me it was silent. I could see the bubbles from my lungs, rise to the surface. I could hear Clem yelling to me. I could hear her crying. Suddenly, I felt mud and rocks beneath my feet. I pushed off the floor with relief. My body surfaced and I inhaled the magnificent air. I grabbed onto the dock just a few feet away. I hauled my cold, wet body onto the wood. I lied there for a moment looking at the sun lit sky. I could feel droplets of water drip off my face as a flow of relief enters my body.
Then, I hear a slight sniffle. I sit up and turn to see Clementine already on the dock, her eyes filled with salty tears.
“I’m so sorry.” She said with a hiccup.
“I could have drown, Clementine!” She cried even more.
“I’m sorry I didn’t mean-”
“You never mean anything! You need to think! When I say stop, I want you to stop! What you did was very dangerous!” I grabbed her wrist and drug her back to the house. My mother ran to me when she saw my soaked clothes and damp, darkened hair.
“What happened to you two?” she questioned.
“My masterpiece. That’s what happened.”
“You have nothing to cry about, so stop crying Clem.” She continued to rub her red eyes. The rain outside fell just as the water had fallen off of me three days before.
“But you’re mad at me.” She said as her lip quivered.
“It’s been three days Clementine. It’s over with, done. I’m not mad at you.”
“You sound mad.” She huffed.
“I’m scared. I’m scared that you will fall in, just like I did. Except, I’m afraid you won’t come back up.” I sat at the edge of my seat at the dining table.
“But you can’t take the boat away! Please Arlo, I’ll be carful I promise.” She pleaded as she tried to convince me.
“I’m selling it tomorrow and that’s final. I’ll use the money to buy you whatever you want.” I could tell that my bribe wasn’t working. She just cried even louder. It seemed these past few weeks Clem had cried more than ever before. It seem, her happiness was slipping away.
“Dad wouldn’t let a little mistake get to him!” She screamed. Her face grew redder as salty tears streamed down her face.
“Dad this and dad that! That’s all you talk about, that’s the only thing you compare me with! Father was a fool, Clementine. He made stupid and risky decisions. There’s a reason why he’s dead!” Clem began to hit me over and over on the chest. They didn’t hurt, but I could feel the emotions within each punch.
“I hate you! I hate you Arlo! You don’t know anything about anything! Daddy was a good man. He was smart and kind. He loved us, unlike you!” I grab Clem’s arm. She froze.
“Don’t you dare accuse me of not loving you and mom! You are the only thing that is keeping me going! I’m trying to protect you, why don’t you understand that.” She looked at me with horror as I squeezed my hand around her frail arm.
“Arlo, that hurts! Stop it!” I let go as I realized my violent action. She rubbed her wrist as she hiccuped.
“No, Arlo you’re the one who doesn’t understand.” Clem ran out of the room and out the front door.
“Clem wait!” I yelled as I quickly followed behind her. She ran into the wheat field nearby. I chased after her, but I lost her in the tall plants.
“Clementine! Please come out! I’m sorry okay. I didn’t mean what I said. That was stupid on my part. I’m still selling that boat. It’s too dangerous.” I saw the wheat begin to move. The top of Clem’s head bobbed as she ran through the crop. I could hear her small feet splashing in the mud as she sprinted across the field. She was running towards the lake.
“I won’t let you take it!” Clem yelled. I quickly ran after her hoping to catch her before she got to the boat. I grew nearer and nearer to her back. I was almost able to reach out and grab her, but I slipped in the mud and fell. I laid still with pain and shock. The rain hit my face as blood streamed down my arms and legs. The rain stung and burned. I hated the rain. My father though, to him, rain was his favorite. He always said it washed away all of the bad in the world and made everything fresh and knew. A clean slate. It was like crying. Once you cry, your heart feels a little lighter, a little clearer. He said that’s what the earth was doing. It was refreshing, cleansing, crying away the pain. I finally had recovered from my shock and limped my way to the dock. Clem entered the boat a pushed off of the angered wood.
“Clem! Please come back to shore! Lets talk about this!” She tried to row the best she could away from the dock, but only escaped about forty feet away. The rain still beat down on my head and shoulders, trying to knock me down with their hits and kicks.
“I’m not coming back until you let me keep the masterpiece.” She cried.
“Okay! You can keep it! But for the love of God, please come back!” I said panicking at the edge of the dock.
“You promise?” She whimpered.
“I promise!” She reached for the nearest ore to row back, but it slipped into the water. It started to float away as Clem reached for it leaning over the side. The boat begun to tip.
“Clementine! It’s tipping over!” I screamed in horror, but it was too late, she landed head first in the green, thick, water. I stood there, paralyzed with fear, hoping, praying, Clementine would be okay. I stared into the water once more. It was faint, but I swore I heard a chuckle come from the lake.
I stood there, frozen from my darkest fears coming true right before my eyes. I stared at the empty boat, then the rippled water below me. Clementine’s head shot out of the water, her hands were hitting the water over and over, trying to be released from its grip. She screamed, but her words were drowning with her as her head would sink under and slowly come back up to the surface.
“Arlo hel…” She gargled. I looked into the water one last time, trying to make my feet move. I was scared. I was scared of the water that had swallowed my father, but I was more scared of losing Clementine. She meant everything to me. I looked back at Clementine, to see she was under again and this time her head didn’t come back up. I could hear the advice Clementine gave me, when she wanted a boat, quietly whisper to me.
“Arlo, a boat is a boat. Water is water. They are things that can be scary, but you will never learn how to not be afraid if you don’t face your fears.”
Face your fears, face your fears. It echoed in my mind like a broken record. Soon, I closed my eyes, inhaled the heavy air, and jumped into the water. Quickly, I swam over to the boat and dove under . My heart began to break as I saw Clementine slowly sinking to the bottom, unconscious. Trying to catch Clem, I began to lose air as I tried to follow her down. I struggled to get to the surface, the adrenaline gave me a push to the top. I began to panic, but soon I could see the sun through the water and then my head surfaced as I inhaled a larger amount of air. I quickly dove back under, hoping this time I would save her, hoping it wasn’t to late. Finally, I felt the cloth from her dress. I grabbed her by the waist and hauled her to the surface. I gasped for air as I felt the awful surrounding caress my face. I swam, as fast as I could, trying to keep Clementine alive.
Soon, I felt the mud and rocks hit my feet. I ran with Clem in my arms, still unconscious. The water continued to grip my legs as I trudged trough the water. As I reached the shore, I carefully laid Clem on the sand and soon after I collapsed in exhaustion.
I turned to her. Her face was pale and deathly like. I shot up with realization. She wasn’t breathing.
“No.” I looked at the body. I shook her, trying to cast aside the awful thoughts in my head.
“Come Clem wake up. It’s time to go home. I’ll pull you in your wagon, just please, wake up.” I softly said as my lip began to quiver.
“Mom! Help! It’s Clem!” I yelled with urgency.
I opened her mouth and put mine to hers. I exhaled into her lungs. Then I begun to pulse my hands on her chest. I repeated over and over, praying it would work.
“Mom! Please! Come out here!” I screamed again. I placed my head on Clem’s chest. I heard nothing. No heart beat. She was gone. I looked up and down her body, lying still, as if she were sleeping, trying to tell myself that it wasn’t true.
I took Clem in my arms hugging her. I rocked back and forth holding her head agains my chest, comforting her cold, lifeless body. I pet her wet hair, whispering sweet words, that she could no longer hear.
“I’m so sorry Clem. I could have jumped in sooner. I could have saved you. I’m so sorry. I love you so much, you were such a good girl. You were such a good girl, such a good girl.” I calmly said with a fake smile as tears rolled down my face. Then, my eyes broke. I screamed and cried as tears flowed from my dull eyes.
“Arlo what’s going on!” My mother yelled as she ran to me. I turned to her, tears stained on my face. She immediately stopped in her tracks as she saw Clem’s still, wet body. I looked up at her with regret in my eyes.
“I couldn’t save her. Mom, I could save her. It’s my fault. She gone mom. She gone with father now.”
I stood at the lakes edge, blankly staring out onto the water, thinking about what I saw at the church. My black dress pants and shirt heated my body as the sun’s harsh rays beat down on my head and shoulders. The heavy feeling around the lake still lingered and was even worse than before that day. Seeing my reflection in the water made me cringe at myself. I couldn’t bare to look at my mirrored image. It made me sick. It should have been me that drown not her, not the sweetest little girl that ever lived on this planet.
The whole town attended the funeral. Hundreds of people flooded the little church down the road. People filled the seats, some were even standing. What was even more amazing, was the fact that every single person knew her. Multiple people created speeches that proved how innocent, pure, generous, and happy she was. Each person who when up to speak, made me cry another tear of pain.
Finally, the pastor call for the last person to come up. I raised my hand. As I stood up, I could feel everyone’s eyes on me, it seemed that everyone was glaring at me. I slowly walked to the podium, empty handed.
“I didn’t prepare a speech, because I never thought that I would be up here, I never thought that I would be up here talking about Clementine. I kept denying the fact that she was gone, but now that I’m hear, it’s like reality has slapped me in the face. We are all gathered here for one reason and it’s all because of my stupid decisions. I may not be the oldest, the wisest, or the one who has had the most awful things happen to them, but I’ve been to hell and back. Clem was everything to me, my everything. I loved her so much, maybe too much. Clementine was the kind of girl who’s happiness was contagious. Everywhere she went, every person she’d come in contact with, would just fall in love with her. I mean why else would you all be here. Life is like water. One drop and the still clear water can turn into a sea of ripples. I…I was that drop. I was the key to her life, in that moment and I, I hesitated and it cost her, her life. She was so young and I wasn’t able to…” I couldn’t finish, I couldn’t take it anymore. My tears finally spewed out of my eyes as I began to play the whole event in my head. My mom ran up to the podium, grabbing my shoulders. She lead me back down to our seats as I sobbed in her arms. A tear fell from her eyes as well. I looked back and I stopped in my tracks as we neared the bench.
“Wait. I want to say good-bye.” My mother looked at the tiny, pink coffin, pink was Clem’s favorite color and nodded. I wiped my tears from my cheeks and slowly stepped up to the sleeping body. Her eyes closed, hands intertwined, and even in death she still had a smile on her face. I brushed her face with my hand and kissed her cold forehead. I stood there for a moment, looking at her sweet face that no longer had color. Eventually, I was able to gather myself again and stumbled to my seat, trying to hold back my tears.
I didn’t look at the crowd of people, but I could hear each one of them, sigh with empathy, sob with emotion, or quietly cry to themselves. But, there was one that stood out to me. It was a little girl’s cry that echoed in the church. I suddenly looked back, there were no children in the sea of people. I turned to look back at the coffin and I swore, I saw Clementine looking down at her body. Then, I blinked and she had disappeared from my life once more.
by James Schulfer
[Editor’s Note: This manuscript was found among the possessions of the late J.A. Wayne, after his untimely death in 1918. Although we take his writings to simply be the product of a delirious mind, his only surviving family member, a nephew, insisted they be published. He thought they were of note to the world as an argument to combat mental illness, and we thought that they would be interesting to our readers. Enjoy!]
I never enjoyed being around people much. I, as a journalist and occasional antiquarian and historian, spent much time writing to the masses who enjoyed my work, but I did not particularly enjoy face-to-face interactions. As an introvert, I think that it is best that I do not share what I have learned with the world. However, being a writer and a man who is concerned about society’s future, I feel that it is exceedingly important that I write down the events that have transpired in my life since the early autumn of 1917.
A bit of context is always helpful, especially when the head-spinning events I have gone through are involved. The Waynes were a historically wealthy family of some significance, concentrated in Connecticut. My father, Phillip Wayne, owned a steel company, while my mother, Ilsa Wayne née Sax, was the English-born daughter of a German coal mogul. My older brother was always a businessman of sorts, from his childhood selling of treats and candies to his young adulthood working closely with our father. My younger sister was very pretty, and so would have no problem living life as a dilettante and social butterfly. I was the odd child of the bunch. I did not desire the interaction and work that came along with running a steel company, nor did I want to become a lawyer or doctor as my father had always suggested. After completing my studies at Yale in 1913, I quickly got a spot as a journalist for the Boston Globe. I spent several years writing for them, along with other papers and magazines on the side. Although I was successful, by 1917, I had decided I wanted to leave New England. I wanted to leave the bustle and busyness behind. Being too sickly for the war, I took several months to gather my strength and say my goodbyes. In late August, I took a train to Portland, Oregon, to begin my search for a quiet village where I could concentrate on my writing while contributing to the local newspaper for a bit of extra money. While searching through the various papers and periodicals around Portland, I found mention of a quiet town of a few thousand in southern Washington known as Silverdust. It was being mentioned for its local leather tanning festival, which the paper regarded as a worthwhile event, despite the queerness of the town. My mind was made up. A quiet village that was perked up for a small part of the year for something as mundane as leather goods was ideal for me. I thought that there, I would finally be able to synthesize ideas I had in my head into my great novel. Ultimately, I was right, but the way it happened was most unexpected. I cannot possibly expect that the average man, the “salt of the earth”, would believe what I am about to say. However, seeing as none of the information I know has ever trickled out of Silverdust, Washington, I will do my best to describe and convince of what happened. I fear that I know too much. What I have written very well may be too powerful, so I write this quickly and hope for the best, while expecting the inevitable.
I took the first train from Portland out to the railway station a few miles away from the town. From there, I hopped on a bus that made a circular route going back and forth from the railway town to Silverdust. Going to a tavern and inn, I learned the name of a small cabin on the outskirts of town that was for rent, and cheaply.
“Yeah, it’s a nice little place, but it hasn’t been occupied for a fair while now,” the innkeep told me. “People who stay there are usually just passing through, so they don’t spend much time there. I can’t rightly recall anyone staying there for more than a few weeks or so. Mr. Richardson, the landlord, doesn’t seem to mind much. He’s well off enough on his own, in that big house in the center of town.”
“It’s right on Silverdust Lake. Nice little place. If you ask me, that cabin has one of the best views in town. Mr. Richardson mostly keeps to himself, so he leaves the keys to the properties he rents out with me, where the travelers generally come in. Rent is $25 a month.”
I agreed to take it. I had enough family money saved up to last me for a great stretch of time at that rate. Making a home on the lake would be sure to give me the peace and quiet I desired while also allowing me to focus on my writing.
However, I did not wish to spend all my time sitting idly away from society. I took a trip out to the local news office, offering my journalistic services for a fairly low wage. I was quickly hired. I suppose that there was not a great deal of locals who wished to spend their time writing and bringing out the local news. Perhaps there simply was not a great deal of events to report in such a sleepy little town. Either way, I was happy that I had the job and a quiet place to call my own.
After exploring the town for a few hours, towards the early evening I decided to retire to my cottage on Silverdust Lake. A local gave me directions out to the lake, and so I decided to make the hike on foot so as to take in as much of the surrounding area as I could. When I arrived at my new home, it was at the beginning of the dark hours of the day.
The small cabin seemed very comfortable from the outside. It was nestled right on the lake, a small structure made of cedar logs. A chimney protruded from the roof, and shutters that led to a cellar lay by the door. A small dock ran out from near the cabin onto the lake, but it was dilapidated and lacked any dinghy or other gear. There was a small garden surrounded by twigs and other kindling-sized pieces of wood, but it looked as though the wildflowers and weeds had taken it over long ago. Near it lay a small stack of logs for the fireplace.
Glancing at the lake, I saw the reflection of a nearly full moon on jet black water. On the side across from my cabin, the lake ended abruptly where the woods began. There was not a cloud in the sky, and even with the night as bright as it was, I could accurately gauge how deep the water was.
I put the key into the cabin door, walked inside, and found a small, agreeable space. A large fireplace took up one side of the room, while a bathtub and icebox occupied the other. A bearskin rug covered part of the floor, and next to it was a small bed with a few heavy blankets. I lit a fire, quickly ate the cheese and crackers I had in my pack from the train, and retired, completely exhausted.
The next morning, and even the next week or two, were rather uneventful. I enjoyed meeting the locals and covering their stories and others about the general goings-on. The town was quiet, the weather pleasantly cool as the seasons changed. My health even started to improve from the clean forest air.
What I was most happy about was my newfound inspiration for my novel. Being in a quiet place on a dark lake that almost seemed to have no bottom fired up my imagination. I came up with an idea of a story where a man, distraught over the marriage of his lover to another suitor, begins to lose his mind. He decides to try and escape his problems by living an ascetic lifestyle as a sailor, riding from port to port and living all over the world. He finds that he cannot leave his own mind wherever he goes. However, he meets a woman in a Mediterranean port who has always desired to see more of the world. The man falls in love with her, convinces her father to let him leave with her, and they travel the world together.
Although I quite enjoyed the adventurous and sometimes dark concept I had in my head, I did not want to get overzealous and write my novel in a way that I might not appreciate later on. Thus, I only worked on a few pages at a time, taking painstaking notes before, during, and after, to ensure that its quality was as strong as I wanted it to be.
In the second week of September, the fall began in full spring. The weather was cold and windy, and although it was not inhospitable to my New Englander self, I will admit that it was often rather uncomfortable for me on the lake. It was usually very windy at night, as the air gushed over the water. As it turned out, the cabin’s caulking was not entirely secure, leading to a cold that even a roaring fire had trouble keeping out when the wind was high.
One night, during a light rain and a mild gust, I decided that I did not want to work on my novel at all. I was tired and cold, and so it could wait. This was around the time when everything started to become very strange indeed. Again, I do not expect anyone to believe my words, but know that they are true. I can hardly believe them myself, but I have come to accept what happened to me in Silverdust.
That night, I had very queer dreams. I dreamed that I was in a very dark room that was no larger than a tight broom closet. I could not see anything around me or any part of myself, but occasionally strange and shifting shadowy shapes floated around me, some quickly and some slowly. I could not force myself to move, or even to wake up. After a few minutes of this ghastly experience, the shadows morphed to become deeper. I heard the sound of rushing water, which quickly sounded faster flowing as the shadows began to move faster and faster. I began to feel a deep sense of panic and just when the feeling was at its peak, I heard a scream and awoke.
I felt relieved that it was all just a dream, and all over. Glancing around the room, I did not see any source of the scream, and it certainly wasn’t mine. It seemed rather dark and muffled, like it wasn’t real at all, so I concluded that it was just a part of my feverish nightmare.
Being a Sunday morning where I did not need to rush to begin reporting, I took my leisure to recover from my nightmare with a peaceful breakfast and mug of coffee. After an hour or so, I sat down to my manuscript to work. Sitting on my desk, it seemed thicker than I remembered it, but I was still in somewhat of a daze.
Flipping through it, I found that my assumption was very wrong. What I had already written was already there, but there were several more pages that I had not yet drafted. Why was it in my handwriting, then? What was written was rather horrifying, and completely defied anything I had imagined for my characters.
I had left off where my protagonist was slinking around his hometown, incredibly sad about the fate of his love. However, instead of heading off to skip town on a ship, as I had intended, he began to descend into madness. It depicted how he pushed over a street vendor, slammed his hand into a brick wall, injuring it, before going to a well and drowning himself. The story ended there, when I had intended it to last for hundreds of page more. What had happened?
I was very shaken. I did not have an explanation, and I could not think of anyone who could offer me one. Everything in the cabin seemed to be in order, so with no way to investigate, I decided to head into town to report as usual. It would get my mind off of what had happened.
The rest of that day was a normal one. I inquired around the town about the usual business, but while talking to one of the local leather tanners, I came upon a particularly interesting snippet of information.
“No, I haven’t spent a lot of time hunting recently. Early September, it sometimes gets cold and windy in an eerie way. I don’t like being in the woods or around the rivers at this time of year. It gets better when the first frosts come, but the beginning of September is always strange.”
Generally, words like these were just taken as opinion pieces that might interest the townsfolk or whoever else might stop by. However, the man’s words shook me to the core. Perhaps I was not just having a feverish nightmare, but there was indeed evil afoot. But no, that could not be. I was of a rational mind. Sometimes the beginning of cold weather just brings about interesting feelings in humans. The long shadows make the people and horses act in strange ways.
Eventually, despite my dread, it came time to go home and fall asleep. I gingerly ate my supper, and made sure to build the fire high. Glancing at the window, I saw nothing out of the ordinary. Although it was usual, the deep blackness of Silverdust Lake frightened me.
I finally reached a state of sleep after several hours. Most of it just seemed to consist of the dreary dark of a normal night’s rest. However, after a time, I found myself slowly floating through the darkness, until I was once again in my shadowy prison. I panicked, for this seemed incredibly lucid and almost real. The shadows rushed around my head, starting at a fast pace. They almost looked humanoid in some respects, but their geometry was sick and impossible-looking, like nothing else on Earth. A ghostly moan started, very quiet and low, although constant. After what seemed like an eternity, it reached a feverish pitch, sounding like a very low spectral man’s voice. It spoke only gibberish in an alien-sounding language, until a repeated chant was finally audible.
“Kill the thought, kill the thought, kill the thought…”
I felt as if I was going insane, as if I were losing all of my mental facilities. Just as I felt myself phasing into pure madness, I awoke.
Drenched in a cold sweat, my first thought was to look at my book. It was just as I feared. Dozens of more pages were written in. At first, the story of my protagonist, in my own handwriting, continued. As he drowned in the well, he began to fall and fall until there was no light around him. This terrified me, for it was very similar to my past two dreams. He began to swirl and swirl in the darkness, until he was engulfed by a gale of black. He rose out of the water in a state of death beyond death, and sucked all of the town and its people into his sickening tornado. As I continued to read on, the words began to slowly make less and less sense, until finally there was nothing but mad scribblings and mad drawings. In the last few pages, the black ink turned into huge splotches of blood. I looked over my arms and hands. I had no cuts, and around the cabin, there was no sign of any struggle.
I desperately wanted to leave the village. There was no point in staying there any longer, for the peace I so desired to have to accomplish my novel was long gone. However, I was not prepared to leave. I would need to gather a few supplies and wait for the next train, which wouldn’t be until the next morning. I would need to spend another night.
I walked out to town, and bought food, water, and other necessary sundries as unconsciously as I could. I stopped at the tavern, to have a quick drink to calm my nerves.
“What’ll it be, John?” asked the innkeep.
“Just a scotch. The usual.”
“Not an issue.”
I felt that I needed to talk to someone about what was going on. Obviously, no one would believe what I had to say. However, the innkeep helped me get settled in the town, and perhaps he could shed a bit of light on my way out.
“Just out of curiosity,” I started, “I have a question for you. You have a lot of people pass through here, locals and travelers both. Have you ever heard any legends about Silverdust Lake?”
Lying, I said “I like living there. But, that eerie blackness of the water is a bit unsettling on a cold night.”
“Well, John, as you know, there have been a lot of visitors stay in that cabin, and usually not for long. You can guess that yeah, there have been a lot of strange stories crop up. I don’t really buy into them, as I ain’t never heard or seen nothing out there, but there’s been a lot of ghosts stories. None of them are too different at all from the hogwash of boogieman tales that get repeated and recycled in these parts. I suppose that the one interesting aspect is that most of them contain some sort of reference to strange shadows. If you ask me, it’s just people getting the willies out there. The trees and the lake on a dark night can make a man see a lot of strange things.”
I downed the rest of my drink.
“Well, thank you, Thomas. I have to get going now.”
“Any time, John. See you soon.”
I felt bad that I would have to leave without any formal goodbyes, but it was for the best. I continued to do my gathering of supplies and pretended to collect facts for the next edition of the paper.
Finally, it came time for me to come home for my final night on Silverdust Lake. I packed all of my most important belongings so I could leave as quickly as possible in the morning. I considered bringing my strangely affected manuscript, for the sake of study. Perhaps a curator at a museum in wherever I headed next could shed some light on what kind of trickster or happening had caused these events. I reached for it, but my hand shuddered and stopped just a few inches away. Now, I do not think this was due to anything of my own doing. However, at that time I tried to comfort the rational parts of my mind by assuring myself that I simply did not want to deal with it that night.
I shuttered all of the windows, locked the door, built up the fire to a roar, lit as many candles as I had, and then went to bed. I was without sleep for a long time, before I finally drifted off.
I found myself immediately in the cage of darkness. The wind was howling, and a choir of ghostly, alien moans sang in their own disgusting way. Everything built up to a great level of intensity. My senses were quickly completely overloaded.
It was then, however, that the slashing began. A burning streak of something darker than anything I had ever seen before slashed at my chest. I could not clearly see my body, but I could see the deep, bloody gash and feel the horrible pain. The lashing continued, and continued. As the voices continued, a deep one made its way out front.
“Don’t leave, don’t leave, don’t try, kill the thought…”
In a flash, I woke up. I took a deep breath in my cold sweat, deeply relieved that it was morning and it was all over. But it was not morning. It was still night, and a wind was howling like the cabin was in the center of a tornado. The shutters were shaking furiously and groaning on the point of breaking. The whole structure rumbled and heaved. The fire was out, and so were all the candles. It was almost as dark as the cage of my dream. However, I could just barely make out huge gashes in the wood of the cabin that were completely analogous to those on my body during my nightmare. They appeared wet. Jumping out of bed, I threw on a coat, but in my haste, I stumbled into one of the gashes. Blood. Red, sticky blood, but as cold as a Vermont winter. I was terrified. I had to leave now. Grabbing my pack and throwing on my shoes, I ran to the door.
As I pushed it forward, it flew off the hinges and was hurled away into the swirling wind.
I tried to fight it, but the gale in the horrible storm of darkness pulled me to look at the lake. My whole soul fell into the pit of my stomach. There was the dark tornado that was written into my novel.
I could not move. I was frozen in place.
Out of the swirling tendrils of doomful darkness, a shadowy man stepped forward. He seemed to be made of the same wind that that the tornado was. He walked towards me. I could not make out many of his features, and I do not think even the best writer or painter could do justice to how he really appeared. However, his shape was shifting and ethereal, and what I could make of his expression was horribly disfigured and constantly changing. He slowly walked out to me, making no sound. Even if he had made any, I could not have heard it over the shrieking and soul-eating wind.
He looked right into my eyes, from just a foot away. His disgusting, shifting stare is something I will never forget. An eternity passed while he gazed into my eyes.
“Kill the thought, kill the thought, kill the thought… Nothing has ever happened.”
He reached out, and his writhing hand touched my forehead. In an instant, I felt the pain of all eternity, and my heart turned black with all the death and evil that has ever passed.
As quickly as the touch had started, it ended. Before my brain could process what was around me, it was light. A clear Oregon morning with the birds singing and the sun bright. I did not know what to do with myself, so, disregarding the book and anything else around me, I sprinted to town, and continued past the bus station. I wanted nothing to do with Silverdust. I just had to get to the train station in the next town, and immediacy.
The rest of that day was a blur. To be perfectly frank, these next few months have been a blur. I have returned to Connecticut, and I now reside once again in the home of my parents. I have been in and out of the hospital, and I am working with a therapist who thinks he can help me with my delusional schizophrenia. However, I am sure that this illness is not what has afflicted me. Everything was too real for it all to be a nightmare. Even the dreams that have continued to plague my sleep seem real. They are not nearly as intense as the three in the cabin, but the shifting shadows and strange whispers continue to haunt my rest. I have no doubt that these things, these beings, these entities are coming for me. I know too much, and I have seen what cannot be seen. But I cannot forget.
I cannot kill the thought.