This is the rest of the story. Click here for the beginning
Steve returned to the lake the next day. As he neared the shore, at a different spot this time, a huge shoal of fish appeared swimming purposefully back and forth. Once again some of the fish left the water, dragging themselves up the bank towards him.
There were differences though. These fish were bigger, some a foot or more long, and their front fins were more muscled. This made them significantly faster. So much so that Steve had to back pedal while lashing out with his walking stick. He killed two, injured another handful, but was forced to keep moving back. Once he was ten or so steps from the edge of the lake they lost interest in him, turning and making their way back into the water. As soon as Steve moved in to retrieve the two dead samples the strange fish again came after him, heading back to the water once more when he had retreated.
Now Steve was truly interested. Something very strange, possibly something unique, was happening at the lake. He hiked back to the cabin and, thankful the cabin had a decent internet connection, started to read up on fish and their behaviour. An hour later he was certain the phenomenon hadn’t been seen before. Hitting the online shops he ordered a variety of basic lab equipment, all on express delivery.
* * *
The next day was taken up waiting for the equipment, getting it installed and starting to dissect the dead fish he’d brought back with him over the previous two days. He was glad to get them out of the fridge.
He found signs of significant mutation throughout the fish, from the oversized jaws to the strangely deformed front fins and the gills that let them survive out of the water.
* * *
Next morning he headed back to the lake, far more prepared than before. He had fishing nets on poles to scoop some fish from the water along with sample bags to keep them in. He had a baseball bat to deal with any fish that left the water. And he wore thick construction workers boots, just in case any got close.
This time only two fish left the water but both were monsters, nearly two feet long, and they moved so quickly they scurried over the ground. Steve caved in the head of the first then stamped down on the second, the solid boots crushing its head.
He moved closer to the water. The fish still in the water became frenzied, thrashing around. Catching some fish wasn’t the problem as he dipped with the net – getting few enough he could still lift the net out was. All the fish showed signs of mutation, from enlarged jaws to strange growths and in a few instances what looked suspiciously like the start of legs. Thankfully breathing air wasn’t one of their mutations, they all died without further intervention when out of the water for long enough. Steve transferred them all to the sample bags then decided to follow the edge of the lake.
As he’d half expected the frenzy of fish was localised to where he was, as he moved the shoal kept pace with him under the water. Steve was torn between fascination and unease. The unease turned to dread as he stumbled across a dry river bed leading from the lake.
The water level in the lake was low after a dry Spring and early Summer but even so it was only a few inches from spilling over into the river bed. When the Autumn rains came the lake’s water would flow through the river again, quite possibly spreading whatever contaminants the lake contained. Steve climbed down into the dry riverbed trying to see if any water had flowed recently. He was relieved to find the bed was bone dry.
Before he could study it further he was startled by a hissing noise from a nearby tree. Looking up he came face to face with a nightmare. Only six or seven feet away from him, sitting on a branch, was… something. It looked like a squirrel, but was at least three times the size of any squirrel Steve had ever seen. Its front feet ended in vicious looking claws and, like the mutated fish, its teeth were too large to fit within its mouth. Worst though was its eyes. They glowed a deep red, full of malice.
Without warning the creature launched itself down the trunk and towards Steve. He lashed out in reflex with the fishing net he’d been carrying. Somehow he managed to tangle the creature in the netting. As it struggled fiercely it only managed to tangle itself more. Heart still pounding Steve turned and jogged away from the lake, the net with the struggling creature held in front so he could watch it. The farther he went the fiercer the creatures struggles, until frothing at the mouth it went still.
Steve nudged it with the baseball bat till he was sure it was dead. Even then he left it tangled in the net all the way back to the cabin. Once there he dumped the corpse into a large plastic box and weighed the lid down with a heavy toolbox. The fish had been strange but this creature had freaked him out. Finding that the lake fed a river when the water level was higher also worried him greatly.
After a strong coffee to settle his nerves he contacted the Environment Agency. Unsurprisingly the woman he spoke to, a Dr Williams, took some convincing. She clearly thought she was dealing with an idiot or a hoax. Until Steve emailed through pictures of the fish and the squirrel. She was still suspicious but arranged to visit the next day.
* * *
Steve slept badly that night, sleep filled with tortured dreams of being chased by ever stranger and fiercer creatures. He was up early the next morning but couldn’t relax. Despite the building heat of the day he kept the windows and doors closed. After what he’d already seen his nightmares didn’t seem as impossible as they should have.
Dr Williams arrived mid morning, clearly still sceptical. That changed as soon as Steve brought out the fish. When he showed her the squirrel like creature she turned pale.
By the end of the day three of her colleagues had arrived, together with a huge selection of equipment. The cabin was too small for five people, let alone for the equipment, so tents were put up to house the people and the equipment was housed in the Cabin’s lounge.
Steve was surprised at the change in himself with others around. He hadn’t realised how close to the edge he’d got. Now his confidence returned. Whatever was happening at the lake the worry was shared. It helped that the others were fellow scientists and that they spent hours discussing all that he’d seen.
* * *
The following day they all climbed to the lake, tooled up with protective clothing and a mixture of wooden clubs, electric prods and even a jungle style cleaver. As they neared the lake Steve became uncertain. What if everything was normal? Would they still believe him?
He needn’t have worried. As they neared the shore fish were already climbing from the water, no larger than those on previous days but clearly better adapted. They were quickly dispatched using the shock rods. When nothing else emerged the scientists started to experiment, splitting into groups and studying the fish in the lake. The fish split to follow each group, and seemed able to sense them even when they should have been hidden from the water by bushes and trees. The range seemed to have increased too, they tracked people up to twenty feet away at least. The team collected more fish as well as samples of the water and the plants near the lake before leaving.
* * *
By evening Steve started to notice a difference in the group. Now they had pumped him for information they paid less attention to him, to his ideas, to his thoughts. The pattern developed over the following days. He became an extra pair of hands for them but they weren’t interested in what he thought. He only knew what they had found out by sitting in on their discussions. Not that it was much. Radiation was background, all tests for toxic chemicals came back clear. Something was causing the mutations and it was definitely centred around the lake but they had no idea what.
Whatever it was the effect was spreading. Fewer fish were leaving the lake when they visited now but more of the local animals were becoming corrupted. Steve was glad they all seemed to stay close to the lake.
* * *
When Steve and Dr Taylor, Rob, visited the lake a week after Steve’s first visit several massively deformed rabbits attacked, one managing to sink its enormous fangs into Rob’s arm just before Steve brained it with the cleaver. They quickly moved away and bound the wound before heading back to the cabin.
Dr Williams immediately suspended all visits to the lake until they had some backup. She spent a long time on the phone talking to her superiors. As no one needed his help Steve spent the rest of the day sharpening knives and putting together a variety of makeshift weapons and traps. The others noticed but said nothing, seeming to share his concerns.
* * *
The next day a visitor arrived. The man had a short, and heated, discussion with Dr Williams after which Steve was summoned and asked to guide the visitor to the lake.
Steve didn’t ever want to go near the lake again and told the visitor so in no uncertain terms. He finally agreed to go when given the assurance that he wouldn’t need to go all the way, just to the general area. Despite that assurance Steve grabbed several knives, the cleaver and his baseball bat before leaving the cabin. Just in case.
* * *
As they trudged uphill towards the lake Steve studied the visitor who had only given his name as Tom. Probably late thirties, quite tall with broad shoulders. Some muscle but a definite thickening around the middle. Dark blonde hair, receding a little. Nothing remarkable to look at, though he moved surprisingly lightly. He wore jeans and a T-shirt, no protective gear at all. His shoes were tough walking shoes but no more than that. He carried a hefty backpack and a fishing rod case slung across his back. Despite the warm summers day and the heavy load Tom wasn’t even sweating, unlike Steve.
Steve’s attempts to strike up a conversation had been met with single word answers, as had his warnings about the dangers they faced. Instead he found himself thinking about the lake and its mysteries once again.
“It must be something in the water,” he muttered to himself.
“Obviously. You got any theories?”
Steve looked at Tom in surprise, found himself staring into steely grey eyes that seemed to bore into him. It took him a few moments to gather his thoughts.
“Well, yes. The mutations. They’re all positive. With such massive mutation we should be seeing negatives too, should be seeing creatures dying because of the changes. The others say that we do see them, that many of the mutations make the animals easier to be killed by predators or limit their lifespan. They’re missing the point.”
“That’s not what they’re for. The mutations are all positive for… well… this is going to sound crazy. For defending the area around the lake. The large jaws, the increased size. Every time we go near these animals try to chase us off.”
Tom didn’t answer, just studied Steve with those steely eyes. Steve realised how stupid what he’d said must sound, though he still felt it was true. Finally Tom smiled at him.
“You’re smart kid. And brave. I’ve read the background. Coming back up here on your own after your first experience – that took guts. So did coming back each time with those paper pushing eggheads.”
“Thanks,” Steve shrugged his shoulders. “I just did what I thought was right.”
Tom smiled, turned back to the path. “How far?”
“Just a couple of minutes. Just over the top of that hill.”
“OK. That’s as far as you need to go then kid. It’s going to get dangerous from here on in. You can head back now.”
Tom paused, studying Steve again. He reached a decision.
“Or you can come with me. See what this is all about. Could be dangerous though. Might even get killed.”
Steve opened his mouth to say no, then paused. Imagined going back to the hut. Maybe never knowing what was over the hill, never knowing what was causing the local fish and animals to change. Finally he made a decision.
Tom just smiled again, swinging his backpack and rod bag off his back. First he opened the rod bag, pulling out not fishing rods but the parts of an assault rifle. Within seconds he had it clipped back together and was slamming a magazine in place. Steve just stared.
Next out of the bag was what looked like a sword in a scabbard. Tom held it out to Steve.
“Here you go, it’ll do you more good than the junk you’re carrying. It’s sharp. Very, very sharp. It will take your foot off without any pressure so for gods sake be careful where you wave it.”
As Steve strapped the sword on his waist Tom started emptying the backpack. Two pistols were strapped to his hips. Next came crossed bandoleers holding ammo clips. Finally he pulled out a metallic sphere, the size of a football and clearly heavy. He attached it to his chest by clipping it to the bandoleers.
Tom stood and looked Steve in the eyes.
“Last chance. If you don’t turn back now you’ll have to see this through. You ready?”
“Then lets go. Better get that sword out.”
Steve gingerly pulled the sword from its scabbard. It was surprisingly light, well balanced.
“Remember – be careful!” Tom reminded him, slinging the rifle over his shoulder and drawing the pistols.
The two of them started up the hill again, Steve wondering just what he’d got himself into. Less than halfway to the crest he found out. The ground ahead erupted in movement. Deformed creatures charged towards them. Steve could see more of the twisted rabbit like creatures and other nightmares which bore no resemblance to any animal he knew. At least twenty creatures, all with blood red eyes and huge fangs, charged towards them.
Tom coolly took a step away from Steve and opened fire, each rapid crack of the pistol knocking a creature from its feet. It wouldn’t be enough though. As several frontrunners reached him Steve swung wildly at them with the sword, bracing himself for the shock when he hit. It didn’t come and he nearly span off his feet. Desperately he twisted back to face the creatures he was sure he had missed only to find them in a mangled heap, cleanly sliced through. The sword really was amazingly sharp.
He didn’t have time to relax though. As several more creatures closed in he swang the sword back and forth in more controlled arcs, dealing death where he struck. Tom continued to fire rapidly into the advancing creatures but more were pouring from the undergrowth.
Worse was the way in which they attacked. Realising the danger Steve represented with the sword they gathered beyond his reach and timed their runs. Some running in to force him to commit and others trying to slip in behind his blow. Three times he somehow managed to reverse the blades direction and catch them, but the fourth he was too slow and a creature leapt for his face. It was only inches away when a shot from Tom caught it, blasting it sideways.
Steve took a shaky step back, sword ready, and only then realised the onslaught had stopped.
“Quick. Before they regroup,” Tom shouted, sprinting up the hill reloading the pistols as he ran. Steve sprinted after him.
As they reached the hills crest and the lake came into view Tom was amazed at the changes. The plants and trees near the waters edge were warped, covered in strange red and pink growths. The entire surface of the lake seemed to boil with fish and he could see mutated animals rushing around the shore to reach the two intruders.
Tom ran straight for the edge of the lake, detaching the metal sphere and flinging it out into the water where it landed with a huge splash and sank from sight. Seconds later a blinding flash came from the lake where it had landed, then again and again. The fish started to thrash around in the lake, the creatures on land did the same.
“What the hell was that?” asked Steve.
“Buzz bomb. It breaks its concentration and drives it out of the water. Breaks its control over these creatures too.”
“Drives what out of the water?”
Tom grinned at Steve, swinging the rifle off his shoulder.
“You said the mutations must be down to something in the water. Now you get to see what.”
Seconds later something huge surfaced near the edge of the lake and dragged itself to the shore. Steve’s first impression was that it was squid like, with tens of giant tentacles, but then he saw the rest of it. Its main body was like that of a large fish with the tentacles emerging from where a tail would be. Then it turned and Steve saw its head. It was almost human in shape, though far larger. Eyes, ears and a mouth but a slit for a nose. And its eyes… the hatred in them. Burning red with anger.
Spotting them it charged, covering the distance faster than a man could sprint. Mouth screaming a high pitched sound of hate.
Steve froze sword forgotten as the scale of the creature registered. It was at least three times his height and each tentacle had a reach of eight or nine feet. They were going to die.
Tom calmly aimed the rifle and opened fire. Instead of the rolling thunder Steve expected there was just a slight hum. The gun seemed to be throwing blinding bolts of reddish light. Whatever they were they stopped the nightmare creature in its tracks, blasting chunks out of its tentacles and body. It tried to back away shielding its head with the remaining tentacles. The bolts of light chewed away the tentacles one by one before blasting a hole through its head. Tom kept firing, playing the weapon over every inch of the creatures body. All around them the flailing creatures screamed as if in agony and then fell silent and still. Finally satisfied that nothing remained Tom powered down his weapon. Stepping over to Steve he carefully retrieved the sword, which had been dangling perilously close to Steve’s right foot. The thudding sound of an approaching helicopter grew into a roar.
“Decision time I’m afraid,” shouted Tom. “Sorry to rush you, but that’s my ride. And once it’s picked me up it’ll be dropping a sizeable warhead to cleanse this area. You’ve got a choice. Start running now, go back to the cabin, pick up your stuff and write this all off as a bad dream because no one will ever believe your story. Or climb on board with me. I like you. I think we can use you.”
Steve stood for a moment staring as a sleek black military helicopter came into view and settled in a clearing nearby.
“Are there more of those things around?” he asked, gesturing towards the steaming pile that had been the giant creature.
“Yep, and far worse,” grinned Tom. “You interested?”
Steve thought of his life. Working in a lab performing mundane and repetitive tests. Of the scientists back at the cabin and how they’d shut him out. And of the nightmarish things he’d seen around the lake.
“Try and stop me!” he said heading for the helicopter with a huge grin.
* * *
G-Force pushed Steve into the seat as the helicopter quickly climbed away from the steaming crater below. Tom hadn’t been joking he thought to himself. Whatever they’d dropped had vaporised the lake and melted the rock underneath.
A sharp scratch on his neck made him turn his head. Tom was holding a needle. Steve’s body already felt heavy.
“Sorry kid!” he shouted in Steve’s ear. “It’s a jab in case you picked up anything nasty down there. You’ll sleep for a while. Then you’ll wake up to a brand new world.”
As blackness washed over him all Steve could see were Tom’s eyes. Gone were the steely grey eyes. There were no pupils, no whites. Each eye was a glimmering ebony green throughout. The darkness finished sweeping in and Steve slept.