The Pond – By E.W. Morrow
Word Count : 3384
I’m sorry that you have to read this. Trust me when I say that I have done everything in my power to keep you from doing so. Maybe you won’t have to. It is possible that I will find the strength to continue on as I have, but lately that does not seem likely. Soon I will have to send you this letter, and I beg you to read it. Doubt it if you must, but please read it. Go to the pond in Fairgrove Park on a hot day, stay there until night, and see for yourself.
Again, I’m sorry, but someone has to know. I regret that it has to be you. Hopefully you will reach the same conclusion I have, and will do what must be done.
For posterity’s sake, I should record my name here in writing. I am Abraham. My friends used to call me Abe, back when I had friends. Forgive me, but I won’t put my surname down here. Not for my sake, but for the sake of my parents.
You remember my parents? Old, even when they were young, and intensely spiritual. You used to remark how they never seemed to get mad, but never seemed to be happy. Stern. They are always stern. Everyone I meet assumes that I am named after our 16th president, but in point of fact my parents love biblical names, and so their inspiration came from the much older Abraham. They could not have known the morbid irony of the name when they chose it. I will come to that later, but please do not tell them. They must already suffer the ignominy of a college graduate for a son earning minimum wage at a series of jobs he can’t seem to keep, and I wish to spare them any further shame. I’ve had my current job, cashier at a local toy store, for three weeks, but already I think I am close to being fired. I have missed too much work, and I think my coworkers have started to complain about the way I look at the children who frequent the store.
I’m sorry, I’m getting off topic. You deserve a proper, simple explanation. Murder. I have done murder. Willingly, and enough times now that I have lost count. None of the deaths were meaningless, or done in anger, and I am not asking for forgiveness, only understanding. Not personal understanding, though I think that will come to you in time. I just want you to understand the reason, why so many had to die, and why more must die in turn.
When my troubles began, I used to worry, that the bodies would be discovered. Foolish, I know, but isn’t that the way of the world? We spend all our time worrying about trivial things while the real problems, the real dangers, lurk just below the surface. Out of sight, out of mind. Of course, one day the hidden danger will surface, and then we’ll kick ourselves for not giving it the respect it deserved.
In my defense, when I began I did not know how deep the pond was. My dreams were full of dark visions of waterlogged, algae coated corpses bobbing just below the murky surface. In my dreams they would whisper to each other in noxious strings of malice laden bubbles that never made it to the surface. One day, when there were enough of them, they would rise from the shallow waters and find me, drag me back to the water and hold me there in their clammy embrace forever.
Like I said, foolish. I am not so lucky that such a mild fate awaits me there. I still do not know how deep those waters run, but I know it is far deeper than any pond should. And I know that there are far worse things lurking in it than my own crimes could ever create.
Think carefully. Do you remember the pond? Few people ever seem to. When I used to question acquaintances about it their responses were always vague, as if in remembering it they could only see it in the corner of their mind’s eye. These days I do as little as I can to draw attention to the pond, but you need to remember. It is relatively small, no more than a half a mile in circumference. Small reed beds dot it’s edges. A pair of old willows on the far bank droop over the pond’s surface, their supple branches dipping low, drinking in the water. I can’t imagine anything that would want to drink that scummy greenish water but the willows seem to thrive on it.
I don’t know it’s name, or even if it has one, so I’m afraid I can’t give it to you. I suppose you could call it Fairgrove Pond, since it squats in a secluded corner of Fairgrove Park. Most of the park’s visitors seem content to lounge in the shade of the broad, leafy oak trees near the parking lot, or else frolic in the more open spaces toward the middle, but one or two can usually be found strolling nearby. It is bordered on two sides by a low, impenetrable bramble and on a third side by a low, chain link fence. If you’re spry you can park your car on the side of the road and hop the fence. It lets you avoid a traffic light or two and it surprises me that in all the years I’ve gone there no one has put a gate in. It surprises me, but I’m glad for it.
I fed it again last night, the pond, but I fear that soon I will have to do so again. The weather has been unbearably hot this month, and this past week it rained nearly non-stop. I know many were happy for the reprieve from the heat, and should I have been fortunate enough to live anywhere else, I would have agreed. But there is a reason that thunder stirs me from my dreams of dead men, and a reason my waking hours are more terrible than my dreams. Rain disturbs the pond. It churns the water, raises up the algae and decaying organic matter and brings the smell of death to the surface. This is true of any pond, but in mine, worse things are disturbed.
It had to be last night. Yesterday, I saw a group of children playing by the water’s edge. Their parents were quite some distance away, chatting inanely bemoaning the heat and commenting happily about the lack of homeless that used to sleep in the park in the summer months. Stupid people. I watched the children playing, watched them throwing stones and sticks into the water, and I knew that I could get to them before their parents even knew what was happening. I wondered which one I would take, if I had to, and whether the others would thank me for it after. Probably not. They never do.
The children squealed when there was a splash and a plop and ran back to their parents, each one trying to yell louder than the others. There was an argument about whether it had been a turtle or a frog they’d seen. Nobody watched the water. Nobody saw the ripple become a wake that sped to the center of the pond and vanished. Nobody but me.
I started with animals. The first had been a dog, and an accident. He’d slipped his leash one evening and ran into a bed of reeds at the water’s edge. The reeds had thrashed suddenly, there had been a yelp and some splashes, and then I never saw the dog again. When my sister came back from her vacation I told her it had run away. I even put signs up around the neighborhood and went with her to the shelters looking for it. I never told her what really happened. Never mentioned the slimy, ropy thing that disappeared into the depths as I approached. Never commented how, the next day, the evil smell around the pond seemed to disappear.
I didn’t start giving it things right away. At first I ignored it, though I would go back from time to time over the next few weeks, always during the day. I started noticing things. The lack of geese or ducks. The way the surface rippled in the absence of any wind. The way the stench built up after a rain. One night, about a month after the incident with my sister’s dog, a young couple went missing. Apparently the girl was a policeman’s daughter, and, after their car was found locked and parked next to the chain link fence by the nameless pond in Fairgrove Park, the search made the evening news. The next day I went to the park, and the foul stench that usually hung in the air was gone.
After that I started giving it things a few times every month. Always after a hard rain, always when the smell of death was strongest. There were a few cats I’d coaxed into my apartment with a bag of treats. And a white rabbit and a pair of ferrets from the local pet store. For some reason it never occurred to me to try anything that was already dead, like a ham or a turkey. Somehow I just knew that the thing in the water wanted warm meat. During the day I would go and watch as runners jogged around the water, as children skipped rocks and hunted for frogs far from the view of their parents, and it was all I could do not to break down and shout them away. None of them gave the pond so much as a backwards glance as they left, ignorant and happy.
For the first few months I saw mercifully little of the thing in the pond. All I caught were quick glimpses of something black and slimy, something that glistened in the moonlight and wrapped around it’s prey like a ball of snakes. But I was finding it harder and harder to catch animals to throw to it. Eventually the pet store would grow suspicious of the numbers of small furry animals I was purchasing. During the days I would visit the pond, and I’d watch the children playing along it’s edge, blind to the danger they were in. The pond became a dark, omnipresent thing in my life. It clutched at me where ever I went and whatever I did. For months I had been its keeper, its source of food, and now I was failing it, and its disappointment was quickly turning into anger. A deep, gnawing apprehension filled my every waking hour. I knew that if I didn’t feed it soon, the pond would feed itself, and it would not stop until both its hunger and its rage were sated.
I don’t know when I made the decision. To this day I’m not sure I ever actually did. I think I just kept on going until it was too late. That’s what I tell myself, that suddenly I just looked back and the point of no return was spinning off into the distance behind me. It’s a comforting thought. But then, it doesn’t explain why I went to the park that night, or why I took the bottle of whiskey.
I never learned his name. He was just a homeless man who I’d seen there from time to time, who’d hit me up for spare change or a bottle of beer, whichever one I had on me. In my mind, whenever I remember him, I call him Isaac. It seems appropriate. I sat on a bench near the pond and waited. He limped up a few seconds later. He smelled like stale sweat and sour milk. It was almost refreshing, smelling something that good after the pond. I handed him the bottle and we talked. Or rather, he talked, I listened. He drank most of the bottle, though I had a few mouthfuls to calm my nerves. When the bottle was empty I said I had some more in my car, and we got up and started walking.
I like to think we would have kept walking if he hadn’t told me to wait just as we passed the pond. After drinking most of the bottle and needed to relieve himself. I gestured to the pond without saying a word. He gave me a crooked smile. That was the last time I saw his face, and that’s how I remember him, smiling a crooked smile. He trudged to the edge of the water and I heard him jangling with his ratty old belt. A moment later there was the steady trickle as he emptied his bladder into the water.
It reared out of the water then. Isaac must have had his eyes closed, because he didn’t react to it’s appearance. I saw it though. It was long and thin, like a massive tentacle or an eyeless snake, and it bulged slightly near the end near its mouth, a round hole that puckered and slurped at the air, as if tasting it’s way towards him. It was jet black and covered with mossy green patches. All along it’s length tiny versions of itself maybe six inches long sprouted and writhed. It rose up, sucking at the air, closing in on the space near the beggar’s head. When it got close enough I saw that the appendages had tiny mouths of their own. Each one was covered in what looked like little hairs that swayed independently of one another causing the whole thing to wriggle constantly and it’s outline to pulse maddeningly. It was only too easy to imagine each one of those hairs having microscopic mouths of their own, and tiny waving growths with mouths and growths of their own. Forever. The creature was a living fractal, a Mandelbrot demon from the darkest pit beyond my imagination. Each part of it was just a smaller version of the whole. Wildly I found myself wondering whether the thing in front of me was the whole creature, or whether this abomination was just one tendril of a massive, endless beast. My mind swam as I tried to imagine it’s bulk sitting at the bottom of the pond. I had no frame of reference for how big the thing might be.
The second tendril almost grabbed me as I was lost in thought. If the moon hadn’t been out, hadn’t gleamed on the sticky mucus covering it, I probably wouldn’t have seen it inching towards me in the gloom. Luckily I managed to stumble away just before it wrapped itself around my leg. I fell and scrambled away through the mud. I shouldn’t have looked back. I know that now. I should have dragged myself to my feet and ran and ran and never come back to that spot again. But something in the back of my mind made me turn, made me scan the ground fragrantly for the tentacle that could still be following me. When I finally saw it, it wasn’t coming after me anymore. It had doubled back and wrapped itself around the old man I’d led to the water’s edge. More and more tendrils were rising from the water, more than could possibly hope to fit around the poor man. An impossible number of sticky, pungent, sucking shapes reared and thrashed in the water, and countless more writhed below the surface. Those that could engulfed the man I’d named Isaac, wrapping him up like a mummy while the rest fought against one another for the tiniest fraction of the meal. Then they lifted the pitiful man high above the surface of the water and the whole thing convulsed. Then, slowly, it dragged him into the water, bit by bit.
I fainted then. By some twisted miracle I was still alive when the morning found me. I was covered in my own vomit and smelled of urine, but I was alive. The surface of the pond was placid, almost serene, save for a single nobly object near the water’s edge that disappeared with a plop the second I saw it. I staggered home in the pale light of dawn, and collapsed on my bed without showering. I slept for the entire day and night. That was the first time I dreamed of the pond. It wasn’t full of the dead, not yet. There was only one person in those waters: the homeless man smiling his crooked smile and staring at me with dead eyes.
As I said, it was foolish to think that the bodies would be discovered. The creature obviously consumed all of the evidence, but after the first few times I always worried that one of them, or one part of them, would be found and I would be hunted down. I have since moved on to other, more important, concerns.
You probably think me mad, and you’d be right. I have come unhinged from all that we know of sanity in this world. I admit this. With a strange clarity I have come to realize that the pond could not possibly contain all that I had seen. The most logical explanation, for what good logic can do us in a world where such things exist, is that the pond is not a closed system. Perhaps it is connected to an underground cave system, of which there are so many in these parts. I doubt it. The one lingering hope I still cling to is that this thing, this Mandelbrot demon, has no earthly origin. I pray, fervently, that what I saw is all I will ever see, just one tendril of madness poking through the veil of reality. The creature could indeed be endless, a never ending series of ropey tendrils and puckered mouths coiling and thrashing for an infinite number of eternities, and I would not care so long as I never have to see it again. Out of sight. Out of mind.
Do you remember your bible? I sometimes wonder if my parents did, when they named me. I remarked on the irony of my given name and how my parents could not have known at the time. Still, it’s a strange name to give to a child. In Genesis, God speaks to Abraham, and tells him to make a sacrifice of his son, Isaac. Abraham binds Isaac on the summit of a mountain, knife in hand, ready to do as God commands. An angel appears and halts him, telling him that he has been tested, his faith will be rewarded, and God commands him to cut Isaac’s bonds.
After all my sacrifices, God has not stopped me. Not my God, not any God. Certainly not the one in the pond. I take this as the clearest sign that what I do is necessary.
I try not to learn their names. Those who’s names I do learn I try to forget. Last night her name was Cheryl, and I think it will be some time before I forget. I hope that I will, just as I hope that nobody remembers the two of us drinking together in the back of the smokey bar on the edge of town, hope nobody saw me slip something into her drink, hope nobody saw us leave together or make it to the pond. She was in my dreams last night, plotting my demise with all the other corpses at the bottom of the pond.
But I’m fine with that. I’ve learned to live with it, learned to tell myself that the pond is safe for children to play around while I stand watch over the waters. One day the dead will come to me, one day there will be so many corpses in the dream pond that they can no longer hide beneath the surface. On that day, I shudder to think what I will do. At least I know that I will always have one source of food left to placate the thing in the pond. I only hope that someone will come after me, carry on my work. If you cannot do it, please find someone who can. Pleas, keep the world ignorant, and safe, for a little while longer.