Martin Maddox wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand and resumed hacking away at a particularly thick tree branch with his hatchet. He was halfway up his ladder preparing the large black spruce tree in front of his one level home on Lake McCready for the coming storm. There had been a few branches touching the side and roof of his house in need of trimming so they wouldn’t cause any damage during the high winds and rain of the impending hurricane. With a final swing, the hatchet powered through and the branch toppled to the ground.
“Just a few more,” he said. He climbed up two more rungs and began hacking away at another branch.
Hurricane Hazel had stormed its way up the eastern seaboard and was barreling toward Nova Scotia. It was expected to make landfall later that evening as a Category Two hurricane near the town of Westwood, only ten kilometers south of Lake McCready. Unless it made a sudden and drastic turn, Martin knew that he would be hit straight on.
When he finished chopping the last branch, he climbed down and started to pull the ladder away when something caught his eye. The tree’s roots were breaking through the soil. He applied a little pressure to the ladder and the root rose a bit, splitting more ground. Trimming the branches wouldn’t do any good if the root system was weak. The strong winds and rain would no doubt pull them free, causing the tree to fall wherever the elements desired.
He looked at his watch and it seemed time was against him, too. It was nearly five-thirty and he still had to board up the windows. He would have to roll the dice and hope that the roots held. Shaking his head, he placed the ladder aside, grabbed the branches from the ground and tossed them beside his small shed near the edge of the lake.
Martin took out large planks of wood he had purchased earlier in the year and carried them up the slight slope of the backyard to the house. Setting them down, he turned to retrieve his hammer and nails when he found himself staring at the edge of the lake. The calm before the storm triggered a memory he had buried since he was six years old. The threat of the hurricane had him dreaming snippets of it recently, but now it came back in full, leaving him just as terrified as he had been so many years ago.
He was in the same house, although it was a cottage back then. From the living room window, he watched the lake’s surface turn violent in the strong winds of Hurricane Gladys, the only other hurricane he had ever experienced. Over the wind and rain he heard barking and saw the neighbor’s German Sheppard, Hank, at the edge of the lake. Martin wondered why the dog had been left outside during the storm, but before he could think of a possible answer, six little creatures emerged from the water.
Initially, Martin thought they were fish until noticing their large hind legs and smaller front arms, all clawed, with mouths salivating at the prospective meal before them. Hank tried to jump away but they were on him quick. High pitched barks and squeals of pain pierced through the thunder and heavy rain – sounds Martin would always remember and never stop trying to forget. Hardly blinking, he watched as the dog was torn apart in mere seconds.
Stumbling from the window in absolute shock, he looked outside but the creatures were gone. The rain already washed away the blood that remained on the ground, leaving nothing to corroborate his story except a silly rhyme the other kids had taught him.
“The creatures lurk beneath the lake,
Leaving carnage in their wake.
Swimming hard and baring teeth,
Ravenous for a piece of meat.
Onto land they stalk their prey,
With deadly precision they strike and slay.
The feeding frenzy is a terrible sight,
No one can escape with all of their might.
It is a nightmare from which one cannot wake,
From those creatures that lurk beneath the lake.”
Not wanting to be accused of making up stories, he chose never to tell a soul.
Martin shook his head, pushing the memory back. He was losing precious time and moved quickly to retrieve the hammer and nails from the shed. The job went relatively quick compared to the trimming of the tree.
He looked up and saw that the sky was already overcast. Stealing a quick glance out to the lake, the water turned choppy as the wind picked up. Martin returned his hammer and nails to the shed and secured the door with a large lock. He made his way towards the house and realized that he had left the hatchet out front. Cursing, he went around and picked it up. He didn’t have the key to the lock on him, so he took the hatchet into the house.
Martin entered through the front screen door that slammed shut on its spring, then closed and locked the solid oak inner door in the kitchen. The house had been built with an open concept, with no real division between the kitchen and living room. Beige and green tiles covered the floor of both rooms. Two couches were set up to face the unplugged television sitting on the floor. On the walls hung a couple of paintings. One depicted fishing boats tied to a dock; the other, a lonely lighthouse standing guard over an unknown coast.
A table was set up between the couches and Martin placed the hatchet atop it. It also held essentials for the storm: three four liter jugs of water, some cold cut sandwiches he had made up earlier in the day, a first aid kit, a Coleman lantern and a single speaker battery-powered radio.
He could hear the wind gusting outside. The house seemed to shiver as he sat down at the table and turned the radio on. He adjusted the tuner with his thumb until he found the local station WOSK.
“… Hurricane Hazel has made landfall three kilometers outside of Westwood. No reports of extensive damage have been made but emergency crews are standing by and preparing for the worst. The Westwood Police Department, as well as the RCMP, have asked that people remain in their homes and stay off of the roads as well as…”
A loud burst of static cut through just as the power flickered and went out. Martin attempted to find another station but only found more static and white noise.
As night began to fall outside, he could see lightning flash between the boards on the windows, followed by booming claps of thunder. The rain pounded against the siding and roof like golf balls. Martin turned the Coleman lantern on and bit into his sandwich.
He gasped when he heard a high-pitched shriek within the wind. He waited, but didn’t hear it again. He returned to his meal.
After another crash of thunder, Martin started hearing scratching noises. They were quiet at first, and he initially thought they were tree branches scraping against the house. The scratching, however, echoed from different parts of the house and sounded deliberate.
“What the hell is…” he began but stopped when a wet thump sounded at the door.
He stood and took a step when another thump came from one of the windows.
They almost seemed to drown out the symphony of the storm. Martin couldn’t help but think that the carnivorous little bodies were slamming into the house, trying to find a way in.
A shriek from outside the door pumped his heart faster – even more so when it was answered from the back of the house.
There were more shrieks and more thumping knocks. He could almost see their little teeth trying to chew through the wood when a strong gust of wind shook the house violently; he heard a tired moan coming from outside. The knocks and shrieks stopped suddenly.
Oh shit! The tree!
A heavy thud hit the roof, shaking the house and causing Martin to squat lower to the ground. The ceiling gave way; the black spruce crashed through amidst a blizzard of debris.
Martin dove but a branch struck him in the head, knocking him to the floor, severely dazed. The tree landed just a few feet away, crashing through the table and scattering all of the emergency supplies. Rain flooded his house as he stared up through the large hole in his roof. A flash of lightning illuminated not only thick storm clouds but also seven little bodies clambering over the jagged edges and into his house.
Stunned yet nonetheless coherent, Martin rolled between one of his couches and the wall.
No more the size of a small dog, the creatures’ bodies were covered with grey and green scales. They resembled raptors with larger, powerful hind legs; four clawed toes and six clawed fingers on smaller arms. Each had a tail akin to a tadpole and longer than their bodies. Their faces were flat, large mouths full of teeth. They had large black eyes yet all sniffed out his sandwiches, rummaging through what remained.
Martin saw the hatchet laying just a few feet away and stretched out to grasp it. Something warm ran down the side of his face; blood dripped onto the floor. He grabbed the hatchet and pulled it towards him just as one of the creatures began sniffing the air.
It let out a short but deliberate snort. Now all their heads turned toward him and Martin began crawling backwards, trying to put as much distance as possible between him and them.
Suddenly, they shrieked simultaneously. Martin struggled to his feet, keeping the hatchet at a defensive position. His mind replayed the image of Hank getting torn apart as the seven creatures cautiously approached him with mouths agape, white foam collecting at the corners.
One edged closer, braver than the others. Martin focused on that creature; if he could kill it decisively, it just might intimidate the others into backing away. His idea clashed with the images of Hank’s last few seconds when the creature lunged.
Martin let out a loud cry and swung the hatchet as hard and precisely as possible. The blade struck the creature’s ribs and forced its way through its body, severing its spine. It let out a choked cry as it flew and splattered against the wall. Crippled, its mouth snapped at the air. Martin brought the flat edge of the hatchet down, crushing its skull. He quickly turned his attention to its mates.
Maybe it worked. Maybe they –
The remaining creatures leapt into the air. Martin swung the hatchet wildly, connecting once but inflicting no real damage. He felt teeth and claws tear into his skin. Blood rushed out, washed away by the rain as Martin felt his strength fading fast.
One of the creatures bit through his Achilles tendon, sprawling Martin onto the floor. With their prey down, the creatures went berserk and ferociously ripped into his flesh…
~ Jon Olson
© Copyright 2015 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved