| Winter snows would come soon to Murk Mettle Lake. Already the night chill gripped the lake as bits of ice formed only to succumb to the sun’s waning mid-day rays. Even the ever-present silt gave way to the cold and huddled on the river’s bed for a long winter’s rest. This calm was the time to hunt for Moonkye’s treasure, and the week prior to winter’s slumber offered the only opportunity of calm seas and resting silt.
Double black eyes, a broken nose, and swollen lips convinced most townsfolk that Moonkye met some trouble. Three dead bodies around him convinced most that he held his own despite the badly mangled leg and missing left arm. Moonkye swore wolves molested him for days and spared him only for the proximity of meat, a stick and foul language. The ravaged bodies bore signs of feeding yet many doubted wolves. Animals did not frequent the lake, and wolf tracks could not be found. In fact, if the Ragged Mountains south of Murk Mettle Lake did not pose such a difficult travel route then nobody would visit this lake.
Moonkye tried numerous times to return to the boathouse, but the mangled leg never healed, and the townsfolk never found his arm, which lent the only bit of credence to Moonkye’s story of wolves. But his condition did not keep him from striking out for the boathouse though most often he failed to make the edge of town. The local constable would help him back to Miss Kay’s Halfway House. As much as Miss Kay needed the money and as unseemly as it was to have a man in the Halfway House, they always hoped Moonkye did not return. No wonder, the man’s words always vile and bit those who spoke with him. His appearance in a rowdy room soon doused all joy. The girls at the house soon refused to dine with Moonkye.
His broken body somehow allowed people to see past his foul temperament. And even the most ardent busybodies fell silent when they discovered Moonkye’s still body halfway to the lake.
Weeks after Moonkye’s fight, after a long working day and another conversation about Moonkye’s behavior, a barmaid uttered, “It’s like the old codger buried treasure on the lake.” A thoughtless statement, more from a day’s frustration rather than an actual thought, yet it a still hush fell about the raucous crowd as her words fit how Moonkye fretted and carried on about some loss. A man so desperate to return only made the townsfolk ponder the barmaid’s words even more.
The next morning saw many on the shores of Murk Mettle Lake. Mists crawled onto the lake in early evening and normally only the mid-day sun could banish it. They found nothing, except the murk... a deep, dark ever-present silt that swallowed secrets. Even an arm span from shore, the water hid that which lay underneath the lapping waves.
Years after Moonkye’s burial, people still searched the area. Braver sorts challenged the water, but the murk and the lake’s chill soon sucked the initiative from the most foolhardy. Even the rare moments where the lake was still and the murk subsided, the sun’s gleam off the lake would again hide the lake’s bottom. Young Mcketlo though managed to talk his older brother into launching a boat one night.
The boat lay in the lake for hours tethered to the dock, still—very still. The boys, both too young to have met Moonkye, figured whatever drove Moonkye to crawl to his death had to be nearby.
As dawn broke, the two found themselves alone on the lake. Mists huddled on the lake’s surface, and the forest lay silent. Birds and waterfowl paid the area no mind. Many said the lake’s murk fouled the surrounding soil. Trees did grow nearby, but never thrived.
They paid the lake’s tranquility no mind, and set about gently lowering their looking glasses into the lake. The old jars usually sat in the pantry full of spices, but the boy emptied the jar’s contents into a couple of handkerchiefs. The jars worked as intended. The bottom came into view. The murk lay on the bottom and even in the still lake it seemed capable or rising and fouling the waters.
Like troubled syrup, the murk appeared as a darkness that held its own ebbs and flows. The boys weren’t quite sure if their slight movements caused the murk to trouble or something else, but they could see forms on the bottom. Fields of smooth stones lay across the lake’s bottom, lay piled atop other stones and everything layered by murk.
The boys lay in the boat looking through their makeshift looking glasses at the stones. Hours passed. Doubt crept into their minds a few times, but neither boy made word of it. The boat moved about its tether nearly imperceptibly, and never caused the murk any agitation. To mid-day, nothing changed on the lake but the mists. The sun still worked at banishing the last of the dogged mist.
“I think I see something,” young Mcketlo whispered. “It’s a straight line.”
“How far away?”
“It’s just barely on the edge of the glass, but we’re heading for it.”
“So like another hour?”
“Maybe, maybe more.”
“Keep your eye on it. I’ll try and memorize our position.” Try as he might, the lingering mist’s haze confused his eyes. The only surety he had was the dock, and it offered no real help, but he memorized what he could.
Unusual for boys to be patient, but both lay silent in the boat as timed dragged by and the straight line came fully into view.
“I see 4 lines. It’s a box, or a chest. I’m sure of it,” Mcketlo said. The brother could hear a rise in his voice, an excitement that they could find what many others had searched for but had not found.
“You think they’re true?” young Mcketlo asked.
“Is what true?”
“Moonkye. What they say about him…”
“You mean the wolves?”
“All last night, and all today, no animals. Nothing. How could there be wolves? Nothing here for them.”
“So no wolves. So what?” the brother replied.
“Those bodies didn’t mangle themselves. And Miss Kay’s girls always said there was something more than odd about Moonkye. The old codger had more than his share of tics and habits.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“What if there is something about this chest? Maybe it’s cursed?”
“And maybe it’s an old crate that fell overboard and sank before the ferryman could get it. We’ll find out soon enough.”
“We should plant the stake in the next few minutes. I’ll do it as I’m closer and I’ve had my eye on it.” Pushing the long thin stake into the bottom from the boat was the easy part. Young Mcketlo did not look forward to entering the lake. He knew the murk would rise immediately and cloud the lake, not to mention the biting cold of its waters. On the shoreline the waters were warm to the touch, but just further out the lake’s icy heart could be felt through to the bone.
Young Mcketlo reached back and grasped the long stake, a rather thin bit of wood. “I’ve looked all around but I don’t see anything else, just stones. I’m going to plant it.”
“I hope that’s it, that we’re not missing anything else.”
“Yup.” Young Mcketlo did not want to dwell on it. This could be nothing more than an old box with rotting murk filled innards. And today could be nothing more than a grand waste of time, which risked mother’s ire over her spices and a lecture about some fool errand chasing rumors of Moonkye’s treasure.
He slipped the stake into the water, moving it very slowly. When he had the point just above the murk he stopped, adjusted his grip, and deliberately pushed down. The murk erupted from the intrusion and a small cloud obscured the chest. “The stake is in, but I’ve done it now. The murk is rising.”
“I see it too. The whole bottom is cloudng like a sandstorm. May as well jump and get it over with.”
Young Mcketlo slipped into the water with a length of rope. Near him, the stake peeped from the water. The murk raged in response to Mcketlo’s intrusion. He ignored it and resolved to swim in the dark lake. The icy waters bit him as he swallowed three breaths in rapid succession before submerging to follow the stake to the bottom. He did not bother opening his eyes. He knew the murk would soak up the sun’s rays and turn everything black. He descended quickly and his fingers soon found the chest. Even after years in the water, the chest felt solid. He tied the rope to a handle on the chest’s side. He pulled on it until he was satisfied that the chest would withstand the rope. Then he made for the surface.
He could see his brother’s outstretched hand reaching for him as he broke the surface. They locked arms and young Mcketlo was soon in the boat again. Shivers shook him. “Pull it up!”
The older brother smiled as he took the rope and gently began to pull the chest up. A few careful pulls later and the chest bobbed on the surface. He reached down and pulled it into the boat.
The boys locked eyes, not on the chest but on the hand and arm still attached to the chest’s lock. Green scaled not quite human lizard skin covered the arm and hand with claws stout enough to shred an ox.
The boys brought the arm into town. The local pub soon drew a large crowd. The people gasped in awe as attempts to remove the squalid arm would see the green hand tighten its grip on the chest’s lock. Those that had known Moonkye testified that this arm bore the same cut as Moonkye’s stump.
A quick sword cut the hand from the lock. The writhing pieces were collected and bagged. The lock gave way under repeated blows from a handy rock. The lid screeched resistance as long closed hinges yielded and the chest lay open. No coins or valuables were found, only a putrid green beating heart.
“Burn it” were the last words the town spoken about the matter as the chest, bag, and heart were placed into a makeshift bonfire and set ablaze.