Don't walk on the ice... There's something hungry beneath it.
| If you ask anybody from Craven, Massachusetts about the Lake Tahoe monster, they'll scoff and tell you that you watch too much television. They'd probably be right.
There are the old, corny legends, of course. Nipmuck Indians maintained that eons ago, when the Great Spirit separated land from water, a sea serpent was trapped in Lake Tahoe. Puritan settlers, the first Europeans in the MetroWest area, wrote accounts of their practice of feeding adulterous wives to the beast – though the Puritans were the sort of self-righteous bastards who'd make up any crazy story to keep their women sexually repressed. And once in a while, some jerkwad from Boston will "see" the Tahoe monster, only to find it was a trick of the light.
I grew up on the shore of Lake Tahoe. Our tiny house was a stone's throw away from the water. Every summer as a kid, my friends and I played pirates in my mom's canoe. For us, Lake Tahoe was as monstrous as a kitten.
The disappearances on New Year's Eve, 2005 changed all that. The police report listed the official cause of the deaths of Jessica Newman, Ryan Abbott, James Benchley and Helen Brooks as drowning. It's happened before. Four dumb kids went out onto the ice. It couldn't support their weight. Crack, whoosh, splash and blam-o, four drowned dead teenagers.
This is what the police never discovered: There was a fifth on the ice of Lake Tahoe that night. Me.
My four friends did not drown. That would have been merciful, but they no more drowned than were disemboweled by Jack the Ripper.
We knew each other from the school plays. Back then, I was scrawny, bookish, and withdrawn. I could count the lines my characters all had on one hand.
James was our leading man, our Romeo and Richard III (only a maniac or a high school drama teacher would cast the same actor in both of those parts). Ryan was the artistic one, and overmedicated at that. Helen was the girliest girl in the world, a JAP through and through. Jessica was a gorgeous redhead, a wonderful actress, and I was lost in love with her.
My parents were away that weekend, so we threw a little New Year's party at my house. When the ball dropped on TV and all the people in Times Square shouted, "2006! HAPPY NEW YEAR!" James wasted no time in taking Jessica into his arms and kissing her, like in that famous photograph of the sailor taken on V-E Day. To my immense satisfaction, Jessica wrinkled up her nose and softly pushed him away.
Ryan said through his beard, "Beautiful, man." He thought everything was beautiful.
Jessica sank into the couch next to me. "Well," she muttered, "That's a tease of what he'll never have..."
My heart soared. "Oh?" I asked, leaning in. "You don't like James?"
She shot me a knowing look and my cheeks burned. "What's your interest?"
I laughed nervously, thinking, Now, now or never, and opened my mouth to inform her that I was maybe kinda wondering if maybe she'd like to go on a date with m–
"I have an amazing idea!" James had stood and spread his arms like Moses at the Red Sea.
I groaned inside. Ryan chuckled and said, "I love it already."
"Let's go out onto the lake!" James exclaimed, as if he had just bestowed upon us the meaning of life.
"It's snowing, and cold," Helen whined. "I'm not wearing the right shoes."
"All shoes are right for an adventure," James proclaimed, and ran to pull on his winter boots.
I looked at Jessica. She shrugged. "Why not?"
James was like a force of nature, and we followed his lead.
I held the front door open for Jessica, who was severely cute in the gentle snowfall. She smiled and said, "Such a gentleman."
I almost drooled.
We came to the snowy beach, where Mom's canoe was tied up for winter. James said, "Wish me luck, lads and lass," in a Scottish accent. He crossed his fingers and stepped out onto the ice.
It held him. He took another, more confident step and turned to look at us. "Water's great, dudes! Come on!"
Whenever I see a horror movie, there's always something not quite right – a spooky atmosphere, perhaps, or a forbidding prediction. But when Jessica's hand closed over mine and we stepped out onto the gray ice over Lake Tahoe, I thought This has gotta be the greatest night of my life.
Ryan was the first. As we neared the lake's tiny island, he squinted and pointed to a break in the ice. "Look guys, an ice-fishing hole."
We looked. It was a jagged rent in the ice one foot across. "That's not a fishing hole," I said. Beneath, the water rippled black as the sky that night.
James wriggled into the island's tire swing and prepared to launch himself over our heads. "What else could it be?"
Ryan knelt down and rubbed his frigid hands together. "It's weird, man. Cool, but weird."
He reached in and explored it with his fingers, wincing at the cold.
Helen wailed from behind us, "Can we go home now?"
Ryan's face curled in confusion. He said, "Feels... slimy."
That's when I had the first twinge of concern.
"That's what she said!" James howled from the tire swing.
Jessica said, "Ryan?"
The next thing I remember is her hand squeezing mine so hard it hurt, and Ryan's eyes bulging out of his sockets.
Then they both screamed.
Ryan's hand was seized and pulled by some unseen underwater grip, and he lost his balance as his whole arm shot down into the odd little crack.
"Help me for Chrissake help me!"
James laughed; he thought it was a prank right up until we pulled Ryan out of that crevice. His arm had been bitten off at the bicep, torn ligaments dangling like string from the stump.
A warm gush filled my jeans when a pink, flailing tentacle whipped out of the crack and grabbed Ryan by the throat. We stumbled back.
Ryan gurgled and sputtered. The tentacle wrapped around him like a terrible snake and crushed his life out. Ryan's face went purple and the tentacle yanked back, dragging him headfirst down the tiny hole in the ice. I heard the pops and cracks of bones breaking as it tugged. When Ryan's feet disappeared, the dark water bubbled and lightened into crimson.
Jessica's cheeks were green with oncoming nausea. I shouted, "Go Jess, please, run!" but she only stared past me. James screamed and I whirled around to face him; a tentacle had broken out of the ice nearby and coiled around James's leg. He attacked it with pathetically ineffective karate chops.
Somewhere to my right, Helen was screaming her head off and running toward the center of the lake.
"Helen!" I called. "Are you nuts? Go for the beach!"
I heard James cry out for his mother, screeching in pain. Then there was a splash and I heard him no more.
Jessica bolted, and I followed her a split second later.
"That's right. Go, Jess, don't look back."
I looked back. A third tentacle burst up with a smash and knocked Helen's feet out from under her. She glided through midair for one terrible, graceful moment, then landed on her face. Her skull cracked open in a thin spray of blood. The tentacle latched onto her buttock and pulled her under the ice.
Jessica was still ahead of me, but I could see tears freezing on her cheeks. "Helen?" she asked.
"She's gone, keep runnin. Come on, Jess, we can make it to that beach." It was fifty yards away and closing. "Jessica, I lo–"
The ice in our direct path exploded upward, showering us with snow. It had happened so quickly and so close to our feet that our momentum almost cast us in.
The head of the most horrendous animal I have ever seen emerged from Lake Tahoe. It was the size of a train car from neck to crown, its lidless frog-eyes fierce with fresh hunger. It grinned, its milky pink scales parting for rows of serrated teeth.
Jessica was ahead of me and it took her into its jaws.
I think I shouted her name. The only thing I remember (and what I'll never forget) was Jessica's face, drenched in panic; how it was there one second and gone the next, lost in an orgy of chewing, blood soaked teeth as large as machetes.
I stood rooted to the spot. Every few chomps, I saw something in the creature's mouth that suggested its glop of a meal was once human: a leg here, a lung there.
But when it swallowed, every trace of her was gone, digesting in the unseen guts of that grinning, staring leviathan. I closed my eyes and braced for the agony.
It never came. Inexplicably, miraculously, the head slowly submerged.
I walked to the beach unhindered. I went inside, and slept like the dead.
Four years have passed since the New Year's Eve disappearances. A memorial bench was placed on the beach soon after, engraved on which are the four names of the kids who drowned that night. When I visited home over the years, I often sat on that bench and watched the calm, measured waves of Lake Tahoe. During summer the water is alive with children playing, men fishing over a few beers, and women sunbathing.
During winter, there is not a soul to be seen there, save one – and on just the first night of the year.
I search for my friends. I search for the creature, those slimy appendages and that grinning face. Most of all, I search for myself, as if I've been floating under the ice all these years, as if I can find who I really am in that deep water, in which waits the unspeakable.