What Lies Beneath – A Short Story by ZBT

For many years now, people had suspected many things about Nerissa’s lake. She had always done her best to keep what lay at the bottom of the sprawling expanse of water ringed on all sides by thick oak forests a secret from prying human eyes. But nothing could stop the threat of time and drought.

The secrets she kept at the bottom of the lake were hers and hers alone. They were not to be gazed upon by the weak eyes of those who could not see the true wealth that lingered on the lake floor. They would never even begin to understand the worth of what lay beneath the mass of water that they spent their summers playing atop. Very few were ever brave enough to venture into Nerissa’s territory and when they did they rarely returned. Occasionally she would allow one to escape, just for the sport of it. Then she would enjoy a few months of people peering into the water from their little boats and finding nothing but deep dark water and then several years of peace and quiet until people forgot the stories and came back to the lake.

It had been this way for centuries. Nerissa knew how to manipulate people into leaving her alone or coming for dinner, so-to-speak.

But now, after eight hundred years, her secret would be unveiled. Despite the drought, there would still be families spending the summer in the houses that surrounded the lake. They would come out to the middle of the glistening water in their tiny tin boats with their fishing rods and tackle boxes. They would cast their lines and look down into the water, and they would see Nerissa. She would be there in all her glory with all her treasures. They would scream and turn their tiny tin boat back towards land, abandoning their quest for fish. Nerissa would terrify them so much, she would make them question all that they believed to such an extent that they would think they’d imagined it all.

Of course, this had happened once before, many centuries ago. He had seemed a kind man, a prince. He was gorgeous, despite his mortality. Nerissa had been kinder then, too, willing to comply with humans, even wishing she could fit in with them, live among them. This prince had changed all of that.

When he had rowed out onto the lake alone, Nerissa had waited below the surface until he was close enough to touch. She had broken the surface of the water and let the air and the sunshine wash over her skin. The prince had looked up from the book he’d been reading and looked at her in startled surprise.

“Good morning,” she had offered, curious to see how he would respond. Oh, he was so pretty. His night-dark hair set off his steel-grey eyes which reflected the glistening water behind Nerissa.

The prince did not reply. He did, however, grab one of his ores from where he had placed it in the bottom of the boat and raise it above his head. Nerissa had thought that he was signalling to someone on the land and it struck her as odd, for why would he want anyone else to come and see her? That was before he had brought the wood of the ore down upon her head and she had sunk to the floor of the lake, surrounded by her jewels.

By the time the king and his men had arrived she had awoken and swum to the far end of the lake where she had hoped she wouldn’t be found. The king had searched all day and all night, making his way across the whole of the lake. She had hidden in the reeds until she could hear the sound of an approaching rowboat. Then she had leapt from her hiding place and devoured everyone aboard.

The lives of the men she had taken to their deaths had given her strength and power. She had felt it pulsing through her chest. She was drunk on the feeling of it. Nothing was going to stop her because this was her lake and these petty humans with their pointy metal sticks would not take it from her.

The bones of all those soldiers, the king and the prince were scattered on the lake bed before the sun rose again. So much blood. The lake was hers again.

Now, among the jewels were the bones of many. Each unfortunate soul that had angered Nerissa by sailing too close to her territory had earned a place among their brethren.

When the first holiday-makers arrived, Nerissa knew her time was up. She wouldn’t try to run this time. This was her lake, her territory. The treasures hidden beneath the water were hers and hers alone.

They came in a minivan with a boat bouncing along behind them. The boat ramp was a hundred metres away from the water’s edge by now so the father and the children unhooked the boat trailer and pushed it down along the sand to where the edge of the lake now was.

Nerissa heard a scream. A little girl, perhaps no older than eight years old, stood with a human skull in her tiny hands. The white bone had been picked clean by Nerissa and the lake currents. A savage grin twisted Nerissa’s face when she shot through the water towards the little girl.

A shot rang out across the lake. A sound that ricocheted off the surrounding trees and sent the nesting birds flapping away.

Nerissa’s head came above water and she looked towards the house where a woman was standing on a balcony with a shotgun raised in front of her. Blood spread through the water around Nerissa and she wondered if the woman had shot a fish before she realised that it was her that was bleeding, her that was dying, and her that had a bullet embedded in her heart.

For the second time in her life, she sunk to the floor of the lake, surrounded by her jewels. This time she did not rise again.



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