The September afternoon on Lake Memphremagog had become breezy and cool. Joe Endicott turned the small diving boat more toward the west, so that he and Jane, his younger sister, headed straight for the opposite shore with the waves of the open lake behind them. The boat lifted and dropped with a swoop through the wind and water. Their radio played a strange song drowning out the drone of the outboard motor. The lyrics lifted above the water,
Dispatch the immortals, who give us black light,
Forever spill the blood of their sister and brother’s birthright,
Eternity is gone from this earthly flow,
Infinity is no time at all, today, Magog . . . tomorrow.
Without letting go of the throttle, he reached over and tapped her on the shoulder.
“Look!” He pointed south down the lake. His face showed that already at eighteen he was toughened with the raw elements of the lake.
A silver almost-eerie-looking yacht, which seemed to glow in the grey afternoon, came fast toward them. Foam piled up at its sharp bow, which rose and fell as it lifted and dipped to the waves. An enormous brass spotlight, mounted on the roof added to its sharp lines and to its sense of danger.
“Why is it going so fast?” Jane called out over the noise.
He shrugged and slowed the boat, then stood and wiped his eyes so he could see better. His sturdy athletic body, and the way he stood, reflected his confidence on the water.
“It’s nearly planing,” he whispered, but as though to himself.
The yacht lurched suddenly in their direction.
He opened his mouth to say more, transfixed.
A steady, full-throated drone with a suggestion of much more power in reserve rose across the wind and above the music. The lyrics on the radio were fading out and then unexpectedly blasting loudly, but he didn’t recognize either the mode of the warning or the nature of the threat.
The yacht had picked up incredible speed.
He sat again and gave the boat full-throttle. The distance to the shore was impossible to make before the yacht reached them.
Should they abandon the boat? He couldn’t decide, but it didn’t matter, the yacht came even faster on their path, then with a violent keel, turned and smacked the boat sideways and left them staggering in a churned-up wake.
Their boat rocked and tipped to the surge, and then flipped violently over. Joe felt something hit his leg with a painful snap, and when he came to the surface, he saw that Jane had come up and was okay. He spun around to get a look at the yacht. His right hand held tightly onto the overturned boat, a sharp pain shot through his leg and treading water became futile. He knew he had broken it, but his whole body seemed to be in pain as well. He half spit, half retched a mouthful of water out, leaving a taste behind best described as burnt aluminum.
A small American flag at the yacht’s sternpost fluttered in the wind, and across the stern, between a couple of powerful two-hundred horsepower Johnsons, metal letters spelled out the legend, Newport, Vt. It sat two-hundred meters away, idling now, and a few people gathered on the deck watching, and for a moment, he imagined them laughing, drinking and carrying on.
Jane swam over to him. She turned fifteen this year, lithe and fair with short black hair and a pretty form; but to his critical eye, a little spindly too, nonetheless, he had become protective of her, hoping to keep the boys at bay a little while longer. She was almost as tall as Joe and they often scuba-dived together.
“What’s wrong?” she said, upon seeing his expression.
“It’s my leg. I can’t move it. I think it’s broken. You’ll have to swim for help.”
He looked to the shore. It seemed a long way still and the waves crested quite high.
“Can’t we get them to help us?” she asked.
“I don’t think we better.”
“Then you can relax in my grip and I’ll drag you to shore.”
“You’re a ninety-pounder, kid, how are you going to make it with almost a hundred and a half holding you back. Swim to shore and go for some help, I’ll stay with the boat.”
To his dismay, black thunder heads rolled out over the bay from the east. He had heard nothing of bad weather, and certainly not of a storm, moreover, the yacht, had turned around again and drifted threateningly in the water. A tall man on the bow watched them with binoculars.
“They did that on purpose,” Jane said. “Why don’t they come to help us?”
“They didn’t do it on purpose,” he contradicted her. “Don’t be ridiculous. They just didn’t see us. Maybe the driver’s drunk and they’re nervous about doing the right thing.”
Though it was a lie, if she became more scared, he knew that she might panic. They had most definitely done it on purpose, and drunkenness had nothing to do with it. He had heard a thing or two about Mirror Island in his time. He should have stayed away, but what’s a rumor from old people sitting around and telling yarns over a bottle of wine at a bonfire. He had laughed at those old tales, but right now, he certainly wished he hadn’t.
“Where are the life jackets?” she asked. She swam the circumference of the boat and came around in a full circle. “I don’t see them.”
He breathed in to calm himself from his growing alarm.
“Well, they couldn’t have sunk.” He tried to chuckle, but his courage failed him.
“I’ll check under the boat,” she said. She returned in a moment. “I can’t find them,” she said, her glance wandering to the yacht. “Why are they watching us? What are they waiting for? Why don’t they come and help us?”
“Be cool, sis. I’m going to try to get up on the boat, and wave to them for help.” With an effort Joe crawled up on the bottom of the boat, but with his leg so sore, he only waved from a position of lying down.
“I must look pathetic,” he said to himself.
Where had this improbable thought come from? He didn’t know, but it struck him as unlike him.
Jane looked up with her attractive puppy-dog eyes.
“Dad’s going to kill us.”
He saw that she might cry. “It’s going to be okay, but it looks like they’re not going to help. Go! You can do it.”
She looked over to the shore.
“I’ll go then,” she said in a troubling voice.
His heart sunk as she began to swim off. The yacht drifted away for a while and the people seemed to have disappeared from the deck.
“That’s the spirit,” he called to her softly. “It’s not too far and the water’s not too cold.”
The first drops of rain began to fall as Joe watched her go.
“For sure they did that on purpose,” he swore under his breath when she was out of earshot, the rain falling on the surface beginning to mute any other noise. “But why?”
Soft high-pitched voices sang to him like a nonvisual mirage.
They seem far off and yet also known, as though they had come to him many times in his dreams but that he had always forgotten them.
They are bent to acrostic designs,
The tribe neither Magog nor Zion’s.
In the netherworld they made their pacts,
Slipping into the world through subterranean cracks.
Despite their ambiguous familiarity, he shook off what he took to be an auditory hallucination and focused with a shiver on Jane.
At the southern side of Sergeant’s Bay where she headed, a medium-sized island stood high out of the water, showing only a rocky base covered with fir, cattails and woodlands. It was two or three-hundred yards away. Fitch Bay lay off to the right. He knew the area well, but hadn’t laid a foot on Mirror Island for years.
Lightning flashed in the horizon and the sky began to darken; distances over water looked longer than they were and his anxiety grew.
“She is a good swimmer. She will make it.” He observed her as she swam. “But she’s young and afraid.”
A dull throbbing ache came to his leg, and as he watched Jane’s head grow smaller, he began to feel certain that his leg was in a bad way. “From this stupidity, my sister and I are in serious trouble and nobody knows where we are. Damn!”
For a moment, he looked away from Jane out onto the greater Lake. Memphremagog ran basically north and south for thirty-two miles. The southern six miles were in Vermont, the rest in Quebec. When he turned back, Jane hadn’t drawn noticeably nearer to the shore.
Just as depression overtook him, he heard the yacht’s engines gun. The sound came over the rhythmic chunk of waves hitting his overturned boat. Its engines roared with a menacing sound, and suddenly, it sped down upon him.
“Good God,” he said to himself.
He waved with one hand and shouted at the top of his voice. Two men stood in the bow of the yacht, one of them waved back mockingly, and held, what certainly to Joe’s mind, looked like a rifle with scope. The man aimed it at him.
“Jesus!” he swore.
He pushed himself off the boat into the water and dove under the boat just as quickly as he could, his leg as though screaming in pain, then, he heard the shot and the bullet smashed through the wood and fibreglass and grazed his shoulder. Above him, the yacht passed over and swirled back around. Another shot made an underwater ‘ping’ sound. He released the scuba gear from its casing.
Another bullet broke through the haul and almost hit a tank. He saw the life-jackets fastened underneath the tanks as he sank with the water-weights, taking a tank to the bottom of the bay. The life-belt floated away from him to the surface. It took all of his effort not to panic. He released the oxygen and began breathing. He put the weight around his waist, and using only his arms, pulled himself along the bottom in the direction of the island, after five hundred meters, he peeked up through the water for his sister. The yacht headed out of the area toward the northern end of the bay with Jane nowhere to be seen.
“Get to the shore,” he urged himself. “They’ve kidnaped her!”
The warmth quickly left his body; the rain had become steady drizzle.
For fifteen minutes, Joe swam underwater toward the huge rocks of the shore of the island. The pain of his leg was turning into a dull, sickening ache. It accompanied every movement of his whole body and when he surfaced, he hid behind two enormous boulders jutting three to four feet above the water level. Both the yacht and the man who had tried to shoot him were as though a vague memory.
It seemed quite simply unbelievable and he fell into a feverish reverie. What did they want with Jane? He didn’t dare contemplate it. What they were up to couldn’t be explained, and why they had attacked and shot at him, he couldn’t imagine.
The basic struggle of survival became his sole focus. It was the only way he could help Jane.
With some effort, he crouched in the water and buried the scuba gear under a pile of rocks in case he needed it later and to hide the fact he had survived. He crawled to the shore and dragged himself under a huge oak tree which hadn’t yet let go of its red and orange autumn leaves. He fell at its base and sat up against it somewhat protected from the rain. Flanked on three sides by cedar bushes, the shadowy sense of the misty woods lulled him for a moment and he passed out.
When he awoke, he tried to recall what had occurred and it flooded back.
“How could this have happened?” he asked himself, yet without self-pity and without crying. “I’ve got to get help, but how? Mum and Dad won’t even start looking until it grows dark.”
He cursed himself for always coming home late after their dives. His hands trembled. He wore a sweatshirt covered by a white cotton shirt and he had on a pair of loose-fitting trousers. He shivered, but at least the bullet graze at his shoulder wasn’t serious. It had already stopped bleeding, but he had to get out of the rain, to get dry. Cold would soon set in and he needed to get help, but how? And his leg remained a life threatening problem.
Using all the strength in his arms, he pulled himself up along the tree to a standing position and scanned the immediate area for a stick which might suffice as a crutch. Putting any weight on his leg had become unbearable. He spotted a stick which might support him, and the effort just to make it there, seemed enormous. He had a strong will to survive and struggled onward. With the stick, he hobbled some twenty steps and then he stopped, bent over and vomited what seemed to be dirty water.
Afterward, he felt better and his pace increased.
For a time the rain lessened, and from inside the tree-line, he had drawn toward a part of the shore which curved out west. He caught sight of what appeared to be a beat-up wharf with a dock thrusting out from the side of the island with a worn boathouse.
“Please, let there be someone there or at least a boat.”
This new hope, again increased his pace. He approached the boathouse and saw that its dock had been built of wood, with solid pilings and reinforced sides, but years of complete neglect had reduced it to ruin. Whole sections were missing and some of the pilings had grown greenish and shiny. Underneath, the oddly dark water sloshed against the wrecked dock. What little light showed from the sun, had fallen behind the big black fir trees that covered the island.
“It’s going to be dark in a couple of hours,” he whispered to himself.
All signs of paint had disappeared from the boathouse and the roof shingles had fallen off to the ground, rotting. At one corner, over the water, one of the support beams had sunk lower than the rest and the structure was now crooked. But something about the ruin made no sense. It looked as though it were done on purpose. He stepped inside out of the drizzle. The door, torn off its hinges, was gouged with crypt symbols, and as he suspected, complete dilapidation had won out: debris and garbage lay scattered throughout with a foul odor.
“Damn, not even a beat-up canoe or a moldy life-jacket!”
Cut high up into the wood on one side of the boathouse were the words,
He stepped back out and walked around the boathouse through thick wet sumac and fern. Faint traces of a path led up into a mixture of fir trees and undergrowth that lay before him. The silence and abandonment made him desperate. The path slanted upward as the damp ground rose beyond the boathouse. Crumbling wooden steps set into the earth could hardly be seen. The forest changed to cedar and spruce and the walk became better, freer and the walking-stick gave him more support. The ground became firmer, but the pain of his leg worsened. He trembled and shivered. How many steps before he tumbled to the ground and passed out?
The woods smelt of mushrooms, rot, mud and the proximity of water. He stepped forward and began to climb the path, and at the top of a hill, he found himself looking down on a large neglected cottage.
Like the boathouse, absolute ruin triumphed.
It stood two-stories high and the last vestiges of paint had peeled from the clapboard walls. Dormer windows ran along the upper floor, adorned, like the roof, with elaborate, wooden decoration, some of it broken away and dangling. Seen against the sky in a silhouette, and in the grey drizzle, it gave the house a sinister effect.
He made the sign of the cross, even though he wasn’t that religious.
At one corner, a turret had been built. All window panes were broken, and in some places, burned. It looked a good deal like a house which had been abandoned for decades, but its modern style belied this, especially the ground floor bay windows. He hobbled across an expanse of knee-high grass and weeds encumbered with small bushes. Debris lay in the entrance before him, the door, long gone. He peeked inside.
Should he cross over the threshold? The general condition of the place added to his queasiness. The furniture, what existed, had been destroyed, but in an eerie particular manner. In the large room next to the kitchen, parts of smashed chairs and tables lay everywhere, and mildew and cobwebs covered a torn couch. He spotted a single wooden chair which laid turned over on the floor in a hall between two rooms, and stepping up to it, he set it to rights and sat. He struggled to get inside of his wet pant-pocket and withdrew a small red Swiss army-knife, extending the blade with trembling hands and reaching down to his ankle to cut the pant of his injured leg.
As it separated, he gasped.
The leg looked grotesque; the black and blue sight of it made him shiver head to toe. He breathed and turned his glance away, perhaps for the first time being overwhelmed with self-pity.
Other rooms could be seen from where he sat. They were without doors and most had huge holes in their walls. A front-parlor, a den and the dining-room had the walls stripped to the quarter boards and there had been a view over the lake from large bay windows in the kitchen, but now there were bushes growing up right outside them, blocking the room and darkening it. Then he noticed a huge fireplace in the living room, and sat a moment looking at it, drowned in his pain.
“Maybe I can get it going,” he said, quivering at the sound of his voice, as though the ruined house didn’t want to hear a human talking. Involuntarily, he made the sign of the cross again. He glanced around the room for something to burn. Roughly gouged into the largest wall of the kitchen, was the word,
He frowned and ignored it.
“Do I have a light?” He checked his pant-pockets and found his lighter. He shook it several times and after three tries, it worked. He stepped over to the fireplace, set the lighter on the ledge, and turned to look again for something to burn. The spiral stairway started from the center of the room and vanished as it curved upward and out of sight. He noticed that many small wooden posts supported the hand railing. He checked the first one and found it loose. With little effort, he forced it out and threw it toward the fireplace. The second one, took more effort. He saw other words carved or burned into the baseboards of the stairwell, but could make out only one word, the seventh step up,
One by one, he hobbled up the steps of the stairway and took out the wooden posts, throwing them toward the fireplace. His leg throbbed and his head boomed. He knew he might soon pass out. Broken glass and pieces of plaster littered the steps, and as he made his way to the top, it seemed that each post took more effort than the one before it and that the cobwebs became thicker.
At the top, he had counted thirty-two posts, all flung in a semicircle around the fireplace.
At the top of the spiral staircase, he limped into a large round room, an open airy place with a huge bay window at the back, the glass, long gone. It looked south down the lake and he made his way over to the window frame. The rain seemed to be increasing, but had there been any sun to see, it would have been behind the house by now.
At the end of the long vista lay a deep rough bay with white foam caps, whose name he didn’t recall. Behind the bay sat Owl’s Head, a small mountain, and he guessed the time to be near five o’clock. Looking south along the shore, he saw a castaway raft not far from the boathouse, trapped in amongst several large rocks. It looked in good shape, a godsend, the bright clean yellow barrels beneath showed it had been built in the recent past.
He realized that he needed medical attention soon to save his leg.
From a distance away, he heard a male voice.
“Look at this place. It’s like a shrine to ‘Old Nick’ from that sixty’s movie.”
Joe listened for clues of whether they were friends or foes.
“Don’t you know what this place is?” another male voice asked.
“A huge stinking-black shack?” the first returned sarcastically, chuckling.
The other had a phoney laugh as well. “This is the Boss’ old house.”
“We are going to find him here? You shot the son of a bitch three or four times.”
They were foes! Their voices drew closer to the cottage and he looked around for a place to hide. He saw a closed door to the right of the top of the stairway and scrambled toward it, dragging his leg.
To his ears, the noise sounded like a banshee, but it apparently didn’t give him away; perhaps the rain patter on the roof hid it. Joe opened the door to what were the destroyed remains of a closet. Although there were shelves, some still intact, enough room remained for him to squeeze in beside them and close the door. The pain shot through his leg and he almost cried out.
“Why did his body sink in the water though?” the first voice asked.
“Who knows? Sometimes they sink right away and then float later. It’s scientific shit. It depends on certain factors.”
“Look at this mess,” the second voice said.
After a moment, the first man replied: “Check upstairs, Frank.”
He heard the footsteps on the stairway.
“Look what’s carved into the wood here,” the man called Frank said. “Arazal. I heard Haslet refer to Leona once by that name?”
Joe could tell when Frank had reached the top of the stairs. He heard the footsteps going over toward the window; he imagined him looking down on at the water and the vista of Owl’s Head, just as he had. Would he see any footprints or would he spot the raft?
Please, not that!
“Come on, let’s go,” the other voice called loudly from below. “This place is creepy in this light.”
“There’s a raft out on the shore by the boathouse,” Frank said.
Joe cursed under his breath. The floor squeaked toward him.
“So?” the other voice called up.
“We should check it out,” Frank returned. “Do you know what I mean, jellybean–we’re soaked anyway.”
“Sure, Sweetheart,” the other said, doing a Jimmy Cagney voice, “I’ll buy you the whole factory. I’d rather be out in the rain, you dirty rat, than in here, totally spooky, ha, ha, ha!”
Joe heard the footsteps come toward the door of the closet where he hid. He gripped the doorknob with all his strength and felt the doorknob being pulled, then the pressure ceased.
“Imagine having to spend a night here,” Frank whispered to himself as though reciting a prayer. “Life would be better if I had never met him.”
Joe heard his footsteps descend the stairway, and took a breath. “We better find him soon,” Frank said. “I need a drink.”
“He didn’t come this way,” the other answered after a pause, “there’s no blood and I’m sure I hit him with my first shot.”
“If he’s alive, he’s swimming across the lake right now.”
“Don’t be stupid. He isn’t going to swim two miles across the lake, not in September in the rain, and certainly not while we have his sister. If he’s alive, he will show his face soon enough. It is a small island.”
“They have Jane,” Joe whispered. “I knew it.”
He had presence of mind to remain calm.
“You think he’s alive?”
They had stepped out of the cottage. “As far as I’m concerned, I plugged him twice, but you know what the boss says . . .”
Their voices faded, and after a few minutes, Joe let himself out of the closet. He hobbled to the huge window frame and looked out over the rainy shore. He could see neither the two shooters nor the raft.
The pain of his leg made him sick to his stomach again.
Leaves covered the floor, but for some reason, he looked up.
Gouged into the ceiling, indented in large depressions, were the words,
Welcome. Your soul is free at Mirror.
The die is already cast.
You are to perish near here.
The kingdom of God has passed.
When he looked away and back again, only a single word remained.
Although it appeared to be a hallucination, without thinking, Joe made the sign of the cross once again and left the cottage with his makeshift crutch leaving the thought of the fire behind him. He stumbled to the shore and sat on a rock which looked over the lake, torn between fear and rage, hoping against hope that they hadn’t taken the raft.
He took off his pants and his sweatshirt. His clothes were cold to the touch and his hands felt clammy. Crouching over a large flat rock, he put his hand in the water.
“Not so cold,” he said in a depressing whisper.
He determined that six o’clock had passed because of the growing dark. He heard thunder return and looked down at his leg. It was more swollen than before. Again, he cursed himself for so often coming home late from his dives.
“It’ll be hours before they will begin to worry.”
He hated his parents at this moment for the same behavior for which he had so often admired and loved them; the fact that they trusted him to be responsible.
A cold shadow passed over him.
For the fourth time, he involuntarily made the sign of the cross.
“What did I do so wrong today?” he asked himself.
He looked out over the rough lake in the fading light. “What’s the right thing now?” He hung his head in concentration. “Goddamn them! Who are they?”
He took his first steps into the lake. The right thing to do was to find help for Jane. God, wouldn’t let them hurt her until he found help.
Suddenly, his heart filled with love for her.
“God. Give me the strength to make it across the lake.”
He floated out and swam out past the rocks. He used only his arms to propel himself, going slowly, every so often, kicking his good leg. The rain seemed colder than the lake water, and as he swam, he became more hopeful he would make it, after all, he had swum across this lake before.
After a quarter of an hour, the rain had increased with more intermittent thunder. An eerie sensation passed over him again and he stopped and spun in the water. He saw huge black silhouettes moving and bustling about on the shore of Mirror Island as though peering out on Magog and taking notice of him.
Lightening flashed just behind them and lit up the cottage. He saw now clearly some sort of shrine, glowing with black light.
On mass, the silhouettes entered the water shouting and hooping it up. They swam toward him and some of the silhouettes were of monstrous forms, some shapes of beasts and aliens who hated the water, yet out of fear or hate came toward him with awful speed. How he knew this, he had no idea?
“Jesus. I’m going nuts.”
Then he heard a boat upon the water, a light shining from the bow. It seemed to be searching the foggy surface, and it came toward him from the other direction. In the blackness, he heard a booming voice.
Their power is increased at night.
He began to panic, but called. “Dear God, please help me!”
He could move his leg now, the pain receded and the broken bone felt as though it had miraculously healed.
“Or it’s completely numb, you moron,” he cursed himself.
He heard a song as though from angelic voices,
You’ve been healed to escape your plight,
Swim now toward the shining light,
It is one of his primary foes.
Hurry! They are attacking in rows.
Exasperated by what seemed another audio-hallucination, he turned toward the oncoming boat, and looked at the light and began bobbing in the water and waving.
“Help!” he called.
He sobbed in fear or in hope. He turned back to look.
The black, almost animated forms of thunder clouds stormed up behind him, moving monstrously up and down. He threw himself with all effort toward the light, but they had come upon him quickly and surrounded him.
They passed through his body and he became numb. Then they laughed, sending a deadly echo of defeat through his mind with a dark hollow song of surrender.
Come with us; great works are done by the Underorder,
You are no longer needed in the world of pain.
Drowning here, before the porters at the border.
This is unHoli’s wish, and your heaven-sent gain.
Finally, they pulled him under the water to the muddy bottom of the lake until his lungs filled with its unholy water and his soul fled his body.