“Heed this warning, gentle travelers: the depths of Lake Champlain shall not be plumbed after the sun has set over the Adirondack High Peaks.”
It sounded like a request born of paranoia and 18th-century superstition, something to be scoffed at rather than followed. But there it was, and the old man who said it, a classic captain-looking gent with cracked skin, boney fingers, and a squint to his eyes, looked dead serious.
Rich and Patton might have been inclined to buy the whole routine — they hadn’t, in fact, even considered scuba diving at night until Captain Benton’s little speech — but something someone said during their scuba tour convinced them otherwise.
The two young men had traveled the world together, and their mutual love of water was perhaps the only thing that trumped their love for one another. It was a spur of the moment decision to make the trip north from their home in New York City to the Adirondack Coast, and now they were suited up and ready to explore a sunken ship at the bottom of the expansive Lake Champlain. Captain Benton’s warning came moments earlier, sparked by a comment from a young woman who said she and a friend saw underwater lights while crossing the lake late one night. She said the lights were dull and distinctly yellow-green, and as she and her friend stared into the darkness below, they could see the lights moving.
And that’s why, many hours after Captain Benton's tour was over, Rich and Patton were swimming down, deeper into the dark water. The ship they visited earlier seemed to take a particularly long time to appear, and when it finally did it was an ominous presence, a steely green behemoth set against a murky, darker-green backdrop. Water plants waved off the broken mast and the various openings in the structure appeared empty and bottomless. Was this the same ship they saw earlier, the ship that sparked the inquisitive parts of their imaginations? Because this vessel only instilled dread, silence, and decay.
Rich and Patton felt a tug of apprehension as they circled the broken ship, and they gave it a wide berth. Neither wanted to approach — the drive for adventure had waned and left behind a dizzying unease. Patton pushed his trepidation aside, and motioned that he was going to swim a little closer to get a couple of photos. Rich indicated he’d stay put.
Patton gracefully kicked toward the ship, the weight of its presence increasing as the distance closed. His camera flashed in the cloudy water, picking up the previously unseen particles suspended around him. There was something mesmerizing about the way the ship lit up, then dimmed. With every snap, Patton noticed new details, things he didn’t even notice in the daylight. There was intricate detailing along the rails, the ship’s wheel almost looked polished and smooth. Snap, snap, snap.
Pulling himself away from the ship was like awakening from a dream. Patton shook his head, trying to fight through the sleepy haze. He turned slowly, and was immediately disoriented. “What is this place?” he thought. “Where am I?”
For a fleeting second, Patton was paralyzed with a disorientating confusion — Rich was nowhere in sight. Patton’s limbs flailed while he frantically looked around. Then his eyes caught something — many somethings — in the distant haze. Lights. First there were a few, then dozens more appeared as his eyes focused. Round, yellow lights, and they were moving, as if searching for something.
Patton stared at the lights and terror held him there. It began with a stiffening of his arms and legs, it tingled in the base of his skull, and it seized his heart and squeezed. If not for the lights, Patton's attention would be free to search for Rich. If not for the lights, Patton’s eyes never would have made out the black silhouette that hovered, transfixed, about 10 feet away from him.
Patton swam to the silhouette and reached for it — Rich startled and turned, his face rapt with abject horror. Behind him, the lights were getting closer, brighter. Between the lights, Patton caught glimpses of smooth, slender tendrils that undulated curiously in the water. Were the lights part of some greater thing, or of many smaller things?
There were hundreds of them.
The couple took to swimming, and they kicked toward the water’s surface with a great sense of urgency. Rich peeked over his shoulder once and saw that the lights were not fading behind them as he’d hoped. They were right there, perhaps even closer than before.
It was with great effort that Rich and Patton climbed back into their little motorboat, and Patton wasted no time firing up the engine. Rich simply stared into the lake, watching as the hypnotic movement of the lights drew closer to the surface. Patton guided the boat in a tight circle, pointing the bow back toward shore. The surface of the water was bubbling, first at a simmer, then at a full boil.
“They’re coming, Patton! They’re coming!” Rich yelled. But by the time those words left his mouth, the sound of the frothing water was too loud for Patton to hear him. By that time, the little boat was rocking furiously and the water’s surface was lit up like a stage. Patton turned toward Rich. They reached for each other as a wall of water and light encircled them. It felt warm and inviting, and Patton thought it wasn’t all that bad.
Back on shore, Captain Benton stood on a rocky outcrop overlooking Lake Champlain. He sighed as the bubbles in the lake quieted, leaving nothing but the reflection of the moon behind.
“Aye, it’s always a sad sight,” he muttered to himself. “But even the lake needs to eat.”
And then, as if carried by a mist, he was gone.
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