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In A Strange Land

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I had drifted o’er seas without ending,

Under sinister grey-clouded skies

That the many-fork’d lightning is rending,

That resound with hysterical cries;

With the moans of invisible daemons that out of the green waters rise

-H.P Lovecraft, Nemesis


“Once you get into cosmological shit like this, you got to throw away the instruction manual” 
   -Stephen King, It



The fishing hole was bigger than it should've been.

It had been augered then cut in an ungainly lopsided square big enough to land a sturgeon- which Scott Clarke happened to know for a fact were a riverine species and geographically very unlikely in a quarry lake. He would usually applaud the optimism but whoever had cut it had also neglected completely to mark it and Greg Wilkes- Sophomore English teacher and fellow occasional ice fishing enthusiast- had spent the first ten minutes of  their expedition tracing the shape of the thing with reflective tape and swearing to god that he would track down whoever had done it and give them a piece of his mind all about the sacred trust and bond between fishermen to follow proper safety procedures of fishing holes no bigger than twelve inches.

It was an inauspicious start but Scott never let a bad start convince him that there would be a bad end.

Still, there was something about fishing the quarry after a freeze that wore a little. It was beautiful- the wonder and grandeur of nature and an optical illusion that made a man think he was alone in a great white nothing, three hundred foot white walls meeting white lake and white sky- but it was wonderful in a empty way that a poetic man would say makes the soul a little tired.

Scott- not a poetic man by nature- knows that it’s simply the effect of the brightness, the UV light that would cause photokeratitis-snow blindness- in the unprotected and exhausts the eye even behind his sunglasses.

“Do you know, I caught a Lepisosteus osseus here last season?” The code of two men fishing in general, and ice-fishing in particular was that it required a companionable silence at almost all times. Scott figured that by choosing him as a partner Greg was at peace with it only being enforced selectively. “It was very exciting- there’s never been another caught in this quarry. I sent the information to the DNR- thought maybe I’d get the funding to do a study- it must have been here for ages.”

“A gar? Was probably hiding under a decade's worth of beer cans.” Greg grumps into his scarf, obviously still in a foul mood about the hole in the ice.

“I try to instill a love of conservation into my students.” Ice-crystals shake from his mustache as he smiles sheepishly, “But I’m afraid it doesn’t always stick when there’s the option of chucking a beer can three hundred feet down a ravine.”

“Well, I’m sure you tried your best. Kids are natural shitheads.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“Like hell I don’t,” Greg snorts, “Not all of us are lucky enough to have your little AV Club, Clarke. These kids get to high-school and it’s like someone reaches into their head and flips a little ‘total asshole’ switch.”

“I believe that someone would be Nature, Greg. Hormones are a harsh mistress.”

“Nature. No shit. It’s like watching Wild Kingdom. I’m amazed they don’t kill each other. Fraternas acies alternaque regna profanis decertata odiis.”

“Fraternal warfare and alternate reigns... fought for in unnatural hate?”

Greg nods and chucks him on the shoulder with a gloved knuckle.

“Not bad, Clarke. And you better believe the regime changes are getting bloody. Someone must've put the Harrington kid in the goddamn hospital.”

“Steven Harrington? I remember him. Nice kid, if a little people pleasing.”

“You think they’re all nice kids, Scott.”

“They need someone to.”

Wilkes snorts again, obviously not convinced.

“Well, one of those nice kids beat another of those nice kids half-way to a subdural hematoma by the look of him.”

God . That’s terrible. Are the police involved?”

“Omerta’s in effect. Smart money is on the new kid though, Hargrove,” Wilkes scowls, tests his line. “You ask me he's got a bright prison sentence ahead of him.”

“Hargrove? I have his sister in my class, Maxine Mayfield.” It had been wonderful watching Dustin’s group take her in- the sort of thing he got into teaching for in the first place. Her dedication to science might not be quite as keen as theirs judging by her grades but friendship is always a great gateway to shared interests- and she seems to smile a great deal more now. “I think they have an unhappy home life.”

“Alright Pollyanna. I’ll take the hint. ‘Open up your heart and let the sunshine in’ and all that shit.”

They do the rules of mid-western man-hood proud by spending an hour passing a thermos of spiked coffee back and forth in mostly silence while failing spectacularly to catch anything at all.

“Oofda- It’s going to be a bitch of a winter.” Wilkes finally says, bundling tighter and while Scott was more than happy to suffer for possible scientific discovery- Apsley Cherry Garrard had almost died in the arctic for penguin eggs, after all- he'd be lying if he said he wasn't secretly hoping that Wilkes had had his fill of the ice. “Hey Scott, what say we let the Lepisosteus off the hook this time and go grab a beer? ”

Thank. God.

“I think the DNR will forgive us, just this once.”

They pack up carefully- ‘let no one say to your shame ‘twas beauty here until you came’- as the old rhyme goes and go through the motions of telling each other that they’ll definitely get one next time and exactly how groundbreakingly massive it's likely to be and Scott starts off, chair slung over his shoulder, pole tucked up under his arm.

It takes him a moment to realize that Wilkes is still back at the hole- staring down with a curious expression. 

“If you dropped something I think it belongs to the lepisosteus now, Greg.” 

“I think there’s something down there.” The man’s voice is confused, flat, but unconcerned. “I’m going to go take a look.”

“You’re going to what - wait !”

And Greg takes the step into the frozen lake as casually as if he were stepping off of a high curb.

Jesus, Greg! Greg !” He knows he’s too late even as he skids to the edge on his belly and shoves a blind, questing hand into the freezing water, groping into the darkness while ignoring the logic and the physics of a grown man in a soaked parka swimming back to the surface in sub-zero water and the probability of Greg finding the hole again if he somehow managed it in favor of blind hope.

It couldn’t have been what it looked like. He couldn’t have heard what he thought he heard. It made no sense-

I think there’s something down there, I’m going to go take a look.