Eyes in the storm
“Only the brave or the stupid go out on the lake at night...”
Captain O’Rourke clamped his pipe between his teeth and squinted dramatically, as his audience shivered with delighted horror and drew closer to the pub’s fire. The ancient wooden beams loomed overhead casting shadows onto the flagstone floor. Near the door the statue of a lithe man dumbly held a collection of dripping waterproofs that steamed and stank of the sea.
The storm battered the window as if to break in and drag them all out into its howling tantrum. The Captain waited for the city boy to ask, as they always did.
“Why not?” the scrawny lad called, cocky behind a pint that seemed enormous in his city-bred hands. His baggy t-shirt showed a guitar-playing Rastafarian and his jeans clung obscenely.
“Because of The Creature!” The Captain cackled and rolled his eyes rabidly as lightning flashed behind him.
“They say it’s the bastard offspring of a giant squid and a monstrous prehistoric crocodile. They say it has a hundred tentacles and a thousand teeth. They say if you look into its myriad eyes you’ll turn to stone, but no-one who’s seen its face has ever lived to tell the tale. No-one - except me.”
The locals egged him on, enjoying the boy’s complacency: “Go on then Cap’n - what happened?”
“They all warned me, but I wouldn’t listen. No, I rowed to the middle of the lake at the stroke of midnight, just to prove them wrong; to show there was no Creature. But I was wrong.
“It was still; not a ripple, not a splash. I was staring at the moon when the tentacles crept silently into my little boat. Almost had me, only the reflection of its awful eyes glinted off my lifejacket’s metal rings and I managed to dodge it and whack it with my oar.
“I rowed back as fast as I could and I never did that again. I learned my lesson alright.”
“Aye Cap’n - we’ve all learned that lesson - every night for the last 30 years!” The locals guffawed, but the Captain stared at the boy, deadly seriously.
“You mind what I’ve said” he warned, before striding out into the storm.
The boy smirked at the old man’s lunacy, but as he lay in his bed that night, enveloped in the eerie calm that settled after the storm, the lake seemed to call him. He looked out at its vastness which, in the moonlight, seemed like a challenge. The Captain had mocked him and now the lake, too, affronted his bravery. His eyes found the small boat at the lake’s shore. He’d show them.
The next day Captain O’Rourke and the pub landlord hefted the new coat-stand inside the pub and placed it near the door. It was heavy; an exquisitely carved statue of a scrawny boy, frozen, arms outstretched as if to ward off a blow, an intricately realistic design of a Rastafarian playing a guitar etched onto his t-shirt