NOW WOULD I GIVE A THOUSAND FURLONGS OF SEA FOR AN ACRE OF BARREN GROUND.
—William Shakespeare, The Tempest
LAKE CALDASAC, NEW YORK
Frank Knechtel swiveled his head in the direction of the approaching storm. He took off the battered gold Ray-Bans and squinted into the ugly mass of clouds, trying to get a feel for her vitals; he had fished this lake long enough to know that when it came to weather, shit went mother-in-law ugly real fast out here. The summer storms were the worst, screaming in from the north, washing out roads and downing trees like a malevolent force in a science-fiction movie.
As he turned, the thick rolls of stubbly flesh on the back of his neck squeezed out sweat, and a small part of him was grateful that rain was coming. Maybe it would cool things down a bit. Then he saw the ugly flash of lightning and his relief was short-circuited by the electrical charge he saw dancing in the clouds. It was going to be a bad one.
The slate thunderhead rolled in fast, devouring the land in great spasms of rain and wind and lightning. Behind the jagged cliff of storm cloud, brittle snaps of white pulsed in the dark body like the irregular firing of a vast volcanic heart. The cloud bank had flattened the horizon and the atmosphere was pregnant with the electricity beating in its chest. Ten miles off. Maybe less.
Frank turned the throttle to neutral and pulled the big St. Croix musky rod out of the holder bolted to the oarlock. The cork handle was slick with warm beads of moisture, as if it too were sweating. While he worked, he kept glancing up at the anvil head moving in, hoping that he wouldn’t run out of time. A flash of lightning detonated and the lake went from blue to white for an instant. A few seconds later the sound wave screamed in and pushed the oxygen from the air and he tasted more electricity in the atmosphere. He spit over the side, hoping to get rid of the metallic film that seemed welded to his teeth.
Frank pumped the handle of the reel, and the big spool recovered line quickly. He felt the lure biting the water and the braid singing through the guides on the rod. There was another mortar round of thunder and the boat actually shook. He doubled his retrieval speed and spat again.
And then his lure snagged on something.
He yanked back on the heavy rod, the hundred-and-thirty-pound line twanging with each jolt he put into it, then checked the Lowrance fish finder with a precise pivot of his massive head. The bottom was fifty feet down. What the hell could he have hooked out here in the open water? Submerged log, maybe. If the storm hadn’t been coming, Frank would have circled around and tried to work his lure free, but the wall of darkness had touched the far end of the lake, swallowing the dam, and he could see the glint of rain hammering down. Then he saw the way the lake hissed and he realized that it wasn’t rain at all; it was hail. Sonofabitch. If he didn’t want to get stuck out in the middle of an electrical storm with bullets falling from the sky while waving his own personal lightning rod, he’d have to cut loose and head for shore immediately. But at forty-five bucks he hated to let the big handcrafted lure go. Another jolt of electricity cracked the sky and made his mind up for him. He reached for his knife just as the snag started to move.
The bright slash of the line cut through the water and Frank yanked back, leaning into it. The rod tip bent, and he pulled with his shoulders, feeling the unmistakable throb of muscle telegraphing out to him. It was massive, sinuous, sure.
A wave sloshed over the gunwale as the wind set in. The line zigged back, then pulled taut, and his reel screamed against the strain on the drag.
Frank had spent four years stationed at Subic Naval Base in the Philippines and he’d eyeballed everything from giant bluefin slicing through the water, to Mark 48 torpedoes zinging out toward targets, and nothing he’d ever seen moved this fast. Not even close. He pulled back again and the whine of his reel rose above the howl of the wind that started up.
The boat swung like a compass needle, pulled by the force he had hooked. He couldn’t stop it. Hell, he couldn’t even slow it down. The motor was gurgling in the irregular swells, coughing blue smoke thick with the smell of oil. The pulse of the sky at the edge of his vision caught his attention once again and he glanced up.
The wall of hail was thrashing across the surface of the lake, bearing down on him. There was another shot of lightning and the world lit up in a thousand shades of white and the scream of thunder roared in. He had to cut loose and head for one of the shallow bays to wait out the storm or he’d get chewed up out here. Whatever the lightning didn’t fry, the hail would smash to bits.
He slashed at the line with his fishing knife but Mother Nature slammed a billion volts into the lake, and he missed as the world went supernova again. The shock wave hammered him back over the bench, and he tripped. Line wrapped around his wrist and for a second he felt a pinch. There was another violent surge from the lake itself and the line dug into his arm. Then the tension let go and he stumbled back. There was a splash. He felt a stinging in his fingers and looked at his hand. It was gone. Neatly. Cleanly. Gone.
The braided line had garroted his hand.
A thick piss-rope of blood drooled out. Thick drops splattered his boots that turned the water sloshing around the bottom of the boat pink at first. Then quickly black.
Then the sky opened up. The staccato clatter of hail bouncing off the boat almost drowned out his single, girlish scream.
Frank fumbled with his belt. Managed to get it off. Pulled it tight around his arm to slow the bleeding. Pain hit. He howled again. Grit his teeth. Then saw the shadow moving just below the surface of the lake. The hail was pounding the water, distorting it, but it was huge. Massive. Something about the way it behaved transmitted more than its shape could. There was purpose in the way it moved. It wanted something.
Frank scrambled back against the transom, his focus nailed to the nightmare that surged through the water, skirting his field of vision. He tripped on the bench and almost went sprawling backward, over the gunwale. He stood at the transom, crying, staring into the water. It wasn’t going away. It was getting closer, circling in.
There was no longer the sensation of blood drooling out of his wrist or of hail clattering down; his universe had been reduced to the black shape that wanted him. He knew it wanted him. He could feel it.
What was it?
Why was it doing this?
But he knew. It was here to feed.
Somewhere above him there was a flash of lightning and the air cracked with the pressure. Frank stumbled. His thigh hit the throttle and engaged the propeller. The boat lurched forward with a jolt.
There was a split second as he teetered on the edge of his balance. Then he fell, screaming, into the water.
His boat! He needed to get to—
The boat chugged steadily off into the haze of the storm and was soon gone, leaving him alone. With it.
He spun, searching.
But it found him first.
He heard his humerus break before he felt it, and the thing pulled him down into the black, toward the center of the earth. His body seesawed with the pulse of its muscles as it pulled him away from the world.
Please stop. Oh God, it hurts. STOP! Please. Please, please, pleasepleasepleaseplea—
Stars filled with phosphorescent blisters of pain burst behind his eyes. Something else broke deep inside him and fear replaced all the things he had ever hoped for.
He tried to free himself. Each movement to get away brought him another jolting slap of hurt. He punched at the snout. Connected with bone and slime and teeth. His palm ripped open. He hit it again. And again. Suddenly he was free. Floating. Knechtel kicked his legs and his life vest brought him up.
He broke into the storm and sucked in greedily, filling his lungs. Hail banged down, ricocheting off his head. Water splashed into his mouth and down his throat. He coughed. And screamed.
What the fuck are you!
The still-sane part of Frank knew he had to get to shore. He looked around and could see it at the edge of the haze. Three hundred yards. Maybe less.
The first stroke was awkward and he faltered over onto his side. He tried again and the same thing happened. The bad arm was not working. He reached over and felt the denuded bone and slimy tendrils of tendon sticking out of his shoulder. There was no arm. It was gone. And that was when the pain went supernova.
There was the swish of something in the water in front of him and he felt the pulse of a wave as it moved by.
Then it came back.
Clamped down onto his remaining arm. Yanked him under. All the fuses in Knechtel’s mind exploded in a flash of fear. He felt his body pulling to the surface, the buoyant life vest doing what it was designed to. But the freight train driving him down just kept going. There was nothing he could do, not against the force taking him into the earth. He felt a sharp snap as his eardrums imploded and the white noise of static filled what few corners of his mind weren’t packed with agony. Blackness started creeping in and he started to lose consciousness.
Then, for some reason, it let go.
The life vest pulled him toward the world above. The fuses in his mind that were not yet blown kept him holding on to consciousness. For the second time he bobbed to the surface.
The first breath burned down his throat. He coughed and vomited, bile splattering out his nose in red strings. The world spun dizzily and he saw the distant outline of the shore flash by. He spun in a whirlpool created by whatever it was circling him.
He had to make it to shore. To get away from it. Far away.
Knechtel tried to swim and nothing happened. It took a second for him to realize that he wasn’t moving because he had no arms. They were both gone. No, a voice somewhere back there at the edge of consciousness said, not gone—bitten off. He kicked his legs and spun in place, amid the widening pool of blood.
There was a surge of pressure as it hit him from below and he shit himself. For an instant the pain was brain blinding. And then it . . . wasn’t. He hardly felt anything at all except disbelief. But he heard it. The sound was intimate. And with some disconnection he realized that his body was being torn apart. Chewed. Crunched. Consumed.
Below the foaming surface of Lake Caldasac, Frank Knechtel’s head slowly swirled toward the bottom. His mouth instinctively sucked for air that, had it come, would have done no good whatsoever because he no longer had a body to process oxygen. It spiraled down into the cold water, blood billowing out as it sank.
The last message his brain received before the electrical impulses stopped firing was routed from his eyes.
Madness was coming for him.
And Frank Knechtel’s face, although no longer technically alive, had time to involuntarily wince before it was torn from his skull.
After the sudden death of his wife, famous horror writer Gavin Corlie retreats from New York City to a secluded house on Lake Caldasac. But his new life in the country is far from idyllic, and when a thirteen-year-old wheelchair-bound boy named Finn Horn nearly drowns in the lake, Gavin discovers a startling secret: people in this peaceful lakeside community keep vanishing. Is the corrupt, drug-fuelled town sheriff to blame? Or is Finn’s account of a lake-dwelling leviathan more than a near-death hallucination?
Racing against time and Mother Nature, Gavin and Finn embark on a quest to catch a nightmare beast. It’s survival of the fittest, and it isn’t long before the pair realizes that they might be out of their depth…and that the hunters may have become the hunted.
An homage to Peter Benchley’s Jaws and the classic Moby Dick, Mannheim Rex is an unsettling thriller that switches seamlessly between heartwarming friendship and heart-stopping action.
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Book Cover Image (jpg): Mannheim Rex
Canadian Origin Trade Paperback 9781451654936
Author Photo (jpg): Robert Pobi
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