I remember the day we first arrived in our new home clearly. My father parked the car before the house, his gruff voice announcing our arrival. I was in the back seat, my sketch book open in my lap as I drew whatever came to mind. My younger brother Ben crawled right across my lap and pressed his face to the car window, looking out at our new home with awe. Irritated that he'd interrupted my drawing, I snapped the book shut and got out of the car, slamming the door in his face with no remorse.
I was scolded for my behaviour, but being sixteen years old, I didn't really care.
The house was old and worn, in dire need of repairs that my father promised to take care of. A double story building with a dark red, slanted roof and grey walls. My mother said it looked like an old Victorian mansion, especially since it was surrounded by a forest. I thought it looked like a rancid old mansion one would expect to find in a horror story, and yet somehow this observation drew me to it and I began to sketch it. Ben began to explore as our father carried our bags and our mother fumbled to open the front door.
Ben's voice called to me from somewhere around the house. Groaning slightly, I closed my sketchbook and walked around the large garden to find my brother crouched at the edge of a very large, very deep looking pond. Ben waved to me excitedly, telling me to come and check out his great discovery. I warned him not to get too close to the edge of the pond; Ben wasn't exactly a very good swimmer. He just laughed away my warning and pointed to the centre.
"I think there's something floating there," he observed. "But I can't see what it is!"
I glanced out over the water, taking note that it appeared to be almost pitch black but for a light ring of sludgy green and brown around the edge. Seeing nothing in the centre, I lightly rapped my knuckles on Ben's head and told him to go help mother and father carry the things in. He ran off, and I intended to follow when I heard a slight splashing sound from behind me. Turning quickly, I stared out at the ripples emanating from the centre of the pond. Still, I could not see a single thing, but something had caused those ripples....but what?
Later that evening as we all sat around the newly crafted dinner table, I asked my father about the pond. He only shrugged and said it had always been there, apparently. He also warned Ben to stay away from it, and a pointed look sent my way let me know that my parents expected me to keep an eye on my brother. I could only scowl down at my food; why did I have to watch over him all the time? Ben was eight, surely he could obey a simple rule to stay away from the pond, right?
The days from then on were filled with unpacking and getting used to our new home. It was large and old, and naturally the house made plenty of noise every night. While I was perfectly fine with this, since I knew very well it was to be expected, Ben did not take these noises well. More and more he wound up running into my room and waking me from my sleep, frantically informing me that there was something after him. I told him to stop being childish, and that there was nothing wrong with the house at all.
"But Josh!" he cried out once as I tried to push him out of my room at twelve. It's a good thing my parents slept on the other side of the house, or else Ben's wailing would wake them up too. "The thing from the pond is after me!"
This made me pause, and I stared at my brother sceptically. Ben truly looked scared; but he'd always had an over-active imagination. Sighing, I grabbed his hand and walked with him back to his room, telling him to describe this supposed 'thing' along the way. He said that it looked like a person, but they were dripping wet and its hair was covered with slimy leaves from the pond. Its skin was ashy grey and slimy looking too, and Ben said that when the moonlight hit it, its face was revealed to have gaping holes instead of eyes, and a gaunt mouth that spewed water and sludge down its front. I listened with one ear as Ben continued to describe his fear.
"Perhaps now you'll stop watching all those horrors before bed," I said offhandedly once he was back under the covers. He looked devastated that I didn't believe him. He cried more, begging me not to go back to my room. I once more told him to stop being silly and left without looking back. As I passed by a window, I glanced out and saw the black pond. There was a perfectly clear reflection of the moon, and I felt that the scene was beautiful and worthy of a sketch. How could Ben imagine something so dark about something so lovely?
As the days continued on, Ben grew more and more afraid of his imaginary monster, and he refused to set a foot near the pond. This didn't bother my parents at all, who were pleased that they wouldn't have to worry about him drowning. But they were concerned about his nightmares. I simply ignored them and their worries; Ben was surely going through a phase and being foolish. Meanwhile I continued to sketch the pond and the surroundings, but the pond was my favourite. I would sit outside in front of it, drawing its black surface into my book with as much detail as my skills would allow. Soon, almost every page of my sketchbook depicted the pond from one angle or another. I added some things to it in some, such as myself sitting at the edge, and once I even drew Ben standing at the edge with a horrified look on his face. It was rather mean, but he didn't have to know now did he?
One week, my parents had to go away for a few days. A conference for their work or something of the like. They left me in charge, putting trust in me to make sure Ben got to bed on time. Since it was the school holidays still, I didn't have to worry about that. Ben was upset that they had to go, but I assured them I wouldn't ignore him the whole time. That first night alone, I made Ben's favourite dinner and he actually smiled for once. Once dinner was done, we played a board game and Ben managed to win. He was finally acting a little more like himself, and I guess I can admit that it was a relief to see. When it was time for him to go to bed, he got scared and asked if he could please sleep in my room. I don't know why, but I got extremely irritated. I told him to stop being stupid, to grow up and stop letting his imagination get the best of him. He screamed and cried that he wasn't lying, that the creature from the black pond was real and it wanted to hurt him. He sobbed and wailed about how he barely got to sleep, and how he had to barricade his door. I only yelled more, telling him he was being irrational and that he needed to stop this game. Forcefully, I took Ben to his bedroom and left him there in tears as I closed the door behind me.
Still feeling the lingering anger, I decided that I wanted to draw the black pond in the moonlight. I stormed to my room and went to my desk...but my sketchbook was not there. I searched through my drawers and my entire room, but it was nowhere to be found. I wondered angrily if Ben had taken it at some point, and was on my way to his room to yell at him some more when I glanced out a passing window. The black pond was still, but in the moonlight I saw it; lying beside the edge was a small white slab....my sketchbook.
Confused, I went downstairs and stepped outside into the chilly night air. My skin prickled and I shivered, rubbing my arms as I made my way through the slightly damp grass and to the edge of the black pond. The water was still and beautiful as always, the moon reflected clearly in the surface. I gazed at it for a moment before crouching down and picking up my sketchbook. I frowned; it felt damp....far too damp to be reasonable. The grass was a little soggy, but not to the extent that it could make my sketchbook like this!
Frowning, I peeled open the first page and groaned at seeing some of my earlier pictures were smudged and ruined. Sighing, I continued to flip through it, seeing more ruined images until I came across the first image of the pond.....
Something new was in the picture.
My eyes widened as I stared at the wet and slightly smudged page; in the centre of the pond was a gaunt face, almost shimmering with the water. My heart skipped a beat as I turned to the next image. Something was rising up out of the water in the image, but I had not drawn that! The next image held a similar addition, and the next showed another face with more detail. My heart continued to thud in my chest as I flipped through the pictures before coming to the more recent ones. The one where I was sat at the waters edge now held a dark figure standing beside me, looking over my shoulder. My breaths were becoming short as my heart continued to race, and the sudden chill around me seemed to get worse. With a shaking hand, I turned the page over to the last image; the image with Ben's terrified face.
The creature was behind him, one arm wrapped around his torso and the other covering his mouth. Yet I could still see the terrified eyes; eyes that I had drawn. I covered my mouth, feeling sick and horrified at once. The cold only got worse and I took a step back, almost dropping the sketchbook. Then something caught my eye...on the next page was a discolouring...the type that occurred when one used a too dark and too thick marker on the next page, and it showed through.
With great apprehension, I turned the page.
The sketchbook fell from my hands as I stared at the soaked page. In sludge and mud was a single sentence.
'You should have believed him.'
I turned and ran as fast as my legs could carry me, bursting through the door. A yell escaped me when I slipped and landed hard on my back. Frantic and panicked, I pushed myself up and gasped when I saw muddied prints leading inside and heading down the hall...towards the stairs. A desperate mantra of 'God, please, no!' was running through my head as I scrambled to my feet and ran. Every step took too long, every breath came out too short, every heartbeat signalled a wasted second until finally, finally I was skidding around the doorway into Ben's room.
His room was calm and quiet, and his blankets were bulging; he was asleep in his bed. Panting from my sprint, I slowly approached him and tried to calm myself.
'He's alright,' I thought, 'He's perfectly fine.' I reached down, rubbing the side of the bulge mainly to feel comforted that he was indeed there.
My smile dropped and I pulled my hand back. It was wet.
With a gasp I tore the blankets off only to find a mound of sludge and seaweed piled onto his mattress. My blood was frozen in my veins as I backed away in horror, staring at the pile. Suddenly I heard a sound that would forever haunt me:
Something splashing in the pond outside.
With a speed I did not know I could possess I was racing downstairs again, my heart in my throat and panicked tears forming in my eyes. I darted out the back door, heading right for the pond. As I got near, I saw the top of Ben's head sink under and I screamed.
Without hesitation, I dived into the black water and started to swim. It was icy cold, chilling my already frozen body to the core. My shirt and my pants clung to my skin, weighing me down as I cut my way through the water, heading right to the centre. Sucking in a deep breath, I went under and began to feel around for any hint of Ben, searching...searching....searching for my little brother who had needed me.....
My tears mixed in with the black water as I continued to search, ignoring the screaming of my lungs for air, the ache of my limbs for relief, the cry of my body for warmth...I continued to go deeper, to search and feel and seek and swim until finally, finally....
I blacked out.
It was sometime later when I was roused from the darkness by the feeling of someone shaking me. A stinging sensation arose in my throat, and before I could even open my eyes I was coughing. The sound came out as a sputter, and something wet dribbled down my chin. I rolled over and hacked up more water, my body shuddering as I tried to get some air. Once more I felt the presence from before beside me, hitting my back with wet slaps. My ears popped as the water dribbled out of them, and I started to take deep breaths, trying to figure out how I came to be on land.
"Josh! J-Josh, say something!"
My eyes widened despite the sting of filthy water, and I turned sharply.
Sitting beside me on the grass, soaking wet and sobbing quite violently....was Ben. He clutched at my sleeve, tears joining the rivulets of water that ran down from his hair.
"I t-thought you were d-dead!" he wailed. "I t-tried my b-best to get o-out, and when you jumped in to g-get me I tried harder! B-but then you passed out and I g-got so scared!"
I couldn't stop myself, nor did I want to. I lunged and grabbed him, pulling him close in a tight hug as he sobbed into my shoulder. I didn't ask how he had managed to escape from the creature; I didn't ask how we were both saved somehow. I just held my little brother close, thanking the heavens that he was alive, that we were both okay. My own tears were hidden, but I didn't loosen my hold as I looked up. My eyes caught the sketchbook lying a few feet away.
It was open on a brand new page, and in that same, muddy scrawl:
'Now will you believe me?'