Nolan gazed down into the pool of thick, black water below. The lake stretched on in front of him, a sleeping monster ready to swallow him whole the moment he dipped his foot in it.
He turned back toward the house he’d come from, a nondescript two-story wooden building, barely more than a cabin. Light burned in the upstairs bedroom, and it didn’t feel right—its glow too golden, too luminescent, as if it didn’t come from this world at all.
A black shadow appeared behind the glass.
Nolan panicked and put a step back. His foot slipped on the wet surface, and before he had time to cry out, he fell down into the lake below. Water rolled over him in black, thick waves, pulling him under.
He screamed, but no sound came out. Water burned his eyes and engulfed him, threatening to drown him. He fought against the darkness, struggled to stay afloat, but the water was sticky and thick, almost as thick as blood, and he couldn’t move at all…
He woke up screaming.
Sweat rained down from his forehead and he shivered all over as he took a deep breath, trying to calm down. He was safe at home, in his own bedroom, not near the lake or the house he’d never seen before—not stuck in the nightmare.
The door burst open and his mom walked in. Her blonde hair looked completely disheveled and her bathrobe dragged over the floor, as if she’d rushed to put it on before darting to his room.
The first few nights it happened, she’d run in, eyes wide, worry turning her face into a wrinkled mask. Now, although her lips curled in annoyance, she still rushed over to his room every time.
He loved her for that.
“Did you have the nightmare again?”
“Yeah.” He wrapped his arms around himself. Now that he’d stopped sweating, he realized how cold his room was, as if he’d somehow been transported to the Arctic.
Mom sat down on the edge of the bed, kissed him on the forehead, and pulled him close. “It’s okay, sweetie. It was just a dream.”
The first time he’d had the nightmare, he’d believed her. It seemed logical. Dad had just broken the news to him that he’d enrolled him for a summer camp near a lake, in this stupid town called Weirdville. Mom had been so mad she hadn’t spoken to Dad all day. Nolan was mad too, but he wasn’t good at ignoring people, and way better at throwing temper tantrums. He’d crashed through the house like a tornado, jumped up and down the stairs, screamed at the top of his lungs.
The worst part was that he understood why Dad had done it. He’d gone behind Nolan’s back—and his Mom’s—in signing him up for the summer camp.
In high school, Dad had won the national swimming competition: 100 meters. He went swimming practically every day.
Nolan, on the other hand, was terrified of water. He’d been afraid of it for as long as he could remember. He wasn’t terribly good at any sport, but he dreaded swimming the most. Every time he had to go to the swimming pool, he ended up having a panic attack, until his school’s gym teacher decided it wasn’t worth the hassle and let Nolan pass on the swimming.
After he found out about the camp enrollment, the nightmares had begun, but there was something strange about them. In daytime, Nolan feared what he assumed would be a slew of questioning stares of his fellow campers almost as much as the water itself. People always looked at him as if he’d grown three heads whenever he mentioned being afraid of the water.
In the nightmare, that barely played any part. It was all about the lake, about the house nearby, about the thing hiding inside the house.
“I don’t want to go.” He clutched Mom’s arm, digging his fingers into her skin. “Please don’t make me.”
She sighed. “I’m sorry, sweetie, but your Dad is convinced this’ll be good for you and… to be honest, I think he may be right.” She stroked his hair. “There’s no reason to be so afraid of swimming. It’s just water.”
He clenched his fists. If he got a penny every time he heard that sentence, he’d be a millionaire. Of course he had no reason to be afraid of water, but he was. He barely kept it under control while taking a bath. No way would he survive going to a lake.
Whenever he got near water, a blind panic took hold of him. He couldn’t move, could barely breathe. Run, his body screamed. Run! Get away from the water!
Even if he ignored his body’s demands, he always ended up panicking anyway. Then people had to come drag him out of the pool, and it all got so embarrassing everyone at school made fun at him.
It hurt that Mom thought the same way about it as Dad, that he should just get over this fear of water and move on with his life—that he couldn’t be normal until he did.
Mom pulled the blankets up to his shoulders and helped him lie back down. “Try to get some sleep. The bus will be here in less than four hours.” She kissed his cheek, and then disappeared out of his room.
Four hours until he had to leave. Four hours.
He clutched the blanket so hard his knuckles turned white.
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Majanka Verstraete has a Master of Law degree, and is studying for a Master of Criminology degree at the moment.
She has written a picture book series, “Valentina’s Spooky Adventures”, of which three books have been released. She’s also working on the “Weirdville” series, a series of scary lower grade chapter books. The first three books in the series have been released, and books four to six will release in 2014.
The first three Weridville books have also been released in audiobook version.
She’s written two young adult novels. “Fractured”, the first book in the Mirrorland series was released last year and its sequel, “Reflected” will be released in 2015. The first book in YA Paranormal series, the Angel of Death Series, “The Soul Thief”, will release in November 2014.