Black water, red sand (2)

Chapter 2 - The removal

With the arrival of the robed strangers, darkness gathered fast over Kerið. Even though the sky had been clear moments ago, heavy clouds now appeared and blocked off the last of the setting sun, and a light trickle of rain began to fall, dampening not only my clothes, but also any outside sounds that had previously been the natural background noise of this place.

The bathing party now definitely saw what was heading towards them. The two in the water began swimming ashore, but their movements seemed slow and unnaturally strained, as if they were moving through something thicker than mere water. The hesitant one, who still hadn’t entered the lake, tried to move away from the newcomers by climbing the slope, but must have slipped on the wet rocks, because he suddenly fell and rolled into the water. The slow ripples gave off a weirdly green-tinted shimmer, just for a second, and at first I doubted I had seen it at all, but now the robed figures produced torch-like sticks from inside their garments and dipped them in the water, as they spread out across the shore. The ripples from the torches, for this is the best way I can describe the items, gave off that same eerie shimmer, and when they had the lake surrounded, they simultaneously lifted their torches up in one fluid motion, and the part that had been submerged in the water, now held a steadily flickering glow of that same, ghostlike colour.
Still in utter silence, the group made cryptic movements with the torches, and as they did so, the faint, green-blue shimmer was reflected in a mist slowly rising from the surface of the lake. The swimmers had now stopped moving towards land, apparently feeling that staying out of reach was a better option than a physical confrontation at this point. I could hear a sobbing whimper, but it had a muffled, distant effect to it, and I couldn’t be sure where it came from. The first man to enter the water yelled something at the gathering, but there was no reply, and even his angry shout was oddly muffled by the thickening fog, so I couldn’t make out his words – the meaning was all too clear however.

Strangely, even though night should be coming on, and I was now laying down in a spot hidden from view but open to the chilling weather, it felt as though the temperature was rising. To my horror, I realised with the beginning pained screams of the youths, that it wasn’t mist rising from the lake, but the lake itself was heating up, and it was steam that was covering the surface more and more.
What happened next, I can’t recall but for short, terrible glimpses that perforate the merciful darkness that has blotted out my memory of that cursed event. A large, flat bubble grew from the centre of the lake, and soon filled it completely. Had it only been a precursor to the spouts of water the geysers shoot up at regular intervals, my mind might not have been as unravelled by the experience as it is. Oh, but what a mercy it had been, if boiling water had been all that killed those three young travellers that night.
Instead, as the bubble burst, it revealed something far, far worse. Out of the water rose two wiery, red, muscle-like appendages which swivelled around only for a moment before seeming to fixate on the three bathers. They rose further into the air, and extended towards the helpless trio. As they came further out of the water, they revealed a larger, red bodypart, all glistening sickly in the faint greenish light coming from the robed figures on shore. More of the mass became visible, and now I could see that the lower part of it was covered in large, black slate-like plates, and on the back, a ridged, black shell was covering the creature. It may have resembled a Chrysomallon Squamiferum, had such a creature been wrought out of the nethermost pits of a sick and maddened creator’s mind. The shell was spiky and gleamed in oily patterns, and the plates had some sort of terrible detail to them that I couldn’t quite make out. The sheer size of it bore no resemblance to anything of this known Earth, and numbed my mind as I beheld it.
The first to go was the hesitant man. His fall had not rendered him unconscious, but it had left him unable to move properly. As the creature opened its maw, thin, pinkish tubes or wires shot out towards the man, grabbed him and began pulling him towards the deadly opening. The gaping hole was filled with uncountable rows of translucent teeth, all slightly curved inwards like barbs. His screams were finally muffled as he was devoured before my eyes, and a stomach turning crunching and sploshing filled the stillness in their wake.

This released the other pair from their seeming paralysis, and robed figures or no, they swam like mad towards the shore, desperate to escape the colossus now turning its attention to them.
They managed to reach the water’s edge, but as the man, who was first out of the water, tried to tackle the robe in front of him, those damned pinkish tubes shot out once again, now gleaming red with the blood of their lost comrade. The girl was grabbed, as she was still struggling to get her footing, and gave a piercing scream as she was pulled back into the bubbling water. The temperature must have risen fast, as I could see her skin redden and blisters pop up and burst, as she was pulled towards an inevitable churning demise in the maw of the creature.
Oblivious to her fate, the last remaining man grabbed hold of the person in front of him and pulled him to the ground to get past, but as the creature fell squirming at his feet it became frighteningly clear that it was not a robe!

That fearful revelation must have made me lose consciousness completely, as the next thing I remember was being woken up, laying on my back in the grass at the bottom of the sloping outside of the crater, by the moist muzzle of a sheep. Two more were idly grazing next to it.
While my body ached from the tumble I must have taken, and my mind thankfully not yet ready to reveal to me what had happened, I made my way over to the parking lot, only to discover that my car, as well as that of the three unfortunate swimmers, had vanished without a trace. Someone was now occupying the booth, but one look at the unmoving, waxen expression, and that cold, dead stare, was enough to discourage any approach in that direction. I didn’t remember the night before, but my body instinctively pulled back from further confrontation.
I’m not sure how I managed it, but I made it back out to the road on foot and unseen, and must have stumbled and walked for hours before the police picked me up, undoubtedly alerted by someone alarmed by my dirty, disheveled appearance.
And now I’m here, although I’m not altogether sure where “here” is. Much as I do not know how long I’ve been here. Please, tell me what’s going on!

The thick metal door slams in place, and the locks slide soundlessly into position.
– What do you think, doctor?
– It’s hard to say how reliable he is, given the circumstances, but if his testimony is true, we may be looking at a far worse incident than we had previously thought. What do you know of the Papar?
– The Papar?
– They were old Irish monks that cultivated Iceland before the vikings. The Landnámabók and Íslendingabók tell us that they were Christian monks who fled or were removed from the island by the arrival of the vikings in the 9th century, but remember that back then Ireland had only been Christian for a short time, so it begs the question if the Papar were indeed monks working to expand the Christian faith, or if they were Celts fleeing the onslaught of Christians in their old land. Unaussprechlichen Kulten tells us not only that there were older and darker rites than that of a relatively young Christian belief being practised by some of the Papar, and that while all may have disappeared, not all actually left Iceland. There are rumours of one group going underground to hide, a group the book calls Sértrúarsöfnuður Risasnigilsins. Not even von Junzt seems to know much about them, and until now, we’ve assumed they were either extinct or that they hadn’t truly existed in the first place.
– But you think they may be connected to this story?
– The Chamber hoped the rising amount of volcanic activity on Iceland might just be an isolated natural occurrence, but given this testimony, I’m afraid we might be dealing with something far older and more terrible than mere molten magma. I see no other option than to send in our top men. Hopefully, they’ll find nothing smellier than a bit of brimstone there, but if they do, we might have to lock down the entire island until it is taken care of.
– But we can’t do that! People will notice and ask questions!
– Of course we can. We’ll just blame the pandemic and no one will bat an eye over it. Do you realize how many missions we’ve had recently, that we’ve put down to Corona safety measures?
– What about him?
– Him? I see no further use in holding him here. Have him moved to permanent storage.

Black Water, Red Sand is dedicated to Lunah Lauridsen, who suggested and orchestrated much of the vacation in Iceland that inspired this story, and to Bessi Egilsson for putting up with my badgerings about Icelandic translations and geography.

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