The Heritage Lake Monster, David Busboom
3rd Place Winner Of The "Create-a-Cryptid" Contest
WCID News Bulletin
June 26, 2004
FOXTON, Ill. — Police are warning the public after an eight-foot-long Nile monitor lizard escaped from someone’s home.
It appears to be around the Heritage Lake area, and does not appear to be vicious. However, police are asking people to keep an eye on small children and pets.
Foxton Police Chief Kevin D’Arcy said the lizard had belonged to local residents.
“It got out when they were cleaning its enclosure,” D’Arcy said. “It shouldn’t be a danger unless someone would try to grab it. It’s going to be near impossible to catch.”
The lizard may swim to the bank to sun itself, but is not likely to survive the winter. Anyone who sees it is asked to stay away.
Mirror-smooth water reflected a cloudy sky. Occasionally a dimple appeared upon the surface, bubbled, and disappeared, as from the soundless gasp of a large fish.
The lake was surrounded by trees and ringed with a yard or so of what counted for a beach in central Illinois. Joseph and Elizabeth walked to where Elizabeth’s parents waited near the water, letting her elderly black lab, Bart, run ahead.
They all wore masks. Joe recognized Elizabeth’s parents, Kevin and Debbie, from their first meeting in June. He knew their faces from pictures and the rare Zoom conference, but had yet to see them unmasked in person.
“Good to see you, Joe,” Kevin said.
The chill water barely moved upon the sand. For a moment they all stood looking out over the smooth surface. On the other side of the lake, another gathering clustered around another pair of picnic tables, but otherwise the place was deserted.
“Not many here,” Elizabeth said. “I guess that’s good.”
“Lots of food,” Debbie said. “Find a seat and let’s eat.”
A young turkey had been cooked, carved, and packed in casserole dishes along with generous heaps of mashed potatoes, cranberry stuffing, and green beans with diced bacon and onions. All this was laid out on a picnic table, along with a cooler of beer.
They filled paper plates and took their seats, spaced apart. Only then did they remove their masks to eat.
“Is it true there’s a monster in the lake?” Joe asked.
Kevin snorted. “Just a dead lizard old enough to drive. Escaped from some trailer trash and set up camp here in the summer of ‘04. People still like to joke about it, but there’s no way it lasted—”
A child screamed across the lake. A faint, echoing shriek that reached them as though through a miasmic smog, despite the clarity of the day.
Bart growled low in his chest, his hackles rising. He planted his paws in the wet sand and gazed out over the smooth surface, searching.
Even as the rest of them turned to follow Bart’s gaze, the dog was off, racing into the water as though in pursuit of a fallen duck.
Elizabeth cried out after him, but he was resolute. Near the center of the lake, he stopped and dove. Dimples burst upon the surface, sparkling.
Joe looked at Elizabeth, saw her composure beginning to evaporate. That dog had been by her side for years, had helped her through some tough times of her own, never mind all he’d come to mean to Joe. The two of them had developed their own bond in recent months.
He looked back to the water. It remained still.
Sliding off his shoes and jacket, Joe rushed in, splashing up to his ankles, knees, thighs, hips. The water was even colder than he expected, shockingly cold. His breath left him, but he regained it, dove forward and began to swim toward where Bart had submerged. One eighth of the way, one fourth….
Ahead of him the dog’s head broke the surface. He was paddling madly for the shore. Joe paused and began treading water. He called out, the cold of the water making it difficult. His legs already ached from it.
The dog heard him and turned, swimming toward him. His head was a dark blob against the water.
“Come back, Bart!” Elizabeth called from the shore. “Here!”
The dog met and passed Joe, doing as he was told now. He seemed spooked, but more or less okay.
“You too, Joe,” Debbie called. “You’ll catch an early grave in there.”
He turned to follow in Bart’s wake, and something murmured in the water behind him.
Joe whirled. His breath came in gasps. The cold surrounded him like a private Ice Age.
Bubbles rose to the surface and broke softly before his face. Following them, a head—nostrils flaring from high on a pointed, grayish-brown snout, forked tongue slithering from between powerful jaws to tickle Joe’s cheeks. The eyes, round and white as death, stared into him with a purpose beyond mere aggression or predation.
Then it was gone, back below the surface. He felt himself drawn downward after it.
Elizabeth’s distant shout was the last thing he heard as he submerged. The water was unbelievably clear, and the creature swam below his feet, moving like a crocodile, sharp claws held close to its body. It was an enormous lizard, at least two feet longer than he was tall, its back patterned with striking greenish-yellow rosettes that seemed to be flaking off in places, revealing withered flesh and fish-cleaned bone beneath. Beyond the beast, toward the lake’s bottom, Joe thought he saw something else. Something achingly familiar and warm.
The lizard seized his foot in a sudden snap. Its teeth were blunt and broken with rot, barely piercing the skin beneath his sock. But its grip was strong.
He did not struggle, but sucked water into his burning lungs and allowed himself to be pulled down, down.
He thought he heard voices. First a few, then many. One of them might’ve been his grandfather’s. One of them was his mother’s.
David Busboom is the author of the novella Nightbird (Unnerving 2018), as well as numerous short stories, articles, and essays. He is a science editor by day. More about David and his writing can be found at davidbusboom.com.