Friday, September 04, 2009

Ghosts, Spiders and Blood-Warm Water

As I walked to the swimming pool last night, a spider web caught in my hair and shoulders. It didn’t scare me but it reminded me of a section in my novel Ghost of a Chance. Buck McDivit is lost on eerie Caddo Lake at night near the place where he has recently seen a ghost. Here is a short excerpt from Ghost of a Chance.

Ghost Excerpt

The friendliest of country roads can become creepy as a carnival ghost house after dark. The road to Deception proved no exception. Thick fog wisped up from hot blacktop and danced across the roadway as Buck swerved to miss a darting rabbit. The frightened animal scurried into the forest, oblivious to its near demise.
Buck bypassed downtown Deception and found the boat waiting where he’d left it. The motor cranked on the first pull and sent a swirl of vapor curling up from the surface of the lake. Foggy haze continued to thicken as he adjusted the bow light and motored away from shore.
Heavy fog began rolling in as Buck neared the center of the lake. The boat's tiny light provided scant illumination, even on a clear night. Now it was all but useless. He quickly lost sight of land but, thanks to the continued effects of Richardson's brandy, wasn't immediately bothered by the lack of visibility. His blithe oblivion didn't last long.
Within minutes he'd lost all notion of direction and rocked the fuel tank to reassure him that he had plenty of gas. The heft of a half-empty tank only added to his growing concern. As marauding mosquitoes buzzed his head, a distant rumble interrupted the chorus of crickets and frogs - a non-muffled engine. Another boat was on the lake and Buck couldn't tell if it was approaching him or moving away.
"Hello out there," he called, his cry eliciting no response except for silence in the creatures of the lake.
As Buck listened for a reply his boat struck something in the darkness. The collision sent him sprawling. As he pulled himself off the bottom of the boat, he realized he'd rammed one of the old wood-framed drilling platforms. Luckily, he'd struck it at an angle. When he grabbed for a plank, a sharp splinter pierced his hand causing him to recoil and bang his head against the platform. Worse yet, red eyes glared up from the darkness beneath the platform.
When Buck gunned the throttle the motor raced, along with his heart, but the boat remained in place. The impact had thrown the engine out of gear, sticking the boat in brush trapped beneath the musty old platform. Now the boat rocked precariously amid dank odor of stagnate water and dry rot.
As Buck's little craft floated in a circle beneath the platform, it passed through elastic strands of a large spider web. Claustrophobia chilled his neck as the web encircled his face. Forgetting the racing engine, he grabbed the platform and yanked the boat out from under the planking. With hand and head throbbing he slammed the boat into gear, motoring blindly into what he hoped was open water. Again he heard the high-pitched whine of another boat.
Buck threw the engine into neutral, fear of striking a cypress tree or another platform in the thick fog fresh in his mind. After raking the spider web from his face he called for help again and listened for an answer. No help arrived as he felt something crawling down his shirt.
"Hey out there! Can anyone hear me?"
Buck's cry faded as a powerful light penetrated milky fog. It was attached to a fast boat powering straight toward him. Standing, he began waving and yelling.
"Here I am!"
The boat's approaching wail sounded vaguely familiar to Buck but it was too late to worry about it. As it streaked past, its wake lifted his boat almost out of the water. The little craft remained afloat but rocked dangerously. Then he heard the other boat turning for another pass.
Buck held on, waiting for the swell to subside. The wake had swamped the motor, stalling it. When the boat stopped rocking he yanked the starter cord but the motor only sputtered and died with a sick sounding thump. He had little time to worry about the stalled engine.
The marauding boat's headlight blazed through the fog, powering directly toward him. With little time to react he abandoned ship, diving overboard before the speeding boat plowed into his own craft with a tremendous crash and an ensuing explosion of wood. The wake of the collision sucked him to the bottom of the shallow lake, pinioning him in the murky ooze for a long, terrifying moment. When the wake passed, releasing the suction, he tried to kick toward the surface, his arms flailing against swirling muck and slimy vegetation. But something had his foot in its clammy grasp and refused to let go.
The crooked branch of a submerged tree, part of the rotting mass of vegetation at the bottom of the lake, had trapped Buck's foot. He struggled but his futile attempt served only to deplete what little oxygen was left in his lungs. Despite his efforts, he gained no leverage against the algae-covered stump.
Buck's eyes bulged, his head threatening to explode, his lungs desperate to gasp something, even blood-warm water, into them. Just before losing consciousness he felt icy fingers encircle his ankle. Ephemeral hands freed his ankle from the sunken tree and pushed him toward the lake’s surface. Stroking upward in near panic, he belched foul liquid from his lungs as he burst from the black water.
The first cognizant sound Buck recognized was the boat returning at high speed for another pass. Ducking beneath the water, he plunged back to the bottom of the lake just as the boat passed directly overhead. This time no sunken vegetation entrapped him and he bobbed to the surface, coughing up water but in no imminent danger of drowning.
Fog cloaking the lake showed signs of lifting and moonlight illuminated the silky sheath with a pulsating glow. It left Buck with the sensation of being trapped in a giant Lava Lamp. Having no better plan, he dog-paddled toward what he hoped was the shore. It wasn't. Only rotting vegetation impeded his forward motion, tangling him in scummy tentacles. Tearing loose, he back-stroked into open water.
A dozen or so strokes brought him to the edge of the lake where his feet finally touched shallow bottom. Neck deep in lily pads, he remained in stagnate water until he'd caught his breath, his thoughts turning to poisonous snakes and prehistoric fish with mouths full of razor-sharp teeth swimming around him.
A breeze began blowing fog off the lake and the moon soon poked a small hole in its gossamer shroud. What he saw frightened him more than the thought of an alligator swimming between his legs. Through the underbrush, not more than twenty feet from where he stood, were Humpback and Deacon John floating silently in their boat. Both carried automatic weapons.

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