Author's Note: My first Jay encounter happened while sequestered at the home of Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch for a weeklong workshop on the Oregon Coast. Within minutes of meeting, I desperately wanted to punch him. He annoyed the fuck out of me. People smarter than me always do (I spend lots of time wanting to punch people), and Jay's probably the smartest person I've ever met. Within days though, I realized his brilliance came with a price: the man's certifiably nuts. I could live with that. And we've since become friends. At times—especially when thongs are involved—maybe a little too friendly.
So when I got wind that J.K. Richard needed stories for an anthology in Jay's honor called JAY LAKE: Intelligently Redesigned, I packed up my laptop, headed to the bar, and hammered out this story. Unlike Jay's work, you won't find too many big words. But then I'm not quite as bat-shit crazy as Jay, so it all works out.
THE SIGN UP THERE by the pier says WELCOME TO JAY LAKE. It looks a lot like that Amity one from that Jaws movie, 'cept ours has a big notch out of the side. They say a zeppelin took out that piece. It's one of them stories you don't really believe, but you heard it so much you just start tellin' it like it was true. Same with the pier. See the way the end's all sunk under the murky green water? Well, folks say a great big cog fell from the sky one day, smashed it to bits, and dragged the rest of it down. Tell you what, you listen to what some of the people around here go on about, there's some pretty strange stuff at the bottom o' this lake.
Not a lot of fish though. Not no more.
Guess that's why folks stopped coming around a while back. By the way, I'm Clyde. See me over there across the way in front of the cabin? I'm the one sitting on the steel drum wearing the overalls too short for me, no shirt underneath, and the red cap. See, now I'm waving? Yeah, that's me, the guy with the fishing rod in my hand. Like I said, not a lot of fish, but, hey, it gives me something to do.
Oh, and this guy beside me, in the old wooden chair? Dead ringer for Walter Matthau, right? His name's Jim. I call him Jimbo. Jimbo and me, we've been coming out here most every day for as long as I can remember. Long since any other people stopped coming to Jay Lake.
Jimbo pulls a Bud out of the blue cooler on the deck beside him. "You want one?" he asks.
I reach down and grab mine swishing it. "It's still half full."
He pops the top of his new one. "How come you keep fishing?" he asks. "When was the last time you caught anything?"
I shrug. "Been a while. You used to fish too."
"Yeah but I stopped when I figgered out there weren't nothing left to catch."
"Gives me something to do while I think about life and things. How about you? You're even worse than me. You just sit here all day drinking beer. Least I'm doin' something."
He nods slowly and stares out across the lake without responding. A skeeter lands on my arm and I shoo it away with my beer-hand. "Skeeters are bad today, you noticed?"
He scratches beside his eye. "Not really. 'Course, I wear a shirt and pants. I don't come half naked like you."
"I don't know how you don't sweat to death in that." Another mosquito comes down on my arm. I set down my beer and try to slap it, but miss. "Jeezus! They're getting worse."
"Next time maybe you'll dress like a normal person." He's still staring out across the lake. It's getting on late afternoon and the sun is falling behind the birches along the edge, the light split through their branches reflecting emerald off the surface of the water. It's warm though, and there's a nice breeze coming over from the pier.
Another one of those damn skeeters lands just above my wrist. I'm about to nail it with my palm when Jimbo reaches out and grabs my arm, stopping me. "What the hell? What are you doing? It's sucking me dry! It's a goddamn vampire!"
"Look at it," he says, but I just stare at his eyes. Droopy and red. I tell you, he looks exactly like Walter Matthau. You know, before he died.
He glances up. "Look at it, goddamnit!"
So I do. At first I don't know what the hell he's talking about. It's just a goddamn skeeter. It's big, but we get 'em big here. Really big. They're always around the lake this time of year, only normally not as aggressive as today. Except when I look close, I see what's got his attention. The thing on my arm's not a goddamn skeeter at all. It's… it's…
My pulse quickens. I glance back up at Jimbo, now too scared to even think about moving my arm. "What the hell is it?" I ask. My voice falls to a whisper.
It looks sorta like a skeeter, only... it's not alive. It's some kind of gray, manufactured thing and… "What the hell is that on it's tail? Is that some sort of logo?"
"I think so," Jimbo says. He's still clutching my arm. He's ridiculously calm.
Panic wells up inside me. "Get the goddamn thing off me! Get it off me!" I try to pull away, but Jimbo's a pretty big guy.
"Wait. Let's see what happens."
"Get it off my goddamn arm!" I scream. "I don't want to see what happens!" But as I sit there gripped between Jimbo and panic with that skeeter machine or whatever the hell it is taking the blood from my veins, two more of the suckers land right beside it. They're identical. Like cars made on an assembly line or something. My heart heaves up into my throat. Now I'm too scared to even speak.
I watch, horrified, as the three of them begin to connect up and turn into something new. It's like that Transformers movie or somethin', except it's happening on my arm. On my goddamn arm. I can feel Jimbo looking on, but I'm too frozen with fear to look up.
Four more of the buggers swoop in, and suddenly I know exactly what they're doing. They're building a goddamn oil pump. Except it's not an oil pump, it's a blood pump. A goddamn mosquito-appliance blood pump.
I lose it. "Get the fucking thing off me—now!" I scream, stumbling to my feet. The steel drum falls sideways and rolls across the deck. My fishing rod falls into the murky water of Jay Lake. My foot kicks my beer over and the rest of my Bud pours out, washing over the cedar floor, dripping through the cracks into the lake. I pull myself free of Jimbo's grip and knock the skeeter-assembly off my arm. Only it's too late, and blood's spurting from me. It's like a goddamn garden hose suddenly cranked to full while it whips around like a snake on your front lawn.
"I'm bleeding to death!" I scream. "I'm goddamn bleeding to death!" My knees start wobbling, and I try to stop the blood with my other hand.
Through all my freaking out, I hear Jimbo yelling for me to stop moving. "Let me tie it off. I can stop the bleeding. Just stop flailing around!"
He takes one of those plastic thingies the beer cans come in—you know the stuff you're supposed to break apart so that seagulls don't end up strangled in them—and he uses that to wrap up my arm right above where the blood's spurting. It helps—some. Then he grabs an old white towel hanging from the handle of the barbecue behind us and ties it over the wound. By the time he's done, I can't decide if the towel is more white or red. But at least the spurting's stopped. I hate blood spurting. Especially my own.
We look at each other for a second while I catch my breath.
Then there's this sound from the lake, almost like a giant toilet's being flushed. We look over just as two gigantic trout break the water. I mean, like shark-big, their pink bodies almost glowing under the falling sun. And… well… at this point nothin' surprises me much no more, but they don't have fins on their sides. They have wings. Big, ribbed, emerald, bat-wings.
They fly out of the lake, up, over the birches, wearing what look like leather harnesses. Behind them, a chariot breaks the water. It's one of those small Roman-type ones. You know what I mean. The sort of thing you see in that Caligula movie which I only rented to get a better grip on history and not for the oral sex part. I swear.
The chariot's driven by a dwarf with a whip. There's a second dwarf in the back, facing the other way. He's got some sort of gun. I think it's called a gatling gun, but I could be wrong. He's firing it back into the lake. A second later this giant winged squid (ridden by a clown—I kid you not—in the weirdest saddle I've ever seen) bursts from the surface right behind the dwarfs.
The squid's firing black splatters of ink, but the dwarf chariot seems to be dodging them. Both Jimbo and I watch as they disappear up and over the birches, into the setting sun.
"Well if that don't beat all," I say when they're finally out of sight. I'm still looking at the top of the trees where the sky has started to turn a mixture of gold and red.
"Can only mean one thing," he says.
I look at him. He shakes his head, eyebrows raised. "I'm gonna miss the quiet, let me tell you that. But one thing's for sure. We're headin' back into tourist season.
"Jay Lake's open for business."