Know thyself - Editor
My Own Reflections
by Andrew Black
Edward Hoffman looked down at the muddy, swirling water fifteen odd feet below him and pondered what it would be like to topple over the cast iron railing atop the reservoir into those murky depths. He kicked a pebble off the ledge, watching the little stone tumble in a lazy arc until it plopped into the placid surface below. Circular ripples echoed outward and were quickly absorbed back into the silt-laden water. Would a body make ripples that lasted longer? He wondered if maybe all of life was like those quickly vanishing circles, where a man was no more than a pebble dropped in the great pond of life at birth, their ripples spreading outward while they slowly sank beneath the surface until at last even the small wake of their passing vanished.
Edward hated his life. He was in his mid-thirties, a pudgy man with a receding hairline. His face was egg-shaped with a wide jaw and neck and high, almost pointed scalp with a ring of close cropped brown hair. His eyes were deep set, small and dull brown and his bushy eyebrows had a habit of growing together if he forgot to shave between. He rarely did anything approaching exercise, though this was partially the fault of a congenital heart defect that caused his pulse to race uncontrollably if he exerted himself too much. His ears were overly large, but fortunately laid flat against his skull, which also seemed a bit too big for his body. There was very little attractive about the man, and his personality was as flat and lifeless as his looks.
He’d dated a few women, had sex twice in his life thanks to the wonders of cheap beer and the low standards of the middle-aged women who hung out at the White Buffalo honky tonk just outside of town, but had never had anything resembling a true relationship. He had tried dating sites on the internet but his rural community had little to offer and the women from the larger cities saw nothing of interest in Edward. He spent most nights alone in his apartment, watching TV or pulling his pud to online porn. He had no social life to speak of, no friends to visit or hang out with, and no real hobbies to share with anyone.
Although Edward had little in the way of social skills, he wasn’t entirely odious to those around him. Most people thought of him as shy and polite, if they thought about him at all. Generally no one paid much attention to him. He was simply a blank, a name and face with no substance to any of the people with whom he regularly interacted. This suited Edward, though. He didn’t really want to make deep friendships with anyone because he didn’t think any of them could possibly understand him, despite the fact that there was little in his life for anyone to comprehend. Other than a collection of restaurant coasters, some of which came from as far away as New York City, there wasn’t too much to know about Edward’s private life.
Edward had considered ending his life a number of times. His plans never got very far, for as well as being a social reject he was also a tremendous coward. The idea that there might be some discomfort in killing himself tended to ruin any suicidal thoughts he entertained. He also was highly agnostic, his faith having been broken in his youth after many rounds of teasing in Sunday school, and he wasn’t sure there was any sort of afterlife waiting for him. Instead of acting out his self-destructive instincts, he would simply imagine the act in his mind over and over until finally his depression lessened. This usually coincided with a purchase of alcohol or the discovery of a new online porn site catering to whatever fetish caught his attention at the time. It was a horrible cycle, depression leading to more depression until something distracted him from his problems, and the older he got the more difficult it became to pull out of such a spiral.
Sometimes he would come to the reservoir wall after work and stare down at the water and ask himself why he kept going. He had no family to speak of; his parents were killed in a car accident when he was in his early twenties and all he had left was an uncle who lived two states over. He had no friends, not one person who would genuinely miss him if he were gone. He had thought of buying a pet once, but his landlord wouldn’t allow it. He felt like cardboard, like he didn’t really exist at all.
It was Friday, a long weekend ahead of Edward filled with no plans and even less to do. He stared down at his reflection in the water, imagining another world where he was important, perhaps a celebrity or a wealthy man. He pictured a land where the name Edward Hoffman was uttered with the deepest respect, and he was surrounded by women, fawning over him like rock star groupies. He let out a long sigh, looking at the dark woods on either side of the lake, the low forest to the west and the gnarled ancient growths on Hobb Hill to the east. Edward wondered if Loneliness could itself be a companion.
As his attention returned to the water the red rays of the setting sun turned the gently lapping waves beneath him into fiery peaks. He especially liked sunset on the lake, and despite his rapidly souring mood the dancing reflections made him smile. He heard the scuff of shoes on gravel and turned his head to the right to see a young woman and her toddler son leaving the small playground that stood at the western end of the wall. It was just a tiny picnic area with a metal swing set, monkey bars and a couple of badly splintered picnic tables, and it was usually deserted on Edward’s visits.
Edward smiled at the woman, though she was quite some distance away. He couldn’t see her too well with the setting sun behind her, but he admired her shapely legs and ample chest as she shepherded her son into his car seat. A number of erotic thoughts passed through Edward’s mind in the blink of an eye, and he filed away the sun dappled profile of the unknown woman for later fantasizing. She seemed to sense his stare and stood up straight, looking in his direction.
Turning quickly back to the water in embarrassment, Edward feigned indifference and looked out over the lake. Far to the south someone rowed a small metal boat toward the docks at the bait shop, and even farther away he could make out the triangular silhouette of a sail boat making for the western shoreline. He heard the woman’s car pull out of the lot and sighed, wishing he had the courage to go talk to her, to see if she was married or if she might want to go get a cup of coffee. He berated himself for his cowardice and scowled at his reflection below him.
Blinking in confusion, Edward saw that the image seemed to be facing away from him. He cocked his head to the side, his watery twin failing to mimic the motion. With a slow, deliberate pace the likeness turned to its creator, a horrible grin on the wave distorted face. Edward’s eyes opened wide, his voice caught by panic-seized vocal cords. The rippling image below began to move of its own volition, first waving up at Edward and then lifting out of the water itself. It was gelatinous, a vaguely man shaped bubble of murky water glistening in the fading sunlight.
The simulacrum pulled itself upright, standing on the water as Edward’s unbelieving eyes continued to be locked on the mockery and his knuckles went white as he gripped the rough gray railing. The image of Edward was still two-dimensional, like a badly silk screened logo on a squishy, liquid body. It retained its malevolent grin as it put a viscous pseudo-hand against the rough concrete wall and began to climb up towards the fear-paralyzed man at the railing.
Edward tried to move, tried to pry his hands free from the railing as that impossible, unthinkable facsimile slowly crawled up the near vertical levee. In his mind, explanations raced like top fuel dragsters, fast but ultimately going nowhere in a very short time. Was he hallucinating? Dreaming perhaps? A nightmare was more like it. As he stood there, transfixed by the slow squirming of the creature as it proceeded inexorably upward, clinging to the cement wall like a great amorphous snail, a glistening trail of slime behind it, Edward struggled with the instinct to either flee in terror or deny the very existence of the watery duplicate.
The thing looked up at him, the face still a misshapen version of Edward’s own. Its eyes seemed to bulge, the flat image deformed by swells that grotesquely mocked real organs and swiveled in false sockets to watch the shivering imbecile above it. Its pace quickened as it scrabbled up the concrete retaining wall, its bulk quivering in excitement as its quarry neared. It seemed to flow more than actually climb, its false limbs moving in a completely inhuman manner as it gushed upward towards Edward.
As the first jelly-like mitt splashed over the edge, Edward knew his life, pathetic though it was, was rapidly coming to an end. It was not the ending he would have wanted, but then, like the rest of his existence, he had no real plans anyway. The thing touched his foot, flowing over his shoe like mercury, climbing a leg which promptly went numb. This at least served to end his mental seizure. His body was able to react in the most primal of instincts, self preservation. He kicked at the thing, his free foot catching the congealed, muck brown head as it peeked over the rim. His hands went lax, no longer holding the metal railing in their petrified grasp and they unconsciously curled into fists.
It was too late, however, for any real defense from the bizarre lake monster. Much as his wasted life was leading to an inevitable messy conclusion, Edward’s feeble resistance to the beast barely slowed its assault on his body. It flowed up his leg, reaching his often self-maligned crotch, its cold embrace on his flesh shriveling his already miniscule member and sending his testes in a hasty retreat into his groin. It slithered up his rotund belly, chilly and slimy as it began encasing him in its gelatinous essence. It took only a handful of heartbeats to reach his face, though his clawing fingers managed to delay the enveloping ooze for a few seconds more. Edward stumbled back from the railing, his back striking the concrete behind him with a pulpy sound that was quickly replaced with the deafening rumble of water as the creature’s gushing feelers seeped into his ear canals.
Edward tried to close his eyes but the membranous suit forced them wide. All he could see was a semi-transparent mirror of his own terrified stare and the last rays of sunlight swiftly fading into dusk. He couldn’t breathe, the muck filled his mouth and shoved its way down his throat, but he screamed nonetheless, a gurgling whimper as the fluid intruder forced his captured legs to walk to the railing. He unwillingly bent at the waist, leaning precariously over the cast iron barrier. As Edward blacked out he felt himself tumble, his head hitting the solid stone wall as he splashed into the lake below. His mind replayed his life within his dimming vision, a sad and short tale with no particularly outstanding moments.
Ten minutes later, Sandy Partlow pulled her minivan into the gravel lot of the little playground beside the reservoir wall. Her son, Troy, had left his favorite stuffed animal, a raggedy brown dog he called Ruff, on the swing set. She saw the dull russet sedan that had been there earlier, still parked slightly off center near the walkway over the reservoir, and she remembered the chubby man ogling her as she put Troy in the car. Her mind flashed all sorts of horrible scenarios where the man was a rapist, serial killer or escaped mental patient who would kill her, rob her, kidnap her child or, perhaps worst of all, hit on her pathetically. She sighed, noting the man was nowhere to be seen, got out of the van, and walked briskly over to the swings.
There on the cracked black rubber saddle was the poor lost toy. Sandy picked it up and was about to return to the car when she happened to look over at the lake shore. There, bloated and corpse gray, floated the body of Edward Hoffman. She dropped the stuffed dog, its long plush ears flapping gently as it landed on the soft earth, her hands flying to her face as she screamed in horror. This alone would have made her light headed, but then the corpse sat up, waved to her, and slipped back under the murky water. She crumpled to the ground beside the stuffed dog as the ripples of the corpse’s passing danced outward on the lake. She woke about five minutes later and hastily dialed the sheriff.
Edward’s body was found a week later, drifting in some reeds on the southern shore of the lake, an idiot grin frozen on his face. No one really noticed he was gone, and the world quickly moved on. Deep down in Ross Lake beneath the reservoir wall something burbled a coarse chortle in the slimy mud.