“I don’t wanna see Grandpa. I wanna go home,” whimpered Billy.
The young boy sat in the backseat of a luxury sedan. He was surrounded by toys that he hadn’t touched the entire trip. A McDonalds Happy Meal lay cold at his feet.
Mister Darling was driving the car and his lovely wife was riding shotgun. He was wearing a dashing beige sport coat and silk tie. With her blonde hair done up, Missus Darling looked radiant in a sundress. They exchanged an annoyed look.
After an exhausted sigh, Missus Darling turned around and said, “We’ve talked about this, Billy. It’s our turn to visit Grandpa this year.”
Billy sniffled back, “No. I wanna go home.”
Mister Darling hunched over the steering wheel. He gritted his teeth and tightened his grip. Underneath his breath, he said, “Kids nowadays have no sense of responsibility.”
His wife put a soothing hand on his shoulder. She gave him a nod of affirmation and looked back at Billy. Her false smile couldn’t mask her disappointment.
“Don’t be like this, Billy. Grandpa is all alone at the lake and… well…” Missus Darling said. She allowed for a moment of pause while she collected her thoughts. The sound of them leaving the paved road filled the car. Old gray stones bounced up from the tires underneath them.
Missus Darling took another deep breath. The car passed a sour apple tree. And then another and another.
“Besides...” She said with new found enthusiasm. “Grandpa is a great man. If you’re lucky, some of his greatness will rub off on you and maybe then you’ll turn out to be just like him.”
Billy whimpered back, “I don’t want to be like Grandpa. I just want to go home.”
Mister and Missus Darling ignored him.
“I remember the first time we went to the lake together,” said Mister Darling. He looked at his better half and smiled. “We brought pretty little Cassandra with us.”
She smiled back; enchanted by the shared memory. Missus Daring patted her husband’s shoulder again.
Her eyes twinkled and she said, “I remember. Those were some good years. You got that promotion… We bought the boat. I got that new kitchen I wanted.”
“All thanks to Grandpa,” agreed Mister Darling. A smile appeared on his face for the first time on the trip.
Billy started to cry.
Their car followed a dirt road that slithered through a grove of sour apple trees. Black flies began to smack against the windshield. Missus Darling lost the reception on her cell phone.
“We’re here,” Mister Darling announced.
The car rolled to a stop. Husband and wife were beaming as they undid their seat belts. In the back of the car, Billy shrank down into his seat. With both arms, he cradled himself and began to tremble.
“All right,” said Missus Darling cheerfully, “Let’s go see Grandpa!”
Pretty Missus Darling went to the rear of the sedan and popped open the door. She reached for Billy’s seat belt and he slapped her hand away.
“Billy. Don‘t be a naughty boy,” she said firmly.
Her spouse tapped on the other back window and pointed at Billy. His voice was deep with authority and shallow with sympathy when he said, “Enough! You are going to see Grandpa! No more theatrics, young man. I will not have you making a scene in front of Grandpa and ruin our visit.”
He pulled open his sports coat so Billy could see his holster. Then, he added with a growl, “I mean it.
Missus Darling unbuckled Billy and dragged him from the backseat. The boy let his body go limp like a cat on an unwanted leash. Her husband came around to the other side of the car. Together, the handsome couple grabbed each one of Billy’s wrists.
They began to pull him toward the shore of a algae-choked lake. Every few steps, they would yank him off the ground and into the air with a joyful, “Wheeeeeeeeeee!”
Billy’s eyes widened. The smell of the lake water was stagnant and fetid. No birds flew over its murky waters. Sour apple trees with twisted limps lined the shores.
The trio sloshed through the mud. A faded greeting card lay plastered in the muck. Cartoon children drawn in a style from a bygone era surrounded around a cake. It read We love you, Grandpa!
“We’re heerrrre!” Missus Darling sang out in a cheery tone.
They stopped at the shore. Green water lapped up at Billy’s shoes.
Mister Darling said, “It’s Peter and Deb, Grandpa! We’ve brought Billy for a visit.”
Water began to bubble up from a deep spot in the lake. Shadows began to move under the water. The warm summer sun turned cold.
The Darlings tightened their grip on Billy’s wrists.
“No,” squeaked Billy.
Grandpa’s ghastly shape broke through the murk of the pond. First, his withered gray head that hung to the side on a brittle neck. The water-logged flesh of his face hung limp around his features. One eye bulged out of his skull. The other eye was just a shriveled raised in an oozing socket
The eye turned toward Billy. The young boy dug his heels into the mud and struggled. He pulled and yanks his arms and tried to break free.
Billy screamed, “No! No! No!”
“Quiet, young man.” snapped Mister Darling.
“Hi, Grandpa!” said his wife with a big smile. “You’re looking good.”
Grandpa’s one good eye rolled toward her. He opened his mouth. Green water game gushing out. With it, a low gurgling bellow of a damned drowned soul.
He lumbered through the water toward the trio. Seaweed hung to his shoulders and joints like a shroud. The clothes he wore were once his Sunday best. Now they were tattered rags dripping with pond scum.
Behind him, he dragged a cinder block along the muddy lake bottom. The heavy stone was tied to his right ankle.
Mister Darling said cheerfully, “It’s been too long since we’ve seen you.”
With a jerk, Grandpa’s head swung around toward her. Water ran down his face as swollen corpse studied the smiling woman. He let out a deep moan of agreement.
“Too long,“ Mister Darling said in agreement. “We brought Billy to visit you this time.”
The buggy eye focused on Billy. The bloated corpse gave him a hideous smile.
“No! I want to go home!” cried Billy.
Grandpa moved in closer and closer. He reached out for the young boy with both hands.
Billy screamed, “I want to go home! I want my mommy! I want my daddy!”
“Don’t be like that,” scolded Missus Darling.
Her husband said, “Grandpa needs company.”
Grandpa scooped Billy up into his arms. Billy squirmed in vain in the corpse’s vice-like grip.
The Darlings nodded at Grandpa. The water-logged thing didn’t return the gesture. He just turned and began to trudge back into the green water.
“I saw a mink the other day that would look just fabulous on me,” Mister Darling called after them.
Grandpa gurgled a sharp reply without looking back.
With a tone of deep satisfaction, Mister Darling remarked, “It’s going to be a good year,”
He gently took his wife’s hand. Then the pair watched as Grandpa pulled Billy below the surface of the lake.