Something to tide you over
“Quit being a scaredy-cat, Bobby,” Jimmy said from the lake. He and Kenny had run out onto the dock and jumped in with complete abandon. They weren’t worried about the depth beneath the waves, nor were they concerned about snapping turtles or sharp rocks or any other dangers that might be waiting for them. They jumped in, eyes wide, mouths open and yelling; “Geronimo!”
Bobby crept up behind them – scared out of his wits – and stood on the edge of the dock as his brothers waded in the murky depths below.
“Jeez,” Kenny said, his red hair sticking to the sides of his face. “You really believed that crazy story, didn’t you?” He snorted and he and Jimmy laughed at him. “Wow, we knew you were gullible, but…”
“That’s because he’s a scaredy-cat,” he teased. “Scaredy-cat, scaredy-cat, Bobby is a scaredy-cat!”
“Shut up!” Bobby said. “I’m not a scaredy-cat!”
“Then what’s taking you so long? Come on, already!”
“I’m coming,” Bobby said. He looked out at the water and wondered about what could lie underneath. He didn’t exactly believe there could be a monster under there…but…
“For crying out loud,” Kenny said. “We were just kidding about the toe monster, stupid. Nothing’s gonna happen to you. Will you just get in here already?”
Bobby shuddered at the idea. In his heart of hearts, he knew that there couldn’t be a giant toe in the lake. After all, mom and dad told him not to listen to Kenny and Bobby when they talked like that – that they were just trying to scare him.
The whole thing started when the got to the lake. The house they stayed in over the summer had been closed up and his father was busy doing stuff to ‘open’ it. Bobby had no idea what all that meant or entailed, he only knew that when they first got there, it meant that he and Jimmy were stuck helping mom with the luggage while Kenny helped dad do whatever it is that they did.
They were carrying the luggage in the house when one of their neighbors came up the walk, a plate of brownies in his hand. He was old -- as old as his grandfather, at least. He had a head full of white hair and his eyes were the color of steel. Bobby was stopped in his tracks when he saw him, because he’d never seen him before in his whole life. People came and went through Arcadia all the time. Some lived there, some just vacationed, but everyone pretty much kept to themselves most times. And no one ever came up the walk with a plate of brownies in their hands.
“Mom!” he screamed and dropped his luggage right there on the walk. He bolted up the stairs and into the house in a panic.
His mother was in the kitchen with Jimmy, unpacking the food they’d brought when Bobby came running in.
“What is it?” she asked him as he ran up to her breathlessly.
“Mom! Mom! Somebody’s at the door! Some old man’s coming up to the house!”
Jimmy rolled his eyes. “Yeah, that happens sometimes, scaredy-cat.”
“Stop that, Bobby,” his mother snapped. She bent down to Bobby and took him by the shoulders gently. “Take a deep breath, sweetie,” she said, softly. “It’s all right. It’s probably just one of the neighbors come to say hello.”
Just as she said that, there was a knock at the screen door. Bobby looked up to see the old man standing on the other side, his steel blue eyes seeming to cut through the wire in the door.
“I’m terribly sorry, ma’am,” he said, “I was just coming over to welcome you folks to the neighborhood.” He held up the plate he was carrying, his wrinkled face split into a grin. “I brought brownies.”
She smiled and walked over to the door. “Oh, well, thank you,” she said as she allowed him entry. “I’m sorry about my son. He’s a little excitable sometimes.”
“Oh, that’s okay, ma’am. My son was the same way when he was a boy. He’s just being cautious, that’s all.”
He handed her the plate and she took it gratefully. “Thank you very much.”
“You folks here for the summer?”
“Yes, we are, in fact.”
“Oh, that’s marvelous. Arcadia’s a nice place to be in the summertime. I suppose you folks’ll be spending some time on the lake. That’s just fine. Fine and dandy.”
“Well, yes. The lake is beautiful this time of year.”
He nodded in agreement. “Terribly undertow, though, if you’re thinking of swimming. I’d tell my kids to be careful of it out there if I was you. It’s gotten worse over the last five years or so.”
“Oh, they’re good swimmers,” she said. “And they know not to go out too far.”
“Just the same,” he said. “Be mindful of it. Well, I’ll leave you to your unpacking. If you need anything, we’re just across the street.”
“Thank you,” she said as he stepped off the porch.
When he was gone, Bobby stood puzzled in the kitchen. Under…toe?
“Mom?” he asked when she was back in the kitchen. “What’s an ‘under-toe’?”
“It’s just the current out on the lake,” she said. “It’s why I tell you boys not to swim out so far.”
It was enough of an explanation for the moment, but Bobby still found himself wondering why the lakes current would be called something so silly.
They unpacked all their things and had dinner. The thought of the lake left his mind until bedtime, when the three boys were lying in their beds and talking in the dark of their room.
“Man,” Kenny said. “I can’t wait to get out on the lake tomorrow.”
“Yeah,” said Jimmy. “I’m gonna swim all the way to the other side.”
“Yeah, right! You say that every year.”
“I am. Just wait.”
“I’ll bet you won’t make it past the old raft in the middle of the lake.”
“Um…you guys can’t swim out that far,” Bobby chimed in. “You have to be careful of the undertoe.”
This was met with dead silence and instantly Bobby knew he should have kept his mouth shut. He closed his eyes and waited for the barrage of pillows to come flying at his head.
But they didn’t. Instead, Kenny said; “How did you know about that?”
“That old man that came by today said to watch out for it.”
“He was right you know. Haven’t you ever heard what it’ll do if it catches you?”
Bobby frowned with confusion. “No. What are you talking about?”
“The Undertoe,” Kenny said. “Don’t tell me you don’t know what it is, Bobby?”
He swallowed fearfully. “M-mom said that it just a current in the lake.”
“She was just trying to make it sound nice. The Undertoe’s a monster that lives in the lake – way out in the middle.”
“Yeah,” Jimmy joined in. “Yeah, I heard about that. Didn’t it eat The Henderson’s dog last year?”
“No, no,” Bobby said. “Bucky, ran away.”
“Yeah, that’s what they were telling everybody. But you know Mike Henderson, right?”
“He told me he took Bucky out one day throwing that old tennis ball, right? And he threw the ball way out into the lake. Bucky jumped in after it and the next thing he knew this big thing came out of the water and swallowed him whole.”
“It’s true. He tried to tell his mom and dad and they didn’t believe him.”
Bobby listened fearfully, his covers pulled up to his chin, but he couldn’t say a word.
“But what’s real messed up,” Jimmy went on, “is that he said it looked just like a giant toe. Like with the nail and everything.”
“That’s what they say,” Kenny added. “They say that it actually looks like a toe except where you’d normally see a fold, there’s a mouth with all these razor sharp teeth. And if you go out too far, it sucks the water up around you and sucks you in its mouth.”
“Happens every year.”
“So, when we go swimming tomorrow,” Kenny said, “Be careful how far you swim out there.”
Bobby was terrified. He lay in the bed shivering in fear for most of the night while his brothers snickered at the joke they’d just played on him.
By morning, they were getting ready to spend a day out at the lake. Bobby had no intention of going out in the water, no matter what. Which was fine for a while. After lunch, they played volleyball – at which Bobby wasn’t very good – but at least they weren’t swimming.
After volleyball, Kenny and Jimmy were both standing on the opposite end of the net, sweat pouring down their faces. Bobby was on the other side with their dad, who managed to beat them both at volleyball single handedly (since Bobby didn’t play very well at all).
“You boys have a lot to learn before you beat your old man at this game,” he laughed.
“Yeah, dad,” was all Kenny had to say.
“Hey, are we done? We want to go swimming.” Jimmy asked eagerly.
“All right,” Dad said. “Go on ahead.” They darted away from him in a blur, in the direction of the dock. “And take your brother with you.”
“Dad,” Bobby said grabbing his shirt. “Don’t make me go. Please.”
“Bobby,” he chuckled. “Don’t be silly. Go on out there with your brothers.”
“But…” he looked out at the sparkling water before them and all he could think about was the monster swimming around under the waves. His father wouldn’t believe him if he told him what was out there.
“Bobby, go on,” his father prodded. “It’s too hot out here, son. Do you want to burn up?”
Bobby looked after his brothers as they ran off towards the docks, taking off their shirts and kicking off their shoes as they darted across the sand. “N-No…but Dad—”
“Go on, then,” he said nudging him a little. Bobby reluctantly walked off after his brothers, taking off his shirt as well.
Now he stood on the dock as Kenny and Jimmy teased him. All he could think about was the idea of a monster lurking beneath the waves, waiting for them with its sharp teeth.
"Bobby,” Kenny said finally, “think about it. Do you think that we’d be in here if there really was a monster?”
It was a valid point and even though Bobby was still scared, it was a little silly to think that there might be a toe monster in the lake.
With that in mind, he took a deep breath and leapt in with his brothers. Despite the teasing, they welcomed him and splashed around in the sparkling blue green of the lake water. As Bobby played with them, he forgot all about toe monsters and his brother’s teasing.
It wasn’t long before Kenny and Jimmy started jumping in the water from the dock, daring the other to leap out farther than the brother before him. Bobby watched by the shallow part as Kenny and Jimmy took turns back and forth. As he waded around in the water, he watched his brothers grow more and more competitive and grew more and more bored. After a while, he started wading for the shore.
“Come on, best out of ten,” Jimmy was saying.
“No way. I beat you fair and square.”
“Aw, come on. Give me a break.”
“Okay, okay. How ‘bout chicken, then?”
Kenny laughed. “You can’t beat me at chicken, stupid.”
Bobby stopped his wading and turned around to them. The ‘toe’ monster had been all but dismissed…until this very moment.
As they continued to joke around, he realized that they had just been trying to scare him…but he started to think what if they were wrong? What if somehow, there was something dangerous out in the middle of the lake?
“G-guys,” he spoke up. The two of them looked back at him. He started not to say anything. In his mind, he saw them laughing at him as they had in the past.
“Um, maybe you shouldn’t play chicken today,” he said.
“Will you knock it off?” Jimmy said. “We already told you that there’s nothing to be afraid of. Could you stop being a baby for once in your life?”
“I-I just think that you guys should be careful, that’s all.”
Kenny and Jimmy turned their backs to him in an open display of disregard. “Okay,” Kenny was saying. “On the count of three. One…Two...THREE!”
The two boys started swimming out to the middle of the lake while Bobby watched helplessly. They’ll be okay, he tried telling himself. They’ll be –
A collection of waves suddenly moved in front of him. Bobby watched as the waves turned collectively towards Kenny and Jimmy. It looked like a fish was swimming just beneath the surface…a really big fish.
His mouth got dry as he realized that whatever it was, it was after his brothers. “Guys!”
They kept swimming, neck and neck for the middle of the lake. Over the splashing and the laughing, Bobby doubted they could hear him, so he called louder. “Hey, guys!”
They kept swimming. His heart was beating a million times a minute in his chest. Whatever it was going after them was huge and while he was sure there was a logical explanation, he couldn’t help to think that maybe, just maybe, there was some kind of monster under the waves after them.
Just as he started to call for them again, the giant thing surfaced and Bobby felt his stomach drop into his shoes.
The sunlight hit the shine off the pond scum covering its gray skin. The body was thick and oblong, like a trunk of some sort, only there were wrinkles in its back where he imagined the head must have to bend. On the back of its head there was a hard flat shell that glittered in the sunlight. If Bobby didn’t know better, he’d swear that it looked just like—
“Kenny!” Bobby screeched in terror. “Kenny! Jimmy! Get out of the water! Swim back! Swim back!!!”
The boys paused long enough to look back and found themselves looking at the mouth of a worm-like creature. Its head was round and oblong like the rest of its body. The top half of it reared back as it advanced on them and a fold opened up, revealing razor sharp teeth. The water around them started to slide towards the mouth as it came barreling in their direction.
They screamed. Kenny turned to swim away, but poor Jimmy was too terrified to move. The teeth bore down on him, inhaling him feet first before snapping down on his abdomen and dragging him down beneath the waves.
Kenny swam for the raft in the middle of the lake, his heart pounding a million beats a second. As he pulled himself up on the raft, he looked back to see the sparkling water turning red in the spot he and Jimmy had been just moments before.
Bobby was screaming. He was screaming and swimming back frantically for the shore. Kenny watched helplessly, thinking only that his mom and dad would be here in a second when they heard all the commotion. Bobby would tell them. Bobby would tell them what happened and where he was.
In seconds, he realized that Bobby wouldn’t be saying anything ever again. As the little boy got to the shallow part of the water, Kenny saw him stand…then he saw the waves come up behind him and Bobby falling face first into the water.
“No!” Kenny screamed as the thing dragged his little brother backwards into the water. He watched as Bobby’s hands flailed across the water as it dragged him back to the middle of the lake…then let him go. Bobby treaded for a moment, bewildered and disorientated.
“Swim, stupid!” he yelled, leaning over the edge of the raft and holding out his hand. “Come on!”
Bobby turned to Kenny and started swimming, but the second he moved, the thing came up from the depths, its teeth shining in the sunlight. It came down on Bobby’s head, clamping down on his neck. Bobby’s body flailed, grabbing at the head and beating it with his fists. Kenny could hear his little brother’s muffled screams as the thing started jerking him around.
“Let him go!” Kenny screamed jumping into the water. He swam for Bobby, reaching him in seconds. He grabbed hold of his feet and started to pull…but just as he did, a loud crunching noise filled the air. Kenny watched as the thing ripped his brother’s head from his body. Kenny, who was still holding his feet, fell backwards in to the water, as blood squirt from the stump on his brother’s shoulders.
He let go in horror and swam back for the raft. Just as his hand reached up for the raft, he felt something clamp onto both his legs. He screamed as loud as he could, in the hopes that his mother or father would hear him across the lake, but water filled his mouth before the sound got very far. In the seconds that he was alive and under the water, he felt a vibration and his legs were free. He looked down to see clouds of blood water rising all around him. He tried to kick his legs to get to the surface, but his feet were numb. He kicked as best as he could and waved his arms. When he looked down again, he couldn’t see his feet. In the murky water, all he could make out were his thighs…and tendrils of flesh as they hung from the bottom.
With the air that was left in his lungs, he screamed. The last thing little Kenny saw were the razor sharp teeth in the mouth of a giant toe as it came spinning up from the dark of the water.