Words and pictures of Amelie Wikstrom ©2019

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In the last days of the brief, cruel summer of the North we went to the old lake. Nineteen of us, packed in three cars, ready to squeeze the last drops of warmth out of the year. When we got there I took a good look at the cafe building, like I used to. Every year it got a little more decayed. I'd concluded a while ago no one actually ran the cafe anymore. They just quit one day and never let anyone know. The building must have been abandoned. There were layers of spray can doodles covering the wooden walls. A crack had appeared in a window. Just an abandoned little building looming over an abandoned little beach.

I don't think a lot of people ever came here these days. There were some traces; an old fireplace, some beer bottles – astonishingly, unbroken – and candy wrappers spread out in the sand. It was a small beach, maybe five hundred feet of sand, a small clearing in a very big forest. Pines and birches loomed on both sides. Come to think of it, everything seemed to loom over you in that place. Especially the stone guy.

I didn't mention him, did I? As near as anyone could tell he was sitting right in the middle of the place, two hundred and fifty feet from the forest border on each side. Just below the water line. I wish I'd made the effort to measure how big he was, some time, just so I could say for sure. He seemed to be fifteen or fifty feet tall, or something like that. It was impossible to tell, he was kind of on his own scale. When you got close he'd loom more than you'd think anything could possibly loom over you. I guess we should have suspected something.

The stone guy was a pretty tall rock in the water, black and glassy like those volcanic rocks, though there haven't been any volcanoes within three hundred miles of this place in the last twenty thousand years, at least. He had a rough angular surface that looked a lot like a face from certain angles. Reminded me a lot of the Easter Island statues. A little too tall to be safely climbed, though it certainly seemed easy enough.

The stone guy had been there forever and no one used to look twice at him. You got used to him easily. I wish I could say something like dogs used to bark when they saw him or some people would faint or something, but no. As far as I know, he never gave us a clue, beyond the looming.

So the adults had settled in the shade and the youngsters had settled in the sun and the kids had run down to get themselves wet and everything was going according to plan. And then I got up and went down to the water, without really thinking about what I did. I think, in retrospect, I had a vague feeling of unease because I couldn't hear the kids yelling like they should if they were playing.

And I found them standing in a line looking at the stone guy. Which was, as you'd expect, a little creepy. Working to keep my voice steady, cheerful and inquiring rather than accusing I said, 'Why aren't you all swimming yet?'

It seemed to take a few seconds before any of them even acknowledged my presence. It was the oldest, Timmy, who turned to me and said, absently, 'I dunno.' And then he turned back to look at the rock.

I sort of woke up and found my eyes wandering towards the stone guy too, and pulled them away with some difficulty. It seemed like I was about to fall into his gravity well. I noticed the twins, Sue and Mary, four years, were crying. Well, maybe crying isn't the word. Tears were gushing down their cheeks but they didn't seem to be aware of it. They just stood shoulder to shoulder and looked up at the stone guy, like the others.

'Who wants a popsicle?' I said, still cheerful, taking the twins' hands and beginning to gently drag them away. Though within a second the promise of sugar spread through the pack and muted whatever siren song it was they heard, and they all followed me willingly. Except Timmy.

'I'll just be a minute', he said, without looking around. I shrugged and let myself be dragged by the twins – they didn't seem to want to let go of my hands.

Mona, in charge of the supplies, was a little put out that I'd gone and promised popsicles to everyone, but then she looked closer at me and made a face that said the sweets were no longer a priority, and released the icebox lid absently. 'What's going on?' she asked, concerned.

I tried to figure out what to say and made a – I don't know, some little gesture where I turned my face to the beach to explain, for a start, where it was I was talking about. Body language is weird, I think. I think about it too much I guess, and I don't speak it unconsciously like most people do. But I'm losing my trail. I looked and saw Timmy walking to us backwards, almost stumbling, still focused on the stone guy. I said I'd get back to her in a minute and left Mona to see what the hell was going on.

It freaked me more than I wanted to admit, seeing the little guy so occupied. I could see he had no thought about where he was going and might trip and bust his butt on a rock and would still not look away from the stone guy. So I took him by the shoulder and nearly made him jump out of his skin without even saying anything, which may have been just as well on reflection. I don't think I'd have avoided shouting at him, and that'd have been all my nerves and none of his fault. But as it was I just grabbed his shoulder and he looked at me scared shitless, but only for an instant. When he realized it was me he seemed very much relieved.

He smiled and opened his mouth but then he snapped, reptile jerk, the way you'd turn to look at a car coming at you when you spot it in the corner of your eye. And I looked the same way and it was like a gallon of Novocaine poured over my face and ten gallons of ice over my back. I lost all feeling except for a chill, a shivering chill that cut me to the spine. I heard the sound of my knees hitting the sand and noticed I was two feet shorter, shoulder to shoulder with Timmy, and he made an awful keening sound like a whining dog.

What we looked at was the stone guy, but he was in the wrong place. Closer. Half of the rock was out of the water, planted in the fine yellow sand of the beach as if it had any business being there. The tiny little waves lapping him only reached halfway around, and I could see the watermark about a foot above them. I took all this in and thought I was dreaming, because otherwise everything I had thought I knew about everything was wrong. It was then I noticed something wrong about the water, only it was something right.

It wasn't much, but it was a little turbulent. Upset. Filled with sand twirled up from the bottom. Like it would be if it was rushing in to fill the space where the stone guy had been five seconds earlier. That told me everything I needed to know, the last thing I wanted to know.

I wasn't dreaming. I knew I had to do something, only my legs were about as firm as overcooked noodles. I didn't even have the strength to yell. I said, breathless, 'Timmy, are you listening to me?' I'd expected him to stand frozen, but I realized he was snuggled up against me like a baby wanting his mommy. My chest was soaked with his tears. I felt vaguely uncomfortable with so much of our skin touching, us in our bathing suits.

'Yeah', he said, though, muffled, without moving.

'He moves when we're not looking', I said, trying to sound confident, but it was halfway a question. He whimpered assent, which made me a little more confident. 'I'll look at him. I won't blink. So you can go to your mother.' About now I was wondering why the hell no one else had noticed, and I realized it must have been only a few seconds and nothing had actually happened that you'd notice unless you were paying attention. 'Tell Carl to come here.'

Carl was my big brother. I couldn't think of anyone else that would listen to what I had to say – had to say – without wasting seconds, or weeks, not understanding. I wasn't all that sure about him either, but I had a feeling his mind might just be bendy enough to listen and not change the subject to my health. Still, as Timmy pulled away with apparent reluctance I started feeling like I was trapped in a paranoid schizophrenic madness and they'd lock me away, refusing for a second to consider what I said might be true and leave me drooling in a padded cell with all the other crazies that knew just as well as me that they were the only ones in the world who knew the truth, while the stone guy would get closer – not move, just get closer – every second that no one looked at it, until it got me.

That's when I realized I was being paranoid. There was no reason to think it was after me. No reason to think it could get far from the beach without people noticing. Only, it might get us all and run free for a little and I didn't want that to happen. I'm not sure if it was my family I was protecting or the entire world. I'm not even sure what I meant when I thought it would "get" anyone. Would it stand on people? Eat them? Scare them to death? Yet I knew in the bottom of my heart it meant to kill. Kill anyone it could. It was ancient and deathless and hated all living things. I knew that just looking at him loom.

And I looked and started seeing something swirl and thought I was getting hypnotized. It lasted less than a second, I think, but it was one horrible second where I knew I couldn't take my eyes off him for an instant and I knew I had to before I got lost. I can't much describe that . . . swirling thing. It was like he, the stone guy, was a lens that was changing its focal point or resolution or whatever. You'd think it'd make him appear less real, but trust me, there was no fucking way to deny the reality of that thing. That monolith, that titanic stone guy.

Anyway, I was saved by Carl shrugging my shoulder. I leaned my head to touch his hand with my cheek, still without looking away. I thought about how Carl's wife seemed to dislike me and I never felt comfortable around her and I thought we'd drifted apart over the last years. He asked what was going on. He sounded very concerned. I could feel him crouching by my side, his hand slipping down from my shoulder.

'This is real', I said, thinking about that guy in the movie where he tries to tell a train conductor he's seen Santa Claus on the train. I noticed, as from a distance, my voice was flat and emotionless and decided it might work well. 'It sounds crazy but for our sake, for the life of every person here, you have to listen to me now.' I realized at the end I sounded like I was about to cry, and maybe I was.

Carl, bless him, didn't say anything at first, only bent over to look me in the eye. I saw him, peripherally, but managed to not look away from the towering stone guy. He seemed even bigger, I thought, but realized it was because I was still on my knees. Eventually, Carl said, 'I am listening.' My heart beat a little faster.

'The stone guy is moving', I said, slowly, taking my time with each word. 'The kids were staring at him because they were hypnotized. He hypnotizes you when you look at him and he comes closer when you look away.' The words were coming faster, but I still controlled the flow, kept my voice flat, avoided to ramble. 'You can see the water line how deep he was a minute ago. We looked away for five seconds on the upside and now he is almost out of the water. If you look you can see he is not where he should be, now.'

Carl swallowed hard and looked. 'I can see it's changed', he said, carefully. 'It looks like the water's receded. It's not like I remember it.'

'You'll have to take my word for it', I said. 'Please, I'm so scared you'll think I'm crazy and have me locked up and maybe I am crazy.'

'Crazy people don't think they're crazy', he said, comfortingly. 'I have to say I'm a little worried about the way you're acting, the fact that you haven't as much as blinked. It's irrational behavior. But if we accept, hypothetically, that we're face to face with a supernatural creature it's an irrational situation, where irrational behavior makes sense.'

'I love when you're being all clever and shit', I said, smiling, still looking at the stone guy. Carl could talk like an intellectual on crack, but he always meant exactly what he said. I could tell he was sorry that he wasn't able to say what I wanted to hear. But he hadn't said the other way either.

'Yes or no question', I said. 'Do you believe me?' I knew how hard it was for him to give his opinion on anything; I suspected he had trouble forming opinions. But I didn't think we had very much time. And, damn me, I knew he didn't have any choice as to what to answer.

'Yes', he said, of course, after a short pause. He sounded frustrated, and I tried to give him a look to say I was sorry, but without taking my eyes off the stone guy. Carl sat down all the way, by my side, so close his hip touched my foot that was still folded up under my thigh from when I'd fallen. I stretched my legs out in front of me, still with more than half my attention on the stone guy.

'So we've got a creepy animated giant rock head', said Carl, dismissively. 'What do we do about it?'

'I've been thinking about that', I said. 'I figure if we can just get everyone in the cars and get the hell out of Dodge it'll be someone else's problem. Maybe they'll nuke it.'

'Going to be hard to do that without scaring them. And I don't think anyone over the age of twenty-five will believe this shit even with the stone guy standing on their feet. Or if they believe it they'll have a heart attack.'

'Well you're the brains of this operation', I said, defensively, because it sounded better than admitting I had no better idea.

'No, it's good', he said. My brother, the mind reader. 'Couldn't come up with a better plan myself. We just have to figure out the details.' He sounded distant, dreamy, and I realized he was well on the way to be zapped by the swirlies.

'Wake up', I yelled, maybe louder than strictly necessary. He twitched like a bee had stuck him in his nuts. I could feel is eyes on me, questioning. 'Watch out so you don't get hypnotized.'

'Easier said than done I think. Maybe we should take turns', he said, then shrugged. 'No, focus. How do we get everyone into the cars no questions asked, without looking away from it?

Suddenly I became aware that the children had not made their usual noise for quite some time. Then a shadow fell over me and I realized the whole gang was standing behind us, kids and grown-ups all. 'What are you doing', a shrill voice demanded. 'What's going on with this . . .?' She trailed off, probably because she had listened to herself and noticed there was no way to finish the sentence. Sam, Carl's wife. I wondered, as I often had before, if it was just my impression or if her voice was really annoying.

'We have to leave now', Carl said, standing up. He spoke loudly, with authority I couldn’t understand where he found. Apparently winging it. How unlike him to go without a plan, I thought. 'Everyone. Pack up, we're leaving, now! No, dad, I can't explain.' I could picture dad behind me, flustered, opening his mouth and Carl shutting him down before he even took a breath. 'Not right now. Later. We have to go NOW!' He was shouting as loud as I'd ever heard him, with a voice that denied all arguments. My hero.

They actually obeyed him and moved back, like a flock. He stayed behind, bending over to take my hands and pull me up, careful not to block my view. 'We're going', he told me, confused and proud. 'Keep it together, keep looking, I'll help you walk.' His arm over my shoulder felt safe and strong. We walked, slowly, back to the cars where everyone was already filing in, baggage in the trunks. He really got them moving.

Dad was waiting for us, though. He did a great job not being angry, I thought, but his voice was loud and accusing. 'Now would you "please" spare me a word my boy', he said, and Carl, I believe trusting me to find my own way so close to the goal, turned to tell him something – what, I can only guess. But I fell, on something, and I tried to keep my eyes on the stone guy as I heard dad call my name, and then I felt pain in my temple and I knew no more.

When I woke up it was dark. I could smell old hay, dried grass and, faintly, horse manure. Children were crying. I felt hay poking me in the back and realized I was in a barn. Some of the people were there, sitting in a loose circle on the wide floor. I was off on the side, in a bed of hay. I grunted to attract their attention – didn't think there would be any point trying to speak clearly – and one figure immediately lept to its feet and walked to me. Carl, I knew, by his silhouette.

‘Hugg', I said, clearing my throat. He kneeled by my head and touched my cheek with a tenderness I hadn't felt in a long time.

'Hey', he said, whispering. I tried to make out his face, but it was too dark. He anticipated my question and asked it for me, 'what happened? We all saw it. After you fell, or wait, what do you remember?'

'Yeah', I said. 'I remember falling. Go on. What happened?' My voice felt weak and gravely.

'Well, we were all looking at you, stupid enough, no one looked down the beach for maybe twenty seconds.' I realized how shaken he sounded, like a small child. 'Then I think everyone looked at the same time and saw it looming about twenty meters from the cars. We screamed like a bloody air raid siren. Nobody moved for about a minute, and then I shoved dad in behind the wheel and you in my lap and we all hauled ass.'

'Why are we here?'

'I'm not sure. I think we were all in shock. Before I knew it we were in here and didn't have the guts to leave.

'Did we, uh, everyone make it?' I asked, dreadful.

'Oh, yeah, well, you've been out for about fifteen hours. Grandma and grandpa both died. Heart attacks. Did I call it?' His voice cracked and he bent over and we held each other and cried a little.

'Is there anything to drink', I asked after a while. There was, I learned, a well outside, plus half of what we'd taken with us to the beach. Eight people were outside, keeping lookout. The children were all starting to doze off. Sam joined us, where I sat with Carl, but I found she didn't bug me quite as much as before. I guess we had more important things to worry about.

Though we didn't have much time for palaver before we heard a loud crash outside and horses screaming, quickly joined by human voices. Everyone ran out, and Carl followed me as I walked behind, slowly. I got dizzy and leaned on him and felt such a surge of gratefulness, that he was always there, and he felt my heart thumping and realized it. 'I love you', I said, and it didn't feel sappy at all. 'I love that you stick with me though your wife hates it.'

'That's nice and all', he said, 'but can it wait?'

'I just wanted you to know.' I didn't think that I wanted him to know because I thought we might die soon, but then it occurred to me and it felt all the more right that I had said it.

Outside, around the corner, we saw the dark outline of the stone guy looming over a field. He stood on a fence, or the remains of a fence, and the horses were loose. Some of them stood still, staring at him. Some seemed to be poking their noses at the ground under the stone guy where their friends probably were squished.

'It's after us', someone said, in a reverent whisper. I noticed our cars were reduced to rubble and suddenly I had an idea.

'Please listen up everyone', I said, with an effort to speak clear and loud. 'Don't take your eyes off him but hear me out. Someone can stay behind and keep him in place while the rest of us get into the city. We'll get help. They can't ignore us all.

There was silence for ten seconds or so. Then little Timmy said, 'I'll stay. I'm good at the looking part.'

We talked it over, and voted about drawing sticks, and ended up with Timmy and Aunt Rita, his mom, and Carl and me. The littleuns would be less traumatized by the ten mile hike to the city than by staying here, we decided, and so they left. Carl insisted that Sam stay with him, but it seemed her survival instinct was stronger than her dislike of having him and me together without her nearby. I told Carl so, while we sat and watched the stone guy and waited for the sunrise. He said it might be so, and he didn't think the marriage was going to last.

I tried to say I was sorry, but he didn't believe it.

And we waited. And the stone guy waited. Unlike us, he was patient, and he missed nothing. And he was waiting for the tiniest break. He waited for the stars to align – or more precisely, us – and then he stroke. The moon wandered over the sky and he waited until we all happened to blink at the same time, I think. It sounds likely. I don't know any other way to explain what happened. I blinked, and Carl and Rita were dead.

They had been standing just a hair's width from me, and now he stood there instead. Before I had time to see as much I was already falling over in shock. Lying on my back in the grass with Timmy's face pressed to my chest I looked up at the stone guy, so close, so endlessly, eternally big. He seemed to quiver, and he seemed to lean over me, although I know he didn't move an iota. He bent until his face was as big as the world, until I could have touched him with my tongue. Far away, in another world, I felt wet warmth run down my ass and pool on the ground under me. I knew with absolute certainty that the stone guy would get me as soon as I blinked, and my eyes burned, and I knew he knew it. I could almost hear him laughing. I could hear Timmy crying for his mommy in a high-pitched, ceaseless scream.

And the thing I was most afraid of was the stone guy moving. Not him suddenly standing on top of me when I blinked, but I imagined that I would see him move with my naked eye, maybe look at me, maybe talk and that scared me more than anything. So I closed my eyes.

For an endless, breathless moment I did absolutely nothing. I didn't move, didn't think, didn't feel my heart beat. Then I felt Timmy move and let go of him. I realized I had been holding him, pushing him against me, in an iron grip. My arms felt numb and I'd be surprised if he was unhurt. I sat up unconsciously and realized the stone guy was gone.

I looked at Timmy, actually relieved to be able to look where I wanted. He looked like he'd lost his only friend, which I guess he had. He looked at me and sniffled and buried his face in my chest again and went on crying, for a long time. I avoided looking at the hole where the stone guy had stood on his mother and my brother. I tried not to think about how good I felt about the stone guy leaving me alone and go for someone else.

We saw the smoke clouds rise by the horizon as the day waned, and we ate some sandwiches with stale salad and ham, and drank coca-cola. I thought I heard a siren far away.

I'm not sure how it happened. The ways of the young are so straightforward and simple they sometimes leave us confused. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't think it was wrong. But suddenly we were rubbing our swimsuits together and then we were without swimsuits and it was so very relieving, revitalizing. It seemed we were pure and whole and blessed, the last people on earth, and I thought I might just be able to bear being that.

The stone guy returned, though, eventually. It stood on Timmy and it hasn't moved since. Even though I've looked away.