Untitled, on an all-white canvas
blocks of color
but anyone can do that
Lake Masauwu 
‘There’s no lake in Arizona. It’s a desert state, everyone knows that.’ Bukowski leaned his head back and laughed up at the night sky. In the near distance, a neighbour angrily voiced their frustration at the noise. Ignoring the complainant, Bukowski loudly asked, ‘What do you think Shannon? Want to go to Carly’s magic lake in the desert?’
‘I didn’t say it was magic,’ Misuqale snapped. Bukowski knew that referring to his nickname, Missy Carly, needled his friend. It was only the reason he kept the misheard pronunciation alive, having learned long ago to correctly say the Hopi name.
‘I said it was spiritual,’ Misuqale said. ‘It’s said that if you bathe in Lake Masauwu’s waters, you can achieve anything you want in life.’
‘Yeah, no, I’m down with that,’ Adams said through the smoke haze that perpetually hung around him. ‘The Native Americans were in touch with the earth, man. In tune with the spirits. Think about it, man.’ He paused to take a drag on his joint. ‘If ever there’s place on this shithole of a planet to touch the higher realms, Misuqale’s the man to take us. I’m totally down, man.’
‘And you can have anything you want?’ Freda’s voice was quiet. It always was.
‘It’s not just given to you,’ Misuqale told her. ‘You still have to work for it but… but it’ll come easier.’
‘Bad news, Freddie,’ Bukowski said. ‘He won’t just drop dead, you’ll still have to kill the sonofabitch.’
A shadow of guilt crossed Freda’s face, eliciting more laughter from Bukowski. She was so easy to read.
‘But I already have what I want,’ Shannon said, and lunged for Bukowski’s groin. He gripped her wrists and glared at her.
‘You want that, hmm?’
‘Yeah, Daddy. You know I do.’
‘Enough to go swimming in a magic lake a thousand miles away?’
Shannon bit her lip and looked up at him through her eyelashes.
‘Baby, I can have this whenever I want it.’
Bukowski laughed and released Shannon’s hand.
‘And, honey, you can have it everywhere between here and Arizona.’
Despite getting home after 2 a.m., Freda was out of the house by six. Before risking sneaking into her brother’s bedroom, she decided to check through the pockets of the jeans he’d left discarded on the living room floor. She couldn’t believe her luck when she found his van keys. She hurriedly stuffed some clothes into a worn holdall, threw it in the back of Steve’s ancient, sky blue Dodge A100 then took off without looking back.
She knew he would be beyond pissed when she got home, but for the time being this small victory tasted sweet. Whatever punishment she earned was worth it as she imagined the impotent anger that would writhe through Steve when he awoke.
Freda smiled to herself as she drove to Bukowski’s home, an expression she used too rarely.
She rapped lightly on the door but failed to wake anybody inside. With nowhere else to go, she sat down on the porch and waited. The chill in the early morning air pinched at her face and hands, but she relished the sensation; pain meant she was still alive.
Some time later, Misuqale arrived toting a bulging backpack. He was annoyed that nobody else was ready and roused the household with his loud banging. Freda heard Adams yell as he fell off the sofa. His cry was soon lost under the angry shouts of Bukowski.
‘What the fuck! Shannon, go tell that dick to quit it.’
‘Laurie, who’s that?’
‘No one important, grandma. Why don’t you make yourself useful and get me some breakfast now you’re up?’
The next hour was frantic as the friends gobbled up the bacon and eggs Mrs Bukowski made them, washed down with plenty of coffee, and threw belongings into the van. By nine o’clock, they were on the road.
Freda drove the first leg of the journey. Misuqale had printed the route; much of the near-600-miles would be on the I-40 and she got them to Barstow quickly and easily. From there, Bukowski took them to Flagstaff after which Shannon drove up Highway 89 toward Grey Mountain. She pulled over when Misuqale told her, in the middle of nowhere, then he took the last of the journey. Nobody trusted Adams behind the wheel.
Misuqale took the van over dirt tracks and across scrubland which challenged the aging suspension. Freda would have been concerned had it been her vehicle. At the base of a set of low hills, he stopped the van and announced, ‘We’re almost there.’
Adams stepped down from the van, stretched and look around him. For as far as the eye could see there was nothing but brown land, broken only by the occasional withered bush. The horizon had never seemed so far away and he knew he was in a majestic place.
‘This is so…’ He lit his smoke as he searched for the word. ‘This is… real, man, you know?’
‘What do you mean we’re almost there?’ Shannon whined at Misuqale.
Shannon’s voice has a way of grating Adams’ nerves, the proverbial fingernails on the chalkboard of his soul. He wondered why Bukowski had kept her around so long. She must be an amazing lay, he surmised.
Misuqale pointed up the nearest hill.
‘Just over that ridge,’ he said. ‘There’s no way the van will make it, but it’ll only take us thirty minutes on foot.’ He grabbed his bag from the back of the van and began walking. ‘Come on, guys. We can get a swim in before the sun goes down.’
‘Will the van be safe here?’ Freda asked.
‘Should be fine,’ Bukowski answered. ‘Coyotes aren’t known for Grand Theft Auto.’
The trek passed in a blur for Adams, though that was not unusual. He had once spent eight hours in the bath as he studied the rapture and joy of a single cracked ceiling tile. Time did not touch him as it did others; he was not a slave to hours and minutes, but crested from peak to peak of the Here and the Now.
Before he knew it, they were standing beside Misuqale’s mystical lake. Crescent shaped, the lake was about seven hundred feet in length and two hundred feet at the shortest points. The surface bobbed gently, twinkling sapphires that smelled clean and pure. The waters whispered to Adams, murmured a delicious and intoxicating invitation.
‘Man, this is the shit,’ he said, grinning as though he were seeing Nirvana. ‘Last one in’s a douche,’ he shouted as he pulled his t-shirt over his neck. Stripping out of his jeans, almost falling in his haste, he ran to the water’s edge and pounded into the lake. The water was cold, but it caressed his muscles – weary from a day of being cooped up in the back of Freda’s brother’s van – and soothed the ache from them.
He waded further out, catching his breath sharply as the cold water claimed his testicles. Turning around, he shouted to the others, ‘This is something else. You gotta get in here. Man, this is-’
His last words were cut off in a painful screech. He felt a vice-like grip clutching at every part of him that was submerged. Tighter, it pressed into him, squeezed into, cut into him; tighter, tighter.
He opened his mouth to scream but all that emerged was a violent torrent of blood and vomit.
Shannon screamed as Adams fell face first into his own gore. She felt her own stomach churning at the sight.
‘What the fuck was that? What the fuck was that?!’ Bukowski shouted.
‘There’s something in the water,’ Freda said quietly. ‘We can’t just leave him out there.’
‘Adams?’ Bukowski called. ‘Adams, can you hear me? Will, buddy, tell me you can hear me.’
‘This isn’t real,’ Shannon muttered, ‘this can’t be real.’
‘We’ve got to do something,’ Freda said. ‘Carly, is there a boat?’
Misuqale shook his head. He seemed calmer than the others, Shannon thought. Perhaps his heritage had endowed him with serenity in the face of crisis.
‘There’s no boat,’ he said evenly. ‘The only way to get to Adams is if one of us goes out to him.’
‘Well, fuck that,’ Bukowski spat.
Freda turned on him, her voice louder than Shannon had ever heard before.
‘What? He’s your best friend. He’s gonna drown if we don’t get to him soon.’
‘No way,’ Bukowski answered. ‘You said it yourself, there must be something in the water. How didn’t you know about this, Misuqale?’
‘Some friend you are,’ Freda said icily. She grabbed Shannon and began walking to the lake. Shannon’s blood ran cold. She tried to pull back but Freda was stronger.
‘It’s okay,’ Freda soothed. ‘I don’t need you to get in the water. I’ll go out to Adams. But I need to you cause a distraction. Just splash on the surface, like this.’
Sitting on her haunches, Freda slapped the water with an open palm. She pulled Shannon down and, taking her by the wrist, made her strike the lake.
‘That’s it. Just like that.’
With Shannon pounding at the water like a demented bongo player, Freda ran twenty yards up the shore then, after the briefest of pauses, plunged herself in the lake. She strode through the water as fast as it would allow, heading straight for their prone friend.
Seeing Freda getting close to Adams, Shannon felt hope rise in her heart and she struck at the surface of the lake with more vigour, screaming and yelling to make as much noise as possible. Water showered around her, landing in her hair, on her face, in her mouth.
Freda grabbed Adams’ arm and pulled him to her. As he drifted closer, she started and tripped. She went under for a moment, bursting out a second later. ‘It’s no use,’ she yelled, ‘His legs are gone.’
A disturbance in the water caught Shannon’s eye, a V-shaped ripple darting in her direction. Yelping, she scurried back from the edge. The moving water came to a stop, then rushed toward Freda.
Afraid for her friend, Shannon jumped back to the lake and punched, slapped, tore at the surface. Water cascaded in every direction, stinging her eyes and finding its way down her throat.
‘Freda!’ Bukowski warned.
The fear in his voice must have panicked Freda for she slipped under again.
Shannon hit the water.
‘Freda?’ Bukowski said, hoarsely.
The lake was still. Freda was not coming up.
Getting unsteadily to her feet, Shannon made her way to Bukowski. Big salty tears blurred her vision, burning her eyes. Her stomach lurched as though it had been punched from within. She felt viscous drool leak from her mouth.
As she neared him, Bukowski backed away, his face ashen.
‘Baby?’ she implored, lifting her hands to wipe the tears from her eyes.
When she reached out to her boyfriend, she saw crimson streaks on her arms. Another spasm in her belly dropped her to fall to the floor in a fit of coughs. The ground around her speckled with blood; her blood. One final twist inside and her stomach ruptured, allowing gastric acid to eat into the surrounding organs.
Misuqale was sickened by the sight of Shannon’s messy death.
Bukowski turned to him, red circles around his eyes the only color in his face.
‘What the fuck is going on, man?’
‘One more,’ Misuqale said. He kept his voice level despite his elevated emotions.
Bukowski’s brow creased in confusion.
Misuqale walked toward Bukowski, lifting his arms to touch his friend’s shoulder.
‘It’s okay,’ he said soothingly. ‘Listen to me. It’s okay. It will be over soon.’
It took less force than he’d expected to guide Bukowski to the lake. The larger man was so bewildered that he was easily led. It was only when they’d stepped into the water that he began to resist. Bukowski knocked Misuqale’s hands from him.
‘Fuck off, Carly. Ain’t no way we’re going in there.’
Positioning himself between Bukowski and the shore, Misuqale stared him straight in the eye and said, ‘Masauwu must be appeased.’
‘I don’t give a fuck. There’s something alive in this lake. We need to get out.’
‘Nothing lives in this lake,’ Misuqale said, stepping forward and forcing Bukowski to back away, deeper into the lake.
‘But something killed Adams and Freddie.’ Bukowski’s eye flicked to Shannon’s body. ‘And…’ he added sadly.
‘Just one more,’ Misuqale said, repeating his earlier words. ‘You, Laurie. Then this will all be over.’
Misuqale felt the water stir around them. Bukowski cried out as something grabbed him. A column of lake water shot up, lunged for Bukowski. Wrapping itself around his body, it tethered his arms to his sides, round and round it went, gaining height, squeezing, pressing, reaching his face, flowing into his mouth.
Bukowski could not even scream as water poured into him. His eyes widened in fright. His abdomen swelled, the flesh straining against his t-shirt. Fabric tore as Bukowski’s chest increased in size.
Sensing what was coming, Misuqale closed his eyes and his mouth, only opening them again once he’d heard and felt his friend explode before him.
After submerging himself to rinse off what remained of Bukowski, Misuqale slowly made his way back to shore.
Masauwu, the lake, the very water itself, had been fed. Now it would sleep for a few more decades. Misuqale had plenty of time to gather more sacrifices.
Apparently coconut crabs are capable of disassembling a corpse and eating it. Being around these bastards helpless and weak on a desert island is definitely not a situation you'd want to be in. It sounds like the perfect idea for a horrific survival story. Imagine being immobilized under the rubble of your crashed plane being slowly encircled by giant crabs prodding you with their sharp claws. At least if you become an afternoon snack to the crustaceans you'll have an interesting story to tell in the afterlife.