By: J.J. Cheesman
I am a writer, always have been and always will be. But I wasn’t always any good at it. To be honest I was once really quite terrible. When I was younger, my free time was spent writing stories and I even started work on a novel once. But eventually all of my work found its way straight into the garbage because it was deplorable, and I knew it. I never became discouraged though, I kept pursuing my dream of being a writer by trade. Every day I would come home from school and begin writing until it was very late.
Then the time came one day when I wasn’t a child anymore and I had to choose a career. I was graduating high school and I realized that I couldn’t just hope for the ability to write well and make a living off of it. I had been living with my brother and his wife by the time I was ready to graduate. My parents died when I was fifteen after being struck by a drunk driver.
I had no money saved up but I didn’t want to be a burden on my brother’s life anymore, He and his wife had been just so good to me and I felt morally obligated to stop mooching off of them as quickly as possible. They were very kind people and still are of course, and I’m sure they didn’t mind having me in the house but I felt as if I was taking advantage of them and I simply needed to stop, especially since I was paying them nothing what so ever to live there and their living room space was being taken up by me.
So I chose a job in restaurant management, glamorous I know. The pay was good though, and I found an apartment about a block away from the place I would be working at; the name of which I won’t disclose, so everything just sort of fell into place. The hours I spent at work were long and stressful, as anyone who works in management can tell you. But like I said, the pay wasn’t bad and I lived alone. So I was able to save up quite a bit of money. The only expenses I paid for outside of the basics was an occasional bottle of scotch and cigarettes. I also picked up writing supplies every now and then of course.
Not even a stressful and demanding job, one that I would often be called in at on my days off for various reasons, could keep me from wanting to write. That of course didn’t mean the routine ever changed. I would write and write and then write some more. Though, now that I was older I would keep most of the hundreds of pages I had written and would pore over them when I became too tired to write.
I would read every single word, every phrase, and every line. Fantasy stories about great heroes and the legends they became. Conspiracy dramas about corrupt governments and societies. Horror stories about ghastly figures that came from the shadows and stalked the night. All of these things I had written hundreds of short stories about and every word I had written down, in my eyes, was utter horse shit. As time went on I became exponentially more frustrated until one particularly bad day.
It was my day off, and I sat at my kitchen table in my little shack of and apartment drinking scotch and reading a piece I had written earlier that morning about a man who acquires the powers of teleportation from radioactive sludge. The exposition was weak, the grammar was terrible, and there was no ending to a story that I personally have ever read that was as tasteless and uninspired as the one I had written. I starred at the pages of that story after reading it for a second time. It definitely was a terrible story and I was dismayed. I then picked up some other pages of stories that I had set to the side on the table to revise and read them over again as well. As I read, only one thought pounded my head like a jack hammer to concrete. Garbage. It was all unintelligible childish garbage. I picked up my half empty glass off of the table and downed it in one gulp as it warmed and then burned my throat. The brown liquid began heating my gut, where a myriad of emotional self-hatred and disgust was already brewing. I sat the glass back down on the table and calmly stood as I stared down at all of those stories.
Then all at once the emotional brew in my gut bubbled to the surface and I threw my hands on the table grasping in blind fury at the pages. I grabbed as many papers I could; as quickly as I could, ripping them all apart one by one. Blind anger made me see red as I felt the dream I had been working for slip away due to my own inability to produce anything at all worthwhile. When I was through with the pages I grabbed the edge of my kitchen table with both hands and flipped it over as hard as I could, sending the stories flying and my empty glass to the floor. The glass shattered, the pieces of it laying in shards across neatly penned but torn paper. I wanted to grab the gas can from my trunk and cover it all with gasoline, then light a match and watch it all burn as hot as the frustration inside of me. I thought better of that however, and I stormed out of my apartment and got in my car. I had been drinking a bit, but I knew It wouldn’t bother my driving. If I would have been drunk enough for my driving to be impaired though, I don’t think I would have cared. I started the car without knowing my destination and drove off.
Driving always through the country always soothes me, and at that moment I needed some soothing. This wasn’t my first silly tantrum but it was definitely the biggest one. After driving for a minute or two though, I had already begun to calm down. I found myself about a mile or two outside of town when for better or for worse, my life changed forever. I was already deciding on turning my car around and heading back to town when something caught my eye. I slammed on the brakes and my car swerved just a bit, if there was anyone behind me I surely would have been the cause of an accident, but I didn’t care. My car was stopped directly in front of a driveway that was filled with white rock.
There, at the end of the driveway, stood a grey and grimy looking house. The house was modest, and it had just a touch of a dilapidated appearance. It was easy to tell though, that when the house was in new and pristine condition, it would have been quite cozy. Beyond the house were the still waters of a serene lake. Mist rolled across the grey water of the lake from the grove of trees just beyond its edge, and me? Well, I fell in love. I know it sounds crazy, but looking out onto the surface of that water I felt myself being pulled and drawn to that place. I felt as though it was calling me. So, I pulled into the driveway.
By some miracle of luck, a sign was sticking of the grass in the front yard that claimed the house was for rent. I called the number posted on the sign and got in touch with the landlord. The first thing I asked was how much rent was a month. “Ah” He said, “I was actually meaning to take that sign down, I recently decided I want to sell it but I can’t find a realtor that wants to help me”. “Oh, I’m sorry for bothering you” I told him, feeling pretty disappointed. “Now hold on son”, he said. “The previous tenants went missing or left in a hurry and never got in touch with me. I will be honest, the inside of the house is sort of junk, but if you’re still interested I could rent it to you for two-hundred”. A big smile spread across my face, “Perfect”.
I was moved in to that house within the week, and as you can probably guess I was elated. This was the absolute perfect place to develop my writing. I went straight to work, sitting at my desk that I had pushed up against one of the windows in a room that over looked the lake. With a glass of scotch and a pen and looking out at the water through the window, I began thinking of a story about the house I was in, and ghastly nightmares that lie within the water of the lake. The people rose from the surface of the water as ghastly apparitions. They stalked the woods beyond the lake searching for victims to drag into the depths. I was up drinking and writing very late that night, trying to conjure up the perfect ending to my tale. I soon realized I was very tired, and thought that most likely I couldn’t come up with anything due to my exhaustion. Before going to bed I re-read what I had written and excitement filled my body. For once in my life, I actually approved of the work that was written down on those pages. The story, if I do say so myself, was a masterpiece. Now if only I could find that elusive ending. I finished my scotch and retired to my bedroom hoping that an ending would come to me in the morning.
That night; as I slept, I dreamt of the people in the lake that I wrote my story about. I lay at the bottom of the lake starring up at the house through the water. My view of the house was as surreal as the dream I was having. It was as if the surface of the water was a wall. In the middle of the wall was a portal, and through the portal, was my house. There laying on the lake bed I was surrounded by men and women of all ages and races. They whispered words to me that echoed through the water. They spoke of the lake, and the incredible power it held. They told me that if I wanted to be successful, I would listen to them, and listen I did.
That morning I woke up with new determination. I jumped out of bed and immediately began writing what the people in my dream had told me. I have heard that when people dream, it is their subconscious mind telling them things they already knew. Man was I grateful to my subconscious mind. Usually dreams I had, were cloudy and disjointed making them hard to recall, but not this one. I finished my story quickly, with the ending exactly how the people in the water described it. The tale was absolutely perfect. I then spent some time transcribing the story digitally to my computer.
When I was finished, I sent the story by email to a horror fiction magazine that I had a subscription to. Horror, it seemed that horror was my specialty. After sending the story off, I didn’t sit on my ass and wait anxiously for a response. I wrote all day and all night, coming up with several pieces of fiction at once. All of the stories I wrote then, were good. But like my first story I couldn’t come up with an ending to any of them. This was frustrating, but once again it was late and I hoped that lightning would strike twice and I would be able to think of endings in the morning to at least one of my stories. As it turns out, lightning struck many times.
On my second night of writing, I went to sleep and once again dreamt of the people in the water. Whispering enveloped me from all around in the water and told me how I should go about ending every one of my stories. For a while, this became a pattern. I would write stories, go to sleep, and get advice from other-worldly spirits that resided just outside my home in the water. I would wake up and get to work finishing the stories they told me to revise or complete. It sounds completely silly but I assure you this is how I came up with my writing. Then a week later the magazine I sent my first story to replied back. They were going to publish my story! What’s more, that wanted to read more of my writing and publish it as well and would compensate me for my work! I was absolutely elated. Finally, years of throwing away my work and waiting for the perfect story paid off.
My success only spurred my passion for writing and I wrote story after story, nearly four a day. I waiting for ending after ending to come to me in my dreams of the lake. Always from whispers, and always laying on the bed of that lake staring up at the house. I of course submitted more and more stories to the magazine, and every piece I wrote, they published. Soon I was able to quit my job at the restaurant and focus exclusively on writing for the magazine. Eventually, my dreams of the people in the lake faded and was replaced with a dreamless sleep, but I still woke up with new endings and sometimes whole new ideas to write. My dreams however, slowly faded from my memory completely.
Then, a year later, I lay in the bed of my unlit room unable to fall asleep. So much success had come to me so quickly and my dream of being a writer, at least in a small sense, had come true. Now I had enough money and enough experience to have the confidence to work on a novel. My eyes began to adjust to the darkness and I looked out through my window into the darkness. I could see the grove of trees that lay beyond the window and watched as the wind made their leaves and limbs dance in a moonlight that was very bright that night. The figures of the trees resembled people standing out there in the light that were waving their arms and it brought back a memory, the memory of the people in the lake. Real or not, the people in my dreams still helped me become as successful as I was. “Thank you, you made my dream come true”, I said aloud and felt a bit silly as I did, but I began to grow tired and I slowly began to drift off to sleep.
As my eyes started to close, through the slits of my eyelids I noticed movement, and forced my eyelids open. I tried to yell, but my voice was silenced as I suddenly found myself unable to breathe. There, standing all around my bed were men and women. Men and women that I recognized, they were the people from the lake, the people in my dreams from so long ago. They were all standing silent and still. Their faces were a twisted and puffy bloated mess with bright blue veins running all along their cheeks and foreheads. Some of them weren’t breathing, but some of them were, and the rise and fall of their bodies came with the sound of a wheezing death rattle. From their mouth’s came inconsistent amounts of water, falling at random moments from their mouths. They stared down at me with cold eyes that had pupils and iris’s that had long since lost their color and were now ivory white.
Once again I tried to scream and yell out in fear, but all that came of it was a soft gurgling sound in my chest along with a pain like none I had ever felt before. “Don’t try to speak Jimmy, it is far too painful”. The people from the lake spoke in unison, but their mouths were unmoving and produced no sound. Instead their words came as a cacophony of whispers in my brain. Ignoring their warning, I tried like mad to scream at them and tell them to get the hell out of my house, but all that came out were fits of coughs as I choked on cold water. “We cannot leave Jimmy, not without you, your time is up we’re afraid”, The whispers came out in ghastly rattles that were almost painful to hear, “When you first came to us in your wretched state, you were broken and in shambles, what we’ve done to make you whole once more will not last”. I wanted to ask what they meant by that but I was interrupted by a deep cut they began to form on my forehead. The cut started gushing blood badly and I reached up to touch it, and I touched bone. As my hand ran over my face I felt that it was cold and puffy, bloated almost. It was then I realized that the pain in my chest had gone away, in fact, I felt no pain anymore at all.
One of the deformities grabbed me by the foot as a screenshot from a memory that I had lost came to mind, busted glass. Realization slowly set in, and I didn’t even fight them off when they began dragging me off of my bed and out of my room. The whispers then came once more. “You pleaded with us and told us of your sadness, you told of us of your poor parents and your broken dreams, we felt so very sorry for you that our hearts ached”. (my eyes shut as they dragged me out of the house and onto the lawn walking in the direction of the lake) “We returned life to you, and we gave you a second chance that you should not have needed in the first place” (We reached the water’s edge, and my feet began to be submerged) “Of course, you know how this story ends, and we shouldn’t have to tell you, but.” (My chest then head is submerged in the cold water, and I shut out what the whispers were going to say, I simply just waited for them to take me to wherever they were going to leave me as every feeling of joy and sorrow left my soul until I felt nothing but empty).
I knew the ending line of the story, and I did not need for those water filled bags of rot to tell me how it went. The irony of this situation isn’t lost on me as I lay here looking up through the water at my house that is cast now in moonlight. I don’t know how long I have been down here now, but it feels like years. Years that I have spent sitting at the bottom of this lake, unable to move, only able to stare up through my windshield and the house that was the last thing I saw when I lost control of my car and went careening into the lake. In my drunken state I couldn’t correct the car in time, and I couldn’t unbuckle this god damned seatbelt. I deserve this fate, especially after what happened to my parents. I was the one who decided to get into the car after drinking, I am not complaining about that, but the ending to my story will torture me till the end of time.
Oh, I suppose the curious type what to know how it ends? Of course you do.
‘The writer never really believed or realized that his talent came from within, he always somewhere inside thought that it came from that place. The place that because of his own self-doubt, he was doomed to watch over until eternity. That place, The House on the Water’.