Eight-year-old Victor had been unable to sleep due to the pain and discomfort caused by his jaw, which had been wired shut. Any position he attempted to lay in would just become unbearably uncomfortable and he would find himself completely restless. It had been a little better on the previous nights he'd spent there, as the pain killers the doctors had given him were a lot stronger than the ones he was on now and they'd also made him drowsy. So on this night, he sat playing on his DS; the one his older brother had gifted to him after the accident. Victor had never really considered that it had been Hugo's fault he'd fallen from the window and broken his jaw and arm, he simply saw it as an accident. But Hugo, who was six years older than his only brother, felt a huge pang of guilt every time he visited the hospital.
The bed Victor lay on, his back propped up against a plethora pillows, was across the room from the two other occupied beds. He hadn't been able to join in with their games the whole time he'd been in the hospital because of his jaw, and had felt a little left out every time he heard them giggle or play games. The girls, who must have been around his age, were called Marie and Juliette, had already been there when Victor arrived, and were undergoing chemotherapy. He found it hard to tell them apart, as they both had shaved heads and were the same height. Not that he could ever refer to them by name, anyway. His jaw prevented that.
They were awake too, chatting to each other softly from their beds. Something about a new puppy that one of them was going to get when they returned home after the chemotherapy. Victor didn't know much about cancer, but he knew enough from what he'd heard the doctors discussing when they thought he was asleep. They didn't think that Marie's cancer was going to go away.
He powered off the DS after completing a level on the racing game he'd been playing and placed it on the bedside table. For a children's ward, it wasn't particularly child friendly. There were no games or books around, and the only attempt at decorating the room came in the form of a very faded sticker of Winnie the Pooh. It was so faded you could barely tell it was Winnie, and Victor stared straight ahead at it as his mind wondered. He was so bored, and yet at the same time didn't feel like doing anything.
Earlier in the night, the nurse attending to the three of them had rushed off after an emergency message was broadcast across the intercom system, and she hadn't been back since. No one had been back to tell them what had happened, and Victor found himself growing more curious as time slowly progressed. It must have been something pretty important if no one had returned to check on them; there were usually frequent checks made throughout the night. Maybe, he thought to himself, something real bad happened down there. Like the lake monster Hugo was telling me about. It could have tried to eat people who were sailing across the lake and now they're here. All injured and bloody.
The thought, though slightly terrifying, was actually quite sobering for Victor, who found his mind preoccupied with all the stories his brother had told him abut the creature in the lake. It brought him a little closer to home, which he'd only just begun to miss. He was remembering the most recent lake monster story Hugo had told him. He had recounted it one summer evening last year, a graphic tale about a family who took a wooden boat out into the lake just a few miles from their home and then weren't seen for months. Until their mangled bodies washed up on the shore.
It had never occurred to him that these stories could be made up; he trusted his brother, and looked up to him too. Everything he did, he attempted to do it how Hugo would've done it. Hugo was brave and fearless, in Victor's eyes.
He glanced over at Marie and Juliette once more, and realised they had fallen asleep. The silence of the ward made Victor uneasy, and once more he turned to his thoughts. The monster eats you whilst you're still alive, he recalled his brother telling him, you die when you drown in a mixture of lake water and your own blood.
A sudden noise from above disrupted his flow of thoughts. Victor looked up at the vent which sat above the door opposite his bed. He was certain the noise had come from there; it had sounded like someone dragging their nails across a sheet of thin metal, kind of metallic. Neither Marie or Juliette stirred in their sleep, and Victor wondered if he had simply imagined it. After all, he was terrifying himself with stories of the lake monster. Nothing else happened for a further five minutes, and so he let himself relax, closing his eyes.
Then the noise rang out again. This time it sounded closer.
The boy sat upright in his bed, all the hairs on his body standing up right. He definitely hadn't imagined that noise. Another noise came from the vents, and then another one. They were more like thumps now, and Victor came to the conclusion that someone was crawling through the vents. Heading towards him.
The lake monster.
What would Hugo do, if he was here now?
He would warn the girls, Victor concluded, he would be brave and save everyone from the lake monster.
Trembling, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and jumped to the floor. It was cold beneath his bare feet, and they slapped against the tile as he ran over to Marie and Juliette. His hands reached out towards their shoulders with no degree of hesitation, and he shook Marie first, and then Juliette. Neither woke up; they seemed to be buried six foot deep in a coffin of sleep. Victor tried to shout, but his wired jaw forbid him to do, and what came out was more of a panicked hum.
The lake monster was drawing closer now, and Victor could practically feel each thump vibrate through the floor under his feet. He didn't know what to do; the girls wouldn't wake up, yet he didn't want to leave them. Hugo wouldn't leave them.
Fear rising in his throat, Victor left the girls and rushed over to the door. He pulled at the handle with his one hand that wasn't encased in a cast, but he couldn't get it to budge. It was heavy, yet he'd never struggled to open it before. He wanted to cry as his fist pounded on the door with all it's might.
Something hit the ground with a metallic clang. A screw had landed below the vent and in a moment of absolute terror, Victor dove under his bed just as another screw hit the floor. It was closely followed by the silver grate that covered the vent, which crashed to the ground and made Victor jump. He clamped his hands over his eyes, desperate for this to be just a dream. But when he peeked through his clammy fingers, he was witness to a scene straight from one of the horror films Hugo liked to watch without their parents' permission.
Wet and dripping, the lake monster landed with a squelch and a thud right at the foot of Victor's bed. A slimy piece of what could have been seaweed slopped down on the floor with a splash, and the overpowering aroma of salty sea water filled the space beneath the bed. With a disgusting squelch, the lake monster took a step forward towards the bed. Victor didn't even dare to breath as he watched in horror through the gap in his fingers. He was sure it was going to come for him. Hugo had told him so, one night a couple of months ago.
“It'll come for you next, Hugo. He'll come for you because you know about it. He doesn't like people knowing about him.”
“You know about him!” Victor had pointed out, but Hugo just laughed and then didn't respond, leaving his younger brother terrified in his bed.
But then it didn't come for him. It turned right and took another squelching step in the direction of the sleeping girls.
Victor didn't know what scared him more; the lake monster itself, or the fact that he wasn't going to be able to save the girls. He couldn't see them from where he was laying, but he knew for sure that was where the lake monster was heading. The steps came to a sudden halt, and Victor, in a sudden moment of bravery, crawled towards the end of the bed. The cast on his arm scraped across the floor and he felt a jolt of pain as he put pressure on it. It didn't phase him; he had been pumped full of adrenaline, and it raced through his veins as he scrambled to his feet at the foot of the bed.
With a sickening crunch, the lake monster bit down on Marie's skull. The noise froze Victor in place as he went to reach for the door once more. He stared, absolutely petrified. The lake monster didn't turn round, it just continued to feast on the little girl's face. Desperately, Victor's good arm reached for the door handle, and he pulled at it again with all his might. It creaked a little, and as Victor moved towards it he slipped in a puddle of murky brown water left by the lake monster. As he fell, he yanked once move on the door handle and this time it budged, flying open and knocking Victor back. He didn't check to see what the lake monster was doing. He just clambered to his feet and ran.