Michael Corson wasn’t sure how long he’d been out when the sound of the old woman chanting awakened him. The last thing he remembered was getting swarmed by Sam Mansi and the rest of Mr. Abbatiello’s goons on his way home from the bar.
Once they surrounded him, Corson had figured that was it. They’d either whack him right there or take him to a more discreet location to do the deed. At the very least, he’d expected to find himself inside of a trunk or with a bag over his head.
Instead, he now found himself bound upright in the back of a large van. Next to him was an ancient looking woman dressed completely in red. Her head was adorned with something that appeared to be a shark skull and deer antlers. She was also murmuring the same phrase over and over again while rattling a small collection of bones inside her outstretched left hand.
In front of him, two enforcers who he’d only seen a few times sat rigidly facing front. Mansi was further up in the front passenger seat next to the driver, whom he’d never seen before.
“What the hell is this, Mansi?” Corson muttered as the fuzziness in his head slowly morphed into a sharp pain. “You guys gonna do this old school…take me down to the docks and all that? Or maybe you’re going to cut me up into little pieces and feed me to some rabid dogs or something. No one does that type of sick stuff anymore, though. Not even your senile old boss, Abbatiello.”
“He’d actually prefer to do much worse than either of those to you,” Mansi replied calmly while staring out the car window.
“Yeah, well he won’t,” Corson snapped back, tasting the blood in his mouth for the first time. “You know this means war, right? Scaletta protects his people.”
“Unfortunately for you, Mr. Scaletta seems to be doing a pretty terrible job of that at the moment,” Mansi replied with the slightest hint of a grin on his face.
Carson swore and began rocking in his seat, desperately trying to break out of the zip ties around his wrists and ankles. After it became obvious that his efforts were for naught, he turned his attention to the old woman adorned in the bizarre animal skull helm, who was still chanting and rattling the bones in her hand
“And just what the hell is her problem, anyway?” Corson hissed at Mansi while still looking at her. “Is Abbatiello’s taste in whores starting to go a little wonky or something?”
When no one replied, Corson turned his attention to the side window, trying to see if he could determine where they were from their surroundings. To his surprise, the area they were driving through did not appear to be any sort of urban landscape. The road signs indicated that they were on Highway 11 in the upper part of New York State. Once they passed Rouses Point and turned onto Highway 2, however, he knew exactly where they were headed.
“Vermont?” Corson said incredulously. “Are you guys going to wine and dine me at a nice bed and breakfast before putting a bullet through my head?”
None of the passengers replied. As they crossed the state line and headed toward the small islands that dotted Lake Champlain, Corson began to suspect how they were going to get rid of him…even if it didn’t make sense.
“Really, you guys are that cliché?” he said with a laugh. “Dumping a body in Lake Champlain. How original. I hope you brought cement shoes and all that, too. Wouldn’t want to fall short of all the mob stereotypes now, would we?”
“We’re not drowning you,” Mansi coolly replied. “You’ll be getting something much better.”
“And what would that be, if I may be so bold to ask?”
“You get to meet The Champ.”
There was a moment of confused silence before Carson burst into laughter.
“Are you freaking serious?” he exclaimed between breaths. “You guys are driving me all the way across state lines to meet some torture expert who names himself like a bad character from an 80’s movie? Do you idiots not realize how royally screwed all of you are once Scaletta finds out about this.”
“He won’t, because no one will even remember who you are,” Mansi said while looking at his phone. “Not even us.”
“Up yours,” Corson shot back, resigned to finish the rest of the ride in silence while he tried to figure out a means of escape.
By the time they got to Grand Isle State Park, however, he’d only managed to add a searing pain in his wrists to go along with the one on the back of his head where the goons had knocked him out. When they stopped came around to pull him out of the van, his bites and furious wriggling was met with two quick punches to the face, temporarily stunning Corson into stillness.
The goons carried him over to the edge of Lake Champlain while Mansi stood by and watched. A few feet behind them, the old woman continued the same chant while stretching one of her hands out into the air. Her other hand was still shaking and swirling the small bones, which rattled so feverishly now that it was almost as if they’d been electrified.
“So what’s next?” Corson said after spitting out a bloody tooth. “Are you guys gonna bring in some type of voodoo priest to take my heart out of my chest while Harrison Ford watches from the trees?”
Instead of answering, the men who’d carried him onto the beach went back to the van and pulled out a large wooden raft. Mansi walked up to the old woman, who’d finally stopped chanting, and handed her a wad of cash while pointing towards a sedan that was parked nearby.
“Once again, Roberta, Mr. Abbatiello greatly appreciates your services. As usual, the rental car contains one first class plane ticket back to Charleston. Your flight leaves in eight hours from LaGuardia Airport.”
“Roberta?!” Corson yelled from his prone position on the ground. “You got a witch whose name is ‘Roberta’…and you flew her in from Charleston? Abbatiello really is losing it, isn’t he?!”
Corson attempted to force a confident cackle through his swollen lips as the goons brought the raft over towards him. When he glanced back over at the old woman, he saw her looking back at him as she got into the rental car. For the first time since he’d woken up, she wasn’t chanting or fiddling with bones. Instead, the woman was looking directly at him with an expression that almost seemed like pity. Before he could say or shout anything to her, however, she’d gotten into the car and driven off, leaving him to be lifted by Abbatiello’s men onto the raft.
“Okay, seriously,” Corson pleaded as they dropped the bound wooden poles into the water, “at least have the decency to tell me how I’m going to die.”
“We’re putting you in the ring with The Champ…and we’re even going to give you a fighting chance,” Mansi said as he tossed a knife down beside him.
“What the hell is this?” Corson shouted back. “Why can’t you errand boys just do me like a man? What the hell are you sending me out onto Lake Champlain to fight?!”
“Like I said before, you’re stepping into the ring with The Champ,” Mansi calmly replied. “He’s very old and set in his ways, which includes having his offerings alive so they can try to escape…although no one ever does.”
“First time for everything,” Corson replied as he scooted across the raft and grabbed the knife.
“It may have happened before us, but we keep records now,” Mansi said as the goons began walking back to the van. “And during our partnership with The Champ, the people we send out to him are always beaten. This not only gets rid of Mr. Abbatiello’s problem, but also makes it disappear for good. No one will remember you. No one will ever know you existed. The only proof that you were ever alive will be in our possession, where it will stay locked up forever…or until the next round of doc shredding, at least.”
“What the hell are you even talking about?” Corson said as he began sawing at the zip tie around his wrists.
Mansi, however, didn’t respond this time. Instead, he checked his phone, turned around, and headed back towards the van. After he got in, the vehicle pulled away and disappeared down the road, leaving Corson alone in the middle of the lake.
“Old Man Abbatiello’s really losing it,” Corson muttered to himself as the zip tie around his hands finally snapped in two.
Corson’s mind wanted to try and wrap itself around the bizarre circumstances that led to him floating on a raft by himself in the middle of Lake Champlain, but the seemingly easy path to freedom became the sole focus of his hands. The zip tie at his ankles came off much more easily, but still took long enough that by the time he was done, the raft had gotten a few hundred feet from shore. He was just about to dive into the water when something bumped the raft from underneath. Corson paused, looking behind him where a ripple surged in the water from the other direction.
“What the hell was that?” he muttered under his breath.
As if in response, another bump came from below the raft, this time nearly knocking him into the water. Corson brought his feet back over bound wooden poles, looking down to see what was beneath him.
In the next instant, he found himself flying through the air. Beneath him, the raft had splintered into a million pieces. A hiss followed by a loud roar followed Corson upwards, causing him to shriek in fear. He looked down just in time to see what appeared to be a giant set of antlers attached to an impossibly large set of jaws.
Before he could makes any sense out of what his eyes were seeing, Corson crashed back down into the water. He quickly forced himself up to the surface, where a long, snaking mass was rushing in his direction. Corson swore and began swimming towards the shore. He only managed to get a few feet away before a set of sharp teeth clamped down around his right leg. In one swift motion, he was jerked through the air and tossed back towards the middle of the lake.
Corson bobbed up to the surface more slowly this time, the place where his leg had been bitten now bleeding profusely. As his vision faded and his head swirled, one word kept repeating itself over and over again in his head.
He hadn’t even considered the first possibility that popped into his head because of how ridiculous it was. People always spoke about the legendary monster of Lake Champlain as if it were a joke rather than a something that could actually exist. Sightings of the creature had been reported for centuries, but all they ever ended up being were large pieces of driftwood or tourists with terrible Photoshop skills. Now, however, the enormous serpent was headed back in his direction, cresting out of the water as it got closer.
“How has no one ever seen this?” Corson thought as he struggled to keep his eyes open.
When the creature was close, it reared up out of the lake and curled its neck back. The antlers on its long, narrow head made the serpent appear to be a complete abomination of nature. Nothing that looked like that existed. Nothing that looked like that should exist. As it peered down at Corson and cocked its nightmarish head to one side, however, he finally understood why no one had ever seen it…and why no one ever would.
Champ’s eyes glowed red in the night, burning through his struggling vision right to his very soul. A pain overtook him like he’d never experienced before. It wasn’t one of bones breaking for flesh splitting, though. This was his very life being extinguished.
Corson’s body went rigid as the creature’s head moved in closer to his. He felt everything disappearing; his memories, his identity, even his will to live. Champ pulled back for a moment, giving him a brief respite from the cold nothingness that had permeated through his entire being. The sliver of peace he’d felt was then quickly interrupted by a terrible roar, the creature’s jaws opening so far that it looked as if they might come unhinged.
A second later, Champ snapped forward, biting down over the lifeless mass of flesh and bone that was drifting in front of him. The creature then coiled once above the water before silently diving back into the depths of Lake Champlain.
An hour later, a single large piece of driftwood floated to the lake’s surface, adding a calm coda to the frantic murder that had taken place such a short time ago. Back in New York, Abbatiello’s organization would find that they were in possession of files and records on a man who never even existed. The only natural evidence of what occurred that night on the lake was an object that now floated aimlessly in the moonlight.
Nick Nafpliotis is a music teacher and writer from Charleston, South Carolina. During the day, he instructs students from the ages of 11-14 on how to play band instruments. At night, he writes about weird crime, bizarre history, pop culture, and humorous classroom experiences on his blog, RamblingBeachCat.com. He is a television, novel, and comic book reviewer for AdventuresinPoorTaste.com. His work has appeared at the T. Gene Davis Speculative Fiction Blog, in the Horror in Bloom Anthology, at Voluted Tales, and in Nebula Rift. You can follow him on Twitter, where he brings shame to his family on a daily basis.