This is the Place—David Hartley

This is the place. Right here. Where the wizards drowned the village.

Look at the lay of the land. Look at how it sweeps and how it curves. Something’s not quite right. You feel a tad dizzy. As if you suddenly can’t trust your organs. Any of them.

This is no place for a lake. That’s what’s wrong. The lake should not be here.

The wizards put it here. And down in the depths there are a hundred and eighty-six skeletons. 

Taste the water. Go on. Scoop some up and have a little sip. It is crystal clear and as pure as a mountain spring. That’s no way for lake water to be. You should not be able to drink this water without feeling sick. But you don’t feel sick. You feel revived. You weren’t even that tired, but now you’ve perked up.

The wizards were trying to create a story. It went like this: there were these greedy villagers who turned away a hungry beggar. The beggar knocked and every door was slammed in his face. Not a scintilla of sympathy from any of these rich folks. The lake was the beggar’s revenge. So say the wizards. As if they were there.

Have a little swim. Go on. Take a dip. Swim out as far as you like. Further. Go on. All the way to the middle. Try drowning yourself. You can’t. No-one can drown in this lake. Some get close and pass out. But they always awaken on the shore soon after. There are no undercurrents. Some unseen force will always push up anything that tries to sink down. The spirits of the dead far below who simply cannot sanction another death. No room left in their underworld.

They wanted a local legend. The wizards. This place had no myth. Intolerable. A lack of myth starves the aura needed for magic. The wizards pooled their powers and created their own fable.

But it didn’t work. Consider that tale. 


Turn your back on the lake first. Look out over the rolling fields. Look at that radio tower on the hill in the far distance. 

Now think about the story. Think hard. The beggar. The village. The wizards. The lake. It doesn’t quite chime. Doesn’t quite sit well.

And here’s another strange thing. You can’t hear the lake anymore. You have no sense at all of a body of water just behind you. Listen. Nothing. You’ve grown thirsty again. And your hair has dried. Consider: was it ever actually wet? Are you sure?

Now walk. Don’t look back. Keep going. Do not be tempted to turn or glance. Just keep walking. Keep heading to that radio tower. Don’t stop. Don’t stumble. Don’t try to catch a glimpse in any reflective surface. 

Trust us. Keep going.

Go on.

One foot in front of another.

Keep your head forward.

Eyes up.

Don’t turn around.

You really don’t want to turn around. 

Trust us.

You really don’t want to see what’s actually there, waiting.

David Hartley is the author of many weird and wonderful tales about things that hover in the back of your mind and the edge of your vision. His latest short story collection is Fauna (Fly on the Wall Press), a menagerie of bizarre tales about animals described by Lucie McKnight Hardy as ‘fiercely original’. His work has appeared in Ambit, Black Static, BFS: Horizons, Structo, and The Shadow Booth. He holds a PhD in Creative Writing from The University of Manchester and tweets at @DHartleyWriter. 

photo by Ian Keefe (via unsplash)