Ghost Lake – in Memory of my brother on his 64th birthday – Sept 9, 2017

Posted: September 9, 2017 in Uncategorized

Here is a prose piece from Calling the Wild, published by Black Moss Press.

This is for the memory of my brother, Brian Austin Hilles, who would have turned 64 today, Sept 9, 2017

Calling The Wild Cover

Ghost Lake


Ghost Lake was a mythical lake that only a few people, including my father, claimed to have seen. When my father was twelve or thirteen, Royal took him to see it. Local legend was that only good people could see the lake and that a bad person would walk right into it and be halfway across before they realized it was there. Most of them drowned.

According to my father, Ghost Lake was five miles north of Royal’s farm and was only about a 1/4 mile across, but so deep it didn’t have a bottom. Toss a stone in it and the stone would fall forever. The lake was so plentiful with pickerel and lake trout that fishing was as easy as dipping in a hand. The water was so clear he watched large schools of pickerel dodging each other only inches below the surface.

When my brother and I were teenagers, we spent a summer in search of Ghost Lake. Nearly every morning, we’d pack a lunch and walk due north as my father instructed. No matter what route we took, in no time we’d reach water. We swam in a dozen different lakes over that summer. But none of them had the mystically clear water of Ghost Lake. These were lakes full of tadpoles and bottomed by leeches. Any fish in those waters was bound to be God-awful ugly bottom feeders. Catfish or suckers

When we’d had enough of swimming, we’d circle the lake in search of berry patches. Wild strawberries and raspberries in early July, blueberries later. We’d eat our fill before returning home with hands dyed red or stained purple.

It was while we were picking blueberries one afternoon in early August that I thought I saw water shimmering between the trees. When I went to investigate, I saw another lake through the spruce boughs, a little more north of where we’d normally stopped. I left the blueberries to my brother and set off to explore on my own.

At the first, I lost sight of the lake, but I climbed a nearby poplar and it came back into view. This time I fixed on its location and continued in that direction. From the tree, it appeared not to be far, but I as I walked, it didn’t get any closer, and I wondered if it was a bigger lake than I first thought.

Finally, after I’d been walking for about half an hour, I reached it. The lake was the right size to be Ghost Lake, but its water was filthy brown. I knelt down to test the water and it was icy cold.

Just then, I heard a scream and turned in time to see my brother charging straight at me. He must have been tracking me the whole time. He pushed me into the water, clothes and all. I screamed and grabbed at the bank but couldn’t pull myself out. Asshole. I shouted at him and called him other names too as he stood smiling down at me. That is when I felt them. Little nudges at first against my leg and then they become more urgent, and when I felt around I realized that hundreds of fish surrounded me.

Help! I yelled at my brother who must have seen the terror in my eyes because he dropped to his knees and quickly pulled me out.

Jesus, what did you do that for? I swatted at him but he was too busy looking in the water to notice.

Look, he said, fascination in his voice.

I joined him at the bank and the water was roiling from the tails of huge silver fish. My brother reached in, pulled one out, and tossed it on the bank. It must have weight five pounds.

The fish lay gasping on the ground. It had an ugly head with large deformed eyes. Maybe the lack of light caused the eyes to mutate. I kicked it further up the bank over earth, which smelled strongly of dead fish. Half decayed or stripped carcasses were scattered everywhere. Bears had feasted here recently. The thought of that made we want to head home, but when I turned back to the lake my brother had stripped and jumped into the water and was trashing around to keep the fish away. His feet struck something on the bottom and he gave out a yell. He struggled for a moment and then hoisted out a rusted bumper. He searched around some more in the water for car parts and ended up throwing another fish up onto the bank before getting out.

My brother wrapped up the larger of the two fish and put in his pack and then we left for home. When my father saw the fish he said it was some strange kind of trout he’d never seen before. We called them Ghost fish because of the way their colours camouflaged them and made them hard to see in the water.

My brother and I were curious about the bumper of the car. How did that get in there? My brother asked.

At first, my father didn’t believe us and thought we were making it up.

Maybe there was a road there a long time ago, before the war, and it has since grown over. My father finally said. There used to be all kinds of roads out here before the highway.

I wondered how many other cars were rusting away on the bottom of that lake. I wondered too if they had something do with the fish being so deformed. My brother and I decided to call it Rusty Lake although years later I learned its proper name was Puma Lake.

My brother and I never did find Ghost Lake and by the end of summer, I started to wonder if Ghost Lake wasn’t just another of my father’s drunken stories that he kept telling because he wanted them to be true and if he told them often enough they might be.

  1. dyna kassir says:

    A very nice story, Mr. Hilles.

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