WHAT LIES BENEATH
ONCE IT LATCHES ON, IT WILL NEVER LET GO’
Johnny grimaced while reading the chapter on leeches in his science book. Leeches gave him the heebie jeebies—how they can latch onto your body and make tiny Y-shaped punctures on your skin so they can drink your blood with their suckers (A. K.A. mouths). The leech would then leave you alone, but later return with a swarm. Anyone would, and should, freak out. Johnny checked the clock. It was past 10:00 PM. He bookmarked the page with a pencil before placing the book under his pillow. Thisprobablywasn’t thebestbedtimereading, he thought. Outside, it drizzled, and the soft tapping of the raindrops against the windows lulled him to sleep. In the darkness, Johnny felt a sudden dampness. Well, it’sraining, he told himself, his eyes still shut was as he trying to get some sleep. His ears felt uneasily cold. He thumbed his earlobe, the one that wasn’t pressed against his pillow. Why was it wet? He sat up quickly. He looked for an open window, but all the windows were closed and it had stopped raining. He touched the same ear again. It was dry this time. He must’ve been imagining things. He lay down again. “Ouch!” he yelped a little too loudly. Something had poked his neck from under the pillow. Johnny turned on his bedside lamp. The pencil had slipped out from the book and it was the sharp end that poked him. He put it away, then turned off the light and pulled the covers closer. He shut his eyes a little tighter and fell asleep. The next day, Johnny’s mom announced that they were visiting a lake. On a whim, she decided that they would go on one last summer road trip before school resumed—as soon as Dad got back from work. Also, Johnny’s pet dog Ajax could come and sit beside him in the car. The family arrived at the house by the lake later in the afternoon. Johnny and Ajax went for a walk while Mom, Dad, and his sister Sam unpacked. “Don’t wander too far,” Dad said. “I’ll just rest my back after that long drive, and then I’ll catch up with you.” Johnny and Ajax jogged for a while. A skinny kid and a small, hairless dog with a collar, but no leash. Ajax didn’t need it. He followed Johnny around whenever they went for walks, and he always responded to his owner’s voice. He was what they called a “good boy.” It was getting dark pretty quickly. Johnny lost track of time while walking along the mouth of the lake, taking in the surroundings. His sandals had collected gunk throughout their excursion, so he walked to the water to wash it off. Ajax followed. He wet his tummy and went further in, submerging his shoulders. Johnny was enjoying wading in the water when Ajax let out an unexpected howl. Johnny turned and scrambled toward him. Ajax made whimpering sounds, which worried Johnny. There were things sticking out of his pet. He dragged Ajax to shore. The slimy things were stuck to Ajax’s stomach and shins. They glistened in the moonlight. Johnny knew what
they were. He peeled them off his dog one by one. How many? He lost count after the eighth leech. He tried to get a grip on the cold, slippery parasites, yanking them off forcefully but gently so it didn’t hurt Ajax, and then unceremoniously throwing them back into the water. Ajax licked his master’s hands to thank him. Johnny was just relieved that his dog wasn’t hurt. He stroked Ajax’s ears and neck, then noticed that his collar was missing. Johnny looked for it by the shore but didn’t find it. Just then, he saw a glint of metal in the shallow part of the lake. He told Ajax to stay put, then went into the lake to retrieve the dog’s collar. The cold water stung this time. It made Johnny retract his hand before submerging it again, closing his fingers around the collar and fishing it out of the water. On the lakeshore, Ajax stayed in his spot, just as he was asked, but he was barking his head off. The water was moving, even though Johnny was standing still. The water was freezing now, lapping against Johnny’s knees. He heard clicking noises and turned around. From the lake’s depths emerged a ginormous leech. It was as wide as a boat and stood a good 10 feet tall. The slimy creature had rows of sharp teeth the size of Johnny’s thumbs, and a mouth that could easily fit his head. The creature made disgusting squelching noises as it dragged its body through the water. Johnny was supposed to be running now, but he was frozen in place. The clicking and slithering grew louder. Ajax’s barking grew louder, too. “Ajax! Please get help!” Johnny cried. Ajax bolted in the opposite direction. Johnny fell on his back as the monstrous insect crept closer. He felt a cold, rubbery sheet hugging his legs, his arms, and his face. He closed his eyes and braced himself for the stinging pain, but it didn’t come. Johnny passed out. When he awoke, he was back in his room in their vacation home. He went down to check on everybody. His mom lectured him for falling asleep by the lake. His dad had to carry him all the way back. Relief washed over Johnny, but not for long. A clicking noise made him shudder. Thisisn’thappening, he thought. His mom, dad, and sister heard it, too. They all looked at each other as the clicking noise filled the room. Ajax started jumping and barking. A creature as big as Johnny’s thumb swiftly crept in through the window. Loud clicking noises came from its oversized pincers. This was no ordinary leech. Another leech slithered in, and then another, and another. Something larger was breaking down the door. A swarm was upon them before Johnny could open his mouth to scream.
Spooky Storyteller: Khyne Palumar Illustrations: Maku Felix