The fishing hole was bigger than it should be.
That may seem like a strange thing to say, but careful examination of the clean cut into three-inch-thick featureless ice would reveal that the hole was not merely bigger than regulation or bigger than the local tradition that spat on regulation (which could hardly reach the biting north shore winters anyway, and Tom Meredith, the only DNR rep in 30 miles, was a regular at this hole besides), but it was bigger than size, or clearly bigger than it appeared—at least at first glance. Everyone who looked in at the glassy-smooth dark blue of Lake Michigan within reported a sense of falling, or drifting, or expanding like the hole had a half-recognized gravitational pull all its own. The hole measured sixteen inches on a side, perfectly square, but the diagonal was nearly three inches too long at twenty-five, and two parallel edges extended outward (Gladys Hollen’s contribution to the curious investigation) measured only twelve inches apart three feet over from the hole.
Of course, Lee knew all of this, because that was all in the report that had dragged them out here, assembled piecemeal from the group of 40-somethings who came out every morning to fish this part of Lake Michigan by Meredith himself, whence it had percolated through state and federal agencies until the right eyes had given it the right security classification and sent Lee out to make a more thorough one. It had promised to be a boring assignment.
That is, until the townsfolk started disappearing.
They went quietly, and, as far as Lee could figure out, the first one had gone about a week before they arrived. Kim Pulaski, mother of two and hunter of deer, one day just…didn’t come back from her morning errands. Search parties were called. She hadn’t had any plans to fish or even to go near the Lake, so it took three days of fruitless searching for the town to venture a connection between her disappearance and the uncanny cut in the Michigan ice.
“Someone out there is fucking with us, I swear,” Greg Newton had said, holding court over lunch in the Farmhouse bar on the day of Lee’s arrival. “Kim could take care of herself, and she wouldn’t’ve just up and vanished on us. She had no reason to.”
“Maybe it’s her that’s messing with us,” another man said. “Her idea of a good practical joke.”
“Maybe when she was thirteen,” said an older woman, her drink forgotten on the table beside her.
It took all the rest of the next day for anyone to even notice the next disappearance.
[Gap – further disappearances, and I want to integrate that Lee is rather lonely as an agent of this vague government bureau, and the town is really close-knit (that’s my bridge)]
It was the third chilly, wet (and yet somehow also very dry) January morning in a row that saw Lee going to investigate the site itself. The Lake in winter was almost stranger than the hole in the ice. Great cresting waves had frozen halfway to shore, icing over completely as if it hadn’t been sub-zero temperatures, but a sudden flash of —fiat, ice! from a bored god that had stopped them. Lee couldn’t imagine what natural process could achieve such a sight. You could walk, quite safely, right up to the frozen waves and around them, but not across the whole lake. No, not by a long shot. Between a hundred and hundred and fifty feet out from shore, the ice dropped away, and it was just deadly cold water for miles and miles until, presumably, one hit a sister ice-shore on the other side.
There weren’t even that many fish in Lake Michigan, not anymore, not enough to fish for survival or good eating, but a group of enterprising townsfolk could cut themselves a hole and defy the silent death below for a good many hours, just as long as drinking beer and shooting the shit in single-digit weather stayed entertaining—which was all day.
They stepped closer, right up to the edge, feeling the insistent tug on their perception, the hole, or whatever was in it, wanting to take over. But Lee was an ECS agent, and they had an iron will backed up by a tank of mana, and they had lashed themself to the ice about fifteen meters back on shimmering, barely visible lines.
And then it swallowed the whole space.
Undaunted by Lee’s secure hold, the thing in the hole, for there clearly was something, reached up and out and dragged that whole fifteen meters into itself. By sight, the hole grew to encompass Lee’s entire field of vision in less than a second, expanding and wrapping itself around the edges of perception. By sound, the softly churning water and the chill morning air were cut off completely, replaced by a low, undulating hum that Lee realized had been there all along, had been this thing’s call to its victims. Lee was severed utterly from touch, taste and smell, but by sheer awareness they knew they hadn’t moved an inch. The thing’s call was deafening, though, and in a moment, it would swallow up their thought.
Concentrating hard on the Farmhouse kitchen, Lee blindly threw a rope of mana, hoping someone there would have the wherewithal to catch it and the fortitude not to be dragged right along, and then they stepped in willingly.