Aidan thought it was a bad idea to even keep a black lagoon on the property. It could have been drained, or just opened up to the ocean and turned into a nice beach and tourist trap years ago. As is, it was useless. But tradition was tradition. What would the Black Lagoon Winery be without a black lagoon? Just an empty logo, that’s what. Was there anything more tragic than a brand with no identity?
He hauled two buckets of fish out to the lagoon every morning. Today, young Leon would be helping him, as it would eventually be up to him to keep the thing in the lagoon sated. He’d slept in once in 1987, and, well, after their daughter came home in utter shock from a brush-in with what she described as a gilled man, the neighbor family had moved out and nobody had ever moved in. Eventually, Aidan had just bought that land cheap as dirt. In the long run he was able to work that land and turn a tidy profit, but still. It was a damned shame how neighborhoods can go into decline sometimes.
Leon dragged himself from the house, bleary eyed and blinking in the newly risen sun. He was just a kid, 9 years old, and Aidan was unsure he could handle the responsibility, but life sometimes demanded the young sacrifice their innocence.
Aidan picked up one of the buckets and pointed to the other for the boy to carry. Leon hefted it with both hands, proud to be joining in on this “big boy” job despite his sleepiness. They walked past the dusty driveway and down a trail that led off away from the house. The boy slowed down a moment as they passed the KEEP OUT signs, probably fighting to topple some inner resistance to years of being told to not cross them. Aidan waved him on.
They followed the winding trail down the hill for the better part of a mile. The trees grew close, and they heard water gently breaking across sand. They burst from the trees into a picturesque, if a bit overgrown, little beach. Some of the fog had cleared by the time they got there, but their view of the ocean beyond the lagoon was still obscured.
“What’s the fish for, dad?” Leon asked. He was sweating and barely managing to keep hold of his bucket at this point. Aidan relieved him of the bucket and nodded toward a well-worn outcropping of rock near the water.
“Pray you never find out, boy. Stay close now,” Aidan said. He had never actually seen the creature himself, but he’d seen the footprints, heard the stories. Seen the remains of animals that strayed too close to the lagoon sometimes. He never wanted to see it. He shivered. It was always colder down here than it seemed like it needed to be.
He upended the buckets, dumping the fish onto the rock. “Every morning, early as you can, you get out here,” he spoke to the boy, “you bring this fish down. Leave it here, and-”
“Dad, what’s this?” Aidan turned to see the boy squatting down near the water, poking at the sand.
Aidan fought the urge to snap at the boy, the yell at him for getting so close to the water. Leon was new here, it was natural, and Aidan hadn’t explained all the rules. He dropped the buckets and hurried to peer over the boy’s shoulder.
Those footprints. The strange, long toes, thick with connective webbing. The little exclamation point claw marks at the end of each. But…these were not the enormous ones he’d always seen in the past. They were small, and packed close together. Aidan looked to the side. There were more. There were so many. All down the sandy part banks, there must have been dozens of them.
“What are these, daddy?” Leon asked. “Ducks? They look weird.”
Aidan squeezed his son’s shoulder. “…yes, Leon. Ducks. We…we’re going to need to go back. We need a lot more fish.”