Layton Lake is Burning | By: Jess Parker | | Category: Short Story - Science Fiction Bookmark and Share

Layton Lake is Burning

Layton Lake is Burning
Jess Parker


In the time before time had begun a ship with a few ARONS on board crash-landed on a newly formed planet. The atmosphere was toxic and the underground was like molten rivers. The ARONS could not live in the atmosphere so they burrowed into the planet surface. After eons had past two of them were left, and they found that on the cooling surface, sustenance could be taken when needed.
On the first coming sustenance was prolific. The atmosphere was still poisonous but in a short time beings could be filled. The young planet offered lush green flora and many very large items of fauna. The nearest way from the lair was in the path left by the ship. The surface appeared through a body of liquid. When the ARONS rose over the widening ripples an unlimited supply of sustenance could be seen wherever the eye was focused. All of the bodies were filled and the surface was left dry and barren but before returning to the depths under the surface crust, new life was beginning to form. That was good because the storehouse would be filled for the next coming. On the way back the Old One left the path and was consumed by the molten atmosphere, and the one left mourned loud enough to make the burning material escape through the openings to the surface. It was not long before the molten puddles became great mounds that soon cooled to the surface temperature.
It was a sad time when the Young One could not find others and knew loneliness would envelope until some, from the home of long ago, would come in a rescue mission. The new planet became acceptable as long as the molten heat did not overcome the cooling surface. Many times with sadness and other feelings of doom the Young One would cause the molten material to be pushed up through crevasses until it reached the surface. There it would envelope all and would grow in monstrous proportions until the surface would cool the ridges.
On the second coming the Young One came through the liquid basin and was surprised. At the first coming with the Old One, the storehouse was full of flora and fauna. Now the living beings had disappeared under a covering of white. After a through examination the Young One located sustenance that was covered and encased in the covering of white. When the gathering was finished, the location of the feeding was a stark blot on the surface of white. The third coming was relieved by the reappearance of flora and fauna. The very large parts fauna was no more but there were herds of smaller ones. The flora had recovered to many times larger than at the first coming. When the feeding was over it was noted that liquid was once again flowing and seeds from out of the area was drifting on the wind. It was with assurance of a full storehouse when the young ARON retired to the location of the home site between the surface lake and lake of molten material.
Charlie Layton left Chicago with a wagon train bound for St. Joe. He had been told that settlers on the way west would join other trains after crossing the Big River. The wagon train was making a slow trudge to the west. Many of the wagons would be repaired after only a few miles, and the new pilgrims were beginning to whine and complain about the hardship of the trek. On the third day Charlie asked the wagon-master how far had the train traveled. He was answered with a disgusted, “We ain’t moved over ten miles. The way we are going we will hit the western mountains during winter. If they think this is bad—just wait. The snow in the passes will be over twenty feet deep.”
During the night Charlie decided to leave the train. He knew that he was putting all of his possessions in harms way but was willing to take the chance rather than be stranded with a wagon train full of whiners and malingerers. He was hitching his team when the wagon-master came by and said, “Charlie, you sure want to do this? You will be in danger from all direction if you go alone. Which way are you heading?” Charlie answered, “I understand the dangers, but I can’t put up with this bunch. I am sorry for you. I will be heading north.” The guide left without another word. Charlie watched him stop by the leader’s wagon. The Reverend Browning headed toward Charlie’s wagon a short time after his visit with the guide. As he approached he said, “Brother Layton, make sure you understand the perils of this decision.” Without further words he tossed Charlie a bag of coins. When it was counted, Charlie smiled because his entire fee had been returned. He pulled his team out of the circle, many people called to him or waved as he left. When the goodbyes were over Charlie Layton did not look back. After he had traveled a month, he noticed that the surroundings were changing. In all direction large evergreen trees were in abundance—which was good because building material would be available. Here and there a lake would have to be circled and potholes were avoided because of the danger off the earth giving away. Another twenty to thirty days passed and he had to lead his wagon team around many boulders and huge trees. A large hill was his target—when it was traversed—a camp would be made. It was early in the day but Charlie was tired and his team was exhausted from the load pulled through the territory.
Then it happened. He led the horses into an open mesa that was covered with grass. Charlie was gathering firewood a caught a glint of light through the trees below the open field. After dropping the load of firewood he started down the hills. As he broke through the timberline—there it was! He had found the home he had been dreaming about. Trees, grass, and some underbrush surrounded magnificent lake. Charlie could tell he had found deep water because under the glint of the sun the water was clear and green. Even though he and his animals were exhausted, Charlie reloaded the wagon and headed for home. As he neared the lake he picked out his building site on the west bank. That first night was the first fresh food Charlie had had since leaving Chicago. He dropped one hook into the lake and a giant trout took the bait. It was baked in bay leaves from trees all along the shore. The wagon team was grazing in sweet green grass that was knee high to the horses.
“YES!” Charlie shouted, “I AM AT HOME.”
The first chores that Charlie attacked was building a stable for the horses. Dismantling the wagon and using young saplings that were plentiful around the surrounding area completed this job. After his animals had protection Charlie started clearing some land and building shelter for him self. One morning he was surprised when a large group of horsemen came riding around the lakeshore. They were from a tribe of natives that had a village on a lake many miles away. Charlie had been hunting the day before and through sign language the horsemen were invited to a meal. After the meal was completed the leader of the natives started chanting; “Aron, Aron, Aron and then pointed toward the lake and some of the men threw wood onto the fire. When it was blazing they mounted and started galloping away all the time pointing toward the lake and called Aron, Aron. They disappeared around a hill and Charlie was shaken. He knew that he had been warned of some sort of danger. From that day on he didn’t have any visitors but was always welcome when he visited the villages around the area.
Charlie had been living on the lake for almost ten years when a small wagon train of settlers made camp on the one stream that flowed out of the lake. At first they were suspicious of the only white man that they had seen after leaving the Mississippi River. After a week had passed Charlie had loaded two baskets of potatoes on a pack animal and approached the camp. When the wagon master and some of the men saw the potatoes the stranger was welcomed very noisily. All the people gathered around and the women took control of the two baskets. It wasn’t long before a cooking fire was going because the potatoes were the first fresh vegetables they had seen after running out on the trail. Charlie told them that the local natives had furnished seed for growing food. The new people were afraid of the people that were called Indians back in St. Joe and on the trail. Charlie told them that the local neighbors were very peaceable and friendly. The years passed and Charlie was married to one of the new settlers and she gave birth to four boys. They became the Layton Boys of Layton Lake. The Layton family kept all of the land surrounding the lake. It passed from generation to generation and the area was never developed except for one large cabin and necessary outbuildings.
The local people continued the story from the Indians and the children made up a game where they would dance on the shore while chanting—Aron, Aron, Aron. The Indians filled in the story of the great fires that blackened the shores of Layton Lake.

The sun was rapidly making its dive to the west. Fading rays were desperately trying to keep the forest lit. Dappled streaks of light and shadow covered the quiet green surroundings and dark waters of the lake. Some birds high in the evergreen trees were cheering the sun—begging it to stay. On the lakeshore a family of frogs were taking the side of the fast approaching darkness. At the last burst of daytime brilliance, a crow flew over cawing a lonely goodnight to the day people
As twilight crept through the trees, the night folks started rustling in the under brush. The observers could see a rabbit make a late, frantic dash to a safe warren. It crossed the path of a family of raccoons making a stealthy trek to the lake—all masks were in place, ready for a night’s work.
Darkness continued to deepen and the human creatures that had built a huge den
at the shoreline disturbed a small nocturnal hunter. The nervous trek across the
forest open area was interrupted a number of times by noises from the large den. When the small animal reached cover, it turned to inspect the causes of alarm. Two bright eyes could plainly see four large creatures engaged in a mating dance. Interest waned when it was apparent that no threat was intended. With one last look over the shoulder the hunter started the final dash to the lakeshore and the night’s food supply.
The night settled into the common routine of supply and demand. A distant mate answered the ghostly cry of a loon. An owl arrogantly questioned its neighbors. A whip-poor-will heard a number of answers to its plaintive call. Newly hatched mosquitoes rose from the lakeshore and were quickly decimated by a swarm of bats. A rodent squealed in death protest as it was captured. Splashes could be heard as frogs and fish either dodged danger or attack their prey. A cougar lapped water alongside a family of deer. The big cat carefully marked the deer's nightspot before curling up to sleep. Lights from the huge den were abruptly doused. The day people were asleep. The night folks continued their rounds.
Danger. Danger! DANGER!! The cacophony of night’s sounds ended abruptly. A deep eerie silence permeated the area. A black bear lumbered to his feet, reared up
to full height, and turned menacingly toward the middle of the lake. A man sat bolt
upright with, unexplained fearful emotions. In the next room the female, with terror filled eyes, burrowed closer to the mate’s protective strength. Playful raccoon
kits were offered an unexpected teat. Deer scrambled to trembling legs. The flutter of ducks could be heard as the flock attempted a flight to safety.
Danger. Danger! DANGER!! The instinctive warning was too late. A great old lunker, that had escaped hooks and lures for many years, caused an ever-widening ripple as he broke the surface—belly up. The blinding speed of the first duck was not enough to save him. His entire flock fell to the surface of the lake. A shower of insects drifted down like snowflakes. Throughout the lake marine, creatures floated from the depths. A wise old bullfrog made a frantic leap to shore—he did not make dry land. The pair of loons tried to join up over water—both died alone in a rain of falling bats. The mother raccoon came swiftly to her feet with bowed back and fell over her dead babies. A rabbit slid silently back into the nest and moved no more. The big cat’s threatening snarl was cut short, and the family of deer could not make the first jump. One of the human males sprung protectively from the bed and was struck down over his unmoving mate. Across the hall a whimpered cry was choked off.
The silence was complete. All life had ended. An eerie flickering light grew from the depths of the water, and a tongue of flame broke the surface. An ever widening
ring of fire consumed all in its path. The lone tongue grew rapidly into a wall of fire as it swept toward the shore.
On a distant tower a ranger was appalled at the sight. Less than ten minutes before he had looked through the long glass at a peaceful glint of water. Now his field of vision was covered with a conflagration of unknown proportions. A telephone fell from the hook, and a radio transmitter was keyed—one voice with pangs of gnawing terror, the other with pangs of gnawing hunger—their messages rang through the lines and ether-- LAYTON LAKE IS BURNING.
The fire and rescue crew chief was suffering from an unexplained sense of foreboding. In all his years, he had never received such a report as the one heard simultaneously over the telephone and radio. An experienced ranger was in a panic as the radio blared—Layton Lake is burning, but please be careful. An unearthly, hollow voice sounded the same message over the telephone except the instructions were to hurry. A glance in the mirror was reassuring to a point. All the squad’s vehicles were in line, and the chief knew that other squads were approaching the lake from all directions.
Foreboding was replaced by out and out fear as the truck crested a ridgeline. The distant wall of flames was solid from the floor of the forest to a point where they
appeared to meet the sky. The chief knew that a wild fire of such proportions could not be controlled. He was jolted out of the fear. Impossible! There was no smoke visible when the ridge was traversed. There was no evidence of smoke anywhere—no drifting wisps, no smell. NO WATER!
He straightened in his seat at the last thought. The truck had passed over a creek fed from the lake and no water was running. As the vehicles made the last turn, which offered a clear view of the area, muttered exclamations and curses erupted from the crew. There was no wall of fire. There was not even a flicker of fire anywhere in the ravaged area.
Without orders all vehicles stopped short of the burn. Questioning looks were exchanged. All consumable material had been burned completely. The ground was bare—no stumps—no snags—no hotspots—no smoke—no radiated heat; yet the fire
had been so intense not even ashes were left. A look at the lake showed no water and even rocks and boulders had disappeared. From two miles away it appeared that Layton Lake had burned.
The chief took a step over into the blackened area, then another and another. He looked back over shrugging shoulders and walked toward the dry lake. The crew with the trucks spread out and followed. Radios started blaring as three other crews reported their moves toward the lake. The younger men may have sensed the ambush
moments before they died. The ranger who had watched from the distant tower was found huddled, under the long glass, babbling in stark terror. Wild eyed and insane he tried to tell about the thing, fire, thing, men gone, thing, men gone, and men dead, THING-G-G-G! Others told of hearing sounds like banshees wailing and a horrible, laughing sound.
In the following weeks investigative teams, at first cautiously, inspected the burned area. No other incidents were reported, and no one could explain the perfectly clean burn. No trace of the house or vehicles was ever found. Some of the trees, which had
surrounded the lake had been hundreds of years old. They were completely consumed, and the boulders along the shoreline had disappeared.
Surveys of the area established a two-mile circle from the center of the dry lakebed as the affected area. Fears of possible radiation were unfounded. All the water had disappeared yet the exposed bed offered no evidence of untold heat. Other phenomena were noted. One of the old firs had been half consumed at the outer edge of the fire line. Yet the other side of the tree offered no evidence of heat, no scorching,
no wilting, not even a sap run. Branches from other vegetation had burned to the fire line and dropped harmlessly on dry vegetable matter.
Wild life did not cross the fire line for a number of months. One morning a survey crew observed a rabbit making a dash toward the lakeshore closely followed by a female fox. With unerring instinct the rabbit reached safety in a new warren near the lakebed. The fox watched a few minutes and then turned toward a movement down the bank. A grown bullfrog was hindered by dry sand and served as lunch for the soon to
be mother vixen. She found a likely spot and started digging. Daintily the mud was shook from her feet before slaking her thirst from a clear stream of water.
The keen ears of the fox picked up bubbling sounds all across the dry expanse. Hunger and thirst satisfied, she picked her way to a hole under a boulder which had
recently appeared at the surface. Before entering the birthing suite, she relocated the rabbit nest, listened to a bullfrog, and watched a muskrat approach. Water and food
would be plentiful for the litter. With one last look to assure her safety she disappeared beneath the boulder. The recovery of Layton Lake was astonishingly rapid.
Shortly after sunrise a laboring engine could be heard approaching Layton Lake. The truck loaded with building materials stopped in a clearing near the shoreline. The driver stepped out and shook his head in disbelief. He was amazed at the rate of recovery in the past years. The lake appeared close to capacity. The young forest was alive with animals, birds were singing, and splashes from the lake could be heard. The man squatted and spoke quietly to two bright-eyed fox pups. They watched the human antics for a few minutes—but no way! The tails raised and they ran for the forest—but what is that? The pups stopped to investigate a turtle.
The second vehicle approached and the builder greeted his family. They had brought the tools to build the lakeshore cabin. A moment of sadness struck as he remembered his brothers and their wives had died on this very location. Soon the children were cavorting around the area—begging for permission to go swimming—wanting to eat, and generally having a good time away from the pavements of the city.
The young ones felt it first! The pups ran to their mother—the children to their parents. A fawn tried to balance on unsteady legs. The turtle drew in all appendages and closed the shell. All but one was disturbed by an eerie silence—felt a sense of
danger—and trembled because of the evil. The man and woman gathered their
children. The vixen growled a warning, and the deer poised for flight. All were at attention.
A sated appetite hooded the malevolent stare from the center of the lake. Knowledge that the storehouse would be full at the next coming created a feeling of satisfaction and only a slight ripple told of a passing of the Aron.
The sense of evil subsided. All shook their heads flexed their shoulders, relaxed and returned to work or play. The hammer striking the first nail sent an echo across the region. Far across the ridge, a ranger smiled as the long glass focused on the cabin being built.
Peace and well being had returned to Layton Lake and the remaining Layton Boy was rebuilding the Layton House for the next generation.

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