Lizzie sat in the front seat of her mothers SUV, habitually tugging her hik- ing shorts up and down her legs.
“You and Dad really used to come up here?” She asked, digging a finger into her ear.
Her mother glanced away from the winding mountain road. “A long time ago. Before you were born.”
“He really enjoyed it?”
“For my sake he did.”
California’s redwoods loomed over-
head, and Lizzie squinted her eyes at the flashing sunlight, dragging her shorts back over her knees. She was growing faster than Diane could manage, and had been wearing clothes two sizes too big all year. Her mother seemed to fear them being unprepared for the next growth spurt.
“Are you still thirsty?” Diane ges- tured at the water-bottle at Lizzie’s feet.
“Oh,” the car crept its way up the hill, “there should be a faucet at the camp-
Two steps out of the car kicked up enough dust to swaddle Lizzie’s legs. El Parque del Diablo, sitting on what was at the time called El Lago del Diablo, court- ed the few campers it could steal from Yosemite. This was before the droughts, which made water holes like Diablo poi- sonous to dogs and small children. Even so, early August meant there had been no rain for five months, and the water was starting to crust over at the edges. The area was empty, except for the group of High Schoolers Lizzie saw packing empty beer cans into trash bags on the way in.
Lizzie’s mom heaved a box onto the picnic table. Lizzie struggled with the metal rods of the tent on the other side of the site.
“I can’t do this,” she said.
“Come over here,” her mother called.
Diane pulled out the propane camp- ing stove, and rubbed some dust off it with her thumb.
Lizzie peeled some skin off her lip, “I miss Daddy’s spaghetti.”
“He was the best,” Diane rubbed her eyes and showed a wry smile. “You’re just stuck with my cooking for now.”
“Boarding school food is supposed to be really bad.”
Sunlight touched the pallor of Diane’s skin. “Kiddo… Kingston is a good
The moon rose high in the sky.
Diane let her hair down, and took a beer for herself. They ate undercooked hotdogs and boxed salad mix.
Lizzie rubbed her eyes, and dropped another burnt marshmallow into the flames. The charred exterior reminded her of how her fathers matted hair used to look after he got out of the pool.
“What does Diablo mean?”
“Does the devil live here? Like
Diane chuckled, “No. But… there is
another monster in the lake. That’s why it’s called,” she waved her fingers in the firelight, “Devil’s lake.”
Lizzie sunk into herself, thinking she looked brave. Diane took another swig of beer.
“What kind of monster?”
“I don’t know if I should tell you. I don’t want to scare you.”
“I wouldn’t be scared,” she chewed her lip, “Dad would tell me stories like
“Alright,” Diane smiled, her face
warm with the flame and alcohol. “The monster is called El Ahogado. It’s got long fingers, humongous height, as wide as it is tall, with white patching hair. It’s skin is rotten and it’s stench is unbearable to any human.” Lizzie’s eyes trained on the void where the lake was.
“The most terrifying thing is what it does to its victims – when El Ahogado captures them, it eats them whole!” Diane sprang out of her chair. Lizzie screamed, and tried to pull the pajama set over her head. The mother’s face was shadowed in the firelight, her eyes cavernous with shadow. She sank back down, “Some say it transforms into its last victim, to lure another into its clutches.”
Lizzie shook in her fold-out chair, golden lines spilling down her face as she gazed at the pit.
“You alright, kiddo?”
Lizzie nodded into herself.
“The monster isn’t real, you know.
It’s just a story.” “I know.”
Diane kneeled next to her, and brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. “As long as I’m here, nothing can hurt you. Let’s get to bed.” And she rose, offering a hand that wasn’t taken.