Originally written for a friend. There’s a crick in my neck, and I think that’s what wakes me—the discomf ...
Originally written for Jolene Haley’s Spooky Showcase blog tour in 2017.
“It’s just a story, Cam. It’s not like there’s actually a monster in the lake.” Everly hops on one foot, adorably trying to pull her other sneaker on without untying it. “Everyone knows that’s just something the counselors made up years ago to scare the kids so they wouldn’t try to go swimming at night.”
Camryn snickers behind her. “You mean exactly like we’re doing?”
“Exactly.” Everly’s shoe finally slides on just as she tilts too far to the side, but I’m there waiting, reaching out to catch her before she falls. She turns her thousand-watt smile on me. “Thanks, Darcy.”
I kiss her nose and smile back. “You know I’ve always got you, babe.”
“Ugh, will you two quit being so cute already?” Rachel bumps me with her shoulder as she passes behind. “Save the cuddling for the lake.”
Everly and I both laugh, stealing a kiss before we’re pulled along by the rest of the girls towards Shadow Lake. I hold on tight to my girlfriend’s hand and sneak along with the others. Cam, Becca, Rachel, Everly, me, and Tyler, whose idea this was, as always. The girls of Lost Corner Cabin Six.
We’ve been coming to Camp Ashwood together since we were kids, but tonight is our last night. Summer’s almost over, college is calling, but this… We’d planned this night for years. One last hurrah, breaking the biggest rule Ashwood had—a midnight dip in Shadow Lake. Because every story at Ashwood revolves around the lake, so it makes perfect sense. And just maybe tomorrow, we’d be part of the legend.
Ahead of us, several of the girls in our cabin already strip down to their bikinis. Everly and I hurry to catch up as Tyler, our ringleader, eggs us on from the shallows.
“Come on, girls! Stop wasting time!”
We all hush her, Becca charging into the water to physically slap a hand over her mouth. “Dammit, Ty. You know if the counselors hear you yelling, your big plan is all over.”
Tyler’s response was lost in the lake and the darkness, and possibly also Becca’s mouth, but the rest of us quickly follow them out to the lifeguard platform. There, we’re far enough out to talk above a whisper and not fear being overheard.
“Alright, girls.” Tyler looks at Cam and grins. “Story time.”
Cam is the girl who knows everything there is to know about Camp Ashwood. All of us love our summers here, but Camryn lives for them. Tyler may have been our ringleader, but Cam is the one who started email chains while there’s still snow on the ground. She knows everything, about which of our favorite counselors was returning, what programs were planned, all the latest gossip about Ashwood, and especially all the obscure history. If it’s related in any way to the camp, Cam knows it. It’s not even a question that she’ll be back here next year as a counselor, whether it’s official yet or not.
And she knows all the stories.
“Okay, well, the first thing is that nobody really knows what it is that lives in Shadow Lake. Ghost, spirit, monster, demon—there are a million different guesses, and just as many local legends. Could even be a mutant dinosaur.” We all giggle at that, and she gives us a half-hearted glare. “Nobody knows. But everyone agrees there’s something.”
“Nobody knows doesn’t make a great fairytale, Cam.”
We all laugh at Becca’s snark, splashing at her until it turns into a water fight. Eventually we stop, coming back to the floating dock so Cam can continue her story. We all gather in closer than before, subconsciously, I think. As if we somehow know that whatever Cam is about to tell us will change everything. Or maybe just because we want to pretend that it isn’t all over tomorrow. I wrap my arms around Everly, treading water with her as Cam begins again.
“Nobody knows what lives in the lake, but the one thing everyone agrees on is that the number of drownings and disappearances is way too high to explain any other way. Something has to be responsible.”
“Wait, did people really die here?”
We all turn to look at Rachel, who looks both confused and a little scared, but it’s Becca again that speaks up. “You didn’t know? I mean, they haven’t had a drowning in a while, but there was one the year before we all started coming. A few years before that, three girls vanished in the woods on an overnight to Echo Island.”
Tyler interrupts her. “But stuff like that happens. Kids drown, they get lost. Doesn’t matter how safety conscious the camp is, it happens.”
“Sure it does.” Five sets of eyes turn back to Cam, whose voice has taken on a tone that sets us all on edge. “But do you realize just how many have drowned or disappeared in and around Shadow Lake? Hundreds, going as far back as there are records here.”
Silence casts itself over all of us, until the only sound is the breeze in the trees and the slap of the water against the dock. Everly shivers against me.
“There’s a pattern,” Cam continues. “At least until recently. One every four years until about the start of the nineteen hundreds. It gets a little sporadic after the forty’s, some as close as every two years, sometimes as far apart as eight. The numbers get shifty there, too, like the three girls that vanished on Echo.”
“That’s really freaking creepy.” Everyone looks at me. “You’d think the scouts wouldn’t want anything to do with a place with that kind of history.”
Cam shrugs in the water, then hauls herself up onto the floating dock. “I don’t know. But really, can you imagine camp being anywhere else?”
The rest of us keep treading water, looking back and forth. Eventually, Tyler speaks up, breaking the silence.
“So that’s it? Just a pattern of drownings and missing kids?”
Cam bounces her head. “Well… There’s one other thing. They were all girls.”
“That’s just messed up.” We all turn to Becca, who grabs the dock and throws her other hand up. “What? It is. It’s also really creepy. You’re saying that over hundreds of years and hundreds of disappearances, every single one of them was a girl?”
Cam shrugs. “According to all the records, yeah.”
“Guys? Where’s Rachel?”
We all spin around at Everly’s words, searching. We don’t find her. Soon, we’re all splashing around in panic as we all call her name.”
“Rachel, this isn’t funny!”
Cam stands up on the lifeguard dock, searching around all sides of it, her face pale in the moonlight. “I don’t see her.”
“Shit. No way. Just no way.” Tyler’s normally brown face looks ashen with fear. “This is just a joke. It has to be. Rachel, dammit! Stop screwing around!”
I look at Everly, whose hand I’ve refused to let go of, and I can see the fear in her eyes. Tonight was supposed to be exciting and fun, but this isn’t.
“We need to head back in, now.”
All of us agree with Tyler, but it’s me who notices this time. “Where’s Becca?”
Tyler shrieks Becca’s name, but as she flails in the water, I pull Everly to me, swimming us both to the dock. By the time we get there, Tyler has stopped screaming. I turn back to her, ready to convince her to come to the dock with us. But the water is still and calm, as far as I can see.
Tyler is gone, too.
“Darcy, what’s going on?”
I pull Everly to me, holding her tight as we sit as far from the edge of the dock as we can. Both of us are shaking, and it’s not because we’re cold. I’m terrified she’ll vanish next. I’m terrified I’ll vanish next. “Cam, what the hell is this? It’s just a joke, right?”
Cam looks away from us, staring out over the water away from camp. Unlike the two of us, she’s on the very edge, toes sticking out over the lake.
Everly shivers in my arms as the night stretches out into eerie half silence, full of nothing but lapping water and wind, and no animal sounds to be heard. And Cam, standing, as if she’s waiting.
“Three… Three could be enough. Might be enough.”
Everly and I look at each other. I’m sure my eyes are as wide as hers as we both slowly turn to look back at Cam. She’s pulled her hair out of the perpetual bun she always keeps it in, damp strands shining black in the moonlight. “What… What are you saying, Cam? Because I swear—”
I don’t actually know what I swear, and Cam cuts me off before can find out. She turns with a measured precision, her eyes glowing a soft blue that makes me inhale whatever I was about say. She looks like a wild thing, standing there, and nothing like the girl we grew up with.
“It has to mean something, Darcy. I couldn’t just give them anyone.”
Everly whimpers in my arms, but I just stare, my head shaking slowly. “What… Cam, I don’t…”
Cam sits, dipping one leg into the lake, her fingers playing in the water. “Do you remember our end of summer trip last year?”
I swallow. “Echo Island.”
She grins, her teeth too white. “That night you all thought I was pranking you. I heard them, you see.”
“Heard what, Cam?”
She doesn’t answer, just draws her fingers through the water. “Life for life, that’s what they said. They protect the land, but there’s a cost. The Director, she’s getting old. Her time is running out. They chose me, Darcy. I have to protect them. I have to…feed them.” She turns to us completely now, standing with a grace that seems otherworldly. “I’m sorry, Darcy. Everly. I truly am. I hoped three would be enough. But it’s not. They’re too hungry.”
We scramble back as she starts walking towards us, forgetting about the water until my hand meets not solid wood, but water.
There are moments in life that happen too quickly to track them. The details all crash together in to a flash of everything, impossible to separate. Then there are moments where everything slows, and every detail stands out. The shock of my hand dropping past the edge of the dock and into the water, the loss of balance I’m too rattled to maintain. Everly, who I’ve loved all my life, who has been with me as long as I can remember, and who I hoped I’d grow old with, calling my name in a voice laced with fear.
My body slides into the water effortlessly, as though it was always there, waiting. I watch Everly reach for me, panic marring her beautiful face, until she’s reached too far. The water draws her in as well, and I have no ability to stop it.
Above us, Cam watches. Her long, dark hair dances in the breeze, moonlight shining down behind her. She looks regal, like a queen.
Her glowing blue eyes are the last thing I see before the darkness swallows me whole, and I have one brief moment to think that by tomorrow, we will have become part of the story after all.