Into The Water
By: Lazy Laziel and Silverwriter01
All characters are mine and mine alone. If they look like anybody you know or think you know its sheer coincidence. This story does contain some violence, foul language, and spooky stuff.
Synopsis: When a favorite teacher goes missing, two seniors go out and search for him. Their search leads them to a lake where not all is as it seems.
Thanks to Rosa for editing.
Questions or Nice comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org (It’s LL’s fault, truly it is)
Mean comments or rude remarks to LazyLaziel@gmail.com (Said the pusher about the junkie. It’s all lies. Lies and slander. We all know who to blame.)
I could feel the wooden floorboards creaking as I walked down the hall to the kitchen. Our house was old, older than me. We lived in the ‘historic district’ of our small town and I think some doctor built it after World War I. Historic in our town means your house was south of the river before they built the dam in 1979. Anyone who lived north of the dam was forced to move and their houses are now underneath the reservoir.
Some say there were those who refused to leave their homes and they drowned when the waters rose. Some say they still haunt those who go onto the lake since it’s their home. Some people say a lot of things because they’re crazy. I certainly don’t believe that crap.
My mom’s curses grew louder as I walked closer to the kitchen. She was trying to make pancakes for me and my little sister, Becky. It was one of her random attempts to get us girls to bond before I went off to college next fall. She wasn’t good at cooking and she usually left the job to Will, her husband, Becky’s father, and my stepfather. Will is an alright guy, but he’ll never be anything but Will to me. I have a dad, he just works a lot.
Becky was reading the morning paper, which meant she was reading the funnies and her horoscope. She would rather be texting on her phone but Mom had a strict policy about when we could start texting in the morning. We only have a policy because Becky went and got herself addicted to texting, creating a 300 dollar charge on our phone bill. Mom switched to unlimited texting after that, but she’s been trying to break Becky of texting so much. Good luck with that, Mom.
I took the front part of the paper Becky had discarded and started reading it. I couldn’t text either, but it wasn’t like any of my friends were up this early on Sunday unless they went to church. We didn’t go to church. The only church in town is Presbyterian and Mom and Will are too lazy to make everyone get up to drive an hour away to the nearest Methodist church. Also Will often has to go into work on Sundays at the dam. He’s a manager there, making sure those turbines are always providing power for us and a tenth of the state.
“Engine, I’ve been thinking,” Mom started, never a good sign for me, “I don’t think it’s a good idea if you go to that party.”
“But Mom, everyone is going to be there. It’s just a boat party on Kelly’s Dad’s pontoon. You know he’ll be there as well as several other adults. We’ll just be right out on the lake!”
“And that’s why I’m iffy about it. You know how I feel about the lake,” Mom said, scraping a burnt pancake from the skillet and tossing it in the trash. My mother has lived in Rivernix her whole life and has never liked going near the reservoir/lake since they put it in.
When Mom was little, one of her best friend’s dad went missing. He was last seen by the lake. He was also an alcoholic and they figured he had just drowned out there. When Mom was in high school, a girl in her class disappeared. Her friends said she went to the lake to meet a handsome young man she couldn’t stop talking about who they say kidnapped her. Her parents still put flowers out by a cross on the edge of the lake. There have been the occasional other disappearances out at the lake but most of those people were found to have lots of empty beer cans at the bottom of their boats. Stupid people plus water equals death, as my father would say.
“Mom, you’re getting worked up over nothing. I’ll be fine. You can call Kelly’s parents again if you want. They’ll be there. I can swim too. I really want to go and I’ve done nothing wrong. It’s not fair for you to punish me,” I argued.
Mom sighed as she poured more batter into the skillet. This would normally be the part where I took over so we could actually have some pancakes for breakfast, but I was angry now.
“Engine, I just want you to be safe. That’s all.”
Becky chimed in, “Let her go, Mom. You promised to take me to the mall in Crossway and I don’t want her to go.”
I rolled my eyes at her and turned back to Mom. She finally nodded, “Okay. You can go, Engine.”
I didn’t squeal or say ‘thanks mom’ because we had been having this argument every day for a week. I just nodded myself and turned back to the paper.
Becky and I ended up having cereal for breakfast which I immediately took to my room to get away from Mom. I love my mom but lately she had started to get clingy. I was looking forward to going to State next fall.
I started texting my friends and browsing Facebook after that until it was time for the party. I put a two-piece swimsuit underneath my clothes and started packing a little bag. I heard Mom shout goodbye and to call her every few hours to let her know I was okay. After that I got into my little used car and drove to the lake. Technically, the lake is the dam’s reservoir whose official name is Reservoir Lake. You’re allowed to fish and boat on the lake if you buy a yearly pass and don’t go anywhere near the dam itself. The passes are pretty expensive which is why many people sneak out to the lake at night, leading to many accidents
I wave to Kelly and my other friends as I pulled into the dock. Many of them had swimsuits on. Even though we were in the middle of an Indian Summer, I had no intention of getting into the water. Toni, one of my best friends, came running up to me to give me a hug. She immediately started talking, “Jenny, guess what. Kelly’s dad and mom had to go see her grandmother and they won’t be here to watch us. They got Kelly’s older brother James, whose home from college this weekend, to come out here and drive the boat for us. He’s totally cute and he brought some of his college friends with him. They’re over there, look.”
I looked in the direction she was indicating and there was a group of older males. One I knew was James, since he favored Kelly, but the two other guys I didn’t know. One was a tall, wiry blonde in red swimming trunks and the other was a bulkier ginger wearing a State football t-shirt and blue trunks. I had little interest in either of them. They just weren’t my type. I was having a little trouble trying to figure out what my type was. I almost had to wonder if I was a lesbian, except I had never met a single girl I was interested in.
“Come on, Jenny,” Toni said, starting to pull me along. “Let’s get this party started.”
The party was okay. I had more fun than I would have if I had gone to the mall with my family or had stayed at home. James was very strict about what we could do, but his friends were pretty funny. The ginger was named Adam and the blonde was Niles. I chatted with each of them in turn. I thought they both were jocks, since Adam said he was on the college football team and Niles went on and on about how he loved the water and he did have a swimmer’s body. Niles kept teasing the other girls, threatening to take off his swimsuit. James had to scold him a couple of times.
When it started to get dark, James brought the large boat back up to the dock and into the slip his father owned. He cursed his friends as they disappeared once we got to shore, leaving him to tie up the boat by himself. He even started arguing with Kelly, which I took as a sign to leave. I didn’t pay much attention to their conversation as I left, but I would remember it in detail later.
“Some friends you got there. They run off after they party at your expense, not even offering to help clean up,” he snarled.
Kelly argued back, “What is your problem? We picked up all our trash. I’m not responsible if your friends run off the minute you need help.”
“What in the hell are you talking about? They said they were your friends.”
“But dad! I can-”
“Cathryn Elvis Reeves.” I snapped my mouth shut as my full name came out, my father wielding it like a taser. It always annoyed me how much power it had over me. Sure, I didn’t like it. Few women would have. I could live with it though. It was when my mom and dad used it that it became something more. Damn parental powers.
“I told you no and I meant it,” he continued as he focused on finishing the last of his mashed potatoes.
We had gone back and forth on this all day. Well, that implies a certain give. It was more like a forehead getting bloody against a wall. I asked, he said no. I begged, he said no. I threatened, he said no. My granddad always used to say that I was as stubborn as a mule, something that made him proud I think. Well, there has never been a question of where I got it from. Just like my blonde hair, it stemmed from good ol’ dad.
I gave him a glare across the table, which didn’t bother him at all. He just leaned back, sighing softly in appreciation for dinner. My mom had wisely decided to stay out of the whole argument and instead seemed content with following our exchange like a tennis match.
My mom was an engineer with a head for numbers who worked at the local dam and she was smart. Which I guess you’d have to be to do what she did. My dad on the other hand wasn’t, or that’s what he’d like you to think. He’s got that folksy, guy next door charm. The guy you feel you can borrow tools from, have a nice barbeque with and that you know would give up his seat for an old lady on the bus. But it all hid a cunning that would be the envy of any CIA spy. And he put that to use by being the town sheriff, which wasn’t exactly a picnic for me. Have you ever tried to date someone when your dad is the law? Well, I can tell you that it isn’t pretty. Even friends treat you differently, which might be one of the reasons I don’t have that many.
“Dad,” I started softly, recognizing that my voice might have been getting a bit loud earlier. Might have. “Can you at least tell me why you won’t let me?”
“And don’t say ‘because I said so’ since I know you have a reason.”
Dad got up from the table and carried his plate to the sink before turning around and giving me a look.
”Because you are 17 years old. Because you have no training when it comes to any area in law enforcement. And because this isn’t a game you can play when you are bored.” He walked over, picked up my and mom’s empty plates and returned them to the sink too.
“And if they get solved somewhere down the line, and someone’s guilty, I don’t want a lawyer having the case thrown out because someone unauthorized was mucking about with the evidence.”
I glanced at my mom, who still sat silently, watching the exchange. I would get no help from her, the ground rules saying that dad’s job was his area alone. Just as he wouldn’t have interfered if I had asked mom for something at the dam.
They were all good points. Probably. But it was a little hard to hear the reasons after getting a simple ‘no’ for most of the day. All I could hear at the moment was the fact that he didn’t want my help.
“Fine,” I finally said stiffly. “I won’t ask again.” I was quite calm as I got up from the table, and I gave them a nod. “If you’d excuse me, I have some homework to finish before school tomorrow.” A lie. And they knew it, but they let me leave the table with soft smiles.
As soon as I got to my room I did make sure that my homework was actually done, which it was. Then I turned the radio on and I threw myself on the bed, burrowed my head in my pillow and growled into it. I wasn’t sad, just frustrated, and the duck print pillow had always been willing to take it when I had to get everything out of me.
One last growl and I felt good enough to turn around and stare up at my white ceiling.
It had all started a few weeks before when I had been reading up on the town dam for a school project. When the dam was built, it turned the river that used to run through the area into a lake. Not surprisingly, it soon became widely known that it was haunted. Just your average urban legend that every town has, most likely created by teenagers.
There had been a few cases of drowning at the lake, along with some missing persons. Even that wasn’t surprising. It had been around for quite some time and stupid people coupled with water didn’t end well. But as I read about the average output each year, and trying not to fall asleep, something started nagging at the back of my head. It took a while for me to figure out what. If what I had read earlier was accurate, there had been a lot of missing people over the years. Way more than there should be.
People go missing all the time. Escaping from an abusive home, kidnappings, running away with their high school sweetheart. Moving away without telling anyone. But statistically speaking, this town was above the norm and that was interesting.
Yes, I knew the average numbers for disappearances in the U.S. I’m a complicated girl. Sue me.
I had been bitten by the crime fighting bug early, along with a keen interest in science, and shows like CSI on the TV didn’t exactly cure me. So it wasn’t long before I was at the library, digging up old articles for research.
And I was right, my hunch proven fairly quickly. The total amount of people going missing was staggering, hovering just below the point were big agencies would be interested. And the few articles that went into detail all connected to the lake somehow. Running away with a boy someone met there, a diver, random bird watchers.
Which is what my argument with my dad was all about. I wanted to see everything the police had about these missing cases, because I would be willing to bet good money on me finding something that they had missed. I was hopeful and giddy when I approached dad, but that had quickly soured.
So here I was, lying on my bed with an angry face aimed at the ceiling, because he wouldn’t let me help.
The little angel on my shoulder pointed out that his argument was completely valid, and that I was kinda full of myself in thinking that I could do what no one else could, but she was shouted down by the devil that reveled in my misery.
I had spent a couple of hours on the bed when the end of a radio transmission filtered through. I pushed myself up on my arms and looked over at the radio, a decommissioned police scanner instead of the regular teen version. When your dad works nights, it’s oddly soothing knowing what he’s doing.
“Say that again?” The voice was crackly, but there were only so many people on the force, and Bob’s nasal tone was hard to miss.
“10-57. Midge phoned in a missing person. A neighbor hasn’t been home for a while, one Stephen Cartwright. Teacher over at the High school. Brown hair, brown eyes, about 5’8. No identifying marks. He was last seen at noon, out for a walk. No additional confirmation yet. Could be nothing, but keep on the lookout and we’ll check things out in the morning.”
I stared at the scanner as the low volume voices finished up. Cartwright was missing? The very concept seemed preposterous. Mr. Cartwright couldn’t be missing. He was... He was… He was Cartwright! The favorite teacher. My favorite teacher at any rate. The old man that was always there, ready to listen. Or talk. He’s the one who got me to like the word preposterous.
It had to be a mistake, I thought as I slowly leaned back down. He hadn’t missed a day’s work for as long as I had known him, and when I returned to school tomorrow he’d be there with his books.
Yea, a mistake. The words soothed me and turned the storm in my stomach into a steady churning. I spent the rest of the evening in a daze, not even planning a future prank to relieve some of the evening’s feelings. I hadn’t given him a second thought as I left on Friday, and now I just wanted to see him again.
But as I drifted off to sleep that night my mind wouldn’t, couldn’t, stop.
People go missing in this town. And when they do, they aren’t seen again.
By the time morning rolled around, I was a wreck. The gnawing worry I was feeling had led to an uneasy rest, and when my alarm clock beeped I just rolled out of bed without my usual snoozing.
I admit that I’m not usually the fastest girl in the mornings, but I was out the door in record time. My short hair was still wet from the shower and the last slice of toast still hung from the corner of my mouth when I unlocked my bicycle.
When I finally came sliding into the school parking lot, probably having broken a speed limit or two along the way, I slowed down and checked the cars.
I frowned as I looked around. Normally it would be packed, but there were only a couple of cars there. I glanced at my watch and did a double take.
“I should probably reshape my morning routine,” I muttered. As I said, I’m slow in the morning. But now that I had rushed, I came to school an hour before I usually do.
I looked around the lot again, but I still couldn’t see his cherished green gremlin. I resolutely stomped on that feeling in my gut. I was early and he just hadn’t shown up yet. Or he had decided to walk to work. That was it.
Instead of standing around looking worried, I locked up my bike and walked into the school. I ignored my locker and went straight to Mr. Cartwright’s classroom, but my spirits started to sink again when the door turned out to be locked.
I even swung by the teachers’ lounge, which was enemy territory for me. I had good grades, but the teachers didn’t like me. With the exception of Mr. Cartwright that is. I believe that they think I’m a bad influence.
The only two there were Henry and Bonnie, two cousins that taught geography and science and who still hadn’t forgiven me for the time they had to chase down some pigs I had let loose in the hallways. Three pigs with the numbers 1, 2 and 4 were caught after a few minutes. But those two got the honor to crawl around for an hour looking for number 3. Too bad I had skipped over that number when I marked the pigs.
They gave me the stink eye as I tried to pump them for information about Cartwright and I was ready to tear my hair out before they let slip that they hadn’t actually heard anything about Cartwright.
When I left them in the bright lounge I think they too were starting to realize that something might be off. I didn’t usually act worried about a teacher, and even they knew that Cartwright was Cartwright.
I left them and started to roam the halls, looking for a sign, any sign, that he wasn’t missing.
I don’t know how it happened, but as I walked around with my footsteps echoing in my ears, the worry I felt started to change. I was still worried about him, but now I was starting to feel a little bit angry as well. For some reason it grew and grew, until my phone vibrated and I read a text from my dad that pushed me over an edge I didn’t even know I was leaning over.
“Your teacher Mr. Cartwright was just officially declared missing. Talk to you later.”
Everything suddenly coalesced. My dad didn’t want my help with the missing person cases? Fine. I don’t need him either. I’ll find Cartwright myself.
I swiveled on the spot and started to march, ideas forming in my head. It was a longshot, but there was a possibility that a clue to his disappearance existed amongst his things in the classroom. It was still locked, but I knew a janitor that could unlock it for me.
The halls around me had started to come to life as students started to arrive, so I wasn’t terribly surprised when I saw my classmate Jennifer walking towards the classroom.
I didn’t dislike her exactly, but we didn’t hang out and our relationship could at best be described as cordial. But I was fairly sure that she was one of Mr. Cartwright’s favorites. She wasn’t dumb, not by a long shot.
It only took a moment for me to make a decision.
Most teenagers hated Monday mornings, but I didn’t. I was eager to get to school. It was a fun place to be. I knew most of my classmates would go on to have blue-collar jobs, but I knew I was getting out of our small town. I was in the top five of our academic ranking and I knew State would accept me once I sent in my early admission application. Granted I was top five out of 180 in my year, but I still thought it counted.
I dropped my sleepy sister off at the middle school first. Becky rubbed her eyes before grabbing her book bag, “Bye, Engine.”
I waved to her as I started the short drive to the high school. When Becky was little she tried to call me Jen-Jen but it always came out sounding like ‘engine’. Thus, my family calls me that even though my name is Jennifer.
Once at the school I immediately went inside. I was eager to talk to Mr. Cartwright, the 12th grade English teacher, and to give him a book I had borrowed. He was my favorite teacher in the whole school. The old man just made learning so fun and he told the best stories, whether about his own life or from books I’ve yet to read.
My hand was on the door handle to his class when someone grabbed me firmly by the arm. I turn to find Rebel holding my arm. My happy mood turned to one of annoyance. It wasn’t like I hated Rebel, we just didn’t get along. I avoided her and she spent her time varying between causing trouble and being the top of our class.
I tried to shake my arm free, “You can let go anytime now, Rebel.”
Rebel Reeves, whose real name was Cathryn, kept holding onto me. She said, “He’s not in there. He’s missing.”
“What?” I snapped, trying to peer into the room. Rebel pulled me back again, “He’s not there. Mr. Cartwright was declared missing this morning. I heard it on my dad’s scanner last night.”
This made me stop struggling because Rebel’s father was the sheriff. I turned to face her, “What happened?”
Rebel loosened her grip on me, “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.”
Somehow, and I’m not really sure how, I found myself following Rebel out of the school. “Where are you going?”
“I’m going to find out what happened to him,” Rebel said, unlocking her bike from the rack.
“What makes you think you can do any better than your dad and the other police?”
She swept her blonde hair out of her eyes, “I just know it. I know Mr. Cartwright and so do you. So what do you think?”
“Think about what?” I asked, beyond confused.
“Are you going to help me find him?”
“Are you crazy? What can we do that the police can’t? And school’s about to start.”
She shrugged like it was no big deal, “Just skip it.”
I shook my head in dismay, “We should leave this to the professionals.”
Rebel’s blue eyes dulled in disappointment and she hopped onto her bike, “Fine, whatever.”
I watched her start to pedal away and I couldn’t help myself from calling out, “Where are you going?”
“To his house to look for clues!” She shouted back.
I looked at the school and back at her fading figure. I grumbled as I dug out my car keys, “Fuck my life.”
I tried not to smirk as I found Rebel standing beside her bike a block away from Cartwright’s house. I had figured the police would already be there and she wouldn’t get to look for clues, thus why I followed her. I stopped beside her and rolled down my window, “So what’s next in your plan, Sherlock?”
Rebel’s cheeks were red as she glared at me, “It was a miscalculation.”
She took a deep breath and looked towards Mr. Cartwright’s house. She started rambling off the first ideas that came to mind, “Okay we can’t look for clues at his house and the cops are also in his classroom. We know him better than they do. He doesn’t have any known enemies.”
“But he did mention the other day that he was researching something,” I broke in, interrupting her train of thought. Instead of being angry, Rebel looked thrilled as a thought came to her. “That’s right! He was researching something, which means he wouldn’t have spent that much time at his house at all. All the clues would be…”
“In the basement of the library!” We finished together. Mr. Cartwright had mentioned a few times he liked working in the library because it helped him think. He had even made the old librarian his special lady friend so he could get a key to go in whenever he wanted.
I unlocked the car doors and said, “Put your bike in the back and let’s go.”
On the drive to the library I asked, “So how are we going to get in without the librarian asking why we aren’t in school?”
Rebel laughed, “Just follow my lead.”
When we got to the library Rebel walked in like she owned the place and I tried my best to not seem like a nerd skipping class for the first time. We didn’t even see the librarian, but she was probably off worrying about Mr. Cartwright. It’s a good thing we didn’t see her because Rebel walked right behind the desk and took a ring of keys out of a drawer. Soon she was headed towards the elevator and waved for me to follow her.
Once in the elevator, she held down the basement button until we started heading below ground. Soon we were amidst stacks of old, uncirculated books and dusty furniture. In the far corner of the room was a desk with neatly arranged books, newspapers, and other types of papers on top of it. Rebel insisted on taking pictures and prints before we started, though I didn’t see the point.
“Whatever we find can’t be used in a court of law or any crap like that. We aren’t cops so any evidence here is unusable. Or so my TV tells me anyway.”
Rebel rolled her eyes, “Watch a few crime shows and everybody thinks they’re a cop. This evidence is for me to use. I’ll run them myself once I find a way to hack into Dad’s work computer. This isn’t about bringing anyone to justice right now, it’s about finding him. So let me quickly take these prints and we’ll start reading. I’m sure they are his, since there’s no sign of a struggle, but I want to be sure.”
So I watched as she quickly, and rather efficiently, used a print-lifting kit to take all the evidence she wanted. I found myself reading old town documents while Rebel started sorting through the various books Cartwright had left. After a few minutes she asked what I had found.
“Well, some of this stuff is really old. Like over a century old, about when people from Europe first settled along the river,” I replied. I shuffled the papers. “These are reports on all accidents while the dam was being built. He’s got a sticky note on here. Wow,” I paused as I read the accident figures. “A lot of people got hurt or died making this thing.”
“What have you found out?”
Rebel shook her head, “I think Cartwright has lost his freaking mind. He’s got pages of notes from this book.”
She held up an old leather bound book whose title was “Mythical Water Spirits”. I arched an eyebrow, “Well, that just explains everything now, doesn’t it?”
Rebel slammed the book in disgust, “He thinks a water spirit is killing people in the lake. He probably drowned.”
“Hey,” I snapped, “We know him better than that. Now give me that.”
I took the book from her and started flipping through it. I stopped on a set of pages he had highlighted. “It seems he was very interested in this thing called a neck.”
Rebel could only stare at me. I shrugged and continued reading aloud, “That’s what it says. They can come from all over Europe, but he seemed really interested in the Scandinavian version. According to this, they are water spirits who would appear naked and playing enchanted songs on a violin, luring women, men, and children to their death. However, not all spirits were malevolent and often just played for people. Nokken are said to grow despondent, perhaps violent if they can’t live free and near a flowing water source.”
“So Cartwright thinks a mythical creature has been causing all the disappearances on the reservoir? He really is crazy,” Rebel said, taking a heavy seat in the chair behind the desk. She ran her hands through her short hair. She looked like her dreams had been crushed, “I really thought I could find something they missed.”
A part of me told me this is where we should call a quits. We should just let the police handle it and go back to school. However, the rest of me told me that we couldn’t stop now. I said, “Okay, any information is information. We’re here to find Mr. Cartwright so let’s do that. What do we know?”
Rebel ran her hand through her hair again before straightening up, “We know he was researching the disappearances in the town, just like I am, and researching leads to investigating.”
“He went to the lake! And I saw a sketch of the lake he had done in these papers somewhere,” she proclaimed, lighting up as the idea came to her. She shuffled quickly through the papers until she found the one she wanted and held it up, triumphantly, “Aha! Here it is.”
I took a look at the sketch of the lake. The lake itself was huge, but Cartwright had taken the time to draw out the shoreline close to the town and the dam. There were two strange things about the pseudo map.
“What’s this circled area?”
Rebel stared at the area and said, “I don’t know. I’ve been all over the lake with my Granddad and Dad but I never seen anything like that. Looks like a cave.”
“He wrote a time on here,” I added. “Midnight.”
“I bet that’s what happened. I bet he went out there and something happened to him,” Rebel said. “So that’s what we’re going to do next.”
“What next?” I added, knowing exactly what she meant.
“We’re going out there tonight at midnight. I bet we can find some more clues.”
I took a step back, holding up my hands, “Oh, no. No, no, no. I’m not going out to the lake in the middle of the night. Are you crazy?”
Rebel smirked, “No. Don’t tell me you believe all this stupid ‘neck’ stuff? I think you’re scared.”
“As any normal person would be,” I retorted.
She shrugged, still smirking, “It’s okay that you’re a chicken. I’ll go by myself.”
My worry instantly turned into outrage. “I’m not a chicken!”
“So I’ll see you at the main dock at eleven then?”
“I’ll be there,” I stated firmly before marching back to the elevator. As I took the lonely ride back up, I immediately regretted my words. I was really scared of what could happen that night.
When I got out to the forest that night it was dark. Which was a normal I suppose, since night was night. I just hadn’t anticipated that it would be this dark.
With a hint of fog trailing along the ground.
Clouds covering the sky.
The rustling treetops didn’t improve things.
The flashlight helped, but the wide beam that had felt so powerful earlier now seemed woefully inadequate. But a deal was a deal. She said she’d show up so there was no way I wouldn’t. And to find Mr. Cartwright, couldn’t forget that.
I sighed a little as I walked on one of the uneven paths to the main dock. I didn’t like it, but the hope I had used as fuel earlier this morning was gone. There was always a chance, but Mr. Cartwright was probably dead and it was just a matter of finding him. Which would have been easier during the day, but going at night would help us recreate the situation where he potentially disappeared. It would also show that there was nothing to this ridiculous notion of the “Neck”. There had been something in Jenny’s voice when we went through Mr. Cartwright’s research. A lilt that sounded almost excited and that immediately had rubbed me the wrong way. The Neck. What a silly thing some people believed in.
Thinking of why I was here did actually help matters for a few seconds. Then it was back to watching the night. The very black night.
I could hear a rustling sound coming from my left and with a nervous swallow I stopped and carefully aimed my light, trying to see what it was.
“Hey Rebel!” The soft whisper came from behind, taking me by surprise. I fell down with a grunt, my flashlight went flying and I scrambled along the path for a second before the voice registered.
“Did you just squeak?” Jenny asked, a tiny smirk on her face as she looked down at me.
“I did not!” I hissed back as I jumped back up. Squeak. Courageous grunt. It all sounds the same.
“I think you did.”
With as much dignity as I could muster I ignored her and picked up my dropped flashlight. It had hit a rock when it fell, but it was still glowing strong. Score one for police equipment.
“So what do you think about this weather we’re having?” Jenny’s voice sounded innocent, but I could hear she was baiting me.
“It’s swell,” I managed to spit out between grinding teeth as I finally met her green eyes. They were steady as they gazed into mine. I hadn’t really thought it when I got her riled up earlier, but I had to admit that it didn’t seem like she was a chicken.
We stood and stared at each other for a while. Seconds. Minutes. I don’t know why. I do know that I didn’t think of anything special until a hooting owl jerked us both back to reality.
“Right,” I finally murmured. “So you showed up. Let’s get going.” As aggravating as Jenny’s appearance had been, it was oddly soothing, so when I started down the path again with Jenny at my back I felt safer. But I was surprised that she didn’t really say anything about showing up. I would have bet money that she’d try to rub my nose in it. Shows what I know. She had even brought a backpack like me. I don’t know what she had brought, but mine had a couple of blankets and some basic survival gear. We wouldn’t be far from civilization, but my granddad had insisted on me always bringing good gear when I went out to the lake.
“Better have and not need,” he used to say. “Than to need and not have.”
We reached the docks without me falling down again, which was a big boost to my self-confidence I must admit. Once there I glanced at my watch. 11 o’clock on the dot. It would take us awhile to get to the area marked on the map, but nowhere near an hour. Still, no sense in wasting time.
“I wonder if he has a boat,” Jenny said out loud as I turned to her and the question froze me. It hadn't occurred to me to check for a boat.
“That’s a good question. Let’s check.” We both went over to the sign identifying the different slips on the dock. About half of them were registered to townspeople, but none of the names were Mr. Cartwright’s.
“Well,” I started. “Either he’s using a false name or he doesn’t have a boat.”
“Why would he use a false name?”
“I don’t know! It was just a thought.” The glance she shot my way showed what she thought of that.
“We’re looking for Mr. Cartwright, not… Dr. Evil,” Jenny replied. I just rolled my eyes.
“Come on,” I finally said after I gave the quiet docks another quick look. “Let’s get to the marked spot.” I thought of making a quip about her being frightened, but I immediately thought better of it as I looked at her. She might feel a bit uneasy about being out here at night, but she didn’t seem scared.
“Do you think Mr. Cartwright will be there?” She asked after we got going along the waterfront. “I mean, really?”
I mulled it over for a while before I finally replied with a small sigh. “Yea, I think he’ll be there.” She was smart, so I figure that she understood what I left unsaid.
We tried talking after that. About school, about where we were going. I think I even brought up Brangelina at one point. We weren’t friends but when you’re looking for someone together it doesn’t hurt to be friendly at least. But the conversations always died down. There was something about the night that pressed on us. Our voices sounded small as they carried over the water to our left and into the forest on our right. Fragile. So in the end we just kept quiet and listened to the night sounds.
“Here we are.” It was the first time either of us spoke in 30 minutes, and I think my voice surprised us both.
We stood by a small, sandy beach. One of many that dotted the lake. But while most of those were artificial, this one seemed to be natural. Maybe the original river had run nearby. I oriented myself in my head and I glanced up into the forest. The cave wasn’t that far off, but I decided to save that for later. Since Jenny made no move towards it either, I think she thought the same. Besides, there were enough nooks and crannies around here to search for now.
“Okay then. Let’s see if we can find Mr. Cartwright,” Jenny said with false cheer. I just murmured an agreement.
We didn’t plan this out, but we instinctively divided up the beach in fair chunks and started to methodically sweep our flashlights in search of… something, anything. And we found something fairly quickly.
“Hey, look!” I suddenly exclaimed eagerly. Where the forest met the beach I had found a single set of shoeprints, but my cheer soured quickly. I let my flashlight follow them as Jenny came up to me and they led straight to the waters. The strides were neither long nor short, just the right distance apart for a grown man that was walking calmly.
I closed my eyes. It wasn’t a body, but it was proof enough. The gasp I heard next to me showed that Jenny had come to the same conclusion.
We slumped down on the sand, both of us staring at the prints while sitting alone with our thoughts.
So it was suicide, I wearily though. That was a surprise since Mr. Cartwright always seemed so cheery. But it’s true that you never know what’s going on behind the surface.
We sat there for minutes, maybe an hour even, when Jenny broke the silence.
“I like the tune you’re humming.”
I blinked, a little annoyed.
“I’m not humming,” I muttered. And that’s when I heard it too. A soft tune, so low that I hadn’t really heard it consciously. I first looked around and then I looked at Jenny. Her eyebrows were up, staring at me in surprise. Then she looked past me and her eyes went wider. The sound grew in strength, the short, sharp notes hopping through the night air like live things. It sounded cheerful. And needy.
I turned around and looked out over the lake, following Jenny’s eyes. A blue glow seemed to rise from it like a solid thing, a hundred yards out in the deep part of the lake. It was mesmerizing. The flickering light grew, and as it did, the sound changed. I could hear now that it wasn’t humming, never had been. Instead it was the sound of an instrument. I couldn’t quite place it until I remembered what Jenny had read earlier in the library. I didn’t know music, but I was suddenly and gut wrenchingly certain that it was a violin we were hearing.
The happy music started to slow down as we watched the glow, and just as suddenly as it had appeared, the glow wasn’t on the surface anymore; instead it was below, illuminating the night.
But on the water, a man danced in its place. Long brown hair flowed behind him as he flowed around in a circle and I could see a crown of flowers on his head. Tucked under his chin was a fiddle, the source of the music, and not a single thread of clothing covered his dry, slim body.
But it was what he danced around that finally drew my attention and made us both gasp. Hovering above the surface was Mr. Cartwright. And he was dead. Water slowly dripped from his suit and his limbs hung, waving slightly in the wind. But his head made me tear up. Even from a distance I could see his glasses askew, his jaw hanging slack. His head hung to the side, lolling around in an angle that wasn’t natural. I could feel bile at the back of my throat. He looked like a puppet with most of his strings cut.
Yet we didn’t move. We sat there, hypnotized as the tune slowed even more and went from cheery to something sad and mournful. A wrong note seemed to tear through the night, like an old record skipping, and the cheerful tune returned as Mr. Cartwright’s corpse had its final line cut and crashed back into the water from where it had risen.
The man, the Neck if I had to guess, stood still for a moment. He never stopped playing though, the happy song continuing.
We should have been up and running. We should have been screaming. We should have been doing something besides just sitting there, staring. But we didn’t. And we continued to do nothing as the Neck turned around and started to walk, dance, something, towards us. We only managed to press ourselves closer together.
It seemed like an eternity before his feet touched the sand. This close, the violin seemed to fill our ears, our heads, our hearts. It was everything, urging us to get up. To dance. It promised us everything, pleasure forever if we would only just dance with him.
The Neck circled us, sometimes close enough to touch, sometimes far enough so that he glided over the water again.
I stared at him and he stared at me with a smile softening his features. The gleam in his eyes displayed his hunger. His eyes were… Were…
There was something wrong with his eyes. I didn’t know how I knew, but I did. The urge I could see wasn’t right. It suddenly reminded me of the hundreds of images I had seen of killers on my computer.
“Insane eyes…” I could hear myself say. Or maybe I thought it. But I knew that we needed to get away.
“We need to...” I whispered as my hand started to move over the sand an inch at a time. “We need to run.”
Then I could feel the warmth of Jenny’s hand under my fingertips and I repeated it. “We need to run. We need to run.” Again and again I whispered it, punctuating it with a squeeze of my hand. But I didn’t move, my eyes still riveted on the dancing Neck whose pleasure was quite evident.
Slowly my voice died away, my weak squeezing tapered off as he made another lap towards the water. And I followed. I rose up from the sand, my gangly legs stretching out, and I took a halting step towards him.
“WE HAVE TO RUN!” The shout next to my ear jarred me like nothing ever had and I was struck dumb. A firm hand gripped mine and yanked me around, and before I knew it I was running in the forest. Jenny was in front of me, holding my hand firmly and crashing through the dark without the aid of our flashlights while behind me I could hear the violin stop. Then came a scream that froze my blood. I think the Neck was angry.
I can’t begin to explain what was going through my head as the Neck danced around us. Half of me was awed and the other half of me was scared witless. I couldn’t look anywhere else as he danced and played. I would have followed him anywhere. Then a warm hand took mind and I could hear Rebel whispering to me. It took several times before it worked its way into my head what she was saying. When I had finally figured it out, she seemed to be the one lost.
I was shook completely out of my horrified trance as she stood up on the sand and took a step towards the water. I had a flashback to what Cartwright had looked like, laying there in the water and I couldn’t let that happen to her. I jumped up, screamed into her ear, grabbed her hair, and started running.
I don’t know where I was running too, I just ran. I couldn’t see anything in the woods but there was a faint moon out. It was enough to tell the trees, but not enough to see the roots. I tripped once or twice, only my strong hold on Rebel’s hand kept my upright. The Neck screamed again and I was certain he was following us.
Somehow, we ended up back at the shoreline again and there he was, standing on the water, naked as a jaybird. He looked even more homicidal than before and he drew his violin bow like a sword. I knew if he started to play again we’d both end up in the water.
“Th- there’s the cave,” Rebel said, drawing my attention away from the Neck.
It didn’t seem like a good idea to be cornered in a cave, but I knew there was no way we could get inland enough to get away from him. So we both sprinted for the cave and if I thought his scream were bad before, it was ten times worse when he saw where we were going. I didn’t dare look behind us, but I knew he was coming for us. Rebel, who had longer legs, was soon pulling me forward. Perhaps it was my imagination but later I could almost swear I had felt the Neck’s fingertips touching me right before we entered the cave.
However, he didn’t follow us in. He screamed his anger and glared at us. It was pitch black in the cave behind us so we were afraid to go forward and we sure as hell was going out the front. Rebel let go of my hand to dig through her backpack, “I’ve got a spare flashlight in here.”
She pulled it out and hit the switch, but nothing happened. She quickly flipped it back off and on, hoping for a different result. She started to shake it, “I checked it before I left the house. It worked!”
“I’ve got a spare,” I said. I started digging around in my backpack and found my spare one. Our original ones were outside with the Neck and neither one of us felt like going to get them. I pressed the button on my spare one, hoping for a beam of light, and nothing happened.
“Oh fuck me,” Rebel softly cursed.
“Get us out of here in one piece and I might take you up on that,” I replied, trying to joke and calm my nerves. We were literally between a rock and a serial killer.
My offer seemed to stop Rebel’s train of thought and I imagine she was giving me an incredulous look. It was too dark but just to tell little more than her outline. “I have my phone and police radio. I can just call for help.”
Rebel pulled out something of her bag and since it was bigger than a cell phone, I assumed it was the radio. She tried calling for help, but all we could hear was static. “It’s not working.”
We both tried our mobiles but neither of those would work either. Rebel cursed again, “It’s like we’re in a fucking dead zone.”
I was quiet for a moment before I realized something. “I’ve got some matches! I just tossed them in there to be thorough.”
“I like a thorough lady,” Rebel excitedly replied. I fished around in my pack until I found the tiny box of matches. I carefully slide it open to pull out on and strike it on its side. We had light.
For about ten seconds we looked around, trying to catch our breath and get our bearings straight. Soon though, the match burned the tips of my fingers and I had to let it go.
“Light another one! I saw something!”
So I quickly lit another one and Rebel grabbed something off the wall I hadn’t seen before. It was an old fashioned torch and she held it up to my tiny flame. Soon it was burning brightly as my own match died. Rebel held it up to look around.
For the most part, it was just a cave. It was just large enough for a person to walk through and it seemed to keep going on forever. Rebel muttered, “I’ve lived here my whole life and I’ve never seen this cave before. I don’t know where it could pop out or if it keeps going to the center of the earth.”
I looked outside of the cave at the eerie figure of the Neck floating above the water, “Well, going outside isn’t an option so let’s keep going further in.”
Rebel looked outside too and still didn’t seem to believe what she was seeing, “It’s a trick of some kind” she mumbled. “He’s not really standing on the water. Just a platform hidden just under the water.”
I didn’t have time to argue with her about the supernatural. Whatever was out there was a stone cold killer and we needed to get moving so I pressed her forward. She got the idea and started leading the way into the cave. She didn’t protest as I moved to walk directly behind her, practically walking on top of her. She even tried to make small talk, “So where are you going to college?”
“State, hopefully,” I replied, “You?”
“Not sure yet. Maybe State.”
“So how did you get the nickname Rebel? Any reason besides the obvious ones like letting pigs loose or putting shaving cream in places shaving cream shouldn’t go?”
For a moment she looked pensive, and then she grimaced. “Fine, I’ll tell you. But only because we’re in this… situation. The official version, the one my parents likes to tell, is that when they were on the way to the hospital I was very, very eager to see what all the fuzz was about. They didn’t make it to the hospital and instead I came into the world in a ‘84 Dodge Caravan, screaming like nothing my parents had ever heard, all the while the song ‘Rebel Yell’ was playing on the radio.”
I chuckled a little and then I pushed for the real version, “You said that’s the official reason. What’s the unofficial one?”
I could actually see her shudder, the situation momentarily forgotten as she recalled something. “The unofficial reason, which is the real one from what I can tell, is slightly different. I was twelve when I finally figured it out, one too many hints dropping into my lap. It might be true that I was born while the song was playing, I can’t remember that far back. But I’m fairly sure I was created while that same song was playing as well.”
I could see another shudder run through her. It was hard to tell in the firelight but she seemed to turn a shade greener. “The song also describes certain… actions that apparently are a part of my parent’s sex life to this day.”
I tried to reign in my laughter as best I could while Rebel attempted to rid herself of the mental imprint of her parents doing it. Feeling like I should share, I told her how my family called me ‘Engine’ and that got a laugh out of her, her own humiliation slipping away. We continued walking in silence after that, growing just as afraid of the darkness ahead as the Neck behind.
“Something’s coming up,” Rebel said, breaking our short silence. The cave seemed to widen out and soon we were at the end of it. The end was a large circular room with a crude stone pedestal in the center. On the pedestal was an old looking violin and bow, much like the one the Neck had played.
“Well that’s just creepy, but it’s just a stupid violin. Now if it was a gun, we could fight our way out of here. Or maybe signal for help somehow.”
While Rebel focused on the fact there was no exit, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the violin. I was reaching out for it before Rebel finally noticed how transfixed I was with it.
“Don’t touch it, Jenny. Jenny! Don’t!”
It was too late. I had already. My fingers brushed the violin and I saw everything.
When the Neck had been a young spirit, he had lived in another land across the sea. His home had been a brook that sprang from a mighty river that traced back to the ocean, just as his ancestors had. As young Necks often due, he had fallen in love with a maiden. Most Necks fall in love, become human for a short time, but the water always calls them back. The maiden had to leave their birth land to go with her village which was crossing the great sea. They were coming to the new world, America. The Neck loved her so much that he gave her his violin to take with her as she traveled and thus she carried his spirit across the seas to the river next to our town.
The Neck loved the maiden until she died of old age and continued to live peacefully in the river for centuries. That was until they built the dam. He tried so hard to stop it, causing accidents and deaths. A Neck goes mad if he or she can’t be near running water and so this Neck did. I saw him lure and murder almost a hundred people. He took many forms to bring them to the water whether he was the naked violinist or a teenage male. He drowned them to feel a moment of sanity and happiness and then had to start all over again. He wouldn’t stop unless we stopped him.
When Rebel jerked me away from the violin, I could now hear the Neck’s terrible scream. She grip on my arm was bruising, “He’s getting closer. He’s coming in here!”
My heart was in my throat. He… It. Whatever that thing happened to be was coming in here to kill us. I faced the dark pathway we had just left while pulling Jenny slightly behind me. I don’t know why I did it. Some instinct that reared its head perhaps. It wouldn’t have done much good I suspect, but it’s the thought that counts.
A second passed.
One hundred and ninety seven agonizingly slow seconds ticked by with us staring at the dark passageway before my heart finally released its hold, smoothed out my rumpled trachea with an apology and returned to my chest.
No Neck. We both breathed a sigh of relief. Then Jenny breathed another as I eased my grip on her arm, finally realizing how tight I was holding her.
“Sorry,” I told her.
“No worries,” She replied with a single pat on my hand. We were both spooked, that scream having scared us even more if that was possible, and for the moment we couldn’t take out eyes of the only entrance to the room we were in. But as we stood there, waiting for the other shoe to drop, my mind started to spin.
I was a scientist. I might not have a proper degree but I was a scientist none the less. We measure, we weigh, we calculate. Everything has its proper place along with a rational explanation. Its how we see the world, what we know it to be. We have tools to confirm and a mind we use to understand. These are things we couldn’t live without.
But ask any scientist worth their salt what the most important thing in their arsenal is and they will all say the same thing. Nothing is as important as the subconscious. It makes connections and makes us see things we never would have fit together in a thousand years.
As we stood there in the dim light my mind was almost completely shut down. Not only was I more scared than I had ever been before, but my mind was also trying to, and failing, to come to grips with something that didn’t fit into my world. It just made no sense to me. This is when my subconscious came out to play. Seeing the conflict, it simply rejected everything I thought I knew and started making connections by itself, not bothering with such minor details as, say, the laws of fluid dynamics.
I slowly turned around and looked at the violin that still rested on the pedestal. Then I glanced over my shoulder to the entrance again.
“Jenny,” I finally said as I looked at the fiddle again. “Could you try touching that violin again?”
“Didn’t you just tell me ‘no, don’t!’” I could hear the apprehension in her voice, but when I glanced at her she was staring at the violin with a thoughtful expression.
“Yea, I did.”
“So why should I?”
“Because I have a…theory.” I almost groaned after I got that out. Way to instill confidence there Rebel.
“What do you mean you have a…” I glanced back at the darkness again and when she looked in the same direction she breathed out an “Oh,” of understanding. Like I thought earlier, she wasn’t stupid. She reached out but paused just over the old strings before rapidly pulling back her hand.
“Wait. You touch it!”
Now it was my turn to pause. It was my theory, so by all rights I should be the one to test it but… I was scared. Well, of course I was. We were being chased. But this, this was tapping into something far deeper. I couldn’t do it. I swear I tried, but my hand just wouldn’t move an inch. The muscles in my arms flexed and strained, tearing at invisible shackles that my own mind had forged.
I looked over at Jenny, my unlikely comrade-in-arms.
“Please,” I whimpered out softly, tears in my voice. She looked at me and her face softened just a little as she noticed my eyes. I knew then that she had seen, and understood, far more than I would be comfortable with in the light of day.
“Fine,” she managed to tease despite the situation. “Just this one time.”
Her fingers landed on the strings with a featherlike touch and she caressed them briefly, creating an almost inaudible sound.
And that was followed by another scream from the Neck that echoed down the cave.
“Interesting,” We both echoed the same thought out loud. Without prompting Jenny reached out again, this time plucking one of the strings more forcefully to create a clear note.
Just like before we could hear the Neck scream. Anger. Hate. Fear. I really couldn’t identify what it contained, but I was fairly sure he didn’t like it.
The blue light fluttering by my eyes took me completely by surprise though and I jumped backwards with a scream. This caused Jenny to jump back and scream. The echo of that caused me to jump in fright again. This really was hell on my nerves. I did manage to contain my scream this time however.
After we both managed to collect ourselves I looked around for the light I had seen, but I saw nothing. Until another small blue light came streaking out of the dark tunnel and into the cave we were in.
It reminded me of a firefly as it floated around the room erratically. Or the Neck when he had been dancing around us. I looked away with a shudder. I didn’t need more reminding about that.
“Oh, wow!” Jenny’s voice caused me to look again, and when I did the blue light was nowhere to be seen. And before I could ask Jenny, she answered me.
“The light just sort of… went into the violin!”
“It what?” I asked. That didn’t seem plausible. Jenny shot me a look which made me shut up. If Jenny saw it go into the violin then it went into the violin.
“Do you trust me?” Jenny suddenly asked.
She had taken off her backpack and placed it on the ground while flexing her fingers. She gave me this look and I couldn’t do anything but nod.
It looked like she had an idea and since she had supported mine about touching the thing; it was just plain fair to return the favor. But beyond that, I did trust her. Which I found a little bit surprising since I hadn’t really known her all that well before this morning. Fate and strange bedfellows. “Yea, I do.”
“Great!” She said with a voice that was all too chipper. “Then let’s see what happens.”
She suddenly gripped the violin from the pedestal. She tucked the fiddle under her chin and held the violin bow straight up, her pose not unlike the Neck’s earlier.
Then, with the screaming echoing in from outside, she started to play.
I could tell that she wasn’t particularly good, every other note being false enough for even me to notice. But she played with a vigor that could be appreciated. And while she didn’t dance like the Neck, she did start to slowly walk around the circular room.
For a few moments it felt like nothing special. Sure, the Neck was screaming constantly now, but I didn’t really get the point of it all. That’s when the blue lights came.
They came streaming down the path we had waked earlier. First it was one or two, but soon it seemed like a stream of water that floated through the air and into the cave we were in. Small lights darted out of the main stream, but they soon returned. Until they came to the center of the room. That’s when they scattered, going from a solid stream to raindrops that floated around in the air.
It took me a minute, but I realized that the moats of light weren’t just floating around the room. Instead, they were starting to follow Jenny around. Or…
I narrowed my eyes. It wasn’t Jenny. It was the fiddle! I could see the motes zipping around, getting closer and closer to the violin until they finally touched it. Then they disappeared, their blue glow absorbed by the violin.
My knees trembled and before I could think about it, they gave up and I collapsed on the soft sand covering the floor while taking in the play of light and sound all around me.
For ten minutes Jenny walked around, never once stopping the music. And for ten minutes I just watched. It wasn’t until a particular bad note pulled me out of my reverie that I realized that the motes were almost all gone and that the screaming had stopped.
Surprised, I cocked my head, trying my best to hear that loud, soul tearing sound again.
But try as I might, it was gone. “Son of a…” I mumbled as the last few motes danced to meet Jenny.
Then suddenly my ears twitched and I could hear that screaming again. But it was quiet, like hearing a dripping sink after visiting Niagara Falls.
“Jenny,” I whispered when I sensed, more than saw, her stopping behind me. “Do you hear where it’s coming from?” She was still playing slowly behind me, but she should be able to hear the…
Her groan propelled me from the ground and I gasped slightly when I finally saw her in the light of the torch. She was pale and sweaty. Her brown hair hung lanky from her head and I could see her jaw strain as she forced her mouth together.
“What are you,” I started, but she cut me off with a look that should have been able to cut steel girders in half.
“B’rn it.” She pressed out from between clenched teeth. “Burn it.”
The second time was clearer, followed by a look towards the violin. That’s when I finally realized that the soft screaming was coming from it. And that it was glowing.
How the hell I missed that before it was pointed out I’ll never know. The fault of adrenaline maybe, but I noticed it now.
The whole violin seemed to almost vibrate and I could see that Jenny wasn’t merely playing music now. It was as if she was actively wrestling with the instrument.
I only hesitated for a second before I took a firmer grip on the torch. The violin was old, and this place appeared to be very dry, so it should go up in flames fairly quickly. I admit that I had no idea why she wanted it to burn, but her idea had been working out so far. I think. So why mess with it? The problem was avoiding burning Jenny in the progress.
“Okay. Jenny, when I say go I want you to place the violin on the pedestal and I’ll burn it.”
She seemed to think about that for a few seconds before she looked at the violin.
She ripped the fiddle from under her chin and almost smashed it down on the pedestal while keeping a firm hand on its neck. I jabbed the flaming torch at it.
The fire touched the wood and the world exploded.
A solid wall of silence and air emanated from the violin and made us both fly backwards. Sand and rocks pummeled us as we slid backwards and part of my mind noted that I would have some interesting marks on my ass tomorrow.
We laid there on the ground, both of us gasping for breath. It seemed like the thing to do at the time. Then, in something of a daze, I looked up at the pedestal. The violin was burning brightly with blue tinged flames and the soft noise of wood being consumed by fire was oddly comforting.
I groaned a little as I got to my feet and I brushed away some of the sand that still clung to me. I had no idea what had just happened.
I glanced over at Jenny who was still sitting and studied her as she studied the flame. There was something on her face, some emotions making her facial muscles twitch and for the world of me I couldn’t identify what they were.
I walked over to her, three short steps, and patted her on the shoulder. She looked as dazed as I had been earlier as she glanced up at me and the hand I was holding out. Then she grasped it and I helped to pull her up from the ground.
“So,” I finally managed. “What was that?”
“I, I don’t know.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“No, I mean it, I don’t!” She gestured to the burning pile. “It just felt… right. Or wrong, which was right for us.”
“Okay. And is… what I mean is…” I couldn’t get my question out.
“It’s gone.” A simple statement, but I needed the confirmation. I knew it was gone and I didn’t need the gesture towards the violin to know how. I felt it somehow. Questions were piling up inside my head. How, were, why, what. But even as my mind continued to spit out new ones, they all started to fade as well. Getting locked up in that dark corner of your mind you only visited with a psychologist and a stuffed bunny for protection.
I didn’t say anything else. Instead we stood and watched as the last part of the violin crumbled to ashes, flaring up for a moment before dying out completely and leaving us in complete darkness. Apparently the torch had gone out when we were thrown to the ground.
I couldn’t see anything, the only thing keeping me grounded was the heat I could feel coming off of Jenny next to me. Then Jenny started to laugh, a soft chuckling that grew in strength and pulled me along with it.
Euphoria flooded our bodies. Maybe it was because I knew there was nothing out there chasing us, maybe it was something else. All I knew is that I had never felt as joyous as I was in that moment.
I wrapped an arm around Jenny’s shoulders and I felt her arm snake around my lower back as we leaned into each other and just laughed at the world and at the darkness that surrounded us. We were alive, the laughter said, and there was nothing as exquisite as that.
Finally we collapsed, the leaning turning into a crushing hug. I felt her breath against my head and a soft chuckle against my ear. Her arms bunching up the back of my shirt just as my grip were creasing up hers.
The euphoria surged and with a shout we pulled apart and laughed again. Then we kissed.
I don’t know who started it, I really don’t. One moment we were laughing, looking through the darkness at each other. In the next her hands were in my hair just as mine were in hers and we slammed our lips together in pure passion.
The start was powerful; almost a struggle, but it quickly became softer, more of an exploration than a battle. I could taste her sweat on her lips and it was glorious, because I knew it came from saving us. Her lips were soft, which was a stupid thing to think because of course lips were soft. But hers made mine feel like concrete.
I don’t know how long we stood there in each other’s arms, just being alive, but I could feel the kiss winding down. As it came to its end I felt her tongue dart out to swipe over my lips and I quickly returned the favor. It was the punctuation, but it also showed that more laid beyond what we had experienced in our energetic, but fairly tame, kiss.
My mind was reeling as we stood there, panting. This was new, odd, and definitely something I had never thought of before. Not only was it my first kiss with a girl, no, a woman, but it was basically my first real kiss ever.
We were still happy and glad to be alive, but the almost mind numbing euphoria from before had released us and a multitude of emotions flooded me, quickly covering up any pleasant feelings.
I took a step back and I could feel her do the same. I was suddenly feeling awkward, embarrassed, fascinated, awed and just a little bit scared. I don’t know what Jenny was feeling, but for me the awkwardness finally won out. So I shoved the whole incident under the rug and redirected my focus.
“S-so,” I stuttered out. “Brightness.” I felt the urge to slap myself. I was one smooth operator. “I mean, we could use some brigh- Light! I mean light, so we can get out of here.” I wondered if that was panic in my voice and if she could hear it.
“Yeah, let’s get out of here,” Jenny sounded amused as she joined me in looking for her backpack in the darkness. Maybe she was, or maybe I was imagining things. All I could do when I heard her voice was to blush and remember that stupid Katy Perry song. Apparently, I kissed a girl. And I liked it.
A few days later everything felt like a dream. A hazy fog covered everything and I did nothing to try and dispel it.
We had gotten back into town close to dawn and after phoning in an anonymous tip to the police, we went our separate ways. We had set out to find Mr. Cartwright and we had. I just hadn’t wanted to find a dead body.
On our trip back it felt like Jenny wanted to talk. Several times I could see her open her mouth to speak only to stop herself right away. I didn’t try to start a conversation. Things had felt a certain way in the cave, but once outside under the stars the world started to rush back in.
Something had happened that night, but whatever it was my mind was doing its best to try and forget about it. And I let it.
Jenny and I had never been friendly before and we still kept our distance. I kept our distance.
We were friendlier, sure. A hello in the hallway. A polite nod and a little smile when we saw each other enter a room before class.
But that night was always there, hanging above our heads. I think she still wanted to talk about it and we should have. It was the responsible, adult thing to do. It was even the smart thing to do.
As it turns out, I’m not as grown up as I like to thing. Nor as smart.
It was funny how everything changed and nothing had changed after that night. School was almost the same except Mr. Cartwright was dead and Rebel was friendly, but even more distant than before if that was possible. I think she was trying to forget that night and I knew I never would.
We had kissed. It was my first kiss with a woman and it was pretty nice. I felt a lot more with Rebel than I had with my Homecoming date last year. I didn’t know if Rebel would become anything more, but last night sure opened my world in more ways than one.
A few nights after it happened, I went to bed early one night. I made sure my bedroom door was locked before I went to my closet and carefully pulled out the backpack from that night. I unzipped it and carefully pulled out my new prized possession.
We had burned the violin that night, but I don’t think Rebel realized I kept the bow. I didn’t sense any danger in it and I was positive we destroyed the malicious spirit of the Neck that night. Still, as I ran my fingers down the wooden stem I could feel something inside of it. It was a faint feeling. Every time I tried to place what it was, it seemed to change. At its heart, it felt good and maybe a little mischievous.
To me, the bow represented truth. It was proof last night had really happened and that there is a whole other world, the supernatural, out there waiting to be explored.
The End, for now.
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