by John W. Steele
Part 1 appears in this issue.
Sarah paused for a moment. She felt apprehensive and struggled for an answer. “Every lake has an echo, Lisa... Everybody knows that.”
“So you think the voice is just an echo?”
“What else could it be? Sure, we hear a voice on the mountain sometimes, but it could be hunters or trappers. Just because a voice calls out it doesn’t mean anything, it could be anybody.”
“What does the voice on the mountain say when it speaks?” Lisa asked.
Sarah hung her head. “Usually I can’t make out the words.” But Sarah was lying; the voice on the mountain often called out her name.
Sarah knew her mother would never leave Mystic Lake and that she still had to live there. She knew in a short time summer would end, and Lisa and her family would be heading back to the valley. She was frightened and understood sooner or later she’d be isolated in the house.
With a sense of angry frustration she denied to herself that the voice existed and said, “My mother says the voice is just the wind whistling in the trees, or wanderers on the mountain. There’s no curse here... really. The voice is nothing more than an echo, and it doesn’t scare me. Besides, only fools like you believe in ghosts. I think its all nonsense.”
Her remark offended Lisa. “Oh yeah. If the voice is only an echo why don’t you prove it and call out Milo’s name?”
Sarah shifted on the bench, “I don’t need to prove anything!”
“I’ve known you a long time, Sarah, and one thing I’ve learned about you is you think you’re perfect! Why don’t you just admit it, Sarah? You’re afraid of the voice... you’re chicken.” Lisa’s words burned into Sarah’s mind like scalding water. Her face grew red, and a lump like a crab apple formed in her throat.
Lisa sensed her frustration. “Look, I’ll make it easy for you.” She raised her hands to her mouth and shouted... “Milo”... There was a brief silence, and the echo responded... “Milo”...
“There, did you hear? It’s nothing but my voice. See how easy it is, you try it.” Lisa said.
”I told you I don’t need to prove anything,” Sarah replied.
“Chick... chick... chick... chicken,” Lisa said, and she laughed at her.
Sarah hated the voice and the way it had controlled her life for so many years. She stood up defiantly, cupped her mouth and yelled... “Milo”... She regretted her action the moment the call left her lips.
There was a long silence, the wind picked up, and the leaves of trees showed their undersides. The girls strained their ears and listened in frozen anticipation. After what seemed like a long time the echo replied... “Miloooo”...
The echo was deep and haunting. A clap of thunder followed the in the wake of the voice, and the sky grew overcast. Large single drops of rain the size of marbles fell on the beach creating small craters in the sand.
“That wasn’t my voice; it was a man’s voice.” Sarah said.
“I didn’t hear a man’s voice,” Lisa replied. “It had to have been your voice; it sounded just like you to me.”
Sarah eyes burned, and she glared at Lisa. “I’m beginning to wonder just what kind of friend you are, Lisa. The echo was a man’s voice, and you know it.”
Lisa rolled her eyes. “First you call me a fool, and then you say I’m a liar. And you’re wondering what kind of friend I am?”
A sudden flash of lightning shot from above, and an angry torrent of rain slammed the area. The girls hurried back to the farm. They didn’t speak to each other the rest of the day. In time the incident was forgotten, but things between them were never quite the same.
* * *
The summer ended, and Lisa returned home. Sarah once again faced the sterile regimented existence that she had now grown to abhor. Yet she knew the consequences of breaking the ritual of silence might be worse. When the leaves on the mountain began to change from the life sustaining greens of summer, to the dying oranges and yellows of autumn, the curse of Mystic Lake unfolded with a vengeance.
Late at night when the wind whispered in the pines, Sarah heard her name drifting down on the breezes from the mountain. The witch balls on the house shattered with regular frequency now, and her father no longer replaced them.
Each night when Sarah lay in bed she felt worn out and ached with hopelessness. When the shutters rattled, or the limbs of the enormous oaks groaned in the wind, Sarah felt as if she was drowning in fear.
Some mornings when the family arose the front yard would be dotted with the grotesque twisted bodies of dead crows. The tension in the Taylor residence grew thick and electrified. Everyone felt on edge, and the slightest noise startled them into a state of macabre apprehension.
With every passing day the voice on the mountain grew bolder and nearer. Sometimes the voice spoke Sarah’s name in a soft whisper. Other times it sounded like the ramblings of a lunatic filled with rage. Yet throughout the ordeal Emily remained in denial and wouldn’t change her mind about the curse of Mystic Lake.
One evening in late October the family sat at the dinner table. The sun was gone behind the mountain, and the dark shadow of night emerged. The first snow flurries of the season floated gently outside the window.
Emily sat with her head bowed and her hands folded as she recited grace. “Oh Lord, we thank thee for this food. May it strengthen our bodies to do thy holy will, Amen.” The family ate their supper in silence. From somewhere deep in the woods a voice rumbled on the mountain.
“Beware the darkness... Sarah!”
The sound reverberated on the lake for a long time like a weird uncontrolled howling. Emily looked into William’s eyes, and William returned her gaze; his eyes pleading with hers as he searched for an answer he already knew.
“It must be the hunters again,” Emily said.
Tears swelled in Sarah’s eyes, and she exploded with rage. She slapped over her glass of milk and screamed,
“Stop it, Mother, just stop it! I can’t take it anymore. There are no hunters on the mountain. You’ve lied to me all these years. That thing is out to get us. Why can’t you see it?”
All the color drained from Emily’s face, and her countenance dimmed; a blue vein inflated on her forehead. In a slow measured motion she laid down her fork and glared at her daughter.
“I’ve told you a million times never to raise your voice in this house young lady. Tomorrow, I’m taking you back to Doctor Ott and demand that he increase your tranquilizers.”
Emily’s hand flashed over the table, and she slapped Sarah hard across the face. Sarah recoiled and started to sob.
William threw his fork on his plate, his voice was thick and husky, “If you ever touch our daughter again like that I swear I’ll...” His years of conditioning tempered his wrath, and he slumped back into his chair, he looked disgusted, and his face hung like a wet washcloth.
Sarah got up from table and ran upstairs to her room.
* * *
It was 2 a.m. and all the lights in the house were on. The snow flurries had morphed into gobs of sleet, which splattered on the windows and drizzled from the roof. A deathly silence filled the house, but no one could find any rest. They lay in their beds half asleep and half awake, lost in that terrible place at the crack between the worlds.
A loud crash followed by the piercing sound of shattering glass detonated downstairs. The terrifying sound occurred again and again. All the windows on the lower level of the house imploded, as if bludgeoned out by an avenging demon.
Emily shrieked, and her face contorted, “What on earth was that?” She walked over to the bedroom window and looked outside, but she could see nothing in the impenetrable darkness. William quickly got dressed and pulled his shotgun from the closet.
“I’m scared,” Emily said. William loaded the gun and slammed a slug into the chamber, the barrel made a ringing sound. He looked at Emily, his face was firm, and his eyes were on fire.
“A hundred years of this madness, and now you’re scared? Go check on Sarah,” he said.
“What are you going to do?” Emily asked.
William grabbed the emergency flashlight and flicked it on. “I’m doing what I should have done years ago. When I come back I’m taking Sarah, and we’re leaving this horrible place. I want you to come with us, Emily, but if you stand in my way, I’ll go through you.”
Emily lowered her head and started to cry. “I’m so sorry,” she sobbed. At long last she accepted the truth. “Please be careful, William.” She looked at him lovingly, her eyes were anxious, and she struggled to contain her fear.
“I’m going to make sure the coast is clear, and we’re going to get the hell out of here. Get Sarah ready to leave.” William said. He left their room and headed downstairs.
Emily entered Sarah’s room and found her whimpering beneath the covers.
“Get up and get dressed now, Sarah. We have to leave, hurry!”
William strode through the living room and onto the porch. He shone the light into the driveway and headed for his truck. The outline of a figure stood next to the vehicle.
The shape of the form cast an imposing presence. It was tall and appeared to be wearing a long black coat.
William shone his light on the thing but all he could see was a cold dense shadow augmented in the darkness. A noxious stench filled the air; the odor slammed into his nostrils, and William struggled not to puke his guts out.
He raised his gun to his shoulder, and the safety clicked.
“I don’t care who you are, but you better get out of here quick, or I’ll kill you,” he said.
The figure didn’t respond and stood motionless in the icy storm, like a malevolent statue.
William walked closer to the thing, he could see its eyes now; they appeared like two deep gaping holes and burned like glowing embers. A bolt of fear shot through William, and he stopped dead in his tracks.
He swallowed hard, “I told you to get offa’ my property, you no good son of a bitch!”
Shots rang out, followed what sounded like the growl of a rabid dog.
Sarah and her mother stood by bedroom door ready to leave. Sarah’s eyes were glassy and her body rigid. Emily grabbed Sarah by the shoulders, looked in her eyes and shook her.
“Listen to me!” she said. “I’m going to check on your father, I’ll be right back, don’t you dare leave this room.” She walked out in the hall and locked Sarah’s door behind her.
Thunder and lightning filled the sky, and the lights in the house flickered on and off. Emily walked out on the porch and cried out for William in a hollow voice,
“William, are you alright?” Her words hung in the air like the bleat of a lamb.
Sarah heard a piercing scream downstairs, followed by the ferocious roar of a lion.
The stairs creaked. Footsteps in the hall cast a shadow in the gap at the bottom of the door in Sarah’s room.
Sarah watched the glass doorknob roll from side to side. The door began to creak and then started to bulge. The old white paint on the door cracked under the strain and formed patterns like lightning on its surface. When it could no longer contain the force behind it, the hinges snapped, and the door exploded into jagged fragments.
* * *
The next day the mailman saw a body lying in the driveway of the Taylor house. The stark contrast of blood in the wet snow and ice was a gruesome sight, and the postman dared not enter the property. He drove to a neighbor’s house and called the sheriff.
When Sheriff Martin arrived on the scene they discovered William’s body near his vehicle and Emily’s body on the porch. They had both been decapitated. The officers searched the farm and dragged the lake, but Sarah’s body was never found.
That weekend a public meeting was held in the town hall next to the fire station. Sheriff Martin urged the citizens of Mystic Lake to remain calm and insisted that everything was under control. He assured them that patrols at the lake had been doubled, and the area was under surveillance.
The sheriff announced they had some leads in the case, and they expected a breakthrough soon. He seemed to believe the heinous crime was perpetrated by marijuana dealers, but everyone in the Village of Mystic Lake knew the truth.
On Sunday morning Reverend McGuinnis offered up a prayer for the Taylor family and in his closing stanza he said... “And we ask, o Lord, that the powers of darkness be removed from our premises, that the deaths of our dearly departed brethren may not have been in vain. The congregation all replied, “Amen,” and then returned to their lives; now filled with sorrow for the dead and hope for the living.
* * *
It had been twenty years since the Taylor family massacre at the lake. No one was ever charged with the murders, and it seemed the curse of Mystic Lake had since disappeared.
After the horrible slaughter Lisa and her parents left the area and settled in Connecticut. Lisa found success there as a real estate broker.
It was October, and she was on vacation. She drove along the old mountain road that lead to Mystic Lake. As she traveled through the hills she thought about the tragedy, but she also remembered the wonderful times she had shared there with Sarah long ago.
When she arrived at the lake she pulled her SUV into an asphalt parking area near the old dam and parked in the corner of the lot.
Lisa got out of the vehicle and surveyed the area. When she saw how much the lake had changed she let out a heavy sigh. It was so different now she no longer recognized the place. The rutted dirt road leading to the farm was paved, and all the willow trees were gone. Several swanky summer homes sat along the shore. They appeared to be vacant, and there wasn’t a soul in sight. Lisa walked out on a small fishing pier that had been constructed by the beach and looked across the lake.
Most of the hardwoods on the other shore were gone. Several ostentatious mansions had swallowed up most of the majestic forest. Ugly telecommunication towers stood along the ridge of the mountain and soared into the sky like mighty titans.
A thousand old memories flooded Lisa’s mind, and a tear trickled down her cheek. Guilt and anger had gnawed at her for a long time, like a worm chewing out the inside of an apple. Once again she felt a burning torment and blamed herself for the terrible tragedy.
She wished she could see Sarah and hear her infectious giggle just one more time. Without reason Lisa raised her hands to her mouth and cried out, “Sarah...”
A small, hollow cloud passed through the sky, and for a moment the sunlight faded, but the echo didn’t respond. All that could be heard was a buzz saw whining somewhere on the mountain.
Lisa lowered her head and started to sob, “Sarah...” she whispered. She wondered what might have happened if she never challenged Sarah, but in her heart she knew the curse of Mystic Lake had ended.
Lisa walked back to her car and paused one last time to look at the lake and say goodbye.
When she opened the door of her vehicle a thrill like ice water shot down her spine and out through her nerves. A dead crow lay sprawled on the driver’s seat. Lisa felt an aura of frigid energy surround her, a nauseating stench filled the air, and the hair on the back of her neck stood on end. From behind her a haunting voice whispered, “Lisa...”
Copyright © 2007 by John W. Steele