“It’s so quiet.”
“Yes, it is,” David agreed.
“It’s too quiet,” Jill said. “I thought this would be romantic but it’s more creepy than romantic. Too bad we couldn’t find the floodlight switch. The pitch blackness is spooky as hell.”
He tightened his arm around her bare shoulders as they lay there. The city traffic had been murder and they had arrived at the lake house much later than expected.
The house was cold and dark. They were too tired to try to figure out which switches went to what. His late father had renovated it so much that all the light switches were pretty foreign to him now. He was too tired to even plug in the stereo for some music. This added deadening silence to the luxury gap.
C’est la vie.
“I knew it wouldn’t be your cup of tea,” said David. “But you insisted. When you’re used to a hustling bustling city, coming to a lake house in the middle of the woods seems creepy.”
“I’m sure it will be wonderful in the morning: birds chirping, sunlight pouring through that huge bay window in the den . . . ” She sighed. “I can’t wait.”
He fell silent for a moment, more than a moment.
“David. You still there?”
“What are you doing?”
“Just thinking. This place and I go back a long time. It’s been so long since I’ve been here. Lots of memories are coming back.”
“I bet they are,” said Jill, her voice sounding woozy in the darkness. “This house has been in your family for generations. Your earliest memories were at this lake. Great memories, I’m sure.”
“Well, not all great.”
A second or two or silence. David sighed.
“My older brother used to tell me stories that scared me out of my wits.”
“Well, don’t leave me hanging. Spill it.”
“Are you sure? It’s pretty gruesome.”
“I’m anointing you Spookmaster. Fire away.”
He cleared his throat and sat up on the bed, leaning back more flatly against the headboard.
“All right then: Eighty years ago there was a mental ward at the bottom of the mountain. Remember that dollar store we passed? It was right there.”
“The story goes that the locals wanted to get rid of the mental patients so they pressured the town council to transfer them to another ward. The town complied and eventually sent the crazies packing.
“As the van was crossing the bridge . . . you know that old rusty covered bridge we crossed on the way here? It crashed. The slats on the bridge gave away and the van sank into the river.”
“How convenient: a van full of escaped mental patients. You really had me going, Dav.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Oh, c’mon. This urban legend sounds familiar. I guess it’s not an urban legend if it’s out in the country. I wonder what they call those kinds of stories…”
“It’s not a story. That part is true. Facts, of course, have gotten exaggerated over time but the accident is recorded history.”
“So what happened? Did they all die?”
“Most of them drowned. Their bodies were recovered. Except two. I can almost even remember the names: Jack Darby and Benny Ray . . . Rayman. Something like that.”
“They never found them?”
“They found Benny. About a week later. He was tied to a tree. His head was busted open by a rock.”
“A few weeks later they found the body of a local, a teenager, floating in the river, his chest split open by something like a hatchet or a machete.”
“They think the other guy . . . ”
“ . . . did it?”
“Yep,” said David. “It’s a stretch to think that he impaled himself on his own machete and fell into the river, right? As the legend went, Jack Darby hunkered down deep into the woods and was never found. Occasionally some local would be walking through the woods and find a camp ground with animal bones and cindery firewood. Then they were doomed. The spirit of Jack Darby would show up slash them through the chest and hang them over the campfire.”
“Eeew! To eat?”
“I guess so,” he said, laughing.
Jill shuddered. Her bare arm felt prickly against his. He smiled widely in the darkness.
“I hope you wanted a ghost story tonight.”
They fell silent. A few minutes passed by. They both attempted to go to asleep.
“It’s too quiet,” said Jill, “and dark. I can’t sleep.”
“Do you want me to turn on the lamp?”
“The bulb’s burned out. Remember?”
“How about the overhead light?”
“That’ll scorch our eyes. Want to try to find the flood light switch again? The outside lights wouldn’t be so bad.”
The bed shifted as David started to get up.
“I’ll do it.” said Jill, feeling guilty. “I’d like to get some water from the kitchen.”
“OK. I think the switches are on the right hand side. Under the stuffed bass, if that helps.”
“I’ll figure it out.”
She put on her night gown and hopped out of the room. Jill fumbled around in the den, feeling around like a blind woman until she found the wall.
The only light came from the dying embers in the fireplace. Seeing the embers made her think of the Jack Darby story. On the short table in front of the fireplace were plates where they had eaten their romantic meal of KFC and mashed potatoes.
Burnt logs and bones. I have the Jack Darby curse now. Yay for me.
Maybe it was just a coincidence. She never knew David to pull pranks.
Let’s get some light around here. I haven’t been in such pitch blackness since…well, never.
The light she could most quickly find was the light switch beside the bedroom door. Only that would momentarily blind David.
Oh well . . . She was desperate.
She felt her way back to the bedroom. Her fingers crept along the wall until she found the light switch.
“Cover your eyes, David. I’m turning on the light.”
When the light came on, all warmth drained out of her body. David stared at her open mouthed, his dead eyes staring at the ceiling.
His neck to his belly had been slashed open. His arms were splayed palms up. Blood saturated the sheets.
A silent scream gripped her chest. Jill back peddled, hands outstretched, fingertips feeling
along the walls of the hallway. When she landed in the den, she saw a grayish specter there. It was gray light in the shape of a person with faint but discernable details.
She could see his face.
She recognized him. His glazed long-dead face resembled David. Jill had seen him in old photographs: Michael, David’s older brother, over ten years dead.
Death by drowning. Michael had drowned here at the lake.
She never even realized that.
One arm was pointing behind him, to the door. He was showing her how to escape. His lips were mouthing something but she couldn’t make out what he was saying.
After stumbling several times, she found the front door. She dove out into the night. The moonlight cast a frail glow overhead, illuminating the driveway just enough. She screamed for help, running barefoot, the gravel searing her bare feet.
Coming out on the main road, a pair of headlights slowly rounded the corner. She waved her hands frantically.
When it got closer, she thought it was some kind of motorized buggy with head lights. The engine rattled. Then she realized it was an antique car, a really old Ford model from the 1920’s. The word Police was stenciled on the side.
The officer got out. He was dressed differently than regular policemen: A long sleeve shirt and a skinny tie. No boots, radio, or intricate utility belt. A gun in a belt holster hung at his side.
“Need help, ma’am?”
She stammered out her story to the young cop. There’s a maniac at the lake house . . . He killed my fiancé . . . Call for back up . . . Be careful . . .
“Get in the car, ma’am.”
They drove down the mountain. As she watched out the window, she had a strong feeling everything had changed. There were things she saw out of the window that she didn’t remember seeing on their way to the lake house: a Texaco gas station with tall gas pumps that sported dome-like tops, a small school building with a bell on its pointed roof, many more trees than before.
Everything looked old. Old like the bumpy car they were in, with the running boards on the side that you had to climb onto. Everything was old styled but newly built. A few more old cars were parked outside the small building.
“Right this way,” said the policeman, waving his hand.
In the sheriff’s office she saw new glass-framed black-and-white photos on the walls. An old Coca-Cola bottle like the kinds displayed in antique stores sat half-full on a cluttered desk.
The policeman pulled out a chair for her and motioned for her to sit down. A door opened to her right.
“This is Sheriff Darby, Miss. He’ll help you.”
Sheriff Darby. He looked like a young guy, his hair slicked back, clean shaven. His eyes were bright and frightening. He smiled a wily grin as he cruised to the other side of the desk and sat down.
Could this be a coincidence? The name: Darby?
The deputy tried to explain the situation to the sheriff but could only sputter, “She, uh . . . Th-th-th—”
He appeared nervous and confused suddenly.
“How about you explain what happened, young lady?” said Sheriff Darby. “My deputy ain’t too good with words.”
She told him.
“That don’t sound right!” said Sheriff Darby. “How could someone go in there and kill that fella without you hearin’ it?
She shrugged, “I don’t know, sir.”
Sheriff Darby interlocked his fingers across from her. He squeezed his hands together. Water started trickling from them.
“Somebody split your man open within a minute or two and escaped that fast?”
“I guess so.”
“That’s absurd soundin’.”
“But it’s true!”
The sheriff just stared at her. Water was trickling all over the desk. She noticed a bitter, wet smell in the air.
“Now, now don’t get yourself worked up. I believe you. Strange things happen in this town. I myself was accused of murder a long time ago. Ain’t that right, Benny?”
Jill looked back up at Benny, the deputy. His face had changed. Half of it was caved in now, his right eye depressed into his pulverized skull, his hair matted with blood.
“Yep”, he said.
Sheriff Darby was changing too. Brown water was trickling from holes in his cheeks. A clump of tangled, wet hair spilled down the side of his head. Skin from his face started peeling away, showing dribbles of water underneath.
“I was once accused of killin’ Benny. We survived when the van crashed into the river but a gang of locals caught up with us later at our camp. They tied Benny to a tree and smashed up his face with a rock. They caught me out in the woods and gutted me up as I was heading back to the camp. They stuffed rocks into my body and dumped me in the river. I laid at the bottom of that river a long tiiii—”
A gush of brown water dribbled from his mouth as he spoke. The sheriff grabbed a handkerchief and wiped it away, coughing.
“They didn’t want sick brain people like us around. In fact, the van never crashed into the river. It was pushed. By the same gang that took our lives.”
Jill gagged. The smell was too much.
“Everything is all right now though.”
The last word sounded raspy and water-logged. Darby coughed brown water onto his desk. He looked back up at her casually and wiped his mouth.
“You don’t have to worry about any, uh, accusations. We’re gonna make it nice and comfortable. Yes indeed.”
“What do you mean?”
Cold fingers suddenly gripped her shoulder, grayish flesh that smelled of water rot. The hand’s yellow-gray nails looked like they could easily slide out from the tips.
A nurse. She smiled down at Jill, flashing blackish-green teeth at her. She giggled.
Another dank smelling creature stepped up: white shirt, coat and pants. A decaying hand held out a syringe.
No . . .
Jill remembered little else.
Eventually they moved her into a different room, guiding her along the halls through a building that was no longer a police station but a hospital.
The walls shrieked and laughed at this hospital. The white coated people giggled and swayed as they went about their duties like tall pallid children in white coats.
Her new residence was a white room with no furniture. Her new clothes fitted snuggly except her arms were behind her back. The smelly white-coated people fed her three meals a day, in between delivering medication.
She even got a visitor once in a while.
David dropped in.
He never said much, just sat and stared around the room. He was bloody and rather expressionless but he was still the same ole David to her.