I was always a bit jealous of my cousin Lisa Her family had a lakeside cabin in the woods. They would often go there during the summer for long weekends. Sometimes they would stay a week or two at a time. Lisa would come back full of stories about her excursions in the woods. I was thrilled when one year, her family invited us along
I remember that first night, we stayed up late. We all sat around the campfire roasting marshmallows and smore’s. Lisa and I swapped ghost stories while our parents chatted about upcoming family events.
Right in the middle of one of Lisa’s ghost stories, I heard a sound. Laughter. It seemed to hang on to the air and drift about. Looking across the lake, I noticed a tiny speck of light coming from a campfire. Funny, it had never occurred to me that other people would be here. Somehow, I always imagined my Aunt and Uncle owned the entire lake. Isn’t it strange how you form a picture in your head of what something looks like? It never looks like I picture it to be…
“Renee?”, Lisa said
“Hmm?’, I murmured as she brought me out of my dream state.
“Don’t you have a story for me?”, she asked.
“Oh! Yes, sure I do.” I said while clearing my throat.
Lisa had finished her story and I missed the best part! How stupid is that? I was really irritated with myself. Oh well, it was mine turn. I always loved telling and writing stories. Scary ones were always a favorite with my friends.
As usual, I was the first one up in the morning. I never could sleep very well away from home. I went out on the porch and looked out across the lake. I was looking for another cabin. I looked from one end of the shoreline to the next. I did not see any signs of another cabin, house or camper anywhere. My cousin came stumbling out, still rubbing sleep out of her eyes.
“Is there another camp or house across the lake?” I asked.
“I think there might be 1 or 2 on either end of the lake. But you can’t see them from here.” She replied.
“Is there anything just across the lake? Right…over….in there?”, I pointed.
“Nah. That’s mostly swampland.
“Hmm,” I wonder what it was I had seen? Lights and laughter. Who could that have been? I decided to ask Lisa.
After telling Lisa what I had seen and heard last night, she shot questions out one by one.
“You certain it was laughter you heard?” Maybe it was a raccoon or coyote? You know, sometimes th-”
Before she could go on any further, I angrily stopped her. “I think I know the difference between an animal and a person!”
“Well excuse me! I was only trying to help!” Lisa said, clearly hurt.
Feeling guilty for snapping at her, I apologized. She looked at me and said, “We could go across the lake and check things out, if you like.”
I smiled at her and nodded. After we had breakfast, we were heading across the lake. My dad brought his old rowboat, in case anyone would want to use it while they were out fishing in my uncle’s motorboat. Now I was glad he did.
Across the lake, the water was thick with muck. I bet the wind couldn’t even make it budge. It almost felt like the lake didn’t want us there. It almost felt as if the swamp was off limits.
“Look over there,” I pointed out to Lisa. Wedged between a couple of rotting trees, was an equally rotting rowboat. It was turned over, creating a bit of shade for the frogs, turtles and snakes. It was badly rotted and had a couple of floorboards missing.
“Do you suppose someone had an accident? Maybe wrecked and got stuck here?”, I asked. Lisa was poking a stick inside the hole in the boat. I think I heard her say “Probably”.
Lisa decided it was her turn to row. We went further into the swamp. It was a maze of trees and tree stumps. It seemed endless and it smell foul.
“I’ve never been out this far before.” I looked over at Lisa in surprise. We decided to take a little lunch break. My Aunt had made us some sandwiches, chips and snack cakes. Lunch was calling my name. My belly put on tennis shoes and was on the run to get it.
“Remember when we were younger and your dad would tell us spooky stories about this swamp?”
“Oh yeah”, I replied. He kept us pretty scared, didn’t he” I said with a chuckle.
“Because of his stories, I have never had the nerve to come here before today”, he said with a chuckle. I laughed too.
“What kind of stories?” I asked. We never came here too often and I couldn’t remember much of the stories.
“I guess they really weren’t ghost stories, not really. But they sure were scary”. Lisa said.
“Mostly the stories were about some kids who were lost in this swamp. Somehow, they end up being cursed to live forever but in another lifeform- you know, something not really human. Sort of like shape-shifting, except they are cursed to stay that way forever and ever.”
“They can only be heard at night,” Lisa continued.“They try to call you to them, you know..to lure you in. But, if you do. If you go to them, you become curse like they are. You become one of them and doomed to live in the swamp forever Whenever we heard a noise from across the lake, Dad would say “The swamp kids are playing!”
I finished eating, except for a little of the bread. I crumbled it into the swamp and watched as the fish ate it all up. All the while, I was thinking of that story.
“Do you suppose that story could be sort of, you know, true?”
“It could be”, said Lisa. “Maybe that rowboat was theirs. Maybe they had an accident, drowned and were never found. Could be something like that happened and, Presto! The scary story was born!”
I noticed my reflection in the water. I had a silly grin on my face. My arms started to reach up out of the water for me.
“Renee, watch out!” She gave me a yank. Stunned I looked at Lisa.
“You nearly fell in”, she said.
“What”, I was too stunned to understand. “Nevermind”.
Lisa turned the boat around and we decided to head for home.
Lisa started looking toward the sky. “We lost track of time. We should have left before now. We need to get out in the open water.”
A cold chill came over the air like icy fingers. They were reaching for me. I could feel them. I could hear them. They wanted to squeeze me and choke me.
Lisa, as if reading my mind said, “It’s the evening draft. It comes every night just before dusk. We really need to get into the open water where it will be lighter. It will get dark fast here in the swamp with all these trees.
It was at that moment I knew we were lost in the swamp. In a panic, I tossed my head up toward the sky. It was dusky and full of trees. Soon, we would not be able to see anything at all.
“What was that?” I asked. We had hit something.
“I don’t know. A log, I think. We’re stuck. Take the other oar and help me push our way out. The water is to think and murky. There is so much debris and I can no longer see it. I can’t steer the boat around it.”
I stuck my oar beneath the boat and rooted around. I felt it dig into something soft. “Are you sure that’s a log? It seems awfully soft to me”.
“It has to be,” Lisa replied.“What else could it be?” We both decided we did not want to know the answer to that question. So, we began rocking the boat in an attempt to set it free.
It worked! With one big splash, we were free. The unexpected movement caught me unbalanced. Quickly I grabbed the sides of the boat and saved myself from falling it. However, the oar managed to slip out of my hands and slid right into the water. Without a thought, I reached into the water to retrieve the oar. Momentarily, my hand was dipped below the surface. I rapped my fingers around wood. It was grimy from the swamp water-oh God…what? “There’s a hand! There’s a hand!”
A slimy and bloated hand had wrapped itself around mine!
My fingers wrapped around the wood, grimy from the swamp water, and another hand, slimy and bloated, wrapped around mine. I screamed and pulled myself free.
In the process, I bumped into my cousin and knocked her into the water. Before I could even catch my breath, her head popped up out of the water.
“Yuck! This water taste nasty.”
“I am so so sorry.” I apologized. “Oh Lisa, are you OK?”
“Yes, I am fine. The water isn’t very deep. I am able to stand.
I helped Lisa back into the boat. She was cold and shivering. “I’m am truly sorry,” I apologized again.
“When I reached in to get the oar, something grabbed me.” I began to explain.
“It was probably just a fish. We have a bigger problem to worry about. It is getting dark.
Under the trees, nightfall was taking over fast.
The bright colors of the swamp were no longer visible. All colors blending into each other becoming one. The shadows are moving in and taking over the swamp, the water, sky…Everything is just one shadow. Total darkness.
“What are we going to do?” I asked.
I think we should just wait here. Our parents will come searching for us. They knew we were heading for the swamp. Dad know the swamp well too.
And so we waited. It was pitch black. Even the moon was afraid to come out tonight. Every shape looked like something that was going to leap out at any moment.
“Can you smell that?” asked my cousin with a trembling voice. She was wet and cold.
I sniffed the air. A foul rotting odor assaulted my nose. Faint at first, but quickly growing stronger. “Yes, what do you suppose it is?”
“Swamps just smell sometimes, I guess”.
Somewhere in the darkness, something rustled and then there was a splash.
“What kind of animals live here.” I asked, my voice trembling with fear.
“I dunno. Bears…deer. But they wouldn’t be in the swamp. They wouldn’t like the water.”
Something was making a steady crunching noise which was getting closer. It was like something walking through the water toward us.
Lisa said it was probably just a boat wake from out on the lake.
“Who would be out on the lake at this hour?”
The splashing stopped a few feet from us. Although we could still not see anything. Something just Thumped! Again. It was hard and against the side of our boat! Slowly, I inched away from the noise. I could hear Lisa doing the same. Our little boat titled dangerously from our weight shift.
The thumping continued, again and again and again. Like fist pounding relentlessly. Then, suddenly another could be heard! Both sides of the boat were being beaten by something. We both scrambled to the center, as far from either side as possible. We could feel the boat shutter with each assault as if it had come alive!
More and more unseen fists hammered our little boat. The boat was unable to stop shaking the assaults were coming in so fast. Lisa and I, huddled together completely terrified and quiet as mice. We both were wishing we could disappear. That we could open our eyes and be across the lake at home with our family.
And then…the laughter started. A loud mocking laughter. Whoever was doing this, was enjoying every moment.
A bright light suddenly exploded out upon the water. The noises abruptly stopped. Once our eyes adjusted we could see our surroundings. The water had gone perfectly still. Only 10 feet away from us was the shore. There was a campfire.
We were completely confused. How did we end up here? Who lead us here? Why had they scared the shit out of us?
“That looks warm”, said Lisa, breaking into my thought.
I glanced over at her. She was cold, wet and shivering. “Is it real?” I wondered outloud.
“Who care.” Lisa said. She grabbed the oars and starting rowing. She said she was frozen and fake fire or not….she had to get warm.
The boat slid gently to shore. Before I could stop her, Lisa jumped out and ran toward the fire. Before my very eyes, her silhouette blurred and before long she was lost in the glare.
“Lisa!” I called. I didn’t know whether or not to follow. “Lisa!”
Someone answered, but it was not Lisa.
All of the sudden, they were in total darkness. The fire, as if afraid of the voice, went out. A smaller light appeared. Bobbing up and down as it grew closer and brighter. A flashlight.
“Renee, is that you””
“Renee, are you alright? Everyone’s been worried. We need to get you home.
“Wait,” I protested. “What about Lisa?”
“It’s alright,” Dad said. “We’ve already found her.”
“What?” I replied. I was looking back at where the fire had been with a look of confusion on my face. “But–.”
“I know,” my dad interrupted. “Her body floated back to the surface. That’s how we found her.
“What?” This didn’t make any sense at all. “What are you talking about?”
“Lisa fell overboard. Don’t you remember?”
“Yes, but..” I looked again at the dark shoreline where the mysterious blaze had been only minutes ago. “She’s not…”
“Come on, Honey. Let’s get you back home and warmed up.”
I will never be able to understand what just happened, nor will I ever forget. There was Lisa. Laid out on the kitchen table with her eyes closed. She was soaked to the bone. Her skin was swamp green and nauseating. I wanted to forget it. How could I with her drowned corpse right here in front of me?
I can not explain what happened. When Lisa’s parents asked me about it, I just say she fell overboard and the rowboat had drifted away when it got dark. They was what they expected to hear. I told it to myself over and over and over again. I wanted to forget. I needed to forget. I can’t. Not even today. I can’t. Whenever, I am near a pond, lake or swamp, I hear laughter.
“I wish I could forget.”
“Lisa, please find your way back.” I cry, everyday.