The Lake House Part 3
The Santos siblings went to the lake for a relaxing escape, but by the end of their trip, it’s a race to escape the vacation home with their lives.
If you missed it, check out Part 1 and Part 2 before starting with the next installment.
This first scene hasn’t been shared yet. I get regular feedback from a couple amazing writing groups, where I share the work I post here on substack. One of the members had suggested an additional scene in this part of the story. It was great advice and you all get the first look!
Aleksa was eager to get out of the house the next morning. She suggested a walk of the trails before they left to town for breakfast.
“It’s a beautiful day,” she urged Luca and Rianon to change for the day, all seated around the kitchen table.
“I think you’re just afraid of the ghost in the house.” Luca smirked before lifting a mug to his lips/ Steam danced across his face.
Rianon rolled her eyes and kicked his shin under the table.
“It was just a nightmare,” Aleksa shrugged. She didn’t know who she was trying to convince more, herself or her siblings. She eyed the sliding doors through the entryway into the formal dining room. Had she really seen a drowned woman there? Really felt her cold hands on her skin?
“A walk sounds nice,” Rianon said.
Aleksa was the first with her shoes on and she waited for the others on the porch swing. The air was crisp. Water lapped at the shore a dozen yards from the front lawn. Aleksa found herself searching for the chirping of birds or the purr of passing cars, anything to block out the water. The morning sun should have warmed Aleksa’s skin, but she tugged her jacket tighter around herself, protection against the icy chill that seemed to come off the lake. She had assumed this late in the season they would be able to swim, but the cold may keep them out through the whole trip. It couldn’t have been her nightmare. Nightmares hadn’t effected her since she was a child. Perhaps the weather would get warmer later. She fished her phone from her pocket to check her forecast app as Luca and Rianon stepped through the front door.
They walked the flat path winding through the tall evergreen trees. Their narrow trunks cast long shadows, keeping the air cool. Aleksa breathed in a deep as they started up a slight incline. The smell of dirt and rotting pine needles cleared her mind and the night before eased its grip in her chest. She pulled her hands out of her jacket pocket. Soon, she’d be able to take the jacket off and tie it around her waist.
They approached the closest neighboring house, a one story log cabin. No car in the driveway and debris carpeting the front steps.
“No one’s home,” Luca noted.
They were really all alone, had the whole side of the lake to themselves. Aleksa should be glad for the privacy, the luxury of not sharing the shore with other guests, but instead she yearned to return to the house, jump in her car and drive them all to town. She wasn’t ready for breakfast yet, but she could use the company of a crowd.
“There’s a neighborhood just a bit further, remember?” Rianon gestured past a circle of wide trunked trees.
Aleksa and Luca followed her directions. The forest ended with the concrete road. On the other side, a collection of mailboxes signaled human life. They crossed the street and started down the cleared path. Behind the mailboxes was a bulletin board. Welcome to Pine Meadows had been carved across the top of the frame. Below ads and other announcements were pinned up. The pages had faded and weathered. It seemed that instead of taking postings down, residents just pinned on top of older flyers.
“Joe’s Diner is offering free donuts. We should go there for breakfast.” Rianon referred to a more colorful flyer in the top corner.
A breeze rustled the papers. Aleksa spotted something buried beneath the collection of flyers. She lifted a few layers.
“Are all those people missing?” Luca leaned closer to read the faded words.
“I think so,” Aleksa murmured.
Beneath the top layer, dozens of smiling faces were smeared and creased among advertisements. Twelve year old Luna David was last seen taking the dog for a walk three years ago. Ross Finch had been backpacking around the lake when he went missing four years ago.
“These go back over ten years.” Luca held up several layers, revealing an almost illegible flyer, the face long worn away. G— Hend—-, last seen in 2001.
“That must be why there’s so many.” Rianon asked. “The neighbors don’t take the flyers down. People go missing all the time.”
Luca dropped the papers and stepped away, satisfied by Rianon’s explanation. Aleksa couldn’t take her eyes off a smiling teenager, cheeks plump, black hair twisted in two braids and draped over her shoulders. She grinned at the camera, a school picture most likely, childhood still written on her face. She’d gone missing seven years ago. Did the neighbors forget to take the flyer down or had it been left up because she’d never been found?
“Let’s go back.” Aleksa spoke with her eyes still on the bulletin board. A walk through the neighborhood was no longer appealing. She felt her siblings’ questioning eyes on her. “I’m hungry and it’ll take us at least thirty minutes to get back to the car.”
“Those donuts do sound good.” Luca started back toward the road. His head swiveled as he checked for cars coming from each direction.
Aleksa followed close behind him, Rianon beside her. They walked close. Her arm occasionally brushed against her sisters. She found herself tempted to reach for her hand, like when they were kids and Rianon’s larger palm pressed to hers comforted Aleksa. She had clung to her sister as they walked into the doctor’s office where they would be getting shots. Rianon held her hand as they walked to school together, Aleksa nervous about her first day of middle school. She squeezed her hand as Aleksa made her way toward the aisle, a reassurance that everything was going to be alright.
Aleksa needed her hand again. She needed to hold onto Rianon like an anchor as her marriage crumbled around her and the nightmare from the night before still iced in her core. The lake could sweep her away otherwise. But reaching out to her sister would only make Rianon aware that something was wrong.
Aleksa’s jacketed arm brushed against Rianon’s again, the windbreaker material swishing through the trees. She’d settle for that subtle touch. What was Shane’s betrayal compared to the death of a child? People were missing, tragedy destroys entire families, and Aleksa needed comfort from a nightmare and her ruined love life? Rianon shouldn’t be comforting her, not this weekend. Not ever, after her loss.
The weather warmed the following day. By the afternoon, rays slipped through the gloom that settled in the house, penetrating through the curtains and enticing them to enjoy the crisp lake air. Aleksa hadn’t had any more nightmares, but she still didn’t sleep well, tossing and turning. Her kids ran through her mind. Shane invaded her slumber and she fought the urge to scream into her pillow.
After a slow morning, the siblings stepped out of the shade of the porch and the hot sun seemed to beg them to take a dip in the water. From the Adirondack chairs, Aleksa and Rianon watched their brother wade into the water. Just like their walk, they had the lake to themselves apart from a fisherman adrift in the distance.
Luca shivered as he stepped in. Visions of her nightmare flashed through Aleksa’s mind, fading with time, but still persistently nagging at her. A strange dream. Luca plunged deeper and Aleksa slumped back against the chair. Wearing a two piece bathing suit, the sun warmed her exposed skin. The chill in her bones thawed. She sighed and dropped her sunglasses over her eyes. This was what they came to the Lake House for. No place as beautiful as the lakeside house.
Beside her, Rianon smiled at Luca. A real smile, the first since they arrived. It could have been the gorgeous view, or the weekend away was going as Aleksa had hoped, getting Rianon’s mind off mourning, if only temporarily. That smile made Aleksa’s nightmare worth it, made her pleased that she had decided to keep her impending divorce to herself. Aleksa would bury her grief forever, if she could see Rianon happy again.
“Come on!” Luca called over his shoulder.
“Fine.” Rianon sighed and kicked her legs over the edge of the chair. She yanked the oversized t-shirt over her head, revealing a black one piece. She draped the grey t-shirt over the back of the chair, a construction company logo printed across the back: Pact Construction. James’s shirt.
Rianon bent over and slipped into a pair of old water shoes. She peered over her shoulder at Aleksa.
“You coming?” she asked.
Aleksa grimaced at the water. Behind her sunglasses, her eyes still burned from her bad night, but Rianon was excited, almost having fun. Aleksa didn’t want to sit out, but the image of the woman dripping with lake water invaded her thoughts. She imagined touching the water, trembled, and shook her head.
“I’m good. I’ll just work on my tan.”
With a shrug, Rianon hurried to Luca. The murky water lapped against the pebbled shore, glimmering in the sun like diamonds.
“You’re right, the water is great.” She called to Luca. The lake embraced her up to her waist. She turned back to Aleksa. “You change your mind?”
“No.” Aleksa shook her head, her loose hair brushed her cheeks with the movement. The memory of the woman’s hair suddenly gripped her, drenched and heavy around the ghastly face. Aleksa pictured herself submerged in the water, reaching for the surface, lungs aching for air. Tears sprang to her eyes. She ached for home. She’d tolerate the rest of the weekend for Rianon, the trip did appear to be helping, but Aleksa would be counting down the hours until they left.
“More lake for us then.” Luca grinned at Rianon. “Don’t remember much, but I know I’ve always loved the water.”
From her seat on the beach, Aleksa watched them. Luca dove under and a wave of worry washed over her, colder than the snow-topped mountains surrounding them. She held her breath, waiting, hoping, he’d come back up.
Rianon spread her arms and floated on her back. Still no Luca.
“Hey!” Rianon shrieked. She waved her arms and stood waist deep in the water again. “Cut it out!”
Luca resurfaced and waved to her. “Heyo!” He shouted.
Rianon didn’t return the wave. Aleksa frowned and sat up straighter in her seat. He had resurfaced feet away from Rianon. Aleksa’s gaze jumped to the water surrounding her sister. Rianon looked down as well, as if she were searching past the water’s surface for whatever she had thought had been Luca.
The shining sun deceived them. As Rianon searched the water, the lake grew dark and daunting. Aleksa wanted both of her siblings out of the water, now. She’d say anything to get them out. She didn’t care if they teased her, or thought she’d gone crazy. She needed them out of the water.
Before the demand passed her lips, though, Rianon shrieked. She leapt up and staggered backwards, slipping and splashing in the water.
“Ri?” Luca called. “What is it?”
Panic washed over Aleksa as she watched Rianon stagger to the beach. She launched to her feet and met her sister. With her toes just centimeters away from the water, she stretched for Rianon’s hand.
“There’s something—” Rianon turned to the lake. “Luca!”
Aleksa followed Rianon’s gaze just as Luca disappeared under the water.
“He was pulled down!” Rianon twisted and ran back into the water. Aleksa followed close behind. Her breath caught in her chest when the icy lake touched her skin, but fear propelled her forward.
“Where’d he go?” Aleksa gasped. She waded, the lake floor no longer in reach, but dark and deep.
Rianon dove under the water. A whimper slipped from Aleksa’s lips as she continued to search for Luca and, now, Rianon. She willed them to resurface, prayed that they were okay, but Aleksa feared the worst. What could she do but follow them into the watery depths?
She kicked her legs toward the area they’d last seen Luca. The water pressed against her chest, squeezing the air from her lungs.
What if Luca had been trapped around some lake weeds. Rianon could get entangled too. The lake water caressed her, osmosis allowing it to seep through her skin. She knew the weeds were wishful thinking. The water around her celebrated the three of them in the lake. It embraced her, lust in it’s touch. Aleksa shivered. As the water seeped through her swimsuit and nestled against her skin, she understood. It would never let them go.
But she’d fight to get out, fight for all of them, and they’d leave. Leave the Lake House, leave the water, forever.
Without another thought, Aleksa took a deep breath and joined her siblings underwater.
Cold. The water chilled her fingers and toes, reached up her arms and legs until they ached and creaked like groaning metal. Aleksa pumped her legs faster and pushed the water away with her arms. She squinted in the dark and swam in an abyss. How deep did it go? Just two feet over and Aleksa could stand on the rocky surface with the water at her chin, now it seemed to swallow all light and continue forever. Movement caught her attention, to her right, Rianon’s floating hair. Aleksa kicked toward her sister.
But it wasn’t Rianon. A girl floated, suspended in the water, neither sinking or bobbing to the surface. She wore cut off jeans and a crop top. Her long dark hair wafted around her face, full lips resting slightly parted, a sprinkle of freckles splashing across her button nose and cheeks, a teenager, her eyes closed, body lifeless. Aleksa started back, a scream caught in her throat. Who was this girl and where were Rianon and Luca?
The girl’s eyes shot open, milky white, and her mouth dropped, expelling the scream that Aleksa had held back. Bubbles shot from her mouth and raced to the surface.
Aleksa pumped her legs away from the girl. Her lungs ached for air, but the water surface was so far above her. She hadn’t thought she’d swum down so far, but the surface remained beyond her reach. She pressed water down and kicked harder. Weeds or the girl’s fingers latched onto her ankles, pulling her back to the depths.
Aleksa grasped at the water, but it just slid between her fingers. The sunlight penetrated a far away surface as she was pulled further to the lake’s bottom. Her body burned for air and before she could think, her mouth gaped open in desperation. The murky lake water filled her mouth, stomach and lungs. It settled in her body, pleased and content while Aleksa’s body shrieked for air, her nerves ignited with the effort. Her limbs grew heavier with each desperate kick. It had been so long since the water’s thirst had been quenched, so long since it took its sacrifice. She couldn’t fight it. Every atom in her screamed in horror, but the water just purred like a pleased cat. Aleksa felt the satisfaction in the depth of her core as her vision faded to black.
Continue to Part 4!
(I welcome your feedback. Are you enjoying this haunted tale? Do you have questions? Let me know what is working and what isn’t in the comments below)