The Lake House Part 4
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.
“Grab her, Luca! Get her out of the water!” Rianon’s voice muffled through the water in Aleksa’s ears.
Hands clung to her, fingers dug painfully up her armpits. Her hair pressed against her face and water flowed down her skin. The smooth, slimy stones at the lake’s shore rubbed against the back of her legs as she was carried. Arms wrapped around her waist, and she was lifted out of the water.
Cradled against Luca’s chest, Aleksa couldn’t see or breathe. Her mouth opened and closed, hair fell in, water dripped down her throat, but no air passed into her lungs. The water raged inside her, refused to let her go. The very being of the lake flowed through her mind, an ancient entity released from its purgatory through the cracks in the earth at the bottom of the lake. Aleksa understood; she was never supposed to be found.
Luca laid her down and cleared her face.
“She’s not breathing.” His voice trembled.
“Move over,” Rianon replied.
And then all Aleksa could feel was pain. It beat against her chest, air forced down her throat, strong against the water in her lungs. The lake resisted, refused to lose its captive. It invaded her mind. Why would Aleksa want to leave the lake? Aleksa would be a divorcee outside of the lake. A failure at marriage. In the lake, she’d live forever as a martyr, along with the others, so many others.
The shadows of their lives washed over her in the water’s last effort to cling to her. Men, women, children, like the teenager she’d found floating in the depths. All an unwilling offering to the evil in the water.
The past burned under her skin but the incessant beating continued against her chest. Thick, sour air propelled past her tongue, down her throat, still attempting to reach her lungs. If she could, Aleksa would’ve screamed. She howled in her head, thrashed, and shrieked against the torment. She’d give anything to make it stop, she’d be the lake’s martyr, she’d join the shadows if only to make the agony cease.
With one final beat, the water’s grip on her severed. Water lurched from her mouth and poured from her nose as she blinked her eyes open. The bright sunlight burned her already blurred vision. Someone lifted and turned her onto her side, then wrapped an arm around her neck, a loose grip that held her up and close at the same time.
“Thank fucking God.” Rianon sobbed in Aleksa’s ear. “I’ve got you, Lexie, I’ve got you.”
“I’m heading out.” Luca’s blue t-shirt clung to his shoulders, damp from the shower. He pocketed keys and his wallet. “You sure you only want soup?” He turned to his second sister, the one he’d almost lost.
Aleksa nodded from her seat on the couch. She wore Luca’s sweatshirt, a large dumbbell advertising his gym across the front. Her throat was raw like someone had scratched their way down and then back up. It burned with every swallow of saliva and ached when she spoke. She had turned down her siblings’ offers of water, the liquid in the glass seemed to waggle a finger at her, daring her to take a sip.
“Get her something hearty, like creamy potato.” Rianon spoke beside her. She hadn’t left Aleksa’s side, having walked her up to the house while Luca gathered their clothes.
Luca left and Rianon draped an arm around Aleksa, pulling her close against her chest.
She hadn’t showered, unlike Luca and Aleksa, so Rianon still smelled of the lake, musty and bitter. The scent washed over Aleksa’s face and slithered down her skin, taking her back into the water. Her breath caught in her throat and she scrambled away.
“What’s wrong?” Rianon asked.
How could she explain the evil coming off of her, the thirst and hunger for Aleksa, or any of them, to step a toe into the water? That was all it needed, all it wanted to satiate its thirst.
“You stink.” Aleksa simply said.
Rianon lifted her arm and smelled herself. She returned Aleksa’s gaze with a wrinkled nose, then chuckled. The smile soothed Aleksa’s panic. Her sister was in her element, rescuing and now looking after Aleksa. She saw more animation in Rianon in the brief conversation on the couch than she had since the months following the car accident.
“Will you be okay while I shower?” Rianon asked.
Aleksa nodded. Rianon turned the television on and handed Aleksa the remote.
“I’ll just be twenty minutes,” she said.
Aleksa nodded again. If it didn’t hurt to speak, she’d thank her sister, then Luca when he returned. They had saved her life. They half carried her to the house and into the downstairs bathroom. She had washed the lake water from her skin and Rianon dried her hair. On the couch, only thirst, fatigue, and a throbbing throat remained.
Standing, Rianon paused in front of Aleksa, then leaned forward and kissed the top of her head. Aleksa held her breath to avoid the lake smell, closed her eyes, and enjoyed the feel of her sister so close to her. As Rianon stood upright again, Aleksa peered up at her.
“I’m so glad you’re okay,” Rianon whispered. The sisters watched each other, Rianon’s eyes filled with tears. Aleksa was too tired to express her own relief, but both understood each other without another word between them. Rianon cupped Aleksa’s cheek and gave her another smile before leaving her with bad daytime TV.
Aleksa opened her eyes. She’d fallen asleep as soon as her head hit the couch pillow. Her head pounded and she winced at the light shining in through the tall open windows. Still, the short nap had renewed some of her strength and she sat up. An infomercial played on the television, selling a set of copper pans, the egg always sliding right off.
The house was quiet. What had woken her up from her dreamless sleep?
A thud sounded overhead and Aleksa looked to the ceiling. Rianon?
She ventured upstairs. She could see the bathroom door closed from the hallway, light shining underneath. Aleksa thought back to the thud. It had sounded directly above her, but the bathroom was on the other side of the house. The small hairs on her arms rose and cold ran down her spine. Running water sounded behind the closed door. Aleksa could sense the lake outside, feel it stretch for her, reaching for an ankle or arm, anything to drag her from the house and under the water again.
Footsteps pattered behind her and Aleksa turned around with a gasp. Wet footprints ran up the stairs and into the room. The back of a young boy disappeared into the game room. She looked back at the closed bathroom door, shower still going. Aleksa could make out a faint thrum of Rianon’s singing. The tug of the lake called for Aleksa again. While the water outside chilled Aleksa, the boy left her curious. Unspoken words rang clear in her head, his voice: Follow me. I can help.
The boy in the other room, a ghost or some other kind of apparition, could be the key to the house’s mystery. She retraced the wet footsteps but stopped in the doorway. Inside the room, the sinking afternoon sun cast long shadows. The billiard table stood in the center of the room. Aleksa searched the darkened corners behind a wooden cabinet and chest. She crouched to see beneath the table but found nothing.
“Hello?” she croaked. The word rubbed against her raw throat.
The cabinet door creaked open. Aleksa watched it with wide eyes. It hung open, waiting for her, so she stepped into the room. Like she had flipped a switch, whispers started all around her, but she only caught quick words and phrases. They were the secrets lost to the depths of the lake, cries for mothers and fathers, the last fearful breaths of the forgotten. Aleksa kept her gaze on the open cabinet, afraid to look to her left or right, afraid of what was watching her.
The cabinet appeared ordinary. Board games piled on the topmost shelf and below folded blankets stacked for cold winter nights. Aleksa opened the drawers attached to the bottom shelf. One held several decks of cards and a drawstring bag of different-sized dice. The other had only one object inside, a guest book. The cover was cushioned, the color of red wine. Or blood.
Aleksa hesitated a moment. She didn’t want to pick up the book, but the whispers behind her urged her. Like the boy, she didn’t fear their words. The disembodied voices comforted her, like company in the empty room, protection. She retrieved the book and carried it to the desk across the room.
The ghostly whispers ceased, but Aleksa didn’t notice, her attention rapt on the guest book. It was what the boy had wanted her to find, he needed her to read it. Seated at the desk, she opened it. The front welcomed their guests and encouraged them to add their names to the book. At the bottom, the book was dated across three years, the last year being the Santos family’s last visit to the lake house.
Each page listed the names of visitors. A few wrote appreciations below their names while only a couple had complaints. Aleksa flipped through the pages. She caught her family’s name a couple times. She was halfway through before she noticed the same small cross penned in red ink beside some of the names. She reached the final page filled in and recognized her father’s handwriting. He’d written their names on the page. Aleksa flipped to the previous page and compared the color of the ink. The color of their names matched the crosses added on the other pages. She returned to the final page. Beneath the names of their family, he’d scrawled only three words: Beware the lake.
Aleksa frowned. She reviewed the crosses again. None of the visitors with crosses on their page left any additional messages. Her gut twisted. She feared for the fate of the names her father had marked. She retrieved her phone from her pocket and searched a name a few pages before her family’s final entry. Avery Zimmerman.
The results confirmed the unsettling in her gut, a fear she hadn’t allowed to form into thoughts. Avery Zimmerman had died. She drowned, over twenty years ago.
The call of the lake tugged at Aleksa. A yank for her attention. A call for her soul. She shoved it off, flipped to the next page, and typed in another name.
Ross Finch. Missing. Last seen on vacation at the Lake House.
Her thumb trembled as she typed in the next name.
Aaliya Patterson. Missing, believed to have drowned but her body was never recovered.
Sierra Brandt. Missing. She was twelve years old.
Nick Ruiz. Drowned. He was only eight.
Nancy Zhou. Missing. Sixteen years old. Aleksa’s breath caught in her throat. The girl she had seen in the lake. It had been Nancy.
A cool breeze rushed past Aleksa, summoning her attention away from the guest book. She looked over her shoulder, but no one was in the room with her.
This way. The same voice that had led her to the guest book beckoned her again. She couldn’t see him, or hear him, but the words blossomed in her mind. Like her connection to the entity of the lake, Aleksa understood what the boy needed from her. His wet footstep shined on the hardwood and guided her.
She closed the guest book and held it in her sweaty palm as she followed the ghost boy’s footprints. They continued down the hall and turned at the attic stairs. Aleksa’s heart thudded in her chest as she approached, the same inexplicable panic overcame her.
She glanced at the bathroom door beyond the staircase, still closed, light still shining through the cracks in the door but no sound from Rianon. Did the lake hide her sister’s movements from her, or had Aleksa been so absorbed in the guest book that she didn’t hear her get out of the shower? Was Rianon in the bathroom at all? She had told Aleksa she’d be twenty minutes. The time had passed, and Rianon hadn’t returned.
The footsteps continued up the stairs, but Aleksa stepped passed them. She couldn’t follow him, not when she hadn’t heard from Rianon. She left the stairway, hurried to the bathroom, and knocked.
She opened the door. The window was still fogged up from a shower. Rianon’s dirty lake clothes sat on the bathroom rug, but no Rianon.
Then, her sister screamed from above.
Cold sweat beaded down Aleksa’s back as her eyes shot up the ceiling. Rianon. Her breath caught in her throat. The guest book slipped from her sweaty palms, landing with a soft thud on top of her sister’s clothes. Why had Ri gone upstairs? Aleksa had no desire to take a step on those stairs. It could be a trick of the lake. The water had wormed its way into her mind already, but climbing the steps would get her further from the water. The attic could be her salvation, so why did she fear it?
Rianon’s voice rang above her head. “Aleksa!”
Continue to the final part:
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