The Lake House Part 5
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.
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Please enjoy the cover (my first attempt at book cover design that I deemed worthy of sharing with other people) and the final installment!
As much as her heart pounded, as much as her blood thudded in her ears and her legs trembled beneath her, as much as every atom in her body demanded that she run until she was far from the attic, the lake, the whole vacation, none of it mattered. Her sister needed her.
She rushed up the stairs, imagining the horrors she would find inside. Rianon just needed to be safe. Aleksa would face it all, as long as she had her sister alive beside her.
The ornate door knob against her palm felt familiar. She twisted it and flung the door open.
“Aleksa!” Rianon crashed into Aleksa as she rushed through the door.
Aleksa blocked her. She reached back for the handrail to keep both of them from falling.
“The door was locked, I couldn’t get out.” Rianon sniffed. “Let’s go.”
“Wait.” Aleksa shrugged her sister’s hand off her shoulder and peered into the attic. “Why were you up here in the first place?”
She brushed past Rianon and stepped into the attic. Inside now, her fear had dissipated. Aleksa wondered what there was to be afraid of. The small room had two twin sized beds lining the walls, and a worn brown rug in the middle of the room. A large wardrobe stood between two windows that overlooked the lake.
Sunlight shined through, but figures standing in front cast the room in shadows. The ghostly figures didn’t scare Aleksa, but comforted her, just as the boy and the whispers had downstairs. She took a breath. Her mind cleared. For the first time since she’d almost drowned in the lake, she didn’t feel the water’s lust.
“Aleksa, let’s go.” Rianon whined and tugged on her sister’s hand, wide eyes bouncing from the figures to her sister.
“They won’t hurt us,” Aleksa said.
They were all there, Avery Zimmerman, the woman Aleksa had seen in the early hours of the morning, Ross Finch, Nancy Zhou, Nick Ruiz, the young boy that had guided Aleksa to the guest book, and all the others. All martyrs of the lake, spirits trapped in the last house on the lake.
It all came back to her. The attic. The house. The lake.
At eight years old, water had flooded the yard and slipped into the house. Her father had brought Aleksa to the attic, but her mother’s screams tore away him.
She hadn’t feared the ghosts. They welcomed all the siblings into their space, protected them against the force born from the cracked Earth at the bottom of the lake. While her parents fought the forces below, Aleksa trembled in the middle of the attic. Luca and Rianon embraced her as water dripped from her heavy clothes onto the rug. She’d seen the power of the lake. While safe in her siblings’ arms, she was terrified for her mother. Only Aleksa had gotten away.
Now, with the lake running through her veins again, she embraced the warm shield of the figures blocking the window view of the dark depths below.
Aleksa looked back to Rianon, who straddled the doorway, one foot on the second step down. “Really, Ri. It’s safe.” She held a hand out to her sister. Rianon raised hers, but hesitated.
“Ri! Lex!” Luca shouted from below.
The figures moved in unison. They turned to face the windows. Aleksa glimpsed the view. The shore pressed forward, lapping against the stone beach, inching closer to the grassy lawn of the house.
The lake was coming.
“Luca!” Rianon thundered down the stairs.
“Ri, no!” Aleksa stopped in the doorway. She could feel the pull of the lake the moment she left the protection of the attic. “Come back!”
Rianon called for Luca again, her voice further away. Her steps pounded down the second set of stairs. Aleksa turned to the martyrs, desperate for help. They stared back at her.
“Do something!” She screamed.
Avery Zimmerman, with her thin nightgown clinging to her wet shoulders, disappeared first. One after the other, the guardians left their post at the attic windows, the last being Nick Ruiz. The child, the same age as Aleksa the last time she had been at the lake house, stared at her with large round eyes, hollow darkness like the water below.
“Please, save them,” Aleksa begged, and the spirit child disappeared.
Aleksa hurried to her siblings downstairs. Spirits stood guard at every window. She spotted them in the bedrooms, downstairs in front of the sliding glass door and in the kitchen. She found Luca and Rianon in their parents’ room. They both stood at the window overlooking the lake. Nick Ruiz stood helplessly beside them, desperate eyes flashing to Aleksa when she entered. Unlike the spirits at the windows in the attic, Luca and Rianon stood before the window, brows furrowed and eyes narrowed.
“Do you see this?” Luca gestured to the view when he noticed Aleksa had joined them.
Outside, the lake continued to inch up the beach. Water sloshed under the Adirondack chairs. It beat against the grass, soaking into the dirt and glistening on the blades.
“It’s like a tide is coming in. Lakes don’t do that, right?” Luca turned to Rianon, but the eldest sister just shrugged.
Her jaw dropped. Rianon leapt toward the window, closing the already small gap between her and the glass.
“Analee,” she whispered. Tears trailed down her cheeks.
Aleksa frowned. She brushed the curtain aside and studied the world outside. On her sister’s other side, Luca also peered through the glass and they both searched the lake view outside for their dead niece.
“I don’t see her, Ri,” Luca said. “Maybe it’s a girl that looks like Analee.”
“No.” Rianon shook her head. Her voice grew louder and higher. “See, there’s James! They’re right there, in the lake. Can’t you see them?” Face flushed, her wide, desperate eyes swerved between her siblings. When Aleksa and Luca returned her gaze with confusion instead of agreement, she peered through the window again. “They’re waving. They want me to join them.”
Aleksa’s stomach dropped to her feet. A trap. The curtain slipped from her fingers as Rianon dashed from the room.
“No.” Aleksa followed her, calling over her shoulder to her brother. “Luca, she can’t go in the lake.”
Her brother’s heavier footsteps trailed behind Aleksa as they ran to meet Rianon. She placed her body between Rianon and the door. Their sisters’ socks and shoes had already been discarded, and she pulled her t-shirt over her head.
“Stop.” Aleksa yanked the shirt down. “You can’t. It’s not really Analee and James.”
Rianon swatted Aleksa’s hand away. “What are you doing? I’m going to see my family.”
“Ri, James and Analee are gone. You know that.” Luca’s tone was gentle behind them.
“No!” Rianon snapped. “I saw them. They’re outside.” She fumbled with her belt buckle. Aleksa fought to wedge her fingers between Rianon’s, keeping her from undoing the buckle. Rianon slapped her hand. “Get off of me! You have your family, Lex. Let me fucking go and get mine!”
Aleksa held her slapped hand to her chest. Her sister could have hit her across the face. Her words swirled in her mind, mixing with untold truths and grief. She opened her mouth, but no words came out. Rianon removed her belt and shoved Aleksa away from the front door. She flung it open before Aleksa found her voice again.
“You can’t, Ri. It’s a trick. The lake’ll kill you.”
“What?” Luca and Rianon spoke in unison. Rianon froze in the doorway. The lake now lapped at the bottom steps of the porch.
“Just like it almost drowned me. Ri, it wants us. Whatever’s in the lake, whatever’s controlling it, wants us. And if you go in that lake, it’s going to kill you just like it killed all those people in the attic.”
Rianon shook her head. “That was just my imagination. They weren’t real.”
“But James and Analee are?” Aleksa reasoned.
Rianon wiped tears from her cheeks with the back of her hand and stared at the approaching water. Aleksa turned back to Luca to find his mouth hanging open. His gaze jumped from Rianon and behind them, where he could see the window through the open bedroom door. Did he see the spirits, too?
“No.” Rianon shook her head. “James and Analee are out there. I have to go. Nothing else matters.”
She stepped over the threshold. Aleksa flung her arms around her waist with a grunt and attempted to tug her back inside. Rianon swung at her arms, elbowing Aleksa to release her grip. She screamed and scratched. Aleksa threw her body weight back, keeping her grip tight on her sister.
“Luca, help!” Aleksa called for her brother.
Luca wrapped his arms around Rianon, and she shrieked. Sobs interrupted her aggravated cries as she struggled against her brother’s grasp, but she wasn’t strong enough. Aleksa released her hold, and Luca dragged Rianon back inside.
“We need to get her up to the attic.” Aleksa gasped, breathless from the struggle. “They’ll protect us up there.”
“They?” Luca questioned, but Aleksa had already dashed past them to the second floor stairs.
Luca followed slower behind, dragging a screaming Rianon along.
“Who’s in the attic, Lex?” he asked again.
“The spirits of the lake’s victims.” Aleksa took the steps two at a time. “They kept us safe when we were kids. That’s why I remember loving the attic so much. It was the one place we were safe.”
“Yeah.” Luca spoke between heavy breaths. “Ri! Stop it!”
They paused on the second floor landing. Rianon swung her leg again and slammed her heel into Luca’s shin. He cursed and lugged her to the attic stairs. Aleksa looked over the railing one last time before following. She didn’t see the spirits at their posts downstairs, which she hoped meant that they were all meeting them in the attic. The lake poured through the open door. Visions of the past flashed through her mind. The lake’s invasion. Her mother’s fall.
Luca forced Rianon up the attic stairs and Aleksa followed close behind. Rianon kicked the walls and grasped at the handrail, but Luca bulled forward. Once through the door, Aleksa slammed it shut and Luca finally released their eldest sister.
With a howl, Rianon leapt at Aleksa and the closed door. Aleksa raised her hands and shoved her back. Rianon stumbled and tripped on the edge of the rug. She bounced against the wood floors and stayed there, her chest heaving up and down. Her face crumbled, and a sob erupted. Aleksa dropped to her knees beside her sister and cradled her against her chest. Rianon’s shoulders trembled with each cry, shattering Aleksa’s own heart.
“Jesus,” Luca hissed.
He stood over them, eyes wide as the spirits appeared before the windows once again. The light shining against their back, darkening their forms and shading the room from the setting sun. One-by-one, they took their places, blocking the windows more and more before their eyes. Aleksa smiled. They’d come, they were saved.
With hers and Luca’s attention on the spirits, Rianon jammed her shoulder into Aleksa’s gut and leapt to her feet. Aleksa fell back, gasping for air. Luca called for Rianon, but she moved too quickly. She slithered through a gap between the spirits and flung the full-length window open.
Aleksa bounded to her feet and watched in horror as her sister climbed onto the windowsill. She stood in the open frame, a cool breeze brushing her hair back as she clenched the sill with white knuckles. The spirits parted to allow Luca and Aleksa to get to Rianon. As they approached, she looked back at them with a smile on her face.
“It’s James and Analee,” she said. Tears filled her eyes, like she understood what she was about to do, no delusion of meeting her lost family for a swim in the lake, but a plunge to the depths below.
Aleksa embraced Rianon, and Luca squeezed beside her and snatched her ankle. Through the window, the lake had flooded the porch, invading the first floor of the house. Water splashed and sprayed the front facade of the house. Through the open window, Aleksa could feel it beckon her again, pulling her very being toward the water below.
“Let me go,” Rianon moaned. She spread her arms wide, closed her eyes, and faced the sky. “The lake can have me. It’ll take me and leave you two alone.”
“Ri, just get down.” Luca said.
“It has to take someone.” Ri peered down at them again. “Can’t you feel its call?” She met Aleksa’s eyes. “You feel it, don’t you Lexie? It’s inside you just as much as it’s inside me. You must feel its need, its desperation. We can’t all escape it.”
Aleksa shook her head. The lake could pull with the strength of the sun, and she’d refuse to give it anyone else.
“Keep a hold of her,” Luca grunted.
Aleksa nodded her understanding, and he released her ankle. Rianon stepped out just as Luca encased both Aleksa and Rianon in his arms, holding his eldest sister around her waist. They leaned out the window together. Aleksa slithered from his grip and held her legs. Luca pressed his shoulder against the windowsill, straining to hold her inside as Rianon leaned forward.
The pull of the lake strengthened gravity. Aleksa panicked as her own grip slipped against Rianon’s skin. She squeezed her fingers, bones pressing painfully around Rianon’s shin. Aleksa clenched her jaw until it ached, squeezed her grip with all her might, but Rianon continued to slip.
“No, no, no.” Aleksa looked to Luca, his own face tight with effort.
The spirits stayed at their side, watching. She turned to see Nick Ruiz beside her. He watched, sad and defeated, as Aleksa’s fingers finally slip from Rianon. Luca screamed as his body lurched forward. Aleksa wrenched him back by his shirt and they both fell away from the window, arms empty.
The lake receded by dawn. Luca and Aleksa had remained in the attic, too broken and scared to leave. They’d already lost Rianon. Would the lake be satisfied, or was it coming for them next? Aleksa didn’t want to leave even after the lake returned to its original shore. She feared what she would see if she looked out the window, open for viewing now that the spirits had left them.
Luca led the way downstairs. He was the first through the front door. The youngest sibling, having failed one sister, continued to protect the other. His shoulders shook with the tears as he stood on the front porch. Aleksa stepped beside him. She saw why he covered his eyes, why he turned to Aleksa and buried his face against the crook of her neck. The lake was calm. It seeped from Aleksa’s pores now, satisfied for the first time in decades. And out on the smooth water, Rianon bobbed, face down, the newest martyr of the lake.
The police ruled it an accidental drowning, another added to the list of accidents on the lake. Luca and Aleksa claimed she went out for an evening swim. No mention of her dead family or the plunge she took. Aleksa couldn’t tell if she spoke the truth or not to the police. The evening before blurred into a mix of emotions. Thinking of it sprung tears to her eyes, which she quickly wiped and pushed away.
They stayed a few more days at the vacation home as the police conducted their investigation. With Rianon’s cause of death finalized, Luca and Aleksa packed their bags and loaded them in the car. They stepped out of the house for the last time, like their parents had done thirty years ago. Never again would the Santos family visit the Lake House. It could age and crumble where it stood, left to the spirits of the lake’s victims.
Luca started the car, and Aleksa took one last look at the house. She didn’t want to see the porch, or her parents’ bedroom window. She never wanted to see a single piece of the house or the lake again, but she had to glance one last time at the attic. There, in the window, stood Nick. Rianon stood beside him, a hand on his shoulder and a warm smile on her face. The truth rang clear in her mind for a moment. Aleksa would have cried if she hadn’t used up all her tears. Instead, a dry sob rumbled in her chest.
She turned away from their sister, the last she would see of her. As her eyes slipped from the view of the house, down the driveway and onto the paved road back into town, the strangest sensation swept over her. The Lake House, Rianon, their sibling visit weighed heavy on her heart, and then, a moment later, it lifted. Luca turned onto the main road, finally leaving the house behind. He glanced at Aleksa. They both gave each other a puzzled look, the same questions on their face. What had happened exactly? A grieving mother’s suicide? A tragic accident?
Aleksa dug through her memories. They had gone to visit the Lake House, their family’s favorite vacation spot. They had so many wonderful memories from their childhood. As adults, they chased those memories for Rianon.
Aleksa’s eyes grew wet. She eyed the bruises and scratches on her arms. Her head ached like she had a hangover, one that would last for days. It pounded just as it had when she learned her father died, that she was parent-less.
And now she was the oldest sibling. Why had Rianon gone for an evening swim? She’d never enjoyed swimming before. Had her grief driven her to try something new? Was she just too broken to care about the time of day? Aleksa would never get an answer. Another tragic accident wiped out a family where the car accident had failed.
She rolled down her window. A crisp breeze sliced through her hair. The road curved, and she caught sight of the lake. The view whipped a shiver through her body.
A strong wind picked up the water splashing against the shore and sent a mist through the open window. Aleksa attempted to wipe it away with the sleeve of her sweater. The water stung her skin. Her heart quickened. The minuscule droplets of water soaked into her skin, water that was doomed and cursed, marinated in human suffering.
Thank you for reading The Lake House! This novelette has been a side project I’ve been tinkering with for a while now and I’m thrilled with how it has turned out. It’s not done yet, though. I want to hear from you. What did you think? What worked and what didn’t work for you?
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