What Happened at Crimson Lake

by Erin Perry Willis

The Stories They Tell:

The lake eats children. Swallows them down into the dark deep; where a giant mouth filled with giant teeth gnaws forever at their bones. And there is a monster that lives in a cave at the bottom of the lake. It comes out at night, to feast on the leftover scraps, and clean the flesh from the giant teeth. Sometimes it leaves the water and ventures into town, stealing naughty children from their beds and feeding them to the lake, where their bodies are never found.

Once a woman drowned herself looking for her children. They found her three days too late, her hair tangled up in the reeds. If you listen closely you can still hear her calling.

 

For Your Part:

You always loved those stories. Once you went skinny dipping in the lake on a dare and won twenty bucks, which you used to buy lipstick and a push-up bra. You let your high school boyfriend take you there after prom, in his mother’s rickety old van, where you drank too much and struggled so hard that you threw up by the water in the same place we used to catch tadpoles when we were young.

You loved the lake. Its earthy, rotting-wood smell. Its buzzing insects. Its secrets.

 

The Stories They Tell:

The lake is cursed. Back in the old days, they used to hang witches from the trees, their bodies swinging, the crows feasting on their eyes. Then they burned what was left in a great pyre, and threw the bones in the water, where they took root in the mire. Sometimes you can still see the shards glistening under the surface, like schools of little white fish.

 

For Your Part:

When you were eight you stole my Barbie dolls and buried them in the shallows by a large clump of poison ivy under the shadow of a rotting tree stump. You dug thirteen graves and popped each of their heads off before covering them with dirt and decorating each grave site with a marker made of twigs and grass. You gave them each their last rites, like the priest had done for our father, the last time we saw him in the hospital.

When I asked you if you’d seen the dolls, you told me that you didn’t know where they had gone, but that you were sure they were in a better place.

I never did find their heads.

 

The Story He Told:

He said you had both been drinking. He said the whole thing was your idea. He said you’d begged him for it, had been begging him for weeks.

 

The Truth Is Slippery, Like An Eel:

Many years before we were born, an entire troop of Boy Scouts went missing out by the lake, their campsite abandoned. For five long days and nights, volunteers scoured the surrounding area, but found no trace or track in the mud and leaves. On the sixth day, they found the bodies: bobbing in the water, their faces unrecognizable, as if the lake had chewed them up and spat them out.

They buried all thirteen in a mass, unmarked grave in the local cemetery, though no one today can remember quite where, and there are families that still mourn, even though no one can remember even one of the thirteen names.

Once the lake was featured on the show Urban Legends. A psychic, a group of ghost hunters, and a camera crew tried to spend a night camped out on one of the lake’s short, muddy beaches. They didn’t make it to dawn. Hunted by mosquitoes, they abandoned their post, but not before they captured footage of thirteen bright red lights, flickering like fireflies, dancing on the water.

 

For Your Part:

You struggled so hard you threw up twice. Once on his tux, and once more after he left you there, your dress covered in mud.

 

For My Part:

I saw you, the night you decided you’d had enough. I heard you crawl out your bedroom window, and I followed you down to the lake, in my pajamas and rain boots, the trees leaving marks on my skin. I watched you emerge from your clothing like a white moth, your arms spread out wide, triumphant, like a witch cut loose from the choke of rope about her neck. And I saw you dive into the water, and when you didn’t resurface, I followed you. I followed you in.

And what I found there was a door, shimmering like a prism. But what you found there, on the other side, I don’t know, because it wouldn’t let me in, no matter how hard I pounded, or how long I held my breath.

 

The Stories They Tell:

They don’t call you a slut anymore, not after what happened, though I know they still think it. Instead they call you That Poor Girl or simply That Girl, like they can’t decide if you deserve their pity.

Sometimes they refer to you as The Drowned Girl. I actually kind of like that one. It reminds me of Hamlet’s Ophelia.

 

For Your Part:

Though they searched for months, they never found your body, or any evidence at all that you’d been out by the lake the night you disappeared, except for the muddy nightgown you left discarded on the shore.

Our mother likes to believe you simply ran away, and that’s true, in a sense.

Wherever you are, I hope it truly is a better place. 

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