The Girl in the Lake by Alex S. Johnson
Sam looked exactly–I mean, the resemblance was uncanny–like a little kid who’d woken up extra-early Christmas Day so he could get a sneak preview of the presents piled in front of the hearth. He was about to reach forward and touch the black streak on the pine’s bark when Jeremy cut in.
“Dude, maybe you should just take a picture or something. Shit looks toxic.”
Sam shrugged and withdrew his hand, wiping it off on the front of his t-shirt–made of hemp fiber, naturally–which was a blazing fluorescent green and featured a picture of a bear smoking a bong.
“I guess you’re right, Jer.” He shrugged off his small backpack, covered with patches from various jam bands, and set it on the ground in a bed of needles. “Then again, all this land is saturated with poison.”
Scott coughed. His dad was one of the biggest investors in Green Chemical, and besides, they were trespassing on private property. If his dad even suspected what he’d been up to, he’d wind up losing the last privileges he’d been able to hold on to, and spend every day till his 18th birthday locked in his room puzzling over the higher math. For some reason his dad and I got along fine, even though he liked to call me a “socialist wingnut.” But he hated Sam and Jeremy with a passion.
The sun was setting, shafts of amber light flickering through the pine forest. Beyond the clearing, Lake Soutaine cut a big bite out of the woods, a darker, evil shade of green. Two summers ago it had been pure blue, and not off limits. We used to go there all the time. There was even an ancient tire swing hanging over the water, but the rubber was flaked, and covered with some kind of white fungus.
“You guys mind if I blaze one?” Sam asked. He passed his arm through the tire before anybody could stop him. “For old times?”
“Jesus, Sam…” Scott started. He slumped his shoulders with a defeated look. I could see in his eyes the flicker of rebellion begin to grow. “Yeah, it’s chill. Fuck it, you know? We’ve come this far.” Then he pulled his polo shirt over his head. Damn, he was cut.
“Don’t even think about it,” Scott added. I smiled. My friends could be dicks sometimes, but they were totally cool with my sexual preferences, and that pretty much trumped any of the crap they gave me. They were dicks to everyone, and to themselves. Sam retrieved a baggie from his pack and plucked a joint from the nest of sticky. “So you guys remember that little girl who disappeared a couple of years back?”
The air was growing cold, and I wished I’d brought my jacket. For some reason Scott was strutting around shirtless like the cock of the walk. I didn’t mind at all. Sam was oblivious as he flamed up the J and wrinkled his nose. It was some old school skunk. I could tell we were all getting a contact high. And just a bit of the paranoia. Which was perfect for Sam’s purposes.
I told you my friends were dicks.
“Let’s make a drum circle,” he suggested. Scott started to laugh, so hard he was choking and red in the face. “Are you fucking serious? Dude, you’re a walking cliche. Don’t we need a drum or two for that?”
“Figure of speech, dude.” Suddenly I think we all realized how long a day we’d had. It felt right to sit down, get comfortable and listen to a scary story. After all, the initial purpose of our expedition–Sam’s idea, of course–to investigate, document and blog about Green Chemical’s despoilment of nature, seemed more and more naive. Of course GC was taking a giant dump on the planet. That was a no-brainer.
“Her name was Tanya,” Sam began. “She was 11 years old when she went missing. You remember her mom going on TV and pleading with the kidnappers. But there was never a ransom note. The case is still open with the police, but most people think she’s dead.”
“Very sad,” I said. “She was a beautiful kid.”
“That she was,” Sam agreed. “But I have a theory. Tanya loved swimming in Lake Soutaine. The day she went missing, the last time she was seen…” Suddenly there was a plop and splash from the lake, as though an enormous fish had jumped. My blood turned to ice. This wasn’t fun any more.
“I think we should get the heck out of here,” said Scott, standing up.
“Oh come on, dude,” said Sam. “It’s just a story. Anyway, my theory is that Tanya drowned. She was a great swimmer, but something got her. Pulled her down. A week later, if you remember, the county closed off this section of the woods and all of Lake Soutaine. I don’t think that was a coincidence.”
“You’re freaking us all out,” said Scott. “Besides, I might as well face my punishment now. My dad’s going to love this–staying out all day on a weekend before finals, stumbling in reeking of weed.”
“No one’s stopping you, dude,” said Sam. “How about you guys?” I shrugged. “Even if I wanted to go, I couldn’t. Basically paralyzed with fear. Please continue.”
“That’s the spirit! All right. So Tanya drowns, and obviously, she dies. But she doesn’t die all the way. The chemicals somehow reanimate her, turn her into a zombie. And she’s…”
“You’ve been reading too much R.L. Stine,” said Jeremy, who up to this point had been silent, his eyes glassy.
“Right behind you.”
I couldn’t move. I felt like some kind of morbid looky-loo at the scene of a traffic accident. Of course there was nothing there. Sam was making this all up; he’d admitted as much.
Because if he wasn’t, then the little girl standing behind Jeremy, half her face rotted off, shiny with algae and glowing like a halogen lamp, wasn’t just some kind of hallucination from the angel dust I suspected the weed was laced with. If he was reporting the empirical facts, as I now believed he was, the blood spurting from Jeremy’s neck stump now was as real as the crater Tanya had scooped from Sam’s face, and the sparks–like a handful of glitter–drifting in the girl’s blind eyes as she turned towards me with a lipless grin.