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“Lady In The Lake” by Shane Ryan Staley

Lady In The Lake

I found her body pinned beneath a broken-down pier, her face buoyant and staring at the moon. She kept me company as the summer nights grew colder.  

The lake in those days was far less inhabited…more like a giant mud hole between broken down cabins and lake houses. There were no other teenage boys like me around, just some old fishermen on the other side of the lake. It was just me and Pa fixing up an old lake house, a mere shack he inherited from my grandpa. At that time, my mother was gone, left us for greener pastures, and I was bitter but growing more to understand why she had gone away.

The lady in the lake appeared much older than my mother. She floated silently, remarkably still among the seaweed and cattails, tangled in a long forgotten fishing line and partially impaled by the pier.

The initial horror of finding her quickly diminished within days as I spent nights unsure of what to do.  If I reported finding her, I feared Pa or I would be initial suspects. Then I grew slowly accustomed to the smell of being near her, a noxious mix of polluted lake water, fish and the aroma of her decay.

It was almost an entire month before she began whispering to me from her watery tomb. I could never make out a word. I recalled gargled words or muffled slurs of what sounded like a foreign language. I just sat there on the shore, the sand between my toes and a flashlight shining on her surfacing pale face. I was hoping to communicate, to understand.

I told her about my troubles with Pa, my loneliness, and about a couple of cute girls I came across in town who were up for the summer months. She sometimes whispered something in reply. Though I could never make out her words, I felt she understood me. I felt almost loved.

It was around Halloween of that year when the first frost of the season settled. The trees were almost stripped. Orange, red and yellow leaves clung to the lake’s surface instead. The lady in the lake began to slowly sink back into the murky depths. A little more of her disappeared beneath the surface as nights became colder. Until one night I arrived and she was gone.

I searched the waters around the busted pier and dove into the lake, feeling with both my hands and feet, but there was nothing. I scraped my arm on a rusted screw poking from the pier and that’s when it caught my attention. Snagged on a splintered piece of the pier, hanging next to the screw was a necklace with a locket. I detached it carefully, taking it back to shore. I flipped open the locket to a picture of a baby boy smiling cherubically. The oval photo was water-damaged and fading as I pocketed it as a keepsake of our time together.

Thirty years later I still dream about her. I miss those nights. Back when I felt connected, like we shared a secret no one else in the world could be a part of. As I grew older, I realized the world was such a big place, with so many people, and that my existence was trivial in the greater scheme of things. That’s a hard lesson to learn, to know your waning presence is just part of a cyclical random event that passes without much of a ripple in the waters of life. As you age, true meaning of your existence fades.

I still look at the necklace every once in a while, even though it’s become more difficult as time has separated us. Each time I flip open the locket, I remember those warm moonlit nights back at the lake…seemingly another lifetime ago. But what haunts me even more is the photo inside the locket. A faded picture of innocents, a clear enough image to now know how eerily it resembles my first-born son. The baby’s familiar eyes stare back at me from the decrepit photo. A haunting familiarity gnaws at my gut and squeezes my heart, reminding me of something else that has disappeared from my life, expanding what feels like this endless void.

Now thirty years of dreams and nightmares connect together like some ageless jigsaw puzzle. Each night I’d fall into a fitful slumber only to watch her dead eyes in the darkness, watch her pale lips move, as I struggled to read them. A few days ago the words finally came to me.

Join me…” she had said.

The waters are cool as I cross the shoreline into the lake once again. Time has devoured much of the surroundings, disintegrating the old pier to a few splintered pieces that now barely reach the lake’s surface. From a distance, I see Pa’s ghost in the yard. I watch the faint mist swirl from his tobacco pipe as he sits in his favorite lawn chair, staring back at me, watching me finally move on. As coldly and carelessly as he once did in life.

With locket in hand, I wade deeper…deeper until the water takes me, pulls me closer to the silt and mud. To the bottom where unseen creatures crawl and feed. To a place we will all be united.

About The Author

Picture of Shane Ryan Staley

Shane Ryan Staley

Shane Ryan Staley is an American publisher, editor, and author. He is best known as the founder and owner of Delirium Books, a publisher of horror and dark fantasy fiction. Staley is also a writer and editor, and has published several books and anthologies under his own name and as a co-editor. He has a reputation for his love of horror and his dedication to the genre, and is well-respected within the horror community. Staley is passionate about promoting and preserving the works of classic and contemporary horror writers, and his work as a publisher and editor has helped to bring many new readers to the genre.

Staley has authored eight short story collections and two short novels, The Cleansing (Bloodletting Press) and Redemption (Darkside Digital). To date, he has published more than 250 short stories in independent publications and ‘zines throughout the world.