Authors: Patricia Fry
by Patricia Fry
Author: Patricia Fry
All rights reserved
© 2016 Matilija Press
“What was that?” Savannah whispered. “Did we hit something?”
Margaret directed her pocket flashlight toward the water. “Looks like a log; a damn log.”
“Oh no! Are we going to sink?” Colbi cried.
“I don’t see any water coming in,” Margaret said, her eyes quickly following the light beam as she shined it around their feet. She flashed the light toward the object again. “Vannie, just row around it. The faster we get out of this boat, the happier I’ll be.”
“Wait!” Colbi hissed. “Shine the light out there again.” Her voice quivering, she spoke more slowly and deliberately. “I don’t think that’s a log, you guys. It looks more like a…”
“A what?” Iris asked, leaning to see past Colbi.
“Stay on your side,” Colbi whispered loudly. “You’re rocking the boat.”
“My God,” Margaret said, pulling away from the bow of the skiff.
“What is it, Auntie?” Savannah asked, trying to peer around her. “A crocodile?”
Her voice sounding pinched, Margaret responded, “I think it’s a body.”
Iris gasped, then leaned across Colbi again to get a better look. “A body? Is it dead?”
“How should I know?” Margaret snapped. “Maybe he’s snorkeling. Do you see a snorkel?”
Colbi quickly looked away. “I don’t even want to see a body, thank you very much.”
“Maybe it’s a dummy,” Savannah said, gingerly positioning herself to get a glimpse of it.
Iris’s eyes widened. “Yeah, a scarecrow.”
Margaret smirked at the others. “Wishful thinking, girls.” She studied the object a little more closely. “I believe what we have here is a doggone homicide victim.”
“Homicide?” Iris said. “What makes you say that, Maggie? The poor guy might have just fallen into the water or decided to commit suicide.”
“I don’t care how he got there,” Colbi said, now trembling. “It’s still creepy.”
“What should we do?” Savannah asked, sounding panicked. When no one spoke, she suggested more calmly, “We should probably bring him aboard and take him ashore.”
“Are you crazy?” Iris nearly shouted. “There’s barely room for the four of us.”
“You mean the six of us,” Margaret said, glancing disgustedly at the two cats Colbi held on leashes. “Vannie, I say we continue to the other side of the lake where we can call someone.” She let out a sigh. “Darned mountains, anyway. Can’t even get cell phone service when you need it.”
“And boy do we need it,” Colbi said. “Yes, let’s row around it and see if we can call for help before…”
“Before what?” Iris asked, half afraid to hear the answer.
“I don’t know. But we have to tell someone about what we know.”
“And what is that, Colbi?” Savannah challenged. “What do we know?”
“Well, we know there’s a dead body floating in this lake,” she said. “And we know there’s something very odd going on at the cabin back there.”
Iris swallowed hard. “Yeah, odd and scary…maybe even other-worldly.”
Suddenly, Margaret whispered loudly, “What’s he doing?”
“Who?” Savannah asked, turning in the direction her aunt pointed.
“Your cat. He…my God, he just jumped out of the boat!” she said in disbelief. “Does he swim?”
“No!” Savannah said, quickly shifting her weight in order to see where the cat had gone. “At least not that I know of.”
Colbi grabbed Iris’s arm. “Don’t do that, Savannah! You’ll tip us over.”
When Savannah caught a glimpse of her cat, she shouted, “Rags, no! Grab the leash! Can you reach the leash?” She looked at Colbi. “How’d he get loose, anyway?”
“I…I don’t know. I thought I had my foot on his leash while I adjusted my scarf.”
She peered over the side of the boat trying to spot the cat. “Oh my gosh, Savannah, what are we going to do?”
“Shine the light out there again, Auntie. Where is he?”
After a brief pause, Margaret said, “Holy cow. He’s riding around in the lake on that dead person.”
“What? Oh my gosh. Ick. Raaags!” Savannah called. She then noticed something else. “Oh no; the current’s taking him away.”
“To the river?” Iris asked, her voice strained. “The lake spills into that big river, you know.”
“Yes, I know,” Savannah said, grabbing the oars. “We’ve got to catch up to him. Help me row,” she demanded. “Someone take this oar and help me. We’ve got to get closer.”
Iris sucked in a breath. “To that body? Can’t the cat just swim back?”
Just then, Colbi shouted, “No, Dolly!” as she made a grab for the tabby who was trying to follow the larger cat overboard.
“Why you brought those cats out here, I’ll never know,” Margaret grumbled.
“For fun and entertainment,” Savannah said, sarcastically. She then changed her tone. “You know why we brought them.”
“Yeah, there was no way we could leave them with…whatever’s back there at the cabin,” Colbi said, now holding tightly to Dolly.
Margaret let out a sigh. “Okay, then. What’s done is done. We’d better see if we can catch up to that misfit cat of yours, Vannie.” She moved to the middle bench seat next to Savannah and took one of the oars. Handing the small flashlight to Iris, she said, “Here, light the way, will you?”
“Do we have any rope?” Savannah asked, using an oar to turn the skiff around.
Iris frowned. “Why? Are you going to lasso Rags?”
“No, but we really should grab that body before it follows the current into the river.” When the other women protested, Savannah reasoned, “We can’t just let it float to the ocean. They might never find it.”
After searching around inside the skiff, Iris reported, “The only rope we have is the one tied to the front of the boat.”
“Auntie, you’re rowing the wrong way,” Savannah complained. “We’re going in circles. Come on, pull your oar in the other direction.”
Margaret snapped back at her. “Why don’t you do the rowing, since you know so much about it.”
“Okay, I will,” Savannah said, reaching for the second oar. “Move back up front, will you? And start untying that rope.”
When Margaret’s movement caused the boat to rock, the other three women yelped and Margaret dropped awkwardly onto the wooden seat at the bow.
Savannah let out a breath of relief when the boat stopped pitching, then instructed Iris, “Now shine the light out there, will you? I’ve lost track of Rags.”
“Darn,” Iris lamented, “I don’t think this little light will shine that far; I can’t see him. Row faster, Savannah. Row faster!”
After what seemed like an eternity, Margaret shouted, “I see him. There he is, straight ahead.” She then spoke more quietly. “Do you suppose…?”
“What?” the others asked in unison.
“Well, I was wondering how that guy got dead. Maybe the creature Vannie saw at the cabin killed him.”
“Or maybe he saw it and had a heart attack,” Iris suggested.
Colbi, who was still holding tightly to her tabby cat, shuddered. “Sheesh, Maggie. Why’d you have to bring that up?”
“Keep rowing, Savannah,” Iris said. “We’re getting closer.”
“What’s he doing?” she asked while continuing to use the oars to propel the skiff. “Can you see what he’s doing?”
“Well,” Margaret said, squinting into the night, “the body’s still floating and Rags is still sitting on top of it.” She shook her head. “What is he thinking?”
“Who?” Iris asked.
“The damn cat! What cat jumps out of a boat and sits on the back of a dead person?” She wrapped her coat more tightly around herself. “Do we even want him back in the boat?”
“Rags?” Savannah asked. “Of course we want him back in the boat. There he is, Auntie. See if you can get your hands on him.”
“Me? Why me?”
“Because you’re closest to him,” Savannah hissed.
“I don’t want to touch that…”
“Then move out of the way and let Colbi do it,” Savannah scolded.
“No, don’t move,” Colbi begged. “You’ll tip the boat, and the last place I want to be is in the water…with a body!”
“We’re almost there, Auntie. Now get ready to grab him,” Savannah instructed. As she manipulated the oars to guide the small boat toward Rags, she thought back to what had led to this dire and dangerous situation.
It was nearly a week earlier when Savannah received a phone call from her good friend, Iris. “Hi, whatcha doing?”
“Oh, hi. I’m picking up after my child—the pint-sized demolition crew. What’s up with you?”
“Not much. Just planning a birthday party.”
“Whose?” Savannah asked.
“Mine, of course. And I want you to come.”
“Sure. I’d love to help you celebrate your birthday. When and where? And why are you planning your own birthday party? Why don’t you let Colbi and me do it?”
“Yeah, you two can help. But I want to do something special and unique this year, and I came up with a great idea.” More excitedly, Iris added, “I think you’re going to love it!”
“What is it?” Savannah asked, suspiciously. “Are you going skydiving?”
Iris laughed. “No.”
“Are you climbing Mt. Fuji?”
“Flying to Paris for lunch?”
Iris chuckled. “Don’t I wish. No Savannah, I want to take my best gal-friends to Craig’s mountain cabin for a few days. Wouldn’t that be a kick—you, me, Maggie, and Colbi relaxing in a cozy cabin in the gorgeous mountains—hiking, gossiping, drinking wine? We can even go fishing if we want, and shopping.” She swooned. “It’s so beautiful up there and peaceful. We could have so much fun. What do you say? Can you get away?”
“This weekend. I figure we could leave Friday and come home Sunday. It’s only about a three-hour drive. Are you in? Before you answer,” Iris said, a little whine to her voice, “remember, it’s my birthday.”
“I’d love to,” Savannah said. “Sounds wonderful, only…”
“No excuses now. Come on. You just have to go. It wouldn’t be special without you there.”
“But Iris, with you, Colbi, and my aunt gone, who’s left to watch over Lily?”
“It’s the weekend; won’t your husband be home?”
“Yeah, probably, at least part of the time.”
“What about your day-care lady, Barbara? Couldn’t she keep her while Michael’s at work?”
Savannah hesitated, then said, “Yes, I guess she would. Sure, I might be able to work it out. It really does sound fun. I’ll check with Barbara and Michael and let you know, okay?”
“Okay. I look forward to your call.”
“Iris, have you talked to my aunt and Colbi yet?” Savannah asked. “Will Colbi be able to get away? She’s back to work, you know, and planning her wedding.”
“I think I can talk her into it. It’s only for a few days and it
Savannah smiled. “Of course. Is it a special birthday?”
“They’re all special, aren’t they?” Iris said, obviously skirting the issue.
“I mean, a significant year…”
“Yeah,” Iris said, chuckling, “it’s 2016.”
“You know what I mean,” Savannah scolded. “How old will you be?”
“Um…you want me to reveal my age? I can tell you, I’m still the same number of years wiser than you are.”
“Wiser, huh?” Savannah said, laughing. “So how wise are you this year?”
“Pretty darn wise, actually.” Iris hesitated, then said with a deep sigh, “I’ll be sixty. Can you believe it?”
“Wow! And you don’t look a day over…”
“Watch it,” Iris warned. “A day over what?”
“Keep going,” Iris said, good naturedly.
“Well, you look good, girlfriend, and I would like to help you celebrate this significant birthday in a mountain cabin. Yes, that sounds like a lot of fun.” She then said, “Hey, Lily’s trying to climb into Buffy’s kitty bed with her. Better scoot. I’ll call you later.”
That evening over dinner with her husband and fourteen-month-old daughter, Savannah said, “Michael, Iris called today. She invited me to her birthday party.”
“Nice. When is it?”
“Her birthday is actually Monday, but she wants Colbi, my aunt, and me to celebrate with her this weekend.”
“Will you go out to lunch or something?” Michael asked, rather offhandedly.
She shook her head. “No, to Craig’s cabin for a few days.”
“A few days?” he asked, now giving his wife his full attention. “Do you mean the whole weekend? What about Lily?”
“I already checked; Barbara said she can take her Friday and half of Saturday if you’re going to work.” She peered coyly at him. “I was hoping you’d agree to entertain her the rest of the time.”
“Oh, sure. I can do that. That’s not a problem, but…”
“But what?” she asked frowning.
After thinking about it for a moment, he said, “Well, I guess nothing, only what if you girls need help cutting firewood…do you even know how to start a fire?”
“Michael, we’re not going to be cooking over a campfire.”
He chuckled. “No, but you might want to use the fireplace—it’s the only heat source, you know. I was up there with Craig once and the cabin’s pretty rustic…and remote.”
“That’s right, you did a little repair work for him. So is the cabin well furnished and all? There’s a stove, fridge, bathroom, isn’t there?”
Michael nodded. “Yes, it’s comfortable and seems to have most of the conveniences, but don’t plan to have any Internet access. In fact, cell phone service is practically non-existent. Remember, I finally got through to you that day I was up there, but we were cut off right away.”
“That’s okay. We’re all grown women and quite capable. The point is to be away from it all—even electronic devices. We’ll have fun roughing it.” She became more serious when she said, “I was once a Girl Scout, you know.”
“No, I didn’t know that. So you learned how to rub two sticks together to make fire, did you? Can you put up a tent?”
“Stop it,” she scolded. “Ever heard of matches? And we won’t be putting up any tents. We’ll be just fine.”
He took a sip of iced tea and stared at her over the rim of the glass.
“What?” she asked, defensively.
After setting the glass down, he said, “Oh nothing, I guess. It’s just hard to imagine you and your aunt together without something going haywire. Add Iris and Colbi to the mix, and who knows what could happen?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you sorta have a history.”