Authors: Patricia Fry
Uncertain about what else to do, the women remained quiet. Savannah, after having heard nothing but the beat of her own heart, the shallow breathing of her friends, and the crackling of the fire, eventually said, “I can’t go back to sleep until I know who or what I saw.”
“Well, who’s going in there to find out?” Colbi asked, snuggling into the sofa cushions. “Not me.”
“Don’t look at me,” Margaret said when Savannah gazed in her direction. “It was your vision.”
“Okay, then, give me the weapon,” she said, reaching out for the frying pan.
Everyone chuckled a little hysterically, until they saw Savannah stand and begin walking slowly toward the door to the empty room. Holding the pan in one hand, she reached the other hand into the room and quickly flipped on the light switch. “He’s in the closet!” she called out in a panic. “Come in here someone and open the closet door so I can bean him. Quick!” she shouted. When Savannah glanced back at the others, she shook her head at the spectacle. All three women slowly approached, as if they were connected hip-to-hip-to-hip. When they reached the doorway, they stopped and ever so cautiously looked in.
“What?” Iris asked, hesitantly.
“Open that closet door,” Savannah insisted as she stood holding the pan over her head. “Come on, get over here,” she scolded, impatiently.
Having edged through the doorway, the three women moved at a snail’s pace toward the closet. Finally, Iris reached out and pulled the accordion door open and the trio quickly jumped back.
“Nothing,” Savannah said, sounding frustrated. “There’s nothing in here. Colbi, bring a light over here.”
Within seconds, Colbi returned carrying a candle.
Savannah grimaced. “I meant a flashlight. But let’s try it. Hold it in there, will you? Well, darn. Where did he go, anyway? There’s not enough room in this closet for anyone to hide.” Suddenly, she stepped back and focused on something else. “The window. Could he have climbed out through the window?”
A quick examination told the story—even if someone could slip through the bars, the window was fixed and still in place. Savannah walked back to the closet. Holding the pan at her side, she stepped inside and began patting the wall, pushing on it, tapping it. After a few moments, she backed out and ushered the others into the living room. “It’s a false wall,” she told them quietly. “Someone’s in the walls of this cabin.” She looked toward the guest room and took a thin breath. “He’s probably been here with us the whole time.”
“So Amos Sledge isn’t dead after all?” Colbi asked.
Iris gasped. “He’s been hiding here for forty years?”
Savannah looked at her. “Now that doesn’t make sense, does it? For one thing,” she said quietly, “he doesn’t seem to have aged much.”
“You saw the young Amos?” Margaret said. “That’s even weirder.”
Iris’s eyes widened. “Yeah, his spirit wouldn’t age. Maybe his spirit lives here.”
Savannah let out a deep sigh before saying, “Iris, do you notice food missing when you come up here? Do you think someone could be living here without you knowing it? Do you ever see any indication of that?”
“I’d have to ask Craig. I come here so seldom; I honestly wouldn’t know.” She winced. “That’s just plain creepy. I…I really don’t think I can sleep here knowing…”
Margaret grabbed Savannah’s arm and whispered loudly, “Me neither. Let’s get out of here.”
“And go where?”
“Where we can use our phones and get help, that’s where.”
“Yes,” Iris agreed. “Come on, Maggie, Savannah, bring your clothes into our room and let’s get dressed.”
Savannah scowled. “And row across the lake again? Or we could drive the car.”
“But it’ll take an hour or more before we can use our phones,” Iris complained. “If we row, it’ll be a short few minutes.”
Savannah looked at the others. “Let’s have a vote. All those in favor of taking the car, raise your hand.” When no one responded in speech or gesture, she clenched her teeth. “Okay, let’s get a move on.”
“I’m not even getting dressed,” Margaret said. “Just give me my shoes and jacket and I’m out of here.”
Savannah giggled nervously while tugging on a pair of jeans. “You slept in your clothes, Auntie.” Within seconds, she hopped out of the bedroom while putting on her second shoe, grabbed her coat and headed for the door. When she saw Iris rushing after her, fully dressed, she said, “I’ve never seen you get ready so fast.”
Margaret snickered. “Yeah, no hour-long makeup routine this morning, Iris?”
“Uh-uh. You’ll have to deal with my natural look today,” she quipped.
Savannah started to unbolt the door, when Colbi shouted, “Wait! The cats!”
“What about them?” Margaret asked, frowning.
“We can’t leave them with…whatever that is.”
After contemplating Colbi’s comments, Savannah sighed and said, “Okay, let’s get their harnesses on them.”
At the same time, Margaret picked up the iron skillet and headed toward the front door.
“Got your phones?” Savannah asked a few minutes later as they closed the locked door. She then hissed, “Flashlight—oh no, we forgot to grab a flashlight!”
“I’m not going back in there. Look, there’s a moon,” Iris said.
“Where?” Savannah asked.
“Damn, it went behind the clouds.”
“I have a light,” Margaret said, brandishing a small flashlight. “It was in my pocket.” Shining it on the ground and following the beam quickly toward the boat dock, she added. “Now, let’s get the hell out of here.”
Savannah had rowed about halfway across the lake when she whispered, “What was that? Did we hit something?”
“Looks like a log,” Margaret said, directing her flashlight toward the water in front of the skiff. “…a damn log.”
Colbi cringed. “Oh no, are we going to sink?”
“I don’t see any water coming in,” Margaret said, her eyes quickly following the pinpoint of light she shined around their feet. She aimed 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 that 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 toward Colbi.
“Stay on your side, Iris,” Colbi whispered loudly. “You’re rocking the boat.”
“My God,” Margaret said, pulling away from the bow of the skiff.
“What is it?” Savannah asked, cautiously peering around her, “…a crocodile?”
Her voice sounding pinched, Margaret responded, “I think it’s a body.”
Iris gasped. Leaning across Colbi again to get a better look, she said, “I think you’re right; a dead one.” Pulling back, she asked, pure terror in her voice, “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.
Iris’s eyes widened. “Yeah, a scarecrow—it washed down from someone’s orchard.”
Margaret smirked at the others. “Wishful thinking, girls.” After studying the object a little closer, she said, “I think what we have here is a doggone homicide victim.”
“Homicide?” Iris said. “What makes you say that, Maggie? The poor man might have just fallen into the water or decided to commit suicide.”
“I don’t care how he got there,” Colbi said, shivering a little, “it’s still creepy.”
“What should we do?” Savannah asked. “Bring him aboard and take him ashore with us?”
“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 their 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.”
“Yeah, 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, her eyes wide.
“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 shuddering. “And we know there’s something very odd going on at the cabin back there.”
Iris nodded. “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 in a panic. She quickly shifted her weight in order to see Rags. “At least not that I know of.”
“Don’t do that!” Colbi complained. “You’ll tip us over.”
When Savannah caught a glimpse of her cat, she shouted, “Rags, no! Grab the leash, Auntie! Can you reach the leash? Where’s that light?” She looked back 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 at the cat. “Oh my gosh, Savannah. What are we going to do?”
Speechless, Savannah shook her head in disbelief. “Shine the light out there, Auntie. Where is he?”
“Holy cow,” Margaret said when she spotted the cat in the beam of light, “he’s riding around in the lake on that dead person.”
“What?” Savannah shrieked. “Ewww. Raaags!” she 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 impatiently. She began to row. “We’ve got to catch up to him. Help me row,” she demanded. “Someone grab the other oar and help me. We’ve got to get closer.”
Iris sucked in a breath and shivered. “To that body? Can’t the cat just swim back?”
Suddenly, 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 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 go see if we can catch up to him.” She moved to the middle bench seat next to Savannah and took one oar from her. Handing the small flashlight to Iris, she said, “Here, light the way, will you?”
“Do we have any rope?” Savannah asked, while using an oar to turn the skiff around.
Iris frowned. “Why? Are you going to lasso the cat?”
“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 in the skiff using the flashlight, Iris said, “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, “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 three other women let out a yelp and Margaret dropped awkwardly onto the wooden seat at the bow.
“Now shine the light out there, Iris. 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.
“Well, I was wondering how that guy got dead. Could Amos Sledge, or whoever that was back at the cabin, have killed him? Or maybe he saw what we saw on the road last night and had a heart attack.”
Colbi, who was still holding tightly to her tabby cat, said, “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 she rowed “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?” she complained. “Why me?”
“Because you’re the 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 said. “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.
“I have his leash,” Margaret said. “I’ll pull on it, but he might get wet.”
“I don’t care, just get him back in the boat!”
“Yup, he got wet,” Margaret said. “Sorry, Rags.”
Before the women knew what had happened, the soggy cat made a leap and landed in the boat. He shook and twisted and licked, trying to dry himself off, as the women chuckled at the spectacle.
“Hold onto his leash,” Savannah said, passing it back to Colbi. “Now Auntie, I’m going to pull the boat up next to the body. When I’m close enough, I want you to tie that rope to it.”
“Heck, does it matter? A foot, arm…whatever you can grab,” Savannah said.