Authors: Patricia Fry
When Margaret started to explain, Savannah raised her hand, “Never mind. It’s not important, is it, Auntie?”
“No,” Margaret agreed. “No, not important. Sorry I brought it up.”
“Well officer,” Savannah said, “if that’s all you need us for, we’d better go. Our cats will be wondering where we are.”
“Your cats, huh?” he said shaking his head. “Okay, yeah, that’s all. Will you be around for a while?”
“We’re leaving tomorrow,” Iris said.
He looked at them. “Maybe I’d better take down your names and phone numbers.”
“Ha,” Margaret said, “phone numbers? Lotta good that’ll do you. You could only call us if we’re standing out there in that open spot.”
“Yeah, well, unless you head for home, then I can reach you,” he said. Once he had written down the information he needed, he thanked the women, then walked up to the counter and ordered a coffee to go.
In the meantime, the women sat silent, each with their own thoughts until finally, Colbi picked up her purse, dug out some money, and placed it on the tabletop. “I’m going to call Damon before we head back across the lake. He’s following that story I was working on yesterday. I want to find out what else he’s learned, if anything.”
“Are you going to tell him what we just learned?” Iris asked, rolling her eyes.
As the others pulled bills from their pockets, Savannah said, “I’m still trying to digest all of it. It’s just too weird.”
“Yeah, it’s sensory overload for me,” Iris admitted.
As the women left the café, Savannah put her arm around Iris’s shoulders. “Why don’t we sit here in the sun for a few minute?”
“Good idea,” Margaret said, lowering herself onto a short rock wall west of the buildings.
“Ahhh, feels good,” Iris said. She then squinted toward Savannah. “What just happened in there? Was that real or did we just step out of the Twilight Zone?”
Savannah and Margaret chuckled hesitantly and Margaret said, “Yeah, let’s assume that’s it—we somehow stumbled into a Rod Serling vortex.”
At that, Iris quickly focused on Margaret. “Vortex…Maggie, where did you learn such a term?”
“From you, probably.”
The women had changed the subject by the time Colbi returned to the group. As she approached, Iris smiled at her. “How’s my son?”
“Good. He had lunch with my brother at the culinary school in Frisco. People can go in by invitation and eat some of the food they prepare. Yesterday, they made pasta dishes. Damon said some of them were really delicious.” Colbi giggled. “Harrison got special recognition for his. Damon said he was so pleased.”
“Cool,” Savannah said. “So the two of them are getting along now that Harrison has changed his lifestyle?”
Colbi’s eyes lit up. “Yes. I’m so, so happy to have my brother and my fiancé on good terms now.” Suddenly, her tone changed. “Oh, Damon said that missing-woman story might bring him up here.”
“Up here?” Iris repeated.
“Yes, they have a lead that’s pointing them in this direction. If they get it validated, he may come up here on assignment. If Craig’s on the case, we might see him up here, too.”
“Oh,” Iris said, her demeanor suddenly sullen.
“What’s wrong?” Savannah asked. “Don’t you want to see your husband?”
Iris thinned her lips. “Well, I have mixed feelings.” When she noticed the others waiting to hear more, she whined, “I love spending time with my son, and my husband, but I was so looking forward to an all-girl adventure with my BBFs.”
The other three women laughed and rushed Iris, enveloping her in a group hug.
“Hey you guys, lay off,” Iris squealed. “You’re going to knock me off this wall.”
Savannah pulled back. “Awww, Iris, even if the guys do come up here, we’ll still have fun.”
“Yeah, no man’s going to spoil our weekend,” Colbi said, “even if they are my fiancé and my future father-in-law.”
“Pshaw,” Margaret said. “No man in his right mind would hang around this group of women for very long.”
“Hey,” Savannah said, scanning the area with her eyes, “want to go for a hike before we motor back to the cabin?”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t mind stretching my legs,” Colbi agreed.
Iris nodded. “Sure. I think there are some trails that go along the river a ways.”
“Into the forest?” Margaret asked. “With wild animals? What if I get a blister? I’m not used to walking in these shoes.” She sat back down on the wall. “Maybe I’ll just stay here and wait for you.”
Savannah grabbed Margaret’s arm. “Oh no you don’t, Auntie. You’re going to have the full all-girls weekend experience. Now come on.”
“Against my will?” she grumbled, as Savannah pulled her along toward the path into the dense forest.
The others giggled as they followed behind.
“You did really well,” Savannah said to her aunt a couple of hours later when the foursome returned to the boat dock. “You didn’t get any blisters, did you?”
“No, I don’t think so.” Margaret smiled. “That really was fun. Sure is pretty back in there along the river. Reminds me of camping trips we took as kids.” She swooned a little. “Great memories.”
“You sure didn’t remember how to skim a rock, though,” Iris said. “I thought you were a champion rock skimmer, Maggie.”
“I was.” She pouted. “Just couldn’t find the right rock out there, that’s all.”
“Where did you learn to skip a rock so expertly, Iris?” Savannah asked.
“You gotta know stuff like that when you’re both mother and father to boys.”
“Where’s our boat?” Margaret asked, glancing around the area. “Someone took our boat.”
“It’s okay, girlfriend,” Iris said. “We’ll just wait for the next one.”
“We can do that?” Colbi asked. “We aren’t responsible for the one we had?”
Iris nodded. “Yeah, you just jump into any boat and leave it on the other side for the next person.”
“There’s a boat coming this way.” Margaret noticed. She shuddered. “I hope they hurry; it’s going to be dark soon.”
“Afraid of the dark, are you, Maggie?” Colbi teased.
“Hey, Colbi, there could be a killer running loose, remember?”
“But you heard the ranger. He said that guy might have been dead for a while.”
“But they never caught the killer, so he could still be lurking around,” Iris reminded her. “Yes, I’m eager to get back to the cabin, too…where it’s…” She chuckled. “I started to say, ‘where it’s safe.’”
“You don’t think it’s safe?” Savannah asked.
“You heard that old guy. The cabin has a…stigma.”
“Oh, is that what you call it?” Margaret said. She laughed a little hysterically. “Rags is in a cabin with a stigma? Lordy, I’m almost afraid to go back there.”
“Okay, here’s the boat.” Iris noticed.
As the women waited for the couple to step out of the skiff, they overheard their conversation. “It looked more animal than human,” the young woman said, while her companion tied the boat to the dock.
“That doesn’t make sense, Imogene. What animal, other than a bear, walks upright? And it wasn’t no bear.”
“No, but it wasn’t a normal-looking person, either,” she said, her voice shrill.
“Excuse me,” Savannah said as the couple approached them on the dock, “I couldn’t help but overhear. You said you saw some sort of creature…was that last night on the road leading up the mountain?”
Imogene’s eyes widened. “No. I saw it out the window of our cabin.” Her tone accelerated. “I was terrified.” She glanced at her companion. “It scared him, too, didn’t it, Brian?”
He sighed deeply. “Well, we saw it through the trees. It could have actually been an elk or a deer.”
“Brian, I saw it close up and it was human, I tell you, or…part human.”
“Oh Imogene, don’t be so dramatic.”
She leaned toward the women as if in confidence. “I’m pretty sure it came from the Sledge cabin. You ladies have heard about what goes on there, haven’t you? Brian’s been coming up here for years and he told me about the sightings.”
“I also told you that I never seen anything, Imogene.”
“Yeah, but you know people who have,” she reminded him. She turned to the women. “I don’t know where you’re staying, but beware; there’s something strange—maybe even evil—going on in the Sledge cabin.”
“Thanks for the tip,” Iris said, watching the couple rush off in the direction of the store.
“Holy cow,” Margaret said. “What are we in for? Iris, you didn’t tell us…”
“I swear I’ve never heard any of this stuff before.”
“Craig didn’t say anything to you?” Savannah asked.
“No. Nothing. Wait ‘til I get my hands on him.”
“Maybe he doesn’t know about it,” Colbi offered.
“Fat chance,” Iris said. “Everyone else seems to.” After pausing, she added, “Although, when he comes up here, he rarely motors across the lake. He likes to fish and hang out at the cabin. So maybe he never heard the stories.”
“Or the rumors,” Savannah said, stepping into the boat. “Who’s driving us home?” she asked. When no one spoke up, she said, “Okay, I guess it’s me.” She gestured. “All aboard.”
The women were halfway across the lake when Colbi said, “You know, it’s just downright creepy now that we know other people have seen that thing running around up here.”
Margaret cringed. “What’s creepier is the story about the hammer killer kid and the fact that he probably stayed in that room where Vannie and I slept—the one with the bars on the windows and the locks on the outside of the door.”
In an attempt to calm any rising fears, Iris said, “Oh now, you guys, I’ve never seen anything when I’ve been up here.” She suddenly frowned.
“What, Iris?” Colbi asked.
“Yeah, what?” Savannah prompted a little more loudly, in order to be heard over the outboard motor.
“Well, I wrote it off as my imagination.”
When Iris sat silent for a moment, Colbi asked, “What, Iris?”
“Yeah, tell us,” Margaret urged.
“It was just too weird. I never told anyone because I was sure they wouldn’t believe me.”
As the others waited, Iris took a deep breath. “I saw one of the stooges.” When her confession was met with blank stares, she said, “You know, the Three Stooges—it was Moe—the one with the bowl haircut. He peered in the window at me, then disappeared into thin air.” When she saw the look on her friends’ faces, she said, “See, I knew no one would believe me.” She raised her hands in the air. “No one would believe a story like that.” Leaning toward Margaret and Colbi, she said, “But he was as real to me that night as you are to me right now.”
“Here we are,” Savannah said, stepping out of the boat and holding it for the others to disembark. Just then, she sensed that someone had joined them on the dock.
Savannah turned toward the voice and saw a robust figure of a female who looked more man than woman. “Hi.” She looked around. “Where’s Skip?”
The woman took the rope from her and tied the skiff to the dock. “I help Skip fill the tanks. The name’s Phyll, for Phyllis. I put the motors to bed at night and bring ‘em out at daylight. There’s no charge—we’re paid by the parks department—but tips are welcome,” she said with a toothless grin.
“Sure. It’s a nice service you two provide.” Savannah pulled a few bills out of her pocket and handed them to the woman. “So what time do you put the motors to bed?”
“Oh, before dark,” she said, her eyes wide. “I never want to get caught out here after dark again, so don’t ask me to. If you want to use the boats after dark, be my guest, but you’ll have to row, ‘cause the motors’ll be locked up.”
“So you don’t go on the lake at night?” Margaret asked. “Why is that?”
“You see, I had a party once who said there’d be a big tip in it for me if I’d wait ‘til they returned from the bar.”
“There’s a bar around here?” Margaret asked.
“Well, yeah—Maribelle turns her place into a bar at sundown. That’s when the music starts a-playin’ and the booze comes out.” Her expression became stern. “That night, those people didn’t come back with my motor ‘til after ten—it was summer and it stayed light ‘til around eight, so I had two hours of the dark to deal with and shore ‘nuff, I had a visitation.”
“A visitation?” Colbi asked.
“Yup! Came outta the thicket there right at me; scared me half to death.”
“Who was it,” Margaret asked, grinning in Iris’s direction, “Moe, Larry, or Curly?”
When the woman stared at Margaret, a puzzled look on her face, Margaret stifled her laughter and apologized. “I’m sorry, Phyll, please go on with your story.”
“Thank you,” she said. With fear in her eyes, she continued, “It wasn’t something of this world, I tell ya. It was more like a dead man walkin’. It had greenish skin and eyes that glowed. I’ll never in this lifetime forget those eyes. He towered over me with his wings outstretched like a gigantic bat eager to get my blood.” She shivered. “It was the most frightening sight. I thought it would be the death of me—if not by his claws, by my heart attack. People die of fright, you know.”
“So what did this creature do?” Colbi asked.
“As quickly as he came out of the dark, it swallowed him up again. I imagine he went back to his home over yonder to the Sledge cabin.” She shook a plump finger at them. “You ladies be sure to sidestep that cabin on your way back to where ever yer stayin’. Hear me? There’s evil in that place. Now be on yer way. Dark takes over here quicker than you can imagine. Go back to yer cabin and stay inside. Have fun, ladies,” she said with a toothless smile.
Once the women had stepped off the dock and turned the first bend in the path, Margaret grabbed Savannah’s arm and whispered, “I’m not going back there.”
“To the creepy cabin.”
Savannah chuckled. “So where do you want to go instead?”
“Anywhere. Let’s go back to the café where there’s people around.”
“Oh, Auntie,” Savannah said, “come on; it’s just for one more night. We’re going home in the morning.”
“But Vannie,” she whined.
“Hey, I don’t want to spend the night in a bar—where would we go when it closes?” “Come on,” Iris called to Margaret and Savannah. “Look, even little Colbi’s keeping up this afternoon.”
“Yeah, I don’t want to be left behind where I can be grabbed,” she said, skipping to stay in step with Iris.