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That time at Shadow Lake (Part 1)

That time at Shadow Lake Part 1


Estimated reading time — 23 minutes

The first time my brother and I made a deal, I ended up in the hospital.

I remember being at the park when I was five years old, my legs swinging as I flipped
inattentively through the pages of a book. My brother Rowan hummed beside me, his hazel eyes
scheming. We were anxiously waiting for our parents to finish cooking lunch on a rusted
charcoal grill that, despite being free for public use, I had never seen anyone actually grill on
before. As the younger sibling, I saw the world through my brother’s eyes. I was too little to
have gained my own opinions about the world, whereas Rowan, who was three years older than I
was and constantly boasted that he was going into the second grade, while I wasn’t even in
kindergarten yet, was full of opinions. So when he decided that we should be allowed to play on
the nearby playground because it was within watching distance of our parents, despite them
expressly forbidding it, I instantly agreed. I was willing to do anything to escape the boredom of
sitting around waiting for our meal, so once our parents’ backs were turned, we dashed for the
playground.

The thrill of our departure was lost quickly on Rowan (who took one look at the sparse
playset and declared it was for babies), so he came up with another idea: stay hidden in a slide
until our escapade was discovered, then reveal ourselves before our parents became frantic. His
theory was that they would be so relieved that we were safe and hadn’t wandered far that we
would be able to keep playing while continuing to push our boundaries. Sitting perfectly still and
making sure our voices didn’t echo as we giggled over our shared disobedience in the enclosed
funnel wasn’t exactly what either of us had in mind when making our daring escape though, so
we had to raise the stakes again.

​“Let’s head into the woods.”

I immediately perked up and stopped squirming in my spot. I had never gotten the
opportunity to explore the woods before, and after being cramped next to my brother inside the
slide for what felt like an eternity, I was starting to feel hot and desperate for fresh air. I glanced
down. The alluring sound of rustling leaves drifted towards me from the bottom of the slide,
alongside the promise of wide-open spaces. At my enthusiastic nod, the two of us began
tiptoeing carefully down the slide. Rowan exited first, then darted out of sight as fast as a fish. I
quickly stepped out of the funnel after him. Blinded by the bright sunlight, I followed my
brother’s urgent whispers, feeling relieved when I felt him take my hand and drag me behind a
large plastic climbing structure shaped like a mountain. Deciding for stealth instead of speed this
time around, we crept towards the nearest tree, then concocted a plan where Rowan would find
the best tree to hide behind next while I checked that our parents weren’t searching for us. We
repeated this process three times until we finally set foot on the well-trodden dirt path that led
into the woods.

Now that I had a taste of independence, I was eager to continue and discover more about
this small corner of the world in the safety of my brother’s company. Rowan didn’t just want to
explore, however, he wanted to compete. “I’ll race you to that cage!” he cried as he charged up
the incline to the first of many frisbee golf holes along the path. I ran after my brother
determinedly, but between the rocks and tree roots that littered the path I fell more than once,
and felt tears brimming in my eyes as I reached him.

“That wasn’t fair” I whimpered, wiping at my eyes and nose with my shirt sleeve. Rowan
rolled his eyes, then started looking around for something else to do. “Let’s pick up rocks and
see who can throw them into this thing first!” I thought I may have a chance of winning this
contest, so I agreed, and we split off in search of the perfect rocks for throwing. Rowan opted to

use the biggest rock he could carry, while I had gone for a smaller, more round rock. I won the
contest, but admitted that Rowan was the stronger of us, which took the sting out of his defeat.
After some tree-climbing we continued to trek along the dirt path, panting as it began to slope
sharply upwards, trying to come up with what to do next. I heard my stomach growl and was
about to complain that we should go back until Rowan’s gaze rested on a wide, sunny clearing
ahead and he dashed towards it.

Our eyes were dazzled by the sun as we left the thick canopy of leaves, wandering from
dirt onto soft grass speckled here and there with dandelions. Using my hand as a visor, I saw that
we had made it to the top of a wide, spacious hill with a small creek at the bottom, as well as
another frisbee golf hole. On either side of the hill small bushes, likely pushed out of the forest
by the thick woods, provided shade at the very edges of the clearing, but sunlight bathed the rest
of the hill in light and splashed in puddles here and there among the encroaching foliage. Rowan
and I stood in awe for a few moments, staring past the park’s borders to the roofs of houses in the
suburbs beyond. “I can see our house!” Rowan cried. I bounced eagerly and asked him to pick
me up so that I could see as far as he could. He agreed with a laugh, flashing me a confident grin
before hosting me up onto his shoulders and stretching onto his tiptoes. His legs trembled, and I
knew that he could only hold me up for a few moments, so I scanned the horizon quickly. After
finally proclaiming that I could see it too, I wriggled my legs around and hopped off. Rowan’s
legs buckled and he fell back, panting, and I offered him a hand. “Are you okay?”

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“I’m fine-” Rowan replied. He reached for me, hesitating for a moment before balling his
hand into a fist and giving me a thumbs up instead. He jumped up by himself, beaming, then
began meandering around the clearing, looking thoughtful. Finally, he gazed at me
mischievously. “I dare you to roll down the hill.”

I paused in my examination of a tree for climbable branches, looking down the slope.
“Do you think mom and dad are looking for us yet?” I queried as I considered his proposition.

“One of them probably is,” Rowan shrugged. The park wasn’t big enough that we were
unable to see the shelter, but it was at such a distance that it was impossible to make out anything
distinct. “Dad probably stayed to finish up lunch and Mom started looking for us. So you better
do it before she gets here,” he pressed, bringing the conversation back to the dare. In response I
began edging my way to the topmost point of the hill and stared down with a nervous gulp. It
wasn’t dusty and root-filled like the dirt paths we had been on earlier, but it was still fairly rocky.
I remained skeptical until Rowan wheedled “Come on Elijah- I’ll let you have all my extra fries
for lunch!” My stomach growled once again, and I quickly pressed myself flat to the ground and
began to roll down the hill.

A feeling of complete freedom overcame me as I slid smoothly down the damp grass.
Wind whistled through my ears and I squealed with delight, propelling my body forward with a
shove in an attempt to increase my speed. I could hear Rowan urging me on with loud cheers,
and my mouth watered in anticipation of my prize. I opened my eyes and saw the shore of the
creek seconds before my foot caught on the jagged edge of a rock, sending me spiraling until I
went face-first into the water with a crash. My head slammed into the shallow, rocky depths of
the creek, and I blacked out.

You can imagine, then, why even nine years later I was reluctant to accept another of my
brother’s deals. Rowan promised me a fun time, but I knew he only wanted me around to help lie
for him. At the beginning of summer he had anticipated his girlfriend Hannah would break up

with him once she and her family moved from our home state of Washington to New York. They
hadn’t moved, and Rowan had begun dating his new coworker Laura in the meantime. He had
promised to accompany each of them to their church youth camp, not realizing they were in the
same group. I was currently adamantly against the idea. My previous experiences with water
aside, our parents were only somewhat religious, and it had never affected me more than writing
the next number much faster than the others whenever three sixes came up in math class.

“Rowan’s being ridiculous.” I grumbled to my friend Ruby as we settled onto a park
bench. I was panting after a game of basketball with our friends and watched eagerly as she took
two wrapped ice-cream bars out of a lunch box. I immediately swiped the freezer pack and held
it against the part of her stomach exposed by her navy and white striped crop-top. She squealed
and swatted at the thing, sending it skidding out of my hand and across the court. I chuckled,
then stood to get the ice-pack, raising my voice to be heard as I continued. “He’s an idiot for
dating two girls in the same youth group in the first place, but he’s even dumber if he thinks
neither of them will notice during an entire week when they’re all together.”

Ruby had been glowering ever since I had told her about Rowan’s deal, but it had settled
into a more adorable pout as she tried to quell her obvious relief from the cool ice cream.
“Rowan’s a dumbass for dating two girls period.” She amended tartly. “I say you come with us
but let his web of lies crumble around him.”

I shrugged as I settled back next to my friend, feeling a bit guilty. “Maybe. But I don’t
think I will. You guys are going to Shadow Lake, and I don’t see the point in me going. I’d
rather not get in the way of you having fun in the water.”

Ruby nudged me. “Aren’t you afraid I’ll find a new boyfriend who will whisk me off my
feet for a thrilling summer romance?” My shoulders hunched with embarrassment, and I stared at
my ice cream. Ruby and I had been friends ever since Kindergarten, when she’d chided a student
for trying to touch my stitches after my accident in the creek. However, after I had asked her to
the end-of-the-year dance this past year, we had decided to start officially dating. We were
willing to take things as they came and not get too serious, but my mind froze as I considered the
thought of losing her so quickly. “You wouldn’t do that.”

The brunette smirked and pointed her ice cream cone at me animatedly, splattering
droplets of melted chocolate on my face. “Try me.”

I yelped, wiping the splatter before it dried and stuck to my face, and Ruby laughed.
“Only kidding, you big softie.” She thumped her shoulder against mine fondly, and our sweaty
arms stuck together for a moment. I blushed self-consciously. Despite being three years younger,
I was four inches taller and nearly twenty pounds heavier than Rowan. “I know,” I smiled at her
after a few more licks. “Only I would be able to find someone else that quickly.” Ruby cackled at
my delayed retort, and we settled into comfortable silence as we finished our ice cream before
parting ways. As I made my way home, I thought harder about the suggestion of going to
Shadow Lake. On one hand, it would seem like I was giving in to my brother and would surely
lead to him pressuring me to keep up his charade, but on the other hand the thrill of going
anywhere new was tempting. I privately adored our comfortable, small Northwestern town
despite joining in others’ complaints, but after years of exploring the same woods, the spark of
childish curiosity I’d always had when anticipating exploring somewhere new was enough to
make me ask my mother about it when she got home.

​Rowan and I’s mother Dawn had always worked to help our family pay the bills. Her
paychecks were what had allowed Rowan to pay for his raucous, rebuilt car alongside the money
he had already saved up by working at the same coffee and donut shop as she did. My brother’s
summer position had ended the previous week to give him more free time before his senior year
began, and I was unsurprised to find him absent from the house when I returned. I idly wondered
which of his girlfriends he was with as I started preparing dinner for when our mother arrived. It
was something I had only done alone twice: once for my mother’s birthday when my dad was
too sick to do it himself, and once when Rowan had been asked to make dinner (if “helping to
take care of your family will allow you to feel a closer bond” counted as being asked), and he
had instead bribed me to do it with the promise of paying for a high-end shirt, slacks, and tie for
the dance this past spring. He had made good on his deal, as he always did, and I appreciated
feeling included in the color-coordinated efforts of Ruby and her friends and their dates.

“Eli? Rowan?” My mother called as she came in the door, inhaling deeply. “Roger?” I
chuckled. “Just me, mom.” She came around the corner and offered her best attempt at a hug for
a son who was nearly a foot taller than her, and I breathed in the familiar, comforting smell of
bitter coffee and baked goods. “This looks great, Eli. What’s the occasion?” She narrowed her
eyes in a knowing but playful expression as she began stirring the pot of spaghetti while I
attempted to cut some frozen garlic bread into pieces. “Er-” my knife thwacked harshly against
the cutting board. I hesitated for only a moment before simply telling her the truth. “Actually, I
was hoping to go to Shadow Lake with Rowan.” My mother slowly turned towards me; her
expression darkened for a moment before becoming a more worried frown. “I’m not sure, Eli.
Rowan was able to go for a discounted price by offering to drive himself and some of the other
students.” I had thought about that, and Ruby had helped me come up with a good counterpoint.

“There’s also a discount if you send two kids. O-or at least” I stammered, realizing I had
interrupted her. “That’s what Ruby said.” My mother raised a curious eyebrow. “It’s still quite a
bit of money- “she trailed off, holding up a hand as I opened my mouth. “But it would be unfair
to allow Rowan to go and not also let you. I know you don’t ask for much.” I cheered and
hugged her again, more tightly this time. She reached and ruffled my hair, smiling. “Just promise
me you’ll be safe.”

​“Don’t worry mom,” Rowan said, coming up to join our hug by wrapping his arms
around the two of us as best as he could. “He’ll have me.” My mom yelped in surprise and
smacked Rowan lightly with the wooden spoon she had been using to stir. “Rowan James
Kingston! You are a sneak. You can finish stirring the pasta. I’m going to get changed out of my
uniform.” Rowan rubbed his head and pouted but didn’t complain, taking up her position
opposite me, nudging me with his elbow as he passed. “Way to go, Eli! I didn’t think you’d be
able to convince her so easily. I forgot Ruby was in the same group as Laura and Hannah.” I
nodded, exhaling a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding and returned to cutting. Despite my
fear of the water, anticipation buzzed in my mind like an incessant honeybee. I knew that despite
my grievances with him, Rowan’s words were true.

He’ll have me.

​The next two weeks seemed to pass by in a blur. Ruby was eager to make plans and filled
every minute we didn’t have a camp activity with shopping in the local stores, hiking the nearby
trails, and swimming in the lake. She had even made time for the ghost stories Rowan suggested.
The three of us, joined by Hannah and one of Rowan’s other friends, squished into Rowan’s car
on the day of our departure and began the five-hour drive to Shadow Lake. Once we arrived, we

were swiftly herded into our gender-separated rooms to unpack. Rowan tossed his bag on one of
the bottom bunks and flopped onto it with a yawn. “We should go see a movie tonight.” His idea
piqued my interest. I was eager to do something more interesting than giving myself a headache
while staring out of a car window with my eyes narrowed against the sun. Thinking over Ruby’s
packed schedule, however, I shook my head. “We have the opening service tonight after dinner.”
I replied. Rowan threw a pillow at me. “Don’t be like that! We can sneak out easily. It’s not like
there’ll be guards at the doors.”

I tossed the deflated pillow back at my brother. “Maybe, but I’m not getting kicked out of
camp on the first night because you had a stupid idea.”

“It’s not stupid!” Rowan glared at me, then dramatically brought a hand to his forehead.
“Laura and I wanted to spend some alone time together after being separated all day. I was just
inviting you out of the goodness of my heart,” He taunted. I snorted. “Right. Goodness. That’s
the word I think of when I think about going off alone with one of your girlfriends after being
with the other one all day.” Rowan rolled his eyes. “Are you coming or not?” I shrugged. “I
guess.” I wasn’t particularly interested in the opening ceremony, and I had a feeling Ruby
wouldn’t be hard to convince. I was right; she was similar to Rowan in that way. I only had to
dare her to break the rules and she immediately accepted the challenge. The four of us snuck out
one at a time as the lights went down in the main building where camp activities were held. The
students began flocking to the stage as a guitar began blaring worship hymns alongside drums
that pounded so loudly my heartbeat felt as if it had synchronized with the rhythm. Rowan left
first to get the car. I had decided to go last, so that I could slowly work up the courage to sneak
away. Ruby squeezed my hand and winked before dashing off next, then I saw Laura creep along
the shadows at the edges of the building. My mind was racing too much for me to come up with

a plan, and I was a little hard to miss, so I decided to simply walk out the front door. So long as I
was the only one noticed, I could easily say I just hadn’t been feeling good (which wasn’t a lie
with the headache pounding its way into my skull with every drumbeat).

I thought that I would have to make my way to our rental house, but Rowan had already
pulled up beside the makeshift building once I exited. Laura whooped once I was buckled, and I
couldn’t resist a small grin. I had never been much of a rule-breaker, but the escape had sent a
thrill through me, and I was glad I had agreed to Rowan’s plan. I idly watched the large, cape-
cod style homes pass by in my mirror, fighting back a yawn as my adrenaline ebbed. Ruby
leaned against my shoulder and I rested a hand on her leg as we traveled. My eyes drifted shut
until suddenly I felt the seat give out from underneath me. I tried to shout, but the wind took the
breath from my lungs as I watched myself phase through the car and shoot out the other side
before coming to a crashing halt in a ditch. Rowan landed hard on the opposite side of the road,
and I called out to him, managing to get up and lurch to the other side of the road. “Rowan! Are
you okay?!”

“Yeah,” I heard Rowan’s voice croak. “M’fine. What the hell was that?” I offered him a
hand and we looked farther down the road. Laura had managed to use the emergency brake to
slow the car safely to a halt. She and Ruby were already scrambling out of the car towards us,
and I was relieved that they looked to be unharmed. Rowan and I took a few steps to meet them,
but again found that we were unable to pass through an invisible barrier. Confused, I looked
around the area, and my gaze found the town limit sign only steps away.

We were trapped inside the town.

Ruby raced over to me, crossing the invisible boundary with ease, and hugged me tightly.
“What was that? Are you guys okay?” She looked me over and I followed her securitizing gaze.
Besides being caked in leaf-litter and dirt, I only felt sore. “I’m not sure.” I murmured, looking at
the town limit sign once again. “But I don’t think we can leave the town.”

​“What?” Rowan chimed in, unwrapping his arm from around Laura as she pressed into
his side. He kissed her head and gently told her to get the car, which was still across the town
line. His face turned serious once she was out of earshot, his voice raised in confusion. “How is
that possible? I’ve never even heard of this town. What’s the difference between us and you?” he
gestured to Ruby. I shrugged, and the oppressive, hot air exaggerated the silence. “Let’s try
asking around tomorrow,” Ruby suggested. “Someone has to know what this is about.” I was less
certain but was too bewildered to do anything but nod my head again. We clambered into the car
once Laura cautiously pulled up beside us. She drove us back to our rental home, peppering
Rowan with questions until she huffed and went silent at his evasive answers. Nearly every light
was on in the house as we drove up, and acoustic hymns drifted out of the main floor windows,
likely a continuation of the earlier worship. Rowan and I hurriedly bid the girls goodnight before
sneaking our way up to our room. I shuffled my way into the shower first and washed myself
until Rowan pounded on the door and demanded I let him have a turn. As I sprawled onto the top
bunk, the cheap box spring creaking with every movement, I sighed. Even without the bustling
of other teens around me, I was confident that I wouldn’t get any sleep that night. As I puzzled
over our situation, I came to another nerve-wracking question.

​What will happen to us when everyone leaves camp?

The next morning, after a few short bursts of sleep, I was watching the sun rise over the
lake from our window when I heard a knock on the door. I opened it to see Hannah. She was
clearly ready for the day, already dressed in a sleeveless white button-up shirt and jean shorts,
her blonde curls tidy. She was rapidly shifting a steaming cup of coffee between her hands,
which I presumed was for Rowan. The familiar tart smell invigorated me enough to start a
strained conversation.

“Nice morning out.”

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​Hannah nodded enthusiastically. “I was hoping to go to the lake to do devotions with
Rowan.” She peered over my shoulder. “He’s not up yet? You guys left the service early and I
didn’t see you for the rest of the evening.” I shook my head, deciding not to mention our
exploits. “I’m sure he’ll want to join you, though,” I added before her disappointed expression
could stick. She smiled. “Thank you, Elijah. See you at morning service!” She turned to let me
out of the doorway, and I hurried downstairs, hoping there was more coffee and creamer.

The windows hadn’t been closed the previous night, and everything felt damp as I sat
myself at one of the folding tables where boxes of cereal, muffins, and fruit were spread out. I
was munching on a blueberry muffin when Ruby shambled downstairs, her eyelids drooping.
She looked as tired as I felt and let out a sleepy groan as she dragged a chair in front of me and
placed her head on my chest. I smiled. “Morning, sunshine.” Ruby grunted, and I shifted
awkwardly to reach for an apple and handed it to her, rubbing her back with one hand and eating
a muffin with the other until I reluctantly got up to pour us two cups of coffee.

Once Ruby had perked up, she was eager to tell me about what she had discovered before
she went to sleep. “There are a few stores that open before our nine o’clock service, but I think

we should start by going to Callaghan’s Candy.” I raised an eyebrow and didn’t even need to
speak before she stuck out her tongue. “They do have some of the best saltwater taffy by the
lake, but also Elise Callaghan was one of the first people to write about not being able to leave.
Just a little blurb to check the spooky box for the Halloween edition of their monthly newsletter.
She claimed that no one in the entire town could get out. And get this- she disappeared a year
later.” I ruffled her hair. “I’m sorry I doubted you. That sounds like a good idea. Nice work.”
Ruby beamed, taking a sip of her overly doctored coffee before leaving to join a few of her
friends for devotions, promising she would meet me at the candy store in an hour.

With both Ruby and Rowan busy, I decided to make my way to one of the nearby trails. I
hoped that a walk through the woods would be comforting in its familiarity and wanted to map
out the exact limits of where Rowan and I could go. Laura was nestled on a soft chair in the main
living room off the kitchen, slowly spinning as she stared into a soggy bowl of cereal. She
noticed me heading for the front door and planted her combat boots on the ground with a sudden
thump. I froze, however her voice was curious as she asked, “Where are you off to, Eli?”

I relaxed and gestured to the door. “I was thinking of doing some hiking. Do you want to
come with me?” I felt bad that Rowan hadn’t answered any of her questions yesterday and was
hoping to explain things to her as best as I could. “Sure. It’s too nice of a day to be stuck in
here.” She gulped down the last of her cereal, then led the way out the door. “I’ve been coming
here since freshman year, and there’s this really nice trail with a flower garden at the end on the
far side of the lake. We might make it to the best benches before there’s a crowd. Come on!” I
scrambled after the red head, her boots sounding like a marching army as her footsteps echoed
along the empty street. The town was small, so it wasn’t long before we slowed onto a pebbly
trail beside the lake and started tracing the edge of the water. Having avoided water since I was a

child, I realized I had taken for granted the term ‘lake.’ The body of water before me was
massive. I could see the opposite shore, but it was so far away that I realized Laura must have
been exaggerating when she said the trail was all the way on the other side. She led the way
along the lakeside before turning sharply onto a new, dirt path; a worn wooden sign nearby
labeled it as Rose trail. I followed her inside, my shoulders relaxing as the sound of lapping
waves was replaced by the crunching of leaves.

“So, do you have any idea what happened last night?” Laura asked once the trail widened
enough that we could walk next to each other. “Not really,” I shrugged. “Ruby was telling me
about this rumor where the people born in this town can never leave. I wouldn’t have believed it,
but…” I trailed off. I didn’t think the events of the previous night needed repeating, and saying it
out loud would make the entire situation even more real. “We weren’t born here,” I added after a
moment, trying to fill the silence as Laura stared at me without reply. “Or at least if we were, our
parents lied about it.” I gestured at the trail sheepishly. “I was actually hoping to figure out how
far we could go.”

“If I remember right, this trail leads to a bike path that goes all the way to the next town,”
Laura informed me. “But that’s miles away. The town itself is small, but there are a lot of nearby
vacation houses, so it goes on for a while.” I sighed in disappointment, but it was tempered as we
emerged into a clearing.

The chirping of birds I could hear in the distance as we hiked seemed to suddenly grow
louder. An indignant blue jay spotted Laura and I and took to the sky, alerting more well hidden
birds who raced for the trees with frantic flaps of their wings. There were four flower beds
spaced evenly at the edges of the clearing, and each one had a bench beside it.

Laura strode intently towards the far-left bench, and the shadowed expression she wore,
reminding me so much of my mother, compelled me to sit beside her. “What is it?” I demanded
in a sharper tone than I intended. I realized guiltily that I was growing more resentful that my
mother had known something about this place yet hadn’t told us. “Sorry,” I said quickly, hoping
I hadn’t upset her. She glanced at me coolly, then shrugged. “I met this girl here last summer
from another youth group. We were both on our schools’ volleyball teams, so we had a lot in
common. She gave me her number and I tried texting her a few times.” She looked up at the pale
sky and smiled wryly. “I remember being so pissed that she wouldn’t respond to me. I ended up
looking for her on social media just to call her an entitled bitch and found out the reason she
hadn’t replied was because she had disappeared. She hadn’t even made it home.” She pointed to
a pristine white tulip in the neat flower bed beside us, and I noticed for the first time that each
one had a small plaque set into the ground in front of it. The one Laura was pointing to read
Leah Green. “I hadn’t even thought about it while I was here. I just assumed she was busy with
her group’s activities. Everyone was.” Her admission baffled me. This was the first time I had
heard of someone going missing who didn’t originally live in Shadow Lake. Confusion turned to
shock as I scanned the other names and recognized one.

Kingston.

There was no first name, and based on the plaque’s weathering I assumed this person had
been dead for a long time. Someone related to Rowan and me.

​As soon as I pointed the headstone out to Laura, she and I hustled back down the trail,
splitting off as I scrambled to meet with Ruby on time and she went to find Rowan. I was eager
to relay this new information to my girlfriend, even if it only added to the mystery of the curse.

“That’s going to make this harder,” Ruby observed as walked down Main Street, which
had grown more active in the past hour as other students rushed to swim or look at the local
stores before the day began. “We’ll have to find a way for you and Rowan to leave before the
end of camp, and we’ll have to make sure that no one disappears while we’re here.” I agreed,
and she went on. “For now, let’s focus on the people who have disappeared. Elise is probably
linked to all of this, but there’s only one way to find out.” She flounced the door of Callaghan’s
Candy open to emphasize her point. I smiled and followed her inside, ducking to avoid the
tinkling bell that announced our arrival.

Ruby was immediately distracted by a floor-to-ceiling display of colorful saltwater taffy.
I left her to search and meandered towards the front counter, eyeing the enticing smelling
chocolates. A man around my mothers age, whose name tag labeled him as David, stood behind
the register, smiling warmly. “Hello sir,” he greeted me in a tired tone that didn’t match his
expression. “How can I help you today? Is there something you need help getting down?” There
was an awkward pause as he realized his question didn’t make sense. I shook my head. “No.” I
weighed immediately telling him the truth or waiting for Ruby, deciding on the former as the
man’s expression fell suspiciously. I began diving into the events of the previous night. “My
girlfriend found an article written by Elise Callaghan about the same thing. D-did you know
her?” I finished, remembering that she had disappeared not long after she had written the article.
The man silently glared between Ruby and I, noted that the brunette was enthusiastically filling a
two-pound bag to the brim with taffy, then turned back to me.

“Elise was my sister.”

I exhaled gratefully as he continued, but his tone betrayed annoyance. “You already
know she was telling the truth. What else do you want?” I considered that. He had a point that
we had already experienced the curse first-hand. “How did Elise disappear?” I mumbled
indecisively, worried that if I asked the wrong thing the man would shut down. We didn’t have
much information about the disappearances, but I assumed the town had a reason for thinking
they were connected. “I was actually with her,” David replied quietly. “Elise wanted to go out
for a swim in the middle of the night, and I didn’t want her to go alone. We made our way to the
lake, and as I ran towards one of the docks to jump in, I watched her walk in at the shoreline. But
as soon as she got in the water, she” his breath hitched. “She vanished.”

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“Do you know if that happened to the others?” I jumped as I noticed Ruby beside me for
the first time. The man nodded. “Only two people had gone missing before Elise, but their
families said the same: they wanted to go to the lake, and then vanished. There were only three
men to go missing in seventeen years. Two of them were my friends from high-school, and the
other was the old pastor of the church in town.” He shifted uncomfortably. “The camp was
founded about five years ago, though, and ever since then no one from town has gone missing.”

My eyes widened in indignation. “Then someone figured why it was happening, if people
from the town stopped disappearing? But why would they put innocent kids in danger?!”

“Have police searched the lake for bodies?” Ruby pressed eagerly. “Of course.” David
snapped. “But there’s never any sign of them.” He seemed to deflate after this, then shrugged.
“Now they don’t even bother searching when someone disappears on the 20th of July.” Ruby’s
eyes gleamed. She plopped her full bag of taffy on the counter, paid, then dashed out the door. I
hurriedly thanked the man and followed after her. Once I was outside, I turned in the opposite

direction of where she was headed. “I’m going to go get Rowan,” I called to Ruby. “Laura went
looking for him, but I think he and Hannah are still at the lake doing devotions.”

“What?!” Ruby replied incredulously, racing to my side. “Why didn’t you tell me that
earlier?” I frowned, perplexed. “Why does it matter?”

“Because we might miss seeing Rowan’s relationships come crashing down in real-
time!” She exclaimed, already dashing past me. “Hurry up! Maybe we can watch Laura and
Hannah throw him into the lake.” Her deduction startled me into motion. As much as I disliked
Rowan’s two-timing, I felt a bit guilty for not preventing Laura from finding him and Hannah
together. “Laura’s going to be upset,” I mumbled, as Ruby and I returned to the lakeside. “She’ll
feel better in the end, knowing the truth,” Ruby reasoned. “Wouldn’t you want to know if I was
dating someone else without telling you? Even if we were happy?” I agreed that I would, and we
continued jogging in silence until Ruby suddenly stopped. I caught up to her a few moments
later, gasping. “What is it?” I rasped. Ruby kneeled on the ground and picked up a worn, heart-
shaped charm. The letter R was emblazoned on one side. “Look! It’s so pretty!” She exclaimed.
“And it has my initial on it. It must be destiny.” I chuckled. “Maybe. Good eye,” I praised her,
and Ruby tucked the charm into her pocket before pelting off again.

But we were too late.

Hannah was a blur in the distance by the time we arrived at the long bridge where she and
Rowan had been, in the opposite direction from Rose Trail. The partially rotted planks lead out
into the lake, and a small gazebo stood at the end. Laura was screaming at Rowan at the entrance
of the gazebo, a flurry of swears that had no real meaning at this point. Rowan had his back
turned to the red head, staring dejectedly out at the waves, unable to leave.

Ruby went to intercept Laura, and once she had steered her away I was able to stand at
Rowan’s side. “I’m sorry,” I said, apologizing both for what had just occurred and the small part
I had played, though I didn’t explain that to him. Rowan was good at heart, I knew. He had
certainly gotten over his head and made assumptions about the status of his relationships that I
wouldn’t have made, but I knew he cared for both girls and hadn’t meant to hurt them. Rowan
shrugged. “It’s my own damn fault. At least it’s over now.” I nodded. “I think it’s for the best.
You won’t make the same mistake again.” He nodded with a snort of contempt at the
obviousness of that remark. I smiled, patting his shoulder before turning around. “Come on,
before this rickety bridge makes me sick.”

The day dragged on, filled mostly with sanctioned camp activities. We were separated
into groups of four by last name, so Rowan and I were in the same group. He pulled me aside as
we made our way to the gym, where he was going to play in the first round of a basketball
tournament. Eager to distract himself from what had happened earlier, he pressed me for what
Ruby and I had discovered about the curse. Once I explained everything, however, he appeared
as bewildered as was. “So, we’re probably the kids of someone from the town. It has to be mom,
don’t you think?” I asked. The weight of knowing our mother was lying to us for some reason
kept me from saying more. “We’ve never met mom’s parents,” Rowan agreed. “But why would
she send us here if she knew we would be cursed?”

I scuffed the pebble strewn earth. “Do you think she doesn’t want us anymore?” Rowan
frowned. “Not a chance. Don’t be an idiot, Elijah.” I flinched. Like my mother, Rowan only
called me Elijah when he was upset. I looked up to see doubt in his gaze, and knew he was as
worried as I was that we had been forcefully cut out of our parents’ lives. We stared at each other

for a long moment, then Rowan looked away. “She probably just didn’t know,” he grumbled. I
nudged his foot lightly with my own.

“Probably.”

Without another word my brother turned towards the gym, the promise of competition
too much for him to ignore. I hoped that it would help him get his mind off our troubles. I on the
other hand turned towards our house. I hoped a nap would put me in a better mood.

I entered our rental house, the blasting air conditioning a welcome relief after the stifling
heat outside. The camp only provided us with dinner, so I made myself a sandwich and sprawled
onto one of the old leather couches, cracks in the exterior poking into my skin. I took my phone
out of my pocket to scroll through social media, but redirected my swipe to the photos app
instead after staring at a picture of Ruby and I that I’d set as my background. I searched for a
picture of my family, subconsciously hoping to find the reason my mother had allowed us to
come here behind her stagnant eyes. Instead I was comforted by pictures of Rowan and I
throughout the years: standing mortified together as my mother took our picture for the first day
of school, Rowan posing proudly in a varsity baseball uniform his freshman year, while I
sheepishly held up my first award for a creative writing contest. Lulled by memories, I wandered
upstairs and settled into a dreamless sleep.

I woke up a few hours later to the sound of polite but insistent rapping on the door. The
sound was familiar; it was Hannah again. I opened the door after checking for my brother,
rubbing my eyes groggily. “Rowan’s not here-“ I said instinctively, too bleary from sleep to
remember that Hannah wouldn’t want to see him. But Hannah hadn’t heard me. “Have you seen
Ruby?” She asked anxiously. “She didn’t come back for dinner.” Adrenaline woke me up in an

instant. “No. I’ve been asleep for-“ I glanced outside and cursed. The sun was a scarlet line
against the horizon.“A while.” Hannah gave me a reassuring smile that didn’t reach her eyes.
“That’s alright. She was part of my group, but she left us after the last activity-”

“-She said she was going for a swim.”

Credit: BexLapis

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