Read Part 1 here
I searched for Ruby for three days straight.
It had started to feel claustrophobic, staring at the world outside of Shadow Lake but
knowing I couldn’t leave. I continuously prayed that somehow, Ruby had escaped the barrier and
whatever doom awaited everyone who came to this town.
I was awoken on the fourth day of the search not by the sun, but by a buzzing from my
phone. My heartbeat sped up and I groped for it hopefully, my eyes still closed. When I finally
managed to yank the device free from its charger and put the screen in front of my face, I paused
before opening my eyes and checking the notification. In the brief respite, I could believe that the
message was from Ruby, finally replying to all of my unanswered messages. Another part of me
was certain that it was Rowan, miraculously getting up early and starting the search. In this
blissful moment, he had found her. Tears started to fill my eyes until finally I had to blink and
break the illusion.
Event: Rowan Kingston’s Birthday. July 20 th . Place: Home.
I threw my phone at the end of my bed irritably, subconsciously ensuring it would only
hit the soft blanket that I had kicked to the end of the bed during the night. I thumped back down
onto the flat pillow, wishing I could restart the day. I wanted Ruby to barge in and chastise
Rowan and I for skipping out on so many camp activities for a prank, throwing away her perfect
schedule for a fruitless search. I wanted to actually eat a meal and not just the countless protein
bars I smuggled in my backpack every day before I left. As I laid face-down on my bed,
brooding and trying to decide where to go to make sure I retread my own steps as little as
possible, a thought struck me. David, the disgruntled worker of Callaghan’s Candy, had said
something about today.
“Now they don’t even search when people go missing on the 20 th of July.”
I jolted upright, then swore as I smacked my head against the ceiling of the room. My
mind was easily distracted from the pain by my racing thoughts. Rowan’s birthday was the same
day someone was meant to go missing. After seeing the gravestone labeled Kingston with Laura,
I had a feeling that it wasn’t a coincidence. The only thing I didn’t understand was why Ruby
had disappeared before the day someone was supposed to. What was different about her than the
others? I dropped to the floor, the thud waking Rowan who, predictably, had not started the
search early as I’d dreamed. “Where are we looking today?” He mumbled. With his reason for
being here gone, my brother had joined me every day of the search. I felt a little guilty for being
irritated at him, especially on his birthday. Rowan had been the one who had spoken with the
Youth Group Pastor leading the trip while I was grieving in our room and had convinced him to
let us skip camp activities and search for Ruby so long as we didn’t get into trouble. I relaxed my
fists, which were balled with a tense determination. “I’m going to Callaghan’s Candy today. I
want to talk with one of the workers there. What do you want for your birthday?”
“You remembered! I’m flattered.” He brought a hand to his chest with palpably fake
gratitude. I rolled my eyes. “My phone told me.” Rowan laughed. “What can I say? I’m so
charming I even have robotic admirers.” I could tell he was trying to cheer me up, and while I
appreciated it, it made me worry he was attempting to hide how he was really doing. He couldn’t
leave Shadow Lake, either. He must feel as trapped and scared as I was. “Right. Well, the store
doesn’t open for a little while, so I’m going to have breakfast.” An actual meal sounded amazing,
and I was too distracted by my own hunger to realize Laura had followed me down the stairs
before she spoke.
“I want to help.”
I jumped and turned around. Laura’s long red hair was tied back in a tight bun, and the
normal summer attire she had been wearing was replaced with knee-length brown boots and a
fitted raincoat. She was clearly not interested in what I thought about her joining in our search,
and I felt a stab of indignation that it had taken her so long to want to help. “Conscious get the
better of you?” I snapped.
“Don’t be an ass,” she retorted, glaring at me for a moment before taking a deep breath.
“I’ve known Ruby for a long time as a part of this group. We played together in children’s
church before she ever met you.” I had no idea when kids started children’s church, so I took her
at her word and relaxed my shoulders. “Thank you,” I replied. “I’m sorry for what I said. I know
you and Rowan-“ She held up her hand. “It’s fine. You’re right that I was being petty. I
should’ve helped from the start but I just… couldn’t.” I nodded in understanding, and together
we descended the rest of the staircase. The spread of pre-packaged donuts and muffins had
dwindled as the week wore on, so in order to get a full meal we had to cook it ourselves. I had
very little experience in the kitchen and was grateful when Laura placed a pan on the stove and
began lightly smearing butter across it. I grabbed the eggs from the fridge and cracked one in.
Doing this reminded me of assisting my mother in the kitchen when I was young, and I felt a
rock fall in my stomach as I imagined her sick with worry when the Youth Pastor told her about
Ruby. I hadn’t called her since that first night when Rowan and I were unable to leave Shadow
Lake. We had been consumed with our investigation the past few days, and before that I was
unwilling to hear her lie to my face and say that she hadn’t tried to send us here to get rid of us.
“So where are you searching today?” Laura asked, cutting through the awkward silence
that had developed as I’d thought. Once I explained what I had discovered, she scoffed teasingly.
“Some detective. You really didn’t realize it was the same day before?” I shook my head,
embarrassed. I knew Rowan’s birthday, of course, but the event had taken on a life of its own,
and the actual date had become secondary to celebrating my brother, which didn’t always happen
on his birthday. “I got him a game for his birthday, but I’m not giving it to him now,” Laura
asserted bitterly. “I’ll keep it for myself and just play co-op with Ruby.” Her confidence that we
would find her made me smile for the first time in days, hope rising in my chest like the dawn
After breakfast, Rowan and I headed to Callaghan’s Candy while Laura searched outside
the town, riding her bike from Rose Trail to the neighboring town of Belview. As the
overwhelming odor of chocolate and taffy drifted into my nostrils, I glanced hopefully at the
counter for David. Instead, looming over the counter with the authority of a military general, was
an old man, his scowl contrasting with the bright pink and purple smock that all employees wore.
“G-Good afternoon sir,” I stammered as the man marched over to us and looked us up
and down. Rowan subconsciously shifted his arm as he was examined, hiding the long scar he’d
gotten a few years ago from cutting his arm on a basketball hoop. “You boys here for the camp?”
The man asked stiffly.
“Yes, sir!” Rowan chimed in cheerfully, rolling back his shoulders and casually turning
to look at the wall of taffy. “My brother here told me that you sell the best candy by the lake, and
I wanted to see for myself.” I was grateful that Rowan had spoken for me, his movement
breaking the confining feeling of the old man’s gaze.
But the man was unimpressed. “What’re your names?”
This I could answer. “I’m Elijah, and that’s Rowan.” I replied, leaning against a candy
counter so I didn’t look as intimidating. “You two are Kingston’s, aren’t you?” The old man’s
voice was low and raspy, and his hand began to shake. I nodded nervously, glancing at his
nametag. It read Earl Newmaker. So, he’s not related to us… I thought, only to shout as my arm
was pulled in a firm, shaking grip. In an instant Rowan was there, shoving his way in between us
and forcing Earl to let me go. “Don’t touch my brother, asshole!” He may not have been as tall
as me, but he was still taller than the old man, and he was muscular from the multiple sports he
played, his shoulders broad and defined as he set them back. “Don’t bother Rowan,” I muttered
once I was upright again. ”Ruby isn’t here, and neither is David. Let’s just get out of here.”
Rowan turned to me with an indignant expression, opening his mouth to say more, but Earl beat
him to it. “Your brother’s right, you little bastard. Get out of my shop and don’t come back!
You’re a curse on this town and I won’t stand for it here!” Rowan snorted, snatched a bag of
chocolate-covered almonds, and stormed out the door. I reached for my wallet to pay, but the old
man shoved me out the door after my brother, and I didn’t look back.
I could hear Rowan smacking loudly on the thick chocolate exterior of an almond before
I fully caught up to him. “Well, that proves one thing,” I began once as we reached the lakeshore,
staying as far back as possible while Rowan took off his sandals and stepped in. “This curse is
definitely connected to us.”
“Yeah…” Rowan grunted, his stomping making a cacophony of splashing. “I tried to call
mom, but she hasn’t answered. Not that she’d be any help, considering she has never told us any
of this.” I mumbled agreement, then glanced farther down the lakeshore. “I’m going to head for
Rose Trail. Maybe Laura will be back soon, and she’ll be able to point us in the right direction.”
Rowan bid me good luck, and I quickly made my way away from the endless water and onto the
familiar forested trail. As I returned to the garden, I looked over each plaque carefully, deciding
to google information about each of them as I waited. There were short missing person articles
on each of the victims posted online, except for the victim related to Rowan and me. I decided to
do a search of the local paper for anything related to other missing people the year before the
disappearances began. I inhaled sharply when I saw the first headline. Accompanying it was a
photo of a missing man, sitting next to a woman who was unmistakably my mother, a large
cardigan nearly concealing a noticeable baby bump.
Engagement party ends in tragedy.
The engagement party for Dawn Louise Kingston and Bartholomew (Barry) James
Newmaker ended in tragedy today when Barry drowned in the lake after being submerged in the
below freezing water. This prank was a tradition that had been implemented by students at the
University in Belview. Barry is the son of the local pastor, Matthew Newmaker. Kingston and
Newmaker were set to get married later this year. Kingston gave us this statement earlier today.
“Barry was my whole world. Without him, I don’t know what I’ll do.”
I reached numbly for the nearest bench, sinking onto the dirty surface. Things were
slowly starting to fall into place. My surroundings blurring around me, I shot my way out of the
clearing and down the trail, stumbling over roots the same way I had as a child. When I finally
made my way to the shore, I screamed Rowan’s name.
But my half-brother had vanished.
Unable to bring myself to touch the water, I raced along the shore, calling frantically for
Rowan. My throat began to burn, and as time dragged on, I lost the fragile, naive hope I’d had
that Rowan was just playing a trick on me. I slumped to the ground, numbly scanning the lake.
The sun was high in the sky by now, and a thin hum from the many bugs overwhelmed the
serene rhythm of the waves. Sweat coated my back after my run, cooling me somewhat, though I
could feel my face blister with what would surely be a harsh sunburn. Tears stung the most
affected areas as I began to cry, which slowly developed into sobs. I sat up and hid my face
against my knees, letting despair consume me. A few moments later, however, I was startled to
feel a hand resting on my shoulder.
It was Laura.
I opened my mouth to respond but froze as I heard shouting behind us and turned to see
Earl blocking our path, pointing a gun straight at me.
Laura and I obeyed, holding our hands up. “What the hell is going on?” She demanded
again. I swallowed, letting saliva soothe my hoarse throat so I could be heard. “They killed
Rowan’s dad. His real dad. They drowned him in the lake when they found out my mom was
pregnant with Rowan.” My gaze snapped to Earl’s. “Isn’t that right?”
“I didn’t kill him!” The old man wheezed. “I thought they were just going to scare him
into leaving town and never coming back. I couldn’t have him disgracing our family’s name
here. That woman was a low-born-”
I cut him off. “Don’t you dare talk about my mother,” I choked out. I glanced at Laura.
“He died, and that’s what caused all of this to happen. It’s cursed the town.”
“Does that mean we can reverse it somehow? By rectifying what’s happened?” Laura
asked. I was impressed she managed to remain so calm in such a tense situation.
“We’ll get the lake dried up one day,” Earl asserted. “Then no more innocent people will
have to suffer because of what those two did!”
“You allow innocent people to disappear every year because of a curse that you created!”
I exploded. I thought of Rowan and Ruby, two of the people I loved most in this world, and how
they were lost to me forever. My fist curled in rage. “I don’t care if this whole town burns to the
ground. Everyone who hurt my family deserves to rot here.”
“I won’t let that happen.” Earl replied coolly, then pulled the trigger.
An explosion of pain hit my right shoulder. I tried to yell with pain but could only
manage a hoarse squeak as I took a terrified step back, feeling my legs begin to buckle beneath
me as I fell into the water.
And kept falling.
Just as I’d accepted that I was fated to die the way I’d been so afraid of since my fall into
the creek, I crashed onto soft, mossy ground, and felt the breath pushed roughly out of my body.
Instinctively I gasped, and was startled to feel air filling my lungs instead of water. I groaned and
blinked open my eyes but could see only shadows. As I studied the everchanging darkness
through spots in my vision, I came to the realization that my shoulder was not bleeding or
throbbing with pain anymore. Pressing back frantic thoughts about what that meant, I rose to my
feet and took one uncertain step forward at a time, listening for signs of life. But I heard nothing
except the sound of my own shuffling feet and a soft, whirring breeze. I had nearly convinced
myself that I was roaming around in a circle when my foot hit something solid. Jumping back, I
sighed with relief as I made out the shape of a moss-cushioned boulder and settled onto it.
Taking slow gulps of the musty air, I was considering what my next move should be when a soft
growl pierced the air.
A growl that was getting closer.
Panic froze me to the boulder, and I could do nothing as the growl turned into a snuffling
sound. Trembling, I slowly began to peel my legs out from underneath me, setting one foot
cautiously on the ground. As soon as I did, my sneaker squeaked, and the snuffling abruptly
stopped. In a heartbeat a loud snarling exploded from behind me, and canine jaws clamped
around my ankle. I screamed as teeth sank into my flesh, and kicked out with my other leg. It
thumped against something solid, and I immediately kicked again, but it didn’t appear to phase
my assailant. I frantically jerked my aching leg in an attempt to get it free of the creature, and
with a tear I was free. I bolted upright and limped forward as fast as I could, hearing the creature
howl. A dozen howls responded from all directions, and foreboding filled my chest. The creature
was hard on my trail, and it didn’t take long for it to catch up. It clamped its jaws down hard on
my injured ankle again, and I toppled to the ground as it began to drag me away.
Despair began to overwhelm me, and I fell limp. It all felt like too much. My brother and
girlfriend had vanished somewhere in this horrible place, my mother had lied about who
Rowan’s father was, and I was trapped inside a town that hated me, resulting in me being shot.
Now I was being dragged away by a shadowy creature, and was struggling to feel any sense of
optimism. I listened as the distant howls drew closer to my attacker’s location, then gasped in
shock. The cacophony had nearly drowned out the sound of a human voice. An achingly familiar
voice. Hope filled me, and I shouted with joy
The voice went quiet, then I heard the thundering of fast-approaching footsteps before
Rowan crashed into the creature, mounting it and jamming his fingers into its eyes. The shadowy
form writhed with a pained croon, then began contorting from its original canine shape into a
formless swirl before streaking away. Rowan offered me a hand, grinning. “Eli! Damn it’s good
to see you.”
I laughed, feeling a bit manic. Unyielding tears fell for the second time that day as I took
my brother’s hand and scrambled up. “It’s good to see you too, Rowan. I thought I would never
see you again.” I hugged my brother tightly, then Rowan abruptly pushed me forward as we
heard a chorus of angry snarls from nearby. The creature had found its pack.
We ran for what felt like ages, until the feral sounds of animals on the hunt faded. I
panted, collapsing to the ground. My leg was in agony, but adrenaline had kept me from noticing
as much. I was grateful my voice seemed to have healed here as well as I turned to Rowan. “I
still can’t believe it’s you.” I wheezed. “What is this place? What happened to you?”
“Hell if I know.” Rowan sighed and sat at my side with a shrug. “I think I went through
some sort of portal once I touched the water. I’ve been trying to find my way back to it for hours,
but I can’t make heads or tails of this place.” He paused, then blinked at me, looking concerned.
“Wait, what happened to you? How did you get through the portal? I would have bet my life you
wouldn’t have gone into the lake.” As succinctly as I could, I explained everything I had learned
up until then: who Rowan’s true father was, how I had found out, and how Earl had shot me
while I was searching for him near the lake.
“I’m impressed little brother,” Rowan said, patting me on the back. “You figured that all
out just while I’ve been away?” I shrugged, embarrassed. “I just got lucky with my searches.” I
mumbled, glancing at him with concern. “I’m sorry about your dad, Rowan. I can take him to
your grave once we’re out of here.”
Rowan stared out into the unending darkness. “You don’t have to feel sorry for me. I had
a dad, and he was great. I do wish I had known my biological father, but-” his voice choked, and
I saw him blink away tears. “I can understand why mom did it. Things turned out better this way.
But I’m glad I know now. So thank you, Eli.” He smiled at me proudly, and I felt my shoulders
relax, the grief in my chest easing a little. I could only nod in reply to my brother’s words, not
wanting to speak and break down into tears for the third time, so Rowan continued. “I can’t
believe that bastard shot you, though. I’m gonna kick his ass when we’re out of here.” I
chuckled. “You’re going to kick your own grandfather’s ass?” Rowan smirked at me.
“Absolutely. No one messes with my little brother.”
I cleared my throat, attempting to quell the emotion from my voice. “Well for you to do
that, we’re gonna have to get out of here. Have you been able to figure out how this place
operates at all?” Rowan shook his head. “Not really. I’ve been searching for anything that looks
like the portal I came through but haven’t had any luck. I ran into one of those things not long
after I got here-” He gestured vaguely at the air, indicating the shadowy beasts. “But I’ve been
able to steer clear of them for the most part. I’m more worried about you. I don’t think our
bodies will drown in the lake, but you could be bleeding out.”
“I think I may have an idea-” I interrupted before Rowan began speculating. “I told Earl
that your father’s death had cursed the town, and Laura said that we may be able to stop it if we
make things right somehow.” Rowan patted his leg in a thoughtful rhythm. “Maybe. But we
can’t fix what happened all those years ago. ”
I shook my head adamantly. “There has to be a way. The curse was placed on the town
because of what they did, right? But innocent people have been targeted since then, not just those
involved in your dad’s death. Is it the water itself?” My thoughts drifted into aimless theories
before returning to more urgent matters. “I wish Ruby was with us. Have you seen her?” Rowan
shook his head. “No. I haven’t seen anyone else since I’ve been here. But I’m sure she’s here
somewhere, Eli. Don’t worry.” I nodded dejectedly. I agreed, but who knew how far she had
traveled in four days? As I mulled over our problems and the events that had led my brother and
I here, a thought struck me so powerfully that I stood up. “I think I’ve got it! Ruby has the key!”
Rowan frowned, confused. “How?”
“Ruby found a charm as we were walking along the lakeside. It had an ‘R,’ on it, and she
said it stood for Ruby, but I think it stood for Rowan.” I explained. “That’s what is keeping the
curse alive. Your dad must have been planning on giving it to mom as a present. It’s why Ruby
vanished before someone was supposed to. Then it went back into the water, and you went in the
lake on the right day. And I-” I paused, considering, then snapped my fingers. “I died, or came
close to death-” The realization took the excitement out of my discovery, and Rowan stood.
“Then I was right. We have to find Ruby and get you out of here before you die for real.”
I gulped and nodded, and we made our way into the shadows as quickly as my limp allowed.
Our shoes began to squelch as the moss dampened beneath us and became more
interspersed with swamp grasses and flowers, alongside the occasional tree. Humidity beaded
against my face and frizzed my short black hair into even wilder waves than usual, the edges
curling upright. My right pant leg was soaked as my injured leg dragged continually farther
behind me, but the distant sound of flowing water urged me onward.
A short while later we found the river I’d heard, and I began calling Ruby’s name. Rowan
shouted for her in the brief respite before I tried again, and we took turns yelling for her until we
heard a voice from somewhere up ahead.
Joy burst in my chest, and I lumbered forward on my unsteady legs until the river
widened into a small, still pond. Silhouetted in blackness in front of it was unmistakably Ruby.
I swept my arms around my girlfriend and kissed her, then jolted back as I realized I’d
done it without asking. Dizzy from whiplash, I was relieved when Ruby smiled and kissed me in
return, and afterwards I set her back down in front of me. “Ruby, I can’t believe we found you!
We were looking for you for days, and all that time you were here.” I sniffled and felt tears
coming, and looked away, embarrassed as I wiped my eyes.
“I can’t believe you found me, either!” Ruby replied, bouncing on her toes. “I knew you
would try to find me, but I didn’t think you would be able to get here.” Her eyes widened. “It
hasn’t already been an entire year, has it?” I shook my head. “No. There’s a lot to explain, but
first we need to get out of here. Do you have the charm you found by the lake?” Puzzled, Ruby
quickly searched her pockets and fished out the warped heart-shaped charm, an R emblazoned
onto the silvery metal. “You think this’ll get us out of here?” I nodded, but before I could say
more I heard Rowan whisper urgently.
“Guys, I think those monsters are coming.”
Dread took my breath away as I looked where Rowan was pointing. The shadows were
writhing with the shapeless forms of the beasts, and I swept Ruby behind me with an arm. “We
need to open that portal! Any ideas?” I called loud enough for Rowan to hear. “I have one!”
Ruby chirped. “You think this is what is making people disappear when they touch the water,
right?” I nodded, and she beamed mischievously.
“How about we try it again?”
I glanced at the stagnant pond behind her skeptically, but the growls of the beasts
silenced my doubts. I nodded. “Try it.”
Ruby didn’t hesitate: she burst from her spot towards the water, her sudden movement
surprising the shadowy creatures so that by the time they charged after her she had already tossed
the charm into the water. It landed with a soft plop, and she dove in after it.
She didn’t resurface.
Excitement thrumming through my veins, I started to dash after her, only to flinch as my
injured leg caused me to stumble. Not wasting a moment, Rowan began shouting to distract the
beasts, dashing around the pond in a large circle to give me time to escape. Gratefully I started
towards the water again, taking a calming breath before stepping in.
I didn’t go through.
Feeling cold, I took another slow step, then began splashing frantically. Rowan’s warning
echoed in my mind: We have to get you out of here before you die for real.
“Rowan!” I yelled with panic. “I can’t go through!”
Rowan’s rhythmic strides faltered for a moment, then he doubled back and made a break
for me. He stayed at the water’s edge, careful to not step in. “We’ll think of something! You
can’t be dead, Elijah.” He ran a hand frantically through his hair. I- I need you, little brother.
You’ve been there for me as long as I can remember.” His confident facade fracturing was so
painful to watch, I had to close my eyes. I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to Ruby- I
crushed that thought as soon as it came, then opened my eyes. The creatures were closing in on
Rowan. “You can do it, Rowan. “ I croaked, forcing a smile. “You’re invincible.”
I began to wade out of the water, then hugged my brother for the last time. “Please, go.
Be happy. Tell Ruby I love her. And tell mom I’m sorry.”
Unable to look at my brother’s pained features, I made my way quickly past him to
intercept the shadowy creatures. Behind me I heard the soft splash of water as Rowan went
through the portal, leaving me behind.
But for once, I didn’t feel afraid.
Rowan and Ruby would destroy the charm, and break the curse over Shadow Lake
forever. Rowan would be able to leave the town behind. All of the other innocent people would
be free now as well.
I hoped that one day they would find me again, and I could be free too.
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