Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Amber Lake

Legend has it that Amber Lake is haunted. It is said that every year on the tenth night of the tenth month at precisely ten o'clock, a woman's mournful song can be heard wafting in the wind across the waters of the lake.

Bathed in the golden light of the Harvest Moon, the serene pool reflected mirror-like images of objects at its banks. The surface of the cold waters was disturbed near the edge of a small outcropping of rocks and small ringed wavelets gently rippled outward.
She withdrew her fingers which had grazed the glass-like surface. Her reflection was distorted for a moment by the undulations of the passing ripples that faded only a few feet away.

She gazed without shame upon her image, a painting upon the liquid medium, and inhaled deep the crisp autumn air. Her body, unencumbered by raiment seemed to glow as she basked in the lunar light.

If she was aware of the legend it didn't show in her demeanor. Innocent, and yet seductive, she stood proud and without pause dove headlong into the waters. She and her reflection merged as one. As her body disappeared beneath the surface, so too did her reflection upon it.

Her head emerged after several moments ten feet from the ledge where she had been resting before. She relaxed and allowed herself to drift afloat on her back. To an onlooker her bare form might have appeared as an exotic amber island with peaks and valleys awash in the moonlight.

The songs of crickets and the courtship calls of frogs were disturbed by a distant wail of sirens. The surrounding woods became suddenly still as if lifeless. Somewhere beyond the expanse of conifers fingers of light probed the undergrowth.

She tensed for a moment and then swam cautiously to the shore. Emerging from the water, she pulled herself onto the outcropping and tuned her senses to her surroundings. She shivered not from the cold air upon her wet nakedness, but from a foreboding sense of dread.
His desperation was evident from the perspiration that had soaked the prison-issue shirt. The cry of the sirens at his back only fueled his resolve to keep moving. His only chance was to disappear into the deep forested tract before dawn. He looked up and cursed at the full moon which loomed before him above the treetops.
The sirens meant only one thing. They had discovered his empty cell. He knew it was only a matter of time before the guards unleashed their relentless dogs. He had criss-crossed a small stream several times in an attempt to make his scent difficult to follow. He knew, however, that the ploy would confuse the dogs for only so long.

He paused at the edge of a steep embankment. Below he could make out a break in the trees. He was at first confused by what appeared to be two lunar orbs glowing in the night sky. As he descended toward the glen it became apparent that there was a large body of water beyond the trees and one of the moons was but a reflection of the other upon the water's surface.
She shook her head, her long dark hair flying about her neck and shoulders. The sheen of her wet tresses formed a kaleidoscope of several shades of yellows circling her head under the light of the golden moon.
Once he had reached the end of the grade he paused and looked about. Somehow the place where he stood seemed familiar. He wasn't sure how or when, but he had been to that place before.

He heard something beyond the trees in his path. It seemed to be coming from the clearing ahead. He inched forward. Strange, he thought, the sirens in the distance could no longer be heard. There was no baying of hounds. He brushed back a low hanging branch and peered cautiously at the dark body of water before him.
Her song had become caught in her throat and its flight on the autumn breeze ceased. It was a sad song, a song of love lost. She stood and looked around the lake's banks where the light of the moon was lost in the shadows of the trees. Standing with her legs wide apart and her arms stretched above her head she closed her eyes and smiled. Her provocative pose was one of complete surrender.

He was out there. He was so near. At long last he had come for her. They had vowed to meet there on Amber Lake. At that place they would share the most tender acts of love. Once they had merged their bodies and souls beneath the glow of the Harvest Moon, they would then run away together. She raised her hand and gazed upon the engagement ring he had given her.
Surely he was looking upon a goddess standing there naked in the moonlight. Forgotten for the moment was his plight. He seemed unaware of the cacophonous yelps of the approaching dogs. He moved at a slow and deliberate pace around the lake, maneuvering himself to a point behind the young lithe woman. As he emerged from the stand of trees he was driven by the primal lust burning within his loins.
It seemed so long since they'd made their vow. How long she had been waiting she didn't know. It no longer mattered for he was there. He was coming for her to fulfil their destinies. Soon they would be free.
He was upon her before she could turn to face him. He forced her to the ground. It had been ten years since he last been with a woman. There was no time for tenderness. Each thrust of his body met hers with brutal abandon. Oblivious to her cries and screams he tensed as he neared primal release. For a moment he studied her terrified face. She looked somewhat familiar, older perhaps, but yet familiar.

No emotion showed on his vicious countenance as he placed his hands around her neck. There was no hesitation as he began to press his thumbs against her windpipe. Her struggles were no match for the large man's brute strength. She slowly began to succumb. Her limbs relaxed in the throes of near death.

He looked upon his conquest, an evil sneer of confidence and satisfaction etched upon his haggard face. He had never known fear in his life, but he was not prepared for the deathly gaze that looked back at him. The angelic features of the woman were gone. The fair skin of her face was melting away to reveal a skeletal visage. Red embers seemed to be glowing in the empty sockets where the woman's blue eyes had been. Suddenly skinless hands and fingers were clutching at his throat. He screamed in utter terror.
The sheriff entered the clearing to see the escaped convict writhing on his back upon a rock outcropping at the edge of the lake. He had gone ahead when the dogs had lost the trail. He had heard the melancholy song that was said to be heard in those woods. He'd always thought it to be just an urban legend. He hurried to the lake when he'd heard the screams of the man.
He had avoided Amber Lake for all of the ten years since he'd last set foot there. The memories of the tragedy that had occurred there had been too much for him to forget. In many ways, he'd felt responsible. It was the burden of guilt within his heart that had kept him away.

Without warning as he edged closer, the man rolled from the rock into the waters of the lake. For a moment the man had disappeared beneath the surface. He had just reached the spot where the man had fallen when his head and arms erupted from the depths. His face was contorted in great fear. He screamed for help. It sounded like he'd cried out that "she" was holding onto his legs and pulling him under. He screamed once more before sinking below the surface. There was a churning of bubbles, probably the last of the air from his lungs escaping from the depths below.

Later the two men who had volunteered to enter the water in attempt to retrieve the body resurfaced with it in tow. They informed the sheriff that the man's boot laces had become entangled on a sunken tree limb. After the body had been taken away one the men approached the sheriff and dropped something into his hand. They'd found it on one of the small branches of the submerged limb.

The sheriff choked back a sob. It was an engagement ring. It was the ring he himself had given her ten years ago to the day. He had no tears to shed. He'd shed them long ago. The clouded memories cleared before his mind's eye and he was surrounded by some friends at the bar. He wanted to say goodbye to them before he met his sweetheart. They were going to elope that night. He had gotten drunk, too drunk and had passed out.

It was two hours before he'd finally made it to Amber Lake. Still drunk, it was he who had found her floating naked, face down in the lake. She had been raped and strangled. The monster who had committed the act had then tossed her body into the lake. The ring was not found, presumably it had sunk to the murky bottom of the lake.

The man had been captured the next day. He'd seemed only too proud to admit to the girl's rape and murder. Eventually he had been found guilty and sent to the penitentiary on a life sentence with no parole.

With a heavy heart the sheriff was aware of the irony that the man had escaped from prison on the tenth anniversary of the crime. It was even more ironic that he would die at the very rocky outcropping where he had killed the young woman. He wasn't a superstitious man and he had never believed in ghosts before that day.

He stooped near the water's edge and picked a single wild flower. He lowered his head in silent prayer and dropped the flower into the water. He was about to turn away when something caught his eye in the water. For a brief moment he could have sworn he'd seen her face. Her lips seem to stretch into a smile before the image disappeared as the ripples from the flower passed. He smiled in return and looked at the ring clasped in his hand. He nodded and tossed it into the water next to where the flower drifted.
She emerged from the cold waters and climbed onto the rock ourcropping. In the brilliance of the moon light she resumed her vigil. He'd found her lost ring. Sad no longer, a happy song passed through her lips and was borne on the wind into the night. He would come for her as he had promised.
Legend has it that the mournful songs of Amber Lake were heard no more after that night. There is one, however, who claims that a moon-lit woman now sings a cheerful melody. He goes there to listen every year on the tenth night of the tenth month at precisely ten o'clock.



Jack K. said...

Hale, it is always a joy to read your words. It is a pleasure to read works where the author has a wonderfully rich vocabulary and knows how to use it.

Kudos, my friend, kudos.

btw, thanks for signing onto my guest book.

Miss Cellania said...

Well, that was excellent!

Christina said...

Good story - thanks for the link!

Serena said...

That was a great story! Spooky as all get-out.

Steve said...

Another good read.