Chapter 32: At the lake
His stomach began to tie in knots as Alex slowed his car in the parking lot of the picnic area next to the lake. “It’s huge,” he grumbled to the steering wheel. “I can’t believe this.” Gravel crunched underfoot as he stepped clear of the car. The dull thud of the door sent a few birds scattering from the trees. It was late in the season, with most of the leaves already off the trees. The air was crisp and the rest of the lot empty.
“All right, sparky,” he said to himself. “How are we going to get Ms. Gay’s attention?” Walking the small bike path along the shore, Alex tried to think what Edgar would do. “He wasn’t a smart guy, but he wouldn’t want you to be found easily,” he surmised, leaving the parking lot farther behind. “So I wouldn’t dump the body close to where people would gather.” He took a stutter step and then whipped around staring through the tall grass along the path to where it opened up on the concrete. “That assumes that lot was there in the thirties. Damn it.”
Torn between doubt and hope about the lot, he took a step forward, then back, then forward again. “Screw it,” he growled, continuing around the lake farther and farther from his car. An hour passed. Alex decided he was about halfway around the lake. “OK, so she shows up when someone is in trouble.” He wondered, “So…how do I get myself into trouble?” The laugh was loud, causing a scurry through the brush. Startled, he told himself it was only a rabbit or groundhog. The sun was getting higher, and even though there was still a nip to the air, Alex found he was sweating under his jacket. He was also aware he had nothing to drink. This was not a well-planned adventure. Again he was torn as to which direction to take. The distance back was assured from the path he had come; the journey ahead was unknown to him. Sweat beaded on his brow and rolled down his back. Alex was getting nervous. He could feel his feet beginning to hurt. Cursing himself for not being more active, he decided to continue forward.
Another hour found Alex sitting on a smooth boulder rubbing his calves and wishing for a cold drink. It had to be late afternoon now. In his hurry to get moving, he had left his phone in the car. His shirt stuck to his wet skin while his feet burned from use. As the day wore on, it was going to start to get colder. He was dehydrated, wet, tired, and soon to be very cold. “Now would be a good time to show up and get me some help!” he shouted.
“Oh, don’t be such a baby.”
With a yelp, Alex fell backward over the boulder. Crouching, he peered over the rock. In the long reeds at the edge of the lake, he could make out a face. “How long have you been watching me?” he demanded, straightening up. Dusting himself off, he turned back to the face. “Aren’t you cold in that water?” he asked through his annoyance.
“No, silly. Unlike you, I don’t get cold. And you are going to catch your death if you don’t dry out soon. It will be dark before too long.” As she spoke, she approached. Alex noticed the reeds didn’t move as she made no sound in the water. A look of disappointment clouded her features. “That usually gets a reaction.” She pouted.
“Well, Ms. Gay, I have been hanging out with Chloe, and she finds it fun to pop in and out of walls, so…”
Patricia’s face brightened as a smile spread across it. “You know who I am.” Then a look of dawning clouded her eyes. “Chloe? Chloe Miller? So she’s a ghost too? Oh, she was such a sweet girl. Her family was devastated when she went missing.” Suddenly her eyes hardened. A fire burned behind them, causing Alex to take a step back. “Edgar.” She spat as if the word was disgusting to taste. “He killed her, too, didn’t he?”
Alex stepped back over the boulder. “Yes,” he said sadly. “I am so sorry. Chloe was the first. Then a Brenda Rhodes or maybe you; I don’t know.”
Stricken, she shook her head while turning her back on him. Gliding a little way back to the water, she spoke. Alex had to strain to hear her. “No, I think I was before Brenda. Is she also a ghost?”
“Yes, a very angry one. She was killed in the woods behind Sterben. Her body is still there.” Alex shuffled uncomfortably, trying to think of the best way to ask. Finally, he decided straightforward was the best plan. “I’m sorry to ask, but how did you die?”
“You mean how did he kill me? Drowning, of course.” She was returning to the shore. “I left work one night. I was just walking home, and I got knocked on the head. I woke up next to Edgar, who was cross-eyed drunk.” She laughed, but instantly her face fell. “I tried to get away; I was still dizzy. I fell out of the truck.” As she recounted, she began to panic. “He must have noticed. He grabbed my legs. I kicked at him.” She looked wildly around. “I got up.” She was turning this way and that as if it was happening right then. “It was so dark. I could hear the frogs. I tried to run.” She grabbed at her head. “Then pain, pain in my head. I knew I was bleeding; it hurt so much. I couldn’t see straight. Everything was spinning.” She stared down at the water lapping almost silently on the shore. “I fell into the water. I tried to get up, but there was suddenly…there was so much weight on me.” She was looking past Alex now. “I couldn’t breathe. He was pushing me under the water.” Her voice was nothing more than a whisper. “I couldn’t breathe. I…I…” She was sobbing now. Alex stood dumbly by, not knowing what to do. “I died.” She rubbed at her wrist. “He took my bracelet. The one my grandmother had given me.”
“We think that is how he gains his power.” Even as the words left his lips, Alex still wondered what power that was. Edgar was dead and, by all accounts, couldn’t leave the house. He was trapped just as his victims were. Trapped where they died. Well, deals with the devil might not be as fulfilling as they appear, Alex thought. He realized Patricia was watching him again. “Sorry, just trying to understand something.”
“Like why a boy from an affluent family would kill people and steal things from the bodies.” Patricia laughed as she floated back and forth along the lake. “Might be they are just horrible people, no other reason.” She flew at him. Alex stumbled back. “Unless you believe the stories about his grandmother being a witch.” She laughed at the fear on his face. “No one believes in witches.”
“Well, you are a ghost.”
She considered him for a long moment. “All right, you have a point there,” she conceded.
“Here is the thing…” Alex began as she settled to the ground. “We think there is a stash of stuff in the house that Edgar took from his victims. I think if I can return those items, then you can…” He wasn’t sure what to say.
“Move on? Disappear? No longer exist?” She smiled at his discomfort. “It’s OK. I have no idea what will happen either. Before I died, I believed in heaven.” She was floating back over the bank, not looking at him. “All I know is that hell exists.” Kicking the water with a splash, Patricia hung her head. Ghostly tears got lost in the droplets of water running of her transparent face. Alex felt the pain. Wanting to comfort her but unable to reach her out in the water, he stood helpless on the shore.
“I am going to find a—” he began.
Patricia held up a hand to silence him. “You are sweet. If you find a way to release me, I thank you.” There followed a shuddering sigh. “For now you need to get someplace warm. Night is falling. The quickest way back to the launch is that way.”
Not sure what else to say, he thanked her. Her hand still outstretched, Patricia slowly sank back into the water. A frigid wind hurried Alex along the path. Rounding a clump of thick trees and brush, he saw the parking lot. He had been no more than a thousand feet from his car for the last half hour.
Shivering in the seat, Alex turned up the heater. His phone needed charging, and he had several missed calls from his father. Alex swore to himself, Edgar will not go unpunished, as he laid his phone on the bag of books on ghosts and the occult.