I’m not going go lie. We used to sneak out weekends during high school and find ways to drink booze. Quite a few of us would often make our way down to the Z. I was never much of a drinker. It doesn’t mix well with my “condition.” But I loved sneaking out with everyone else, and occasionally, I had my reasons for being petrified of Daddy when I got home.
Down the lake road, above the lake’s southwestern shore, is a small, run down cemetery on a site where a bunch of folks all died while traveling through one winter. They were probably a caravan of gold seekers, as it’s mostly headstones bearing names like “Girl” with epitaphs that just read “Died 1849” or whatever.
None of the souls buried there were locals, so there were never any flowers left, and it wasn’t well kept. Volunteers would occasionally clean the trash, but moss and vines and poison ivy overgrew the graves and the rusty wrought-iron fences, and the mist from the lake made it about as creepy as any cemetery you could ever imagine. We didn’t go there for the ambiance. We went there because it was a great place to drink booze.
The cemetery is up a little dirt side road, near where an old reservoir tower stands next to an inlet from the lake. The state troopers won’t drive up there at night. Details of the rumors vary, but they date back to a trooper in the 1950s who died when his car inexplicably ran off the highway and into a tree. Supposedly, it was after the car had been vandalized in the cemetery. The vandalism wasn’t anything that should have explained the crash. It was simply three words scratched into the paint on the trunk of the car, “You will die.”
A couple of months later, a disturbance was reported, and another car was dispatched to investigate. The officer radioed in that there was no sign of any disturbance, but that he saw something strange out by the water tower after which, contact was lost. The next morning, they found that he had slipped trying to work his way around the tower and been hung to death by his neck tie. It was judged to be an accident, but when they impounded his car the next morning, they found the same three words scratched into the paint, “You will die.”
As with most of the “history” of Great Falls, I had trouble finding any records to back up the stories, and what I did find seemed contrary. But everyone around knew some version of the rumor. The state troopers stayed away from our eerie little cemetery for the next fifty years, and so we did not.
One of Billy’s neighbors was a guy named Hector. Hector was a total dork, but he was old enough to buy up, and as is the case with dorks, he would sometimes buy up for us just so he could have someone to hang with. On this particular night, we pitched in for a big bottle of Jose Cuervo Especial. I would say tequila, but some would argue that it’s not. Hector bought it for us, and then seven of us packed into Jeff’s truck and drove out to the cemetery.
Most of us had a pretty good head on that night. Missy decided that we should all go for a walk up to the lake because “it was pretty”, and in our inebriated wisdom, we all agreed, all except Hector anyway. The inlet with the reservoir next to it is in the middle of the graveyard. We started up the road toward it. A mist was settled on the graveyard, hushing the sounds, and we all grew deathly quiet in our thoughts.
“This is a bad idea,” Hector interrupted the near silence of our footsteps. “Didn’t you guys ever hear of the lady of the lake?”
“You mean like from King Arthur?” Jessi asked.
“Not no King Arthur. The lady of the lake.” He pointed up ahead at the still waters of the inlet.
“Put on your hip-waders,” Jeff laughed. “It’s about to get deep.”
Hector stopped walking. “You guys are serious. You never heard of her?”
We all looked about exchanging glances and shaking heads.
“A long time ago, before there was a cemetery here…”
“Hold it, hold it!” Billy interrupted. “I need another swig for this shit.”
The bottle made its way around our circle while Hector continued on.
“There was an old pervert dude who came here from up north to hook with some friends of his. He fell in love with his friend’s little daughter and they were married. Ferris was his name…”
“Seriously?” Tyler asked. “Like in Ferris Tallow?”
“That part’s true,” I said, hating myself for supporting anything out of Hector’s mouth. “I just researched William Ferris for a report last year.”
“Sure that’s all on the public record,” Hector gratefully accepted my support. “But my grandfather says Ferris had secrets, and this place is haunted by the lady of the lake.”
I didn’t laugh with everyone else. I’d seen a ghost before when I was eight. She was nice, but some living people are nice too. Others slaughter innocent victims by thousands or even millions over crazed ideas. It became one of those nights when the booze seemed like a good idea.
We had already reached the overgrown fence marking the end of the graves where we could see the wooden water tower stood next to the calm water in the moonlit fog. The liquor burned my throat, the laughter dulled in my ears, and Hector pointed again.
“That’s where I saw her, right there. I think that’s maybe where she died.”
“She probably died laughing at one of your grandfather’s stories,” Billy joked.
Something splashed in the water more than a hundred yards away, probably just a frog. Even Billy stopped to listen.
“We should really turn back,” Hector said.
Up ahead to our left was a tree with a swing. A small pit was carved out underneath it by generations of dangling feet, presumably rapt in alcoholic abandon much like ours. I had sat in it many times before, and I ran away from the group to sit in it again. Jessi called out after me, but I didn’t stop until I reached the swing. I stopped and sat swinging, staring out over the lake, as the group followed slowly behind. I missed part of Hector’s story.
“…she came floating across the water, pointing at us… ‘You stole my baby! You will die!'” Hector’s voice rose over the creaking of the ropes.
“Who stole her baby?” cried Missy.
“We ran for our lives,” Hector went on. “We all jumped in Eddie’s car and drove off as fast as we could, but there she was, right in the rear window, digging her fingernails into the back of his car. Scariest fucking thing I ever saw. Her hands were reached out like she was gonna steal Ronnie right out of the back seat!”
“Who stole her baby, Hector?” Missy demanded.
It amused me how serious Hector looked. “The next morning, I thought it was all a dream, he finished. “It was so crazy! But then Eddie called me up on the phone, accusing me of scratching up his paint. I went over to his house and it was true. The paint on his car was all fucked up. I took a closer look and it said, ‘You will die,’ in the paint like she had knives for fingernails.”
Missy hit him. “I hate you, Hector! I want to go home.” She cuddled up close to Tyler.
“You’re so full of shit,” Jessi said. “And I suppose Eddie mysteriously ended up dead like those troopers?”
“It was William Ferris stole her baby,” I said aimlessly before he could answer.
At first, the creaking of the rope swing was the only sound breaking the silence. They all stared at me, but I just stared out at the lake. A blue image had floated across the water toward us, while Hector told his story. When it was close enough to see clearly, I could make out the shape of a young girl. I didn’t want to scream and run. I wanted to cry. Tears were streaming down her face like she’d been crying a hundred and fifty years. She didn’t want to hurt anyone, she wanted to find her baby.
“Shut up, Annie! You’re as bad as Hector!” Missy hissed.
“Where’d you come up with that shit, Pockets?” Jeff asked.
“She told me.” I said soberly.
“Who told you?” Jessi asked.
“She did.” I pointed at the translucent girl hovering not far from us now and staring at me sadly. I’m used to seeing things other people can’t see. I don’t usually say anything because I get laughed at a lot, but she seemed to be insisting that she didn’t scratch anyone’s paint.
Maybe it was just the power of suggestion, but this time, I wasn’t the only one who saw. Missy screamed.
“Holy shit!” Jeff said.
“God damn, I told you,” Hector yelled. “Run!”
They all fled. Jeff’s truck roared to life and suddenly I was alone. Well, mostly alone.
“Does that mean you’re real?” I asked.
She kept staring sadly at me without a word.
It’s hard to explain how I could feel her thoughts. I knew what had happened to her. William Ferris had found her alive when the party she traveled with had all met their deaths. He had kidnapped her and imprisoned her in a pit where he kept her as his sex slave. Eventually, she got pregnant, and when the little baby boy was born, Ferris had stolen him from her. He wrapped the boy in cloth, weighted it with stones and threw his own flesh and blood into the lake so his wife could never learn of it.
The young mother died in the pit of a broken heart. It was as if she knew, but couldn’t bear to accept it, and so she searched forever for her long lost child. She was so consumed with her sorrow, the rest of it was cloudy, but there was more. She had witnessed something shocking, something terribly evil. The souls buried in that cemetery had not died of natural causes. Something had killed them all, sparing only her.
She half-smiled at me and said something I couldn’t hear. Then she drifted away down to the lake to search again for her baby and finally disappeared.
I slid off the swing and walked slowly out of the cemetery. Chills were running down my spine and it felt as if every tiny hair on my whole body stood on end. I was overwhelmed by the presence of the evil that had once killed her family and their company. It lurked right on my heels, I could feel it breathing on me in the night, but somehow I would be safe as long as I didn’t see it. I gritted my teeth and pushed on. Each step grew more fearful than the last. By the time I reached the lake road, I was so delirious with fear, I didn’t know where I was anymore.
Then the sound of Jeff’s truck coming back for me brought me around. The headlights appeared and drove right past me.
“There she is,” Jessi’s voice came from the open window.
I turned to the sound of Jeff’s brakes and walked toward his truck. As I reached the back of it, I stopped and stared at the paint on his tail gate. No words were scratched there. It was then that I realized what she had been trying to tell me before she went back to her futile search.
© 2012 Anne Schilde