The letters carved into the heavily weathered, swinging wooden
sign mounted on a post by the packed earth driveway read HIGGINS HAVEN. The old lakeside vacation home was set in a grove of large oak trees that had been there long before the house was built. Their heavy branches hung low over the driveway. The weather-beaten fram house had an elevated porch and curtained windows. Unlike many of the homes in the area, it wasnít a Victorian or New England style, but sort of a bastardized amalgamation of the two.
In front of the porch, there was a large, packed earth parking
area where the drive curved around and ran over to the ancient barn, some thirty yards to the left and slightly to the reat of the house. There were bales of hay piled up in a penned-in area near the front of the barn and the window doors to the hayloft were open, displaying an old block and tackle for hoisting up bales.
About twenty-five yards to the right of the house was an old outhouse with a peaked roof and a traditional half-moon vent hole in the wooden
door--a relic of time before the house had been equipped with modern plumbing.
Past the outhouse and down a slight incline was the lakeshore where an
old wooden boat dock jutted out some twent feet over the water.
Chris turned into the entrance and drove over an ancient, loose-planked wooden bridge that spanned a dried-up streambed that curved around the
ďCheck it out!Ē yelled Andy as they turned into the driveway and
approached the house.
Chris pulled the van up in front of the porch and stopped.
They all jumped out an ran immediately down to the lake.
ďWhy donít we take our bags into the house first?Ē Chris shouted
after them, but like restless kids needing to release pent-up energy after a long car trip, they paid no attention to her. She shrugged and sighed.
ďChris! Come on down!Ē shouted Debbie from the dock.
Chris shook her head. ďYou go ahead,Ē she called to her.
ďIím going to take my bags in the house first and look aroundĒ
Behind her, inside the house, someone parted the curtains slightly and looked out.
Chris turned back toward the house and the figure in the window
disappeared. For a moment, she stood still, simply staring at the old place. It seemed like a long time. A very long time. Almost as if it had been another life. Then she took a deep breath, grabbed her duffel bag, and climbed the porch steps to the front door.
Her parents hadnít wanted her to come here, nor did they want
to come here anymore themselves. The kept talking about putting the old place on the market, but somehow they never got around to it, as if they simply didnít want to deal with anything that touched it. As if what had happened to her was their problem.
Well, it wasnít their problem, she thought bitterly.
It was hers. What had happened had happened to her, not to them. They didnít seem to understand that. She was the one who had to deal with it, one way or another. Avoiding it was not the answer. Your problems didnít disappear if you ignored them. The only way
that she could think of facing what had happened to her was to come back here and deal with it once and for all. Come back to Crystal Lake where the nightmare had begun.
She started to look for the keys to the front door and then noticed with surprise that the door was slightly ajar. She frowned. There
wasnít supposed to be anybody here.
ďHello?Ē she said uncertainly.
There was no response. Glancing over her shoulder toward
the lake where her friends were, she hesitantly tood hold of the doorknob and pushed open the door. It opened with a creak and she stepped inside.
With all the curtains drawn, the house was dark. Only the
faint gleams of sunlight penetrated through the gaps in the faded window curtains, sending thin shafts of light across the floor.
ďIs someone here?Ē she said nervously.
Suddenly she felt a hand grab her by the neck and yank her backward sharply. She gasped, opening her mouth to scream, but before she
could , she was pinned against the wall and felt herself being kissed passionately.
Opening her eyes wide, she broke the kiss, pulling back, and gave her ďattackerĒ
a hard shove.
ďRick!Ē she said, enormously relieved and yet at the same
time really angry at being scared like that. She hadnít expected to run into him here, at lease not this soon, but then she realized that he must have been working out in the barn, hauling in the hay, when the had driven up. Her father had obviously forgotten about stopping
the delivery and Rick was just being helpful, trying to get it in before it rotted. he probably didnít know that her family wasnít coming this summer, that they were probably never coming back again. She had never told him about what happened, and as a result, there was no way he could have known what coming back here again meant to her.
"Is it just my imagination or did it just get cold in here?" said Rick, sounding disappointed.
Rick was a tall, attractive, well-built twenty-three-year-old with short dark hair and an easy smile. He was dressed in a plaid work shirt and jeans and he leaned against the wall, watching Chris uncertainly, the puzzled expression on his face saying he didn't know what he had done wrong. She gave him an exasperated look and walked away from him, trying to collect herself.
"Did I do something wrong?" said Rick, coming toward her with a look of concern on his face.
She turned back to him with a sigh. "No. . . it's just being here again," she said, not sure how to make him understand. She really didn't want to get into it now. She wasn't ready for him. Not yet, it was too soon. "I know it's only been a year," she said, "but I feel like I've been away forever."
Her gaze went around the room. "It doesn't look like anything's changed, thought," she said sighing wristfully. "Even the paintings are still crooked."
She went over to the wall and straightened one of the inexpensive landscape paintings. Her father had bought them at a "starving artists" warehouse sale, thinking he had found a real bargain, and later had found out that the "starving artists" were starving in Korea, where they were being paid slave wages to turn out hundreds of copies of the same landscape scenes for export.
"You've certainly changed," said Rick, watching her, unable to understand her standoffishness. "Don't you even say hello anymore?"
"I'm sorry," Chris said, turned back to him. She forced a smile. "Hello, Rick. How are you?"
He smile uncertainly. "Well, that's a start."
He reached for her and bent down to kiss her once again, but she pulled back, retreating from him.
"Could you just slow down please?" she said. "There's a whole weekend ahead of us. Let me get to know you again. Let me get to know this place again."
"Okay," said Rick, with a grin. "But there's only just so many cold showers I can take."
Chris rolled her eyes. "Come outside and help me with the bags," she said.
Lighten up, Chris, she told herself. He doesn't understand. How could he? A year ago this time, they had been discovering something really special together. They were starting to get serious and talking about the future in a way she hadn't thought she'd be ready to discuss for a long time yet, and then her whole world caved in.
Rick didn't have a clue about what happened. At her family's request, it had been kept out of the papers and she had never told him, never bothered to explain, because she couldn't. She simply couldn't. SHe had not been able to deal with it herself, how could she expect him to accept what had happened to her? She was afraid to tell him.
So far as he knew, she and her family had simply gone back home. He wroter her letters asking what happened, and she wrote back, pretending that something had come up at the last minute––something to do with her father's business––and they had to leave at once; there had been no chance to say good-bye. They had kept in touch, but Rick was not much of a letter writer, and on the occasions when he called, she was either noncommitrtal or she pretended that she wasn't home. He wasn't stupid. He knew something was wrong, but he did not know what it was and he wast trying to pick up where they had left off––to recapture what they had last summer. She really wished they could, but no longer knew if it was possible.
Still, it's not his fault, she told herself as they went outside. And she really was happy to see him. Maybe it would be easier with him around. Loosening up a little, she jumped laughing, onto his back and thew her arms around him as she preceeded her down the porch stairs.
"Ooof!" he grunted, exaggerating the strain as he carried her piggyback. "You know, Chris, I think you've gained some weight since last summer."
"I have not!" she said, punching him playfully. "You creep! Put me down!"
He dropped her at the van. "Here," he said, reaching up to untie the ropes holding down their gear and the canoe, "get the ones inside and I"ll get the ones on top."
She went over to the side door of the van. It was partway open. She paused, looking at it uncertainly. "Wasn't this door closed just a few minutes ago?" she said to herself.
"What did you say?" said Rick as he grabbed the bags off the top of the van and started to carry them back up to the house.
Chris shook her head. "Nothing." She looked around, took a deep breath, and exhaled heavily. "Chris..." she said, admonishing herself.
She had only just arrived and already she was getting paranoid. This wasn't a good sign. First she gave Rick a hard time about greeting her with a kiss and almost giving her a heart attack, as if it were his fault about what happened, and now this. She was feeling jumpy about an open door, as if someone had crept into the van when nobody was looking and was waiting to leap out at her. She had to get things back under control. She couldn't go through lift overreacting to every little thing. She reached into the van for a bag and jumped back with a small cry as a hand closed around her wrist.
"Shelly!" she said, not so much angry with him for startling her as angry with herself for being so jumpy. "What are you doing in there? Why aren't you down at the lake with everybody else?"
"Oh, they said they were going skinny-dipping," he said with a self-deprecating grimace, "and I'm not skinny enough."
He couldn't even bring himself to take his shirt off in public. Back in high school, the locker room durin gym class had always been horribly traumatic for him. He hated it when guys came up to him and grabbed his flabby pecs, syaing things like, "Hey, come on, honey, let me cop a feel," or "Hey, Shelly, what cup size do you take?" They thought it was extremely funny, but it hurt. It hurt incredibly and filled him with such overwhelming self-loathing that he promptly wnet out to a pizza joint and pigged out on a large deep-dish pie with the works and a pitcher of soda. There was no escape.
He watched Chris as she walked back to the house with Rick and sighed. It looked like everybody had somebody. Everybody except him. Debbie and Andy were cominbg back up from the lake, arm in arm, and Chuck and Chili were off somewhere getting stoned together. There was Vera, "his date," though she acted as if he didn't even exist. He wondered, longingly, what it would be like to have someone like Vera. Yeah, sure, he thought, fat chance. And fat was the word, all right.
Chris opened the door and stood aside for Debbie as she came in from the balcony corridor. "This was my bedroom," she said. "It's yours for the weekend."
"Great," said Debbie, looking around at the homey little room. She raised her eyebrows in puzzlement and turned around, her gaze sweeping the room. "Chris, I don't mean to be picky or anything, but where's the bed?"
Chris had gone to the window to pull aise the drap. The window looked down at the barn, and she noticed the barn door slowly swinging shut. She wondered who had gone inside there. Probably Rick, she thought, and turned back from the window.
"Chris?" said Debbie.
"Oh, it's right here," Chris said, turning around and opening a small, swinging partition to reveal a net hammock slung up on a hook.
"What's this?" said Debbie, looking at her to see if she was joking.
"It's your bed," said Chris, with a straight face.
"You might like it," Chris said with a grin, imaging her and Andy in it together as she went out the door.
Debbie shrugged gamely. "Why not?" she said, lifting off one end to stretch the hammock out to the opposite hook. It couldn't be any worse than the backseat of a car.
Andy came staggering in, weighed down by their bags and his guitar. He looked around the room. "Where's the bed?" he said, puzzled.
Debbie held up one end of the hammock, with a grin.
"All right!" called Chris, hooking the hoist to the hay bale and stepping back.
Rick, standing shirtless up in the hayloft, grunted and hoisted the bale up, swinging it inside through the large square window of the loft. He pulled the bale in, unhooked it, took a deep breath, and sent the hoist back down.
"Chris, I don't understand why you guys have some much hay," he called down to her. "You don't have any horses. You never did."
Chris hooked another hay bale to the hoise and gave the rope a tug to signal him. "It was my father's idea," she shouted to him. "Every year, he makes plans to buy a horse. And every year, he buys all this hay and no horse. You figure it out."
She didn't explain that her father had actually almost bought the horse this year, but at the last minute her mother had decided that she couldn't bear to come back here again whn the awful thing had happened to her daughter. And her father had never goten around to buying the hrose or canceling the hay order or any of a dozen other things that he had meant to take care of. Everything was just sort of hanging in limbo. Waiting. Just as her parents were waiting tensely at home right now, wondering how she was doing, feeling helpess and frustrated becasue she had refused to let them come with her and they hadn't been able to stop her from going without them. They had been astonished that she had wanted to come back here after what had happened.
Well, she hadn't wanted to come, but she had no choice. And having her friends with her for the weekend, knowing she could depend on them for support, was incredibly important. Somehow, she had to come to terms with what had happened here and learn to live with it. She couldn't very well expect her parents to do it until she could.
"You realize, of course," Rick called down to her from the loft, suddenly breaking in on her thoughts, "I gave up an opportunity to spend the weekend with Mary Jo Conrad for this."
"He gave a heave on the rope.
"You mean you actually gave up a chance to be with the Mary Jo Conrad for little ole me?" Chris called up to him, playing along.
"That's right," he said, pulling up the next bale and swinging it inside the loft.
"Boy, are you dumb!" said Chris.
"Okay, Chris," Rick said, sending down the hoist again. "I realize I'm just a country boy and my feelings don't really matter, but this is the sweat of a worker, not a lover."
He gave a sharp pull on the rope and grunted. This was a heavy one.
"Now, I believe there's a time and place for everything," he called down to her, straining as he pulled the rope. "And now's the time and now's the place, if you know what I mean."
This hay bale seemed unusually heavy. He gritted his teeth and pulled hard, feeling the muscles bunching in his arms and shoulders. He wasn't that out of shape, was he?
"So what I think we should do is"––he grunted––"set aside three hours a day to fulfill our needs. One hour in the morning"––he gave another heave––"and two at night. If you agree..."
What the hell, he thought, straining on the rope, this hay bale seemed to weight a ton!
Chris suddently rose up level with him. "Were you talking to me?" she said, standing with he foot in the hoist, hanging on to the rope and giggling.
With a wry smile, Rick let go of the rope and with a yelp, Chris plummeted to the ground as the rope ran out through the block. As she hit, landing in a pile of hay and rolling, a frenzied scream came from the direction of the house.
She got up quickly and ran back toward the house. Rick climbed down from the loft and followed close behind her.
She ran up the porch steps and burst though the front door, looking all around her. There was no sign of anyone.
"Is anyone here?" she called out loudly, badly frightened by the scream.
Rick came bursting in behind her, buttoning up his shirt. "What's going on?" he said, looking around.
"I don't konw," she replied tensely. "You check down here. I'll check the upstairs."
She ran up the spiral staircase to the second floor balcony, stopped at the door to Andy and Debbie's room, and looked inside. There was no one th ere. No on was screaming anymore. That frightened her almost as much as the scream itself had. She bit her lower lip and continued down the corridor. She stopped at the closed door of Shelly's room.
"Is anybody there?" she called through the door.
There was no answer.
She tried the door. It was stuck. She gave it a kick and it flew open to slam against the wall inside the room.
There wasn't anyone inside, but the door to the antique armoire was slightly ajar. She apprached it, pulled the door open, and screamed as Shelly's body slumped against the side of the armoire, blood glistening around a hatchet embedded in his forehead. He slid down the inside of the armoire and fell out onto the floor, his glazed eyes staring at the ceiling.
Chris recoiled from the sight and her hands came up to the sides of her face as she screamed hysterically. She felt Rick's hands on her shoulders, turning her away.
"Don't look at him!" said Rick, pulling her away. "Let's just get the hell out of here!"
Andy, Debbie, and Vera rushed into the room behind them.
"We heard screaming," said Vera.
"What's going on?" said Debbie, and then she noticed Shelly lying on the floor. "Oh, my God!"
Andy alone seemed unaffected. He made a face and bend down over Shelly, reaching toward him.
"Don't move him!" Rick cautioned.
"Don't touch him!" Debbie said.
Andy placed his hands on Shelly's stomach and started tickling him. Suddenly the "corpse" started giggling uncontrollably.
"You creep!" said Andy, giving him a shot.
Shelly sat up, laughing, and removed the one-piece fake-embedded-hatchet-and-bleeding-latex-wound from his scalp. "I guess I fooled you, huh?"he said.
"Jerk!" Chris shouted. She started to pummel him furiously and Shelly covered himself up, recoiling from her anger. Rick pulled her off.
"Chris, leave h im alone," said Andy disgustedly. "He doesn't know any better."
"It's a joke," said Shelly, chagrined th at they were taking it that way. "It was just a joke! I didn't mean to––"
"You never mean to," Andy said.
Vera glanced a t him with disdain. Christ, she thought, why do these things happen to me? I'm never going to let anybody fix me up with a blind date again! What a pitiful nerd!
"Oh, I gotta get out of here," she said, with exasperation. She turned to Rick. "I'm going to the store. Can I use your car?"
"Sure," said Rick, throwing her the keys and shking his head as he looked at Shelly.
"Thanks," said Vera, turning and leaving with a disgusted look at Shelly.
"Asshole!" Chili said contemptuously, tu rning and shaking her head as she went out the door.
Feeling awful, Shelly sat on the floot, wiping the fake blood off his face and forehead with a handkerchief. It hadn't turned out the way he'd planned at all. He had wanted to impress them all with his creativitiy and his acting ability, but the joke had backfired, and instead, they all thought less of him than ever.
I wish I could die, he thought.
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