A child is born and With His First Breath death ends.
book cover linked to Barnes & Noble (for hardcopy check Linda Fields)
also get the ebook in most formats at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/80088
coming soon, the sequel: DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH.
Until Lyndsay's murderer is found the residents of Whitefields, Michigan are destined to die bizarre and horrible deaths.
book cover linked to Amazon
soft cover book lowest price anywhere.
for click here poems and music ...
Unfortunately Camp Lady Of The Lake has been fenced off, we can no longer walk there and enjoy the sights and sounds, also the sign for the camp has been removed but luckily I have the above picture so though it's gone it won't be forgotten, nor will the memory of the children who laughed and played there. I will let you know when and if this changes.
Linda, April 12, 2009
Keep going to read a OUR LADY OF THE LAKE, a short ghost story that takes place in my imagination where Camp Lady of the Lake really used to be.
Linda M. Fields
On the western shore of Lake Erie, nestled among an overgrown grove of trees, the skeletal remains of an old orphanage crumbles slowly into dust. Years ago the orphanage teemed with life as displaced boys learned to survive in a modern world. When graduation day came it was often with a heavy heart, as many felt that fate had once again robbed them of their family.
Our Lady of the Lake was a place where dreams were spawned and grew while skinny young bodies matured into muscular young men. It was a place to be admired, and a place to be pitied.
One day the orphanage closed it's doors and the happy halls echoed only the lonely call of the lake. No longer would the night be filled with the sound of laughter, and sweet song, as the boys splash around their friends perched precariously on the edge of the wooden raft which was anchored securely into the sandy lake bottom.
The lake, fire, and time have taken all but a few bits of foundation, and the grounds are thick with weeds and scrub brush, where blood-sucking mosquitoes now flourish.
Sometimes, late at night, if you stand outside the high iron gates, locked to keep out the curious, you can feel the Lady's loss. When the moon is high and the waves of Lake Erie lap gently on the sandy shore you can hear the echoing laughter of young voices mingling with the mournful sigh of the wind through the trees.
"God, it's cold!" Cassi squealed, dipping a toe into the black waves. Behind her, in the shadows, Paul quickly stepped from his jeans. It felt strange being back at the orphanage after all these years, yet it still felt natural to be stripping away clothing to sneak a midnight swim. Of course when he went skinny-dipping back when he was a kid there hadn't been any naked girl swimming with him, back then it had usually been Billy, Pete and Jacky who joined him in the quicksilver surf on those stolen midnight swims.
Conscious of the age-induced droop of his once taunt stomach muscles, Paul was waiting until the girl was otherwise occupied before making a mad dash into the water. Not, he concluded, that she was anything special. She had long blond hair, always a hit, but her breasts were on the small side, and her legs, though long, were a bit thin. What she did have was a great smile, and she used it often.
"Hey . . . you aren't going to chicken out on me, are you?" Cassi's voice carried over the lake. He could barely make her out in the black swirl of midnight water, and reasoned that if he couldn't see her, then she wouldn't be able to see him either. With renewed confidence, and sucking in his stomach just in case, Paul splashed loudly into the tepid water.
Christ, she sounds like a kid; Paul thought when Cassi squealed as he swam past her to deeper water. But thoughts of the girl were soon over shadowed as memories began flooding in. His mind flashed back to the days of his youth, to the car crash that snatched his parents away leaving him orphaned. Then to the kind priest who had comforted him during the long days before it was decided that little Paulie would be spending the next thirteen years of his life at Our Lady of the Lake.
The strange thing about the whole episode had been the way, after the pain of losing his parents had diminished, he'd learned to love the orphanage. It had become home, the other boys his brothers and he'd looked to the old priest and the nun's for guidance, as he would have parents. He'd liked the other boys’ right from the start, even the older ones who sometimes teased him when he cried himself to sleep those first self-pitying months, and he adored the nuns who had comforted and corrected him as he grew into manhood. Yes, he admitted, he even loved the old priest with his firm voice and sternways. This had been home and they were the family he would never see again after they forced him out into the world.
Far out from shore the water was still only half way up Paul's chest when he stopped swimming and stood to look back toward the blackness that was his childhood. It looked so . . . so damned sad. He blinked, turning his head away as a sudden wave of overwhelming loneliness thundered through him.
Blinking the water, or tears, from his eyes, Paul spotted Cassi splashing hard in his direction. Swimming was definitely not one of her strong points. He chuckled to himself, and started to remark about her similarity to a drowning rat, when the thought vanished as a violent wave of dizziness washed over him.
Overhead the moon and stars chased one another in lazy circles, and in a dim, dark corner of his mind he realized he was swimming again, slicing through the water as easily as a shark.
"P-a-u-l!" Cassi cried out, as he shot past her in the opposite direction. "Asshole, if you don't want to swim with me just say so."
Hugging herself tightly, the girl tried to stomped her foot on the sandy bottom as Paul disappear onto the night drenched shore. "Fine, I'll just swim by myself", she mumbled, then raising her voice for emphasis, added, "and if I drowned it'll be all your fault"!
Paul crossed the beach; moving into the stand of trees where he knew in the darkness of night Billy, Pete, and Jacky were waiting. Tonight they were going to catch some frogs to put into Sister Gay's desk. He giggled as he hurried toward the old storage shed where his friends were waiting. Best friends in the whole wide world, they were blood brothers and vowed to stay friends forever. The Lady's Four Knights, all for one, one for all, and friends till the end of time!
Then through a clearing in the trees he saw them huddled together in the moonlight, next to the old shed. He wanted to shout to them, but was afraid one of the Sisters would hear, so instead he whispered, "Hey guys!" When they ignored him he called a little louder, but they pretended they couldn't hear him as they chattered excitedly amongst themselves, and then broke into giggles. They were planning something and his feelings were hurt that they were excluding him. It wasn't right; they were The Four Knights, the four of them against the world.
As he stood watching, his feeling began shifting gears, maybe he was going to be the subject of the prank this time! He hated it when they managed to get the best of him, so he made up his mind that no matter what they did he'd just laugh at them. Besides, what's the worst they could do? Pants him? Hold him down and put slimy muck in his hair? Chase him with a snake? Ha! He'd seen it all before, heck he was the one who invented most of the really good pranks. Yeah, it'd be a cold-day-in-the-hot-place before they got the best of Paulie Sutton.
When they finally turned towards Paul they moved as one, slowly, smoothly, dreamlike, and in spite of his determination not to let them scare him, his skin tightened painfully. Whatever the prank was, it was a darned good one because it appeared as though they had no eyes.
"B . . .Billy? What, ah, whatcha doing guys?" He couldn't let them know that they were scaring him so badly that he nearly peed on himself, which would be the worse thing that could ever happen at Our Lady. They were getting closer and he hoped that soon he'd be able to see how they did their eyes to make them look like that. They came closer and he still couldn't see anything except the endless pits, and darned it they were really scaring him.
Sweat dripped into his eyes, burning, but he didn't blink, afraid to take his eyes off them even for a moment in case superhuman speed was also on tonight's agenda. This isn't right; this isn't the way it was!
They were gliding towards him when a soft moan whispered through the trees on a breath of breeze. As the breeze swept past it captured his friends, and then he did pee down his leg, because as the breeze captured the other boys it seemed to mix them all together like chocolate pudding and whipped cream in a blender. When the storage shed dissolved slowly into the swirling gray mist, an intense surge of depression dropped Paul to his knees. Gone were the storage shed, his friends, and the orphanage, the past had returned where it belonged and, although they had gotten away with the best prank ever, Paul cried for his loss.
Crickets shrieked in the darkness, and in the distance the sound of waves kissing the shore drifted to him. He wondered where he was, what had happened, and why he was bare-ass naked.
Slowly pulling himself to his feet, Paul shook his head, trying to clear the ache from his heart and at the same time remember how he'd gotten from the water to the sight of the old orphanage. The last thing he remembered was watching . . . Cassi!
"Oh shit! Cassi!" He called her name as he ran through the trees, back toward the beach. When she didn't answer he had an uneasy feeling that when he found her she's have endless black pits where her eyes should be. He tried to laugh at the thought, but in the end gave up the effort, for some strange reason the thought didn't seem that farfetched.
Was there any way he'd be able to smooth things over with her, or was the night going to be a complete bust? He scanned the lake but, thank God, didn't see her floating among the moon-dappled ripples. Then as he followed the shoreline around a dense stand of trees he spotted the object of tonight's desire racing down the beach toward him, and, a bad sign, she'd pulled on her clothes. If he was going to save the evening he had to think quickly, but then, before he could even formulate an excuse she was in his arms.
"Oh Paul I didn’t know what happened to you, I was so scared!"
Wrapping an arm around her shoulder, Paul quickly led her down the beach to the old blanket he'd spread on the sand near the car. She was jabbering nonstop, but Paul thought he knew women well enough to know that he needed to work fast before her fear dissolved into anger, because once a woman got angry you might as well blow up the condom and use it to play volleyball.
Easing her onto the blanket, Paul covered her lips with light feathery kisses, slowly working his way to her neck as he murmured, "I'm really sorry babe."
He felt her shiver with delight at the touch of his lips on her neck and Paul smiled. He may be getting old and paunchy, but he was still pretty darned good with the babes. She wasn't frightened, or angry any more, just very horny, but he wished she'd stop grinding her thin, razor sharp hipbones into his pelvis. Against those hips a chunk of granite wouldn't stand a chance, he thought, trying to adjust himself to he didn't end up with permanent damage to his vital parts.
At first he thought Cassi had whispered his childhood nickname, but quickly realized the voice didn't belong to a girl, let alone the one beneath him. He looked up from her small breast toward the black void that used to be the driveway into the orphanage. Cassi moaned, trying to pull his head back to her chest.
"Wait", he whispered, fighting the force of her hands. "Did you hear something?"
Cassi stiffened, "Don't you dare do that to me again! I swear if you scare me one more time I'm going to go home!" She wiggled beneath him, the grip on his head becoming more forceful. "Come on baby, make love to me! Please, don't tease me, 'cause I need it bad."
Even though he knew she was going to get ‘it’ good and not ‘bad’ he took the invitation to heart and with one smooth motion her shorts and panties were in the sand beside the blanket.
Cassi shivered with delight as the cool breeze tickled her naked flesh, arousing her even more, "Come on baby give it to me now! Hurry, Paul, please hurry!"
But Paul didn't want to hurry; he wanted to take his time, to enjoy, savor the moment. Hurrying was for kids sneaking off behind the high school gym to knock one off before the teacher caught them. Two grown adults didn't have to hurry; they could take time to explore, to learn, and to enjoy the moment to the fullest. She was like a sex-starved nymphomaniac, and Paul almost lost control of the situation when she clamped her legs around his thighs and tried to thrust herself onto him.
"Not yet", Paul moaned, trying to pull away and keep all his body parts attached. "Easy baby, take your time, Cassi. We have all night, for cryin' out loud! Loosen up before you castrate me!"
Cassi scanned the area with a cat-like motion, but didn't relinquish her prize. Paul again tried to escape, but she had other ideas, and before he knew what she was up to, she'd slid her legs up around his waist and jerked him towards her once again. "Come on Paul, do it before they come . . . ah, the cops I mean. What if the cops come and catch us?"
“So what?" Paul laughed as he continued the fight to escape her relentless grip. "All they'd do is tell us we shouldn't hanky-panky on a public beach, and to go home where the sand won't get into everything." Trying to pry her legs loose wasn't working either, so Paul tried another strategy and slipped downward, snaking his tongue along her flesh until he reached her stomach. With a jerk so sudden he nearly got whiplash Cassi pushed his head lower, but at least she was no longer trying to strangle his manhood, and she’d loosed her legs from around his waist so at least now he could breath.
An hour later, or perhaps it was two, or maybe it was fifteen minutes, Paul wasn’t sure, they lay exhausted side-by-side as chilly lake breezes cooled their sweaty flesh.
Paul took a drag on his cigarette before handing it to Cassi whom sighed happily as she puffed away.
After several silent minutes, Cassi said, "Paul, what happened earlier? I mean when you disappeared into the trees?"
Paul rolled on his side, propping his chin on his hand as he stared through the darkness toward the orphanage grounds, "I don't know. It was weird, I thought I was a kid again at the orphanage."
Sitting up so she could see him better, Cassi asked, "You were in an orphanage?"
Nodding towards the dense foliage, Paul whispered, "There."
Following his gaze, Cassi frowned, "There? There, where?"
Paul pointed, "Right there, Our Lady Of The Lake."
"I didn't know that", she whispered. "I mean I didn't know that there's an orphanage in there. You should have told me, we could have gotten caught!"
"There isn't any more, now it's just a lot of rubble."
She giggled, "Gee, a real live orphan. What was it like?"
Paul shrugged; embarrassed about the emotions he still had for the old place.
"I don't know, it was like . . . hell, I don't know. All I know is that I owe that place a lot, a whole hell of a lot."
Wrapping her arms around her knees, Cassi snickered, "You mean to tell me that all those old movies about the nasty old orphanages are a bunch of crap? You never had to ask for 'more please'? Man, I'm crushed."
Embarrassment, then anger coursed through him like a heat wave, just who did she think was to criticizing his home? "Drop it, okay, Cassi? Don't make fun of things you know nothing about."
He thought she'd be mad and cop an attitude because he snapped at her, and when she dropped to the blanked and stared at the stars without saying anything, he figured he'd thought right.
"Do you like me Paul?" Cassi asked, still looking at the night sky.
Confused by the sudden change of conversation, Paul replied harsher than he meant to, "You're here with me, aren't you? So what's that have to do with the price of pork bellies?" He hoped she wasn't one of those women who thought that just because they let you in their pants that you owed them something. He'd never laid eyes on her before tonight when she asked him if she could hitch a ride as he was leaving the dingy honky-tonk where he stopped to have a few beers before going home to his ever-empty house. He hoped she didn't turn out to be some whacko like in that movie "Fatal Attraction." After seeing that movie Paul hadn't dated for several months, and, when he finally did, he checked out the prospective ladies as thoroughly as possible. How soon we forget, he thought, realizing how quickly he'd escorted Cassi to his car.
"Ah, would you still like me if I told you that I kind of exaggerated a tiny bit about a couple of things?"
"Like what things?" Paul asked, not really caring, just being polite and trying to stay awake.
Clearing her throat Cassi smiled, "Well, my age for one thing. I kind of exaggerated about that . . . a little."
Well, so much for worrying about falling asleep. "Oh shit, I don't think I'm going to like this. OK, so tell me, how ‘little’ did you exaggerate?"
"It was just a little white lie really. I mean only a couple of years."
"Um, sixteen . . . but I'm a lot older, ah, mentally."
Paul suddenly felt like someone had dumped a bucket of iced water on him.
"You've gotta be shittin' me! You're just a baby, for Christ sake, jail bait!" He sat up, pulling the corner of the blanket over his nakedness.
Cassi too sat up, her lower lip protruding so far outward that her chin disappeared into shadow. "I am not a baby, I'm woman enough to satisfy you!"
"My hand satisfies me, and it's of age!" Paul scooted toward the end of the blanket, as far from the child as he could get.
"You're sick, Paul, and you're mean and you're nasty," she was crying now, but that didn't ease Paul's anger any.
"How the hell did you get into that bar?"
Cassi wiped the back of her hand across her nose, capturing moon-dappled strands of silvery mucus, as a mischievous smile teased the corners of her mouth, "I'm mature for my age. A very old soul in a young body."
"Mature enough to get my ass thrown in jail no matter how old your soul is!"
"Yeah? Well I didn't hear any complaints a few minutes ago," he could feel her smirk in the darkness.
"That's another thing, where did you learn to . . .to, you know what I'm talking about!"
"I said I was sixteen, I never said I was naive, and besides that's none of your business, who do you think you are, my father?"
That's what made him so mad, he was old enough to be her father. Crap, he thought, I’m old enough to be her grandfather. He felt betrayed, used, and very, very old. "Get your clothes on right this minute, young lady. I'm taking you home!"
Cassi stood slowly, her naked skin shimmering in the moonlight. "When will I see you again, Paulie?"
Paul choked and sputtered, "Are you nuts?"
Shrugging, the girl giggled, "Then I'm not going to get dressed. Not until you say you'll make love to me again, and soon. You really are pretty good for a man your age, not like the boys I'm used to. All they care about is themselves, you care about me, you made sure that I enjoyed it too, that was nice", she put her hands on her hips, her pose defiant.
She seemed to be thinking about something, and Paul's stomach gurgled. Then her mind made up, Cassi announced her decree, "Yes, I definitely want more, just like tonight".
"Forget it, Cassi, I made a mistake once, it sure as hell won't happen again!' The moonlight was playing with her skin, causing a warm glow to radiate her most sensuous attributes and, at that moment he wasn't sure who he hated most, himself for the stirrings beneath the blanket, or her for causing them.
Cassi smiled seductively, "Sure it will, Paulie. Many, many more times, because like I said I liked it."
"Look, kid", he said purposely, "I don't care if you saw skyrockets and heard bells, the answer in no, n - o, no way, no how! Got it? So get dressed . . . now!"
She studied him in the darkness, as though she could see his every thought, then shrugged, reached down and scooped up her clothes. She moved defiantly, sure of herself, of her womanhood, but at least she was heading toward the car where she'd no doubt pout as she pulled on her clothes.
Paul didn't care if she pouted for the rest of her life; he just wanted her dressed, and out of his life. He wrapped the blanket around his waist, sand scratching his groin, and moved to retrieve his clothes from the hood of the car. The blanket was dragging the ground behind him, so he stopped to gather it up in his arms to keep from tripping on it, and when he turned back he was startled to realize that Cassi was no longer by the car. Instead she had scooped up his clothes and was running down the shore to the beach in front of the old orphanage. If she got onto the orphanage grounds he'd never be able to find her in the darkness.
Swinging the long ends of the blanket over his shoulders, tunic style, Paul broke into a full run. Fatal Attraction here I come, he thought and almost laughed out loud at the absurdity of it all. His humor died quickly though when memories of Pete, Billy and Jacky, his three best friends in the whole wide world, flooded unbidden to his conscious mind. Only there was something scary about their memory tonight, something to do with their eyes. Beside that, girls were in big trouble if they were found on the orphanage grounds, he had to catch Cassi before the guys did.
Chiding himself for such silly thoughts, Paul hurried on. The guys weren't there, would never be there again because Jacky had died in a car crash one cold wintry night two years after graduating, the same year Paul joined the army, and Billy died in Vietnam a year and a half later, and Pete, what was it about Pete? Oh yeah, Pete Simmons died at the young age of twenty-three of brain cancer. That was it, all dead, all the Lady's Knights gone except him, he was the only one left to protect the honor of Our Lady! That, he reasoned, was probably why when he thought of the guys they looked like zombies, or ghouls, instead of his childhood friends. His subconscious mind wasn't about to let him completely forget the truth.
So, OK, the guys aren't in there, so why do I have this feeling of impending doom? His insides felt like he'd been given a Slurpy enema.
Cassi disappeared around the bend and out of sight, and
Paul's heart skipped a beat. He had to stop her! "Cassi! Honey come back, of course I want to be with you again. I, ah, I've never had sex like that before, Babe! Come on, Honey, let's do it again before we have to leave!" So it was a lie, he owed her one, and at this point he'd promise her sex for the next hundred and fifty years if it'd get her back in the car and away from here.
He could save time if he swam around and went straight in from the lake, so he switched directions and hit the water with a splash, and his words dissolved as his friends had earlier.
Promise you'll stay with us always, and she's yours, the wind whispered.
Paul swallowed water, managed not to choke, and screamed into the night, "NO! Please, please don't hurt her, she's only a kid!"
Billy laughed, "Girls are always welcome here, Paulie. We'll keep her happy. Girls like us, don'tcha remember, Paulie?
Paul ran in slow motion through the water to the beach, then, with branches and shrubs grabbing and tearing at his flesh, headed into the trees. Billy was right, the girls had like them, the Four Musketeers. Oh yes, the girls were always sneaking out to meet them on the raft in the dead of night.
Shadows darted cat-like through the trees off to either side, but Paul tried to ignore them because they couldn't really be his long lost friends, no, those boys were dead and gone now. Perhaps some boys from Luna Pier, the small town just north of the orphanage, were here, playing games with him? OK, that was fine, but where was Cassi? She could still be in trouble, even more so because they were flesh and blood, not a figment of his imagination.
"Chill Paulie, Cassi's just fine. We always take care of the pretty girls, don'tcha remember?" Jacky giggled, his voice that childish high-pitched timbre that Paul remembered so well.
Paul slowed, getting his bearings and realized that the old shed used to be just around the next bend in the path. As he moved down the path he dreaded turning the corner, what if the shed was there? What would he do? But of course it wouldn’t be there, it had crumbled away decades ago. The shed was there, right where it stood so very long ago. Sweat trickled down his forehead as his heart hammered to the beat of an insane Cha-cha. Dancing between realities was more than a sane person could handle for very long, and Paul wondered if maybe he hadn't already gone crazy. Somewhere nearby a sixteen-years-old kid, whom he'd recently had felonious sex with, was heading to meet his past, and God only knew what would happen when his past met his present. All he was really sure of at that moment was he didn't want an innocent child getting caught in the middle of his nightmare.
Fleeting movement to his left, then on the right an almost substantial black flicker giggled. They were closing in, becoming more persistent as he moved closer to the shed, and to, he hoped, Cassi.
"So, tell us, Paulie, me lad, are ya glad ta be back home?"
Paul wished he were back home. Wished he'd never seen Cassi sitting at the bar when he got up to leave. There hadn't been anyone there besides him and the bartender, but then when he headed toward the door to go home, he saw her sitting in the shadows, an empty beer bottle on the table in front of her. He'd seen the beer bottle earlier, but there hadn't been anyone at the table. Probably in the bathroom, though he didn't think so because the johns were at the back of the bar and she would have had to walk right behind him to get to them. One minute an empty bar, the next a sexy little nymph asking for a ride home. He shouldn't have brought her here, what in God's name had he been thinking? Yes he wished he were home sleeping all alone in his lonely little bedroom.
"We missed you Paulie. We're so-o-o-o glad you came home to us."
"Let the girl go", Paul, cried to the dispassionate shadows.
Dark laughter roiled, "She can leave anytime she wants to, Paulie, but somehow I think our Cassi would rather stay with you and The Big Dipper".
The Big Dipper, the childish nickname he'd given his penis years ago. Billy called his Mister Happy, Jacky's was Doctor Love, and Pete proudly named his The Clam Digger. Silly, childish names, but remembering brought a chuckle from deep within. Then, as though the chuckle were a signal, Billy, Pete and Jacky materialized directly in front of him, grinning as they had years earlier when they'd just pulled off a world-class prank. They stood with their arms wrapped around each other's shoulder, smug smirks crinkling their faces and Paul knew they were waiting for him to figure out how they'd managed to trick him so effortlessly.
It really was great seeing the guys again, but either he'd gone completely over the bend, or he was dreaming, or, ha ha, the guys were ghosts. Fighting to remain calm, Paul asked, "So, what's up guys?"
The trio smiled, but didn't respond.
Paul shifted from foot to foot. "OK, fine, forget the pleasantries, just tell me where the girl is."
"Probably waiting for The Big Dipper", Billy giggled.
Paul sighed, "Alright guys, this isn't funny any more. How come you're here? Don't you know you're all dead? I don't know what's going on, or why, but why don't you just tell me where the girl is so I can take her home, and get on home myself?" Unless of course I'm totally insane, in which case I'll wake up when they send a few thousand volts of electricity through my skull.
Jacky wasn't smiling any more, "No can do, bro."
"Yeah", Pete chimed in, "don't you know man you ARE home?"
OK, I've got to think this through. Are there such things as ghost? No. Am I insane? No, at least I don't think so. OK, that leaves dreaming. The whole night was probably just a bad dream; I didn't see Cassi at the bar earlier because she doesn't exist. I made her up. I'm drunk and home in bed sleeping right this very moment. So, OK, wake up. Paul! Wake up! Shit. Paul reached over and grabbed a hunk of flesh on his arm between his finger and thumb and pinched as hard as he could. "Ouch!"
That stunt brought hysterical laughter from his old friends.
"It's not funny, damn it!" Paul snapped, rubbing the sore skin of his self-inflicted wound. A wave of lightheadedness caused Paul to close his eyes for a moment, when he opened them the boys had started to move. He wanted to turn, to run, to escape the nightmare, but he was frozen in place. They moved swiftly, coming close, then turning and circling around him, as though he were a merry-go-round, and they were the riders.
Faster, and faster, until they were no more than a kaleidoscopic vortex, causing Paul to drop to his knees. His felt as though his stomach was ready to erupt from the dizzy whirlwind above. He had to stop looking before he spewed all over the guys so he buried his face in his hands. When the nausea finally ceased he looked up, expecting the boys to still be orbiting overhead. He was alone once again.
"I want to go home", he sobbed, surprised and embarrassed by the sound of his childish whine.
And when he looked up through tear-glazed eyes, Billy, his best friend in the whole world, was standing over him. Not as a young boy, but as the young man who'd been ripped to shreds by a land mind in Viet Nam over a quarter of a century earlier.
Paul reached up, his hand hesitating just a moment next to the bloody arm, and then he touched Billy's arm, hoping the touch would make his friend disappear back into the depths of Paul's insane mind.
Surprisingly Billy's flesh was warm and soft to the touch, and instead of disappearing, Billy smiled tenderly. "Remember, Paulie. Try really hard. It was long ago, on a night much like tonight. The four of us were sneaking through the trees to the swamp out back. Remember? Frogs, Paulie, frogs for Sister Gay? Try Paulie, you can do it, I know you can".
Paul could see it: The moon was bright, just like it was tonight. It had been shining on the lake, making the world look as though it were experiencing some sort of second twilight. It was beautiful. Overhead a lone night bird disturbed the otherwise still night air. The lake was calm, not so much as a ripple disturbing her mirror finish.
The four of them, Billy, Pete, Jacky, and him, standing silently on the beach drinking in the beauty that even a fifteen-year-old could appreciate. Nothing moved or made a sound, not the crickets, or even the frogs in the swamp out back.
Paulie held his breath, in tune with the world around him. He heard one of the others inhale, as though just remembering to breath again. Something moved. . . something in the water near the raft. Then a ripple appeared on the surface of the lake, then another, then a series of bubbles, and then . . . a head popped from beneath the lake. At first Paulie thought he was seeing things, but the reaction from his friends told him that the girl climbing onto the raft, their raft, was real. She probably swam down from Luna Pier.
"Look at that!" Jacky whispered excitedly, "She's naked!"
They looked at each other, grinned, stripped off their swim trunks, and without a vocalized word between them darted into the water racing towards the girl with the long blond hair, small breasts, thin, but nice legs, and the great smile.
"It's OK, Paulie", Jacky whispered. "We all felt the same way".
Billy patted Paul's shoulder, "You remember now, don't you Paul? You remember the girl who drowned that night long ago swimming alone in Lake Erie, a girl named Cassi from Luna Pier?"
Paul nodded, "Yeah, I remember now."
Billy stepped away from his friend, the next moments were the hardest and they were never sure how their friends would react. "When it was time she brought each of us back. She went all the way to Viet Nam for me."
"Yeah, and she got me outta a burning car", Jacky said, rubbing his singed face, and to Paul's horror a hunk of cheek fell to the ground at his feet.
Then it hit him, what they were saying, and he staggered back, a cry of protest on his lips, "NO! That's not right, I picked her up in a bar! We just spent the night swimming and making love! Are you trying to tell me I just had sex with a ghost?"
Billy shook his head, a sad smile hanging lopsided on his mangled face, "Sorry buddy, but that ain't the way it happened at all. You never left that bar tonight, at least not the way you went in."
"I don't . . . you're nuts . . .this is insane! I don't understand . . . no . . .this is a prank, right? Yes, that's it, a prank! Oh God yes! A prank, and guys it was a good one, you really had me going there for a while!"
Pete, who had been mostly silent during the conversation, moved in front of Paul. He smiled slightly, and then turned around so Paul could see the back of his head. "Not even us could do a prank this good Paulie. Go ahead, look at the back of my head."
The back of his skull was sawed away, and in the gaping hole Paul saw what looked like a puddle of rotten meat. Pete was right; there was no way in hell that was a prank.
"I had a heart attack, didn't I?" Paul asked softly, already knowing the answer.
When the others didn't answer Paul looked at the bright stars shining overhead and said, "Yeah, the doctor told me I was headed for one. Too much drinking and smoking, and the shit I ate would clog elephant’s arteries. No big surprise there I guess, but why the charade? I mean why the pick-up line, the sex on the beach, the pouting because she couldn't have her own way? All of it, why?"
Billy laughed, "Oh that's just our Cassi, she does love a good prank. Man if you thought we were good wait until you get to know her better! Besides, don't take it too hard, she did pretty much the same thing to each of us, it's just her way of livening things up around here. You gotta remember, she died when she was just sixteen, she didn't have a chance to do any sexual experimenting when she was alive, so she makes up for it now.
"She's always wanted to have sex with an older man, and buddy, you're the oldest any of us ever got. Don't be upset with our little girl, she's just curious."
Starlight danced overhead, and in the distance a night bird cried out. Down on the beach waves caressed the shore with a lover's soothing rhythm. Back by the swamp four boys and a girl chased frogs in the moonlight.