tagNon-EroticShallow Rock Ch. 01

Shallow Rock Ch. 01

byDarcyLansdowne©

Author's note:

This is a mystery/thriller novel which contains some graphic sex when essential to the plot. Violence and gore are not dealt with graphically.

In 1973 police jobs for women were hard to find, so Kelly Mackinaw was eager to become the first female deputy in Limekiln County, even if it meant living with a strange man on a haunted lake.


*

SHALLOW ROCK

There are places where evil lies close to the surface and murder is bred in the bone.

Wendigo Lake New York: August 1973

CHAPTER ONE

"One thing you have to understand is that the people around here think this lake is haunted. The Indians named it after an evil spirit, and they should know, right? They didn't name every lake Wendigo -- just this one. The spirit has had different manifestations throughout the centuries, but the most recent one is the ghost of a Shallow Rock girl who dabbled in witchcraft and was drowned on her wedding day. That was back in the twenties. They say that she was buried in a shallow grave in unconsecrated ground that wasn't strong enough to hold her down, and so now she wanders the night haunting the village, the swamp and the lake."

Deputy Kelly Mackinaw turned for a moment to look at the speaker, Mitch Herkemer. He was very animated, but she had barely been listening. "I don't believe in ghost stories," she said.

"It doesn't matter if you believe it or not. The thing is that everyone on this lake believes it, so if you want to relate to them, know where their heads are at, you have to know the story," Mitch replied earnestly.

She wasn't sure that she really wanted to relate to the people on Wendigo Lake. Located north of the Five Bears Wilderness area at the back end of Limekiln County, it was about as isolated a place as there was in the Adirondacks, or anywhere else east of the Mississippi for that matter. The shoreline was either too steep, or too marshy to have more than a handful of decent cottage sites, and from what she knew there were just a couple of old shacks, the lumber camp, and three or four new cottages. The new cottages were all owned by rich people from Albany and Syracuse, lobbyists, corporate lawyers, that kind of thing. What the hell was there to relate to with people like that?

Mitch was looking at her, blue eyes in an open face surrounded by shaggy blonde hair. He had to be right around her age, maybe a couple of years older, twenty-five, twenty-six, but he seemed younger. He had a boyishness that she didn't particularly like, but it made it difficult to be cool to him. Besides, if she was going to live with him she was going to have to learn to humor him, at least a bit. She came away from the screen window and pulled up one of the metal tube chairs. The seat was covered with brittle yellow vinyl that had cracked and been repaired with grey electrical tape, she straddled it cowboy style and made a show of paying attention.

"There have been many strange and violent happenings over the years. There were three hunters from Buffalo, two brothers and another guy. They laughed at the local's stories and went into the swamp hunting moose in the marshy ground between here and Shallow Rock. At night while they sat around the campfire they heard the forest talking to them, felt a presence stalking around the edge of their campfire in the darkness. They heard screams rise and fall. They started freaking out. It was like she got inside their heads man, strangling them from the inside, twisting their brains, deforming their features.

Two of them go for their guns and face off against each other with their twelve gauges. Blam, blam! They blow each other away and the third guy runs for his life. Somehow he managed to get out to Shallow Rock, told his story and then took off out of the county and never came back. Police said it was a hunting accident."

Kelly smiled. He was pretty good; lots of movement in his face, his voice rising and falling. It was a nice voice even if it was spouting nonsense. She had heard it all before, in one form or another at parties and sleepovers; the Manitou, the Wendigo or some other evil spirit haunting the woods. It was pretty common stuff around these parts. Hell, she hadn't been scared by that shit when she was a ten year old Girl Scout, she wasn't about to start worrying about it now.

He had left a silence when he finished. Had he finished or just paused? As if on cue, out in the dark beyond the screened porch came a loon's cry. She didn't flinch. Sure they could sound creepy, but she had heard loons all her life. Who did he think she was, some city kid to be scared of a night in the bush? She was a North Country girl, had grown up in Seneca Falls, not more than a hundred miles away.

"Shallow Rock, that's the little fishing village at the end of the lake, right?" she asked.

"It's on Bog Lake, but it sits at this end of it."

"Then what's that got to do with the Wendigo, it's this lake that called Wendigo Lake, right?"

"Sure, but the two are very close, with just a stretch of swampy ground in between. They say that the locals know how to get through it by canoe, but I don't know about that. It would be very tricky going for you or me, but easy for a ghost, they just kind of float on the water." He made a wavy motion with his hands as he spoke.

She must have looked doubtful because he added. "It's good moose country, it's where the hunters died. That part is true, two hunters really died back in there."

"Were the hunters from Wendigo Lake?"

"No, they were from Buffalo. Why?"

She shrugged and smiled at him. It wasn't a very scary story. He went on, and she looked at him rather than listened to him. He was pretty big, a six-footer with broad shoulders and big hands. She could see how he must have looked in high school and in the army with the blonde brush cut. He would have been the all American North Country boy, square jawed, with clear, honest blue eyes. But now with his shaggy hair down to his shoulders, and a solid tan he looked more like one of the beach boys. Well a bigger version of one of the Beach Boys. Whatever he'd been doing out in California was something that had kept him in shape. She tried to refocus on what he was saying. He had been going on about sightings back in the old days; not a year had gone by without someone seeing her pale form in the water, or up in the sky.

"Now this is where it starts to get scary, so stop me if it bothers you," he was saying. "There was a cook at this very lumber camp that took an interest in the Wendigo. They say that he went fishing along the edge of the swamp and she followed him home. She would haunt him when the other men were out cutting wood and he was all alone in the camp. He told the others, but they just laughed at him. He used to say that she would trap him in the outhouse, and scream at him and try to get inside his head. One day the men came back from the bush and found him dead, hanging in the outhouse."

"You mean the outhouse, out back of here?"

"The same one. That's why no one ever uses it at night; no one ever did as far as I can remember. I'm just telling you in case the plumbing screws up, you might have to use it."

"It wouldn't be the first time I used a shithouse Mitch," she said. "And I don't believe in ghosts."

"Sure, sure. I'm just saying that at night everybody used thunder mugs. Even my Dad wouldn't go out there at night. What I'm saying, they had these here for years, even the god dammed lumberjacks were afraid to go out there at night."

Most likely they just didn't want to freeze their asses off, or get eaten by black flies, but she didn't argue with him. A thunder mug was a large porcelain pot that you could squat over to save yourself a trip out to the shitter in the middle of the night. Some were very fancy with good solid lids. She had seen them around in museums and antique stores, but she had never been anywhere that they actually used them.

She hadn't seen much of the place in daylight but from what she could tell it was kind of a museum itself. From what the Sheriff said it had been built during the Civil War with room for about fifteen or twenty men. It had been in operation through the thirties until the government shut down most of the logging operations in the park. Then it had been rented to hunters and sometimes as a rough cottage for people who couldn't afford better. Mitch's family had used it when he was a kid. Mitch's dad, the Sheriff, said that he'd had his eye on it since then, and eventually bought it off of the old widow who owned had died.

Why was he telling her all of this? Was it because it was their first night together and he was nervous? His dad had hinted that he was a bit of a flake, hell, he seemed downright flighty. Or was it some macho thing, he figured he could scare her and she'd come crawling into his bed in the middle of the night? If that was where his head was at, then she was outta here, she would find some other place to stay, even if she had to drive three hours to get to work.

Police jobs for women were hard to come by; the FBI had made a big deal about hiring their first female agent just last year, and state, municipal and county departments were hiring just enough to avoid being charged under the Equal Opportunity Act. So when she'd gotten the sudden offer to come to Limekiln County as their first female deputy, she had jumped at the chance. It had sprung her from a lousy job at the Albion Woman's Institute outside of Rochester where she had been working since she had gotten out of the army. She had been a military policewoman, had done a tour in 'Nam, had excellent efficiency reports, commendations and recommendations up the hoop, and still it had taken almost two years to get any response to all the applications she had made to every law enforcement agency in Great Lakes region.

She owed her break to the sudden dismissal of one of the Limekiln County deputies, and to the affirmative action of the county's first female Chair of the Board of Supervisors. The only problem was that she had no place to stay. Limekiln County was the most under populated county in the United States east of the Mississippi, so there were no rooming houses, no apartment buildings, and at the height of the cottage season all of the hotels, motels and even campsites were booked up. The Sheriff had suggested that she stay at the lumber camp. It was a work in progress, but he had put in electricity and indoor plumbing and there were three rooms in the bunkhouse. He offered it to her free of charge until she could find something in the fall, that way she could start work right away and not have to face a long drive to work.

Sheriff Herkemer seemed like a pretty straight guy. She doubted that having a female on his force was his idea, but he took it in stride and appeared to want to make the best of it. The Chair of the Board of Supervisors, and everyone else she'd talked to said that Mitch was a decent guy, and there should be no problem staying up at an isolated lake alone with him.

She figured she could handle herself with any man, but she wasn't going to hang around if the atmosphere was weird or tense. She'd said that she'd give it a try. At this point she wasn't sure what to make of him other than he was polite, soft-spoken and friendly, even if a little childish. She began to wonder if the Sheriff hadn't offered the place to her so she could be a kind of babysitter, as if he wasn't comfortable having his son up at the lake all by himself.

He was still talking.

"The surviving hunter had three sons and he warned them about the Wendigo, so they avoided this area like the plague until one day, must have been some time in the early fifties, they were forced by a storm to land their bush plane here. They didn't know where they were, they just landed on whatever stretch of open water they could find. They heard the strange screams, saw the shape of the Wendigo in the mist and realized to their horror where they were, and tried to escape by taking off into the storm. There were lots of people on and around the lake that day and they all claim to have seen the plane rise slowly from the water with the Wendigo hanging off the pontoons, dragging the plane down."

"So a bush plane crashed in bad weather."

"No, the thing is, I've got to tell you, I saw that part, I saw it with my own eyes right from the dock down there. I was just a kid; just a toddler but I saw it. I saw a white shape rise up out of the roiling water grasping onto the pontoon. I heard the scream."

He was definitely more of a flake than she'd thought; she didn't think he was trying to scare her. Whatever he saw, the mist or clouds or even water dripping off of the pontoons, whatever he heard, the wind in the trees or the wail of the straining engine, he believed it. She didn't know much about him other than he'd done two tours in 'Nam back to back, in sixty eight and sixty nine, and after he got out, he'd gone to university out in California. She didn't know what he was supposed to be studying, but she suspected it included pharmaceuticals and other controlled substances. As far as she knew, he hadn't graduated with a degree of any kind.

"Funny how you see things as a kid," she found herself saying. "I remember I used to think that the door to my room was opening and closing at night until my Dad showed me how it was the shadows of the poplars swaying outside my window."

"Well the plane crashed, right down at the far end of the lake, right into the swamp where the first hunters was killed, happened when I was a kid."

The story was full of holes, what did the Wendigo have against that particular family for instance. And how did these guys know that they'd landed on Wendigo Lake? But she didn't want to give him a hard time. Probably he'd witnessed a plane crash when he was a kid and it made an impression on him.

"Nothing is ever easy," she thought. "Nothing is ever fucking easy". She listened to the throbbing voices of the frogs and the whine of the mosquitoes that fretted against the screen. She breathed deeply, taking in the night air. It was nice here; too bad she had to share it with a juvenile.

They were in the cookhouse, a long rectangular building with a sizable kitchen at one end, a long dining table down the middle, and a big screened in porch at the other end facing the lake. The place was decorated with the leavings of fifty years of hunters and family campers overlaid on the remains of nineteenth century woodsmen. Old whitened antlers on the walls, cryptic markings carved into the beams recording the dates of openings and visits, ancient weather reports, tallies of yearly hunts, like modern cave paintings. Ashtrays, plastic and glass, with faded logos of forgotten companies. On one wall, beer bottle caps of a hundred different brands were nailed in orderly ranks.

Mitch was saying that the number of sightings seemed to be increasing lately, and that meant the spirit was restless.

The Herkemer's had rigged a light bulb, as yet unshaded over the door, and another one in the ceiling over the kitchen area where a wood stove co-existed with a new electric range and a faucet shared a sink with a cast iron pump. There was no light at the lake end of the room, which was nice; it didn't pollute the night view of the moon on the water. They could see only a few small points of light on the far side of the lake, and looking straight across to the north shore the moonlight reflected off the slant of a steep rock face.

"Not a lot of cottages," she observed trying to get him off of this Wendigo kick. He was sitting in a low Adirondack chair looking out over the water with a bottle of Black Label in his hand. He turned to look at her, his face barely visible.

"The local people never built anything out here because of the Wendigo. Hell, even the Indians, the ferocious Mohawk avoided the place. For ages there was just this camp and the Margin's hunting shack just over there," he waved into the darkness to his right. The Ratsmuellers built a place at this end in the fifties, but hell they're German and didn't know any better. The new cottages that were built up here in the mid-sixties were all sold to people from far away. And of course there's the Parker place at the far end, that must have been here since the fifties too, but they were a strange family, almost as crazy as the Margins. And they paid the price for building out near the swamp."

She sighed. He was relentless. Whatever his reason, he was determined to finish his story.

"The Parker's had a boy, Brian, he was about four or five years older than me. People always said that he was fascinated by the Wendigo story. His dad died when he was around fourteen I think, but he and his mom still kept coming up here. He became obsessed with the Wendigo, always talking about her, going out at night, poking around the swamp in his canoe. One night he hanged himself, right there at their place, that wasn't that long ago, sometime around sixty-six."

That made her think; so they had a suicide on the lake. What were we talking about here? A suicide, maybe two, a plane crash, a couple of hunting accidents; pretty impressive when you strung them together, but when you considered that it was over a period of a hundred years or so, it wasn't such a big deal.

"I came up here the last time with my Dad when I was on leave before I went to 'Nam. He had his eye on the place back then, we did some fishing, met the new people on the lake. They were just new, but they'd all seen the Wendigo at one time or another. They even had pictures. They all had stories about strange noises, strange feelings; about things going missing or being moved around. It was really fucking strange, man. They were screwing with each other, trying to freak each other out, but you could tell that underneath it all, they believed."

"People see strange things in the night, they see what they want to see. Well on that happy note, I should be getting to bed, I've got a big day tomorrow," Kelly said and stood up.

"Sure, just thought it fair to tell you, you know, in case you were bugged by these things."

"Thanks, I'm not."

"You're gonna hear stories, that's all, I didn't want you to think that we were keeping anything from you."

He stood up, hands in the pockets of his jeans. He had on a collarless, short sleeve shirt with three or four buttons at the neck, a bit frayed, but clean. He didn't seem to be making any moves in any direction. He looked like he had more to say, so she started edging towards the door to the porch. She didn't need him to escort her to the bunkhouse, but she didn't want to just turn her back on him either. He shook himself and moved quickly past her to open the door for her. She wondered just how awkward all this was going to be.

And Jesus, he was still talking.

"Just that from what I've heard since I got up here, and from my Dad, things got even weirder with the new folks. I guess they're a pretty wild bunch across the lake, rich people having big crazy parties all the time, bringing up friends from the city. Three summers ago during a party, a woman fell off of Steep Rock across the way there, fell and killed herself. They said they were all out running around in the dark trying to get pictures of the Wendigo when something spooked her and she went over the edge."

So, another accident. Maybe this was just be a hard luck lake, although she didn't believe in luck any more than she believed in ghosts. She put her beer bottle in the case near the door and grabbed her purse. Mitch was lighting the wide, flat wick of a coal oil lamp with a wooden match. She had seen them around the place, real antiques with thick glass bases filled with yellowish brown kerosene. There was no electricity yet in the bunkhouse, which was one of the many projects that Mitch was supposed to be working on while he was up here.

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