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Mystery at Briar Lake
The snow and wind surround me. The vast, blue sky spreads as far as my eye can see. I look down from atop this mountain, and see the busy townspeople hustling about, with no time to take in the peaceful views that are all around them. I’m about to make my descent, when a young girl catches my eye. She was wearing a bright red hat and fuzzy boots, but she had no coat.
“Child,” I say. “Where is your coat?”
She doesn’t reply, so I try again.
“Child, where is your coat. It’s very cold.”
She finally looks up at me like she just realized I was there. She blushed and ran down a road that was closed to the town.
I didn’t know what else to do, so I went back to my cottage.
“How very peculiar. I wonder why she didn’t have a coat,” I thought aloud to myself.
The next day, I asked around the town to see if anyone had seen the little girl. Every time I asked, they looked at me like I was insane. One nice man eventually directed me towards the records building.
“Excuse me ma’am,” I said to the lady at the desk. “I’m looking for a little girl. She’s wearing a bright red hat and boots. But she doesn’t have a coat.”
The lady looked at me like I was as crazy as Old Man Smithers.
“Ma’am. The girl you described, died 15 years ago. She drowned in the lake,” the lady said.
I thought that was impossible, considering I just saw her yesterday.
“Oh, I must be mistaken then. Sorry to waste your time.”
But I knew that I wasn’t mistaken. The little girl showed herself to me, yesterday. The day marking the 15th anniversary of her death. Her birthday.
“By chance, was her death declared an accident, or was there foul play involved?,” I asked the lady at the desk before I leave.
“It was declared a mystery. The case is still open, but they suspect she was murdered.”
Well, there's the reason she showed herself. But why to me? Why not to a parent or loved one? Guess I’ll have to find out.
I make my journey home when something catches my eye: a red hat. I don't even think twice, I run after her. I run and run and I finally end up at the lake where she met her untimely demise.
“MAGGIE!,” I yell her name. “WHY AM I HERE?”
No answer, of course. I didn’t expect one. What was I doing here? Following a ghost? I don't even believe in ghosts.
“If you don't believe then why are you here?,” I ask myself.
I don't know, self. I don't know.
It was the start of a new day. I went home after the day at the lake, wondering why Maggie chose me. Of all the people she could’ve reached out to, she picked me. A complete stranger. It’s been nearly a month since I last saw her, but I know she is still around. I catch a glimpse of her red hat every so often when I round a corner. I’ve given up asking the townspeople about her. They all look at me like I’m insane or something, which isn’t true, I’m completely sane.
“Hey. I think you dropped this,” a familiar voice called out to me.
“Ethan! How are you,” I said as he walked up. “I know I didn’t drop that. You know I don't smoke.”
“I know. I just wanted you to turn around. I missed you,” he said as he wrapped me in his arms. His hug lingering a little longer than usual.
“What are you doing here? I thought you took off. You know, after…” I trailed off. But he knew exactly what I was trying to say.
“I did leave. But I had this gut feeling that I needed to come back. So here I am,” he said.
As grateful as I am for him being back, I’m not sure if I can handle drama with Ethan and trying to figure out what exactly is going on with Maggie.
“You seem distracted, Vickie. What’s wrong,” Ethan asked.
“Nothing. I’m just thinking about how much I missed you. That’s all,” I said. I don't want to tell him what’s been going on. He’d probably think I’m insane.
“Good. Because I missed you too,” he replied, not sensing the fact I was hiding anything from him.
There used to be a time when I told Ethan everything, not matter how big or small they seemed. But now… now everything is different. He would call me crazy if I told him the truth, or he would try to be all sympathetic, and that wouldn’t help me any. It would just tick me off.
“I don't want to be mean, but I’m tired and I want to go home. I’ll see you tomorrow or something, okay,” I said. I just want to be alone.
“I can come with you. I know how you hate being alone,” he said, not getting the hint.
I don't want to be mean, but I know that I’m going to have to be.
“I want to be alone, Ethan. You’re not my boyfriend, and I didn’t miss you okay? I just want you to leave me alone so I can have some peace and quiet. Something I can’t get when I’m with you because you never shut up. Just leave me alone,” I snapped. I’d probably regret it later, but oh well. It’s too late to take it back.
“Victoria…. I thought….,” he trailed off.
“What did you think Ethan? That you could just leave after your sister died and not talk to anyone? That you could just come back into my life and things would return back to normal? That all would be forgiven and forgotten? No. You left me here, mourning. She was my family, too, you know. Not just yours. Do what you do best and leave,” I said.
He just stood there. Knowing he wasn’t going to leave first, I turned to leave. But he stopped me with two words.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“What,” I asked.
“I said I’m sorry,” he said a little louder. “I know how much Maggie meant to you. But… I don't think she would want you to be alone all the time. I know she was you're family. When you're family died, she was there for you. But, Vic, you have to let her go. The way you're mourning isn’t going to make anything better.”
“You think I don't know that? I’ve been by myself since you left, Ethan. Don't tell me stuff I already know…,” I said. “Just… I have a lot I need to figure out, and I don't think I can do it if I have you constantly in my face about everything and following me around like a lost puppy.”
“What do you mean you have stuff to figure out,” he asked. “It’s been 15 years. What could you possibly still have to figure out? Maggie’s dead. She drowned. Move on.”
I just stood there, shocked.
“SHE WAS YOUR SISTER! HOW CAN YOU JUST ACT LIKE IT DIDN’T HAPPEN? I KNOW IT HAPPENED ETHAN. CONSIDERING THE FACT I STILL SEE HER AROUND HERE,” I yelled not even thinking about what I just admitted.
“What do you mean you still see her,” he asked. “Like, you think you see her, or you actually see her?”
Well, here goes nothing.
“No Ethan. I actually see her. I saw her a little over a month ago when I was on top of the mountain, skiing. I saw her red hat. You know the one I mean,” I said. “And don't try to tell me I’m crazy or that I’m just thinking that I’m seeing her. Because I know that’s not true. She talked to me, Ethan. She led me to the lake.”
“Why would she lead you to the lake,” he asked. “We already know she drowned.”
“That’s the thing. What if she didn’t drown,” I asked.
“Are you saying what I think you're saying,” he asked.
“What I’m saying is,” I started. “Is that, I think she may have drowned. But it wasn’t an accident. I think someone followed her to the lake that day. Or maybe she saw something she shouldn’t have and someone didn’t want that getting out, so they made sure it wouldn’t.”
“Are you saying that you think someone killed my baby sister,” he asked, starting to get angry.
“Yes but I-,” I started to say, but he cut me off.
“No,” he said.
“No,” I asked.
“No. She wasn’t murdered. Just drop it. Let her rest in peace,” he said.
“But-,” I tried again.
“JUST DROP IT VICTORIA! SHE WAS MY BABY SISTER AND SHE’S GONE. JUST LEAVE IT ALONE,” he screamed.
With that, I turned and walked to my cabin. I couldn’t shake the feeling that Ethan, as much as I trusted him, was hiding something really important. Why would he yell at me for trying to figure out exactly what happened to his sister? Unless he had something to do with… No. He wouldn’t have killed his baby sister. Would he?
It’s been 2 weeks since Ethan and I got into our fight. I just wanted him to understand where I was coming from. It isn’t just me who thought that there was foul play involved. The town thinks maybe Ethan killed his sister… I just hope that it’s just gossip. I grew up with him. I don’t want to think that he had anything to do with it. I just wish that I had more information about exactly what happened the day Maggie died. I don't know where Ethan was. I don't know why Maggie was at the lake.
There are so many details that weren’t released to the public… Growing up in our small town, you think you know everything about everyone who lives here. But that’s not the case with our town. Everyone has a ton of secrets. People I thought I knew my whole life, lived more than one life. A second life that they wanted to keep hidden.
Until Maggie’s death, nobody really paid attention to what anyone did. They would see them on the street and you would say “Hi”, but you wouldn’t just wonder what exactly happened in their freetime. If anything, you would think that everyone would just do their own thing, not bothering anyone. When we were younger, Ethan and I used to spend every waking minute in each other’s houses. We knew everything about each other… or so I thought. I knew him and Maggie fought a lot, but I knew they always made up in the end. I don't remember a time when they didn’t make up. They may have fought, but he was a good brother…
But what kind of brother would kill his sister? No. I can’t think like that. I need him to be innocent…I can’t lose another person I care about… I’ve already lost my family. He’s the only family I have left.
Maybe, if I can figure out what happened to Maggie, it will help clear his name. But who knows? Maybe she really did just drown. But then again. Not everyone is what they seem. Ethan proved that from the very beginning…
Ethan and I had been together since we were in diapers. We grew up together, we played together, and as we got older, we just worked together. He was my other half. We fit together like two pieces of a puzzle. We were together through thick and thin.
It wasn’t until freshman year that we officially started dating. Everyone knew it was going to happen, even before we did. Being that close with someone your whole life, you don't just not end up together in some way or another. He made me feel safe. We did everything together. He would support me at my softball games, and I would support him at his wrestling matches. We went to every school function, even the dumb dances. Freshman homecoming was the most memorable dance over the 4 years we were in that school.
We got pictures and went out to dinner and made a mandatory appearance at the dance, but we left early. We just drove around until we found a clearing by Briar Lake, the place we first met. Me, being the girl I am, had worn heels. Therefore, I had to take my shoes off and walk through the mud barefoot. We didn’t walk far, just far enough that we could see the moon reflect on the lake’s surface. Ethan was always full of surprises. I thought we were just going to stand there, but no. He lays a blanket down on the ground so we could lay under the stars. He was always so romantic. I laid there in his arms, and in that moment, I knew I was head over heels in love with him. The same nerdy boy I was best friends with when I was 3.
“Ethan…” I said.
“Yeah V”, he asked.
“I… I love you…” I said.
“I love you, too”, he replied as he kissed me.
It started out as just a slow kiss. Then another and another, all lingering a little longer than the last. His hands reaching behind me to unzip my dress.
“Wait…” I said.
“If you’re not ready, we can wait”, he said.
“It’s not that. Just… be gentle. Okay”, I said, my voice shaking.
“I won’t hurt you. I love you too much”, he said.
He unzipped my dress and slipped it over my head as I unbuttoned his shirt. His hands running up and down my back and stomach like they already knew their way around. He kissed me again, this time with more passion and something else… hunger. He kissed my cheek, slowing going down my neck and stomach then back up to my lips. The night air was cold, but we were on fire. His hands were so soft against my stomach. Every time I would kiss his neck, he would tense up.
I’d go into more detail, but I feel like it’s something that should stay between Ethan and I, even all these years later. He was my best friend. We were each other’s first in every way possible. Too bad things ended the way they did between us…
It was after graduation when we broke up. We both were going to different schools. Him Penn State, me Standford. 2,718.5 miles away from each other. We fought and fought for the 2 weeks leading up to us leaving. When it came down to it, we just broke it off, I guess. The distance too much. I was going to school for psychology and he was going to major in war history. I would be in school for up to 12 years. I would be in school significantly longer than Ethan would. So we just, went our separate ways I guess. I do miss him though…
Why did she chose me? What happened to her that day? Why is Ethan acting so strange? All these questions and no answers to follow up. Everything in this small town has been a mystery since the town was discovered, but this is different.
“Ethan. Can we please talk? I’m sorry”, I pleaded.
“I don't know honestly. You kind of snapped. I didn’t do anything except try to care. Why would I want to talk to you if you don't care about me”, he said.
I had no answer. I know I had hurt him, but I need him to help me figure out what is going on.
“I need your help, Ethan”, I said. “I can’t do everything on my own.”
“Why did you snap at me then? I wanted to help you”, he said.
“I didn’t want you to call me crazy or to get mad at me. So I did what I do best and snapped at you so you would leave me alone. I’m sorry”, I said. “Will you please help me?”
“Yeah. You just have to tell me what’s going on. I can’t read your mind you know”, he said.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if you could”, I mumbled.
“What was that”, he asked.
“Nothing. Just thinking aloud to myself”, I said.
“Okay. So what exactly has been going on lately? I haven’t been back long enough to have heard everything”, he said, clearly concerned for my sanity.
“Can we go somewhere else and talk? I’d rather not have the town rioting because I’m bringing up old tragedy and ‘spreading rumors’”, I asked.
“Of course. Where do you want to go? Dinner or your place or my cabin”, he asked.
“Up to you. I’m not hungry but if you are we could pick up food and go to your place. I’ve always felt more comfortable there”, I said.
“Takeout it is. Pizza still the food of choice”, he asked.
“With pineapples and ham”, I replied. “And extra-”
“And extra cheese and black olives. I know Victoria”, he finished the sentence for me.
I didn’t think he would remember a detail as insignificant as what I get on my pizza. I can’t remember how many times we used to order pizza when we were kids. We were regulars at Ben’s Pizza Barn. We could call and they would just know what we wanted. We just had to tell them our name and the pizza was at our house less than 20 minutes later.
“Oh. Ben’s closed 9 years ago. We can’t order from there anymore”, I said. “But Roma’s has good pizza,too.”
“Okay. I think I’ve eaten there before… I can’t remember though”, he said. “Is it still super greasy? Or did Tony change the recipe?”
“Umm… I don't know honestly. I haven’t eaten much pizza since you left. It just hasn’t been something I wanted till now”, I said. “But Roma’s is known for their greasy pizza.”
“True. Okay. I’ll go get the pizza and meet you at my house in an hour. Then we can eat and talk and figure out our move from there”, he said. “Sound good?”
“Yeah. But I’m going to go home and shower first. Just text me when you’re on your way home. I’ll head over then.”
“Okay. I’ll see you in a little bit”, he said.
“Okay”, I replied as I walked down the sidewalk.
Well, maybe this is what Maggie wanted… For me and Ethan to get close again. But why would she reveal herself on the anniversary of her death? The only thing that makes sense is that she wants us to figure out exactly what happened the day she died. But… what if Ethan had something to do with it? What if his parents did? But… what if… what if she killed herself? What if something happened and she couldn’t take it anymore? So many questions, so little answers…