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Mirror Lake

by Carol Price 7 months ago in Mystery
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A mystery

Mirror Lake
Photo by eberhard 🖐 grossgasteiger on Unsplash

I tried to capture on camera the distorted image that was projected from the surface of the water. The wooden cabin by the shoreside across the lake from me looked very ordinary until my eye was drawn to its image. It seemed that the sides of the building were bulging as if about to burst open and the setting sun was contained within the reflection of the building like a burning fire. I had to look up to the shore to check that the cabin was not in fact on fire. It stood, dark and empty, but with the glow from the sun burnishing the dirty windows.

I knew that there were rumors abounding about what had happened here in the past. Some say that a man and a child had been living in the cabin. Walkers had reported hearing what they thought was a child singing as they trekked through the glen, but they couldn’t be certain it wasn’t a mockingbird calling. No trace of the child was ever found and no one appeared to know who the man was.

I had often thought that there was something mysterious about the building. No one seemed to claim ownership, even though the door was clearly padlocked. In all the years that I had visited this place, I had never seen a single soul by the cabin. The only access was across the lake by boat and there was no evidence of any such craft in the reeds that I could see. So how was it that the grass was flattened at the front? Had campers been there recently, or perhaps deer had come in the night and made it their resting place?

If I was not mistaken, there had been some repairs done to the roof since the last time I visited. Someone was definitely taking responsibility for the cabin. I had asked about the cabin when I visited the general store, but the storekeeper had looked at me blankly.

‘I ain’t been here long, Mister’, he said. ‘You best ask Miss Proby in the clothes store across the way. She’ll know, mark my word’.

‘Will do, and thanks,’ I said, as I picked up my tinned beans, bread, and matches.

I remembered the story about Miss Proby from years back. She had been engaged to be married to a small-time banker who had breezed into the town and swept her off her feet. It all fell apart later when the rumor about him was found to be true. He had a wife and kids back in Montreal. She never really recovered from that betrayal. When her father died, she took over his shop and kept it going, even through the bad times when everyone had lost their savings in the bank crash.

So she was still here, I thought. Poor woman. It hasn’t been much of a life for her managing a run-down store in a town where few strangers passed through.

I crossed the dusty road. The old-fashioned little bell that sat on the door frame began to tinkle as the mechanism was triggered when I pushed the door open. It was quite dark inside and it took my eyes a little while to adjust to the lower light level. Standing like a statue behind the counter was a tall, thin woman with grey hair tied back in a ponytail. Her drab clothes looked out of place next to the shelves of bright T-shirts, jeans, and baseball caps. She wasn’t a great advertisement for her business, I thought.

‘Can I help you?’ she asked.

‘You probably don’t remember me, but I come through here every summer and I camp up by the lake with my dogs.’

‘Your face looked familiar. We don’t get all that many coming through the town since they built the big highway.’

‘I was just kinda curious about something and I wondered if you could fill me in. You know that cabin by the lake that sits all alone on the far shore? It looks to me like someone’s been taking care of it as the roof looks fixed since I last came by. I had it in my mind to ask if I could buy it actually. Do you know who owns it?’

‘Don’t take this the wrong way, Mister, but you best not even think about that. That’s an evil place and people have come to harm there. Stay well away if you value your health and sanity, and that’s all I have to say on the matter’.

She looked at me with a steady gaze, as if challenging me. I must have appeared unsettled. I certainly felt like I was up in front of a teacher who was admonishing me for submitting my work late.

‘I might have spoken out of turn there, Mister, but I always speak my mind. People round here will tell you that. You best not poke around in other people’s business.’

‘Thank you ma’am for your advice’, I said, doffing my cap to her as I left the store, but beneath my apparent calm demeanor, I was feeling even more determined to find out about the cabin. I wasn’t going to be scared off by a prudish spinster.

The only other option was to talk to the lawyer down the street. He might be more forthcoming and he was more likely to have inside information about ownership. I thought I would come back at the beginning of next week and follow up on that.

As I climbed into my pickup, I saw Miss Proby peering out the window, watching my every move. Something didn’t seem right. She was definitely warning me off. I wondered what her connection was to the old cabin.

I headed back to the lake and set up camp on the opposite shore to the cabin, where I had a good view with my binoculars. My khaki canvas tent was old and battered but was excellently camouflaged behind the scrubby bushes. It had served me well over the years. The pickup wasn’t so easily hidden. It had to be close to the tent because of the dogs.

There was definite evidence of bears in the neighborhood. I had seen their footprints in the sand by the lake’s edge, so I wasn’t going to take any chances. The dogs would have to sleep in the pickup tonight. They would soon enough let me know if anyone or anything was prowling around the campsite.

I sat up late by the campfire, enjoying the mild evening weather, and downed a couple of cold beers. The dogs sprawled by my side in the warm glow from the flames and I finally felt the stresses and strains of my work lifting. This was the best way to combat the anxiety of modern life and the only time I really got to enjoy the natural world. It seemed hundreds of miles away from my disciplined office existence.

My grandparents on my mother’s side had been off gridders and I spent the long summer holidays with them as I was growing up. I learnt to be self-sufficient and to be happy with my own company. I knew more about the wildlife and plants of this area than anyone else I had ever met. It felt absolutely natural for me to spend time on my own ( not discounting the two dogs of course). Since I broke up with my long-term girlfriend, there was no pressure to get back to the city until my 3-week vacation was up.

I was getting tired, so I put the dogs to bed in the pickup leaving a window slightly open. They obediently curled up on the back seat. I headed into my tent and took off my boots. Not bothering to remove the rest of my clothes I hunkered down in my sleeping bag and fell asleep almost immediately.

I awoke sometime later to the sound of a low growling from the dogs. Worried that it might be a bear, I grabbed my flashlight and shotgun and quietly opened the tent flap. I had a good view of the camp and across to the lake without stepping outside. The moon was bright enough that I didn’t need the flashlight. As my eyes got accustomed to the low-level light, I breathed a sigh of relief that there was no evidence of a bear. Listening closely and trying to filter out the dog growls, I was sure I could hear the sound of oars splashing in the water.

I crawled out of the front of the tent and hidden as I was behind a scrubby bush, picked up my night vision binoculars, and scanned the lake. Sure enough, there was a small rowboat heading over to the cabin. I couldn’t make out who was in the boat, just a shape hunched over the oars, wearing dark clothing.

Then suddenly I saw a flickering light inside the cabin There was definitely someone inside! I watched intently as the rowboat drew near the small landing stage and the person tied the boat to the pole before stepping out. Small in stature and of slight build, was it a young boy or a woman? I couldn’t tell.

There was nothing random about this visitor. Clearly, they were expected. The door of the cabin opened briefly to let the visitor in. Try as I might I couldn’t make out who had opened the door. A brief glimpse of a candlelit interior was all I saw.

There was no more sound and the dogs had settled again. I lay where I was, determined to wait and watch. After an hour or so, the door opened again and a figure came out and headed straight back to the boat. There was hardly a sound as the oars slipped through the glassy surface of the lake. I trained my night vision binoculars on the rower and got a glimpse of their face as they lifted their head with the rhythm of the rowing. I was almost certain it was Miss Proby.

As she disappeared from view, I stood up slowly, my limbs stiff from maintaining my secluded position among the bushes. I returned to my warm sleeping bag but couldn’t get back to sleep. I tossed and turned until the dawn light began to seep through the fabric of the tent.

As I sat over the campfire drinking a very welcome mug of coffee, I tried to make sense of what I had seen and the rumors that had been rife in the town years ago. What if there had been a child who was still alive? Why would Miss Proby take a late-night trip across the lake? Was she responsible in some way for caring for the person in the cabin? Why was she keeping it a secret?

I remembered her father. He was a big man who spoke little. The local children were afraid of him and there were some who said that he used to beat up his wife. At about the age of eleven or twelve, his daughter went away to school, or at least that’s what I heard said when I went drinking in the bar. There was an awful lot of gossip in that small town and half the time I took no notice of it when the beer was slurring words and fueling arguments.

I decided to tackle this head-on. I drove back into town mid-morning and strode up to Miss Proby’s shop. The little bell tinkled again as I walked through the door. She was standing as she always did, behind the counter, arms crossed, a scowl on her face.

‘You again’, she said.

‘Yea. There was something I wanted to say to you.'

She lifted the countertop and walked past me, switched the sign over to ‘Closed’, and locked the door.

‘You saw me last night, didn’t you.'

‘Yes I did, and I just wanted to say, if there is anything I can do to help, I will gladly do so’.

She looked momentarily taken aback. I guess she expected me to make trouble.

‘Mister, you can’t help me, but I’m thankful for your offer’.

‘Am I right in thinking you have a child there?’

‘How did you guess?” she said. I watched her clutch her apron tightly, a look of panic in her eyes.

I said nothing, waiting for her to get her emotions under control.

‘She’s my daughter. She’s not like you and me. She can’t speak. In the summer she runs with the deer and she learnt real well how to hide when anyone comes down the tracks. I bring her food.”

“So you didn’t go away to school?”

‘No. He kept me there locked in the cabin. For his pleasure. I thought I was going to die when I had the baby. He never got me any help. He just walked away and locked the door and left me in labor.’

‘Your father?’

She nodded.

‘Now that he’s gone, why don’t you get some help for her?’

‘She couldn’t live anywhere else. She’s a wild creature. I can care for her’.

She grabbed my arm.

‘Mister, you must never breathe a word of this, you hear?’

‘I hear. I’ll keep it secret if that’s what you want. I wish you well, Miss Proby’.

I turned and unlocked the door and stepped out into the sunshine. When I got back to the tent, I broke camp and moved on to another site. I couldn’t stay there knowing what I now knew. The horror that young woman had to endure haunted me. I never spoke of what she had told me.

A year later, as I drove back through the town, I saw that Miss Proby’s shop was all boarded up. I didn’t stop and headed on to the lake. As I drove down the dusty track, I looked over and saw that the premonition I had seen before reflected in the water had come to fruition. The cabin was nothing more than a skeleton of burnt timbers

I never discovered what happened to Miss Proby and her wild child, though the rumors of witchcraft, murder, and haunted spirits surface now and again in the smoky bar when the old men of the town get together.

Mystery

About the author

Carol Price

I used to be something else, but now I can hold my head up and say I am a writer. Retired doctor. Passionate about empowering people.

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