The Lady In The Lake
“Lawrence please!” Mabel shrieks as her bloodied hand grips the stone doorway. She backs away from the side porch of the lake house. “I’m not leavin, I promise. Please. I love you.” Mabel looks into Lawrence’s eyes, desperately searching for the relief of mercy. Upon realising he had none, her eyes widen in undeniable fear. She staggers back further from the light of the stone way. Her silhouette disappears into the fog of the night as Lawrence drunkenly stumbles from the house, into the light of the porch. With gritted rage seeping through his clenched teeth, He answers.
“Love me?” He tightly closes his eyes, mouth, and fists. On one cheek, his jaw muscles popped and skipped. Suddenly, as if releasing fury pent up from a lifetime of frustration, he screamed, “If ya love me, you’d give me the respect I fuckin deserve as a fuckin man!”
She knew at that moment, he was going to kill her. Tonight, she was going to die. She turns from him and runs to the dock of the lake. Lawrence couldn’t swim, this was her only chance at survival. She dashes off of the dock and jumps into the lake. The cold water hits her like an electric shock and she forgets how to breath. Lawrence runs to the edge of the dock and provides no aid to her fight for life. She knows now, this is it. She has nothing left inside to fight the freezing water. Then, as if she knew she was in control, she stopped fighting. With her nose below the water, staring directly into Lawrence’s eyes, she flashes an insidious smile that shakes him to his core, a smile that he would never forget.
It’s been 97 years since that tragic evening. Maudette slowly pulls her car into the long tunneled entrance that meets the lakehouse. The deep trellis driveway is heavily saturated in thick leaves and red berries. Sharp spots of sunlight stab through the ground ahead. Maudette hadn’t anticipated the sudden mixture of anxiety and nostalgia brewing in her heart. Polly, starred out the passenger window, admiring the whimsicality of it all.
“Oh my goodness Maudie, this is breathtaking!” Says Polly. After receiving no response, Polly turns to Maudette and searches her face. She can read Maudette’s hesitation and whispers to her. “It’s ok, I’m here with you.”
Maudette, fueled by Polly’s encouragement, nods her head, grips the wheel, and presses the gas. As they approach the end of the driveway, shards of sunlight peering through the trellis disappear from left to right. The women curiously look up as they exit and see the sun swallowed whole by a grey cloud.
“Well, that escalated quickly.” Says Polly.
“Yea.” Maudette laughs
Their chuckles fade and they gaze ahead as the grey cloud disappears. There it stood, as if untouched by time, Maudette’s childhood home. Her twin brother, Marian, named it Mulberry Manor due to the property’s location. It sat on a lake reserve surrounded by hundreds of mulberry trees. The ground was always plump with fallen, ripe, blood red mulberries. The twins would run along the lakeside barefoot, leaving red juice on their feet and all around. The lake stood so calm, silent, and exposed. A light fog passed over the surface of the water, covering it with a never ending blanket of thick smoke. Memories began to flood Maudette’s mind. She escaped to one memory in particular, a bright summer day. The sun shined on the lake, to which it glistened blue, green, and yellow sparkles in return. She was 6 years old. Her and Marian were holding hands running in a circle. They were dancing and singing a song.
Down by the mulberries
There’s a lady in the lake
Beware all boys and men
Be careful what you break
Once upon a time there was a lady in the lake
Her promise is unbroken
Her burden won’t forsake
“Maudette! Marian! Time for lunch!” Their mother’s voice echoed from the side porch of the lake house.
“Come on Maudie, let’s jump in first.” Marian deviously whispered.
Maudette and Marian ran into the lake fully clothed, without letting go of one another’s hands. They dove deep into the water and faced one another. Marian pressed his forehead into Maudette’s. Maudette gently placed her tiny hands onto his face.
“Together forever.” They mouthed to each other, then kicked their little legs and swam up to meet the sparkling surface.
Maudette shook her head as if she was forcing the memory from her mind. Polly empathetically grabs her hand.
“Come on, let’s go inside.” Polly says.
Maudette hadn’t stepped foot onto the property since she was 15 years old, the worst year of her life. The summer of 2004, the summer Marian disappeared days before the tragic car accident that killed both of their parents. Maudette lost everything that year, only God knows how she held on and moved forward from it all. Here she was, 17 years later, leaving an unhealthy marriage to move into her family home for a fresh beginning.
Maudette met Polly in college when they were 18 years old. They were instantly inseparable and shared everything. Maudette even allowed Polly to call her Maudie, a nickname once only spoken by Marian. Maudette couldn’t be more appreciative of having a friend like Polly. She understood how difficult it was for Maudette to return to Mulberry Manor. Being a dedicated friend, she graciously offered to move into the Manor with Maudette to ease the pain of its haunted past.
The women climb the stone stairway leading to the front patio of the lakehouse. As they reach the curved stone wall entrance with welcoming french doors, Maudette closes her eyes in anticipation. She reaches for the keys and inserts them into the door, listening carefully for a click before gently pushing it open. Her and Polly stand outside assessing the interior with their eyes before entering completely. Maudette walks inside first, Polly closely behind holding onto her hand.
“Maudie,” Polly whispers in emotional admiration. “This is a dream house, it’s absolutely beautiful!”
“Yea, I forgot how beautiful...” Maudette shakes her head in disbelief. “...it’s unreal being here. Everything is...” Tears well up into Maudette’s eyes as her throat begins to close. “...it’s exactly the same.” The words barely escape Maudette’s mouth when she sees a woman staring at her outside the kitchen window, drenched in water. Maudette’s breath escapes her and she passes out in the entryway hall.
Minutes later Maudette wakes up lying down with her head in Polly’s lap on the brown leather sofa in the library. Polly looks deeply into Maudettes eyes and says, “Are you ok? You passed out and hit your head on the table.” Maudette sits up, looks around the room and a tear falls from her eye.
“I’m ok, I promise.” She replies.
“Lets get settled in.” Polly says.
They bring in a few suitcases from the car. There is no need for a whole moving production due to the house being fully furnished. At the top of the stairs there is a large hallway with 4 rooms. Maudette’s old room to the right, the bathroom straight ahead, their parents' old room across from that, and Marian's room to the left. Maudette leads Polly to Marian’s old room. “This is it, make yourself at home. Let me know if there’s anything you need.” Maudette says to Polly from the doorway, refusing to step foot into her brother’s old room. Polly slowly passes Maudette as she grazes her fingers along Marian’s engraved initials on the wooden doorway. She walks right to the center of the room and falls into the bed.
“Home sweet home.” Polly expresses with a sigh of comfort. “I’ll be in here, let me know when you want to get dinner started.” Polly yawns.
Maudette is unpacked and ready to explore. She walks out of the side porch door towards the lake. The dock creeks and the water moves slowly. A soft breeze carries a noise that whistles from the surface of the water. It sounds like a woman humming. It’s a song she’s heard before, the one that Maudette and Marian would sing before jumping in the lake as children. Taken back from the familiarity of the noise, Maudette quickly goes back inside to look for Polly.
“Hey, you’re shivering. Come sit, I’ll make you some tea.” Polly says as she leads Maudette to a chair.
The kitchen table sits directly in front of a large casement window providing a full view of the lake. Maudette stares out and whispers, “It was the lady in the lake.”
“What?” Polly questions.
“Down by the mulberries, there’s a lady in the lake, beware all boys and men, be careful what you break. Once upon a time there was a lady in the lake, her promise is unbroken, her burden won’t forsake. It was her, Polly, the lady in the lake. She took him away.” Maudette whimpers.
“What are you talking about?” Polly replies.
Maudette begins to explain, never losing eye contact with the lake. “My Great Great Grandfather Lawrence, would sing that song day in and day out, like he was in a trance. Her burden won’t forsake...” Maudette looked at Polly, who seemed disappointed. “The story is that Grandfather Lawrence was abusive. One night he and my Grandma Mabel were fighting. She ran from him and jumped into the lake. But the water was so cold that she went into shock and drowned. Before she went down she cursed the lake. If a man causes harm to a woman, she takes them away.” Maudette looks at Polly, who still seems unconvinced, and says, “That summer Marian and I got into a huge argument.” Maudette paused, clearly hesitant to share the whole truth. “We got into an argument down by the lake, things escalated and he hit me. That same night he disappeared into thin air. He just vanished Polly...and I know It was Grandmother Mabel...I know it was.”
“Maudie I love you, but I can’t play make believe with you and…” Polly looks at the pain in Maudette’s face. “...just remember, I’m here with you.”
“You know I appreciate you being here and I don’t want to drive you away, but where could he have gone?” Maudette exclames.
“Maudie! I am..” A loud bang from upstairs abruptly interrupts Polly.
Maudette jumps from her chair and runs over to Polly who takes a sigh of frustration. Maudette grabs Polly’s hand and slowly guides her to the staircase to check out the noise. They see a path of bloodied footprints leading up the stairs. Then they hear an even louder thump. Maudette almost loses her footing as she pauses and presses her free hand to her chest. Polly signals for her to keep going and pushes her forward. They reach the top of the stairs and Maudette peaks her head into the hallway scanning for any signs of movement. The bloodied footprints lead straight to Marian’s old room. As her eyes land on the door, it’s handle jiggles. Maudette’s entire body freezes in anticipation and she squeezes Polly’s hand. Her fear suddenly shifts. A sharp pain jolts down her spine. Something wasn’t right, why did her hand hurt? Why was it wet? Maudette began to look behind her but she was interrupted by another loud thump coming from Marian’s bedroom. Maudette’s eyes quickly darted back to the bedroom door. The handle began to jiggle more frantically. The thumping noise was paired with the entire door shaking, as if someone were trying to escape. Bang, thump, jiggle, bang, thump, jiggle. Maudette could barely stand it. She turned her head and screamed, “Run!” To her utter shock and horror no one stood behind her. She was holding something but it wasn't Polly’s hand. Marian’s bedroom door slams open. Maudette loses her balance and falls down the stairs. Barely conscious, she sees a woman drenched in water running down after her.
Maudette wakes up and moans in pain. In complete disorientation she looks around waiting for anything to come into focus. She begins to recognize that she’s lying in a bed. Although her entire body is in agony from the fall, something takes her attention from the pain. She looks down at her hand that lays underneath the blanket. It's throbbing and cramped, and it's still wet. Maudette lifts the blanket and slowly slides her hand up from her side. It was completely shut, she was unconsciously holding onto something so hard that blood was dripping from her fist. It had been closed so tightly for so long that she had to use her other hand to massage it open. As it began to register with Maudette what was in her hand, she screamed in absolute despair. “No, no, nooooooooooooooooooo!” She screamed herself back into unconsciousness. Dirt, mulberries, and a picture fell from her limp hand onto the floor. It was an old photo of her and her family at the lake. Maudette, her mother, and father stood in a warm embrace and to the far right standing alone, stood Polly.
Maudette woke up to Polly soaking wet, sitting on the edge of her bed, affectionately rubbing her head. “Marian, I’m...I’m so sorry...” Maudette cried. “I pushed you into the lake. You just wanted to be yourself, you needed me to acknowledge your existence, and call you Polly. I was so selfish...when I pushed you...I...I...I just left you there.” Maudette cried hysterically in Polly’s arms. Polly looked at Maudette, her twin sister and shook her head.
“I didn’t drown in the lake. I’m here with you.” Polly whispers.
Maudette began to vividly remember that night. The warm breeze flowing from the lake, mulberries covering the ground, an owl loudly hooting from a nearby tree. Marian was standing on the dock, shaking from anger, his face covered in tears. Maudette stood holding her jaw in shock. She couldn't believe Marian hit her. At the time, Maudette didn't see her father sitting in the driveway witnessing the entire display. He had no patience for Marian’s true identity and even less for boys hitting girls. As he ran from his truck he saw Maudette push Marian into the lake and run to the house. He observed that Maudette was so upset, she didn't bother to check if Marian was ok after the fall. Maudette ran upstairs and lay in bed crying after the fight. Then she heard the humming.
Down by the mulberries
there’s a lady in the lake,
beware all boys and men,
be careful what you break.
Once upon a time there was a lady in the lake,
her promise is unbroken,
her burden won’t forsake.
Maudette lay frozen in fear in bed. She just knew Grandma Mabel was coming for Marian, but outside her window, a different story was revealed. What Mabel missed as she lay in fear was a beautiful woman emerging from the lake. Her brown skin glistened from the water and the moonlight. She approached their father from behind, gently grabbed his hand, and whispered something in his ear. Their mother closed her eyes and sighed in pain. Her bloodline connection with Mabel allowed her to know exactly what would happen next.
Polly sighed. “Grandma Mabel didn't take me away, Maudie...it was Dad. He lost control after he saw me hit you...he beat me to the brink of death...Mom was so scared he’d go to jail that she poisoned me...she took me to my room and then she made me a drink...a mulberry smoothie...unripe mulberries.” Polly looked up to the attic that sat above her bedroom. “They wrapped me in plastic and hid me up there.” Polly grabbed Maudette’s shoulders and leaned in so close their foreheads met. “Grandma Mabel didn’t take me away..she took them away...I’m here with you.”