It is my pleasure to present to you the second of three 3rd place winners from the July 2018 Word Weaver Writing Contest, Sharon K Connell’s “Spirit Lake”
Sharon brought us a classically told eerie story I think you’ll enjoy.
Have a good time reading this story. I’ll give you my reasons for why I liked it at the bottom of the post.
THIRD PLACE WINNER
Sharon K Connell
Everyone says it’s just a legend. I know better.
My name is Patrick Nahmana. I’m a mystery writer. My Uncle Jelmer had recently died and left his old log cabin on Spirit Lake to me. For weeks, my wife Jen had insisted on a two-week vacation away from the bustle of Chicago life. Probably so I’d pay more attention to her than my computer. So, peace and quiet beckoned as we set off for Menagha, Minnesota.
It had been years since I’d visited the cabin on Spirit Lake. It stood on the shore with a magnificent view over the water from its rough timber porch. Interlocking logs with hand-hewn notches made the mid-eighteen hundreds structure look like something out of a movie. A stone foundation, firm as the Rockies, had the letter “P” carved into one white-colored stone at the base of the back porch stairs. I had carved the “P” when my uncle first told me the cabin would someday be mine. Branded.
Midafternoon, after I parked our old red truck at the cabin, Jen got out and gazed at the wooden structure. “It’s such a big place, Patrick. Wide and sprawling.”
We strolled around to the back. At the porch steps, I fingered the carved initial. “Yep. This place has been in our family unchanged from its birth.” I grinned at her. “I have plans to update it.” We took the short stone path that meandered its way down a slope to the water.
Early the next morning, I sat on the porch in a lawn chair, coffee in hand, listening to the call of blue jays. A resident heron few across the water and landed in the top of a tall pine.
Wrapped in a wool Indian blanket and carrying a huge cup of coffee, my wife stepped from the cabin onto the porch. “Patrick, we’re making a jaunt into the town of Brainerd for some early Christmas shopping, today.”
To distract her from the subject, I pointed to the large windows on either side of the rustic back door. “Why do you suppose there aren’t any windows on the sides of this cabin? And the windows in the front are only half the size of these?”
She smirked. “Maybe the big windows in the back have something to do with that old lake legend.” She walked away, snickering.
Strategy hadn’t worked. I grimaced. Christmas shopping in town still on the agenda.
After breakfast, we jumped into the truck. A surprise overnight snowfall had turned the countryside into an early winter wonderland, like a fluffy white blanket covering the trees and cabin.
As I drove, Jen and I discussed gifts for family members. Actually, she suggested. I agreed. She made notes, and I traversed the blacktopped highway during the lull in our conversation. I glanced over to her. “You know, when you teased about the Spirit Lake legend this morning, it made me—”
“Don’t start with that spooky story again. You know it gives me the creeps! I’m sorry I mentioned it.” Her voice had a nervous quiver in it. We drove on in silence.
After we’d navigated the packed stores and endless trinkets in specialty shops well into the afternoon, Jen suggested a late lunch in a quaint cafe. We sat back having coffee at the end of our meal. “Jen, what I wanted to tell you on the way here was—”
“Can we talk about it later? That dark sky tells me we need to get back to the cabin.”
She was right. It wouldn’t be good to be caught in a snowstorm, not in a truck with no snow tires.
As we drove out of town, the snow began. “Jen, we’ll eventually have a family. We’ll want more rooms when we vacation at the lake. We could pull the cabin down and rebuild once my next book is on the market. What do you think?” Jen didn’t answer. Was she more interested in the scenery? Or she disagreed and didn’t want to start an argument.
Her head turned to the direction from where we’d come, then straight ahead. “This road isn’t right, Patrick. Did you take a different way back?”
After I brought the truck to a stop, I turned and scanned the area for a familiar landmark. Nothing. And no other vehicles on the road. “You’re right. I must have made a wrong turn. We’ll go back.”
A prickly sensation snaked it’s way up the back of my neck. The paved road had narrowed to one lane, making a turnaround impossible. When had that happened? Had I been that lost in thought? Ahead on the left was a small dirt road. I pulled into it, but it descended at a sharp angle. We slid down the incline at an alarming speed. I pumped the brake pedal until we finally stopped with a jerk.
Ditches on either side still made a U-turn impossible. We’d have to drive farther on the snow-covered road, or back out. Since we couldn’t see the end of the road, I decided backing out was the better of the two options.
Jen’s eyes were huge as she peered out the back window. She braced herself with her hands on the dashboard. I stuck my head out the window and backed up. The incline seemed steeper than before. The wheels slipped from side to side in the ruts. A whooshing sound came from out the open window.
She grabbed my shoulder. “What was that?”
“That, my dear, was a flat tire.” I hoped that was all.
Pitch dark, stuck in a thick stand of trees. Great! From the glove compartment, I retrieved my long-handled flashlight and slid out of the truck. The rim of the rear wheel had sunk deep into dirty brown snow.
The forest was silent and dark, except for the glimmer of huge falling white flakes. No yard lights anywhere. I lowered the tailgate. No spare tire. Strange. How long had it been missing? “Now what do I do?” I whispered as the hair on my neck bristled again.
Jen’s half-smiling face showed through the back window. She was scared, but then, she wasn’t alone. I got back in the cab. She punched in 911 on her cell. No signal.
We couldn’t just sit there. I got back in the cab. “Jen, I’ll walk back toward town. There must be a house along the way.”
“Oh no! You’re not leaving me alone in these woods.” She had that end-of-conversation expression on her face.
She opened the passenger door, stepped out, and screamed as she disappeared. My heart jumped to my throat. I pushed the driver’s door open and rushed to her. She’d fallen into the ditch.
When she tried to stand, she fell again with another cry. I picked her up in my arms and managed to get her back in the passenger seat. Her ankle had already begun to swell.
From the back seat, I retrieved an old t-shirt and wrapped it tightly around her foot. “Murphy’s Laws have decided to take over my life.” At least the comment brought a smile to her face. I hoofed it around the back end and hopped into the driver’s side. “Okay. Here’s the plan. I walk down this dirt road to see if any houses are nearby. You stay here and lock the doors. Keep trying your cell.”
Jen latched onto my arm. “Please don’t go too far. We could just stay here and wait for help.”
After a quick look around us, I knew no one would be coming. The muscles in my neck and shoulders tightened. Even my stomach had turned to rock. “Don’t worry. I won’t be long.”
Past the bend in the dirt road, I caught a glimpse of sky overhead between the trees. A ring circled the full moon. My Irish mother’s words came to mind.
Be wary when a ring circles the moon. It’s then the magic starts. Spirits roam about.
A chill slithered up my spine. I’d never believed her superstitions back then. But the thoughts unsettled me. I quickened my pace.
After a stretch of thick, silent woods, little sparks of light appeared through the trees, as though hundreds of eyes watched me. Goosebumps ran over my arms and back. I began to jog.
At the end of the road, a log cabin stood barely visible in the encroaching woods. No light came from the windows. Not too far away, a wolf howled. My scalp prickled, and I scrambled up the steps to the porch. The structure of the cabin was the same as ours on Spirit Lake, except—it looked brand new.
No one answered my knock on the door. I crept around the raised porch to the other side of the house. At the back, two large windows with closed wooden shutters faced a dark lake. Stairs descended from the porch, and a stone footpath led to the lake. Again, it stuck me. Everything exactly like our cabin. An eerie sense of dread engulfed me. What was happening here? Our cabin would have looked like this over a hundred years ago. This timber smelled fresh.
The air hung still and damp. Not even a cricket chirped. I continued on the path to the water’s edge. No hoots or screeches from owls, no rustling from small night animals in the brush came to my ears. Only the slow, soft lap of waves on pebbles and sand.
I stared out over the small lake. The same size and shape as Spirit Lake but surrounded by dense woods instead of an occasional house with lights shining in the evening hour. The snow had stopped and only moonglow lit the night. The eerie sensation filled me again as I let my gaze run across the darkness to the far side of the water. Something moved on the distant shore. A light floated on the surface and came straight toward me.
The Indian chief’s daughter gasped when she saw the knife stuck into the chest of the brave whom she loved. She ran to the lake and cried that she would avenge him someday. The water splashed as she dove in. Her father watched as his daughter slipped beneath the surface before he could reach her. And that, Patrick, is how Spirit Lake got its name.
Uncle Jelmer’s voice was as clear as when he’d first told the legend.
They never found her. People say they’ve seen her walking across the water. Searching for the killer to avenge the death of her beloved. They hear her moan.
I shuddered at the thought. Why had I ever listened to his stories?
The strange light came closer. The hair rose on my arms and neck. What looked like a knife blade flashed in the moonlight.
As the wolf howled once more, I turned and ran.
When I climbed into the driver’s seat, Jen gaped at me. I closed and locked the door.
She touched my arm. “What’s wrong? Why did you run back right away? You’re trembling.”
“Didn’t you hear that wolf?”
Her words sank in. “What do you mean, I ran right back?”
“I mean, why did you stop at the bend, turn around, and run back like something was after you?”
“I didn’t stop. I walked to the end of the road.”
She tilted her head and glared at me. “I kept my eyes on you the whole time, Patrick. You never went around the bend. Quit! This is no time for teasing.”
“I’m not. There’s a cabin at the end of this road. No one answered the door. When I went down to the water, a small light glittered on the surface in the distance. A wolf howled—”
Jen’s eyes were like saucers. “Stop it! That’s not funny.”
When I glanced at my watch, it indicated that I’d been gone for little more than ten minutes. How could that be? It had to be at least half an hour. My hands shook.
I slid my arm around her. “It’s too dark to walk through the woods, and even if there is a house down there—my imagination must have worked overtime in this dark crop of trees. That’s all.”
After a couple of minutes, I turned the ignition key. The engine started but stalled. I tried again. Same result. My head dropped to the steering wheel, and I took a deep breath. Then I tried once more. The engine started. I let out the breath I held and yanked the shifter into reverse. Slowly we moved backwards up the incline.
Jen grabbed the dashboard. “What about the flat tire?”
“Maybe it’ll keep us from sliding. I’d rather ruin the rims than stay here.”
An hour later, moving backward inch by inch, we made it to paved road. Still deserted. At the sound of the wheel on blacktop, I cringed. The rims would be ruined for sure. Tiny specks of lights in the darkness shone through the woods and came closer. I shoved the gearshift into first and started forward.
We hadn’t gone far when Jen yelled, “Stop!”
I slammed on the brakes. “What?”
She pointed to an unpaved road a few yards behind us. Beyond the trees were bright lights. Why hadn’t we noticed it before?
I backed up and turned onto the road. An old service station with a strange gas pump came into view on the right. A light was on in the weathered building. Clanging filled the air and then stopped as I turned off the engine. An old man stepped out of the garage and wiped his hands on a red bandana. He approached the truck.
“What are you folks doing out so late?”
He thought eight o’clock was late? “We had a flat tire and no spare.”
“No problem. I can fix that in a jiffy.”
We got the wheel off, the man giving it strange looks the entire time, and he took it to the garage.
“Jen, stay in the cab. Lock the door.”
Fear flashed in her eyes.
“Shore do have a newfangled truck there, boy. And here’s yer problem. Ya got no inner tube in that tire. Never seen a tire like this one before.”
I stared at the man, openmouthed. What kind of place was this?
“Don’t know if I got one that’ll fit.” He walked out the back door, and returned a few seconds later, shaking his head. “Nope, don’t have anything that will fit this here wheel.”
Nothing the guy said made sense.
The old man searched through his tools. “I might could make a repair, of sorts.” He began working on the tire.
A thought struck. I rushed to the truck where I found Jen frantically trying her phone again without success. Behind the driver’s seat, I found a can of tire seal and ran back to the garage before Jen could ask anything.
The man had managed to patch the tire. I used the tire seal to reinforce the repair.
When we put the wheel back on the vehicle, I peered in at Jen. She still hadn’t spoken a word, and her face had grown whiter than before.
I paid the man in cash. His brows furrowed as he looked at the bills. I climbed into the cab and rolled down the window. “Thanks for your help, sir.”
“Say, you never answered why yer out so late.”
Strange man. Something Uncle Jelmer used to say popped up again. People used to roll up the sidewalks around here after five o’clock in days gone by. I snickered to myself. “We took a wrong turn, and wound up on an old rutted road leading to a lake and cabin.”
“Where was this lake and cabin?”
I pointed in the direction, told him about the light I’d seen on the water, and about the Legend of Spirit Lake. His eyes grew large.
He came closer and whispered. “The man who stabbed that Indian was my great-grandfather. You’d best be gettin’ outta here.”
Was he trying to scare us? Probably good advice though. I glanced at Jen who bit her lip.
“What did he say, Patrick?”
“Tell you later.” I started the engine and made a hasty turn.
Several miles down the road, everything appeared normal again. We sped back to our cabin. When we arrived, I checked my watch. It was only a few minutes after eight o’clock.
As we unloaded our packages from the truck, I told Jen what the old man had said.
She shook her head. “Stop trying to scare me. This trip did a good enough job.” She ran up the stairs and disappeared inside. I decided it was best to let the whole subject drop.
The next day, I drove into Menagha to buy a new tire and a spare. As I paid for the tires, the middle-aged man behind the counter talked about the snow.
I nodded. “Yeah, we drove through it last night. It wasn’t that bad until we got lost.”
“You must have gotten on a nasty dirt road, judging by the mud on that bad tire.”
“We wound up on a pitch-black dirt-road that led to a cabin and lake.” I told him the legend.
The blood drained from the man’s face. “Everyone around here knows that story. The brave had won the heart of the princess, and his brother killed him out of jealousy. Word has it that the murderer’s family still lives in the woods and keeps everyone out. No one’s ever seen them…before maybe last night.” His eyes narrowed.
“The family of the Indian princess built and still owns that old cabin on Spirit Lake. Supposed to be a sentinel of sorts to make sure the lake will always be there for the princess and her brave. Heard tell they’re never supposed to sell the property, or do anything to change it. Some kind of—Indian curse involved.
“It’s only when the princess walks without her brave you need fear her.”
No one ever told me that Nahmana was an Indian name. I thought Dad was Scandinavian.
We still visit Spirit Lake and still own the old cabin. Guess we always will, considering. But—we make sure not to travel unfamiliar roads up there anymore and always keep an eye out on the lake.
Never have seen any sign of the princess again. Occasionally, we’ll hear someone say they saw her walking in the woods with her brave. I’m really happy about that.
What did I like about this story?
What spoke to me?
DAN ALATORRE: This is along the lines of the stories we hear around a campfire, told in a narrative fashion, but with a lot of emotion and suspense.
They’re just plain fun, and fun is important in a story like this.
The reader is your willing accomplice, so we want to get a scare and see if we can figure out the mystery, while enjoying ourselves along the way!
This was a terrific story, as I’m sure you agree.
Join us tomorrow for more winning stories and profiles as we feature our other third place winners!
Sunday we may do something different (I’m not sure)
then next week we will continue on with our winning stories and profiles. (I think I lost a few of the profiles, so I’ve asked the winners to replace them and whenever they come in, I’ll run them. Hopefully it’s soon)
and much more!
Right now, please join me in congratulating our second of three 3rd place winners, Sharon K Connell!
See you tomorrow!