At the Bottom of the Lake

Submitted for Contest #37 in response to: Write a story about a rumor making its way through the grapevine.... view prompt

20 comments

Submitted on 04/14/2020

Categories: Mystery

Bzz bzz bzz

“Crap.” Easton yanks the buzzing contraption from his pocket and swipes away a new text. A blush creeps up his neck and into his ears as he feels his classmates drilling holes in his head.

“Easton put the phone away.” Mrs. State taps her foot vigorously and gives a sharp clearing of the throat. He shares an embarrassed smile and goes to stash it away where it belongs when the text appears again. It’s not a number he recognizes but what it reads catches his eye.

Did you hear Dexter Forgo is dead? He drowned in Harvey Lake last night during that party last night :O They say he hit his head on the rocks below.

His hands go still nearly dropping his phone. What kind of sicko would send a text like this? Dexter is a party boy, everyone knows that, but he can’t be dead…right? Right! It has to be some kind of sick joke. Raising his head the tiniest bit, he notices no one else is wearing confused expressions. No one has eyes on him anymore, but no one has eyes on a cell phone either.

Who is this??? He shoots back.

“…and don’t forget your reading for tonight, there will be a quiz tomorrow. Do you hear me, Easton?”

He startles as he looks into the angry eyes and tapping foot of Mrs. State at the blackboard. A shaky laugh escapes his throat. “Yes, of course Mrs. State. Reading, quiz tomorrow, right.”

She stares a moment more then turns away. The bell screeches above them like a warning call to get out of class. The strange number doesn’t reply which makes the situation creepier. Throwing his books into his backpack, Easton grabs Lana’s arm across from him. She turns around, golden blonde hair whipping behind her. She flashes him a toothy smile and his heart warms, thumping around in excited spurts.

“Did you get a text earlier?” He asks remembering the matter at hand. Reopening the eerie text, he holds it out to show her.

“No, I don’t think so.” Her brow knits close together producing a vein in her forehead. “It’s probably just a prank number. People at school play sick jokes like that all the time.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Still, who does that?” The phone disappears back into his pocket as Easton intertwines their fingers and strolls into the hallway.

***

“Thank you.” Lana throws a sweet smile to the scraggly lunch lady and grabs her tray. Her stomach churns as she looks upon the tuna fish sandwich that may as well have flies surrounding it. Their school has an embarrassingly low budget but surely, they could afford some decent food. She tosses it into the nearest trash bin and makes her way to the lunch table.

 Ella Marsh, best friend of twelve years and current head cheerleader, types furiously on her phone and takes a quick selfie, already seated at their signature table. It’s an octagon shape near the biggest window, their favorite.

“Dustin like your newest Instagram photo yet?” Lana smirks and snatches a fry off Ella’s plate while sliding into the seat next to her.

She makes a dramatic show with an eye roll and sigh and says, “No but this one for sure will get his attention. I don’t get it; he was all over me last night at Sara’s party when I was making out with Dexter and now, he won’t even reply to my DMs. Sometimes I don’t get boys.”

Lana stops mid-chew and adjusts a stray hair dangling in her eyes. “Oh, please. Don’t tell me you’re becoming one of his playthings now. It was bad enough when I was one of them and I can’t take seeing my bestie taking the same turn,” She grumbles, voice taking on a hard edge.

Ella sinks back like a puppy with its tail tucked between its legs. “It was just to get back at Dustin and it was working like a charm before he up and left around midnight.”

“If you say so…” She wags a finger back and forth to Ella making a tsk noise. “Why did he leave?”

“His psycho girlfriend barged in yelling something about not listening to her. Apparently, she wasn’t invited, which is no surprise.” Ella shields her mouth with her hand like she was revealing a groundbreaking secret. “She even made a huge show of how she was going to kill him for disobeying her. Seriously, what a dramatic snob!”

“Yeah…no one likes drama.” She says, biting an insult back about her own drama queen friend and realizes something more significant Ella said. “Did you say his girlfriend threatened to kill him?” Lana shivers, goosebumps appearing up her arms. She recovers quickly and pushes the reoccurring thought away.

“I’m sure she just meant metaphorically…why? Your face just lost all its color.”

“It’s probably nothing, just Easton showed me this text earlier—"

“Guys did you see this?” The third friend to their posse slides in across from them and holds out her phone reading the very same text Easton received this morning. The girls exchange confused and afraid eyes as they reread the threatening statement from the stranger, if it even is a stranger.

***

Shalin heaves her ten-pound backpack on the hardwood floor as she ambles in the front door. Math has been a pain to her since ninth grade, but Senior calculus seems to be on another level. Her mother won’t be happy that she came home early but a disapproving shake of the head seems more appealing than a failed test grade.

Pulling off her shoes clumsily, she searches for her brother’s ratty sandals as a sign that he’s home. Dexter is always good at calming down mother from a lecture being that he’s the baby and gets away with nearly everything. Including the late-night party, he attended last night. Seeing no sandals lying around, she rolls her eyes knowing it meant he hooked up with some helpless girl and was staying over at her house, probably hungover. Shalin never did like his over-the-top, daft girlfriend, but she still felt bad knowing Dexter cheated on her with nearly every girl in the school. She wondered if Danica had any clue about her scumbag boyfriend.

Shaking away her thoughts, she wanders into the kitchen where her mom is chopping and preparing vegetables for tonight’s vegan meal. “Hey, mom,” She says cautiously waiting for her mother’s rebuke.

“What are you doing home? It’s the middle of the day! You should still be in school, missy.” Her mother waves around her cutting knife mid-chop, making her look much more threatening than she really is.

“Yes, yes, I know. They…let us out early.” It’s a sad excuse but it’s enough to get her off her tail. Her mother stares her down a minute more, always having a radar for when she is lying. Shalin flinches, readying herself for a lecture, but then something passes over her mother’s face that distracts her. “What’s wrong?”

“Dexter still hasn’t come home yet. He said he was going to stay over at a friend’s house last night. He never stays away from home this long.”

Shalin glances at the clock that reads one-forty-five pm. She’s right, Dexter has never stayed out this long despite whatever stupid thing he’s doing, but she doesn’t bother rating him out. “I’m sure he’s fine.”

She hurries up the stairs to her room before her mother can get another word out. Since he started high school, parties have absolved every part of him. “Where has the little brother I know gone,” she sighs, placing a hand on her forehead, mimicking fainting. She decides to text him about his whereabouts when she realizes her phone is still hidden in the pocket of her backpack. Shoot. As she turns to retrieve it, a note with folded edges and smeared handwriting catches her eye. It’s lying atop her dresser and she wonders why she didn’t see it before.

The note is written in hurried writing that it’s almost impossible to read. It appears to mimic a suicide note but there are no crossed T’s—Dexter’s signature. Her heart begins to hammer outside her chest and her legs become concrete. A realization hits her like a blow to the stomach—Dexter is not coming home.

***

“Did you get the report today, Scots?”

“Yeah got it this morning. We got the supposed suicide note from the sister yesterday and we’re having it dusted for fingerprints now.”

“Did it say where he supposedly drowned?”

“Some lake out here by Harvey Road. Chief is saying this is a homicide case now. Most likely suspect is the girlfriend who threatened to kill him at a party the same night.”

“Sounds like the perfect crime to me complete with a psycho girlfriend. I’ll start making calls to bring her in for questioning.”

Scots nods but his stomach churns in an uneasy pattern. The perfect crime…or the perfect frame. It’s quite the convincing argument for the other cops…but not for him. Until there is hard proof, Scots won’t stop until justice is served.

***

“Over here! We’ve got a pair of sandals and a jacket. Looks like it could’ve belonged to Dexter.” The cop gestures for Shalin to identify them. She feels like she is floating, feet never touching the ground. Her face is red and swollen, making it difficult to see the path before her. Her mother reaches out to touch her as if to say she doesn’t have to do this, but she knows she does. Despite her mother’s intentions, no one knows Dexter like his own sister.

She knows the belongings are his before she even approaches the cop. What really catches her eye, though, is the rocks below them. Far below them. The cop follows her eye gaze and hollers to his coworker to investigate the rocks.

There’s blood scattered atop them. It’s tested and brings back the result everyone expected. Dexter is the match.

***

It’s been three full weeks since the Dexter text scandal and Lana and her friends have disregarded the whole matter. Danica Mills was found guilty after discovering Dexter’s body deep in the lake. Her fingerprints were found on the shoes and, after an officer searched her room, a knife was also found with his blood covering it. A knife was used to ensure he died in that lake with know what of surviving.

 Everything is back to normal until the intercom buzzes above them.

“Attention all students.” It may seem like an ordinary message but there is a certain eeriness in the air and all the students feel it. Many people got the text message from the strange unknown number and knew this was somehow connected. “We have received word from the parents and local police force that Dexter Forgo has passed away. The guidance counselor will be open all day during school hours as well as through phone calls if anyone needs to grieve. We are all saddened by this loss. You will be missed, Dexter Forgo.”

Everyone in the room is still and some are already conversing about the homicide texts they received. Many are saying it’s the perfect crime which Lana agrees to. It’s just like the murder mysteries from her novels. Easton reaches from behind her and grabs her hand. Fear and sorrow are etched in his eyes, but she doesn’t know why. They barely knew Dexter— he was just another face in the school. But she supposes that’s what will happen from now on; people who barely knew Dexter will find feelings they never had for him now that he’s gone.

 

Lana falls back on her bed, now home, and relives the events over the past few weeks. It amazes her how people will believe rumors with little to no evidence. All you have to do is get the right authorities to declare the rumor true. She smiles a sly, wicked smile and notices a small wisp of fog seeping in through her window. Sitting up abruptly, she follows the wisp until it stops in front of her.

“Hello, Lana.”

“Who are you?” She whispers, eyes wide and voice cracking.

“I’m the one who made your rumor come true, darling! Well, I am the rumor.” The wisp doesn’t move as it speaks in a gruff, grave voice. It’s a voice like no other, like an echo from somewhere sinister. “As you have seen, everyone believes the little lie you wished to be spread, thanks to the burner phone I gifted to you under your bed.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Her words come fast, ready to deny any accusation thrown her way. “Danica Mills is the murderer.”

“Yes, how truly clever I must say! Who better to accuse of a cold blooded murder than the crazy girlfriend! Just like the movies.” The wisp begins to glow, making Lana squint and shield her eyes.

She wants to question more but adores the compliments. “It was pretty clever,” She mumbles, tucking a hair behind her ear bashfully. “They deserved each other.” Her mouth takes the shape of a sneer with her last words.

“Yes, of course, dear. Enjoy it while it lasts.” The wisp glows brighter, as if mocking her from some untold joke.

“I don’t understand. Danica’s fingerprints were on everything. Nothing can trace back to me.” Panic seems to seep from the wisp and dissolves into her.

The wisp lets out a curt laugh. “All except for one tiny thing. The jacket they found had one, insignificant hair attached to it. A certain cop discovered it today. I watched with glee as he removed it from the evidence. Care to take a guess at whose it might be?”

“No…no. No, I won’t believe it!”

“Don’t be too bummed out, dearie! I hear prison is lovely in the spring.” The wisp comes closer to Lana’s ear and she flinches away. “Do be careful the next time you spread a rumor. We do our job well, but you humans always have a way of destroying yourselves.”

Lana trembles, her eyes widening with terror as she watches her demise disappear the same way it entered.



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20 comments

Zilla Babbitt
20:29 Apr 19, 2020

You asked me to read and for feedback so here goes: Awesome plotting, starting with Easton then moving to Lana then Shalin then back to Lana. You did a great job of setting up the different characters and the necessary backstory. Love how Lana's guilt haunts her and she's still shyly proud of the destruction she wrought. At first I was confused as to what the rumor was really supposed to be-- I think if you spent a sentence or paragraph talking about how fast the rumor spread and how everybody turned against Danica it would make more ...

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Maggie Deese
20:33 Apr 19, 2020

Thanks so much!! At first, I had started with the rumor's POV which I think would have given the reader more of a clue to what the rumor actually was, but I ended up having to cut it because of the word count. But thank you so much for your comment! I really appreciate it!

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Zilla Babbitt
20:38 Apr 19, 2020

Of course!

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Caroline G
01:31 May 06, 2020

I really enjoyed this story. I never would have guessed the ending, and I love the part with the wisp.

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Maggie Deese
01:35 May 06, 2020

Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it!!

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Zea Bowman
18:25 May 04, 2020

I'm glad that you recommended this story to me! I liked how you went through the different characters and we saw the story through their perspectives. Great plot, and amazing story!

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Maggie Deese
18:28 May 04, 2020

Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it!!

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Joshua Hopper
15:09 Apr 30, 2020

I think this would be good novel material! That's the hard thing about short stories. I start writing something and then I'm 2,000 words in and the characters are still being described! Some possible suggestions: 1). Maybe cut down on the number of characters. Maybe a group text is sent to three best friends and they are all accused of the murder of Dexter Forgo: "I know you did it." Then, you can flip between all the perspectives seamlessly instead of introducing new characters throughout the story. We'd get more time with the characte...

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Maggie Deese
15:35 Apr 30, 2020

Thank you so much for your comment!! I agree with your suggestions and I did think about having the same text being sent to the three of them in the novel, however, that would be veering dangerously close to Pretty Little Liars haha! But thank you so much and I can't wait to read more of your submissions as well!

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Joshua Hopper
16:07 Apr 30, 2020

I haven't seen Pretty Little Liars so I wouldn't know! lol

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Maggie Deese
16:29 Apr 30, 2020

Oh haha! Well the books and tv show are pretty good!

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Joshua Hopper
16:38 Apr 30, 2020

I certainly have heard about it a lot.

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23:48 Apr 27, 2020

I love the plot-- This was a very good entry! I don't know if it's just me, but in the beginning, I felt like the conflict rose too quickly. Easton looked at his phone, and right away after he saw the text, he immediately began to freak out in the beginning part of the story. Besides that part, your flow was very smooth and I like your choice of words. Keep writing, you are a hardworking author!

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Maggie Deese
00:31 Apr 28, 2020

Thank you so much!! You're probably right, I debated on that part but thanks for pointing it out! I plan on exploring this story more in a novel, so thank you so much for reading! :)

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Tolu Odel
21:33 Apr 24, 2020

I really enjoyed this! You have a great voice and the story flowed nicely.

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Maggie Deese
21:41 Apr 24, 2020

Thanks so much! :)

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Jackson Brown
17:15 Apr 23, 2020

Really nice story! I liked the classic murder mystery plot; it’s always nice to read something like that. I have to admit, the physically form of a rumor was weird, but I did like it. I do wish it had made more appearances throughout the story instead of just at the end. Other than that, it was a really good story, and I like the direction that you took the prompt.

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Maggie Deese
18:02 Apr 23, 2020

Thanks so much! I actually did have the rumor as an actual presence in the first draft but ended up having to cut it because of word count. I plan on exploring this story more though in an upcoming novel!

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Jackson Brown
20:49 Apr 23, 2020

That sounds awesome! I would love to read that

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Cam Croz
14:25 Apr 18, 2020

Good job on this story! I really enjoyed the twist ending! You did a great job on your similies. You also did great on making the feelings of the people in the story genuine feelings that would have been felt at a school after a student death. (I should know... Its happend to my school before 😢)

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