I saw her- well, I think I did when I was twelve years old. Anything could have explained it, though, right?
I mean, who can actually believe their mind at only twelve years of age? I was just starting puberty, small sprouts of hairs poking through the skin of my leg. High school was becoming a growing reality in my future. My friends were all starting to neglect pickup baseball games and late-night creature features for sitting around at Baby Bo’s Burgers and Soda to act like the older kids. I was in love with Cindy McArthur. In fact, that’s why I was there at Whispering Moon Lake that night.
The lake was actually unnamed. Just a pool of murky water out in the marsh outside of town. Its local legend was why it was given the name Whispering Moon.
See-according to the tale-back in 1903, a woman named Agatha Marie Spindler was murdered by her abusive husband with her bones being thrown into the lake. Being that the town was nothing more than farmers at the time (which really hadn’t changed too much by then in 1983), there was no arrest, trial, and imprisonment. Instead, the town formed a mob where the husbands stormed Jonathan Spindler’s house and tied him to a tree overlooking the small pool of mud and algae. He was executed with his eyes to the supposed resting place of his wife.
Usually, the tale would end there. That’s how my mother concluded the story as well as my grandparents, however, if you asked any kid under the age of fourteen or the occasional grownup looking to spook some youngsters, they had a little epilogue to the folklore.
There, you would hear how while the men were busy attending to Mr. Spindler as the women watched, a handful of the townspeople saw the ghastly pale figure of Agatha Spindler- white as the full moon- watching the execution in a blood-stained gown. Ever since then, the little pool in the swampy woods outside of Wheatville, Illinois was called by its unofficial name of Whispering Moon. The legend told that if you visit around midnight under a full moon, you’ll see the figure of Agatha Marie Spindler, and you’ll hear her whisper horrible things into your ear. The reason more people did not visit the lake was that her sight was supposed to be an omen for family tragedies. So, naturally, a group of people wanted to go see this spirit of the lake ourselves right at the end of childhood, when the imagination does all it can to stay in place in the mind before the allure of girls and underage drinking becomes too strong to ignore.
“Okay, we will meet at Whispering Moon tonight at eleven,” Tommy, our never-spoken but completely recognized leader spoke. We had just gotten a few sodas and some cheap candy from the corner store on Rosemary Ave. and were sitting in one of the pavilions in Cherry Tree Park discussing that we were no longer children and that it was time for us to see the spirit known as the Lady in the Lake.
Though I was a fan of horror movies and would collect any books or comics containing anything gruesome, I was still a baby. Murderous psychopaths that wore eerie masks and never spoke, vampires that seduced beautiful women into their lair before turning them into creatures of the night, brainless zombies that were reanimated from Military chemicals gone wrong, and a whole host of other weird tales that I would watch on late-night television and read about in books my mom would get from the small bookstore she worked at got me excited. However, what no one knew about were the countless sleepless nights after them. Staying up until the sunrise armed with a little cross that my dad had given me before he ran off with a busty bartender from the town over and a not-so-confident knowledge on how to get rid of monsters. Ghosts are what scared me the most.
I would have preferred a night in Sam’s basement playing D&D while the newly-released Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All pounded from the stereo and soda splashed around our cups like an ocean in a hurricane. Cindy was there, though. Her friend, Kat Thompson was Tommy’s girlfriend, so instead of an all-male group of Tommy, Sam, Andrew, and me. We were accompanied by Kat and Cindy, which I didn’t mind too much seeing as how I thought I could get to know Cindy a bit better. Cindy said she was up for it so I said yes too with a reluctant way of showing it by putting my hand on top of the pile in the middle of the circle of us.
“Oh shit,” Andrew said. Disappointment and loathing scrunched in his freckled- ginger brow, “I am going to my aunt’s and uncles this afternoon to spend the weekend with my cousins in their cabin in Kentucky. I can’t tonight.”
“Yeah, or you’re just chicken,” Tommy spoke with sarcasm. He used to accompany Andrew to the cabin when they were little until the two of them got in trouble for nearly starting a forest fire with a cherry bomb and a stolen lighter when we were ten.
“I can’t go tonight, either, guys,” Sam spoke. He sounded a bit more excited about his absence, his chubby cheeks just barely showing a relieved grin on his pale lips, “I have to go with my dad to help him clean the gutters at my grandparents’ house.”
Tommy just shook his head but looked up and smirked at me, “Guess it’ll just be the two amigos with their lady friends.” Tommy’s eyes gave mine a look of take your shot then raised an eyebrow to Cindy, who merely sipped her orange soda.
“Do you think her face will be all rotted and gross?” Kat gleamed at Tommy. Kat had a cool interest in horror and science fiction like we did. I would have had a crush on her if it wasn’t for her greasy matted hair and slight snaggletooth in the front of her mouth. Those things mattered to me back then, Tommy didn’t care, though. He thought she was too cool to pass up. I suppose that’s why he married her ten years later after they had graduated from college. He works at a renewable energy plant while she does accounting at a small farm equipment firm. We still meet up for dinner when I am in town or have the occasional phone conversation to discuss movies from time to time. That’s why I liked Tommy- even as a star track athlete and Homecoming king, he was always down to earth and nerdy.
Cindy and Kat had to go tell their parents that they were spending the night at a mutual friend’s house while Tommy and I went to the bookstore to tell my mom I would be staying at Tommy’s that night.
“Okay, but I want you back by noon tomorrow,” mom told me, “we are going to Uncle Neil’s for the family reunion tomorrow.” I groaned at the thought of having my cheeks pinched by all my mom’s aunts and my hair ruffled by her uncles as I was told how big I was getting and if I was playing any sports. I was athletic enough, but writing was my passion- it worked out when I wrote my first bestseller at twenty-six and hit number one with my follow-up at twenty-nine.
“You gonna try to talk to Cindy tonight?” Tommy asked when we exited the bookstore with a new sci-fi novel each in our hands. Tommy didn’t care much for Cindy, but he tolerated her for Kat and me.
“I don’t know,” I answered, hoping not to sound too excited at hanging with her all night. In reality, my head was whirling with a tornado of me telling her my feelings and us kissing at the water’s edge until our lips were chapped and the sun was up. “I hadn’t thought about it.”
“Just show her some of your stories,” the ever-so-encouraging Tommy said, “I bet she’d like the one about the man with a baby’s brain who kills people with a spiked rattle and wears a diaper.” He paused for a moment, “Or you could show her the one about the creature from space who eats the skin off of people’s faces.”
“She wouldn’t like that,” I answered, “Cindy likes The Brady Bunch and Happy Times. She thinks reading is boring.”
“You’re too good for her,” Tommy said. I was going to argue but we had arrived at Tommy’s house and his mother was beckoning us in for a lunch of fried bologna sandwiches and potato chips.
After lunch, we pilfered through some space magazines and discussed if the new Friday the 13th would be scarier with its 3-D effect or not. After that, we tried to get some sleep in anticipation of our all-nighter. Tommy passed out like a rock, I was too antsy about seeing Cindy and the spirit in the water to get any rest. I wasn’t sure about which was a more frightening thought.
Eventually, it was time to sneak out. Sneaking out wasn’t really the correct term. Tommy’s parents knocked out at nine o’clock every night and didn’t wake until seven on the weekends. Tonight was Friday night, so we wouldn’t have to worry about time at all tonight. We merely took a few packaged snacks and cola from the fridge then walked out the back door that Tommy’s family kept open all night over the summer and stalked the woods until we came upon the clearing with Whispering Moon Lake.
The girls arrived shortly after we did.
“Geez,” Cindy said in an exacerbated voice, “Why is it so hot tonight? I am getting eaten alive by mosquitos.”
Tommy and Kat hugged each other before Tommy answered, “Rub some mud on the bites, it’ll take care of the itching.”
Cindy’s tanned face beneath her blonde hair made an expression as she had just been asked to take a tree down with her bare hands, “I’m not rubbing mud on my skin! Are you kidding me?”
Kat, with her brown hair opposing Cindy addressed her friend, “Oh, come on, Cindy, have some adventurous spirit,” she touched Cindy on the shoulder.
“My clothes are expensive and my mom and I go to the beauty parlor every month,” Cindy argued back, “I can’t ruin my beauty for some children’s fantasy about a ghost.”
“You were so excited just a few hours ago,” Tommy said now, “You didn’t hesitate to join in at the park.”
Cindy crossed her arms and rolled her eyes, “I didn’t expect to be surrounded by mud and bugs all night.”
Finally, I spoke in a sheepish voice, “We can go sit on that log over there if you want.”
“No, it’s fine, I’ll just stay here,” Cindy sighed. My already low ego took a blow from that. We stood around watching the moon reflect off the ripples of water for about half an hour. The only sounds were the frogs croaking as a gentle wind rustled the leaves around and Cindy’s occasional outburst of how tired she was and how her feet hurt.
Suddenly, there came a shriek of bloody murder. I jumped higher than I ever had before as my heartbeat became audible in my ears. My blood was felt running icy in my veins.
“Get it off! Get! It! OFF!” Cindy howled in utter fear. Tommy ran to her to see what was happening.
“It’s just a little water bug,” he said flicking the insect off Cindy’s ankle.
“Kat, I want to go home,” Cindy pouted, “I need a bath and I want to go to sleep. I can’t take these bugs and the heat. There’s no ghost here, It’s just a made-up tale for children.
“But Cindy,” Kat begged.
“Aw, come on,” Tommy spoke as well.
“No,” Cindy put her foot down, “I’m not staying here any longer.”
“I’ll walk you home,” I offered.
“Kat, we are leaving,” Cindy spoke, ignoring my sentence.
“Tommy, can you walk us at least to town?” Kat asked.
Tommy said yes and asked if I wanted to come with them.
“That’s okay,” I told him, “I’ll stay,” My heart was too broken to go.
Tommy told me he would be back in about twenty minutes. I stood watching the water make tiny waves under the wind as the sound of Cindy’s bickering grew fainter and fainter.
Don’t be too upset, a voice spoke inside my head. It wasn’t the normal voice, this one sounded like a woman. I flinched at the unexpectedness of it, I’m sorry to have scared you. I assure you I mean no harm.
I turned around to see a sight that remains every time I close my eyes. She was beautiful. Well, maybe not beautiful, but spectacular. Brown hair floating around her flawless pale face. She glowed as an extension of the full moon. Her eyes hinted a light green with lips as red as the bloodstain that flowed down her white gown from the heart.
You don’t have to be afraid, Dennis (how did she know my name?) I assure you that I am nothing more than a spirit that inhabits this lake. She smiled kindly. Her lips never moved when speaking. The words still coming as a voice in my head.
“Wha- how?” I asked dazed, “Does this mean someone will die in my family?”
Everyone dies, at some point, Dennis, she answered kindly, But, no, I am not any kind of harbinger despite what is said. I am merely just a being here. No different from the animals that come to drink from this pool. A small, kind small smile appeared on her scarlet lips again.
“I- I’m sorry about how you died?” I said, it was stupid but my mouth was working independently from my brain.
Agatha’s eyes cast down as a look of sorrow took over for just a moment, No, need to be sorry, child. As I said, everyone goes at some point. You’re a good person though, I can see it. That is why I waited for you to be alone to show myself. Do not fret about that girl, Cindy. You will meet the love of your life when the time comes.
“How d-do you know about that?” I asked. I was still nervous, but a soothing warmth also held me.
One learns quite a bit when you have studied as many people as I have. I can also tell that you are going to be a brilliant writer one day and that your life will be filled with greatness.
I smiled at what the Lady in the Lake had just told me. Rustling became audible in the woods. Tommy must be returning.
I have to go now, Dennis. Thank you for chatting with me for a bit. I hope to see you here again one day. And with that, Agatha Marie Spindler walked slowly to the banks of Whispering Moon Lake and vanished as her feet touched the water.
“See anything while I was gone?” I heard Tommy ask once the woman had vanished. I lied and told him it had been uneventful before we decided to go home ourselves. I never told Tommy or anyone that I thought I had not only seen but spoken with the spirit of that lake.
Eventually, when I was in college, I would see a girl in my English Composition class who had auburn hair and blue-green eyes. She confronted me about why I was staring at her. We married at the age of twenty-five. She now edits my novels.
I never returned to Whispering Moon Lake. Every small town has its paranormal story (the town my wife and I live in with our kids has whispers of a part-man part-arachnid that stalks the forests after escaping from the nearby Air Force base) and it was only a matter of time before the ghost hunting shows visited and turned the small pool into a tourist destination. The most recent one even claimed footage of the spirit in the water, but they got it wrong. The actress they used was a blonde.
I still think about that night every day, dreaming that Agatha speaks to me again and I tell her how I was a novelist who’s sold the movie rights to three of my works now and my kids are roughly the age I was when I met her. Something always gets in the way of me going back. Still, the allure to hop in my car and make the drive becomes almost overwhelming and tonight I cannot contain it any longer. Just to prove to myself that I did see her.