"Are we there yet, love?"
Sheila Henderson was in the back seat of the Detroit News SUV. She was the photographer for this assignment and shared the back seat with a pile of her camera equipment. Douglas White, her current flame, turned around in the passenger seat up front and gave her a stern look. "If you ask that question one more time, I'm going to get in that back seat with you and give you a jolly good rogering."
"Is that what you call it?" Sheila asked sweetly. "I thought you were just doing push-ups. Are you going to wear your socks again?"
"No, I'll just wear yours."
"Just as long as you wake me up when you're finished, love."
Douglas grinned stupidly.
They're in love, John Peletier thought, watching this exchange from the driver's seat. He concentrated on the narrow, winding road in rural Michigan that would eventually lead to their destination: a ghost town called Devil's Lake.
It was hard not to be in love with Sheila Henderson, John thought, glancing at her in the rearview mirror. Most everyone who met her fell in love with her for one reason or another. He'd done so himself. But she was a butterfly and not the sort you could stick a pin in.
Sheila was a photographer and extremely good at her job. She had an eye that other photographers could only dream about. She took pictures that kept you transfixed, that told stories, that caught movement and emotion. Not only a first rate photographer, she was fun. Fun to be around. Larger than life, drinking it all up, her keen blue-gray eyes never missing anything worth seeing. Sheila had been born in Michigan, but had grown up in London thanks to her father, a diplomat. Her accent was half British, half American, and she had the annoying habit of ending most of her statements with a question after the British fashion.
John had worked with Sheila at the Detroit News for many years, knew all about her long string of lovers, her vivacious personality, her keen eye, her visual approach to life and living. He had been sucked in, like everyone else, had bedded her, been charmed by her, been dropped by her in her quest for the next best thing. He still loved her, but more like a sister or a friend. She was impossible to hate.
Douglas, her current flame, was rather tall, awkward with bony knees and thinness, an artist of some repute. Dark hair hung in his eyes, hair that was oily and unkempt. He wore T-shirts and khakis, as if clothes mattered little to him. Perhaps they did not. His field was landscapes; his preferred media were watercolors and watercolor pencils, but he would settle for acrylics when he needed quick drying.
"So, really, are we there yet, love?" Sheila asked again.
"About thirty minutes," John replied, glancing at her again in the rear view mirror.
"Tell me again why we're going to this godforsaken place," she said.
"We're going there precisely because it is a godforsaken place," John replied.
"This abandoned town?" Douglas put in.
"Edward's Lake," John said. "At least that's what they call it now. It used to be known as Devil's Lake in the 1800s, and that was based on an old Indian legend - even the Indians had a thing about this place."
"And all the people just up and left one day?" Sheila prompted.
"Yes," John said. "Early 1950s. A group of Catholic families moved in, tried to give it a go, but they disappeared within a few years, just like the people before them. Since then, no one has ever bothered to try again. From what I understand - I grew up around here, you know - no one will even go down there. It's said that people who go down there never come back."
"That some real shock and hee-haw, ain't it?" Sheila said.
"You could say that," John replied.
"And you want to write a story about it? What's there to write about?"
"What's not to write about?" John countered enthusiastically. "More than fifty years ago, a group of families move in and, bam!, they go missing. What happened? When I was growing up in St. Charles - that's not far away, about ten miles from Edward's Lake - I used to hear all kinds of stories about Edward's Lake. Guys went down there to bear hunt, never came back. Kids drove down there to party, never heard from again. Of course, the police go down and investigate, but there's nothing. No bodies, no people, nothing. I just wanna know what's happening down there. It'll make a great feature story - I'll probably even get the cover again. And Sheila, you can take some nice shots to illustrate, Douglas, you can do some nice watercolors of the pretty lake and forest, and it's a sure thing. My editor was crazy about the idea - why else do you think she'd let me have three whole days for one assignment?"
"Well, what if there is something down there?" Sheila probed, a wrinkle of concern creasing her brow.
"That's what we're going to find out," John replied.
"So there could be something potentially dangerous and deadly down there and you're taking us there just to get a story?"
"There's nothing down there," John assured her. "They're just stories. They get blown out of proportion. It's like some guy went hunting and got lost and froze to death. You know? Nothing more than that. It's just the idea of the place - that's the thing. It's spooky. Creepy. All those abandoned houses and buildings. Maybe there will be food still sitting on the table. Little kids' toys left behind. I mean, who knows what really happened? They probably just didn't like it there and decided to move out. And the only thing really dangerous in these woods are bears and snakes, and they won't mess with you if you don't mess with them, so there's really nothing to worry about. Besides, I used to go hunting and fishing and swimming in some of these woods all the time - me and my brothers and my dad. We never saw anything. And a lot of towns just dry up and blow away, and there's all kinds of reasons - financial reasons, a new highway put in, people die - who knows? Anyway, it will make a great story."
"Aren't you forgetting something?" Sheila asked quietly.
"What?" John said.
"Your little brother? Didn't he disappear in these words while you were growing up?"
John fell silent.
It was true. His twelve-year-old brother Joey had gone swimming with some friends in the river that feeds into Edward's Lake, had never returned. All the woods for miles around were searched, including Edward's Lake. His brother had vanished without a trace.
"What's that got to do with anything?" he asked.
"You don't think there might be a connection?" Sheila asked with usual insight.
"Connection?" John repeated.
"Yes. You wanting to go there. Your brother's disappearance. Are you sure this about getting a story or are you just chasing after shadows?"
John said nothing. Sheila had guessed his secret. He'd known she would. He would neither confirm nor deny it. But yes, the thought had crossed his mind that there might be some connection between what happened to his brother so many years ago and the disappearance of the people at Edward's Lake back in the 1950s. What sort of connection, he could not fathom. And though he pretended otherwise, he was more than just a little bit afraid of going down to Edward's Lake. He'd grown up hearing stories about the place. There's always some element of truth to a story, no matter how far-fetched.
"I see," Sheila said, dismissing the matter from her mind.
John let the matter rest.
"Do you know that Hungarians nod at you when they're disagreeing," Sheila said suddenly, "and they shake their heads from side to side when they mean to say yes, they agree?"
"Is that right?" Douglas answered. He had been with Sheila long enough to learn that she was full of these useless tidbits of information.
"I read it in a book," Sheila said proudly.
"The Historian," John put in. "I'm the one who recommended it to you, remember?"