The car raced on the paved road winding through the dense forest, air streamlined the open windows of the Ford flowing in through the sides and out the sun roof, permitting the summer breeze to clear out the smoke from their burning pipe. Charles cupped the end of the bowl with his hand holding the pipe in place jointly blocking the wind,with his opposite hand he had the lighter and lit the burnt weed in the depression of the glass taking a large inhalation of white smoke. He held his breath forcing the enriched vapor into his lungs, keeping his mouth closed for a few seconds finally exhaling leading to an intense coughing fit. Charles’ eyes started to flood with tears dripping small amounts down his cheeks, he attempted to pass the bowl back to his friend but Eric who was driving, Eric just ignored the gesture never taking his eyes off the road.
“I’ll hold up.” Eric replied breaking free from the preoccupation his mind had him engaged in.
He turned and watched his friend light another pull on the pipe, Charles tapped the lighter at the end of the bowl to break up the ash. When the ember in the bowl refused to burn continuously he put his hand out the window holding the pipe to clear it of spent weed. After making sure the indent was empty Charles opened up the glove compartment and placed the bowl and lighter in it. He sat back and relaxed his head staring out into the passing forest easing himself into a trance state of weed influenced thoughts and ideas.
“How do you know of this place?” Charles asked in between small hacks of coughing.
Eric explained to his friend almost a dozen times where they were going, he also understood that the weed made Charles’ thoughts lazy and considering that Eric’s mind was heavy as well, he decided to just appease his stoned friend and respond to the redundant question.
“Camp Matochante. When we were in middle school my group passed it on a day long hiking trip.” he repeated.
“Shit, that’s 5…6 years ago. How do you know it’s still there?” Charles asked, he grabbed a Snapple from the cup holder and began to quench his dry mouth. Eric normally wouldn’t answer such a stupid question or if he did it was with an insulting jab but today wasn’t “normal” and Eric would do whatever it took to bring back the silence that passed between them the majority of the ride.
“Its a fucken lake,” Eric answered sharply.
He had been driving for almost 2 hours, it was Eric’s idea to get out of the area for the day and go swimming. The prompt trip was an escape of some sorts, Eric was hoping to avoid what awaited them back at home, anticipating that at the lake there would be a sign proving to him that everything would work itself out.
Eric’s attention throughout the entire drive was held to the events from the previous night, the unspoken development that resulted in them hastily retreating for a secluded haven.
It was still early and Eric knew they would probably stay at Strang for another hour and then drive in separate cars to the Corner Diner. The group would continue to hang out in that parking lot until someone finally recommend they go into the building they were loitering in front of and eat.
Eric was talking with Bobby who was explaining that his girlfriend and her co-workers were planning on coming to join the group once they left work. He was thrilled at the possibility of a more favorable balance in the guy to girl ratio. Looking around Eric attempted to locate Charles’ face to get him involved in the conversation, his Chevy was still there but hoped his friend wasn’t off in the woods throwing up. He didn’t remember seeing Charles drink a lot but considered that maybe he brought a flask which meant mixing hard liquor and beer, never leading to a positive outcome. Charles was standing at the edge of the lot where the black top met the grass lining the woods.
“YOU STUPID BITCH, YOU BETTER FUCKEN PICK UP RIGHT NOW.”
Eric could see the rage fueled spit flying from Charles’ mouth and hear the slur in his voice, it was obvious he was inebriated and enraged. Known to have an excitable temper when he was sober, when Charles consumed alcohol if tipped into a foul mood he became unendurable. Shouts reverberated in short bursts throughout the parking lot, the few girls present attempted at paying the yells no mind but shifted their position so there was a car between them and a shouting Charles. Most of the people in their group as well as those who they associated with in school have heard the stories and seen the bruises on Vanessa, Charles’ girlfriend. Though there always seemed to be an explanation or an “accident” it was an unspoken tale mapped on her body of what was really transpiring in their volatile relationship.
Eric knew he should attempt to calm his friend down, he convinced himself it was for the good of the group and that Charles’ screaming would lead to a neighbor close to the school calling the cops, ruining his opportunity to hook up with one of the girls arriving shortly.
Subconsciously he was fully aware of what Charles was capable of. There were rumors of Vanessa’s parents requesting a restraining order but Vanessa pleaded and made promises over and over that it would stop. She told them that Charles was under a lot of stress with graduation and any legal action may hurt his acceptance into the colleges he applied to. Vanessa’s parent’s at the beginning didn’t take any proceeding to prevent people from talking further, they were also fearful of Charles’ parents who held high stature in their home owners association. The decision was that Charles was not permitted at their house and Vanessa was forbidden to see him again, but with school and two full time working parents there was no realistic possibility in that.
Another tantrum of threats echoed across the parking lot. Eric could see by his mannerism Charles was about to throw his phone, arm coked back the device was held in a pitching stance above his head. Slowly bringing his arm down Charles stared at his phone reconsidering his action. The look of anger gave way to a insidiously statue like stare, the demeanor gave Eric the chills and he decided against approach, it was the bearing of a man wanting to rage. Charles ran across the parking lot and got in his car, before Eric could even dispatch over to ask him where he was going the car was already pealing out at an aggressively accelerated speed turning onto the main road.
A little past one Eric drove into the entrance of his townhouse development, he parked in the lot opposite that designated for his building. Driving home Eric realized he was more drunk then he assumed and didn’t want to take the chance of either of his parents seeing him arrive. After he parked the car he walked across the lot to the snaking path in front of the multi-floored apartments. Doing his best to walk straight up the stone stairs leading to his door Eric fumbled with his keys attempting to be as quiet as he could. He tried to identify the exact one by using the light from his dying cell phone knowing with a pounding heart and cloudy head that if he woke up his parents his summer would be over. When Eric finally decided on which key to try first he turned his phone light off and the world around him blurred due to his alcohol debilitated eyes adjusting to the change in light. A black figure loomed at the bottom of the steps shocking Eric’s heart and forcing him to drop his keys,they made a loud clattering noise as they hit the stone landing. Seconds after, his eyes partially adjusted to the dark he could see it was Charles shaking and deeply troubled.
“The fuck dude! You scared the shit out of me.” Eric whispered.
He looked up at the second floor window over the front door to see if his parent’s light would turn on, it remained dark and Eric relaxed a little then bent down to pick up his keys.
” I need to stay here.” Charles said with a raw throaty tone, his voice sounded like he had been at karaoke.
“Yeah sure, where’s your car?” Eric said a little louder than he meant to. He realized he hadn’t seen Charles’ car when he parked though at the time he was more concerned with his inability to drive and just getting home.
There were many more pressing questions Eric should have asked before he agreed to let Charles stay over but he was tired, drunk and at that moment didn’t care. Charles ignored the query giving Eric an impatient look to let him in the house, turning his head and suspiciously acting fidgety.
Eric opened the door with as much silent tactic as a drunk teenager could, he let them in and then locked it. The entrance into Eric’s town house led directly into the kitchen, Charles immediately went into the bathroom off of the hallway leading to the living room/dining room. Eric turned on the light over the stairs descending to his bedroom in the basement. The stairs were directly opposite that of the bathroom door, the light now revealed small details previously hidden by the dark. Eric saw blood on the door handle of the bathroom, his heart stopped instantly playing a million different scenarios in his head of where it came from. He turned on the light in the kitchen to grab a paper towel, soaked it under the faucet and started to clean off the blood. He searched looking for any other areas that Charles may have touched leaving behind crimson stains.
“Eric?” he heard his mom call from the top of the stairs in the living room, he quickly threw the paper towel away and hurried to the bottom of the landing going up to the second floor.
“Yeah mom it’s me.” he whispered back.
“Who’s with you?” his mom asked in a reduced octave.
“Just Charles, he was a little drunk so I told him to crash here.”
“Ok.” she answered. “Please be quiet and don’t wake up your brother.”
He listened for her to go back and close her bedroom door, when Eric turned to look across the living room towards the kitchen he could see the dark outline of Charles exiting the bathroom wiping his hands on his shirt to dry.
Walking back to the kitchen he stood in front of the open bathroom door eager to turn the light on and look in the sink. He expected to see pink droplets of washed blood on the porcelain bowl but he just looked at Charles and waited for him to say something.
“Let me get some water?” Charles asked in a half asking, half demanding whisper.
“Go ahead and get some, I gotta take a piss,” Eric answered.
It was the least conspicuous way to go in the bathroom and inspect the sink without making it obvious that he had seen the blood. Eric went in the bathroom and turned on the light, closing the door he immediately looked into the sink. It was completely clean, small drops of clear water fell into the drain but no indication of blood. He stood in the bathroom thinking his next move and listened through the door to Charles grabbing a glass and then poring himself water. Eric stood still contemplating his course of action, wondering if he should just ask Charles about the blood or at least tell him what he observed on the door knob. He could question him under the guise that he was concerned and wanted to make sure Charles was alright and not bleeding. It was clear though that the boy wasn’t bleeding and the question may launch him into a fit of rage and disrupt the quiet serenity of the house. Eric flushed the toilet to create the illusion then opened the door and saw Charles placing his empty glass into the sink. They stared at each for what felt like a long minute, Eric turned off the bathroom then the kitchen light and both of them head down into the basement. Never once did Eric ask Charles about the blood and he decided that he wasn’t ever going to.
The next morning Eric woke up with three missed calls on his phone: two were numbers he had never seen but one was an area code from the part of town that Charles’ girlfriend lived. He climbed the stairs to the first floor, went into the kitchen to grab some juice and considered waking Charles to see if he wanted to go to Dante’s Deli for an egg sandwich. As he stood at the sink finishing off the glass blindly staring out the window over it he felt a vibration in his shorts pocket and knew his phone was ringing. Eric didn’t want to answer it and was going to let it go to voicemail but an involuntary reaction had him hit the green button after taking it out to look at the number.
“Hello,” he said with a hesitant tone, instantly regretting his choice and hoping for a dropped call.
“Hello is this Eric Jones?” asked a deep authoritative voice.
“Yeah who’s this?” he answered.
His mind giving him orders to hang up the phone was now telling him to say no, but his actions were being manipulated by another part of his brain. .
“This is Lieutenant Adonael. You are friends with a Charles Hastan, is that correct?”
The manor in which he presented the question signaled that he already knew the answer and protocol just dictated him to ask.
“Yeah, why?” Eric replied. He attempted at the standard sarcastic and defiant tone that went with every teenager being questioned by an authoritative figure but the fear and intimidation was apparent in his voice instantly.
“We understand he was with you and a number of individuals last night off of Baldwin Road near Strang Middle School. Can you confirm this?” asked Adonael. The Lieutenant’s sentences were confident and challenging, subtly calling for Eric to attempt at lying, stating that he knew the truth and it would be pointless to fabricate a story.
Eric disregarded the need to tell the Lieutenant that he had seen Charles and let him stay over last night, that Charles left the group early on and Eric had reason to believe he caused critical harm to his girlfriend Vanessa. He desperately wanted to plead with the officer that he was only doing what he thought was right for his friend but that Charles needed help and that Eric has seen many things that has kept him up at night,
Eric mixed truth with lies, he said he had seen Charles last night but he left the group early due to a phone call possibly from another friend or his parents. He told Lieutenant Adonael that he had not heard from Charles since he left the group and didn’t know where he was.
An annoying cricket started to chirp outside, it would stop and go in parallel pauses when Eric spoke and the officer continued with his questions. The irritating sound drilled into his head and instigated the lagging hangover he was hoping the juice would prevent. The noise stuck into his brain like a sharp thorn and made his conversation with the officer even more unbearable and antagonizing then it already was.
The Lieutenant asked Eric to verify the other people he was with, Eric told him everyone’s name and supplied convincing detail that he didn’t know where his friend was.
Adonael thanked Eric leaving his number in case he does see Charles, with an uncaring acknowledgement Eric hung up.He thought for a bit and then had an idea, instantly he rushed down the stairs to wake Charles. It was the cricket that gave him the epiphany, while he was on the phone with the cop he imagined a cricket in tall grass. There was a swarm of them one night outside of his cabin at camp a long time ago, the intense sound kept him and his bunk mates up until finally the supervisor sprayed to get ride of them. He remembered this lake, serene and secluded from everything, it couldn’t be more then two hours north from where they were. That would be plenty of time for heads to cool and whatever incident had transpired the night before requiring the police to talk with Charles would without question subside when they came back.
Eric presented the idea to Charles after he went upstairs to grab a huge drink of water. He spoke as quickly as he could while Charles was sitting bent over the edge of the bed, holding his head in hands looking as if he was going to vomit. When Eric finished telling Charles his idea and giving overly detailed explanation of the lake he was surprised by the ease at which Charles consented to go. It took Eric by surprise and he felt maybe Charles was just attempting to shut him up, he considered the possibility he over heard the conversation Eric had with the cop or simply Charles just wanted to escape from the area for the day. Whatever the reason both boys were eager to get on the road and leave.
His immediate intuition told him to get to the lake, the problems back at home would work themselves out. He felt the quicker they got there the sooner the sound of that annoying cricket would disappear and instantly he would feel better. Eric was able to break out of the trance and calm the noise of the cricket when the GPS on his phone indicated the approach of the dirt road leading to the lake. The car turned a quick left, they drove another 5 minutes into the woods with trees and bushes almost brushing against both sides. The forest thinned and they came upon a small empty dirt lot, it couldn’t be considered a parking lot due to the lack of upkeep and the small patches of randomly growing plants as well as the large rocks that protruded at random threatening to stab a tire or ruin an axle.
At the other end of the lot from where they emerged out of the woods was a thick uncut stretch of healthy green grass slopping down to the shore of a black lake.
“Dude the water is sweet,” he called to Eric who was checking the underside of the car. Charles could see a decrepit raft towards the center of the lake closer to the dirt slope on the right side. From where he stood he saw it was covered with green moss from years of neglect, one of the plastic barrels holding the wooden boards above the surface must of broken open and filled with water because the edge dipped very close to the black surface.
“Race you there” Charles said smiling.
Eric wasn’t screaming anymore, he appeared to be unconscious with his eyes closed sucking in large amounts of air. One of his feet were missing from the shin down exposing bone surrounded by the muscles of his calf, there was a large oval chunk of flesh taken out of his side exposing organs and a broken piece of rib.
Blood continued to spill out of Eric’s mouth and his open wounds, his breathing became laborious then shallow until all of sudden he completely stopped breathing. The bleeding ankle dripped down into the water and the large hole in his body spilled immense amount of liquid staining the moss red.
Charles lost all color in face and started to scream for help, he began to cry and wouldn’t go near his friends body believing that if he touched the corpse it would make it real and then he would be in serious trouble.
A large splash echoed from behind him again, his subconscious pleaded with him not to turn around but gradually Charles looked and he wished instantly he went with his first instinct.
Climbing out of the water onto the dirt shore was the largest snapping turtle he had ever seen, it’s shell alone was almost the size of a man and it’s head and large beak could swallow a baby whole. The monster pulled it’s immense body out of the water with clawed hands, it’s prehistoric tale lopped out onto the dirt and it turned facing towards Charles.
“You don’t want to go for a swim?” a soft spoken voice emitted from inside the black throat.
Charles had no idea how to answer it, he at first got angry and was about to lash out and scream and curse. He wanted to strike the voice calling it a “stupid bitch” and to “shut the fuck up” demanding to know how it was emitting out of this scaly beast, but seeing where it was coming from dispelled that notion instantly and reserved his anger.
“You…..you killed my freind.” was all he managed to say.
“It was an accident” said the turtle ” He scared me and I lashed out in fear. I really didn’t mean to do that. I hope you can forgive me.”
” You killed my…..” he began to say but the turtle interrupted him. ” Didn’t you say you were going to go for a swim? I thought you said you were about to swim. Were you lying to me? Why would you lie to me?” she asked in an accusing tone.
“I never said that” replied Charles.
“I know you’re lying and that is no way to treat someone who cares about you. You’re just being a stupid liar.” she said, her voice rose when she said “‘liar” as if trying to contain anger.
Charles really wanted to get upset but for some reason he couldn’t, he was stuck on this raft and afraid to swim back for fear of what was on shore. An irrational feeling inside of him considered the possibility that he may be able to reason with it and maybe let him go home.
“If I went swimming would you let me go?” he asked in a pleading tone. S
“See I told you that you said you wanted to go swimming” the turtle stated in an accusatory turn.
“Why do you want to leave? Is there someone else you need to see?”
“Someone else?” asked Charles, he was baffled and now didn’t understand what the monster was talking about.
“YES, SOMEONE ELSE. No you can’t leave. You are here now. Why don’t you just shut up, stop being a stupid and jump in the water.”
“I don’t want to.” he pleaded in a pathetic attempt at sympathy, he was so displeased with himself but couldn’t help it.
” YOU STUPID FUCK, GET INTO THAT WATER OR I’LL MAKE YOU GET IN.” it screamed in a rage.
Charles looked at his dead friend now devoid of color and any sign of life. Unable to control his emotions he burst into tears, Charles had not cried like this since he was young when his father took a belt to him for breaking one of the plates in the kitchen. His head was so full of despondency that his feelings erupted in an involuntary fit of crying he couldn’t stop.
” I’m sorry, I just want to go home. Please don’t hurt me, I just want to go home.” he pleaded, the tears dripping down his cheeks.
” What are you crying now you sissy? Look at you you whiny sissy. You’re not even a man. YOU WANT TO LEAVE, good fine i dare you to leave. Good luck explaining getting your friend killed to his family.”
” I DIDN’T KILL HIM, YOU DID.” Charles screamed through an eyeful of tears. His anger and hate rising in him, he wanted to go over and punch the monster in it’s face but understood that his life would be over if he did.
“Oh sure,” she said in a sarcastic tone. ‘Blame everyone but yourself, everyone else’s fault but your own. Why don’t you finally take responsibility for what you have done for once. Be a man!”
Charles collapsed on the raft, it rocked spilling water over the edge that dipped close to the surface. He pulled his legs to his chest and put his face to his knees crying, silently praying for someone to come rescue him and give him help. But here he was, on a raft in the middle of an isolated lake with a abusive turtle preventing him from leaving, he was stuck and no one was coming to help him. Charles felt alone and helpless, the forest felt smaller and the lake deeper, he could sense the intense collapse of hope and imagined a cell of stone around him.
“I don’t want to be mean, but you forced me to. I love you Charles but sometimes you just drive me crazy. You put me in awkward and hard positions, I wish you just told me the truth and were straight forward but you play these mind games and it upsets me.”
The moment she said his name his eyes perked up from between his knees, the tears ceased and for some reason the the anarchy felt as if it was organizing itself out. Her voice was so engaging and satisfying he couldn’t help but somewhat smile. Charles closed his eyes and imagined the perfect women he had never seen, speaking his name through her astonishing lips with that divine sound.
He felt guilty, did he lie to her? Maybe he did bring this upon himself and if he said he was sorry it would all be okay.
“You love me?” he asked with his eyes still closed.
“Of course I love you,” she said with earnestly,”That’s why I get upset with you, it’s my love for you that ignites this fire in me. That is why I wish you just acted correctly.”
“I’m sorry,” he said with small drips of tears starting again out of the corners of his eye.,
“I forgive you, just never lie to me again or we will have further problems.”
“If I go swimming will you promise that it will be okay?” he pleaded with his eyes closed.
“Of course my dear, it will be perfect. It will be fun. We will be together and the moment will magical.” she said with a giggle at the end.
There was a sudden splash from where the turtle sat at the edge, Charles opened his eyes and saw the large shell with spiky segments and the scaly lizard tale dip down into the water going deep below the gleam of the sun into the black depths. He began to cry and kept telling himself it was going to be alright, everything would be if he just did as she asked. He sat at the edge of the raft with his legs in the water, closed his eyes and let his body slip in all the way with his head submerging below the surface. Keeping his eyes tightly closed Charles hoped that if he prayed hard enough she wouldn’t hurt him since he did as she asked. Trying as hard as he could to escape from his body and let the events unfolding to just happen Charles reassured himself that it would all be over soon, after all she did say she loved him and what more could he ask for.