Slaughter Lake (Paperback)

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For a group of friends, Slaughter Lake is about to earn its name…

It’s been years since Rebecca and her closest college friends vacationed at Slaughter Lake. What once was an annual trip became a distant memory filled with campfires and the peaceful serene landscape of their exclusive vacation spot.

Then when an unlikely invitation calls them to return to where their fondest memories were created, it seemed impossible to ignore.

Like the water’s calm surface, everything appears to be normal. But underneath, something more sinister awaits – a past left buried – dark secrets that refuse to drown and die.

At Slaughter Lake, the truth is more likely to kill them than to set them free.

Paperback 194 pages
Dimensions 5 x 0.49 x 8 inches
ISBN 979-8351778853
Publication date September 8, 2022
Publisher The Nightmare Engine

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Chapter 1

Samuel lazed about on a bench that couldn’t decide if it was a chair or a mirror for feet. He tapped his hand rhythmically on the side of the aluminum grate, eyeing the freshly manicured feet of a soon-to-be Mrs. Samuel Tawls sticking out from beneath a dressing room door.
“I don’t know if I like this one, Sammy,” said Rebecca sweetly from behind the dressing room door.
He winced. Nobody called him Sammy. Nobody but her. It seemed to be the last bit of their past that refused to die. He’d changed everything else for her, and it seemed all she’d change for him was her name. He couldn’t even swear anymore. Not that Rebecca cared. No, it was for her fucking parents that he couldn’t utter even the mildest of curses, lest he be sentenced to an eternity in hell or some shit.
But you can’t control my thoughts, you old bags.
Rebecca flipped the latch and stepped out and whatever negativity he harbored towards his soon-to-be-in laws was replaced with some more carnal feelings.
She wore a slim cream dress that curved in the right spots and dipped low in others. Samuel perked up, no longer paying attention to the budding numbness in his rear. They’d been hunting for the perfect dress for hours, but all of it seemed worth it now that Rebecca was finally wearing one for him to see.
He stifled the rude, boyish comments that dared to come loose from his lips and thought carefully – wanting to come across as both infatuated yet tasteful. He settled on simplicity.
“Gorgeous, absolutely.”
Rebecca twisted around playfully, smiling sweetly and blushing. Her brown hair bounced lightly off her exposed shoulders and her eyes sparkled in tune with the inlaid rhinestones set along the slice in the dress that split from her thigh to just above her midriff. Samuel caught the flash of the thinnest bit of underwear, a single white strip that rode along her hips. Pressure built between his legs, and he sat up awkwardly again.
“This one? Do you really like it?” she asked, floating over and resting her hands on his legs. He could smell the mixture of a light sweat and body candy wafting up from between her breasts.
He inhaled deeply through his nose so that she’d hear him do it. She pushed off his legs, winking, her brown eyes hidden behind the dimples he loved so much. Her hand brushed against his crotch, squeezed briefly, and she twirled away.
“Good. On to shoes!” she said, disappearing into the dressing room once more, presumably to change into the clothes she came in.
Samuel flopped back loudly and groaned.
“Boyfriend things, Sammy. This is what boyfriends do. Or rather fiancés,” she said, poking her head over the top of the door. “You said you wanted to come with me, remember?”
“I know what I said. I stand by it. I’m just not used to it,” he said, flipping mindlessly through his phone. He had agreed to go help her pick out a new dress because that’s what the latest guide on women from whatever Facebook post had his attention for ten seconds said to do.
She emerged from the dressing room wearing a pair of skin-tight jeans, boots up to her calves and a black sweater, looking suspiciously like it belonged on a fishing trawler on the high seas.
“And I appreciate you taking time away from your afternoon sports or whatever to be here. I know how Sundays are for you. Wouldn’t you agree that it's time we get used to being together all days of the week now? The wedding is in two months.”
Rebecca’s family was more than old fashioned. They were a dying dysfunctional breed of religious fanatics that predetermined their daughter would not be moving in with a man out of wed-lock. These were the same people who’d stop dinner for a misplaced damn and break down in prayer if a wayward fuck slipped in the conversation.
“You could just move in. Keep half your stuff at your apartment until after the wedding.”
Rebecca propped a hand on her hip. “Then I’d be living a lie. What’s two months? It’s been four years.”
Samuel rolled his eyes and heaved himself up. He stood eye to eye with Rebecca, who was considered tall at 5’11 and an exemplary college volleyball player. She played outside hitter and punished the opposing team for setting the ball a little too close to the net. Samuel attended all her games. He loved to watch the surprised look from the opposing team as Rebecca launched up over the net with her powerful legs. The same legs that were doing what they could to break free from the faded denim fabric covering them.

He remembered what he’d been working on, the small careful changes that she appreciated. The dress shopping. The short, spontaneous outings. Active listening—whatever the fuck that is. Less drinking…
Samuel kissed Rebecca softly on the forehead, wrapped his hands around her trim waist and said, “Coffee.”
“Coffee,” she replied.

* * *

Half an hour later and they were standing in line at some knockoff coffee shop where a watery eyed teenager struggled to fill orders. There were five people in line, eight if you include companions, at what was apparently the busiest time of year on a Sunday morning at a single-story mall outside of Eagle River, Wisconsin.
While they waited, Rebecca clung to Samuel’s arm, leaning on it and scrolling through her phone. She sent a text message and looked up. The line hadn’t moved, but a crowd of teenagers gathered around a bench seat by the food court drew her attention. She craned her neck to see.
It wasn’t in the tone of their voices nor their clothes but the way they huddled together, shoulder to shoulder, each taller than the last. She had a sickening feeling, a deep rooted angst that settled like a weight between her shoulder blades, slowing her down. That feeling told her those teenagers, baby faced but as tall as she was, were surrounding some poor soul. It was in the way they seemed to create a wall, a barricade of black denim, torn shirts with band logos in white and red, black painted nails and grungy wind-whipped hair. They looked like kids huddled above a tarantula's tank while one prodded it in its soft carapace with a sharp stick.
One of the boys, the ring-leader—louder and emboldened by his lackeys, pulled away from his victim, whooping with false glee and holding a book up high like the skull and spine of a trophy kill. Through the gap in the wall of bodies, Rebecca saw there was indeed a hapless victim, another teenager by the looks of him, knees shrunken up to his chest—his mop of brown curly hair the only thing visible as he sunk lower into the chair.
Rebecca crossed in front of the coffee stand and was a few feet away before Samuel caught up to her. Whether he called out to her or not, she didn’t know. All she could focus on were their jeers and snarky laughter and condescending, nagging voices. Before the leader of the trio could react, Rebecca kicked out with a sharp right foot at the back of his knee, causing it to buckle. He crumpled in on himself, his lanky legs serving as a stopping point for his chin. She heard a dull pop as the ring-leader’s chin connected with the edge of a chair and his teeth clanked together.
Good. I hope you swallow them.
The other two teenagers froze, stunned, a dumbfounded look crossed their face as they seemed to question whether their leader simply fell or was taken out by a girl several inches shorter than them. Acne Scar seemed to put the pieces together as the ring-leader had drawn himself up, nursing a split lip which leaked a little red vein of blood down one side of his mouth. Fierce anger and embarrassment seized his face into a scowl that Rebecca could feel, as if his very emotions were projected through his sharp eyes like laser beams hunting for a target. He mumbled something through a fat lip and what she was sure was a mouthful of blood.
The ring-leader’s eyes flashed palpable hatred, darting between his lackeys. They took a half step forward in an act of support, commanded by their leader, called to the firing line. He raised a hand to slap Rebecca. She put up her fists in a confident yet misplaced manner. She’d never fought before, and she was sure her palms were facing the wrong direction.
Before the teenager could swing, Samuel was between them in an instant, body checking the ring-leader to where he stumbled over his bell-bottom pants and dangling cords and chains, falling back over a table and crashing into a tough looking man with tattoos eating alone. The chair toppled, dumping the tattooed man’s plate on the tile floor. Rebecca watched him shove back from his chair and dive for the ring-leader, who promptly scampered away around the coffee bar followed by his cohorts.
Rebecca sighed and reached for the curly haired victim still tucked safely away behind his jeans. He was notably skinny, possibly sickly, his skin paper-white and his clothes rode loosely on his frame. It was like those skeletons that came out around October—the ones that wore clothes and occupied a bench on every porch with a white picket fence. She felt a sense of remembrance about him though, like she’d just heard the missing lyric to a song that's been swirling inside her head for a long time.
“Rebecca, I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t instigate a fight to where I’d have to pummel a couple burn-outs in the local mall,” Samuel said casually, scanning for incoming security guards.
His words fell on deaf ears as Rebecca knelt and picked up the book dropped carelessly to the floor. When she rose up, her eyes met the now unraveled victim.
“Jude?” Rebecca questioned. There was no doubt that the person she’d thought was a helpless, lanky teenager was, in fact a grown man from her college graduating class, Jude Parker.
“Hi, Beck,” Jude said. “You haven’t changed one bit.” His voice was soft, smooth, and confident, not at all a reflection of his physical appearance which suggested a meek and mild-mannered bookworm. The perfect victim, as it were for a set of full-grown teenagers.
“And you haven’t either,” she said, handing him the book, but not before her eyes drifted over the cover. It depicted a rope knot, tied to a stick and wedged up against a rock to create a sort of spring trap. Outdoor Survivalism and Trapping.
He stood up, dusted himself off, though his entire shirt and pants seemed to be made of wrinkles. He took the book from her. Only then did he acknowledge Samuel.
“Hey Sam, it's been a while,” Jude said. He flashed a friendly smile.
“Hey, Jude. Where have you been? What’s it been? Five years since we graduated?” Samuel asked.
“Yeah. Around that. I’ve been busy. You?”
Samuel grabbed Rebecca’s hand and lifted it up so the solitaire diamond—purchased half from savings, half from his inheritance - glimmered on its simple silver band. He said nothing more. “You know, actually sleeping with Rebecca instead of just jerking off to her picture. Also, no one calls her Beck but me, and only because I know it gets her hot.”
Rebecca’s face flushed, her skin grew hot around her neck. Jude Parker wasn’t just a classmate. He was an outcast with a strange obsession with Rebecca. He’d slipped into their circle of friends of Samuel, Rebecca, Cade, and Ella and became known as fifth wheel amongst the two couples. Nobody seemed to like him at first, and they didn’t know much about him. They did know his parents had money.
Rebecca and Ella were the nicest to Jude. Cade tolerated him and they smoked weed together behind the bleachers one Friday night during a football game—and they became a bit closer after that. Samuel, however, thought the least of Jude, all thanks to one afternoon when he was passing through the locker room and happened to find Jude, alone in a bathroom stall with his pants by his ankles, and the school yearbook open. When Jude emerged, Samuel confronted him, and Jude ran straight into Rebecca in the hallway. Samuel accused Jude of jerking off to the pictures. Jude denied it, of course. Rebecca stood between them both as the voice of reason.
Later, when Samuel was away, Jude confessed to being in love with her for years, but he hadn’t been looking at her photo that way, and instead, showed a picture of himself where he’d marked over it with big, angry swipes of a pen causing deep gouges that bled through several layers.
Someone had found his yearbook and desecrated his image. He had been in the bathroom, crying, because his mother was quite looking forward to his yearbook photo that year, as it was the first time he’d smiled on camera. He had friends for once, and that deserved a smile, he used to say. She died from cancer later that week and Jude never got around to showing her that photo. Thankfully so, as it was horrific.
For the rest of their high school years, Jude grew closer to the foursome but while there seemed to be room in the circle for him, Samuel always kept an eye on how closely Jude stood next to Rebecca. Time passed, the years moved on, and Jude seemed to meld with the rest of the graduating class and become just another cap and gown gone to the four winds after a diploma reached his hand. Rebecca recalled Jude leaving graduation in a black Bentley. Her parents picked up her and Samuel in a Camry. Then summer came and went but one afternoon, Jude called her and suggested a trip to his parent’s summer cabin, just west of Eagle River in an ominous sounding place called Slaughter Lake. When she asked why he didn’t bring it up in the group-chat they all used, he suggested that it was better if the idea came from her. He knew how the others looked at him, especially how Samuel hated him. Hearing that from him saddened Rebecca so she tried to dispel that belief but he’d interrupted her and said something that stuck with her since. “It’s okay. I’ve been unwanted my whole life. At least this way, I can live semi-normal, as if I fit in. Don’t pander at me or try to save me from my feelings. If you want to help me, just know the cabin is available, and it would be really cool to start a tradition of going every summer. I have to make friends my own way.”
Realizing she could help Jude the way he wanted to be helped, she slipped in the idea of the cabin and the others latched onto it right away. From then on, an annual cabin visit was born. All except for the last five years, where life got in the way, and the tradition slipped. Like that missing lyric, Jude too seemed to slip away, and now she felt terrible for failing to realize they’d lost a friend as easily as someone lost their car keys.
“That’s enough, Sammy,” Rebecca said, yanking her arm away. “Don’t be a jerk, remember?”
Samuel harrumphed and strode off, approaching the tattooed man and offering a hand to shake. They immediately began cutting up together, laughing at the punk-teenager’s expense. The tattooed man motioned towards his spilled food and they continued talking.
Rebecca shook her head. “Sorry, he can be a bit of a jerk.”
“I remember,” Jude said. His eyes were locked on hers from beneath bushy, overgrown eyebrows. He wasn’t particularly bad looking, just boyish and skinny, with a fair complexion and a large nose. He unfolded his long, mantis like legs and sat straight up on the bench.
As he did, a flash of glimmering metal and a clatter like a large kitchen utensil falling brought her eyes to the floor. There, between them sat a menacing looking knife. Its handle was curved, and there was a loop in the end. Rebecca’s younger brother, Robert, practiced Escrima—Filipino knife-fighting. She’d seen other knives he kept in a metal display case next to his bed back at home. The blade, a karambit, if she remembered correctly, was for slashing. It was a wicked, curved design giving its wielder a raptor-like appendage. It was also primarily used as an offensive weapon.
Jude quickly shot to the floor to retrieve the weapon while something else fell out of his pocket. A black, tri-fold wallet with a chain laid next to the knife. Rebecca stooped for the wallet, picked it up, and happened to glance at the photograph in the clear plastic view window. To her surprise, the picture wasn’t of Jude, but rather the ring-leader, the tallest of the three teenagers that had just been run off.
Rebbecca felt a sudden tightness in her chest, like all the air had been sucked from the room. For a moment, her eyes met Jude’s, and she felt like she was staring into the eyes of a wild beast. Like she’d caught the gaze of a starving lion and the glass that divided them was slowly disappearing. Jude’s lip lifted into the smallest of snarls, a micro-expression, a fleeting, raw feeling that only appeared for a fraction of a second. Then it was gone, and his face slowly melted from its rigid expression into a cooler, calmer smile. He reached forward and retrieved the blade without looking at it, and scooped up the wallet on his way up.
Rebecca followed him up to her feet.
“He must have dropped this. I’ll return it to security,” Jude said, “Unless you want to, Beck. I don’t think I want to have to explain how a couple teenagers got the best of me.”
He held out the wallet, but she shook her head. “No, it’s okay. I don’t think security will mind. You were clearly the victim here.”
Rebecca watched for that fleeting micro-expression again, but nothing of the sort came. Instead, it was just the Jude she’d known for years. Perhaps she hadn’t seen it at all. He had just been bullied. Just like he’d been bullied in high school. Only now, he was an adult, and still a victim. Instantly, Rebecca felt for him, the way she might for her brother after he’d come home to report that he’d had his lunch money stolen.
Now, she didn’t blame him for carrying a knife, and she was angry at herself for even considering that the three boys clearly picking on him were the victims considering by and large the three-on-one fight that had nearly broken out.
Beside her, Samuel grunted, nodding towards the door. Outside, the sun was fading and dribbling a ripe orange glow through the set of four doors near the entrance to the mall’s food court. Rebecca looked up at Samuel, who had his eyes on Jude. But Jude was looking off awkwardly, also towards the door, as if the three of them once again shared a destination. Rebecca felt a sense of longing, one that only logically pointed towards a path left untraveled, and likely the result of simply drifting away from Jude who had, for a while, been a member of her inner circle of friends. She came to a head that she didn’t want that feeling again.
“Listen, Jude. We’ve got to go, but it’s been a while since we’ve gotten the crew together. I still talk to Cade and Ella. Could I have your number? There’s a barbeque pit outside my apartment and I was going to get everyone together Saturday.”
“You were?” asked Samuel.
“Jude looked at his hands like they held further details then back at her. He looked so frail. Mild-mannered and soft. She felt horrible for not keeping in contact with him. Not out of pity, but because he had been a part of their group, and she’d let him drift away.
Drift. That’s the word. He drifted. Even if the others don’t bother, it’s on you to keep everyone from drifting.
She could feel Samuel’s eyes burning a hole in the side of her head, but she didn’t care. He tolerated Jude and at most, slung minor jabs at him. Jude seemed to take it in stride, and the group kept on. That’s what she was helping to accomplish - to keep the group keeping on.
“I’d like that,” said Jude simply. A smile crept slowly across his face until his large, almost comically oversized teeth showed into semi-forced smile. His extended canine teeth gave him once again that predatory look—that animalistic hunger. He dug in his pocket for his phone and held it out while Rebecca punched in her number, much to Samuel’s silent protest and evidenced by his cloistered posture and rapidly tapping foot.
Jude looked down and typed a message eagerly into his phone. Rebecca’s phone chimed with a message.
Got you, Beck.