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What luck! Chloe was only in this new town for a week and had only been to her new school twice and she already had a snow day. Vermont was great. She was so glad that Dad moved them here for his job. Today she would get to go ice skating, if she could just convince her older brother to take her to the pond. The chances were good because she had only been home for an extra hour and Mom’s nerves were already getting thin. Unpacking and dealing with a third grader simultaneously was a challenge apparently. All she had to do was up the stakes a little and the result was inevitable.
“I am Stupendous Girl, superhero of Super Duper City. I am here to conquer evil.” She looked menacingly at the cat. Every hero needed a villain and Pickles was mischievous enough to be upgraded to nefarious if necessary to suit her purposes.
Chloe grabbed her comforter and wrapped two corners around her neck closing them tight with a hairclip off the coffee table. Pickles looked at her inquisitively, unaware of his impending role in her fantastic drama. Obviously he was even more unaware that it was all for show so she would be exiled from the house into the snow. No bother, she was sure he would play his part to perfection. She lunged at him.
Pickles responded how every feline in the history of domestication always responded, by shooting away at light-speed. The timing was perfect. He got just close enough to Chloe's mother’s legs to startle her as she was carrying a box of dishes to the kitchen. “Whoa. What the …”
Chloe gleefully bounded after him so Mom didn’t think it was an isolated cat charge. “I will get you next time Pickle Puss. Your days of crime in Super Duper City are numbered!”
Apparently Mom got the picture quickly as she glanced around for something to place her box on. She put it down on some bigger boxes which weren’t as durable and the weight of the small box crushed the one underneath just a little.
“Chloe, honey, do you think maybe you could play outside?”
Here was her opening. It was important to play it just right. “No Mommy. I want to play superhero.” The negotiation had to be just right to get to her goal.
“What about Snow-girl or Ice Princess? Those sound like superheroes.”
“Nah. The only good cold heroes are the Phantom Skate and Kid Skate.” She looked up at her mother keeping her face as blank as possible. It was important to make her think that it was her idea so she would command Luke to take her to the pond for the greater good.
“Didn’t Uncle Paulie give you ice skates as a going away present before we left Florida?”
“I guess so. I think they are in my room somewhere. I saw them when I unpacked.”
“You mean when you dumped your boxes into the closet?” Her mother smirked allowing the statement to be half joke, half serious.
“Yeesss, Mother!” She imitated the way she heard her mom say it when she was on the phone with her own mother, Chloe’s "Mimi."
Mom’s face actually looked a little irked after that. The masterpiece was complete. “Lucas, get down here. Your sister wants to go ice skating and you need the fresh air!”
Lucas "Luke" Hauser slumped down the back stairs into the kitchen. Hair messed, he still had a line across his face where the pillowcase left a mark from sleep. “I was already up, you know. I have plans with friends, well new friends.”
“They are cancelled, Lucas. Your sister needs to get out of the house and try out her ice skates. Take her to the pond down the road. I saw kids skating on the river and if running water is that frozen then that little pond must be fine.”
He looked past his mother and saw his little sister beaming at him. Little goblin, this was probably what she wanted all along. She stuck out her tongue at him, just a little, not all the way, that way she could say she was just licking her lips if Mom caught her. It was one of her go-to moves lately.
“My friends are already on their way over,” he complained.
“Then call them and tell them plans have changed.”
“I don’t have their numbers. I don’t even know if eighth graders in Vermont have cell phones.”
“Well then, wait for them to arrive and tell them that you are going to the pond with your sister. They can go with you if they want to hang out with you.”
It was obvious from his face the idea of that situation was less than thrilling. Hey guys come watch me babysit my little sister!
He knew that the situation was unwinnable. “Whatever. I will get dressed. Get your stuff, you little puke.”
Chloe danced in circles celebrating her victory, making it look like she was just sauntering away. Victory!
Mom got back to work while Lucas stormed up to his room to get ready. His heavy, overly dramatic footsteps could be heard throughout the house signaling his displeasure with this turn of events.
Chloe sang under her breath as she got dressed. She considered her victory a just one because it was better for Mom, and Luke wasn’t going to do anything good today anyway. He certainly wasn’t going to do anything as interesting as ice skating on the pond. It would be fun as soon as he stopped sulking. The heavy stomping of his booted feet alerted her he was just about to her door. She grabbed her skates and ran to meet him.
“Hey Luke, thanks for taking me skating.” This blurted out as she ran past him in the opposite direction toward the front door.
“Hey wait up. Don’t go running off already for Christ sake!”
“Lucas! Language!” Mom obviously wasn’t too busy to hear that and put a stop to it. Chloe snickered as she reached the door and flung it open.
A group of teenagers had just turned up the driveway as Luke caught up to her on the porch. He threw his hand up in that way teenagers wave. You know the whole “I care, but I don’t care” routine, like he was too cool to be bothered.
The group had a few other obvious little brothers and sisters who were “given” to their older brothers for safe keeping. This brought an outward smile to Lucas’ face. He wouldn’t be the odd man out, no teasing about having to watch his baby sister from his new crew.
Travis, the guy who had introduced him to his new group of friends sped up a bit to greet him first. A little figure covered head-to-toe in snowsuit and yarn accessories struggled to run ahead with him. The little person had a candy cane striped hat, the red polka dot mittens, and a scarf that could have wrapped a mummy easily.
Chloe slid down the unshoveled steps on her backside letting out a whoop as she went. She would have just gone all the way past the group of kids and out the driveway if her course didn’t veer into the snowbank on the right. Travis walked right past her, smiling and nodding to Luke. The little scarf mummy ran over to her and stuck out a mitten-clad hand of assistance.
“ARPH HRU OBRHT”
Chloe took the hand up and peered into the small slot of exposed skin, tiny eyes peering out. “What did you say?”
The little mittens went up to the mummy’s face and pushed down an inch of wool. “I said, are you alright?”
What many would assume was a boy from the earth tones of the winter cocoon around the child was actually a cherub-faced girl, bundled in what must be her brother’s hand-me-down snow clothes. She was smiling at Chloe and the smile was being returned. You could almost hear BUM-BUM-BUM playing in the background, like two villains had just teamed up. Luke watched with interest, but Travis seemed oblivious to the meeting occurring behind him.
Luke sped up a little so he could “high five” his new friend. Travis gave a little nod to accompany the gesture which he returned. The whole exchange was done with the feigned arrogance only a teenager could muster. No one wanted to be any less cool than the other guy.
He watched Chloe chatting with the other little kid for a second. The other kids had just about caught up to Travis by this point. “You coming to hang out?”
“I was going to say not happening, but I see other people have their babysitting duties too, so I guess we can hang. The only thing is my Mom says I have to go down to the pond so she can ice skate.” The crowd of kids grew hushed. Some began to whisper. A general stirring of feet and averting of eyes occurred, where nobody was suddenly looking at Travis or Luke.
Luke spoke more out of a sense of discomfort than any other reason, “What is that about?”
A scowl crossed Travis’s face, and he glared back over his shoulder at the others. “They are just going on about the pond being haunted. It is stupid and they know I won’t put up with it. Nobody wants to be the one to say it though.” He turned around and yelled viciously, “You all beat it then. Cowards. I am going with Luke. You all scram. Go play in someone’s yard. I am done with you guys.”
It was a bit of a dramatic response, but Luke stood firm without question behind Travis. This was the guy who sat down with him right away in the lunch room the first day of a new school. That kind of gesture rated loyalty even if you didn’t understand what was happening. The other kids seemed shocked by the level of anger that Travis was turning loose. Apparently some final straw had been placed or a bridge too far was crossed. Travis was turning red in the face he was so mad. Luke thought he saw tears begin to form in his eyes, but the cold and the wind was making Luke’s eyes water too. So it could just be that.
The crowd of kids turned with a few murmurs and scuttled away. They boys stood silently and watched them walk down the little incline and exit the driveway, neither saying a word until the others were out of sight. Travis silently turned back toward him.
“What was that about now?”
“They are being stupid. The pond isn’t haunted. It is a perfectly nice little pond and the fact that people are dummies just makes more room for us.” It didn’t seem that he wanted to keep talking about this, his face hadn’t lightened any and he still seemed angry. Luke didn’t want him to be as angry with him as he was at the others so he decided to let it go. “Luke, just go to the pond, okay? I am with you, the heck with the others. I’ll talk to them later.”
Luke shrugged and turned toward the younger kids. “Hey, Goblins! Let’s go!” Travis eyeballed him. He was obviously still too sensitive to have his sibling called names along with Chloe. He made a mental note about this and tucked his head down out of the cold. They walked quietly down the driveway and to the right.
Chloe was overwhelmed at meeting a friend of her own. The two had been chattering away about snow days and ice skating during the whole dramatic episode in the driveway, but had yet to even exchange names.
“I’m Chloe.” She stuck out her little mitten to her new amigo.
“My name is Bella.” She had left the tremendous scarf tucked under her chin so she could talk freely.
“I have new ice skates. Do you have ice skates?”
“We are going to the pond and I am going to whiz around like a bullet.” This caused Bella to stop. When Chloe noticed, she stopped too. She was looking back at Bella who seemed frozen to the spot. “What’s wrong?”
“We can’t go there. It's haunted.”
“Didn’t you hear your brother yelling at his friends? He said it was just baloney!”
Bella seemed unconvinced. She remained deathly still. “I know it is. I have seen the ghost in the ice, sometimes in the water. Mostly she comes in the winter, always in the ice.”
“Stop trying to be scary.” At this point the older boys had stopped and turned. They began to wave for the procession to get moving again. “Fine, I am going. You just stand here alone. You’re fun, but not as fun as ice skating.”
Chloe started trudging forward again and had only gotten ten steps or so before she heard Bella’s boots squeaking on the snow behind her. Victory again.
Luke had seen them stop first and slowed a bit before stopping which put him a few steps behind Travis when he finally held up. He watched the exchange while occasionally glancing back at Travis to see if he was getting impatient. The whole thing took just a minute, but his friend seemed to be too perturbed to deal with any further delay. Once Chloe started walking again the other girl followed, then Luke turned and started back down the sidewalk.
“Your sister is weird, man.” These were the first words Travis had said in a while.
“Yeah well, so is yours!” Travis swung a wild punch at Luke’s face. It only missed by a hair.
“Take it back.”
“Okay. Okay, I’m sorry.”
The other boy's face was red again. He started walking, angry and fast. Luke figured he would let him go a bit, but stayed ahead of the girls anyway. Just because he was giving his friend space didn’t mean he wanted to walk with little kids.
The pond was coming into view as they all walked down the road like some kind of odd snowbound caravan. Instead of camels, kids plodded along in a line as they got closer to their little oasis.
Travis went over to the one little, worn wooden bench that was under a bare tree in the little park section that was alongside the pond and sat. Stopping for a moment to let him have space and to wait for the girls, Luke kept switching the direction he was looking, unsure of what to do.
The kids caught up and ran up to him. Chloe looked happy, but the other little girl looked reluctant to follow. Luke walked a few steps back to meet them.
“Are you going to be able to put your skates on by yourself?”
“Of course, silly, I have been practicing for weeks!”
“Yeah, I am sure you have, schemer. Who is your friend?”
“Her name is Bella.”
Luke turned toward the little brown snow suit. “Hey Bella.”
Bella waddled up to him and waved so briskly the polka dots on her mitten blurred. “Hey, Lucas. We should skate somewhere else. This place is haunted.”
“Please, kiddo, your brother is already peeved enough at me, I dunno why, but he is.”
She looked up at him without speaking for a moment. “It's because the ghost makes him uncomfortable. He doesn’t like being here either; he is just stubborn.”
“Let’s just let him be. He seems pretty determined to be here. You just hang out with Chloe and I will see if I can talk to him. Okay?”
“Okay.” The girl took Chloe’s free hand and they ran over to a smooth spot on the bank and sat down. They started making the obligatory snow angels that little kids had to make anytime they got on the ground in the snow.
Luke turned back toward Travis and the bench.
Travis was sitting hunched over with his elbows on his knees, hands clenched into fists tucked under his chin supporting his head. He was slightly turned away looking off into the distance at the highway which was just visible through the barren tree line. He didn’t look like he was feeling chatty, so Luke let him be alone in his thoughts for a few minutes. Just sitting there watching the two kids was okay. Chloe had finally gotten her skates on and the two went out on the ice and were giggling and playing. Bella was pulling her around, keeping her from falling over and dragging her around the pond. Chloe moved her feet back and forth the best she could to keep up and mimic what she thought an ice skater should do.
Eventually Travis turned to face forward, now peering at the action on the pond. “Your sister isn’t bad at that for a first timer from Florida.”
“Yeah well, she has been very excited about it. It’s new to her. I have seen snow before.”
“I’m... sorry. This place just gets to me. I fight it and refuse to let what the others say bother me. I even come here sometimes on my own. I certainly wasn’t going to avoid it when you suggested it.”
The two of them shifted to face each other. Travis looked sincerely sorry for his earlier behavior.
Luke began to speak ,then paused. Eventually he took a deep breath and continued, “I just don’t get why you are so angry.”
“I suppose you deserve to hear the story after all this.” He settled his posture a little, relaxing and preparing himself.
He gathered his thoughts a moment and turned toward Lucas:
The pond was supposed to be haunted all along. Back in 1923, the police had shot a murder suspect named “Mad Dog” Macree, but he had gotten away from them. He had hidden down the bank of the pond about where we are sitting as the legend goes. Not a very dramatic story, this part, he bled badly while hiding from the cops and slipped into the water. He must have been so weak that he couldn’t get up and drowned when his face slid into the water. The police found him eventually dead in the shallow water.
They were back up on the road when the coroner came, and they took him down to where the body was. Except it wasn’t-- there, that is. Gone. It was nowhere in sight. The coroner thought they were fooling with him. Police scoured the whole area for hours. Eventually they dragged the pond, not once, but twice. At first people thought he got away, that maybe he wasn’t dead. The cops that had seen him insisted it could not be the case. He was very dead according to them, bluish and stiff. They never found the body.
Time went by and people talked. Parents told their kids to stay away from the pond just because “the murderer died there”. They didn’t need to go so far as saying his spirit haunted the pond, just that he died there was enough for most people. Kids never listen though so back then my grandmother went ice skating with a bunch of kids and went to the pond because it was closer than the next spot. She told us that she disobeyed her parents and went skating there. A girl she was with in a group of about ten kids just disappeared. Not "ran off," not "got kidnapped," the girl was skating around and when nobody happened to be looking right at her for just a second, she vanished. Again they searched for a body. This time they couldn’t drag the pond till the ice thawed in spring. Nothing. She told that same story to her kids, my dad and auntie and it was enough to keep them away for their entire childhood. They both claimed they never played at that pond even once.
People forget to be afraid if enough time passes. We thought Grandma was a crazy superstitious old lady just trying to scare us with ghost stories, and our parents didn’t tell the story with as much oomph. They might have believed as kids, but no self-respecting adult believes in haunted ponds. So when my little sister wanted to go ice skating I took her. I watched her like a hawk. I’m not saying I believed in ghost stories, heck I don’t believe in them now. It was just that once they tell you things like that you just can’t shake that niggling feeling that something is out there, under the ice.
We were fine for two hours just skating around. Eventually we both got tired or cold and agreed to finish up. I had skated over to this bank right here and plopped down to trade my skates for my boots. I only looked away for a second, but it must have been longer. I figure my mind remembers it weird, you know, cause it was traumatic. She was gone. Poof!
I looked everywhere. My feet were still in socks because I forgot to put my boots on. After a half-an-hour of furious searching I ran home crying and told my mom. Again they searched everywhere; again they found nothing. I don’t know what happened, but I don’t believe in ghosts. It’s a pond, nothing more, nothing less. I have to believe that.
Luke was so wrapped up in the story, he had nothing to say at first. He just sat there looking at his friend with the beginnings of the tears returning to his eyes.
“So… now the other kids…”
“They think the pond is haunted and they say behind my back that my sister haunts it too now.”
“That is mean. So your sister… she was Bella’s older sister or younger?”
Travis’ face briefly rippled with anger. “Why would you say something like that? I just got over the last thing you said. Who even told you about her? Not cool, man!”
The confusion of the moment paralyzed Luke. He stood up and peered down at his infuriated friend, backing off a few paces to remove himself from the zone of a kid who had obviously lost his mind.
“Listen, your story is sad man, but you are acting too weird. Let’s just get our sisters in off the ice and go home.”
Travis stood to look him in the face. “What are you talking about? I’m crazy? You’re the one who keeps bringing up my dead sister.”
Luke turned away in frustration and looked out onto the lake. “Where did they go? Chloe! Bella!”
“What are you doing? That is sick!”
“Look, man. Your little sister and my little sister have been playing with each other since you got to my house. Stop being weird and creepy.”
Travis’ face got pale. “Bella is the sister I was talking about. I have never had another sister. Your sister has been seeing her?”
“Dude, I saw her. I talked to her. Where are those girls. Oh crap! CHLOE!” Lucas ran out onto the ice. Travis ran right along without thinking. He was screaming too, but his words were unintelligible and choked with sobs.
“Not again. Not again!” Luke heard Travis fall on his knees behind him. They stood in the center looking in every direction.
A bump sounded out at Luke’s feet. He looked down through the ice and saw Chloe’s little face through the unfocused prism of the thick, frozen water. She had fallen in and was drowning. No good plan came to his panicked mind so he began kicking the ice with his boot heel. Travis jumped up and came next to him. When he saw Chloe under the ice, her little mouth screaming as cold water flooded into her, he began the frantic kicking too. It was no use, they were doing nothing. They both looked around for the hole she must have fallen into; it was nowhere in sight.
The boys looked back down at her. That was when they saw it. A skeletal hand reached up from the darkness of the lake and grasped onto Chloe’s hair. It yanked her down and she quickly disappeared from sight into the gloomy darkness.
Luke fell down on his knees now, staring into the dark ice. Travis was quiet for a moment, then whispered something. Looking up from the ice, Luke cocked his head as if he had not quite heard his friend.
Travis repeated, a little louder, “You saw it. You saw him.”
Luke just shook his head. Not to deny that he saw what his friend saw, but mostly because he had no idea how to respond to any of this.
A loud bong noise sounded out and the pond vibrated. Both of them were startled. It happened again, then a third time. Fifty feet away toward the back side of the pond a chunk of ice broke then capsized in on itself leaving an open water hole. A little body wearing ice skates bobbed to the surface just visible from where they were. Travis immediately sprinted toward it. Luke was not far behind once he reached his feet. They grabbed her and dragged her up and out of the hole.
“Hang on, she needs CPR. I learned it for a badge in Boy Scouts before….”
He didn’t have to finish. Luke knew he had probably quit after he lost his sister. Travis turned her over and started breathing into her mouth and pumping on her chest. He worked frantically, looking very heroic while Luke stood by feeling helpless. Luke silently swore to himself that if it worked he would learn CPR, also that he would be nicer to Chloe. Just breathe!
After what was probably only a minute or two, but felt like hours, she coughed. Quickly Travis turned her on her side and a torrent of pond water poured out of her mouth. It happened three more times each one yielding a little less water. She finally looked up at Luke.
“Cough…Cough… Where is Bella?”
Travis looked stricken with fear. “Let’s just get off this pond, please.”
Luke looked like he couldn’t agree more with his friend's plea. They each grabbed one of Chloe’s arms and helped her up. They carried her all the way to the bench and sat for a minute. She looked like she wanted to talk, but then passed back out. They saw her breathing and shivering.
“We need to get her home.” Travis nodded at him and they picked her back up. The two boys awkwardly ran all the way to Luke’s house. When they got to the porch Travis looked at him guiltily.
“I need to go. Get her safe. Tell them she fell in. I got to… I dunno, but I ain’t ready to talk about whatever that was with grownups.”
Lucas just nodded and watched his friend walk down the porch stairs and run down the driveway. Then he pushed open the front door. “Mom! Come quick, Chloe's hurt.”
His mother came barreling around the corner. “What!” Seeing her unconscious daughter in her son’s arms, she leaped to grab her. “What happened?”
“She fell in. We pulled her out after she went under. Travis did CPR. She is breathing though. I think she is okay.”
Mom started stripping off her wet, cold clothes. “We need to get her out of the wet clothes, dressed and go to the hospital.” Travis helped her strip off the wet clothes. Mom ran into Chloe’s room and he heard her rummaging around in the bureau. He had gotten her down to her superhero underpants when he saw out of the corner of his eye, her hand was bare and probably had been all this time. She was clutching a red polka dot mitten.
A Vermont "snow day" means several inches of snow. You can't skate on a pond covered with snow. Given the fact that it was considered haunted it seems unlikely that a gang of kids or adults would spend hours shoveling it clear.
micheledutcher - The part where a bump sounded out at his feet - was the image that got me. Spooky story!
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