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Echo Lake Excerpt

Updated on August 19, 2014

Echo Lake: A Neo Noir Novel

Echo Lake is a Neo Noir thriller by Letitia Trent. For more information about her novel, the genre of Neo Noir, and Dark House Press, check out the following links;

Dark House Press

Neo Noir

Trailer for Echo Lake: A Novel


Echo Lake Excerpt: The Dream

Where are we going? Emily asked, and she heard her voice smaller and higher in her throat than it had been in years. She looked at her hands, white and smooth. She didn't have that scar at her knuckle where she'd cut herself on a broken glass at the bottom of the sink, the cut she'd needed stitches for her senior year of college. On her feet were plastic jelly sandals, purple ones, her skin dusty between the crosshatching.

Her mother Connie drove with the windows down and was young again. She wore a sundress, and her hair was gathered in a high ponytail. Her blonde hair whipped around her face—the driver's side window was opened just a crack and made a loud, sucking sound.

Her mother hummed and kept her eyes on the road.

But I'm thirty and my mother's dead, Emily thought. She could not let herself imagine that life was otherwise. Even in dreams, she was not able to let go. She wished she could, but she knew: I am only dreaming. Connie was really dead. Emily was no longer a child. Everything was much worse than it looked right now.

Where are we going? Emily asked again, this time speaking over the sucking sound from the window.

Her mother turned to her and smiled, her cheeks bright, but her lips pale and dry. Connie never wore soft shades of lipstick, never had the soft feathered hair or chalky pale eye shadow of the television mothers in the eighties, the mothers Emily had so wished for as a child.

We're going to Heartshorne, her mother said. We're going home.

Emily sat up and looked out the blue-tinted window. The road before them was flat and empty of cars. They passed a ranch where the cows stared dully at the very edges of a thin, wire fence, chewing and chewing on what? The brown grass? Emily didn't know. Her small body made her afraid to ask questions. She imagined that she might accidentally reveal to her mother what she knew—that Connie had died in two thousand and four of lung cancer. That Connie really hated Heartshorne. No matter how bad it is here, it’s better than where I came from, she’d tell Emily while awake late at night, pacing the living room while Patsy Cline sang on the tape from the tinny little boombox on the kitchen counter or cleaning until she was so exhausted she could only lay in bed smoking cigarettes.

Why are we going there? Emily asked. Connie rolled up the car window and the sucking sound stopped. She heard only the muffled inside sounds of the car now—the road rolling underneath their wheels and the sound of the wind trying to get in.

Why? Emily asked again. Connie kept her eyes on the road. They were coming up to sharp curves, some hills even, and though the grass was still brown, the trees were taller and houses scarcer. They were entering the country, not the rambling, long stretches of flatland but the closer, secret hollows of forest.

Because you can't stay away from home for too long, she said. It makes you crazy. You can't just leave. You have to understand why.

Listen, Emmy, she said, using the name that Emily had always wanted to hear whenever her mother was in one of her rare moods of happiness.

Emmy, you'll be going home soon, she said. Make the most of it.

She touched Emily's knee where her jeans had faded from playing in the dirt with her buckets and dolls and collections of dirty stuffed animals she treated as pets or children, depending on the game.

Emmy, I'm taking you home.

Author Letitia Trent


Echo Lake: Lillian

Lillian put the children to bed, pulled the blankets up to their shoulders, and kissed them. She stood outside the door until she heard them snoring, heard them lay still, not restless and kicking as they were on nights when they wouldn't go to bed and whined to have drinks of water or to stay up late and walked in, crying, red-cheeked, when she’d sat up late smoking cigarettes and listening to the radio. But they were good that night, tired out from playing in the woods all day. She'd helped them build a playhouse with old sheets and furniture—had cleared out a circle, raked up the leaves, scared away the snakes—and they had played there all afternoon, pretending to have a house of their own.

It was funny that kids played house like adults. They must think it's fun, paying bills and making dinner and cleaning, Lillian thought. Did it seem fun? Shelly had sounded just like an angry wife when she'd called Dennis in for make-believe dinner. Get over here, she'd said, before it I throw the whole thing out into the woods.

Where had she learned that? Lillian hadn't lived with a man for years. It wasn't worth the trouble to let them move in, not until she found one worth sharing space with. But she was beginning to grow used to having her own space now, used to the way that she could leave her clothes out and take up the whole bed without anyone else there to pull the blankets off or kick her toward the edge. Maybe she’d never live with another man again. The thought both saddened and relieved her.

When she heard their snores she went to the bedroom, slipped out of her pajamas, and put on her skirt and her sandals with straps that wrapped around her ankles. If the kids knew she was leaving, they'd whine and cry, they'd make it impossible for her to go anywhere. She did not feel guilty for fooling them. Parents were allowed to fool their children. It was one of the benefits of parenthood. She took the bottle of Aftershock from the fridge and put it in her purse. She wanted the small purse with the snap-top, the one covered in beads that could fit right into her hand, but she had to take the big purse covered in buckles—it was the only one that could fit the bulky, square bottle. Better she brought her own drink—otherwise she'd be stuck drinking Old English or that rose wine that came in jugs and tasted like old cough syrup. She put the cell phone in her pocket—she'd set it to ring at one so she'd be on her way out by then in case the kids woke up and were scared to find her gone. She never wanted them to wake without her in the house.

When she was five years old, Lillian had woken up in the middle of night with one of those sudden, acute fevers that children get, sicknesses that last for days and leave them limp and damp. She woke and cried from the confusion of being both suffocatingly hot and chilled. She'd crawled down from her bed, the house dark and silent around her, not even the dogs barking, and pushed open the bedroom door to her parent's room to find an empty bed, the blankets twisted, the closet thrown open and her mother's clothes crumpled on the floor.

She'd seen this before on television—a messy room ("ransacked", the man on America's Most Wanted always said), the drawers emptied and furniture overturned. Next, she'd find bodies somewhere, she knew from those shows, people dead or dying from gunshots. Her parents loved true crime TV, each case re-told in slow motion, the action drained of color to indicate a fictional account of real events.

So her parents were dead, she had reasoned, and the certainty paralyzed her. She had lain down on the floor at the base of her parent's bed and curled into a ball with her arms around her knees and her bare feet tucked under the hem of her nightgown. Her parents had found her there an hour later, returned from a party, her mother in glittery eyeshadow and her sandals with straps that bit into the skin of her feet. When Lillian saw them, she began to weep with relief, crying so hard that she threw up on the carpet.

Lillian didn't want the children to ever have to imagine what they'd do if she was gone, if she were dead.

But they were asleep, fast asleep, and when they were tired and snoring, almost nothing could wake them. Lillian took the aftershock from her purse and swallowed a mouthful. It tasted like sugar on fire.

The party was at Keith's, just across the lake. He lived in the woods, hadn't even bothered to clear the trees around his trailer so he'd have a yard.The trees rushed up to the house, brushed against the windows when the wind blew. But there was a clear, wide path from the lake to his house, right through the woods, and she wasn't worried about getting lost. She’d grown up here. The moon was full tonight and the lake reflected the moon back. She'd made the trek before, sometimes several times a week, back when they'd been seeing each other. It had been a short, mostly sweet time, though she'd never had any intention of making the relationship permanent. He rarely had a job and spent most of his money on weed and pirated DVD’s from Rod’s Swap Shop. Still, he was affectionate and had a kind of sloppy, catholic kindness that she’d needed at the time. That's why she still went to his parties, still hugged him when they met at the grocery store, and hoped that someday his brain would catch up with his age and make him worthy of trying again.

Lillian's heels stuck in the mud as she skirted close to the lake, near where the ledge above the water sloped down into a small, rocky beach. It was hot out, almost as hot as it had been during the day—the weather reporter had said highs up to 99. Lillian tried to stay inside as much as possible during the daytime in July and August, when the heat was sometimes so strong it could make her sick just to be in it. She had air conditioners thrumming in each room of the trailer, keeping the indoors so cold her fingers seized up—but that was better than the alternative. Once, she’d seen some woman on one of those morning shows talk about how air conditioning was one of the biggest contributors to global warming, energy usage, oil usage—pretty much everything bad in the world. Below her name on the screen, it said “Director of Vermont Environmental Solutions.” Lillian had turned the television off then. A woman from Vermont telling her about the evils of air conditioning was like a eunuch giving sex tips.

Though the sun was gone, it had left its heat behind, sticky and heavy in the air. Being near the lake didn't help. It held the warmth and beamed it back out, damp and sticky like the spray from a humidifier.

She wiped her palms on her skirt. She felt sticky everywhere, in the crooks of her elbows, her armpits, the backs of her knees, the strip of underwear elastic that branded her skin. She stopped and took another sip of Aftershock.

The moon streaked the surface of the water with light. Across the water, a line of trees blocked the horizon. They bloomed crazily and dropped their green leaves into muck below. The opposite bank angled in close to her bank, creating the shortest point across the lake, a shallow, muddy corridor of water with a footbridge across it. That was the way to Keith's house.

Lillian stopped and watched the moon on the water, the ripples of light that moved sluggishly with the small tides. How did a lake have ripples and tides? Wasn't it just standing water, a big pond? She continued to sip the Aftershock. The light on the water moved in zig-zag patterns. The air smelled different here, different than she'd remembered: not quite sweet, but something like sweetness. Lillian dug at the bug bites on her ankles and closed her eyes, breathing in deep: it smelled like grass, torn petals, a little bit like bad weed, and sweat.

Lillian touched her throat as something trickled down it and into the gap between her breasts—sweat. She was hardly halfway there, and already she was dripping, covered in bug bites, half drunk, and exhausted.

The walk to Keith's seemed, now, after a quarter of a bottle of aftershock, after the heat and the bug-bites, to be more trouble than it had been worth. Lillian sat down amongst the dry rocks on the shore. She'd sit out here and drink a while, calm her nerves, and then go home and put on the radio. The classic country station took requests on Friday nights. She'd call in and ask for Dolly Parton's Coat of Many Colors. She’d probably be in bed before midnight.

She had only wanted to go out in hopes that somebody new would be there, somebody she hadn't met before or slept with before or smoked weed with before, somebody, man or woman, who might have something new to say. But there probably wouldn't be anyone new. Maybe one of Keith's many cousins from the next county over, each with worse teeth than the next. Nobody like the person she hoped for. Even hoping seemed like more effort than it was worth.

There was nothing new in Heartshorne. Everything ran on a loop. Her mother had raised her alone (most of the time—her father was there, but in and out) in a little house near Echo Lake (the other side) and now she raised her own children alone in a trailer near Echo Lake. Shelly and Dustin would work their way through Harshorne Elementary and Heartshorne High School, doing average, as she had, and they'd be spit out into her life again, fifteen years later. The only difference would be technology: maybe they’d have fucking hover cars or flying shoes or something that wouldn’t change much of anything except the speed at which they moved toward the same life as always.

She threw a rock out into the water and it rippled out and out, the light moving with it. She didn't like these moods. They were pointless, what her mother called "dwelling" or "moping."

It was beautiful just to look at the water. A greenish mist rose from it, carrying that peculiar smell. Strange she hadn't noticed it much before. She'd heard stories about Echo Lake's special mist, particularly during her childhood, when her mother hadn't let her swim outside in the dark.

God knows what's out there, she'd said.

Lillian's hearing sharpened in the dark and she thought she heard the keening cry of something caught in teeth or a trap—a rabbit, maybe, or a squirrel treed by a cat. She'd seen that once, a cat waiting, still, its tail twitching, as a squirrel stood on a tree branch screaming down at it. The cat had only stared at the squirrel’s dramatics, neither interested nor surprised, merely waiting for the squirrel to tire itself out and try to come down again.

The warmth of the cinnamon liquor seeped through her body. She breathed in deeply, the smell of the lake seeming sweeter as she drank, sweeter as she breathed it in. A fog rolled up from the surface. Her head buzzed slightly, a small ache that wasn't altogether unpleasant, like the buzz of an electrical current.

Lillian undid the buckles of her shoes and slipped them off. They seemed silly, those thin-soled things, the heel stabbing into the ground each time she walked, the strips of leather too thin to really protect her from falling or losing the shoes from her feet. All of her clothes seemed silly, come to think of it—these swaths of fabric covering up body parts that everyone had. And it was so hot!

She unbuttoned her blouse and threw it on the water. The water took it away slowly and the moon illuminated its wrinkles. Her skirt was made of denser stuff and didn't reflect light. It ate the moonlight and eventually sank.

Lillian unpeeled her underclothes and lay down on the rocks. They bit into her back, but she didn't mind the feeling. She closed her eyes and listened to the sounds from the woods behind her and across the water, the bugs pulsing and unseen animals picking their way through the burnt grasses and leaves that were unfortunate enough to fall from the trees.

But she was still too hot. Her skin itched.

The Aftershock bottle lay on its side, the sticky red liquid dripping out. She'd left it opened. At the bottom, the rock-candy gathered in crystals.

Lillian smashed the bottle against a large, flat rock until it cracked. A sliver of glass flew out and knicked her stomach (she felt the blood, the slight itch of the glass). Now, the candy was exposed, glittering. She reached in, trying to avoid the glass, and picked out a marble-sized piece of candy. As she sucked on the candy, cracking it between her teeth, she noticed a long, slick black trail of liquid dripping from her fingers, into the well of her palm.

She had cut her wrist on the glass. The wound was wide and blood spilled from it, as if she had slid the bottom of a milk jug with a razor. She could barely feel it. She could only feel the heat and tickle of the blood.

It was beautiful, though. The moon was directly above her like an enormous flashlight. The blood reminded her of the moon on the water, of her shirt illuminated in the light, of how beautiful it had been to allow the current to take her clothes away. She took a shard of glass from between the rocks and moved tip of the arrow-shaped glass along the surface of her opposite inner arm, along the white skin. A thin black line emerged and then erupted, spilling its own widening lines down her arm. She began to feel light, closer to the moon than to the dirt or the water, that great breathing thing that had carried her clothes out into itself. As if it had heard her, a gust of air pushed the fog from where it hung over the water and into her face. She breathed it in, tasiting salt and rust and muck.

Her arm was a collection of thinning black lines. She held it up, trying not to smudge. She took the triangle of glass in her free hand (it shook now—she'd have to lie down soon, to sleep it off) and slid it from her inner thigh all the way down to the knee. That swipe bled too quickly to be worth much, at least aesthetically. It made a sheet of blood, no intricate design.

She could barely hold her head up. She'd have to work quickly. She stood up and tilted her head back. The sky was lit, the moon huge and suspended directly above her, big as a clean Christmas plate. The glass slid smoothly across her skin and she felt a tingle and sting when her skin broke. It hurt at the endges of the cut and she let her chin snap back down so she could watch the lines collect and run down her chest, skirt around her breasts, and drip down her stomach.

She was tired. She pitched the shard of glass into the water and lowered herself down to her knees and lay face down on the ground. Her legs and arms ached now where she had cut them. She was almost asleep when she heard the shrill song coming from her tangle of shoes and underwear. It was her phone. She had forgotten all about the children for a while, but she remembered them now.

Lillian tried to push herself up by her arms, her palms dipping deep into the dirt, but her whole body was leaden, so tired, and it would not move.

She couldn't remember how she had gotten here. She was wet—had she gone swimming in the lake? She hoped not. It was notoriously dirty and children cut their feet on the bottom, which was filled with beer bottles and car parts.

She tried to open her mouth, but no sound came out. Her throat felt hot and throbbing and she wanted to touch it but her hands wouldn't listen.

She closed her eyes and hoped that before the children woke, somebody would find her and help her to her own bed. She hoped that her absence wouldn't make them afraid as she had been, curled at the bottom of her parent's bed, holding herself tight and certain that she was the only one left, that she was alone and that their stories and songs soothing her to sleep had meant nothing at all.

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