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The Bones of Boo: Part One, A Short Story by cam

Updated on July 1, 2016
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Chris has written more than 100 flash fiction/short stories.Working Vacation took 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.

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Jennifer paced the muddy shoreline watching the investigation unfold. State Police divers slid off the stern of a Zodiac inflatable boat with splashes that broke the silence of the remote lake and forest. Sheriff’s deputies in waders, slogged through the bog on the west end, and volunteers scoured a one hundred foot strip of forest floor around the entire lake. Jennifer stopped walking and lifted her boot. The sight of a cigarette butt, framed by the imprint, took her breath and sent her mind racing back twenty years.

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At the age of ten, red haired Jennifer had been, according to others, stubborn and disobedient. In her own mind, she called it strong willed and adventurous.

On the day that would set the course for the rest of her life, Jennifer decided to go exploring. She and her parents had been staying in a cabin in the forest for a week, and she was obsessed with the thought of what lay outside the clearing in which the cabin sat.

Her parents relaxed on the front porch reading. When they found a good book, Jennifer was convinced a bomb could explode and not distract them from what was happening on the pages. She stood at the edge of the clearing where a narrow foot path ran out into the forest for a hundred feet, then disappeared as it curved to the right. She walked to the turn so she could see where it went from there..

After the first step, she looked down at her feet and saw a small red stone, about the size of a marble. Jennifer loved to collect colored rocks, so she picked up the stone and took a few more steps. A pretty green rock caught her attention, then a blue one and an orange one after that. One by one she slipped brilliantly colored rocks into the pocket of her shorts. Minutes passed by unnoticed, and the sun continued its late afternoon journey. Jennifer picked up another red stone, this one at the waterline of a small lake, and stuffed it into her bulging pocket.

The voice of a little boy called from the lake, barely breaking the silence. He was calling for help. Jennifer scanned the surface until she could make out what might have been the boy’s head so she stepped into the water to get closer.

Cigarette smoke invaded her nose, a smell she had learned to hate before her father quit the nasty habit. She turned to face the shore. A man stood outside the line of trees drawing on a cigarette, the tip glowing against the dark backdrop of the forest. With one hand he pulled the cigarette from his mouth and blew twin jets of smoke from his nostrils. With the other hand he tossed something, and a small red stone landed at Jennifer's feet in the mud.

“There’s a boy out in the water calling for help," she said. "Can’t you hear him?” The man flicked the cigarette away, and Jennifer’s eyes followed its arc until it landed in the water. When she looked back, he was gone.

“Help me, please,” cried the boy from behind her.

“I’ll go get help,” she called over her shoulder. But violent splashing brought her around, and she waded farther out into the lake.

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The Zodiac floated near the surface marker buoys and Jennifer wondered what the divers might find in the murky depths. She was a detective with the county sheriff’s department and in charge of this investigation. In fact, this place and the events of two decades before were the reason she had gone into law enforcement.

Years of therapy, beginning immediately after her first visit to the lake, had not changed her mind. It had really happened, and no one, no matter how many post-nominal letters they had accrued, had been able to convince her otherwise.

At first she had been emotionally traumatized. As time passed, she became obsessed with the lake and what may have happened here. That obsession led to a degree in criminal investigation. Here she was, overseeing an investigation in the place where a childhood experience had defined her up to this point. What life would be like tomorrow depended on what they discovered today.

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The object that had looked like a head was gone and the splashing had stopped. Jennifer was chest deep in water, and If she didn’t go back to shore now, she might be the next one shouting for help.

Jennifer’s parents had warned her about her careless, even reckless, ways. Once she had climbed to the top of a maple tree on their property, chasing a squirrel. She couldn’t get down again and had waited for hours until her father had come looking for her. He hadn’t been thrilled about climbing the tree to rescue her, but both were eventually back on the ground. She had sworn to her father that she would never do anything like that again. Was this like the tree? Had she gone too far? Would her father rescue her this time?

Something disturbed the water farther out in the lake. A V-shape was making a beeline in her direction. Jennifer backed toward the shore, but she couldn’t move fast enough to outrun whatever was swimming below the surface. Was it a fish or a turtle, or something else? Her ten year old mind conjured a serpent that had lived in the lake for centuries, feeding on disobedient children who wandered too far from their parents.

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Her thirty year old mind was much more realistic, and also knew the end of the story. That’s what had motivated her to research the lake and child abductions from the surrounding area after high school and during her years at college. The results were staggering. Not only children who had lived in the area, but those vacationing in local cabins, bed and breakfasts and small resorts had gone missing as well.

Her problem with local law enforcement was that she had always shared the data along with the story of her childhood experience at the lake. Data was measurable and could be investigated, but in their opinion her story was a childhood fantasy, a nightmare. No one had taken her seriously, so no investigation into the lake was ever conducted. She knew that the lake was central to the disappearances of dozens of children. No one else would make that connection because she was the only living person who had witnessed and escaped the terror of the lake.

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The muddy lake bottom held Jennifer’s shoes in a grip that was nearly impossible for her to break. The beeline sped toward her until the man she had seen on the shore rose out of the water and stood on its surface. He was smoking another cigarette. As smoke rolled from his nostrils, the child’s voice came from his mouth.

“Help me. Please, come and help me.”

The surface of the lake around her churned as if boiling. Dozens of hands and arms rose from the roiling water, reaching for her with bony fingers partially covered with decaying flesh, grasping as they moved in her direction. Jennifer screamed, unable to back away from the oncoming horde.

Heads emerged with vegetation growing out of empty eye sockets and nostrils. Mouths opened and closed, releasing guttural sounds, befitting goblins and demons. Strong hands grabbed her shoulders, lifting her from the water and from among the rotting children.

“Daddy?” she cried. A burst of laughter on a fetid wind and a cloud of smoke was her only answer.

Jennifer was dragged out into deeper water and thrust downward until she was completely submerged. She kicked and tried to scream, succeeding only in inhaling gulps of lake water.

She opened her eyes, and the hands of dead children gripped her arms and legs, pulling her down toward the muddy graveyard. Vegetation reached up from the bottom like the arms of a squid wrapping around her legs and feet. She kicked against the new bonds to free herself, but instead became more entangled. Jennifer succumbed to the lack of oxygen, went limp and settled into her place among the undead.

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    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 17 months ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Lawrence, Merry Christmas. I'm glad you are enjoying the story on this Christmas morning. Blessings on you and your family today.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 17 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Chris

      Thoroughly enjoyed this. Can't wait to see where the story's going.

      Merry Christmas

      Lawrence

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 18 months ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Larry, thanks for reading and commenting. Nice to see you here today.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 18 months ago from Oklahoma

      Great concept, and wonderfully written.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 18 months ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Gypsy Rose Lee, Glad you liked this first part. I'll see you at part two.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 18 months ago from Riga, Latvia

      Fascinating and I'm onto part 2.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 18 months ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Deb, I'm glad you are enjoying the story. I hope part two pleases you just as much as part one.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 18 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      Captivating! Can't read to see the rest.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 18 months ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Cat, I'm glad you mentioned the cigarette butt segue to the flashback. I'm glad you are chilled by part one, but you might want to put on a sweater before you read part two. Thanks for stopping by.

    • cat on a soapbox profile image

      Catherine Tally 18 months ago from Los Angeles

      OMG, Chris- this has chilled me to the bone! You've really intrigued me with Jennifer's character and how her traumatic past pushed her into law enforcement as a detective. The cigarette butt is a clever segue to the flashback and its frightful imagery. I'm on to the sequel. . .

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 18 months ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Shauna, I am glad I scared you.....you-know-whatless. That was my goal and I'm glad to know I succeeded. Thanks for reading and commenting. I appreciate your visit.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 18 months ago from Central Florida

      I would have been scared you-know-what-less if I'd been at that lake. You did a good job of scaring the daylights out of me, Chris!

      I'm off to read the next chapter. I'm curious as to how Jennifer escaped the liquid graveyard.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 18 months ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      I'm right behind you Genna. I'm anxious to see what you think of the second half and the ending.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 18 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      I have chills after reading what happens to the young Jennifer; this compassionate, brave little girl., and those missing children. I'm off to the next chapter.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 18 months ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Venkatachari M, It's great to see you hear today reading my story. Thanks for taking the time. There is a little suspense lost by knowing she doesn't die as a child, but I feel another kind of suspense by knowing this and wondering what to expect.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 18 months ago from Hyderabad, India

      So scary and horrific story. But, there is some relief knowing that she is not dead and has returned as a crime detective.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 18 months ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Ruby, that's the exact response I was after. Glad it worked. Thanks for stopping by.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 18 months ago from Southern Illinois

      This is scary, keeping me spellbound until I read the second episode. Chilling piece of writing. I love it!

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 18 months ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Eric, good to see you. Happy Thanksgiving. Part two of this story should wrap up most of the loose ends. Maybe not all. If you see anything important that I missed, let me know. Thanks for reading.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 18 months ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Kristen, thanks for reading and for the very nice comments. I won't be giving up my chair in Bill's classroom anytime soon. I have a lot to learn from him and others here on HP. Nice to see you today.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 18 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Great job here. I sure hope we get to the bottom of the story and the lake.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 18 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      What a gripping first half of this short story. You've had me hooked. You're such a talented storyteller, just like our own Bill Holland. Well done, Chris. I'll check out part two later today.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 18 months ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      John, Glad you liked part one. You might recognize the storyline. This was originally a flash fiction story which I submitted to the NYCM competition. There were so many unanswered questions in the shorter version, I thought I'd expand it. It is now three times longer than the original.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 18 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Gripping story Chris, racing over to check out part two.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 18 months ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Michael, thanks for stopping by with that special message. Happy Thanksgiving to you too, my friend.

    • Michael-Milec profile image

      Michael-Milec 18 months ago

      Hello Chris.

      Great opportunity to wish you blessed Thanksgiving Day and beyond.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 18 months ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Thanks Bill, Happy Thanksgiving to you too and your lovely wife.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 18 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Busy week, Chris. I'm just stopping by the people I follow and wishing them Happy Thanksgiving, so now I have. :)

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