Chapter 1: THE BIRTHDAY
Muck. When some people think of a lake, they think of muck. They imagine putting a foot down and having it sink up to the knee. Yuk. They think of brown, murky water – leeches and crayfish. Not to mention deer flies, horseflies, gnats, and mosquitoes. They long for the ocean. They haven’t grown up here. Flat sand bottom, pristine water that inexplicably turns a brilliant aqua in August. A child who grows up on Deer Lake is shaped by it. The spirit of the lake will overwhelm her senses, enter her cells, and alter her soul. As she grows, she becomes the lake -- the smell of pine and damp earth, the rhythmic pulse of waves on windy days, the water’s sapphire reflection of a cloudless sky, and the palpable electric intensity of summer thunderstorms blowing over the water. There’s nothing like a storm moving over a body of water to grip the senses.
Now a soft breeze moved over the crystal lake. Little tufts of fishy foam gathered on the sandy shore. A school of minnows simultaneously startled and swam in the opposite direction as a snapping turtle floated by. A mother and her newborn ducklings moved as a train past the redwood dock. The littlest duckling, the caboose, suddenly disappeared, sucked under by an enormous Muskellunge like a helpless victim in a shark attack movie.
Oblivious to the tragedy outside, a bright–eyed girl turned a pink box from side to side. She struggled to decipher the word “Ouija” printed on the box. “Oo-i-jaw, Mystifying Oracle,” she read, “Ask the questions girls want to know.” She looked at David, quizzically.
“It’s pronounced Wee-gee, stupid!” David was a loyal friend, but he never pulled punches.
“Shush it! I just didn’t read it right the first time.”
“Now, now, play nice, “ Robin’s mother said, with humor.
Robin’s green eyes narrowed. “You got me a pink Ouija board?” The cozy crowd of friends and family giggled.
“Why not?” David quipped, “I got the pink one ‘cause you’re a girl… anyway I think you’re a girl…”
Robin raised a fist.
He pressed on, unabashed. “And you might try to fake being cool, but I know that you secretly worship all that wizardy, magical, unicorn, sci-fi stuff.”
Before Robin could respond, a meek yet determined voice rose above the din. “Don’t listen to him, Robin. That Ouija board is dangerous. You shouldn’t open it.”
David’s response was immediate. “Oh please, Tina!” he rolled his eyes. “You’re telling me that a Parker Brothers game has magical powers?”
Robin glanced anxiously at Tina. David’s forcefulness could be intimidating. He was a few years older and often seemed to know more and better than most adults. For Tina’s sake, she seized the opportunity to correct him. “Uh…it’s made by Hasbro,” she said, pointing to the box.
David shot her a look, “Whatever.”
Though Tina appeared to shrink a bit, surprisingly she soldiered on. “My aunt was given a Ouija board once, and she knew it was evil. She threw it in her fireplace. When it burned, it gave off all kinds of nasty, green smoke.” Her eyes grew wide as she imagined it.
David laughed derisively. “Green smoke doesn’t mean it’s from Hell. It just means that Park-“ he shot Robin a sideways grin, “Hasbro used bad glue in the particle board.”
Robin glanced at her mother. Such exchanges among children were observed silently, but her mother was undoubtedly on David’s side. She never believed in anything beyond the five senses. If it could not be seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or touched, it was pure imagination.
This must be what it means to be eleven, Robin thought. As she approached this birthday, she found that she could no longer agree with her mother’s opinions about many things. She instinctively believed in the supernatural; however, she didn’t think that the Ouija board was evil. Her beliefs lay somewhere outside the boundaries of her mother’s logic or Tina’s paranoia.
“Mom, do you mind if we go play with it in my room?” Robin asked.
Virginia Wingfield’s smoky blue eyes darted to Tina’s fearful ones, then back to Robin. “Are you sure you don’t want to take a swim?” she said, significantly.
Bruce Jensen piped up, “We don’t want to swim! We can do that anytime.”
“I can see that you all take the lake for granted, spoiled children,” Mrs. Wingfield said.
The phone rang. Mrs. Wingfield put a hand up. “Hold on, everybody.” They quieted. “Hello… Yes, of course. I’ll let her know. Have a nice evening, Mrs. Andersen. Goodbye.” She hung up. “Tina, your mom needs you home. I’m sorry you can’t stay longer.”
“Me too,” Tina said, turning to her friends, “but it’s my Grandma’s birthday too. I’ve got to split the time.” She hastily packed her things. “See you, everybody! Happy birthday, Robin.”
Robin followed her to the door and gave her a quick hug. “Thanks for coming. You don’t mind, really, do you? If I play with the Ouija board, I mean?”
Tina blushed a bit. “No. I guess a little pink Ouija board probably can’t really call up evil spirits. Have fun.”
“See you tomorrow.” Robin closed the door and addressed her party guests. “Let’s go to my room.”
“Come for cake when I call,” Mrs. Wingfield shouted after the six remaining friends.
“Okay everyone, lets put the lights out,” Robin suggested.
“It’s still going to be too bright,” Bruce complained.
“Well, put the blinds down. And Madeline? Would you grab a flashlight out of my side table? We need to be able to see the letters,” Robin said.
Once the proper amount of light was established, the group sat in a circle on the floor.
“Aaaahh!” A scream pierced the darkness. Everyone turned to look at Lisa, a pretty girl whose fair features revealed her Scandinavian roots. “Spider!” She pointed to a long-legged figure scuttling across the oval rug.
Everyone stood up and Robin flipped on the lights. David took his shoe off and pulverized it with one swift slap.
“Yuck,” Lisa said.
“Sorry, but that’s cabin life,” Robin said. “Take a look around for more, then let’s get on with it.” The presence of the spider caused a shiver to travel up her spine, yet she was determined to move on. After a quick perusal of the floor, the lights were off again and the group resumed their positions on the rug.
Robin squinted at the directions. “Who’s going to do it? We need two people,” Robin said.
“You’re the birthday girl, you do it,” David demanded.
“Okay. Whose my partner?”
The room was silent.
“David?” asked Robin.
“You know it won’t work if I do it. I’m a nonbeliever.”
Bruce said, “If spirits are real, they’re not going to care whether you believe or not.”
“Then you do it.”
“Okay,” Bruce agreed.
Robin was a bit disappointed. Bruce didn’t seem like the kind of kid who could attract supernatural spirits. He was too funny, somehow. He was a skinny, springy, red-head and he didn’t take anything seriously.
“David, read the box. What are we supposed to do?” Robin asked.
He pulled the instructions to a crack of light near the window shade. “Okay, sit on opposite sides of each other and place your fingers along the edge of the pointer.”
Bruce plunked his fingers down and flipped it over.
“Lightly!” David snapped.
Robin and Bruce gingerly placed their finger tips on either side of the pointer.
“Now, ask it a question, and wait for it to move by itself… but keep your fingers on it,” David instructed.
Bruce closed his eyes and looked toward the heavens. In a mock-deep voice he pronounced, “Ohhh… mighty Ouija… we have come to talk to the ghosts of the past!”
Robin rolled her eyes but said nothing. The children positioned themselves around Robin and Bruce. “I can’t see,” Lisa complained.
“Madeline, hold the flashlight steady,” Robin ordered.
As Madeline steadied the flashlight, an air of quiet concentration settled in the room. They waited.
Robin felt a twinge in her back as she hunched over the board. Ever so carefully, she moved a shoulder up to ease the pain. In concert with Bruce and Robin, the pointer began to move in little fits and starts toward the drawing of the sun on the board where the word “YES” was printed.
“You’re pushing it,” Bruce accused.
“No, I promise I’m not… are you?”
Suddenly, Bruce was serious. “No. Be quiet.” And then to the Ouija board, “Yes? Yes to what?”
And the Ouija pointer began to move more smoothly. “It’s spelling words,” Bruce said, “Get some paper!”
“In my side table,” Robin added.
Lisa crept up to reach for a paper and pencil from the drawer, fearful that any movement would disturb the pointer. As Bruce dictated the other-worldly message, Lisa put it on paper.
“YES… I AM HERE... I AM NOT… HOWEVER… A GHOST…AS OUR FRECKLED FRIEND PUTS IT.”
At that, Lisa and Madeline giggled nervously.
“Madeline, the flashlight!” Robin demanded.
“Okay, sorry.” She suppressed her giggles and steadied the flashlight.
The Ouija continued. “NOT FROM THE PAST… FOR ME… NO PAST NO FUTURE.”
All of Bruce’s previous airiness was gone as he put all his focus into the pointer’s movements. He became an instant believer. “THE BIRTHDAY CHILD…” Bruce struggled, “What is that? ‘ISAVOID’?”
“It’s two words,” Madeline said and continued to read, “IS AVOID..ING HER TRUTH… HER SELF…”
Robin looked up from the pointer to her friends. They looked back with solemn faces. She felt on stage, a spotlight shone upon her, and she was entirely unprepared for the scene.
The Ouija went ahead as Bruce dictated, “SHE DOES NOT REMEMBER, BUT SHE MUST. HER…” Bruce was again abruptly lost in the letters. “I can’t understand what it’s spelling! Her…evil?”
Robin shushed him. “Not ‘evil’ I need quiet. I know everything it’s saying,” Robin said as she studied the board.
Bruce waited as the pointer continued moving to various letters. “I’m completely lost.”
Robin spoke, “Evolution… ‘HER EVOLUTION’ it said.”
“Keep going,” Bruce prompted, “The words are too hard for me.”
She continued reading seamlessly as the pointer moved feverishly now, pausing for less than a second from letter to letter. “HER EVOLUTION CANNOT PROCEED UNTIL SHE ALLOWS THE MEMORY OF SEPTEMBER.” A second chill moved up from deep within her. As it did so, her whole body shuddered. She looked up at Bruce. “Your turn.”
“I can’t do it. It’s way too fast. I don’t know how you’re doing it.”
“Okay” Robin said.
The Ouija pointer suddenly shifted to “NO,” and the startled group gasped in unison. This time Bruce read, “NO, I WILL GO SLOW. THE GIRL WILL LISTEN. SHE WAS SIX. SHE COULD… SEE. IN YOUR TERMS, SHE WAS… PSYCHIC. SHE DID NOT KNOW.”
Dimly, Robin became aware of a small trembling sensation deep in her body, just in front of the lowest section of her spine. She felt as if something was about to lift her up and take her to a place she didn’t necessarily want to go. It felt a little like one of those moments just after being strapped into a ride at the amusement park – too late to get off.
Somehow she kept her hand on the pointer as Bruce continued to dictate. “SHE TOLD SECRETS... THE CHILD SHE SPOKE TO… AND OF… KATY. HER FATHER WAS… AS YOU SAY A BAD GUY… SHE PUT HERSELF IN DANGER BY SPEAKING OF IT…”
Robin’s hands left the pointer. She cried out as if wounded, and drew her knees up to her chest. She turned suddenly pale, fell to one side, and curled up into a fetal position. Her eyes were closed tightly, as if there was something there she was attempting to shut out. Inexplicably, she was screaming, crying, howling. David quickly pushed past the others, sat on the floor next to her and pulled her to him. They sat awkwardly, his arms encircling her as she struggled with visions that had entered her head. Her self control had spiraled from her in a matter of moments. She did not seem aware of him, rather she continued to howl, sounding more like a trapped animal than a child. To her friends, watching in horror, she seemed to be having a seizure or nervous breakdown.
For Robin, she felt unconnected to the screaming creature in David’s arms. Instead she was abruptly catapulted back in time.
Chapter 2: THE BEE CHARMER
She held a piece of sidewalk chalk in her tiny hand. Robin blinked. She was at that moment a dual-Robin. The eleven year old Robin was a watcher from within, a passenger, while her six year old self remained consciously unaware of her visitor.
A bulky, boyish girl and her smaller, dingier friends circled the patio with their Razor scooters. A dim, unsettled feeling came over the watcher Robin, but she still did not recognize or remember the girl.
“Katy, I need help,” little Robin whined.
The big girl rolled her eyes, but traveled Robin’s way. “Whaddya want?”
“I want to play hopscotch.”
“So play it,” Katy snapped.
One of the dingy friends with stringy, copper hair rolled by. “You’d better be nice to her, or she won’t let you ride on her patio.”
“Please, Katy,” Robin pleaded, “I don’t know how to play.”
Katy looked at her friends and let out a dramatic sigh. “Okay, okay. Get a rock.”
Robin skipped off to a pile of landscaping stones and hastily returned with a handful.
“Good,” Katy said, “ Stand here, and throw the rock on the first square.”
Robin did so.
“Now, just stay on one foot and pick up your rock, like this.” As Katy demonstrated, she wobbled and lost her balance. Her skinny cohorts giggled. Katy stiffened, yet continued the lesson, “If you do that, you lose your turn.”
“Will you play with me?” Robin asked.
The other unwashed girl interrupted, “Hopscotch is a baby game.”
Little Robin slowly crossed her arms in a well-practiced pout. Katy glanced at Robin, then stared intently at her friends. “We’ll play with you, Robin, if you play a grown-up game first.”
“Okay,” the little girl agreed.
“It’s called, ‘Truth or Dare’.”
With that, Katy’s friends abandoned the scooters and eyed Robin like cats ready to pounce on a little bird lunch.
Stringy-hair said, “Come on, let’s sit on the sand.”
As they moved from the patio to the lakefront Robin warned, “My mom won’t let me swim unless she’s watching.”
“Don’t worry,” Katy said, “We won’t go in the lake. I’ll tell you how to play.” They settled in a circle on the sand. “You pick truth or dare. If you pick truth, I ask a question and you have to answer it. If you pick dare, then you do whatever I say.”
Robin hesitated. Her mother had always encouraged her to tell the truth. She had also warned her to never do anything that someone dared her to do. The choice was simple: truth.
Strange, the eleven year old Robin could feel the child’s thoughts, but she had no power to influence them. If she had, she would have said, “Run! Run to your mother. Don’t play with these girls. They’re dangerous.” As it was, she was forced to go helplessly along for the ride.
“Truth,” little Robin said.
The friends exchanged sly smiles. “Good,” Katy said, “What happened to your dad?”
“I don’t have a dad,” she responded simply.
Stringy-hair piped up, “Everyone has a dad, dummy. Even if you don’t live with him.”
Robin circled her thumb and index fingers, and stared at them through improvised glasses. “I don’t know where my Dad is.”
The other girl, a dark haired girl with a deep, summer tan narrowed her eyes. “I don’t think she’s telling the truth,” she charged.
“I’m not?” Robin asked, genuinely confused.
The watcher Robin marveled at the innocence of her six year old self.
Little Robin sat very still for a moment, and thought of her father. He came to her in images and symbols that she was unable to clearly interpret. “My father thinks about me. He sees me at night. I see so many presents -- rainbow colors. When I open them there is nothing inside, but they make me happy anyway.”
Katy scowled. “That’s a dream, screwball.”
Her attention turned toward Katy, and eleven year old Robin sensed a shift in little Robin. Someone else was in there with them! Robin’s little face was transformed, hideously twisted in a look of cruelty and hostility. This was no longer the face of a child. It spoke to Katy through her. The forcefulness of its voice startled eleven year old Robin. “God, you’re a pig. I should have named you Bertha or Butina, or some name that sounds fat. Get over here, I’ll help you lose some of that blubber!” It was easy to guess who this was – Katy’s father – a recent scene involuntarily reenacted.
Abruptly, little Robin was back. That peculiar magic that had prompted her to become Katy’s father was gone. “Oh Katy,” Robin cried, “He punched you in the tummy! I’m sorry, Katy. He shouldn’t be so mean to you.”
“Shut up! You’re a liar,” Katy raged.
Katy’s friends were staring at her incredulously. Stringy-hair girl said, “Katy, did your dad really say that to you? And hit you?”
Suddenly Katy was gagging. She ran to the end of the dock and threw up in the lake. The others waited as she splashed water on her face and rinsed her mouth by taking in lake water and spitting it violently back out. Water dripping from her hair, tears streaming down her cheeks, she stumbled back to Robin. “You didn’t tell the truth, so now you take the dare,” she declared.
Robin was crying for Katy. Eleven year old Robin knew that her small self had never before considered that a parent could be so cruel. Innocence lost. “I’m sorry, Katy. It’s not my fault. You showed me! It was like I was in a TV show.”
“Shut up! That wasn’t my dad.” Her denial caused her friends to exchange knowing glances. Somehow, some way, Robin’s “TV show” was a true occurrence in Katy’s life. There was silence as Katy wiped her tears and stared, unseeing, into space.
Abruptly, Katy said, “Get up. We’re taking the trails to the Andersens.”
“I can’t leave without telling my mom.”
“Don’t worry about it. You’ll be right back. She won’t even notice you’re gone.”
The girls were silent as they took the treacherous, root-filled, dirt trails through the woods to the Andersen cabin. David had occasionally taken Robin up on the Andersen’s roof because it was easily accessed from the ground. They would sit on the roof and look out over the breathtaking blue lake. Eleven year old Robin was so completely within her smaller self that she could hear little Robin’s thoughts as if they were being spoken. “Will Katy dare me to jump of the roof?”
But Katy did not lead her toward the roof, rather an unlocked shed at the back of the property. “Okay,” Katy said gravely, “This is your dare. Get in the shed and shut the door.”
“For how long?”
“Three minutes,” Katy said.
“I want to go home,” Robin protested.
The stringy haired girl spoke up with the kind of false, syrupy voice usually reserved for flight attendants. “Just three minutes, that’s all. Then we’ll take you home to your Mommy.”
“Come on,” the tanned one said, “then you’ll be able to tell everyone you won a grown up game.”
With this, eleven year old Robin was screaming to her six year old self, “Run, run!” She was desperate to break through, but little Robin was oblivious. Instead, she moved reluctantly toward the shed. As she opened the creaking door, Katy roughly shoved her in and slammed the door shut. Though there was no padlock, the door was secured with a slat that sat in the latch. She was trapped inside.
“Katy! Let me out! I’m scared. I want my mom.”
“Just three minutes, kid,” Katy yelled as she circled the shed, retrieving a large pine branch from the ground.
At this point, little Robin succumbed to full blown panic. All sense left her. “Mama… Mama!” she cried as she collapsed into a fetal position. The watcher Robin went nearly out of her mind with grief and fear for her six year old self. She imagined herself as a mother to this younger Robin – a ghost mother who was watching from another dimension, helpless to save her child.
Suddenly, there was a deafening CRACK against the back of the shed. Katy was pounding the shed with the branch! But why? CRACK! There it came again. Robin stopped crying and listened. A low, hum reached her ears. CRACK! The sound of footsteps retreating, ugly laughter fading. She was alone. What was that humming sound?
She was in there with a bee hive, and Katy had purposely hit the shed wall to dislodge the hive.
They were swarming.
Both of the Robins shrieked in terror. The bees began to descend on her crumpled body. She would not survive. But she must have, thought the watcher Robin. Because I survived!
Then amazingly, little Robin sat up, cross-legged. The child was calm even as the bees buzzed about her, landing, bumping, stinging, falling. She put her tiny hands up in the air and encircled her thumbs and fingers as she had earlier to make play glasses. But this time, she kept them interlocked, like construction paper chains for holiday decorations. She reached up and gracefully moved her hands to her lap. The frantic movements of the bees softened and slowed. The deafening buzz around her became a hum that made both Robins sleepy. Six year old Robin was a bee charmer.
The bees stopped stinging. The swarm halted. They continued to fly around her but the panic on both sides had evaporated. Little Robin was not well, though. She lay down in the shed and slept.