NOWHERE LAKE

It didn't have a name. It was bad luck to talk about it. When they did whisper around the subject, the inhabitants of Nowhere, Texas called it the haunted lake. It was on the outskirts of their growing city.

A developer from out of town built houses around the lake. His name was Robert. Nobody talked about the haunted lake, so nobody told Robert that nobody would want to live in those houses. Robert thought the local contractors refused to work with him because they didn't like him. He thought the city's agents refused to show the houses because they didn't like him. He saw nothing lacking with the explanation. Robert wasn't new to people disliking him. They didn't like his dark skin. They didn't like his lazy eye. They didn't like his expensive suits.

Robert put too much of his capital into the development for it to fail so completely. Robert never sold the houses to anybody. He sold his mansion. He still went bankrupt.

Robert had a wife named Melissa and two boys named Jack and Steven. Robert moved his family into one of the worthless, decaying houses he built around the haunted lake. He bought it back from Nowhere, Texas for a pittance. The house had an expansive yard. It had a pier and an excellent view of the lake's dark waters. The neighboring houses were vacant and dilapidated. His boys began attending the Nowhere, Texas high school. Jack and Steven broke into the development's empty houses in their off time. Melissa found work as a waitress. She telephoned distant friends in the evenings after work. Robert found work as a real estate agent. Clients stared at his lazy eye instead of the homes he showed them.

Robert's boys despised the new school. The teachers scarcely acknowledged them. Other students avoided and ignored them. Robert's wife despised the new job. She wasn't used to working. Melissa hadn't experienced such frequent malicious whispers behind her back or harrowing glares since she'd lived with her mother. Robert told his family things would get better. The trouble getting on with the others was because they were new to the city. They would gradually become a part of the social fabric of Nowhere. They would rebuild their lives. They might move back to Somewhere, California. It would only take time.

Time passed. Robert got a call. His friend, Doug, died after a stroke. Doug and him went back all the way to college. Robert asked his window who was taking over Doug's construction firm. She said nobody was taking it over. The firm dissolved a month ago. Robert never made good on his damn bills.

Robert could barely sustain his family. His boys could make no friends. They got in trouble with the school almost every day. They got in trouble with the police at least every month. Melissa went back to Somewhere, California and stayed with her mother. The boys wouldn't go with her. They hated their grandmother more than they hated Nowhere.

The boys' second school year in Nowhere ended. Jack and Steven didn't get invited to any parties. They got drunk and went swimming in the lake. Steven, the younger, couldn't hold his alcohol. Steven was fourteen. He just completed his freshman year. His grades were among the highest in his class. He drowned.

Melissa returned to Nowhere, Texas long enough to attend the funeral. Melissa's mother wouldn't come. She said she never much cared for those rancorous children.

Most of Nowhere was at the funeral. It was the city's first unnatural death in decades. The haunted family made for an irresistible spectacle.

Jack wept. He hadn't cried in public since he was in diapers. His parents tried to comfort him. None of Nowhere's other youth spoke a word to him.

Melissa wouldn't look Robert in the eye. She stayed in a motel. She took a bus back to Somewhere, California the next day.

The summer fled slowly. Jack spent it alone at home when Robert was away for work and alone in his room when Robert wasn't. School resumed. Jack celebrated his eighteenth birthday by watching porn and not leaving his room. Lonely, troubled Jack grabbed a female student and spent his first night in Nowhere's jail. He tried to set fire to a teacher's home and had another night in jail. He stabbed a wino and met a cocaine dealer during his third stay in Nowhere's jail. The wino pressed charges and Jack got probation and community service.

Robert got drunk and sat on the pier. He leafed through the divorce papers Melissa sent him. He heard Jack open a window. Music thundered out from his room. Jack was getting high and started jacking off out the opened window.

Robert looked away and shouted at the goddamned lake that destroyed his life.

Hearing Robert's call, the ghosts of Nowhere's lake stirred.

Robert thought he'd had too much to drink. He thought he was seeing things that weren't there. He spat rage at the apparitions rising out of the water. The ghosts floated to Robert and surrounded him. His verbal rage had escalated to unintelligible screaming. He still couldn't hear himself over Jack's music. He screamed himself hoarse. He imagined the ghosts as Nowhere's other inhabitants. He told them how much he'd lost because they didn't like his skin or his eye or his suits. He told them they were worse than his mother-in-law. He told them the twenty different ways that they could go fuck themselves.

Robert finally went quiet and stared back at the ghosts. He started getting these crazy ideas about them being real.

It hit him. The stares. The avoidance. The half-overheard conversations. Robert pissed himself.

The fucking lake is haunted.

The ghosts watched him. They didn't do anything except just float there. Robert waved his hand through one and nothing happened. The ghost didn't react. Robert didn't feel anything. He looked back to see if Jack had noticed the ghosts. Jack still had his pants down in view of the window. The kid's nose was running. His eyes were clenched shut. He was probably deaf by now. He hadn't noticed anything.

Robert looked back out over the lake. The ghosts sunk down into it.

It made Robert feel better to have something to blame for ruining his life. He still hung himself a week later.

The ghosts never did a damn thing.

Written by Sophie Kirschner