The Lad in the Lake
A Short Story
M e l i s s a A b i g a i l
THE LAD IN THE LAKE
Copyright © 2016 by Melissa Abigail.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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No one was surprised when it finally happened. Some say, it was inevitable. The two brothers had a relationship with the compatibility of oil and water and the harmony of ignited gasoline. I myself saw it coming. He told me everything. I knew all the details. As unpleasant as the whole thing was— even as I reflect upon what I might have done differently— I have no regrets.
None at all.
They were born Blaine Cody Vaughn and Shane Vaughn on February 13, 1966. Their baptism was shortly afterwards. I’ve always remembered it.
Even from birth, Blaine seemed to have the upper hand.
He had a middle name. Shane did not.
The twins were healthy babies, with identical bright red hair and pinched-red cheeks. The only physical difference between them then was Blaine’s warm hazel eyes in stark contrast to Shane’s piercing green. It did not take long to determine who was the handsomer of the two. It was clearly Blaine who, even as a baby, made women blush.
“…What a doll. A perfect doll,” the neighborhood women would girlishly fuss.
As soon as Blaine was old enough to speak, he declared that he was Cody. Just Cody. Perhaps he liked the name better, but it was more likely that he did not want the name that by sound alone, linked him to his twin. Cody was loud and outspoken, qualities which made him a natural leader as a child. He was often rebellious though, and his sharp tongue and quick wit sometimes saved him from getting into trouble when it didn’t otherwise get him into it.
Shane was a different case altogether. He was quiet, with lips always pursed in indignant silence. His line of sights was always averted downwards, as if the ground promised more excitement than the world around him ever could. It was not clear exactly what Shane was afraid of. Not that he had anything to fear since his life was never in clear danger. Still, it was a question you wanted to ask whenever you saw him so actively avoiding your eyes. The boy always looked afraid. So unlike Cody, he was easy to pick on. He always slouched, always frowned, and always allowed things to happen. He was the kind of person people never respected. It could make you wonder whether he truly existed, or whether he was merely Cody’s shadow.
Now that I think back, there was that one incident that Morgan and Alistair, their parents, spoke of. About the last time the two had taken their bath together. You wouldn’t believe what happened. They were toddlers. Maybe three-years-old? Yes, that sounds about right. Morgan had left for a moment to answer the phone in the next room, only to return to find Cody pinning Shane under water. I can still recall Morgan’s flushed face as she reenacted the scene. Shane had turned blue. Morgan screamed outright, hysterical. Bubbles were spluttering from Shane’s mouth as she tore them apart. And well, that Cody? He just looked up at her innocently, not seeming to really comprehend what he had done.
That was the day the Vaughns learned their children could not be alone together.
In middle school, the boys were well-known. Their bright red hair made them the most recognizable of twins. Nobody ever made the mistake of confusing the two, though. Cody would shout to people from across the hall. His voice carried like a trombone, so there was no way you could miss the kid. A real clown. He’d show off, pull his silly pranks or do outlandish dances to make people laugh. Shane was different. The only reason Shane gained any popularity was because of the lengths he went to, to go unnoticed. By the time they’d reached high school, you could tell Cody from a mile away. He favored clothes of bright green shades. He also had a new girl on his arm every month, changing with his hairstyle. Veronica was his crew-cut. Sandra was something slicked back. Carrie was some long, bushy mess which made him resemble a long-lost member of Aerosmith. Shane never wore brightly-colored anything. His hair was short. That was it. His preferred color was some kind of deep crimson …”blood red”, he liked to call it. And I’ll tell ya’, that color clashed with his hair in the worst kind of a way. I do not remember Shane ever having any “lady friends”; or friends of any gender for that matter. I suppose his social life was his business.
He never told me about it anyway.
Cody went onto college, Buffalo State, to study criminology or anthropology, or some “ology” of some sort. Whatever it was he studied, he always said he wanted to “solve great mysteries like Sherlock Holmes”. This was a huge turnaround for him, since he never seemed to obey authority. He still liked to dance, though he was never too good at it. I think the Moonwalk was one of his favorites. He couldn’t stop talking about that Billie Jean album.
Shane … let’s just say, he was not quite so blessed. He had always been deemed too soft and too stupid to amount to anything. He even believed he was. Shane gave up on college long before he could give the SAT’s a try, and went straight to work. Nothing wrong with good ol’ fashioned work, of course. Jesus Christ himself was a carpenter. But truthfully, that Shane sure was quick to sleep on his potential. Well, I assumed he had potential. God instills it in all of us.
Most of us.
In the early fall of ’86, Shane got a job as a temporary radio host on the talk-show Heart to Heart. The real host, Mitch O’Connor, headed out to Detroit to visit some sick relative. Ah, yes. I remember now. It was an aunty, wasn’t it? Now, listen to this. Shane—Shane was the man deemed worthy of taking O’Connor’s position on one of Buffalo’s top radio stations. As a man of God, there are many things I can believe, but this was baffling to say the least.
“Isn’t that the type of thing…uh, well…Cody would do?”
Shane stopped speaking to me after I said it, but I do not take those words back. I cannot feel bad about a truth so obvious. Although I will say, his avoidance of me was something I quite regret. There were things in his life I might have better understood if we’d kept in touch.
Now, about that radio station.
I think it was the one place he found a purpose. People actually liked him. With this silly little gig of his, which he actually liked, it was impossible to see his face and be disappointed to see that he was only Cody’s shadow. It was the year Shane discovered his voice. The year we discovered Shane’s voice. The kind of voice you trusted. The voice you wanted to reach out to, or be reached out from. A voice that was low, but soft and soothing. The perfect radio voice.
For some reason this always stuck with me. I could never forget the one time a young woman named Sadie called in.
“I feel so unappreciated by my boyfriend. Oh Shane, what should I do?”
“You don’t need to do anything. You don’t need him. You don’t need anyone.”
Eerie] advice is what he offered everyone, but people still had faith in his words. Try as I might, I never commanded that much attention or gave that much comfort to anyone. He really would have made a great priest back then. That or the next Jim Jones. Anyone would have followed Shane back then.
When I saw Shane again, probably the last Sunday of October, he walked with perfect poise. He looked me straight in the eyes—something he never did. He still wore that repulsive “blood-red”, but the styles of clothing were of better taste. Morgan Vaughn mentioned that he had moved into his own apartment. What she had not told me was that he had lost his job as well. It didn’t take much to figure out that this infuriated him. I only found out tuning in to Buffalo AM the following morning. His final words had been, “I’ve discovered what I’ve been searching for all along …I’ve found my identity.”
I figured all the weird advice must have been a little too much for Buffalo AM to handle. Then again, Mitch O’Connor was the real host after all and he was back and ready to go.
I received notice of Cody’s engagement towards the end of November. He had decided to wed one of his various high school sweethearts, who incidentally attended the same college. I did not need to tell him he was marrying too young and soon. I was pleased to see he was finally settling down … and deciding on a permanent hairstyle. The engagement was announced just in time for Thanksgiving. The entire family—Morgan, Alistair, Shane, and Cody—made the trek to the fiancé’s house to meet her family and celebrate the Holiday and long weekend.
Shane showed up at my Church on Thursday, November 27th, and I really did not understand why any man would seek confession on Thanksgiving. He came from the entrance, giving the most peculiar look at the mounted well of holy water.
“Those eyes…” he whispered, looking into it, “are hazel…”
I cocked an eyebrow as he turned away and genuflected before a statue of St. Peter. He came to me very quietly, and fell onto his knees.
The words spilled out.
The Benson house was right on the coast of Lake Erie, so warm nights made it a nice spot. No one near the coast called it Lake Erie. They simply called it the Lake. The Vaughns and Bensons sat at the same table with Cody and his fiancé, Janice, side-by-side. They were ready for an immaculate feast of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, pie—the usual. The funny thing is everyone seemed grim. Except Shane who kept a straight face, gaping at nothing. Shane did not exactly state that he envied his twin, or that he wanted Janice himself. One thing for sure, they all attended the same high school. Something could have happened during those years. Whether it had to do with her or their lives in general, envy is one of the greatest of the deadly sins. This one, surely, destroyed them all.
The Bensons were well-to-do folk with antique paintings and pristine family portraits that lined every wall. Their table alone had to be solid oak, Shane said. Alistair Vaughn was not hiding his displeasure; the poor man backed into a corner and forced to hear 40 different stories about all the rare fish Mr. Benson had caught in his boat. The Lake was much cleaner by the 70s, but I never trusted it. At the very least, you shouldn’t drink the water. Unless you wanted to tempt fate, anyhow. Well, jealousy was heavy for Alistair. He had always wanted a boat. Shane told me that Morgan did not say a thing. Her stony silence said it all.
Within the household, the clouds of animosity were thick and a storm was ready to brew beneath it. Mrs. Benson was the unifier, for she stood up and suggested a toast to the happy couple. The Benson parents went first, and gave their blessings. Next was Janice’s older sister, Aphelia, who hoped Janice’s marriage and future would be as prosperous as their parents’. Mr. and Mrs. Benson, that is. The Vaughn parents went next, asking only for happiness for the couple.
Oh dear. Then there was Shane.
All eyes were on him, glasses raised high, waiting.
This was his brother. His twin! Surely, he was only going to offer kind words and do nothing stupid! Not on Thanksgiving! That is probably what they thought. Or maybe not. Shane never acted out. Cody was the real brat of the household. So naturally, the expectation was that Shane
would offer a clean, neutral, generic-at-best toast.
That was up until he did the unimaginable.
Ah, yes. I think this is the part where Shane started laughing as he told me what he did. I didn’t laugh, though. It wasn’t funny at all. So here’s what happened.
Shane did not toast.
He set down his glass on the table.
He rammed himself right between the couple, tossing his arms around them, completely unabashed.
“Well, what a fine evening. Finally, my dear brother, Blaine—may I call you that?” Shane grinned but Cody stiffened and grimaced, “—is getting married to Janice. Finally Blaine, you have it all.”
No one moved. I reckon that in all the dim and flutter of lit candles, something seemed wrong.
“Congratulations!” Shane said. He turned to Cody, and kissed him lightly on the cheek.
A shocking move eclipsed only by his next one. You see, because after he kissed his brother, he then he turned to the left and kissed Janice. Not on the cheek. Oh no. Right on the lips. And not a short kiss either, but something prolonged, deep and disgraceful. When they finally parted, it was to the sound of shattering wine glasses. Morgan had long fainted and Cody, red-hair ablaze like all the candles, yanked Shane away from his fiancé, violently shouting a mumbled slew of profanities. Janice was in shock, reddening deeply, surely uncertain what to do next. Shane did not wait though—he grinned like a wicked elf and ran out of the house, on toward the Lake.
The area surrounding the Lake was dark, and lived up to its name, Erie. Shane stood, staring at the water with arms at his sides. He waited. And then, the footsteps came.
“What the hell was that?”
He followed, and Shane knew he would.
“Oh, Blaine, dear, is that you?”
“Shut up! God!” He swung an arm at his face, but missed, “It’s Cody, you idiot! What do you think you’re doing? You kissed my fiancé! And right in front of our parents!”
“Why are you pushing me, Blaine? That’s your name isn’t it? Or is it doll? That’s what the neighbors used to call you, after all!”
“Shut up and answer my question!” This time Cody grabbed him by the hair, forcefully pulling his head back. With Cody’s free hand he pinned back his arms.
“I hate you! That’s my answer!”
“Likewise,” Cody said through clenched teeth, “especially now!”
“You’ve always had everything,” Shane continued.
“I had it ‘cause I wasn’t weak, like you.” Cody tightened his grip.
“You think you’re better than me?” Shane yelled. He really wanted to know.
“Look, you need to grow up, and get over yourself! I know you wish you were me, but you’re not! You’re Shane! That’s all you’ll ever be!”
“I know who I am! I don’t need you to tell me!” Shane roared. The animal inside him was hungry.
The animal wanted to escape.
“I think you’ve had too much to drink, you little psycho. Let’s head back so you can have your nap.” Cody loosened his grip.
“You … you deserve to die.”
Eyes wide, Cody started to back away.
Shane was not yelling anymore. He had whispered it. Better than anyone, Shane could read his brother’s emotions. It was something twins are famous for and right then… he felt Cody’s heart racing and his own inner darkness rising.
“Go to hell, Blaine.”
And it was like that, in that instant, that Cody was shoved by the chest into the Lake. His mouth agape and face caught in a mangled expression of horror, arms flailing—this was the last thing Shane saw of him before he fell. The last image Cody might have seen was the look of satisfaction on Shane’s face.
Until he drowned. To death.
That was the story Shane told on November 27th, 1986.
“He fell like a rock!” Shane said, obviously loving the sound of his own voice, “He never could swim. It was something I was always better at. The only thing I was better at. So I believe I did kill him.”
Shane had learned to swim the year after Cody had tried to drown him in that bathtub. Cody, on the other hand, always preferred dry sports.
I found it difficult to even look into Shane’s eyes after his confession. Something had unmistakably changed about him. His eyes in the dim were hunter-green, still distinctly piercing. The feeling of his gaze on a man was chilling. It was like the fear he used to always bear in silence would transfer to you, ruthless and encompassing like demonic possession. His gaze alone seemed to rip through your flesh and strike your heart, leaving you feeling helpless. That was the only way to describe it. Your peace was simply stolen from you, and that peace was never going to return. At the time, no one else knew what had just happened. Shane had come straight to the Church from the Lake, and the family probably stood around for a good hour, arguing. I was supposed to basically say, “Your sins are forgiven; go pray.” For some reason, prayer seemed like hardly enough. I know I’m not God, but it was at that moment I truly questioned whether God really forgave all sins. Especially this sin of such horrendous “Cain and Abel” proportions.
“But you know…” Shane said. “He really isn’t dead. He’s still alive.”
He blessed himself with the sign of the cross and left the confessional booth. I did not dare call him back. I did something else. I waited, I prayed, and then I followed him.
He had not seen me hiding in the thicket, but I saw him staring into the Lake. Cody was gone, but somehow Shane was face to face with that lad again just as he had seen him in the well of holy water.
Leering at him with unforgiving hazel eyes.
“Why are you here?”]
He repeated, louder.
“WHY ARE YOU HERE?”
I imagine the Lake reflected for Shane a rippling image of color and shadow, his parted red hair and a scruff of a beard, but all he saw was Cody.
“What? You still think you’re better than me? Why aren’t you saying anything?”]
An image of helplessness upon an image of mutiny. The eyes were afraid but they accused him, and disturbed him at the same time.
“I thought I got rid of you!”]
The figure mocked and mimicked him, and moved when he moved. It insulted everything he did, and with a cold glare. Deeds done, but not forgiven, would not cease to haunt him. Shane approached his twin in a rage. The twin charged back. Shane punched at Cody’s watery face. Cody stared back in horror.
But…he still lived.
Angry and furious, Shane punched again, and again, and again, but Cody would not—could not disappear . He remained, spraying what Shane perhaps thought was blood rather than water. Rippling. Scattering. In spite of everything, reassembling once more.
Shane had quite enough of this game with his brother. Given up, giving in to some deranged madness, Shane lunged himself into the Lake, charging at the red-headed clone.
Cold pellets of ice and water catapulted into the air as Shane’s body sunk into the Lake and rose to the top with bubbles floating to the surface, then floating no more. He did not fight the water. He never fought anyone or anything. But unfortunately for Shane, he and the twin he had loathed so much would be reunited yet again, leaving the world as they had entered it— together.
Maybe I could have stopped it.
I could have said something to Shane about valuing his life, and that his brother really was dead, and that he was losing his mind. But I realized something about the laws of nature. You cannot fight nature. Even if a man walks to the cold and barren edge of the Earth, it cannot be helped that his dark and empty shadow is sure to follow.
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– Melissa Abigail
A Buffalo, NY priest recounts the life-story of two brothers, twins Shane and Blaine Cody Vaughn, from their contempt-filled relationship to their ultimate downfall. A brief, dark fiction narrative originally written for high school Creative Writing class.