There is a spot in the woods – about a mile past the gate of the old Blake Farm that hasn’t been the Blake Farm since the nineties but no one bothers calling it anything else – past the first pond and also the second pond but before you reach the third pond. That spot is haunted.
Decades ago, when I am six and still think the world would spin on forever and ever and I will be around to see every rotation, two teens are found out at that spot with gunshot wounds to the backs of their heads. There is a dog with them too – a little beagle that is also shot. That always makes me the saddest.
When we become teenagers our parents tell us not to go out there. He’s still out there, they warn. They never catch the guy, you see, so he could come back. In their warnings and in our minds it is always a man who did it.
A woman would never shoot a dog.
He could come back and do it again. Or do worse, they say. We don’t understand yet that sometimes death isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a body.
But we ignore our parents and go a mile past the rusted gate of the Blake Farm and count the ponds first one, then two, then count to fifty and stop and we are in the spot. And we hang out and drink and smoke and dream about being anywhere in the world except for where we are. We think we are badass. We think we are fearless. We think we are reckless and rash and fast.
We think we are of a different time.
Our cell phones don’t work out there. This is before 5G and though we act so bent out of shape that we can’t reach anyone we want to whenever we want to, we feel free and old school and retro and counterculture and untethered.
We say we can hear the beagle howling at night at the deer and the moon and the unfairness that it got shot too.
AWOOOO we shout in unison with the ghost dog.
STOP IT, Carrie says. She cries when she thinks about the beagle.
We ignore her.
CAN’T YOU HEAR IT? AWOO!
Our whole town is haunted.
There is the lake where two men fall through while ice fishing one winter when I’m thirteen. Their bodies drift under a thick part of the ice before anyone realizes they are gone and they stay, frozen under the surface until the thaw. The boys sneak out there one Sunday afternoon a couple weeks after it happens to see for themselves. They slide over the ice in their sneakers and shorts. Winter clothes are for grownups and tourists.
WE SAW THEM, they shout.
They race back to where we girls wait in a cluster, our backs to them, like we don’t care or want to know what they’d seen.
WE SAW THEM UNDER THE ICE.
THEIR FACES WERE PRESSED TO THE SURFACE.
THEY WERE PURPLE AND BLUE.
FISH WERE EATING THEIR EYES.
WE SAW THEM.
WE SAW THEM.
Carrie begins to cry but really Carrie cries at everything so we ignore her.
I am so jealous it makes my legs numb and I want to go on the ice and I want to see the faces pressed underneath the ice like when you press your face against the car window on road trips when you pass by other cars and truckers and cows.
GIRLS CAN’T GO ITS BOYS ONLY they shout and then Carrie cries more and begs me not to go and then the sun goes down and we all go home.
I DON’T BELIEVE YOU ANYWAY I shout as I run home. But I do.
Our town is haunted nine months out of the year by the people who come for the other three. The giants from downstate who flood our mainstreet and sit at our restaurants and ask us for samples of fudge or scoops of ice cream or if kids six and under get to mini-golf for free. And we give them samples and scoops and say yes six and under is free with a wink and a smile even though the sign says five and under. But we lie for the extra dollar in the tip jar and we scoop it out before our manager can make us split it with anyone else because it was our smiles and ours alone that earned it.
Out at the clearing past the Blake Farm we throw our dollars into a pile and pretend we know how to play poker and black jack. We mimic the tourists with their pastels and their woven belts because they may own the mainstreet but these woods are all ours, ours, ours. And our parents are happy and businesses are booming and the cherries are ripe and sweet this year and the corn will be as high as an elephant’s eye before Labor Day.
And for those three months we are inflated. We are ticks, gorged fat from the blood of deer. We belong here and they don’t. They trample our land. We suck them dry.
When they leave we are sullen and pick fights when school starts and don’t go to the clearing anymore. Because what is there to belong to here anyway.
And then we grow up.
We grow up and the corn grows high later and later each year and then one year it is barely as high as my head and I’m only medium tall to begin with.
Carrie’s family leaves. They go down to Detroit, or maybe to Cincinnati, or I also heard Pittsburgh. I wonder for a long time if Carrie cries in Pittsburgh as much as she cries here.
We grow up and our swarm of youth splinters into trios and couples and loners and losers. We leave and we stay and we grow up and grow out and explode into all directions like a dying star.
When we grow up enough, we flee. We fling our breathing corpses as far away as we can get – some farther than others, some not very far at all but all that matters is it is away. And then when we can’t get any farther away we stop and we look around and realize we have gone too far.
We only know how to belong to each other but we hate that and close our eyes and stick our fingers in our ears so it can’t be true.
We leave and we come back and we leave again and we come back again. We get married and get divorced and get married again. Sometimes to each other and sometimes not. We stand in backyards and talk about the game and the troops and the elections and did you hear about so and so who swore he’d never come back but now he has a baby with that one girl who no one ever really liked and he works at his dad’s dealership over near the tracks.
And we feel so grown up until one day we realize we actually are and then we don’t want to feel like that anymore.
Carrie’s family comes back but she does not. They are tired and older and they keep to themselves. They haunt the town with their continued life while their daughter haunts us with her ended one. No one knows if she meant to or if she had bad shit or just pushed the limits or what. But no one asks her parents or talks about it for longer than a week because really, it doesn’t matter or change the fact that she’s the first of us to leave for good.
When we first find out about Carrie we think we might all gather in the clearing, fifty counts past the second pond but before you reach the third. We think we might all gather and share a beer for old times sake and laugh about when we were young but really there is nothing to laugh about. So we don’t gather and we don’t share and we don’t laugh.
We keep going.
She used to irritate me with all those tears, but once they are gone I miss them.
Lizzie Thompson received her MFA in Fiction from Sarah Lawrence College and her BA in English with a Concentration in Creative Writing from Barnard College. She lives in Los Angeles, CA with her husband and rescue dog.
© 2022, Lizzie Thompson