Part 1

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Only the whispers of victims long since forgotten kept the lake company. Just beyond the water, houses nestled among tall pines and aspen trees. Decades ago, summer laughter echoed off the trees as children splashed in the chilly lake. The motor of leisure boats roared to life. They sped across the mirror surface of the water, sloshing the mountain runoff. At night, lights seemed to decorate the trees, lighting up the bottom half of them like Christmas as visitors enjoyed the serene nature, sipping on cocktails, cuddling on the couch with a movie.

Through all the joy, the sorrow was missed. A visitor would drown in the lake but was soon forgotten as new families arrive. The grief was wiped away, bundled up, and washed out in the laundry by the cleaning crew.

Some summer drownings occurred as the season drew to an end. A few bodies were never found, like the poor body of the young Zhou girl, a disappearance that broke the family apart. She, like others never seen again, had sunk to the lake floor with only weeds and decaying flesh to keep them company. The summer season ended, snow began to fall on the ground, and the lake remained untouched. The bodies chilled deep underwater as storms pounded against the missing posters, smearing the ink until their faces became unrecognizable.

Families mourned. Condolences were given and life went on. Tragedy struck time and time again until the houses sprinkling the shore grew heavy with grief. No amount of scrubbing to wipe it away.

Over the years, season visitors failed to return. They grew unsettled by the pain soaked into the dirt. Residents who used to stay year-round couldn't shake the chill of winter off even after the snow melted. They moved to warmer places, places they didn't feel the need to check over their shoulder in the dark, didn't have an urge to lock their bedroom doors or wake in the middle of the night to check that their children still slept in their beds. Parents urged their children out of the water, they shielded them from the lapping shore. If they were to be asked why, there would be no explanation, just an urge to keep them close. Accidents happened on the lake, some careless, some unavoidable, all terrifying.

The lake shore, once dotted with busy houses and docks, all walking distance to the crystal blue water, now stood uninhabited. Every house, old and new, large and small, withered away under the beating sun of summer only to then be buried under snow in the winter.

The Santos siblings hadn't visited the lake since they were kids. Their parents used to rent the same three-storied Lake House, flanked with wood paneling, and a large round cupola serving as the third-floor attic, with a wrap-around porch connecting the house to a two-car garage. As children, the siblings had spent summers huddled together in the attic or rolling around in the now overgrown lawn before the sun had grown too hot and they rushed down the pebbled shore into the crisp lake.

But they stopped the annual visits abruptly thirty years ago.

Driving those same mountain roads once again, the, now adult middle sibling, Aleksa, recalled joyful summers, the beach, and late nights. She remembered the house, large and beautiful. All of it, absolutely perfect.

So why had it been so long since they'd visited?

"Mom and Dad died." The youngest, Luca, suggested when Aleksa posed that exact question on the drive through the mountains. "We've never gone without Mom and Dad."

Aleksa shook her head. She squeezed the steering wheel and stole a worried glance at the eldest, Rianon, who had been staring unfocused out the window the whole trip.

Luca watched Aleksa's reflection in the rearview mirror from his seat in the back, an eyebrow raised in anticipation. Matching his olive complexion, Aleksa was considered the beauty of the family, with her grandmother's slim nose and green eyes.

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