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Entry 5 (The Existence of Sirens)

Title: The Existence of Sirens
Entry Number: 05
Author: insaneladybug/Lucky_Ladybug
Fandom: The Rockford Files (specifically, The Queen of Peru episode)
Rating: T/PG-13 (vindictive siren, near-drownings, near-choking)
Genre: Mystery, Supernatural, Friendship
Spoiler Warnings: None.
Word Count: 9,808

I am not sure I'll make it to do all ten plus the Halloween fic, or even all ten. But maybe since they're turning out way longer than other years, it all sort of evens out.

By Lucky_Ladybug

Lou sighed quietly to himself as he pulled in at the woodsy inn’s parking lot and turned off the engine. It was another business trip, this time to meet with the owner of the inn. He was interested in implementing a virtual reality system in his game room; Ginger and Lou were there to discuss the pros and cons with him, examine the room, and suggest various systems that would fit the size, budget, and other wants.

It had been a long drive and Lou was worn-out. But it was a relief to be here at last, and he had (perhaps foolish) hopes that this would actually, miraculously, be a normal trip.

Ginger stirred in the passenger seat. He hadn’t been asleep, as he still couldn’t abide sleeping in cars, but he had been resting for the last leg of the journey. They had traded off the wheel on the trip, with Ginger giving it to Lou once they headed into the canyon. Lou was more adept at driving on steep canyon roads than Ginger was.

“This is it,” Lou announced, unnecessarily.

Ginger nodded and undid the seatbelt. “Hopefully our host will be ready to talk and we won’t need to be here long,” he mused. “Overnight, at least, but maybe not much longer.”

“We might need to be here a few days, if he can’t make up his mind,” Lou said. He stepped out of the car and looked around at the quiet pines. “It might not be too unpleasant to hang around for a while. This looks like a pretty nice place.”

“Appearances can be deceiving,” said Ginger.

Lou opened the back door and hauled out his suitcase. “Maybe just once, everything will be normal,” he said longingly.

“It’s a nice fantasy, at least,” Ginger said. “I suppose it possibly could turn out to be real.” He took his suitcase as well.

The two friends headed up the wooden steps to the porch and Ginger pushed the door open. Inside was a comfortable lobby and den, complete with soft couches, a roaring fire, and a bearskin rug. Several other guests were gregariously chatting away, enjoying the after-dinner atmosphere. Only one initially looked up when the newcomers appeared.

“Well, hello,” she said, getting up from her chair and going over. “You’ll be staying a while, I hope?” She eyed Ginger with an especially appreciative look.

Lou looked amused, particularly at how Ginger showed no inclination to return the sudden advance but nevertheless enjoyed the woman’s taste.

“We have a business meeting with Mr. Falcon,” Ginger said. “We’re not sure how long that will take.”

“Oh, the businessmen! He’s been expecting you.” She smiled. “He’s in his office. Just down that hall and to the left.”

“Thank you,” Ginger said. “But before we go anywhere, we’d like to sign in and have our luggage taken to our cabin.”

“Of course.” She headed down the hall. “I’ll find Mrs. Crank and Billy. They’re probably in the kitchen.”

Lou stared after her with a raised eyebrow. “Mrs. . . . Crank?” He looked to Ginger, who was unaffected by the odd name.

“She might not fit the name at all,” Ginger shrugged.

“That’s true,” Lou said. But he was slightly apprehensive anyway, considering the strange people they kept managing to encounter.

“Hello!” came a perky voice in the next moment.

Both Ginger and Lou jumped. An older woman, accompanied by a scrawny brunet teenager, was hastening over to the desk. The younger woman who had sized Ginger up followed behind.

“. . . Hello,” Ginger said, trying to recover from the shock.

“I’m Mrs. Crank,” the woman said cheerfully. “And you must be Ginger Townsend and Lou Trevino.”

“That’s right,” Ginger said.

“There’s some rooms upstairs or a separate cabin,” Mrs. Crank said. “We left both options open so you could choose what you’d like best.”

Ginger and Lou exchanged a look, not quite sure what their preference was at this point. “What are the cabins like?” Ginger asked at last. “Are they equipped with all the modern amenities?”

“All the ones the upstairs rooms have,” Mrs. Crank said. “Mini-fridge, attached bathroom, balcony. . . .”

Ginger and Lou pondered the information and traded decisions with their eyes. “Since we have our equipment to showcase, it would be easier not to have to drag it as far,” Ginger said.

“Yeah,” Lou nodded. “The upstairs rooms will be fine.”

“Alright! But there, the best available room is a suite with two beds,” Mrs. Crank said. “Does that work or do you want separate rooms?”

“That’s quite workable,” Ginger said.

“Okay. Billy, take their bags up to 210, will you?” Mrs. Crank asked, and suddenly paused. “Unless you need them right now to show your equipment to Mr. Falcon?”

“It’s rather late,” Ginger said. “Would he be interested in an interview now?”

“Oh sure,” Mrs. Crank said. “He’s been looking forward to your coming.”

“Perhaps we should leave them here for now, then,” Ginger determined.

“Alright. Billy will guard them for you while you go meet him,” Mrs. Crank said. “Not that you need to worry about anyone getting into them. We’re all friendly folk around here!”

“That’s sure something we can use,” Lou declared, hoping it was true.

Mr. Falcon emerged from his office before they could head down the hall in search of him. “I heard new arrivals and I hoped it was you, Gentlemen,” he declared. “I’m Edward Falcon.” He held out a hand to shake.

“Good,” said Ginger, returning the gesture. “Ginger Townsend. This is Lou Trevino. I trust you’re ready to start discussing options for your virtual reality chamber tonight?”

“Yes,” Mr. Falcon nodded, “but first, would you like some dinner? There’s plenty left.”

Lou perked up. “That sounds great, thanks,” he said. “It was a long drive.”

“Then you can eat and we’ll discuss things over dinner,” Mr. Falcon declared. “Or after, if you’d prefer.”

Ginger started to open his briefcase. “I can leave you with some diagrams that you can be studying now,” he said. “After dinner we’ll go to your recreation room and decide what would work best.”

“That’s perfect,” Mr. Falcon said. He accepted the offered papers. “I’ll show you to the dining room.”

Lou looked to Ginger with hope in his eyes as they followed their client. “Maybe this time nothing really will go wrong,” he said.

“I suppose that type of miracle is possible,” Ginger said.

“It’s sure a breath of fresh air compared to some of our assignments, at least,” Lou declared.

Ginger certainly agreed with that.

Dinner was delicious and the company enjoyable. Mr. Falcon was honestly happy to have them there and the other guests didn’t seem to mind, even if virtual reality wasn’t something they were particularly interested in. By the time everyone was preparing for bed, Mr. Falcon had narrowed things down to two designs in specific and wanted to sleep on which one to pick.

“I hope Iris stays away tonight,” Mr. Jacobs, a plump, good-natured man, commented as they headed for the stairs.

Lou froze. “Iris?”

Mrs. Jacobs waved an exasperated hand. “Oh, there is no Iris. Just a silly rumor and maybe a publicity stunt.”

Ginger turned, his hand on the banister. “Perhaps so, but what is the rumor?”

“She’s some ghost or siren or something that comes up out of the lake sometimes and lures unsuspecting men into the water,” Mr. Jacobs said. “Heaven knows how something like that got started.”

Ginger grunted, still skeptical. “What does Mr. Falcon think of it?”

“He insists it’s not a publicity stunt,” Mrs. Jacobs said. “But he can’t deny that some of the guests have claimed to see something on the lake, especially on gray, foggy nights.”

“Actually, I guess this virtual reality stuff could make a fake Iris, couldn’t it?” Mr. Jacobs mused.

“We certainly wouldn’t let him have the equipment for such a reason,” Ginger said flatly. “It’s only for use in the recreation room.”

“It’d be way too big to try to have out by a lake without being seen,” Lou said.

“Oh well.” Mr. Jacobs shrugged. “It probably is just rumors anyway. I haven’t seen anything.”

“And let’s keep it that way,” Mrs. Jacobs said firmly, shepherding her husband up the stairs to bed.

Lou shook his head, looking uneasily to Ginger. “Boy, we just can’t get away from the weird stuff, can we?!”

Ginger grunted. “Perhaps this time it really is just rumors,” he said. “There’s no sense believing otherwise at this point.”

Lou shuddered. “Sirens, though. . . . They always creeped me out big time. I always wonder what they’ve got against men.” He loosened his tie as they went up the rest of the stairs.

“We don’t even know there are sirens,” Ginger said. “Malevolent ghosts, yes, but we’ve never seen a siren.”

“I guess a malevolent ghost could be a siren too,” Lou said. “I’ve heard even mermaids started out as sirens. They’re not really friendly, like Disney would have people believe.”

“I doubt The Walt Disney Company believes in mermaids any more than I do,” Ginger said firmly. They reached the top of the stairs and he headed for their suite.

Lou sighed, running a hand through his hair. “Just listen to me,” he berated. “I’m talking nonsense about sirens and mermaids. Last year, I probably would’ve just laughed it off.”

“I will still scoff it off, in spite of what we’ve seen.” Ginger unlocked the door and let it swing open.

Lou reached for the light. This was the first time they had seen their room, and he had to admit he was impressed. It was large and welcoming, with carefully crafted furniture of wood and two glass doors leading onto the balcony. Off in the distance, the moon could be seen shimmering on what must be the lake.

“We can see the lake from here,” he remarked. “It looks nice.”

Ginger nodded, shedding his overcoat and laying it on top of the couch. “This is a pleasant room. And as long as you don’t wake up from nightmares about sirens leading us into the lake, we should have a pleasant night’s sleep.”

“Yeah,” Lou mumbled. Louder he said, “I’m sorry about that, Ginger. You’re right that we shouldn’t believe in every weird thing that comes along. I still don’t, really. It’s more that I just wonder if we can really discount it.”

“I could believe in a malevolent ghost in the lake,” Ginger said, “as you could as well. And since we do believe in those, we’ll have to take care that we don’t let ourselves be entrapped by one.”

Lou smirked a bit. “You’d probably be immune anyway, since sirens are supposed to appeal to men’s attraction to beautiful women.”

“I do have a slight attraction to women, as you recall,” Ginger said. “But you’re right that I am not seriously affected by it. Then again, while you are interested, you aren’t overly caught up in such feelings, either.”

“That’s true,” Lou nodded.

“So I would doubt that either of us could be ensnared for that reason.” Ginger headed for what he assumed was the connecting bathroom. “A ghost or siren or what-have-you would have to be more creative to trap one of us.”

“Maybe they would be,” Lou said.

“Perhaps, but since I have no intention of even going to the lake, I doubt it will have the chance to try.” Ginger vanished into the bathroom.

Lou sighed to himself. Opening the glass doors, he stepped onto the balcony and into the cool autumn air. It felt nice.

He stepped closer to the edge, gripping the round, wooden railing in his hands. Probably most places like this collected a few rumors here and there. And probably most of them were completely unfounded. The lake just looked peaceful; it probably was.

He turned, heading back inside.

Lou wasn’t sure what awakened him in the middle of the night. Everything had been quiet up to that point and he and Ginger had slipped off to sleep without any difficulty. But now Lou was awake and it was clearly still the dead of night; the moon continued to shine, albeit in a different position.

Sleepily Lou glanced over at the other bed. Ginger was burrowed into it, clearly asleep. Whatever had awakened Lou wasn’t bothering Ginger in the least.

Lou got out of bed, slowly, carefully, and moved to the balcony doors. The lake still looked calm and normal. But . . . was somebody out on it?

Lou squinted, pressing himself against the glass. He wasn’t imagining it—there actually was a silhouetted figure ambling towards the body of water. And he was starting to step into it without a thought for how he would stay above the surface.

Was the lake deep enough that someone could go under? They hadn’t even asked. It wasn’t the sort of question they would think to mention under ordinary circumstances. But the figure was still traveling through the lake and if it was deep enough, he would slip under in less than a minute.

Thoughts of ghosts and sirens and hypnotized men danced through Lou’s mind as he turned, flying into his shoes and hurrying out the door. Maybe there was even a logical explanation, like that the person was sleepwalking. But whatever the case, Lou’s help might very well be needed. He didn’t even stop to see whether he had accidentally awakened Ginger. There was no time.

The front door was standing wide open when Lou arrived downstairs. No one else was about, which was just as well, as Lou didn’t want to stop and explain to anyone. He rushed out the door and down the path, turning to head in the direction of the lake.

Fog and mist floated thick around the water, making it plenty spooky even without a visible siren. But the most disturbing of all was that there were air bubbles coming up from the surface. The person really had gone under.

Kicking off his shoes, Lou didn’t stop to think about anything more before diving into the frigid lake. The moon provided the only light, and Lou had to desperately squint and feel before at last he caught hold of a hefty body going limp. He pulled with all his might.

He hated the memory that suddenly leaped to the forefront of his mind at that point—diving in the Pacific Ocean to save a drowning Ginger after a crime lord held him under too long. Ginger was so limp, so lifeless, when Lou brought him out. . . .

But he wasn’t pulling Ginger up now. And somehow he and his current, heavier passenger broke the surface. Lou coughed and gasped, and to his relief, the other person—Mr. Jacobs, he could see now—did so as well.

“What the . . . what in the seven Heavens happened?!” Mr. Jacobs cried. “What are we doing in the water?!”

“That’s what I’d like to know!” Lou exclaimed. “I saw you walking into the water and came out to see what the heck you were doing. You almost drowned!”

“No kidding?” Mr. Jacobs turned to look at Lou, his eyes wide and bewildered.

“Have you got a history of sleepwalking or something?” Lou asked.

“Nope. I’ve never done it in my life.” Mr. Jacobs stared at Lou in amazement and gratitude. “And you saved my life, no question about it!”

“I’m just glad I was in time,” Lou sighed. “Come on, let’s get out of the water. It’s freezing!”

“No arguments there,” Mr. Jacobs replied.

Mrs. Jacobs and Ginger were waiting downstairs in utter confusion as the two soaked men trudged up the walk. “Emmett?!” Mrs. Jacobs cried, at the same time Ginger was exclaiming, “Lou, what on Earth?!”

Mr. Jacobs gave his wife a confused smile. “Nevermind, Dear. Everything’s alright, thanks to Mr. Trevino here.”

“What happened?!” Mrs. Jacobs demanded, looking from her husband to Lou in disbelief.

“I’m really not even sure,” Lou said. “Your husband was walking into the lake. I saw and went out to stop him.” He sighed, shuffling to the stairs and hoping someone wouldn’t throw a fit at all the water being dripped around.

“He just barely got to me in time, too!” Mr. Jacobs proclaimed. “I’ll be darned; maybe there really is something to that Iris stuff.”

Ginger frowned. “Do you remember anything like that?”

“Nope,” Mr. Jacobs frowned. “I thought I heard Lila calling me, so I got up and just followed the sound of her voice to the lake. I wasn’t sleepwalking. I never have and I know I was awake!”

“That’s preposterous!” Mrs. Jacobs declared. “I was in bed! I only got up because I heard you going out! I called to you then, but you didn’t hear me! You must have been asleep!”

Mr. Jacobs shook his head in complete confusion. Disturbed, Ginger moved past them to head after Lou.

Below, Mr. Falcon was hurrying out of a downstairs room, alerted by all the voices. “What’s going on around here?!” he demanded.

The Jacobs started telling the story again. Ginger quietly slipped up the stairs, wanting to talk to Lou rather than to hear it over.

Lou was already peeling off his soaked pajamas and dropping them down the laundry chute. “It’s a good thing we have spare sets of stuff,” he said, not surprised in the least when Ginger entered the room. “I wanna take a nice, warm shower and get back in bed.”

Ginger shut and locked the door behind him. “Lou, what the bloody devil happened?!” he demanded. “How did you even know to go out after that man?”

“I don’t know,” Lou said helplessly. “I just popped awake and saw him walking out to the lake, so I went too.” He grabbed a towel he had ready before stripping off his underwear and going into the bathroom.

Ginger sank onto his bed, puzzling over this nonsense in his mind. Certainly Jacobs could have dreamed he heard his wife calling. But then why hadn’t he heard the real one calling? If he truly hadn’t been sleepwalking . . .

Ginger shook his head and crawled back under the covers. Hopefully this was just a one-time incident and had nothing to do with Iris or any other ghost or siren.

But he knew at least part of him didn’t really believe that.

He had sank into a half-doze by the time Lou got out of the shower, fresh and clean, and burrowed into the other bed. Ginger opened one eye, vaguely debating starting the conversation again, but they were both too tired and he knew it. He let Lou instantly drift to sleep and soon followed suit.

This time there were no interruptions.

Both men were relieved that they were allowed to sleep in as late as they wanted.

Ginger found himself stirring around nine. He rose, the covers still on his back, and saw that Lou remained peacefully asleep. He slipped out of bed and crept across the floor without waking his friend. Perhaps he would go outside and inspect the lake in the daytime. Or he might simply take breakfast and wait for Lou before doing any investigating.

By the time he had freshened up for the day and re-entered the main room, Lou was gradually waking up. “What time is it?” he mumbled, hearing movement on the floor.

“Nine-thirty,” Ginger replied.

“Oh man.” Lou yawned and sat up. “I didn’t mean to sleep that long. Do you think it’ll make a bad impression on us?”

“Considering that you saved a man’s life and were exhausted, I doubt it,” Ginger said.

Lou blinked. “That’s right.” He got up, hurrying to the balcony doors to look out at the lake. All seemed still.

“Nothing is out of place,” Ginger said. “It’s just an ordinary, overcast day.”

“Yeah, I guess. I’d like to go down and look at the lake anyway, though,” Lou said.

Ginger nodded. “I would as well. I was already planning that we would.” He opened the door. “I’m going down to breakfast.”

“Okay. I’ll be there soon,” Lou promised.

“I know.” Ginger closed the door after him as he departed.

Breakfast was alive with talk of the rescue during the night. Ginger was plied with questions, and when Lou appeared, he was greeted with praise that eventually had him blushing in modest embarrassment.

Mr. Falcon was certainly among the grateful, and when he had the two alone to further discuss the virtual reality set-up, he fully revealed why.

“I’ve just about had it with all this Iris nonsense,” he said, keeping his voice low as he leaned over the tabletop basketball game. “In the past, it was just tales of seeing a misty woman walking on the water or beckoning or some such unsettling thing. But now, for someone to actually, nearly die . . . !” He shook his head.

Ginger folded his arms. “What are you saying?” he asked. “Are you asking us to look into the matter?”

“Oh, of course not,” Mr. Falcon exclaimed. “You two are businessmen, here to close a profitable deal with me. You’re not ghost-hunters or busters or whatever the term is these days.”

Ginger had to smirk slightly. If he only knew.

“So what, then?” Lou wondered, confused.

“I just wanted to say how grateful I am that you prevented a tragedy from happening right on this property,” Mr. Falcon sighed. “And . . . well . . . if you could prove that the woman people have seen was man-made, it could be good for all of us. With the threat of a siren gone, I’d get more guests and your company’s technology would see more use.”

“We would like to prove that ourselves,” Ginger said. “But how is that not ‘looking into the matter’?”

“You might be able to see if there’s any technology down at the lake,” Mr. Falcon said. “It wouldn’t take long, as opposed to chasing a ghost, which could take days or weeks.”

Ginger nodded. “I suppose we can’t argue with that. We wanted to look at the lake anyway. But if there’s anything down there, surely you would have seen it, even if you didn’t know what it was.”

“I haven’t found anything, and I’ve looked and looked!” Mr. Falcon berated. “But maybe you could see something I’ve missed, like a creative way to hide a hologram projector.”

“We’ll try,” Ginger said. “But what if we don’t find anything?”

“Then . . .” Mr. Falcon shook his head helplessly. “I guess I might have to turn to an exorcist or some idiocy like that. I certainly don’t believe there’s a ghost, but it would be foolish not to have all possible bases covered.”

“We’ll go out and look as soon as we’ve resolved things here,” Ginger said. “Have you decided which layout you want to go with?”

“Yes, I think so,” Mr. Falcon said, quickly snapping into business-mode.

The rest of their discussion went well and ended with a positive resolution. Lou had to admit, he dreaded the task that was to come now, even though he wanted answers on the lake as much as Ginger and Mr. Falcon did.

“It looks like we’ll have the lake all to ourselves,” he remarked as he and Ginger left the lodge and walked the now-familiar path.

“Naturally,” Ginger said. “No one else is eager to venture here after last night.”

“I’m not eager to venture here after last night!” Lou countered.

They stepped through the foliage and found themselves looking at the lake. Lou had to shiver. He had thought it would seem different in the daytime, but instead, a light mist hung over the surface and a very unpleasant feeling permeated the entire area.

“Ginger . . .” Lou looked to the older man in dismay. “It feels like there’s really something here, alright.”

“Granted.” Ginger stepped to the edge of the water. “But perhaps it could be a lingering bad feeling because of the near-death, instead of a firm indication of a ghost.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s possible,” Lou said slowly.

Ginger spun around with an abrupt air. “Start looking for anything to indicate technology has been hidden here,” he instructed.

Lou agreeably started to look. “Even if it has been, though, how would that explain the weird stuff with Mr. Jacobs?” he wondered.

“Hypnosis, perhaps,” Ginger grunted. “We’ll sort it out later.”

Lou sighed. Ginger was just desperately clinging to the hope that it wasn’t a ghost. Lou wanted to embrace that concept too, but considering the off-the-wall events and the disturbing feeling, it didn’t seem likely.

They searched for over two hours without finding a trace of anything. At last Ginger gave up, recognizing it was hopeless.

“Unless it’s so portable they only bring it when they want to bring the ghost out, there’s nothing,” he said.

“And that means we probably will have to consider the explanation we don’t want, doesn’t it?” Lou moaned.

“Yes.” Ginger scowled as he turned away. “But we can’t stay here indefinitely investigating. Sometimes the strange things happen days or weeks apart. We have to get back home.”

Lou would have been most happy to do just that. “Are we gonna see if anything happens tonight and then go tomorrow?” he suggested. “It looks like our business here is really wrapped up.”

“I suppose we should stay on at least for tonight,” Ginger agreed grudgingly. “Although I would be perfectly content to let Falcon call in a professional exorcist.”

Lou nodded. “Me too,” he said fervently.

It almost looked out of the corner of his eye that the mist was starting to take shape. But when he looked back with a jerk, challenging his vision, the fog was instead ambling along quite normally. He looked away, massaging the bridge of his nose.

“What is it?” Ginger frowned.

“Just my imagination, I hope,” Lou replied.

Everyone was noticeably tense at dinner, disturbed by last night’s events and all wondering if there would be a repeat of a disaster that night. Lou couldn’t help feeling that same uneasiness, especially when he and Ginger said Goodnight and went upstairs to bed.

“More than likely, we’re leaving in the morning, no matter what happens tonight,” Ginger said.

“That’s fine with me,” Lou said. “And we’d better get a good sleep tonight, without interruptions.”

“Did you retrieve your other clothes from the laundry yet?” Ginger wondered.

“Yeah,” Lou nodded. “I’m all ready to go if we leave in the morning.”

“Good.” Ginger started to undress.

It wasn’t long after when they were both settled in bed and peacefully dozing. Despite the long day and their concerns, sleep was coming easy and it was a relief.

Ginger could have slept for two hours or five; he really wasn’t sure. But suddenly he was stirring, it was still dark, and the other bed was empty once again.

Instantly he was fully awake. “Lou?” he called. Perhaps Lou had gone out to save some other twit from walking into the lake.

Only this time Lou’s shoes were still here. The bathroom door was standing open and dark; Lou was not in there. And there was a figure outside, running pell-mell for the water.

“What the bloody . . .” Ginger shoved his feet into his shoes and hastened for the door. Someone else must be trying to drown themselves and Lou had run out to save them without even getting his shoes this time.

A door opened down the hall and Ms. Amber, a divorceé, peered out at Ginger in surprise. “What’s going on?” she asked.

“No time to explain!” Ginger called gruffly over his shoulder. He wanted to catch this strangeness in the act.

He flew down the stairs, out the door, and over the path. And when the lake came into view moments later, he saw Lou diving headfirst into the water, panic-stricken. When Lou did not immediately surface, Ginger kicked off his shoes and followed him in.

It was difficult to see under the water, just as it must have been last night. Lou was flailing about, desperate, unable to locate whoever had plunged into the water first. And he was running out of air.

Ginger wrapped his arms around Lou’s broad chest, struggling to swim for the surface. But instead of coming easily, Lou fought against him in a blind panic, pushing, struggling, and shoving. And Ginger was no match for Lou’s strength. He fell back and Lou dived deeper, reaching for something that Ginger could not see.

Lou! What on Earth are you doing?! Ginger screamed in his mind. There isn’t anyone here!

And horror and realization gripped him. Lou wasn’t the rescuer tonight. Lou was the victim!

Ginger dove at Lou in the next moment, again taking hold of the bigger man with all his might. Lou struggled again, angry as well as frantic, but the energy and the lack of air were winding him down. Ginger, wearying as well, blinked dark spots from his eyes as he fought to pull Lou upward.

Lou gasped for breath when they broke the surface. “What are you doing?!” he screamed. “Ginger was down there, drowning! I’ve gotta get him! I’ve gotta!”

Ginger’s eyes widened in shock. But there was no time to process the bizarre statement. “Lou!” He pinned Lou’s arms to his sides. “I’m not down there. I’m right here with you!”

Lou flung him back. “No! Ginger’s down there, going after the guy who set it up for me to look dead! Ginger’s trying to take his revenge and he’s being held under!”

“LOU!” Ginger lunged at Lou, interlocking his arms with Lou’s to keep him from swimming down. “Turn around and look at me. I’m not drowning! Lou . . . you already saved me from that.”

Somehow those words pierced the spell. Lou looked over his shoulder, remembrance and recognition in his eyes. “Ginger?”

Slowly Ginger released him. “Yes.”

Lou swallowed hard. “But what . . . what the heck . . .” He looked back at the lake. When he faced Ginger again, utter confusion and terror were spread across his features. “Ginger, I woke up hearing gunfire. I looked outside and it was the docks back home. You were fighting that whole gang that made you think I was dead. I ran out to save you, and it was just like it was back then. It was just like . . .” He covered his face with his hands.

Ginger’s eyes narrowed in understanding. “We determined the ghost would have to be creative to get one of us out here,” he said darkly. “So this is how it was done. What did it do, see into your mind last night and realize that recreating your worst nightmare was how to entrap you?”

Lou looked up. “Last night, I was thinking about when I tried to save you,” he remembered. “If it really exists, it must’ve seen my thoughts somehow at that point. Oh man, that’s beyond creepy.” And then anger replaced the alarm. “She knew I wouldn’t fall for whatever charms she has, so she made me think you were in danger again! Of all the . . . !” He hit the water with his hand, swearing furiously.

“And it was probably her under the water, ready to drag you to your death if you tried to save what you thought was me,” Ginger said, equally outraged.

“So what are we gonna do about it?!” Lou exclaimed.

Ginger frowned. “We don’t have what we need to perform an exorcism,” he said. “Not unless there’s something left over from the last time.”

Lou sighed, running a hand through his wet hair. “I guess we’ll have to go into town again then,” he said. “I don’t think I packed any of that stuff. We should never leave home without it.”

“I would also like to find out if this character actually is named Iris,” Ginger said. He started to wade out of the lake, with Lou immediately following suit. “Iris isn’t a common name. If we learn something of her actual backstory, it might help us figure out how to deal with her.”

“What’s to know?” Lou returned, relieved beyond measure when they were on solid ground again. “She’s a sick witch who has it in for guys and tries to kill them in whatever way possible.”

“Point. But I would still like to know how she became that way.” Ginger slipped into his shoes with a sigh. Now they both needed showers before attempting sleep again. And since Lou had been the victim this time instead of a relative stranger, he wondered if either of them would even be able to sleep.

All the guests and the staff were waiting for them as they shuffled up to the porch. “Now what happened?!” Mr. Falcon exclaimed.

“Whatever’s going on ended up nearly making me the victim,” Lou said in frustration. “The only reason I’m alive is because Ginger saved me.”

Ginger gave a grim nod. “We’re going to stay at least one more day and try to solve this mystery once and for all,” he vowed.

“Well, I wish you all the luck in the world in doing it!” Mr. Falcon declared. He and the others stepped aside to allow them passage.

Lou felt self-conscious as they dripped up the stairs. “This is the second time in twenty-four hours that I’ve come in here soaking wet,” he said. “And the second time in twenty-four hours that I’ve ended up disturbing your sleep.” He smiled weakly. “But thanks, Ginger.”

Ginger glanced to him. “You know I never would have forgiven myself if I hadn’t woke up tonight.”

“I know,” Lou said. He pushed the door to their room open. “And actually, isn’t it kind of weird how we’ve woke up both nights when someone needed help? I woke up last night when Jacobs was drowning, and then you woke up tonight when it was me.”

“It could be complete coincidence,” Ginger said. “We often wake up in the middle of the night.”

“Yeah, but what if on the other hand it’s happening because of how we’re needed?” Lou shut the door when they were both in the room. “Maybe somebody’s waking us up to go help. Or maybe even . . .” He paused. “Nah, that’s too weird.”

Ginger raised a tired eyebrow. “You can say that, after all this? What is it?”

Lou sighed. “Oh . . . I just suddenly wondered if maybe part of Iris or whoever doesn’t really want to hurt people, so when she starts in, she also wakes someone up to try to stop her.”

“Like how some serial killers will call someone for help, wanting to be stopped before they actually murder someone?”

“Yeah, exactly.”

Ginger shrugged, brushing his sopped bangs out of his eyes. “It isn’t impossible.” He glanced to the bathroom. “You go ahead and get cleaned up first. You were in the water longer.”

“But you’re more susceptible to colds and chills and stuff,” Lou replied, gently pushing Ginger towards the open door. “You go first.”

Ginger couldn’t deny that had been a problem for him. He seemed to have gotten over it somewhat in his adulthood, but in any case, he hated to be standing around dripping wet from some murky lake and he appreciated Lou’s gesture. Perhaps he should have continued to insist that Lou go first, but he just couldn’t make himself do so after Lou’s encouragement otherwise. So instead he nodded and undressed, slipping into the bathroom.

Lou stayed near the radiator while he waited. Everything was calm again; outside, there was no indication that anything had been wrong tonight. But when he thought of how he had awakened so thoroughly convinced that Ginger had been drowning in the Pacific Ocean, a tremor ran up his spine.

Whether Iris had wanted to be stopped or not, what kind of sick mind would manipulate someone the way she had done to him tonight and to Jacobs last night? Instead of using lustful charms for either of them, she had preyed on them by using their loved ones. She was certainly not your ordinary siren.

Lou sighed, shaking his head. He wished there was no siren, ordinary or not. But by now it seemed the only possible answer.

He wasn’t sure how much time had passed when Ginger emerged from the bathroom, drying at his hair with a heavy towel. “Hurry on in now,” he said.

Lou snapped to attention. “Okay. Thanks.” He headed into the bathroom, while behind him Ginger sank onto his bed, still rubbing the towel over his hair.

Ginger would probably be asleep when Lou got out. At least, Lou hoped Ginger would find sleep that easy to obtain. Lou wasn’t at all sure that he would himself.

Neither Ginger nor Lou was sure how they managed it, but they both happily dozed after their refreshing showers. Lou especially was relieved. And he was even more relieved to wake up with morning dawning and both of them having slept well.

Ginger was the one still asleep today. Lou looked over at him, smiling fondly at the gruff East Londoner who was his best friend. They had known each other for over two decades now, and it was all but impossible for Lou to imagine life without Ginger.

He shuddered. Ginger would be having a life without Lou right now, if he hadn’t been able to save Lou in time.

Deciding he didn’t feel quite ready to get up, Lou lay back down, idly gazing at the ceiling while either waiting for Ginger to wake up or for sleep to come over him again—whichever came first.

His thoughts wandered, some pleasant, some unpleasant. They always came back to the lake and what had been happening there.

What was the key to solving the mystery and stopping the attacks? By this point, they couldn’t in good conscience go away with things still unresolved. And they couldn’t keep staying here, either. They needed to wrap everything up today.

Ginger was right that they needed to try to learn about Iris. But what if that wouldn’t even help? Maybe there wouldn’t be anything concrete, or maybe the information would contradict itself, or . . .

Lou sighed, rolling over. They should probably just plan on exorcising whatever was there. Certainly if they couldn’t find out anything else, that was really all they could do.

But he kept coming back to the fact that one of them had woke up when there was danger and wondering if Iris really had been trying to get them to stop her. If there was any chance of that, Lou wished that they could help her find some peace instead of just kicking her out.

Maybe they should collect the stuff they would need for the exorcism, but when they went to the lake, they could try to talk to her first and see if it would make any difference.

Ginger stirred, looking up from the pillow. “Did you sleep well?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Lou smiled, amused at the sight of Ginger’s wild bedhair.

Sensing the reason for Lou’s entertainment, Ginger reached to smooth down his hair as he sat up. “Been awake long?”

“Not really.” Lou sobered. “I was just wondering if Iris really was trying to get us to stop her the last couple of nights and if there’s anything we can do to help her instead of just sending her away.”

Ginger grunted. “Quite frankly, I couldn’t care less about her personal demons,” he spat. “She tried to kill you, and in the cruelest way she could think of. I have no pity for her. I just want her gone.”

“I don’t blame you,” Lou said, and he honestly didn’t. “She really disturbs me, too. But if she actually was trying to get us to stop her from going through with killing people, don’t we owe her something?”

Ginger considered that. “You’re only guessing that she was trying,” he said.

“I know. But that isn’t really answering the question,” Lou quietly pointed out.

Ginger scowled. “I suppose perhaps we’d owe her something, even if I would prefer not to give her anything. Let’s wait and see if we can learn anything about her today.”

Lou nodded. “Fair enough.”

Breakfast was more of a worried and uneasy affair this time around, after another attack in quick succession. Although Ginger and Lou vowed to do everything they could to make it stop today, no one knew if they would really be able to.

Ginger also hadn’t voiced yet that he was wondering if he might be a target that night, since he had gone to rescue Lou and Iris could have read into his mind as she had apparently done to Lou the night before last. He wouldn’t mention it at all and worry Lou, except that Lou probably needed to be on-guard in case it really did happen.

For now, however, Ginger focused on the task at hand, which was going into town and looking for any information on the mysterious Iris, accidents in the lake, and the surrounding land.

It was a task that, for the most part, only served to disturb him and Lou further without bringing any concrete answers. There were several articles through the years about accidents in the lake, some of which were fatal. And some of the articles featured people talking about Iris, either in jest or seriously. But no one seemed to know how the idea of a siren named Iris had actually got started.

Finally Lou sighed, slumping back in the library’s chair. “So now what?” he wondered.

“Now,” Ginger said, “we find the town historian. There’s always someone, usually some old bloke or woman, who knows everything about the town, past and present.” He stood.

“And where are we gonna find someone like that?” Lou exclaimed as he got up to follow.

“The librarian probably knows,” Ginger said. “She likely recommends people to them all the time.”

Ginger was right. And this librarian, to both his and Lou’s satisfaction, was not like the librarian from the town in Maine. This one was amused by the query and quickly directed them to the right person—an older woman named Maisie, who spent most of her time at the local café, knitting while observing the people coming in and going out and sometimes conversing with them.

She was sitting near the window when Ginger and Lou approached moments later. “Hello,” she smiled as she looked up.

“Afternoon,” Ginger nodded. “Are you Maisie?”

“Sure am.” She looped the yarn around her knitting needles.

“I’m Ginger Townsend and this is Lou Trevino,” Ginger said.

“Well, sit down, both of you,” Maisie replied. “Are you boys staying up at the lodge? I haven’t seen you in town before.”

“Yes, we’re at the lodge,” Ginger said, while wondering why ninety-nine percent of the older and the elderly called him a boy.

“We were wondering if you knew how that weird stuff started about somebody named Iris hanging out in the lake,” Lou said, as he and Ginger slid into the booth.

Maisie’s eyes flickered. “Is she causing trouble again?”

“You could say that,” Lou sighed.

“She’s nearly killed two people,” Ginger said darkly, “including my chum here. I don’t intend to leave without making sure she’s put away for good.”

“There’s rumors about her all-year round, but there’s no rhyme nor reason to when she comes out,” Maisie said. “It seems to be mainly when she finds new targets she wants to destroy.”

“But why?” Lou exclaimed. “We didn’t do anything to her. Neither did the first guy she tried to drown.”

“None of them do.” Maisie leaned back, studying her work. “She just has a bitter soul. No one knows exactly what happened to her, but one story is that she was on the lake with the man she loved. He pushed her overboard and drowned her in the lake. And ever after, she comes up whenever she senses true love of any kind between people—familial, friendship, or romantic. She wants to destroy it like her love was destroyed.”

Lou shuddered. “That’s kind of what I was wondering. It’s really sad, but really creepy and disturbing.”

“And it might not be true,” Maisie interjected. “Another version had it that she was always a black heart. She tried to kill the man and when she died instead, it was from him defending himself.”

“That sounds more believable,” Ginger grunted. “Although I know that a once-good person can turn dark after a betrayal.

“Here’s something else we’ve been wondering. Both times when someone was in trouble, one of us woke up to save them. Has that sort of thing ever happened in other cases?”

Maisie considered the query. “I’m not sure,” she said. “I don’t think she’s ever actually pulled anyone to their death, even though she’s sure tried.”

“I kind of wondered if part of her really didn’t want to hurt anybody and she wanted to be stopped,” Lou ventured.

Maisie shook her head. “Maybe, but I doubt that. If she wanted an audience, it was probably just because she wanted them to helplessly watch someone die. Or for them to die trying to save the victims. If something woke you two up, maybe she did kill someone and it was that past victim’s ghost trying to keep her from killing anyone else.”

“That’s possible,” Ginger said.

“She must’ve read my mind about what would upset me the most when I was rescuing the first guy,” Lou said. “The next night, she stuck me in an illusion of what I’d been thinking about. I’d be dead if Ginger hadn’t woke up and saved me.”

“I’ve heard of similar things happening,” Maisie agreed. “She’s a mean, nasty one. She’ll do any cruel thing she can think of to kill somebody—the crueler, the better.”

“Hasn’t anybody ever tried to get rid of her before?” Lou asked. “Like, exorcising her or something?”

Maisie paused. “That’s a good question. If anyone has, I don’t recall hearing about it. Maybe they didn’t try it, or maybe they did and it didn’t work.”

“If it didn’t work, does that mean those who tried it failed and left, or that she murdered them while they were trying?” Ginger frowned. “You said you hadn’t heard that she actually succeeded in killing anyone, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t.”

“It seems like the disappearances would be big news, though,” Maisie mused. “Unless it was years and years ago, even long before my time.”

“It’s been going on that long?!” Lou exclaimed.

“Oh yes. Even when I was a little girl, the stories about Iris were already more legend than fact.” Maisie looked to him and Ginger. “I’m sorry I can’t be of more help.”

“You’ve been helpful, thank you.” Ginger started to get up.

“What are you going to do?” Maisie asked, looking honestly interested and intrigued.

Ginger exchanged a look with Lou. “We’re not sure yet,” he said. “We thought we might attempt an exorcism. That seems the most logical course of action, considering how destructive she is.”

“I guess it does,” Maisie nodded slowly in agreement. “Well, if you try it, I just hope you’ll both come out of it alright.”

“Thanks. So do we,” Lou said as he followed Ginger up. “We’ll see you around.”

“Goodbye,” Ginger echoed.

They were both deep in thought as they left the café. “What do you think, Buddy?” Lou asked.

Ginger turned up the sidewalk, heading for a craft store he had seen at the end of the block. “I don’t know,” he frowned, “only that I don’t think talking to it . . . her . . . is advisable.”

Lou sighed. “I guess I don’t either, now. She’s probably beyond caring. On the other hand, maybe none of those stories are true.”

“But they certainly fit with what’s been happening,” Ginger pointed out. “We’ll try to exorcise everything that might be causing a disturbance in the lake, not just Iris. We know it doesn’t work on anything not malevolent, so if Iris isn’t the source of the trouble, she will likely remain.”

“Good point,” Lou conceded. “Do you think there might be something else?”

Ginger shrugged. “I bloody well have no idea. But it’s better to be prepared for anything.”

“That’s sure true,” Lou said.

It wasn’t entirely easy to find what they needed in town, but eventually they managed to more or less collect what was required for an exorcism. Deciding that they should probably wait for nightfall, as that was when all the trouble seemed to happen, they held off until after dinner before bidding goodnight to the others and slipping outside.

“I’m hoping we’re not going to have an audience for this,” Ginger grunted. “It would be awkward. Anyway, we’re not doing it for a public display.”

“Yeah.” But Lou shivered. Maybe they would end up needing help.

Ginger hesitated. “If I suddenly blank out and try to jump in the lake, you might have to go it alone and try to stop her with the exorcism instead of dropping everything to go after me.”

That started Lou back to the present. “Huh?! Why would you do that?” he exclaimed.

“I might not, but hasn’t it occurred to you that she could have read my mind last night and be preparing to use me as her victim tonight?”

Lou swallowed hard. “I didn’t want to think about it,” he said quietly. “But yeah, I’ve been worried that maybe something like that would happen.”

Ginger nodded. “So let’s just be careful.”

“You got it.” Lou drew a deep breath as they stepped through the foliage and the lake came into view. “Well, here we are.”

Everything looked calm and quiet, but it was likely deceptive. Ginger was not fooled. “Start setting up,” he ordered.

Lou nodded, swallowing hard. “Okay.” He lit the first white candle.

A breeze blew it out.

Ginger scowled. “This might not be as easy as it’s supposed to be.”

“Do you think electric candles would work better?” Lou suggested after two more were systematically blown out. “We could string up that long extension cord from the barbecue pit.”

“And they would probably shatter in quick succession,” Ginger said. “Or worse, we’d be electrocuted by water flying at us from the lake while we were plugging the candles in.”

Lou tossed the wax candles back in the box. “Then we’ll just have to use words,” he said, his voice dark. He turned back to the lake. “Okay, Iris or whoever you are. You’re going down. See, we’ve had enough.” He started to recite the St. Michael prayer.

Ginger usually recited it with him. But as he opened his mouth to try, his voice was cut off. He gasped in shock and pain, his hands going to his throat.

Lou spun about, the words starting to die on his lips. His eyes widened in bewilderment and alarm.

Ginger tried to wave him off. She wants you to stop. Don’t! She’ll murder us both if you don’t stop her.

Shaken, Lou swallowed hard and tried to keep going. He knew Ginger was right, but inside he was panicking. Ginger was in trouble, hurt and in pain. And all Lou could do was stand here and fling exorcising prayers at sirens!

Don’t be bitter about it. Believe in the prayer. Believe God will give you the help you need. Ginger clutched at his throat, desperate for air. He was being choked. He was being choked to death, yet he couldn’t see his assailant at all. It was more than slightly disturbing.

The water swirled as Lou spoke, his voice rasping and filled with worry and anguish. He nearly choked off himself when he saw the vague outline of a furious woman forming in the foam. Still, he forced himself not to stop. He was utterly terrified, but more than because of the sight, it was because of Ginger’s struggle to breathe.

She’s using me to torment you. She wants you to stop because of your worry and love for me. Don’t!

Ginger blinked, his vision growing hazy. As Lou finished the prayer and called out a plea for God to save them from this evil, Ginger reached the end of his endurance. He collapsed into the long grass on his side.

That was too much to stand. “Ginger!” Lou ran to the other man, falling to his knees next to him. “Ginger, wake up. Come on!” Lou bent down, frantic to find breath or a heartbeat. But Ginger lay limp and ashen in the grass.

“No,” Lou moaned. “Oh no. Ginger, please!” He struggled to deliver artificial respiration, something that had happened often in their travels. The very first time, he had felt so awkward. But by now it was something he did without any thoughts of awkwardness. Ginger was his best friend and Lou wanted him back. There was nothing awkward about that.

He was so caught up in trying to save his friend’s life that he barely noticed what was happening around them.

The water was calming down, swirling the woman’s form out of it as it spun into the lake like water slipping down a bathtub drain. And the staff and other guests at the lodge, having seen the formation from the window, were running out in shock and alarm.

When the last bit of the woman’s image and influence were gone, Ginger suddenly gasped and jerked, his eyes snapping open. “Lou?”

Lou rocked back with a start, his eyes widening in amazement and joy. “Ginger! Thank God you’re alive!”

Ginger coughed, blearily looking up at him. “Is it gone?” he rasped.

“It’s gone,” Lou assured him. He reached down to pull Ginger into a hug. “It’s really gone.”

Ginger let Lou hug him, and finally, weakly hugged back, closing his eyes as he slumped against his best friend.

Mr. Falcon and the others ran up at that moment. “What happened?!” Mr. Falcon exclaimed. “The water rose right out of the lake and was shaped like a girl!”

“Iris,” Lou said with a shudder. He looked up at the group. “But it’s okay now; she’s gone and she won’t be back.”

Ginger slowly pulled away. “We should do some sort of cleansing blessing on the lake to prevent her from coming back,” he said.

“Oh yeah.” Lou got up, going over to the box. “Of course, if anything else awful happens up here, it’ll probably break the cleansing and evil spirits like Iris will come back.”

“You don’t have to worry there, Mr. Trevino,” Mr. Falcon said. “We’re a family-friendly lodge. We won’t let anything like this happen again, if we can help it.”

“Good,” Lou said. He took out a candle.

Ginger took one as well. “And you should probably have a clergyman come out here and do things proper,” he warned. “Neither of us is actually ordained to do this sort of thing.”

“You’re doing good as far as I’m concerned,” Mr. Falcon said. “Should we leave you alone to take care of the cleansing?”

“That might be best,” Ginger nodded.

“Alright. We’ll be in the lodge. Come in as soon as you’re done,” Mr. Falcon said. “And thank you.”

“I’m just glad we could get it out,” Lou said. “And that we’re both okay.” He looked to Ginger in relief.

“We’re all glad too,” Mrs. Crank declared as they turned and left.

When they were alone again, Lou laid a hand on Ginger’s shoulder. “You really had me worried, Buddy,” he said.

“I know,” Ginger answered. “And I’m sorry about that. That cow started choking me. You saved my life by not stopping with the prayer. You saved both our lives.”

Lou smiled. “I’m glad I could do something right, after being tricked into being a victim.”

“You wouldn’t have been tricked if not for how much you care about me,” Ginger said. “I’m glad that’s what had to be done to you, instead of falling for some blasted female.”

Lou shook his head. “I never got how the guys in stories could always end up falling for sirens hook, line, and sinker. I thought they should have more resistance if they were just being drawn in by a pretty face they didn’t even know.” He shuddered as he took two candles out of the box and stood. “But going after people by using their loved ones as bait . . . that’s just seriously messed-up and wrong.”

Ginger got up as well, holding two more candles. “It certainly bloody well is,” he said darkly. “But I would like to believe that most people aren’t as shallow as the men in those foolish tales. Perhaps this is how most real-life sirens operate, if indeed there are more of these creatures than just this one.”

“Oh please, no.” Lou set one candle down and struck a match to light the other. He was pleased when it stayed lit.

“I don’t want to believe there’s more, either,” Ginger said. “But after everything we’ve seen, it’s sadly starting to look likely.”

“I know,” Lou sighed.

It was a relief to finish the cleansing on the lake without incident, and to be able to go back inside and upstairs to the soft, warm beds. Ginger immediately undressed and burrowed into his, drawing the pillow to him. Lou soon followed suit.

“So we’re finally going home tomorrow,” he mumbled as he turned off the light.

“I suppose we should stop and let Maisie know that Iris is gone,” Ginger grunted.

“Yeah, probably.” Lou pulled the covers up higher. “I wonder what really was the truth about her.”

“As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter,” Ginger said. “She was clearly evil by this point. Let the forces of the afterlife deal with her now.”

“They can have her,” Lou said firmly. “Now we both have a beef with her trying to kill our best friends.”

“That we do,” Ginger nodded. “Thank God she failed both times.”

“Yeah.” Lou hesitated, hoping he wouldn’t have nightmares tonight but imagining it likely. “Well, I’d better let you go to sleep. Night, Ginger.”

“Goodnight.” Ginger paused. “And I know the night terrors may follow you, but at least tell yourself that I am alive and well here in the room, and that it’s in large part because of you that I am.”

Lou smiled. “Right.”

He did. And both of them slept peacefully through the night.

Iris’s reign of terror was over.


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