Monday, February 23, 2015



     “There it is,” I said and pointed to the Freedom Lake Resort sign at the top of the hill. 
     “Good eyes,” Mom said. 
     Quickly I texted Jessica: we r here.
     Even though we hadn't seen a car in miles, Mom still turned on her  blinker before turning right.
     I glanced at my phone. Why hadn't Jessica texted back? 
     Next thing we were at a guard station. Mom pulled to a stop and rolled down her window, letting in hot, humid air. “Grab the reservation sheet from the back seat.”
     A man dressed in khakis leaned into the window. “Afternoon, ma’am. Are we expecting you?”
     I gave the paper to her. She handed it to the man. He studied it.
     “Welcome to Freedom Lake, Mrs. Riddle.” He looked in the car. “Your reservation is for one adult and two children. I only see one child.”
    “She’s coming up tomorrow,” I said. “She had a swim meet today.”
    My mom looked over and gave me a tight smile. “Yes, that was the plan, but it looks like it’ll just be the two of us.”
    “What?” I said.
    “Very good, ma’am.” He stepped into his little station and talked into a phone.
    “What do you mean, it’s just going to be the two of us?” I demanded.
    She held up her open palm. “Don't blame me. Jessica’s dad called from the hospital.”
    “The hospital?” My anger burned out as quickly as it had flared. “Did Jessica get hurt at the meet? Is she okay?” Maybe that’s why she hadn’t texted me back all day.
    “Yes, she’s okay. Her appendix burst, and they had to do an emergency surgery. She’ll be in the hospital for a few days, and then it will be bed rest at home for at least a week.”
    This was terrible. “You’re sure she’s going to be okay?”
    Mom nodded.
    "When were you going to tell me? I want to go to the hospital to see her.”
    “I’m sorry, Kelsey, we can’t. We’re two hundred miles from home. The cabin’s paid for, and I have a deadline to meet.”
    “That’s not fair. What am I going to do here all by myself?”
    “The same things you would have done with Jessica. You can swim. Or canoe. The brochure says they have all sorts of craft activities and organized games. I'm sure there are other twelve-year-olds to do things with.”
    “That's not the same,” I said and folded my arms across my chest. I would have said more, but the guard came back with a manila envelope and a map of the resort.
    “You’re in Wren Cabin.” He pointed to a spot on the map.
    “Follow the yellow highlighted route and you can’t miss it. Someone will be there with the keys and show you the amenities. Have a nice stay.”
    Mom handed me the map and drove into the grounds. I stared out the window, too angry to speak. But I did notice the high cyclone fence with the barbed wire at the top. It disappeared into the tall trees on both sides of the road. Did it surround the whole property?
    We drove with the windows down, letting in the moist, hot summer air. I’d thought it’d be cooler in the mountains. 
    The road snaked in a series of switchbacks up the hill through a forest of fir and pine trees. There was a lot of brush so you couldn’t really see too far. When we reached the top, I caught a brief glimpse of the lake and then we were swallowed into the trees again, winding our way downward.
    “When did her dad call?” I asked.
    “At lunch. When you were in the restroom.”
    “Why didn’t you tell me then? Why wait until we got here?”
    “Because I knew you’d act like this, and I wanted a peaceful drive. Now stop with the attitude. Just think how horrible it would have been if Jessica’s appendix burst up here. It’s at least fifty miles to the nearest hospital.”
    “Guess you’re right,” I said, because she was. “I just hope she’s okay.”
    “She will be.” Mom reached over and patted my arm. “And I promise we’ll have a nice time here at the lake.” She slowed the car to a crawl. “Is this our road?”
    “Yeah,” I said after consulting the map. “Turn left. Wren Cabin is the sixth one on the right.”
    We parked next to a dark van with tinted windows already in the driveway. By the time we got out of the car, an older woman in an old-fashioned flower print dress appeared on the porch. Her gray hair had been braided and wound around her head at least four times. She hurried to greet us, a handful of keys clinking as she moved.
    The single-story cabin was almost as big as our house back home. It hadn’t been painted, but it still looked cool because it kind of matched the forest. Its dark grey wood walls were the same shade as the tree trunks. And the evergreen-shingled roof and painted trim around the windows matched the leafy branches.
    “Mrs. Riddle? And this must be your daughter, Kelsey,” she said with a slight accent I hadn’t heard before. “Welcome to Freedom Lake. I am Mrs. Akebia. Most people find it a mouthful. You may call me Mrs. A. You made a good trip from the city?”
    “Yes,” my mother said.
    “Come, let me show you inside your temporary home.”
    I moved past her, headed for the door she’d just come out. 
Boy was she fast for an old lady. She grabbed my arm and pinched it, stopping me dead in my tracks. Talk about an iron grip. 
    “That is the back door,” she said, and released my arm. “It is bad luck to enter the first time from the back door.”
    I rubbed my arm, thinking the pinch was bad luck enough. I’d have a purple bruise by morning. 
    Mrs. A started around to the front of the cabin that faced the lake. Mom smiled and motioned for me to follow. 
    “Just a minute,” I said. “Let me get my phone. I want to take a picture to send Jessica.”
    I raced back to the car and grabbed my phone just as the back door of the cabin opened again. This time a younger woman dressed like a nurse stepped out. She was big-boned and tall like a man. Her hand gripped the arm of a girl in a short white jacket. She steered the girl down the steps.
    My first thought. It was way too hot for a coat.
    The girl’s hair looked wild. Full of twigs. Face all scratched up. Knees skinned. 
    I blinked. That was one weird jacket. You couldn’t see her hands because the sleeves were twice as long as normal. They wrapped around her back, pulling her arms behind her, ending in straps that tied around her waist. Was that a straight-jacket? I'd heard about them, but had never seen one before. I thought they were only in the movies.
    “Oh my gosh,” I blurted out before I could stop myself. 
    My heart raced as I dry swallowed. What was going on? Why was the girl in a straight-jacket? And in our cabin? What kind of a resort was this? 
    Seeing me, the girl’s eyes grew huge. “No. No. Don’t let them take me.” She tried to pull away from the nurse. 
     "Please. Help me."
    The nurse shot a strained half-smile at me. She wrapped her arms around the girl from behind, and crab-walked her to the van.
    “It’s okay, Kara,” the nurse said in a quiet, soothing voice.
     “Everything is going to be okay. You can have some chocolate ice cream when we get back to the school. Won’t that be nice?”
    The nurse opened the back car door, helped the girl inside and secured the seatbelt. She shut the door and turned to me. “I’m sorry you had to see this.”
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