a mystery
Gwendolyn’s Riptide
Arrival in Archton
“How many people died in the flood, again?” asked Andrew peering out the window of the car into the fog as he turned a corner.
Gwen responded with simply, “A lot.”
Gwen had taken a morbid interest to the flood of Coral Lake and had picked the internet clean of any information on its big flood.
“Didn’t you have an exact number before?” Andrew asked.
“Yeah, but you don’t want to know what it is,” Gwen said, staring out of her window at the gray clouds.
“You’re probably right,” Andrew said, picking up a chip from his bag,“but tell me something else about the lake.”
“Okay,” Gwen said. “Did you know that the majority of the flooding happened in fifteen minutes? Fifteen minutes! That’s about the time it takes you to eat a bag of chips!” she exclaimed.
Andrew let go of the chip he was holding and pushed the bag away from him.
“Just imagine it,” Gwen said, already setting the scene for a story. “It was a cold, foggy morning like this one. Even the plants shivered in suspense, as small raindrops glistened on their leaves.”
Andrew wished Gwen’s story wasn’t creeping him out as much as it actually was.
“The sky rumbled, and a mother in a lakeside house with her two children was lighting a fire on the stove. Her house was a beautiful lakeside cottage with a picturesque view of the water,” Gwen continued.
“Aw, c’mon,” Andrew said, “you can’t kill the kids. Or the mother for that matter.”
“I’m not,” she responded. “Just wait. Anyways, where was I? Oh, yeah. The mother stared out at the lake only looking down when she noticed a few inches of water at her feet. Sighing, she got a mop from the closet, but by then the lake water was almost at her knees…”
Gwen trailed off. “Hey, there’s a hitchhiker on the side of the road.”
“Let’s stop,” Andrew said.
“Seriously?” Gwen said. “Do you know how many stories there are on the internet of crazy hitchhikers killing innocent drivers? I can just picture us in the headlines: Psychopath Kills Two Sixteen Year Old Kids, Bodies Found in Coral Lake!”
Andrew laughed uneasily. “C’mon, I’m practically seventeen,” he said.
Gwen rolled her eyes. “What is it, like a month from your birthday?”
“Two and a half weeks,” Andrew said matter of factly.
By the time their conversation was done, they had passed the hitchhiker and here almost to Coral Lake.
“Yes, our parents authorized this,” Gwen said, her exasperation clear in the tone she used. “We’re not runaways.”
The person behind the desk looked suspicious like he expected a trick of some sort.
“We’re moving here at the beginning of the school year,” she said, “but my parents wanted to give me part of the summer to adjust. I brought my friend too,” Gwen said, motioning to Andrew who shuffled his feet. He didn’t like being stared at by the man.
“And they authorized you and your friend to come all by yourselves?” he asked, straightening his papers boredly. “A likely story.”
“Uh, they were the ones who made the reservations,” Gwen said. “You know, they came to the hotel in person to book our room while they were on their trip.”
The secretary sighed and pulled up some file on his computer before turning his gaze to Gwen. He stared her down with a glare so hard and magnified through his glasses that Andrew flinched.
Gwen did not. She held his stare, and said with a triumphant smile, “I believe we need out key now, sir.”
The secretary snatched a key off the hook and threw it down onto the counter. “All yours,” he said. “Now wait for your guide. He shows you the room and around the town. Your parents hired him.”
As we grabbed the key, he stormed out of the room muttering something about papers in the printer.
Gwen plopped down on one of the chairs and let her suitcase fall on the floor. “Ug,” she said. “That guy was a pill.”
“I don’t like him,” Andrew said.
“Well of course you don’t like him,” Gwen said. “I mean, who would?”
“No, that’s not what I mean,” he said. “That guy shouldn’t be trusted. Did you see his eyes dart around the room while you were talking to him?”
“Can’t say I noticed that,” Gwen said, staring out at the window where it had begun to rain. “I was putting all of my energy into getting us a room.”
“Well, he was acting suspicious. Plus, did you see the way he looked at me? It was creepy,” Andrew said.
“Yeah,” Gwen said, “totally. Look, you get creeped out by the old lady at the supermarket. Your judgement might be a little off.”
“Seriously, that lady is up to something,” Andrew said. “I mean, did you see what was in her cart last week? It looked like materials for making a bomb!”
“You know what’s wrong with you?” Gwen said. “You’re no fun. If an old lady wants to buy unusual things, then by all means she can.”
Before Andrew could respond, though, the door swung open, revealing a soaking man who stepped out of the rain slowly, as if it took great effort. He stood there, dripping on the carpet when he saw Gwen and Andrew looking at him.
“Hi!” Gwen said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. “Are you our guide?”
The secretary walked in with a stack of papers, but they all fell to the floor as soon as he saw the wet, dripping man. His look of surprise, though, quickly turned into an expression of pure fury.
“Really, Harold?” he raged. “You come in here, soaking wet and then just stand there right over my nice carpet and expect me to clean it up? I’m not looking for extra work here! Do you think I am? Do you think I am?”
“Stuff it, Albert,” Harold said.
Albert opened and closed his mouth but no words came out. Growling, he snatched a paper from the rug and slammed it down on his desk.
Sitting down (and piercing Harold with his cold glare), Albert said to Gwen and Andrew tightly, “This is your guide. He works at the hotel and will show you around. That is all.”
Wordlessly, Harold walked across the small room and out the door where the rain had finally stopped.
“Should we go?” Andrew asked.
“If you want to stay with a grumpy secretary, then be my guest,” Gwen said.
Sighing, Andrew faithfully followed his friend out the door, where Harold was waiting for them. As soon as he had gotten out of view of Albert, though, his anger faded and his expression visibly softened.
“Sorry I was a bit late,” he said. “I planned on being an hour early, but when I walked out of the grocery store, my car had been stolen. I stood on the side of the road for thirty minutes in the rain before someone picked me up.”
Gwen and Andrew exchanged glances.
“Well, uh, it’s good that someone picked you up,” Andrew said.
“Hey, why don’t you like Albert?” Gwen asked, uncomfortably trying to change the subject.
“We don’t see eye to eye in certain matters,” Harold said but didn’t elaborate.
“Hmpf,” Gwen said. “Thanks for the detailed explanation.”
Harold was unfazed by Gwen’s response, though, as he said, “Get ready for a great view just up here.”
Sure enough, they followed him down a path that gave a perfect view of the whole lake. They were high up, and the sparkling waters looked like another blue sky below them. Andrew stopped and stared down in awe. Even Gwen couldn’t take her eyes away.
“I suppose you must have heard about the flood,” Harold said from behind them. “About sixteen years ago.”
Gwen turned around in a flash. “Is it really true that most of the flooding happened in fifteen minutes?” she asked.
“Most. Though it rose slightly over the course of the day afterwards, fifteen minutes was the time when almost all the water came,” Harold said.
“Does anyone know why?” Gwen asked. “I mean, was it just really rainy that year?”
“No one knows. It was an average year. Not much happened. It was almost like Archton was holding its breath. And then, boom. The flood started,” Harold said. “Nothing like it had ever happened before.”
The temperature in the air seemed to drop a few degrees.
“There are some pretty insane theories, though,” he said.
Before Gwen could ask what they were, Harold quickly changed the subject.
“You know,” he said, “this hotel is a bit different from your normal lodging. Its rooms are small cabins, and they all have their own kitchen and washing machine. Some people even stay here for a few months.”
“We’re staying for a month,” Andrew said.
Harold eyed them carefully. “And your parents agreed to this?”
“Believe me,” Gwen said, “they practically kicked me out of their house. My parents grew up in a small town in the middle of the country. As soon as they could walk, their parents were letting them tromp through the woods alone. That’s how they both met. They were ten and on a three day camping trip together.”
“Well, this place is pretty far in the woods. Maybe that’s why your parents chose it,” he said.
“Really? Are we far?” she asked.
“Nope. We’re actually right at you room,” Harold said, motioning down the path.
Gwen walked up surely, eager to see her five star room.
What she saw made her want to walk back up the path to sleep out in the open with the mosquitos and heat.
“Wait, what?” Andrew asked, in horror as he looked at the house. No, to call it a house would be generous. This was a gardening shed.
“This is your room,” Harold repeated, as if they needed to be reminded.
“Yeesh,” Gwen said. “We’re living here for a month?”
“There’s a toaster to cook,” Harold said, “and a sink to wash your clothes. Everything we promised.”
Gwen winced as she looked at the falling apart shack. “Home sweet home,” she said sadly.

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