24 Hours in Bear Creek Boathouse
by Vera Hadzic, 3.24am May 10th 2021
24 HOUR CHALLENGE OVERNIGHT IN BEAR CREEK BOATHOUSE
** NOT CLICKBAIT**
— Hey Bears, welcome back to my channel – and if you’re new, what took you so long?! Today’s video is going to be WILD – but first, remember to hit like and subscribe and slam that bell icon so you get notifications every time I upload!
The camera is shaky, but you pick out the boathouse hunkering down at the widest twist of the creek, right where its scraggly neck broadens into the colder, bluer, and deeper waters of the river. It isn’t much of a boathouse – built off a bait shop, it kennels two dusty rowboats, a canoe, and some kayaks by a spider-shrouded dock.
— As you’ve guessed from the title, today we are spending a WHOLE twenty-four hours in the boathouse!
— If we don’t get eaten by mosquitoes first!
— God, I hope not. But before we start, a word from our sponsor – Derek’s Corner Store is a prime establishment and currently, bug spray is on sale again… Emma, say something nice for the vlog.
— Let’s just get this open and over with, shall we?
The boy’s paltry whoop stirs the air around him, crawling back through the town on its hands and knees. The door moans as it opens. You’ve been here before and you can imagine the smell of water, eating through every plank of wood and slithering around the beams. It smells wet, musty, a muddle of green and blue, glossed with shimmery algae and the mud that runs its dark, grainy fingers through the grooves in the bedrock. On the wall hang fishing nets, greyed and sun-crisped and limp, wrapped up in lopsided hoops and stinking of fish. Rusty hooks clamor in the wind, and the kayaks dangle from the wall like shriveled corn husks.
— As you can see, it’s a bit dusty. There’s some kayaks here – rowboat – oh, it’s got a hole in it. Here’s some paddles – a lifejacket. Gosh, look at all the spiders.
On the dock outside, mummified in cobwebs, stoops old Rickards with a fishing reel. He won’t say what he’s fishing for, but the boy wagers it’s his memories. The soles of his boots skim the surface of the water and as the sun fades, the shadows thicken like moss on his head.
— Hey – hey, Emma – I dare you to put on one of the lifejackets. I can see the spiders crawling all over it.
The creek lies still. Not a lick of wind disturbs it, even if you can hear it crooning in the background: thick, green-scudded waters lie flat and heavy, long locks of weeds furrowing over it like snakes. When the sunlight hits the water, it’s swallowed up by the green, sucked into that stagnant watery smell, dragged to the depths of the bedrock. There are no birds, no frogs; only the slurring of a million flies, mosquitoes, crickets, all clustered into a black conga-line along the edge of the water. The kids play truth or dare.
As they sit, the camera doesn’t catch the black flits spiralling around their heads – the mosquitoes haven’t had a feast like this in years. In the background, just slightly out of focus, you watch the kayaks sway in their trappings, coasting over waves of wind. You wonder if the kids will notice the long, slender lines etched across their hulls.
— Do you think I should jump in the creek? Is that good content?
— Let’s open the popcorn.
The sun has faded into nothingness; the dark leaks in, sinking into the rotten floorboards. The lines on the kayak hulls are spectral in the vague, naked light of the teenagers’ flashlight. They’re like stretch-marks, you think – or claw-marks. The pale scars snake down the plastic, jagged but unbroken. You wonder how strong those fingers had to be.
— Okay, you hold that hook like this – yeah – and I’ll look really scared – with a little bit of Photoshop, this’ll be the perfect thumbnail –
— Wanna make a wish?
— With what?
— Lucky coin.
— I don’t believe in that shit.
There’s something instinctually unusual about the way the coin plops into the creek. No ripples, no rings of concentric circles swinging over the surface. The kids stand at the edge of the boat slip – overhead, the wind gathers under the roof. The coin has vanished, gulped down without even a bubble: there is only stillness.
— Should we try another one?
— Wait. What’s that?
It’s a miracle that the camera picks it up, you think. The boy has the good sense to zoom in, despite the wobbliness of his grip. Would you look at that, you think.
— Is that a goddamn hand?
It is a goddamn hand. You’ve filled in your fair share of squares on the Bear Creek bingo card – inexplicable sightings have vouched for a number of them. But you’ve never seen a ghost, and you don’t know if this is what you expected. It’s almost easy to convince yourself it’s just a trick of the flashlight over the water – there’s something hollow about it, something missing. An absence of dimension. But slowly it reaches to the dock cleat, and wraps its dripping fingers around it; out comes a second hand, then the crown of a head. The teenagers scramble back, almost as pale as the woman floating in the water.
— Are you getting this?!
— Yeah! This is going to get so many views!
As the light baptizes her, you can see glistening reeds falling in sheets from her scalp, slender and green and clinging to her shoulders; mussels nestling in the creases of her neck; the shrunken blue of her lips, and the fingers of sand sucking at her jawline. Across her throat stretches a single white line, as though someone traced it with a fingernail.
— There’s more of them!
The girl is right: the heads flower in the black water, inching closer to the teenagers and their flashlights and the camera. They are all women – young, old, ribbed with bone, sculpted with flesh. There’s a girl that couldn’t be older than six, her teddy bear pockmarked with rotting fish scales. Some of them have dark green weeds winding through their hair; others wear browned fishing nets like veils. There’s a woman whose cheek is scabbed with snails and scars. Another lined with age and fish spines. Some have swollen faces, or missing arms; one is gilded with burned flesh. Above their heads hover halos of mosquitoes.
— Shit, my battery’s going to die.
— What are you?!
When the ghosts speak, it’s in whispers. As though you’re snatching morsels of word out of the wind, coming louder and then softer.
We are buried in the water, they say. Dead in the creek.
Drowned for witchcraft, they say.
I filled my pockets with billiard balls and jumped.
There’s a crash. The door splinters open; the camera whirls, shakes. Old Rickards stands in the doorway – his jaw unhinges, his beard sags as though it’s threaded with lead.
— Don’t… worry, kids. I’ll take care of this.
He wrings his fishing rod in his hands. When he takes a step forward, the wood floor quivers.
— Doris? Is that you?
He kneels in front of the ghost-woman – her long, dripping reeds pool in the hollows of her collarbone. The water combs through her and listens.
— I’ve been looking for you… all these years.
He reaches out a hand – and it passes through her forehead as though she isn’t there.
— Holy crap!
— They can only touch metal… The water has washed out their flesh, and now only the metal of the earth can anchor them.
Suddenly, the scars on the kayaks don’t look like claw-marks. They used fishing hooks, you realize, to carve their laments into the plastic. Maybe even to mark the days.
— That’s why I’ve been using our favourite fishing rod, Doris – the one we used when we went out together on the dock. All these years, Doris, I’ve been hoping my hook would catch you and bring you back to me. Doris, I miss you so much.
He holds out his fishing rod, gingerly. Her wasted hand slips right through it. Covering her wispy fingers with his calloused ones, he guides her along the rod, down to its handle where, once, their hands moulded into the wood and their fingerprints mingled just as their breaths did when they kissed. Under his thumb, he’s tucked the hook; Doris’ ghost-fingers reach through him to stroke the metal.
— Doris, won’t you come home?
Doris closes her hand around the hook. It gleams in the white watery light. Old Rickards lets go, lets her unused palm curve around it.
— Doris, I love you.
What happens next is so fast you almost wish the teenagers had the indecency to put it in slow-mo. Her hand crisps around the hook – her reed-thin arm arcs above her head like a scythe – and then, as though she’s cutting a crescent moon out of the dark, she lets the hook fall until it drills through the white of old Rickards’ eye.
— HOLY –
You’re glad the boy had the sense to keep the camera on old Rickards’ face. You’re struck by the resemblance between his speared eye and a soft-boiled egg – the white seems bloated and limp now, and the blood streams thickly out like steaming, runny yolk. At first he howls – but a moment later, Doris has delivered a second blow, and old Rickards’ eye is gone.
Murderer, the water-ghosts whisper. Murderer.
The teenagers must have thought they meant Doris. One by one, the women sink under the water with the murmur of mussels and reeds and weeds, and the creek sighs over them, the cricks in its neck loosening. A breath coasts over its surface – and though it’s dark out, you’re sure that you can make out the ripple of wind on its waters. The creek is still no longer.
— I think we might spend the rest of our twenty hours in the bait shop.
A final image appears over the screen – a screenshot of the official police statement. They reopened the case, of course, after the video was posted to YouTube.
In 1982, the death of Doris Rickards was ruled to be accidental. It was believed that she slipped on the dock and drowned. Today, based on archival evidence, witness testimonies, and new developments, Bear Creek Police has determined that her husband strangled her with his fishing reel and threw her body into the water. It has never been found.
Only a few metres away, behind a hairline of trees and a dike of mosquitoes, the creek twines through the mist, weighted with its secrets.
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