Mara knew something was wrong as soon as she opened her eyes. She couldn’t explain why she’d woken, or how she knew that something wasn’t right, it was just a feeling she had. That feeling was confirmed when she turned around to find her best friend, Anissa sitting straight up on her bed, staring into space. “What are you doing awake?” Mara asked, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Anissa didn’t say anything.
“Anissa?” Mara got up and started walking over to her friend. “Are you okay?” Mara gently shook the girl’s shoulder, but nothing was happening. She could tell that Anissa had to be awake because her eyes were open, but why wasn’t she responding?
Her friend suddenly stood straight up and went to open the door of their room before walking out. She hadn’t even gotten shoes on.
Confused, Mara shouted to her, “What about your slippers?” but there was no reply. She only had a moment of hesitation before leaving the room to go after her friend.
Anissa was already turning right at an intersection in the hallway. “Where are you going?” Mara called as she rushed after her friend. "Are we off on some grand nighttime adventure?” She joked, but her friend didn’t call back with an answer.
As Mara reached the intersection where her friend had turned, a wave of shock hit her as she looked down the hall to find that everyone in her class was gathered there walking together as one, like soldiers. After a quick headcount, she concluded that sure enough, all twenty-four of her classmates were there in a formation of five rows, with five people per line. Except for the last row, which only had four people and a small gap. It looked as if the opening was intended for her.
She ran over to catch up with the group who was walking in sync.
When she got a closer look at the students, she noticed their eyes looked foggy and stared straight ahead as if they were in a trance. Maybe they were just sleepwalking, Mara wondered, but everyone in her class seemed unlikely. She waved her hands in front of several people’s faces in an effort to snap them out of it, but it had no effect on the students; they just continued on their path.
Mara decided to follow them, and see where they were going. Perhaps this was just some prank? She’d have to admit that they were really selling it if it were, but a warden would have to notice if this many people were out of bed, right?
Up ahead, the class came upon a flight of stairs and began walking down the steps still in sync, and she could hear the soft echoes that all the student’s unison bare-foot steps made. She soon arrived at the stairs and matched their pace. Left, right, left, right, down the steps we go, she thought to herself, still playing along with whatever was going on.
As she reached the bottom, she saw that the group was heading to the right, down the south wing. There wasn’t that much at the end of the hall, Mara knew, just some servants’ quarters, storage rooms, and a back door. The back door was what Mara was most worried about. It was normally only used by the school’s staff, but it’d be a good exit for being undetected, like what she assumed her classmates were trying to do.
It was no surprise to her when they’d reached the back exit. “Are you sure this is a good idea, you guys?” she asked, hoping someone would answer. No one did. So it was left, right, left, right, out the door we go.
A chill went down her spine as her feet came in contact with the grass. The breeze in the night had left the ground feeling icy, and Mara couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable. She looked around, but none of the other students seemed to feel any discomfort.
After wondering for a moment where they’d go next, she soon realized the answer as the group continued straight up a small hill. If they’d turned to the left, there’d be a more open field where they could walk, or to the right would be the woods. She was glad, though, that they hadn’t gone to the right. It’d be far too hard to see what dangers were present, and the students’ current sleep attire would be ruined by all the thorn bushes, stray twigs, and who else knows what lied out there. Up the hill was not exactly better though. There was nothing over it besides the lake and an old dock.
It wasn’t that long before they started descending the hill and the small lake was in view.
She couldn’t help but squirm as the ground got wetter, and she could feel the dampened dirt get in between her toes. Mara wanted to just turn around and go back to bed, but the fear of not knowing what her classmates were doing made her stay.
The water was dark, as to be expected in the night, but she couldn’t help but think that the late hour had nothing to do with the deep black color the lake had. Left, right, left, right, off to the lake we go, she thought, growing more worried with each passing moment.
However, her nerves lessened as the students in the front line stopped right in front of the lake, their toes not yet touching the wooden planks of the dock in front of them. This filled her with a moment of relief. She was sure that this was the time where they’d all turn to her and tell her it was a hoax, and though she’d be mad at them for a while, she’d get over it and they’d all laugh about this in the morning. She turned to walk back to the school and began to smile, ready for this night to be over so she could go back to bed.
But what she heard next made her stop dead, her smile completely gone. It was a splash.
She turned quickly and ran to her classmates in the front to see that one at a time, they were crossing the dock and jumping into the lake. Four were already gone. It didn’t escape her notice that no bubbles were coming up.
“No!” she shouted. “You can’t jump!” Crossing the area right in front of the dock, she tried to block the next student to come forward.
In the dark, Mara could barely recognize the person to be Auden, one of her closest friends. They’d met at the beginning of eighth grade, Auden’s first year at the boarding school. He’d been a quiet, awkward kid then. Everyone else in the class had already been familiar with each other from previous years, so he’d been the misfit from the start. It hadn’t been until she saw him near the woods during her free period that she’d decided to talk to him, or rather warn him because he’d been kneeling over a poison ivy vine.
“Don’t touch that,” she’d warned, but he’d simply shrugged, and reached towards it anyway, saying that he’d dropped something near the plant.
Of course, his hands had gotten a terrible-looking rash soon after, and he had to go to the medical wing. Mara had felt bad enough for him that she’d gone to visit him after her last class. “Leaves of three, let it be?” she’d asked as she’d entered. “That with hairy vine is no friend of mine? Have you really not heard any of those sayings?”
He’d laughed and said that he’d listen to her advice from there on, and they’d talked after that, quickly becoming friends.
Mara wasn’t going to let him jump. “Don’t do this!” she shrieked. Auden tried to step out of the way and walk around her, but Mara just got in front of him again. “Please, let’s just go back inside and get help.”
Unfazed, the student shoved past her with abnormal aggression that made Mara fall to the ground. An ache on her side made her aware that bruises would probably form later on. Her friend had never used that much force on her, or any really. He’d always been such a sweet guy, she couldn’t believe that he would ever hurt her.
She bolted up, but it was too late. The splash had already sounded, and Auden was nowhere in sight.
She could feel a wave of shock go through her, and her cheeks dampened with tears, but she still rushed over to try to stop any others from jumping. It was no use though. The students would just step around her and, some, like Auden, even resorted to pushing her away to leap into the lake.
One by one the students were devoured by the dark water until there were just a few people left. She kept trying to get through to them though. “Don’t jump”, she’d cry helplessly. “Please don’t jump.”
Before she knew it, there was only one person left. It was Anissa.
“No, please… please not you too,” Mara begged, tears streaming down her face. But Anissa just walked past her, the last to walk the dock. A sob burst from Mara as she knew she could do nothing to stop her friend as she jumped, the final splash ringing out in the night.
She crumpled to her knees and pulled at the grass, trying to grasp the reality of what had just happened. Why would they jump in? Why weren't there any bubbles? Would her friends’ bodies ever be found? Mara couldn’t come up with any answers. None of the night’s events made any sense.
She gazed at the water. Something was wrong with it, but she couldn’t place exactly what it was. Should the bodies be floating? Did dead bodies even float, or did they just sink? The water rippled as it always did, though it was hard to tell because of the night. She was able to see these details because of the light from the moon-
Mara realized it then. She’d been too distracted trying to block her classmates from going into the water to notice it sooner, but the answer to why the water didn’t look right was the moon. The moon’s rays shone on the land and space around her, but the lake didn’t reflect it. She was only able to see the waves because of the light illuminating around it, but it seemed that the lake consumed the moon’s glow. The water really was black.
What could that mean? Maybe it had something to do with why her friends had jumped in. Mara wondered if there could be another side to the darkness and if her friends could still be alive. Maybe it was reckless thinking, but she couldn’t believe that this could be the end.
Without another thought, she ran across the dock and jumped in.
Author Notes: I don't really know how I feel about this, but all the ideas I had for what's on the other side of the lake really got to me in a scary way. I hope you enjoyed though!