After losing her best friend in a fire, Rachel Madison rents a cabin on Misty Lake, trying to work through her guilt and sorrow. While there, she meets two men, one good looking and friendly and the other handsome, but scarred. Soon, she realizes that the peace she was trying to find here wasn’t to be, as supernatural events begin to take place. The strange encounters with ghosts at the lake cause Rachel to form a strong bond of friendship with the two men. The three friends move closer and closer to danger as the events unfold to a possible tragic result.
Four months ago.
Rachel laughed at Tom’s joke as she was bringing her drink up to her mouth. The party had been going on for several hours and most of the people there had been drinking continually. Rachel briefly wondered about how many of them were driving home tonight in an inebriated condition, but the thought flitted right out of her mind like a butterfly whose life was just a vapor. After all, they were all adults and responsible for their own actions.
She checked herself briefly in a large ornate mirror that hung between two paintings, and saw that her long, dark hair was flawless, her makeup was perfect, and her red dress fit just right…not too tight, not too loose. Her green eyes were brighter than usual, due to the excitement of the party. She approved of what she saw.
“Rachel, darling, love the party,” said a blond woman wearing a dress that had to have been poured on, because there was no way she had actually gotten into it the normal way.
Rachel laughed, the sound pleasing to anyone within earshot. “I love having this party every year. It’s always so much fun.”
It was summer in Atlanta, and the air conditioning was running full blast as the body heat of over one hundred people kept raising the temperature. Rachel Madison had a summer party every year, inviting many of her friends, acquaintances, and clients from the art gallery that she owned. Life had been good to her. She had all she wanted and wasn’t afraid to spend money; that was why her parties were so popular. Only the best food and drinks would do for Rachel.
“Rachel!” said a man, loudly, from across the room. She groaned; it was her biggest customer, but also the most annoying one. He was constantly trying to get her to go out with him, but she wasn’t impressed by his black framed glasses and his nasal voice that grated on her nerves. His pants were always just a bit too short, and he was as awkward as a newborn colt trying to stand for the first time.
“Randall, how nice to see you,” said Rachel, honey dripping from her lips. After all, his money was as good as anyone’s.
“Great party,” he said, his drink tipping slightly and losing a few drops.
“Thanks, Randall. I’m still holding that painting for you. But you’re going to have to decide soon because there are others interested in it.”
“I’ll make a deal with you. If you’ll go out to dinner with me next Friday night, I’ll take it off your hands.”
She tried not to cringe visibly, but it was all she could do to keep smiling. “Okay, Randall. It’s a deal.”
“All right then,” he said, turning as a woman in a beautiful pink creation was walking by. Just as his drink started to spill, Rachel grabbed it, saving the front of the dress from a splash of red wine.
“Oops, sorry,” he said.
Rachel sighed and made her way around to her other guests. She wasn’t looking forward to her date with Randall Payne, but business was business. She worked the room, confident and bold, making sure no one was left out. It appeared that it was going to be a good night.
She saw her best friend, Mary Beth, gesturing to her from the other side of the room. She brightened at the site of her friend’s gold-red curls and the sprinkle of freckles across her nose. Mary Beth was always a breath of fresh air. She didn’t really belong in this crowd of people. They had been friends ever since they were living in an apartment together, barely able to pay the rent while going to college. That was back when Rachel actually painted rather than only displaying other people’s art. Mary Beth had tried to get Rachel to start painting again, but it reminded her too much of when she was truly a ‘starving artist’.
“Hey there, Love,” said Rachel, giving Mary Beth a hug.
Mary Beth grinned at her. “Well, once again, you’ve outdone yourself. Great party.”
“Thanks. You’re not having a drink?”
“No, I’m driving tonight.”
That was Mary Beth, responsible to the very end. She was the one that had always kept Rachel grounded when they were at school. Rachel would go off on flights of fancy with every boy that gave her a second look. She fell for every scheme, and believed everything she was told. It was like Mary Beth was her kite string, pulling her back to earth when she flew too high. Now Mary Beth was a sensible teacher, the perfect occupation for her.
“Spoil sport,” Rachel said with a pout.
“Rachel, you know every one of these people here are too drunk to drive. You should cut them off at a certain time, serve some coffee, and make them stay a couple more hours.”
“Oh, they’ll be fine,” said Rachel with a laugh.
Mary Beth sighed and seemed resigned to the fact that nothing she said was going to make a difference. “Anyway, I wondered if you had thought any more about that trip to Misty Lake I mentioned. It would be fun. Just you and me at the log cabin, soaking up nature with all the critters.”
Rachel frowned. “Mary Beth, I told you before, I’m just too busy. I would love to take off and spend some time with you, but I have to work.”
“Why can’t you hire more employees? Or a manager?”
“That cuts into the profits, Love.”
“Rachel, you’re making money hand over fist. There’s nothing wrong with spending a little of it so you won’t have to work so hard.”
“You just don’t understand….”
“Of course I understand,” said Mary Beth. “You grew up with practically nothing and you’re afraid to let go of a penny. You’ve got to stop thinking that way.”
Rachel gave a little sniff. “Do you smell that?”
“What?” asked Mary Beth.
“It smells like something’s burning.”
Mary Beth sniffed the air. “Yeah, I think I smell it, too. What do you think it is?”
“I don’t know, but I need to find out.”
She tried to follow the scent but was having trouble figuring out where it was coming from. Suddenly, she saw a flame leap out from a socket in the wall. She drew in a sharp breath and started toward the fire. Then it seemed to pick up speed and volume, as it ran up the wall. A few people noticed it and started screaming, scrambling to get out of the way. This triggered more panic as everyone looked to see what all the commotion was about. There were more screams and a mass exodus toward the door leading outside. People were scrambling for the doorknob, but it seemed they were having trouble getting the door open in their drunken state. The flames were leaping higher and higher, and there was pandemonium as fear ran through the whole room.
“Mary Beth!” shouted Rachel, her best friend being the only person in her mind right now.
She saw Mary Beth with a stricken look on her face, just standing next to a wall. Rachel yelled to her, “We have to get out of here!”
Nobody had gotten the door open yet and she realized that someone had inadvertently locked it when they were trying to get out. Rachel tried to wade through all the bodies to get to the door, but she was elbowed in the side of the head as she made her way forward. She almost fell, but the crush of bodies kept her upright, even as it felt like they were smothering her. She looked back over at Mary Beth, but her friend hadn’t moved. Rachel glanced once again at the door and decided to go after her friend instead. As she waded back through the bodies, she saw that the fire was truly getting out of hand by this time. To her relief, someone finally got the door open and a wall of bodies rushed out, some people getting trampled in the meantime. She was still making her way back to Mary Beth as the fire got closer to her friend. She was standing by some curtains that had just caught the flame.
Rachel ran to her as fast as she could and grabbed her arm, dragging her away from the burning curtains. Mary Beth seemed to come to her senses and ran with Rachel toward the crowd trying to get through the door. At that moment, someone barreled into her best friend, and Mary Beth flew several feet before falling headfirst on the marble floor. Blood gushed from her head as she lay there, not moving.
“Mary Beth!” Rachel screamed. She ran to her friend and tried to get her to sit up, but Mary Beth was unconscious. Rachel grasped her under the arms and started pulling as hard as she could. Before she got very far, Randall was there, picking Mary Beth up in his arms, all his awkwardness gone in the face of danger. Smoke was roiling all through the room and Rachel began to cough. She realized, though, as she looked toward the door, that most of the people had made it outside and she could see outside to the lamps that flanked both sides of the walkway leading up to her door. Rachel and Randall made their way to the door, Mary Beth a dead weight in Randall’s arms. She was surprised at his strength, but people could do some amazing things when filled with adrenaline.
Someone must have called the fire department because she heard sirens coming toward the house, and then there was the welcome site of the red trucks with their hoses and the tanker truck right behind them. While some of the firemen hooked up the hoses and started spraying the inferno now raging in her house, the paramedics rushed over to where Randall had laid Mary Beth on the lawn. He checked her pulse, then immediately started chest compressions. Rachel looked at Randall in alarm, but he looked resigned, as if he had already known Mary Beth wasn’t breathing.
After several minutes, the paramedic looked at Rachel and said, “I’m sorry, she’s gone.”
“No!” screamed Rachel. “No, Mary Beth, wake up.”
Rachel shook her best friend, sobbing and screaming at her to wake up. Randall finally gently took her by the shoulders and pulled her away from Mary Beth.
“I’m sorry, Rachel. She’s not going to wake up. Please stop.”
Rachel buried her face in Randall’s shirt and sobbed against his chest. She had just lost the person she loved the most in the world. Life would never be the same again.