Elizabeth Bennett had been missing for twelve years. She was last seen at a high school party on Sinking Island — named appropriately as the island sank a little more into the lake every year. The teens who lived on the lake had gatherings there often, but this particular one was for the class of 2006 — a final send off at the end of the summer, before they all went their separate ways into adulthood. Although no one who attended the event could remember much of anything about it, they all recalled it being odd that Elizabeth was there at all.
The shoreline was littered with teens piling into metal boats. Tommy Echols stood back and chuckled at the chaos. One poorly chosen crew had already capsized and were frantically trying to hoist themselves back into their old, rusty vessel. It was a wonder that any of them could float, the whole ill-cared-for fleet must have been twenty years old. Tommy decided that he would wait until all was calm and swim across the lake to the island.
When he made it across, a few topless girls met him at the shore. They were falling over each other in the water and giggling incessantly. Carley Simmons — who, unfortunately, was not topless — scolded them to get away from the edge “before you drown yourselves.” She followed it up with a disgusted, “Dumb bitches!” Her eyes met Tommy’s and a warm smile followed. Any other day, he would be too shy to look at her for more than a glance, but he found himself following her unspoken instruction to join her.
Tommy worried that he would say something stupid… that this was all part of an elaborate prank… that the drunken idiots who built the bonfire would end up burning down the island… But mostly he worried that this would be the first and last time that he would really be able to talk to Carley Simmons. By far the most beautiful girl in the school, he knew that she was out of his league, but there she was, talking to him like they had been friends since kindergarten.To his amazement, he found himself able to pull off a somewhat charming conversation. Carley was witty and philosophical, and the conversation never dulled. Tommy found that she had moved in closer at some point, and her hand was resting comfortably on his leg.
The last boat was rocking its way back across the lake with four football players and the two topless girls. A few embers still crackled where the bonfire had been. Carley had declined a ride, and sat comfortably in Tommy’s arms with her legs across his lap. He wasn’t quite sure of what his next move should be. He felt like a virgin that had never been tested before. The truth was that he had never felt as close to anyone else. There was a battle going on in his mind to kiss her, and a war going on below. His arms pulled tighter around her, enjoying the feel of her body wrapped inside.
“I have to use the girls’ room,” she timidly said.
Tommy chuckled. He felt relieved that reality sneaked in to kill the tension a bit. “I don’t know that you’ll find one here.” Her hand lightly smacked his chest. “I would use the bushes over there. These on this side seem to have seen a lot of action tonight.”
She slyly smiled and then gently kissed his lips as she got up. “I’ll be right back.”
“Don’t go too deep into the woods. They say that the bogs are deadly.”
“‘They’ also say that Elizabeth is still out there too. You shouldn’t give so much credence to what ‘they’ say.”
He leaned back on his elbows, amazed at the bold beauty of her, and watched her walk into the foliage and disappear.
Tommy was just about to call out to ask if she was okay when he heard a thick thud. In no time, he was in the woods, looking frantically around for her. He found her farther into the center of the island that what he thought she should be. She was on the ground, unconscious.
“Get out of here!” The words came out in a chilling shrill. “You have to leave. You don’t belong here!”
Tommy swung around to see a girl dressed all in black behind him. A large branch was in her hands and she held it out in front of her like a sword. “What the hell did you do to her?”
“Get out! Get out! Get out!” Her voice became more ear-piercing with every repetition. Her long, black hair was hiding her face, making the sight of her that much more eerie. She walked over to Carley and started pulling her by the legs back in the direction from which Tommy had come. The girl in black threw her hair out of her face and yelled, “Don’t just stand there! Help me! You have to go. It will open soon.”
Her complexion was pale with a light blue hue — she almost seemed to glow — but he knew her from the missing posters. They were still posted — although faded — at Spinners, the skating rink that went out of business at the height of the search for the missing teen. She was beautiful, even more beautiful than Carley. He had often wondered why she had been an outcast. “You’re Elizabeth Bennett.” An alarming realization came over Tommy the moment he said it. She hadn’t aged. He stared dumbly.
“You’re not getting it! You have to leave now.”
“Okay… okay, but stop pulling at her like that. You know, she really shouldn’t be moved.”
Elizabeth’s facial expression had changed from anger to pleading. “Please grab her by the shoulders and help me. Believe it or not it’s for your own good. She was following the light.”
They slowly got Carley out to the shore. The bonfire was completely out. The moon had hidden behind the clouds, and the only light came from across the lake. Elizabeth went to the water, took off her shirt and soaked it in the lake. She wasn’t wearing a bra, and Tommy found himself trying not to gawk. Her pale indigo skin was lovely and exotic. She leaned over Carley, wiping her face with the wet blouse. He was getting aroused and turned his back to the scene.
“Wh-What light?” Tommy asked, trying desperately to regain composure.
She was reluctant to tell the story of the light that had led her to the middle of the island twelve years before, but, once she began, she found it hard not to tell. She had gone to the senior party out of mere curiosity. Having never been to Sinking Island — never being invited to any of the other gatherings — she was excited when she got the invitation. Although, looking back, she should have realized that the request for her presence had to have been a set up. The boys of the school thought that she was a prude, but she was gorgeous. The truth of the matter was that she was painfully shy. Introverted, she did not know how to speak with either boys or girls, and had only one friend in whom she was able to confide. Several members of the football team had decided that she needed to be “loosened up”. Once on the island, she was brutally attacked — held down by two as one fondled her breasts — until a few classmates felt pity on her and pulled them off of her. Certain that they wouldn’t be held at bay for long, she fled into the woods.
Carley’s eyes were starting to flicker. Elizabeth wiped Carley’s face once more and then slipped back into her shirt. Tommy was relieved, as he was finding it hard to look at her face. “Is that when you saw the light? What is it? Why didn’t you ever go home?”
“I can’t go home. The light is a Seeker Demon. They lead you to the portal.”
“Portal?” It was impossible to believe, but he could see that she was sincere.
“To the other dimensions.” Elizabeth continued her story. She was hiding in the forest when she saw a bright blue light floating through the trees. She followed it to a blue-white gateway in the middle of the island. The bright blue light beckoned her to enter. She would be safe — hidden — from the cruel boys inside. She stepped inside only to find that the opening closed behind her and what was before her made her nightmares seem like heaven. The landscape was earthy red and dark. Millions of malevolent eyes seemed to be honed in on her. She ran, all the time feeling as if she were the prey in one of those Animal Kingdom programs, and the predator would have her in its grasp at any moment. She finally escaped through another portal to find herself in a beautiful forest, bathed in emerald and violet. It was in this reality that she found an old sage that told her that she was no longer attached to one world. She must spend her days — eternity — going from one dimension to the next.
“What would happen if you don’t?” Carley’s voice was weak.
“I would be trapped in a hell dimension forever.”
“How often do you come back here?” Tommy asked.
“I don’t know. Time is not the same for me now. Every world has its own measurement… It’s hard to explain.”
Elizabeth sat with Tommy and Carley, telling them of the dimensions she had seen and reminiscing about how much larger the island had been. Right before dawn, they saw the blue-white light emanating from the middle of the island. She hated leaving them, but she knew that they would be alright. Tommy was holding Carley in his arms, her legs tossed across his, stroking her hair. Elizabeth smiled. She stood up and looked out across the lake one last time, wondering when she would be able to come back. This pair of love-struck teens were not the first that she had come across in twelve years. There had been several — one she couldn’t save. Although the sage had told her that she had no home now, this was her home. She said her goodbyes to Tommy and Carley and then disappeared into the trees.
Seven years later, the lake swallowed the island. The trees were still there, but no land was left to where the town’s teens could get away. Tommy and Carley sat across the lake looking out at the hidden island, wondering whether their friend in black would still be able to visit her home. They were expecting their second child — a girl they would name Elizabeth.