My friend Louise and I are old. Too grown up and serious most of the time. We like to play scrabble or swap stories about our youth. Her stories are better than mine, especially the one about her encounter with the ghost of Shining Arrow.
When Louise was a girl, her family spent their summers at a cottage on Elbow Lake, in the northern Michigan woods. The air there was heavy with humidity and abuzz with bloodsucking mosquitoes and man-eating horseflies.
The family spent their days canoeing across the lake to Crook Beach or fishing the rapids of the Rifle River. At night, Louise, her brother Dennis and their parents roasted marshmallows and drank lemonade while the cricket symphony serenaded them.
Louise often tired of Dennis, who found infinite pleasure in shoving snakes in her face, delighted by her squeals of disgust. At these times, she would go off on her own, in search of solitude.
It was on one such day, that Louise took a fateful walk down Saginaw Lane. She followed the dirt road around the lake until she came to a fork. Louise considered turning back, but a glint of light caught her eye.
Louise followed the crazy curve of the left split through the woods. Eventually, she came upon a chain nailed between two birches. A rusty “No Trespassing” sign hung from the chain. Beyond it, a boarded up cottage squatted in a clearing.
Louise recognized it as the old Winston place, although she had only seen it from lakeside before. Teenagers used the scrap of beach in front to build bonfires, laughing and dancing with each other past midnight.
Louise ducked under the chain, crossed the dooryard and climbed the steps of the sagging porch. She tried the door, amazed to find it unlocked.
Curiosity killed the cat, a little voice inside her head chimed.
“Well, I’m not a cat!” her own voice shot back and she stepped inside.
Dust and the green scent of mildew filled the cottage. As her eyes adjusted, the hulking shapes inside became sheet covered sofas, chairs, and tables. She walked into the living room and heard the door snick shut behind her.
“Just the wind,” Louise whispered, unremembering how still the air had been all day.
Louise was examining a painting of Colonel Winston when a shaft of sunlight slipped through a window and illuminated a swirl of dust. Like an image projected on a screen, a shape shifted within the particles.
A young Indian brave materialized. He had decorated his face with war paint and had a quiver of arrows slung over his shoulder. Sunlight bounced off one of his obsidian arrowheads; the glint she had followed through the woods like a beacon.
Local folks spoke of seeing the ghost of Shining Arrow, but she hadn’t believed them. He had died over a hundred years before, trying to rescue his son who fell out of their birch bark canoe. They both drowned in the lake and Shining Arrow’s spirit was said to wander the area, still mourning the death of his child.
The girl and the ghost regarded each other through the gloom. Somewhere, in another room, a cat mewled.
Louise began backing toward the door. A horsehair wingchair slid across the hardwood floor and propped itself under the door knob.
Louise’s heart skipped a beat. He wasn’t going to allow her to leave the way she had come.
“I’m sorry if I bothered you,” Louise said. Shining Arrow stared at her, his face a stone mask.
She bolted down the hallway toward the screened patio, where the front door opened onto the lake side of the property. A canoe paddle floated into the patio doorway, twisting and twirling in midair.
Louise began to tremble. Maybe he wasn’t going to let her go at all.
An entranceway on her right led to the dining room. The china cabinet was covered with a moldy sheet and a spider had constructed an intricate web between the blades of the ceiling fan. She hurried in, desperate to find a way out.
Before her was the kitchen. To her left was a bathroom. Shining Arrow blocked the bathroom doorway. Behind and through him she could see an antique claw foot bathtub and a tatter of shower curtain above it.
The cat mewled more forcefully this time. It was in the kitchen. Shining Arrow’s eyes shifted toward the sound. Hoping there was a door or open window, Louise dashed into the kitchen.
When she entered, she could make out the shape of a wood burning stove and a butcher block table. No door and one partially boarded up window.
The temperature in the kitchen dropped, and Louise saw her breath in the air. Shining Arrow was right behind her.
“Let me out of here,” Louise screamed, turning to face him.
Shining Arrow crossed his arms over his powerful chest. He strode forward and Louise stepped back.
The ghost closed in, driving Louise further into the kitchen until she felt the edge of the butcher block table dig into the small of her back. Something clawed the tail of her shirt.
She whirled, the thing let go and she looked down. It hadn’t been a cat she’d heard, after all. It was a newborn baby, wrapped in a high school letterman’s jacket.
“You poor little thing,” Louise cooed, picking up the baby and cradling it in her arms. She had to get help. She turned, determined to walk right through Shining Arrow if she had to.
Louise and the baby were alone in the kitchen. The ghost was gone.
She carried the squalling baby home, where her parents called the police. That night was the first of a hundred times she told her story that simmering summer.
The couple that adopted the baby named her Lauryn Louise. Louise was pleased but felt that Shining Arrow should have gotten some credit.
Louise and I drove to Elbow Lake recently. She said it seemed smaller than she recalled. The old Winston place was still there, its roof collapsed under the weight of decades of winter snows.
We didn’t see the ghost. Louise said she wasn’t surprised. After the day he led her to baby Lauryn, Shining Arrow was never seen again.