I never believed in ghosts. Nothing could stay hidden for that long. And I mean, how could one not have been recorded by now? By someone credible? Or on better recording equipment than a cell phone from 2010?
So, Loser’s Leap didn’t creep me out. Even though everyone claimed it was “haunted” and “dangerous”, there wasn’t an actual reason to think that.
I’m from Sherman, Vermont, a ghost town just north of Woodstock. You’ve probably never heard of it. You could drive through the entire town in ten minutes. We had a humble population of about four-thousand, and not a single notable thing to draw in tourists. The only aspect of Sherman you might’ve heard about is Loser’s Leap.
On the surface, it wasn’t much to talk about: just a tall hill in the woods, overlooking the White River. It was pretty steep: about a hundred feet over the river, with a scenic waterfall off to the west, not too close to be annoyingly loud, but not too far to be ignored. It was a nice place to go picnicking, bring a date, hell, maybe even propose- except for one thing.
Ever since the sixteen-hundreds, Loser’s Leap was known for the mysterious number of suicides that took place there. It all started during colonial expansion, when a large group of Abenaki Indians jumped off the hilltop into the river, instead of being forced out of their homeland. The story goes that since then, it’s been cursed. No one really knows if that actually happened or not, and the same goes for some of the other older suicide tales, but indisputably, in October of 1970, a boy by the name of Ricardo Elias was found dead at the base of the river.
He was a draft dodger, on his unholy pilgrimage to Canada, who got cornered by police just three-hundred miles from the border. Came all the way from Florida, too. Feeling like his only options left were prison, or even worse, the war in Vietnam, he found himself at Loser’s Leap, where he took the plunge.
Then, again, in 1986, a boy named Mike Murkle ended it all on the same fateful hilltop. There’s not a lot known about his story; more or less, he was a loner that was tired of his life. And then, in 2008, just ten years ago, a girl jumped too. Though her body was never found, she was known for visiting the Leap a lot, and it was the last place she was headed before her disappearance.
Needless to say, the uncanny number of suicides that took place there made it a hotspot for paranormal stories. The idea was that people with no hope left, completely out of options- losers- came there to kiss the cruel world goodbye, but their spirits became tethered to the place, and would push you off the ledge if you got too close.
But like I said: I never believed in ghosts. In fact, the reputation the place had benefitted me greatly, because I could come out there all by myself with no threat of having to deal with anybody else. I came out there all the time, to sit in the grass, listen to the waterfall, and write. Whether it be poems, stories, personal prose- it didn’t matter. When I was there, I always had something to write.
And, it wasn’t like I had anything better to do. I worked at a grocery store called Basha’s, but since most of the employees were breadwinners, they got most of the hours. I was lucky to work three shifts a week. Both my parents worked all day, and weren’t the most congenial when they were around. And my only “friend” was Allyanne, if you could even call her that.
Allyanne and I had been friends ever since we were in preschool. She had light brown hair and these big green eyes. Her parents worked a lot, like mine, and so we were always left at aftercare together after school. We were typically the last two kids to get picked up. Naturally, we became pretty good friends because of it.
Back then, and until around sixth grade, both of us were ignored by everybody else. We had the same classmates every year, because there were only three schools in town: a preschool, an elementary through middle, and a high school. There were twenty-six of us back then, and with the loss of two students who moved away, and the addition of one student who moved to Sherman from one county over, the group stayed the exact same through every year.
Allyanne and I were typically regarded as weird, and so we were left alone, but when sixth grade hit, the wonderful process that is puberty took place, and Allyanne got hot. To me, she was always pretty- but the breasts and makeup sold everybody else on it. And sure enough, as is the natural order of things, when she became hot, I was ignored. The dynamic duo was no more. At least, beneath the surface.
We still talked a lot, and she’d hang out with me on occasion. But the friendship we used to have… that was gone. She was assimilated into the popular crowd, and became more and more like them every year, until we really didn’t have anything in common anymore. Typically, us “talking” was her venting to me about Scott, the douchebag I mentioned who moved into Sherman our junior year. He was attractive, and new, and thus, became the target of all the girls who were sick of the same-old-same-old.
All she wanted these days was to get Scott’s attention, and that was about the only thing that crossed her mind, I think. At least, that’s all she cared to tell me about.
So, in my lonesome, my writing habit became more and more pervasive. And though I had the house to myself most of the time, I didn’t like the vibe there. Being at home reminded me of getting Snapchats from Allyanne, whining about Scott not looking at her enough in English, and hearing my parents argue. It was hard to find inspiration there.
On my seventeenth birthday, which I spent alone, because Allyanne was busy at a party, I decided the only place in town I hadn’t seen a trillion times was Loser’s Leap. Not believing in ghosts made it pretty easy to convince myself to visit. It was about a twenty-minute drive from my house, and then a twenty-minute walk from the parking grounds. You lost reception about a minute after walking into the woods, and that’s the best part: absolutely no distractions. No predictable Snapchats from Allyanne, no glaring at my phone and wishing I’d get a notification- because I knew none of them were coming out there.
It became my favorite place in town, and before long, I was going out there just about every afternoon I wasn’t working, where I’d sit in the grass against a tree and write.
But my routine of resting there and enjoying nature in my lonesome eventually came to an end. I remember that day like it was yesterday. It was a warm Vermont day in late April, around sixty-degrees, and I’d just gotten out of my seventh period class, statistics. I was a senior with only a month and a half of school left, and with my classes mostly finished, I didn’t have much homework to juggle with writing anymore.
I climbed into my car, a red, 2001, Honda, Accord. It was ugly and nothing to talk about, but I bought it in full, and it got me where I needed to go. Just as I shut the car door, my phone beeped softly.
I looked down and saw exactly what I knew was coming: a snap from Allyanne.
I opened it dully.
“He’s talking to Abby again.”
“Why Abby? Seriously?”
“I don’t know.”
She sent something back but I didn’t care to look at it. I looked into the rearview mirror, meeting my blue eyes in the reflection, my short brown hair underneath a blue beanie. No one was behind me, so I backed out slowly. I felt my phone vibrate again, then again. I drove to the stop sign, then opened the messages.
“She’s not even pretty like at all.”
“Ally, I’m driving.”
I put the phone down, then progressed through the stop sign, cringing at how dull she was. Sometimes, I couldn’t help but think about when we were kids, how much fun we used to have. She was honestly a completely different person. That Allyanne was gone, most likely forever. Sometimes I felt like the only reason I even still talked to her was because I had literally no one else to talk to, and she was preferable to nothing.
My car didn’t have an auxiliary port, and the radio stations in town sucked, so I listened to CD’s. I put in “The White Album”, my favorite Beatles album that I listened to enough to drive Allyanne crazy, and drove up the winding road toward Loser’s Leap. The drive was peaceful, as usual. The trees were just getting their leaves back, and the forest was becoming alive again. The snow was gone, and the animals were coming back out, allowing the sight of an occasional wood thrush fluttering by, or a squirrel rummaging for food.
When I got to the parking grounds, Allyanne still hadn’t messaged me. I left my phone in my car per usual, as taking it into the woods was pointless anyway, and began my trek through the woods to the Leap. I wore a thin maroon jacket, blue jeans, boots, and my blue beanie, my journal in my hand. At last, I stepped through the clearing, emerging into the forbidden beauty that was Loser’s Leap.
The sight never grew old.
I sighed of relief, taking in the serene majesty of the lookout. Beyond the grassy hilltop, dotted sparingly with trees, was the river, humming gently one hundred feet below. All around the river on either side was a soft dirt bank, followed by tall trees, swaying gently in the cool, nippy breeze. Around the river on all sides was mostly uncharted wilderness, with only a trail or two visible from my perch, and to the west, on my left, was the waterfall, maybe fifteen feet shorter than the Leap. On top of the waterfall was more forest.
If I climbed the tree I usually sat beneath, I could make out the water tower of Clover, the next town over to the north.
I leaned against the tree, taking out my journal. I thumbed through the pages, finally reaching a blank one. I took out a black pen from my jacket pocket, studying the page. I shut my eyes, and let my soul do the talking.
“Scott… Why, Scott? I don’t get it, Ally. All you ever do is talk about Scott. What happened to us hanging out as children? Pushing each other on the swing at aftercare? Biking around the town on Saturdays, and going fishing after church?”
It ate at me. I was jaded to her ignoring me, but once in a while, it hurt me again.
“Scott… What an a*****e… He doesn’t care about you, or Abby, or anyone. And you know it, too…”
I opened my journal.
I etched the title, “Twenty-First Century Dream Guy.”
“I’ll be your shitbag if you take off your clothes.
I’ll forget who you are and just call you my hoe.
I have nothing to lose and only you to impress.
Now stop being stingy and take off your dress.
You can call me a loser after we break up.
It’s true anyway, so I don’t give a f**k.
If you thought I cared about you, you’re hilariously wrong.
My true aspirations were to f**k you all along.
I’m a liar but I dress nice, so it makes up for it.
I’m an a*****e, and I’ll beat you, cause I’m a piece of s**t.
But you like the abuse, because you’re used to guys like me.
And I’ll take advantage of you for your body.
I don’t care about your day or about your boss at work.
I don’t want to see what makes you happy, I want to see you twerk.
I could care less if you’re sentimental and like to go on dates.
I’ll do what I have to to get you in bed and tomorrow forget your name.
If you fell off a cliff, I’d notice when I’m hard, and not a second before.
I don’t need a wife and I don’t need a soulmate, just a c**k-thirsty w***e.
If you’re in this s**t for a wedding ring, get the f**k out now.
S*x is all I care about, and I’ll get it, no matter how.
Funny that you knew all this about me the day that we first banged.
Ignored the guy who really cared about you and your name.
Because he wasn’t as cool as me, or popular or hot.
But you’re a victim of s****y life, and none of it’s your fault.
Well, I’ll see you again in another body, when you get over me.
I’m the type of guy you come back to repeatedly.
And remember, while you’re venting to the guy that loves you on the phone.
That because of you, both of you are gonna die alone.”
I took in a long, deep breath, studying my work. I read over it a couple times, nodding. I was satisfied with it.
“This is all you are, Scott. And Allyanne, this is what you’re going for. Why don’t you see that?”
And then, something completely unforeseeable happened. For the first time since my seventeenth birthday, I heard someone coming through the trees. My heart froze, and I jumped up, startled by the sound. And then, my mind was blown even more: a girl came stepping out of the tree line, with long, flowing blonde hair that glowed in the sunlight, and vibrant turquoise eyes, an intoxicating swirl of sky blue and seafoam green. On her face was a slight spattering of light freckles, and she had sharp, foxlike features. She wore a red and white flannel shirt, unbuttoned over her b***y chest, and underneath she wore a red tank top. She wore skinny jeans as well.
She gasped, startled to see me.
“Uh… hey,” I waved speechlessly.
“Hi…” she waved back, starting to smile confusedly. “Uh, sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude on you.”
“No, you’re fine,” I smiled. “Wow, I’ve literally never seen another person up here before.”
“Yeah, me neither!” she laughed.
I was confused by that, because I came up here all the time, and if she came out here with any relative frequency, I’d have had to have seen her by now. But I knew it would only make me sound creepy to point that out.
“So, what brings you up here? Oh, and, uh, I’m Sam.”
“Leona,” she smiled congenially. “And honestly, I just come out here to sing and play guitar, because I know it’s a private place, and no one’s listening.”
I hadn’t even noticed the guitar case in her hand.
“Oh, cool! Um, sorry if I’m ruining your privacy,” I smiled awkwardly, but she replied, “No, you’re not! Not at all. I mean, I’m still just shocked to see someone here.”
“Sorry if this is weird, but, like, how often do you come out here? Because I come out here more often than I’d like to admit, and I’ve never seen you,” I chuckled.
“I mean, I don’t come out here all the time,” she admitted. “Probably once or twice a month. But still, I was pretty sure I was the only person that wasn’t too afraid to visit this place.”
“Nah. I don’t believe in ghosts,” I shrugged.
“Me neither,” she laughed dimly.
What shocked me even more than seeing her here, was that I’d never seen her before. She certainly couldn’t be from Sherman, unless she was homeschooled and locked in her parent’s basement.
“Are you from Sherman?” I inquired. “I’ve never seen you around.”
“No, I’m from Clover.”
“Wow, that’s a bit of a drive.”
“Yeah! That’s why I don’t come out here more. But it’s worth the drive. S***s this place has such a bad reputation. It’s gorgeous.”
“Agreed,” I nodded.
“Well, you mentioned you come out here a lot, but you didn’t tell me why,” she inquired with a curious smile. “So, what’s your reason for coming out to Loser’s Leap.”
“I uh…” I felt awkward admitting it. “I mean, I just come out here to write.”
“Write? Write what?”
“All kinds of stuff. Stories, prose, poems. Mostly poems.”
“Ooh, neat,” she grinned excitedly, and my heart fluttered with butterflies. “Let me read one!”
“Hmm, only if you play me a song first.”
“Ah, a trade you’re proposing, then?” she cut her eyes at me challengingly. “Well, I accept your offer. I’m not that good, though,” she admitted with rosy cheeks, and once again, my heart soared.
“Aww, I doubt that,” I replied. “I was kidding, though. You don’t really have to.”
“No, it’s cool,” she replied, walking over to a rock and sitting on it, before opening her case and pulling out a dark wood acoustic guitar.
She took a deep breath. And then her fingers stroked the strings. I don’t mean to sound platitudinous, but when she started to sing, it completely captivated me. I mean, it was unlike anything I’ve ever felt. I sort of just stared off into space, taking it all in, feeling the sunlight on my skin, the waterfall and river babbling soothingly in the background.
Her voice was high and light, but womanly. At some parts of the song, her voice would get soft and airy, and at other parts, she sang powerfully and loud. Her emotion saturated the music, giving me goosebumps. When she finished singing, she gently ended the song with a little more guitar playing. Then she smiled at me nervously.
All I could feel at that moment was limerence.
“Oh no…” she giggled. “Did I make you fall asleep? Was it that boring?”
“No. no,” I shook my head, wrapped with peace. “Not at all! Just… wow! It was absolutely phenomenal! Like I was in a trance!”
“Aww…” she shrunk back. “No it wasn’t…”
“What do you mean?!” I laughed. “That was incredible, Leona! I mean, I felt like I was high or something! What was that song called?”
“‘I Know’, by Fiona Apple. It’s supposed to be for a piano, but I think it sounds all right on the guitar.”
“All right?” I was chuckling. “Leona. That’s literally the prettiest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Okay, okay,” she blushed, “your turn. Let’s see a poem, Sam.”
It excited me that she said my name.
“Well, uh… Hmm… See, that’s where you’re lucky. With singing, you can just do it, and if it’s good, anyone can tell. It can be about anything really, but if it sounds nice, it’s something you can share. With good writing… I don’t know, it’s just different. Good poems are deep. And like, it’s weird just sharing that, you know?”
“Oh, don’t sweat it,” she smiled embarrassedly.
“No, uh…” I scratched my head awkwardly. “I said I’d tell you a poem I wrote. Um… Well, do you want to hear this stupid poem I wrote about a sock my junior year of high school? I was trying to stay awake in class and just jotted it down,” I chuckled.
“Wow, I play that for you, and you read me a poem about a sock,” she smiled dully at me.
“No!” I laughed, embarrassed. “I-”
“I’m kidding,” she grinned. “Yeah, let’s hear it, Sam.”
“All right. Well, it’s quite duly titled ‘Sock.’”
“Silently perching atop the shelf,
Lucidly worn and torn,
Bequeaths to me, a subtle help,
Foot comfort, in the morn.”
“Oh my god,” she laughed. “Wow. I mean, it sounds great though.”
“Well, thanks,” I grinned.
And the rest of the day, all the way until sunset, we just sat around and talked. She played guitar and sang a little more, and when I warmed up to her enough, I showed her an actual poem or two. When it was almost dark, we agreed it was time to get going.
“So, Leona, am I gonna’ get to see you again?” I asked.
She seemed to be thinking about it for a moment.
“May fifth,” she winked at me. “Be here.”
“Sounds good…” I smiled back.
And with that, we parted ways. She said there was another parking spot on the other side of the Leap, closer to Clover, and that’s where her car was, so I didn’t get to walk back with her to the parking grounds. When I got back to my car, I sat in the driver’s seat. It was dark now, but the moon was high in the sky over the lush wilderness. The weather had dropped to about forty degrees, and I turned the heat on.
As Leona’s face came to mind again, my heart soared.
“Who was that?” I was speechless. “Where’d she come from? I mean… Wow! I can’t believe that happened!”
I drove home, listening to the country station, which I usually didn’t do, but I felt upbeat enough for it. When I got home, it was just past eight o’clock. My parents weren’t home yet, which was no surprise. I went into the kitchen and made myself chicken with rice. Then I sat at the table, taking out my phone. I had a couple messages from Allyanne.
“Did you see Scott’s story?! She’s all over him!”
“Did you do Doc Pinkman’s homework yet.”
“Allyanne can you call?!?!”
She read the message, and within two minutes, my phone was ringing.
“Hey!” I smiled.
“Whoa, you’re cheery,” her smooth, alto voice came over the phone.
“You won’t believe this! You will NOT believe this, Ally!”
“What? What?” she sounded annoyed.
“I went up to Loser’s Leap today, like usual. But for the first time ever, I ran into somebody up there!”
“Was it a ghost?”
“No. It was a girl! A gorgeous girl!”
“A girl. You met a girl up at Loser’s Leap.”
“Yeah! Her name was Leona,” I plugged in my headphones, then sat down, cutting through the chicken breast with my fork. “Ally, she was the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Wavy blonde hair, these glowing turquoise eyes. And she could sing!”
Ally was quiet for a moment.
“Kinda’ weird you met her there.”
“Well, yeah, I mean, I’ve never met anyone there before. I already said that. But that’s not the point! I did meet her!”
“You think she’s up to something? I don’t know why else she’d be up there.”
I rolled my eyes.
“No, Ally, she was up there to play guitar by herself, just like I go up there to write by myself. I go up there a lot, and I’m not ‘up to something.’”
“But, you said she was hot, right?”
“Well, gorgeous, yeah. So?”
“So, I mean… Like, not to sound rude, but… You going up there makes sense. But why would she? If she’s so hot like you say?”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Come on, you know what I mean, Sam.”
“That it makes sense for a loser like me to sit out there alone, but not someone that’s attractive?”
“Okay, don’t make it sound like that.”
“How else did you mean it?!”
“Look, just chill, okay!” she got excited. “Sam, all I meant was, you’re not necessarily Mr. Popular. You’ve told me word for word you go up there a lot because you have ‘nothing better to do.’ Well, if she’s from around here, and pretty, I’m sure she’s driving all the boys crazy. She probably has a lot else to do. So, why’s she up on Loser’s Leap? Where the loners go? Just doesn’t add up.”
“She went up there to play guitar. She wanted a place to be alone, to practice. It isn’t complicated.”
“Hmm. I guess.”
I sat there for a moment. Why couldn’t she just be happy for me? Every single time I talked to her, all she did was argue with me, or make me sound dumb. I mean, what was even the point of speaking to her? I never felt fulfilled, or happy. Never felt like I was talking to a friend. After spending just one afternoon with Leona, I already felt closer to her than I did with Allyanne these days.
“You know what, Ally? I think I gotta’ go.”
“Aww, come on, Sam,” she replied, but I responded, “Every time I tell you any good news, it’s like, you just try to downplay it and make it sound stupid. Well, it s***s you can’t be happy for your ‘friend’ when I found someone I actually enjoy talking to.”
She was silent for a second.
“You don’t enjoy talking to me?”
“No. No, not really. All you ever talk about is Scott. I’m tired of it. I already told you, Scott is a douchebag that doesn’t deserve you. But you never listen. You let him walk all over you, again and again and again, and then come crying to me like it’s the first time it happened. All you ever have to say is ‘Scott this’ and ‘Scott that’. I don’t care about Scott. I don’t want to hear about Scott. You and I haven’t had one real conversation since sixth grade.”
To my shock, I thought I could hear her sniffling.
“Oh… Well… if that’s how you feel, then… I guess I gotta’ go too…”
“Come on, Ally… Don’t make it like this is my fault.”
“Whatever, Sam… Glad you found somebody you like talking to.”
She hung up on me. I sat there, feeling mixed emotions. Maybe what I said was harsh. There was probably a more tactful way I could’ve gotten it off my chest. But then again, who was I, sitting there feeling guilty? Besides being a little rude, I didn’t do anything wrong. I had every right to feel how I did. If Allyanne cared about me, I couldn’t tell. She never complimented me, never thanked me, never acknowledged our friendship. She treated me like her bedroom drywall, something she could vent to before walking away and shutting the lights off. And I was sick of it. I was so used to it, I didn’t realize how bad of a friend she was.
But talking to Leona made me realize it. I felt happier and more alive in those couple hours than I’d felt since I was twelve years old.
And sure enough, over the next couple days, I didn’t talk with Allyanne at all. I saw her around school, and we didn’t really acknowledge each other. And guess what?
My life was no different.
In fact… It even sort of felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
I mean, don’t get me wrong… I missed her, by instinct. But then I’d tell myself that the Allyanne I was missing had been gone for years.
The day I’d met Leona was April twenty-sixth, and I counted down the days until May fifth. As excited as I was, though, some part of me just felt that disappointment was inevitable. That I’d sit out there all day waiting for her, and she’d never show. Even worse was that May fifth was a Saturday, so I really had no idea when she planned on showing up.
I spent my days either dreaming of Leona at work, or sitting out at the Leap and thinking about her. Finally, May fifth arrived. I won’t lie, I woke up that morning in a cold sweat. As much as I wanted to believe she’d show, somehow, deep inside, I just knew she wasn’t going to come. I tried to imagine her stepping into the clearing, seeing her beautiful eyes again, hearing her intoxicating voice.
But all I could envision was the hours ticking by, waiting in the hot seat for her to arrive, and finally sulking away back to my car at dusk, alone and defeated.
I got to the Leap around one o’clock in the afternoon. I brought a basket with some sandwiches and fruit, and two bottles of sweet tea. I leaned against the tree, taking out my pocket knife that never left my side, cutting up an apple and eating it casually.
When I finished, I added more to a story I was working on. Then, around three o’clock, my writing was interrupted.
Against all odds, I heard someone walking up the hill. My palms were sweaty, and my heart soared. I could barely breathe, staring in the direction of the sound.
She stepped out of the trees.
I met her hypnotic turquoise eyes, her soft, smiling pink lips, her sun kissed face. Today, she wore a pink flannel, and once again carried her guitar case.
“Hey, Sam!” she smiled.
“Hey, Leona!” I grinned.
My entire body was alight with excitement. She came over and sat next to me, and I breathed in her perfume, withdrawing an ecstatic sigh.
“So, uh, I brought us some lunch,” I smiled, opening the picnic basket. “I got sandwiches and fruit. Uh, there are ham and cheese, turkey with mayo, and peanut butter and jelly. And then some apples and bananas.”
“Aww, Sam,” she smiled at me. “You brought me lunch?”
“Yeah! And,” I stuck my hand in the basket, “here,” I handed her a bottle of sweet tea. “Hope you like sweet tea.”
“This is so thoughtful.”
“Aww, really, it was nothing.”
We spent the day together, talking, laughing, telling each other all about our lives. I told her about Allyanne, how we’d been inseparable from preschool until sixth grade, and then how she became popular and started to write me off. I even told her about the fight we’d gotten in a little over a week ago. I told her about my parents, how they were mostly never around, and how I spent my time either working at Basha’s or writing at Loser’s Leap.
She told me that Clover was a lot like Sherman, with a just slightly bigger population of six-thousand, and a similar situation with only one high school in town. She told me that she was popular, but she didn’t really like any of her classmates. She said they were all fake, with materialistic priorities, and she had no one to really talk to. She said that guys were all over her, treating her like some trophy they were all competing to obtain, but that none of them actually took the time to just sit down and get to know her. She said her home situation was a lot like mine: she was also an only child, and her family was mostly never around. But her father was the chief of police, and he could be really controlling, which added a lot of stress to her life.
Still, the more we talked, the more I realized our lives were pretty similar.
She said she’d started playing guitar and singing when she was ten, and it was something for her to do when she was bored and alone at home.
At first, I wondered if she could really relate to loneliness. Maybe she didn’t spend a lot of time with people, but unlike me, it was her choice. She was swimming in guys, invited to parties, and didn’t have to spend a single night alone if she didn’t want to. But the more she explained it, the more I realized just how unfulfilling her situation was, too. She was enveloped by people that didn’t really care about her, just wanted her for her looks, and no one tried, or cared, to understand her.
We stayed out there until dark. This time, before she left, she did something that surprised me.
“Well, Sam,” she smiled at me, “it was fun. Until next time.”
“May thirteenth,” I nodded. “Can’t wait.”
She looked at me for a moment. Then she embraced me. Her soft arms wrapped around me, and I breathed in her scent, feeling her chest press against mine. I was paralyzed in limerence.
“Thanks for getting to know me, Sam…” she whispered softly, her warm breath coating my ear in goosebumps.
“Of course, Leona…” I whispered back, awe-stricken.
She leaned back, then softly kissed my cheek. She giggled, her nose and cheeks rosy. Then she turned, walking off into the woods.
“Next Sunday!” she called again.
“Next Sunday!” I grinned from ear-to-ear.
“Have a nice night, Sam!” the old lady dismissed, walking off to her car.
“You too, ma’am,” I called back, standing behind the cash register.
It was Saturday, May twelfth, a week from when I’d last seen Leona. I was on the closing shift at Basha’s, and couldn’t wait to get off work. All night, all I could think about was Leona. Tomorrow, I would get her number. Then we could talk all the time.
I stared at my watch: 8:52 PM. Just eight more minutes, and I could start the closing procedures. Then, to my surprise, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. I scanned the area for my manager, Luther. Ascertaining he was nowhere in sight, I pulled out my phone, wondering who on earth sent me a message.
It was a Snapchat from Allyanne.
“Wow…” I thought. “How damn bizarre…”
We hadn’t spoken at all since the phone call. It had been about three weeks. At around ten o’clock, I finally clocked out, and walked through the chilly night to my red Accord in the starlit parking lot. I climbed inside, turning the heat on, then clicked on the message, surprised by how nervous I was to do so.
“Sam… I miss you…”
This shocked me. I couldn’t believe she’d even noticed me gone.
“Hey, Ally. I miss you too.”
I went to shift the car to drive but she already responded. Surprised, I read the next message.
“Can we hang out tomorrow? It’s been way too long.”
“Aww, sorry, Ally. I’m meeting Leona tomorrow. Maybe Monday?”
“Oh. All right. Uh, sure.”
“Hey,” I replied, “want to call tonight?”
I drove home. At last, I slid out of my work clothes. I got a hot shower, then crawled into my bed, laying beneath the warm covers. I called Allyanne, and for the first time in weeks, I heard her voice, outside of her Snapchat story.
“Ally,” I smiled, and it actually brought me a lot of comfort to hear from her again. “I’ve missed you.”
“You too… A*****e. Making me message you first.”
I chuckled. “Yeah. Sorry. So, how’s life been, Ally?”
“Eh. Not much to talk about. But… some good news.”
“I gave up on Scott.”
“What?! You did?!”
“Yeah. You… were right, Sam,” she sighed. “Scott… is an a*****e. He really is. The other night, I found him banging Elise at Jack’s party. Not even Abby!”
“Wow…” I laughed. “Sounds like Scott.”
“Yeah… So, uh… how’s everything going for you? And how are things with Leona?”
“It’s going great! Honestly, things are going great for me. I know I’ve only hung out with her twice, but when I’m with her, I just feel… Understood. I don’t know. It’s really something. I can’t wait to see her tomorrow. I basically spend all my time just sitting around and looking forward to the next time I see her,” I chuckled.
“Wow…” she replied. “She’s really something, huh?”
“Yeah, she really is.”
“Well… get a picture of her for me next time. So, I know you’re not making it up,” she smiled dully.
“Oh, all right,” I laughed. “Sure.”
“Why have you only seen her twice? Is she really busy or something?”
“I don’t know, I just never asked to meet her anywhere besides Loser’s Leap. She just tells me the next time she’s going, and then I meet her there. But tomorrow, I’m gonna’ try to get her number, so we can talk more.”
“Well, that’s awesome, Sam. I’m glad it’s working out for you.”
“Me too, Ally. Me too. I haven’t been this happy in a while.”
Ally didn’t say anything for a moment.
“Sam… Remember when we were like, nine? And you caught that walleye? It was absolutely huge.”
“Yeah!” I laughed. “That thing was like, five feet long!”
“And we cooked it up for supper. We just sat out there by the river all night, telling each other ghost stories and stuff. I… miss that.”
“Yeah… I mean, that was fun. We should do something like that again sometime.”
“You? And me? Go camping?” I was speechless.
“Yeah! I mean, unless you think it’d be weird or something…”
“Nah, Ally! I’d totally love to do that! But wouldn’t you like, be busy at a party or something?”
“No… I won’t be. Maybe next weekend?”
“Uh, maybe! I’ll see when Leona wants to meet next, okay?”
“Oh, uh, all right. Cool.” Her tone changed.
“You good, Ally?”
The rest of the night, we talked casually. I won’t lie, it was awesome hearing from her again. It reminded me how much she meant to me, that even though she was different now, she was still, after all, my best friend. The next day, I excitedly drove up to Loser’s Leap, blasting Led Zeppelin in my car. I couldn’t believe that so many people were afraid of that place, and yet, for me, it was where I was more alive than anywhere else.
When I got there, this time, Leona was waiting for me. When she saw me, she ran up and hugged me. Once again, I was tipsy with butterflies.
We talked for a while, when finally, I mustered up the courage to ask.
“Hey, uh, Leona… Do you think that maybe I could get your number? Or like, your Snapchat?”
“I don’t have Snapchat,” she admitted. “And, uh, my dad’s pretty protective… I don’t think it’d be a good idea… I’m sorry, Sam. Really, I wish I could.”
“Oh, uh, I get it. Seriously. Don’t sweat it.”
“We can keep meeting here, though,” she smiled.
“Okay…” I smiled back. “Well, if not that… Can I get a picture of us together? Maybe this sounds creepy, but when we don’t see each other for a while, I sort of wish I at least had a picture of you to look at.”
“Aww…” she blushed. “Sam… I just… don’t like taking pictures of myself…”
“I… Ugh… Not today. My makeup’s horrible.”
“No it’s not!” I chuckled. “You’re breathtaking, Leona.”
“Sam…” she whispered to me.
To my surprise, she extended her hand, stroking my cheek. My body was paralyzed. Her soft hand caressed me as her hypnotic turquoise eyes stole my breath. Then they shut, and she leaned in, pressing her soft lips against mine. I couldn’t help but sigh. She pulled off a moment later, blushing.
“You… You kissed…”
“Yeah… Sorry…” she chortled.
“Don’t apologize!” I laughed. “Leona!” I grabbed her shoulders. “That was my first kiss! Hell yeah!”
“Aww, Sam!” she laughed. “I’m so honored it could be me…”
For the next two months, we saw each other just about every weekend. Sadly, Ally and I never got to camping. I tried to meet Leona in Clover, but she reminded me that her father was the chief of police, and if a cop saw her with me, he’d tell her dad. Then we’d probably never see each other again.
Obviously not wanting to risk that, I was okay with just meeting at the Leap. Still, when I was lonely, I’d listen to the recording I’d secretly taken of her while she was singing, because she was too shy to outright let me record her. By the end of July, the two of us were dating, and though I don’t think Ally believed me that she was real, because Leona wouldn’t let me take a picture of her, every time I offered Ally to come out to Loser’s Leap with me to meet her, she said she ‘didn’t want anything to do with that place.’
Though seeing Leona was awesome, she was getting more and more depressed with every visit. She told me more and more about her controlling father, and how she felt like he were suffocating her. She said that sometimes, she honestly did think I was the only good thing in her life. It broke my heart, but warmed it at the same time. How could I be lucky enough to be the one who was there for her?
I was so honored I could be the one to cheer her up.
It was now July eighteenth, a Wednesday, and I was out at Loser’s Leap, writing a poem. That Friday, I was scheduled to meet Leona again. At around six o’clock, to my shock, I heard someone coming up the path. I wondered for a moment if it was Leona, but when a stranger stepped out, I instantly felt on edge, noting my pocket knife clipped to my waistband underneath my shirt.
“Oh!” the woman gasped.
She seemed to be in her thirties. She was tan, with dark hair and eyes.
“I’m sorry if I scared you,” I apologized.
“No, no, my bad,” she laughed awkwardly. “I just didn’t expect to see anyone up here.”
“Yeah, I come up here and write sometimes. So, uh, what brings you up here?”
“Oh, well… does the name ‘Cassidy Beyers’ sound familiar to you?”
“Cassidy Beyers… Kind of.”
“She committed suicide here ten years ago… Ten years ago to the day, actually. I’m her sister.”
“Oh… I’m… So sorry to hear that…”
“It’s okay…” she sat down on a rock. “Yep. Ten years ago today, Cassidy took her life here. I guess I was just coming out here to pay my respects… After all, that grave of hers is empty. Her body was never found. So, this is the real last place she ever was.”
“I don’t know what to say…” I awkwardly confessed. “I’m just so sorry that happened.”
“Yeah… You know, it’s like they say. You learn to accept it, but you never really get over it. I… could’ve been a much better sister to her. I really neglected her back then… Didn’t realize it until it was too late…”
“Hey…” I consoled. “It’s not your fault.”
“Maybe not… But maybe there was something I could’ve done… You know? Sorry. I’m sorry,” she sighed awkwardly.
“No, no, it’s fine. If you need to talk about anything, I’ve got nowhere else to be.”
“Well, I mean… I just…” she seemed troubled.
“What is it?”
“Look. I’m sorry to be dropping all this on you. There’s something the papers never published about Cassidy. And sometimes, it just really bothers me.”
The words made me uncomfortable.
“What is it?”
“She… used to come here to meet somebody,” she spoke. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. “I can’t remember her name now… It was so long ago… All I remember is that she’d come out here to visit with someone. Said that she was her only friend. I’d always ask her why she never had her friend over, but she’d tell me her friend’s dad wouldn’t be okay with it or something. It never made a lot of sense to me. She kept inviting me out here to meet her, and finally, one day, after she’d left, something just didn’t feel right. I decided I’d come out here to meet her friend. I got to the parking grounds and saw Cassidy’s car, and walked the trail all the way up here to the Leap… But…” she seemed to tremble.
“What…?” I asked calmly.
“She… she was talking… But… there was nobody there.”
“What?” I whispered.
“She was having a full-fledged conversation. With no one.”
My body was covered in goosebumps.
“Yeah…” the woman nodded. “I know… I was terrified too… I thought that maybe I could hear another voice, but there was definitely no one there besides Cassidy. I walked out of the tree line, and Cassidy yelled ‘Hey! Where are you going?’ Then she turned around and told me I scared her friend off. But nobody ran away. Nobody left. There was no one there besides Cassidy and me. I didn’t even know what to say… I told our mom about it, but she didn’t believe me, and I can’t really doubt her. And then, sure enough, one day, Cassidy came out here to meet her ‘friend’ and disappeared.”
“Do you think… She was like… I don’t know…”
“Crazy?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe she was doing drugs. I really don’t know. But, with the rumors about this place, and then that happening… Listen. Something about this place just isn’t right. I know it’s pretty, and that out here, you get to be alone. Cassidy used to say all that stuff. But there’s something evil out here. And that’s why Cassidy, and so many people before her, took their lives here. I just know it, after what I saw that day.”
“I’m surprised that after seeing that, you’d come out here by yourself.”
“Well, I’m not totally alone,” she admitted. “My husband’s in the car. If I’m not back in thirty minutes, he’s supposed to come up here looking for me. But, I just wanted some alone time with Cassidy, on the tenth anniversary of her death… Or, disappearance, or whatever.”
“Well, I’ll give you some alone time,” I started to walk away, but she called, “Hey… Just, uh… Be careful coming up here. All right?”
“Uh-huh,” I nodded. “Thanks.”
Ever since that night, Loser’s Leap, for the first time, creeped me out. When I got home, I sat at my desk and Googled “Cassidy Beyers suicide.”
Some articles came up, all about how she’d one day simply disappeared after coming out there. None of them specified her meeting a friend, except one, which included a testimony from her sister stating she’d been visiting someone on the Leap. Police searched for suspects but found nothing. The more I looked into it, the more I realized how mysterious her death was. For the most part, she didn’t seem very depressed. No one really saw it coming. And then one day, she simply disappeared, and it was ruled a suicide. She didn’t have a lot of friends, and her family said they felt responsible for not giving her enough attention, but still, she didn’t seem suicidal to anyone.
Out of curiosity, I decided to look into the history of Loser’s Leap. A lot of the deaths were rumors, some proven untrue, and others plausible, and the Native American story was folklore, impossible to validate or not.
But then I looked into Ricardo Elias’s death. Something about his that confused me is that unlike the popular legend described, he wasn’t cornered on the hill. Police simply found his body at the base of it on the riverbed, and discovered that he was a draft dodger from southern Florida when they eventually identified him. When his corpse turned up in the paper, numerous townspeople explained that they’d seen him around for a couple months, and that though his mission to escape conscription was unknown to them, when he’d first arrived in town, he seemed to be in a hurry, and then, mysteriously, he settled down and didn’t leave. He even got a job as a woodcutter, and his employers said he didn’t seem suicidal. Even though it was assumed the pressures of getting caught and sent to prison or Vietnam eventually drew him over the edge, he wasn’t close to getting caught, and he didn’t show suicidal tendencies.
And then I looked into Mike Murkle’s death, in 1986. It was harder to find specific information about him, but to my shock, his story sounded similar to Cassidy’s. A lot of articles detailed that he was lonely and showed signs of deep depression, but one of them explained there was a police investigation into his death being a homicide, and that perhaps he was pushed. A close friend of his mentioned he’d been meeting a girl there…
A girl named Leona.
Police searched for a Leona in Sherman and the towns nearby, but the one and only girl they met with that name didn’t fit the description… A young woman with blonde hair and light eyes.
When I read that… I can’t describe the terror I felt. I mean… What were the odds? It couldn’t be a coincidence…
The article went on to say that they were dating, but Mike’s friend had never met her, and she only met with Mike by Loser’s Leap.
Just like my Leona. His story, and Cassidy’s story, were identical to mine. I was meeting a Leona, at Loser’s Leap, who would never meet with me anywhere else. She looked like the girl described in Mike Murkle’s homicide investigation: blonde hair with light eyes, and just like Cassidy’s sister had told me, she mentioned having a controlling father that made it impossible for me to meet her anywhere else but Loser’s Leap.
Still… She… was Leona. Leona, my love… The girl who I thought about all the time. Who would sing to me, and read my poetry, and take my mind off my boring, pointless life. How could she be some monster? Some evil spirit or something? It couldn’t be real.
On Friday, after school, I ran into Allyanne before I left to go to the forest.
“Hey, weirdo,” she smiled at me, brushing her straight brown hair out of her face, her big green eyes centered on me, “you going out to your creepy little hill?”
“Ally…” my voice carried an unusual seriousness, and I could tell she picked up on it. “Listen to me… If I don’t text you in two hours… Send police to Loser’s Leap. All right?”
“What…? Sam… what are you talking about?”
“I… don’t really know how to talk about it. I’m gonna’ explain it tonight, though, okay? Looks like you were right, though, Ally,” I smiled at her. “There is something wrong with Leona. I never should’ve doubted you.”
“What do you mean, Sam…? You’re not gonna’… You’re not thinking about… Jumping…”
“Of course not. I’m not suicidal. Ally,” I grabbed her shoulders, looking into her eyes. “I’m not suicidal. So, if you find my body at the base of that hill, it wasn’t a suicide. Okay?”
“Sam, you’re scaring me…”
“Ally…” I hugged her. “Listen… It’s going to be okay. All right? I’ll call you tonight.”
I ran off. I got in my car and drove away. She watched me the entire time, until I disappeared from the parking lot, staring at me like it was the last time she was ever going to see me. As I drove to Loser’s Leap, I felt a strong mix of emotions. First and foremost was fear. I didn’t believe in ghosts… I never did. But… the odds. What were the odds, that all the deaths would line up so morbidly with my situation? It wasn’t conventional at all.
And on top of that, why did Ricardo, and Mike, and Cassidy, really die? Did they kill themselves? Were they pushed? Were they manipulated into jumping? I didn’t know anything.
I just knew that Leona didn’t make sense anymore, and neither did their deaths.
The next feeling… the more powerful one… was an amalgamation of sorrow and betrayal. How could my beautiful Leona… be trying to kill me? Could she really be trying to hurt me? The girl I’d sit with and look out at the river, talking about anything and everything for months on end? Showing her my poetry, listening to her beautiful singing… It just couldn’t be.
Part of me felt embarrassed, that this had to all be a ridiculous misunderstanding, and then, another part of me even felt angry. Angry that I was being lied to.
I knew how I’d find out for sure though, what Leona was. If she were some spirit, or if this was all a massive, asinine, conspiracy theory.
I pulled up at Loser’s Leap. For the first time, I felt nervous stepping away from my car and into the forest. I walked up the trail that had brought me so much catharsis, excitement, and limerence, and now, all it brought was trepidation, anxiousness, and longing. When I got to the hilltop, I could see Leona through the trees.
Slowly, I took out my phone.
I went to my camera and held it up.
Before my eyes, Leona sat beneath a tree, her head between her arms.
And on my camera, was absolutely nothing.
My heart froze. I placed my phone down on the tree branch, aiming it at the hilltop. Then I walked into the clearing. Leona looked up at me, tears streaming down her face.
“Sam…” she whimpered, trudging over to me. She collapsed into my arms. “My father… He… found about me coming here… He’s not letting me come back again…”
Once again, I felt an extreme mix of emotions. I was heartbroken to see her crying. I was terrified that this murderous, paranormal figure was alone with me in the wilderness. And I was in love with her, wanting nothing more than to wipe her tears away and make her feel better.
“What do you mean?” I went along with it.
“He asked me where I’ve been…” she sniffled, her turquoise eyes red with tears, now locked with mine. “I just didn’t have a coverup anymore… He’d heard all my excuses… Sam, he’s not letting me come back out here anymore… He probably has half of the Clover Police looking for me as we speak.”
“What… does this mean? For us?”
She was silent a moment.
“That’s it. We won’t be able to see each other anymore.”
Despite everything I knew, this crushed me.
“Sam…” she sounded broken at first, when her tone changed. “Sam.” She looked up at me, a seriousness in her eyes. “Let’s… Let’s end it. Let’s kill ourselves. Together. I don’t want to live without you. And… what else do you have, Sam? Allyanne? Your s****y parents? Let’s just die together, hand-in-hand, my love…”
I couldn’t help but imagine Mike Murkle standing here in her arms, tearing up beneath his glasses. Seeing Ricardo abandoning everything for “love”, escaping Vietnam, and prison, with her in his arms. Cassidy’s nodding as she decided death would be better than losing her “only friend”.
But I couldn’t resist playing the act just a little longer. No matter what she was… What was happening… I was in love with her.
“I… never want to lose you, Leona…”
“Come on, love…” she kissed me tenderly. “Together. We’ll die together.”
We walked over to the ledge of Loser’s Leap, looking out over the river, and at the wilderness beyond. It was breathtaking. Leona’s warm fingers curled around mine.
Then I took a deep breath.
“Is this the same thing you told Mike? And Ricardo? And Cassidy?”
She froze. Slowly, her head turned toward me, meeting my eyes.
“I know, Leona… I know about their deaths… What really happened… What are you, Leona? What do you get out of this? Why do you do it?”
“What are you talking about, Sam…?”
I sighed a long, bitter sigh.
Then I shoved her off the cliff.
For a moment, her body descended to the riverbed below. Then, to my complete and utter disbelief, she simply faded away, almost into thin air, simply ceasing to exist. I stood there a while, simply looking out onto the ledge, wondering what had happened.
All I could muster was that she was some sort of siren, or succubus, preying on people’s loneliness, and feeding on their soul when they finally gave in and jumped off the edge of Loser’s Leap. Perhaps she was some god the Abenaki worshipped, and was simply exacting revenge on the people that had taken her people’s land and so audaciously called it theirs. Who knew.
One thing was certain though: she would never condemn another soul to death again.
I walked back into the tree line, grabbing my phone. The entire encounter was recorded, and though you couldn’t see her, her voice was able to be heard the entire time. I brought it to the police, and they looked into it, finding no sign that I’d corrupted the footage. Even though they didn’t necessarily believe me, the rumor now became of Leona the siren who preyed on the lonely by the river. Without a doubt, if anyone started to experience what I had, they’d realize the severity of the situation they were in.
At least, so I hoped.
They wrote a newspaper article on it, and I knew I’d get made fun of for it, but, hell, I was already the town loser. At least maybe this way, I could save a life.
The rest of the summer was odd, not having my lonely perch on which to write anymore. But you know what? It was fine.
Because Allyanne and I had a lot of camping and catching up to do.