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Dead Oaks:The Dare by Eric Valek

This week's Dead Oaks story comes from a very talented friend of mine, Eric Valek. If you like this story and would like to write your own entry in the Dead Oaks anthology, contact me via Twitter or Facebook.

           At some point in one’s life, the desire to escape may become overbearing, almost obsessive- and for some, this desire may be fulfilled, and even prove beneficial. But for those who truly have a need to run, to evade what they have done or what life has befallen upon them.. Sometimes the past never truly leaves. And in Dead Oaks, I learned, the past is never truly behind.
            I am a graduate of Michigan State University, 2012- a major in Fine Arts, a degree that I quickly learned had little fruit to bear, but my persistence and my experience urged me to pursue it to the end, and finally, I achieved my goal- but at a large cost.
In 2011, at my 21st birthday party, my close friends decided that I was lonely and needed to meet someone. Mind you, at the time I was focused on my studies and had little time for the party scene, and allowed just this one occasion to let loose and explore my options. That was when I met Clarissa, a sophomore of some degree or another (I admit, in retrospect, I don’t remember what her degree was). Our friends had urged us to meet, and for the few early hours of the night, it seemed as if we were both benefiting nicely from the plot. She was achingly beautiful, uproariously funny, and in a few instances of hushed, drunken whispers on the porch of our friends’ complex, proving to be deeply profound and insightful. I had fallen for her faster than my lowering inhibitions could match. I had finally found a girl that I felt was on my level.
And then, the initiation process was met by a rather barbaric game of Truth or Dare- obviously gunned by my inebriated friends looking to hook me up quickly and efficiently- that quickly caught on amongst the relatively large group of academics and random visitors that happened to frequent the event. Soon, it became clear that Clarissa, much to my hesitation, would have to partake in the event, and I was smitten (and drunk) enough to allow it to happen.
The dare was innocuous enough- Clarissa was to submerge in the neighborhood pool, unrestrained, for an entire sixty seconds… Hardly a problematic premise for a sober adult to comply to, but Clarissa had had at least as much to drink as I had- and, being at least twenty pounds smaller than I was- just as drunken from the night’s festivities. She complied, and enthusiastically submerged herself in the green, murky abyss that had seemed shallow and safe at the time… But later, in my recurring nightmares, would appear as black and murky as any abyss as the deepest ocean.
Thirty seconds in- the shriek cheers and whoops of the crowd were permeable and I found myself partaking in them.
After a minute, the crowd had gathered in a cacophony of praise that dictated her ritualistic passing.
After ninety seconds, the cheers had diminished to uneasy murmuring, and I found myself deeply unnerved by the spastic rise of bubbles from the bottom of the pool.
Finally, I shook off the youthful pride that had kept me static for so long and dove into the pool to rescue her. Following the chaotic bubbles and mist of chlorine, I found her, eyes wide, mouth opened in a soundless scream when I saw that her bathing suit top had caught in the filtering system. For a few moments, I hesitated, debating on sacrificing her modesty to remove the top in order to save her life. And oh, god- possibly a few moments too late- I finally acted and brought her to the surface, but by then I had seen her eyes dim and her screamless mouth go slack and knew that she had died before I pulled her to the surface.
By the time the paramedics had come, most of the attendants had scattered and I was left alone to babble incoherently, holding the corpse of a girl that I barely knew, harboring the guilt that I had done this to her. I did this to her, I did this to her.
Two years later, and I had left this college town that bared so much heartache and guilt upon my shoulders. I needed a fresh start, and had packed my things and moved to a nearby town, Dead Oaks, to start over and perhaps redeem myself. For a few weeks, I thought that I had managed this impossible task. I thought that I had rid myself of that fateful night, once and for all.
But on the night that I turned on my bathroom light and saw her in the mirror behind me, hair still soaking, eyes an emotionless, colorless white, the skin hanging in shrivels off of shriveled bones and that now toothless, gaping scream coming at me, I knew that she was not gone. Not at all.
It’s February now. Three months after she resurfaced to find me. To complete her part of the dare and to reciprocate. Even now, as I fill my tub, and submerge myself, I will allow the skeletal, greyed hand to push my chest underwater… Allow that lifeless, soaked form to hover over me as the alarm in my brain overcomes me but does not allow me to escape my final, isolated tomb… Allow myself to take the dare that I allowed Clarissa to take so long ago...
I know that I will accept that dare.

Story by Eric Valek


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