This bonus chapter contains spoilers for THE HOUSE ACROSS THE LAKE. Do not read it until you have finished the book.
The Other Side
She jolts into consciousness, gasping in air before coughing it out along with other things. Wet, sticky things. Water and snot and slime. As she hacks it all up, she realizes she has no idea where she is. Or, at first, even her name.
Katherine, she thinks after a worrisome second. My name is Katherine Royce.
More thoughts follow. How she was swimming in Lake Greene. How her body suddenly seized up like a rusty car engine. How she sank under the water before everything went black. Now she’s floating, not sinking, thanks to a life vest presumably provided by a woman in the water next to her. A woman she recognizes, the name arriving faster than her own.
Casey Fletcher. The actress in the house across the lake.
Katherine looks at her and says, “What just happened?”
“Don’t freak out.” Casey pauses. “But I think you almost drowned.”
Katherine reclines on the white sofa in the living room. Tom picked it out, which means it cost a fortune. So much so that she always hesitates a moment before sitting down. She feels that way about the whole house, to be honest. It’s too pristine, too sterile. The kind of place that looks nice from a distance but feels oppressive when you’re stuck in the thick of it.
Tom loves it, of course. Her husband chooses design over comfort every damn time. Not her. That’s one of the many reasons she was happy to leave modeling behind.
Now she’s here, aimlessly flipping through a magazine that once upon a time had put her on the cover and trying not to think about drowning. Even hours later, she’s still rattled.
The first thing Katherine did when she got home that day was rush upstairs to the bedroom and put on her wedding band and engagement ring. Tom gets annoyed when she doesn’t wear them, which is sometimes the reason she chooses not to put them on. But back on they went, scraping over the knuckles of her ring finger as she stared at the lake from the big bedroom window.
Casey Fletcher was still out there in her boat, motoring to her house on the opposite shore. Katherine wasn’t surprised to learn she was also at Lake Greene. The big surprise was that she actually liked Casey. All the tabloids had made her seem like a rampaging drunk. Someone to avoid at all costs. The person Katherine met was the complete opposite. Capable. Quietly sardonic. Not to mention misunderstood.
That’s what really drew Katherine to her.
She saw the loneliness in Casey’s eyes and realized it resembled her own lost gaze.
After showering and changing into fresh clothes, Katherine stared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror, in the unlikely hope she was wrong about the similarity. Instead, she didn’t recognize herself.
Literally. She truly had no idea whose face she was looking at. It was the same thing she experienced when coming to in the water. Disorienting blankness, followed by a sudden recognition, as if a flashlight had been flicked on inside her skull.
“You are Katherine Royce,” she said, even though she didn’t quite feel like herself.
She still doesn’t. Something seems … off. A persistent ache has infiltrated her body, leaving her joints stiff, her muscles tired. Her heart flutters at irregular moments, thrumming to its own strange beat. That’s been happening a lot lately, but never like this.
Plus, there’s a new worry to contend with. Everything from her waist to her neck feels unsettled. Like something is moving inside her. Something that shouldn’t be there.
I’m pregnant, she thinks. An alarming prospect. Also unlikely. She’s on birth control, and she honestly can’t remember the last time she and Tom had sex. It’s more likely she’s coming down with a stomach bug or, frankly, simply unnerved by the day’s events.
Katherine rises from the couch and goes to the living room window. And wall, she guesses, seeing how they are one and the same. An expanse of glass rising from floor to ceiling, separating the pristine inside from the wild outside. Staring through the glass, Katherine sighs. She might be ambivalent about the house, but there’s no question about how much she adores the lake. She loves its silence, its beauty, the way the water changes colors throughout the day. Right now, it’s dusted by the light of sunset, rippling in shades of pink and orange.
She loves it enough that it was easy for Tom to suggest they come here for a week or two and make it sound like it was her idea.
“I think you’d love to go back to Lake Greene for a little bit, wouldn’t you?”
“I guess so,” Katherine had replied. “I bet the foliage is gorgeous right now.”
Tom kissed her forehead. “You always know the best time for us to take a break.”
Casey Fletcher’s cottage sits right against the water’s edge, quiet and cozy. That’s the kind of lake house Katherine wants. A place where appearances aren’t important. A place where she can simply be herself.
Katherine drifts to the living room bar and pours herself a whiskey. She takes a sip, returns to the wall of glass, looks back across the lake. This time, her gaze skips to the other house on the opposite shore. The one where Boone Conrad is staying.
Similar to Casey’s place, his cottage is rustic and cozy. She liked it immediately. She liked Boone, too. He was easygoing and even easier to talk to. She never felt like she had to impress him. Just being herself was enough. That’s why she continued to go over there, even when it became clear Boone thought something more was happening between them. Definitely not her intention. Sure, he’s hot, but she’s A.) married B.) not a cheater and C.) pretty sure they wouldn’t be a good fit even if A and B weren’t factors.
Still, she feels bad about the way she handled things. So bad thatshe pulls out her phone and, after listening to confirm that Tom isn’t lurking nearby, dials his number. It rings five times before going to voicemail.
“Hey, Boone. It’s Katherine.” She cringes. Of course, he knows it’s her, which is likely why he isn’t answering. “I’m sorry about earlier today. I shouldn’t have come over there. It was wrong of me to just show up like that. Especially just to tell you to leave me alone. You do, but I definitely could have phrased it better. You’re a great guy, but nothing is going to happen, for many reasons, so it’s just best—”
A noise rises from the next room. A creak so faint she’s not sure it’s even real. On the edge of her vision, she sees something reflected in the great wall of window.
In the dining room.
Just standing there.
Katherine ends the calls, puts the phone behind her back, turns to face him.
“Who were you just talking to?” Tom strolls toward her, not a hint of jealousy in his voice. That would be easier to deal with—and far too simple for Tom, who enjoys being inscrutable. Most times, Katherine’s never quite sure what he’s thinking. When she told him she’d almost drowned, for example, she couldn’t tell if he was shaken or unsurprised.
“I was asked to consider a photo shoot,” she says as she slides the phone into her back pocket and raises her hands in innocence. “I told them I was flattered but that my modeling days are over.”
“I was hoping you were talking to Casey Fletcher,” Tom says. “I think we should go over there tonight and thank her.”
“I did thank her.”
“I didn’t. Don’t you think I deserve the opportunity to thank the person who saved your life?”
“It’s just that I’m not feeling too great,” Katherine says. “Maybe another time?”
“It won’t be long.” Tom gives her a look, his mood still unreadable. “Why don’t you want us to go over there?”
Because she’s ashamed of him, that’s why. A realization that brings only more shame. Tom is never not hustling. Always too eager to impress, to strive, to get more, more, more. She had admired those qualities once. When they got married, she was perfectly fine with letting him be the ambitious one. Years later, she finds it more exhausting than endearing, and she’s not eager to subject Casey to Tom’s particular brand of intensity.
Then there’s the fact that she truly doesn’t feel great. All her symptoms—if that’s what they can be called—have grown worse in the past five minutes.
Her head pounds.
Her heart gallops.
Something seems to twist around her organs.
“Something’s wrong with me,” she wants to tell Tom. She doesn’t because she’s not quite sure it’s true. This could all be in her head. Her imagination running wild after a brush with death.
“I do,” she says instead, forcing a smile. “We’ll go after dinner. It’s a great idea.”
It was a terrible idea.
She realized it the moment they arrived. Tom did exactly what she feared and came on too strong. Instead of impressing Casey, it made her shrink in his presence. Katherine didn’t help matters by adding her own weirdness to the mix. When she spotted a pair of binoculars on Casey’s porch, she was hit with a sense of déjà vu. She remembered buying a pair, clutching them in her hands, holding them to her eyes. The feeling was so strong that she said, “Oh, wow. I used to have a pair just like those.”
She had no idea where it came from. She has never owned a pair of binoculars in her life. Yet the words popped out of her mouth, unplanned, unstoppable, and unnerving. Katherine felt like a ventriloquist’s dummy. A horrifying sensation that blessedly went away as quickly as it came.
The downside was she had to keep up the ruse, asking Casey about birding and pretending to be annoyed at Tom. By the time his ridiculously expensive wine was finally poured, she needed a drink so badly she downed a whole glass in a single gulp. Another terrible idea.
Now Katherine is slumped in an Adirondack chair by the fire pit, regretting both the visit and the wine. Still, she tries to pretend she’s enjoying herself, which isn’t easy. Not with Eli asking her about how she almost drowned earlier and her unwisely bringing up that girl who vanished last summer.
“Sue Ellen,” Eli says solemnly. “Sue Ellen Stryker.”
Hearing the name summons an image in Katherine’s mind. A sweet girl with a shy smile. Katherine instantly knows it’s Sue Ellen, even though she’s equally sure she’s never seen a picture of her. But she had to at some point, right? How else would she know what she looked like?
“Tom and I were renting a place there that summer,” she says, hoping its masks how unsettled she feels. “It was all so awful. Did they ever find her?”
“No,” Eli says.
Katherine gets another mental picture of Sue Ellen, this time submerged in water. Her eyes are wide open and her body is completely still as she sinks, drifting down until she disappears. Accompanying the image is another slithery feeling in her gut, rising upwards, circling her heart and snaking between her lungs.
“So awful,” she says, describing both the feeling inside her and the vision of Sue Ellen vanishing into the depths.
“Only swim at night,” Eli says. “That’s what my mother told me. She heard it from her own mother. My grandmother was a very superstitious woman. She grew up in Eastern Europe. Believed in ghosts and curses. The dead terrified her.”
Casey sits down next to him. “Eli, please. After what happened to Katherine today, I’m not sure anyone wants to hear about that right now.”
She’s wrong about that. Katherine enjoys the prospect of a campfire tale. She hopes it will take her mind off this strange feeling inside of her. She reminds herself—somewhat hopefully—that it could all be a combination of shock, stress, and too much wine.
“I don’t mind,” she says. “I actually like telling ghost stories around the fire. It reminds me of summer camp. I was a Camp Nightingale girl.”
She shivers, thinking about that camp and the three girls who vanished there a few years after she stopped going. So many missing girls. A sobering thought. At least, it should be. Yet Katherine feels anything but sober. Her head, already spinning after downing that glass of wine, now whirls even faster.
“And I’m curious why swimming at night is better than daytime,” Tom says.
Eli jerks his head toward the lake. “At night, you can’t see your reflection on the water. Centuries ago, before people knew any better, it was a common belief that reflective surfaces could trap the souls of the dead.”
“I read about that. In the Victorian era, people used to cover all the mirrors after someone died,” Tom says.
“They did,” Eli says. “But it wasn’t just mirrors they were worried about. Any reflective surface was capable of capturing a soul.”
Katherine’s entire body clenches.
“Like a lake?” she says, trying to hide the urgency of her question with a smile.
Eli touches the tip of his nose. “Exactly.”
The thing inside Katherine twitches. There is something there. She’s certain of it now. That slippery slick movement is definitely not her imagination.
“And it wasn’t just the Victorians and their superstitious relatives in Eastern Europe who thought this way,” Eli says. “The tribes that lived in this area long before any European settlers arrived believed that those trapped souls could overtake the souls of the living, and that if you saw your own reflection in this very lake after someone had recently died in it, it meant you were allowing yourself to be possessed.”
The word looms large in Katherine’s thoughts. That’s what this feels like. Something foreign. Inside her. Taking over.
But that’s ridiculous. What Eli is saying is nothing more than a ghost story, frightening only to little kids with big imaginations.
Yet that doesn’t mean there wasn’t something in the lake.
Katherine’s seen the clickbait horror stories about tapeworms and flesh-eating diseases and fungi that consume people’s brains. Something equally as stealthy and vicious could have slipped into her when—well, she doesn’t quite know what happened in that water. She was unconscious for some of it. Blind to the knowledge that her body was being invaded. And whatever it is remains there, curling around her internal organs, growing.
Her head spins even faster, fueled by wine and nerves and worried thoughts that make her only vaguely aware of what’s happening around her.
Casey slamming a wine bottle against the porch steps and shouting.
Eli’s soft reply.
Casey, now sounding guilty, saying something in return.
“I don’t feel too good,” Katherine says, her thoughts unintentionally reaching her voice. “Not good at all.”
“What’s wrong?” Tom says.
“I’m dizzy.” Such a weak description of what she’s feeling. But it’s all she can muster. Suddenly too anxious to remain seated, she stands. Or tries to. Katherine feels so tired she can barely remain upright. “So dizzy.”
She stumbles away from the firepit, heading toward the lake, suddenly consumed with the desire to throw herself into the water and force whatever the fuck is inside her to go back to where it came from. She makes it only a few steps before dizziness or panic or the thing squirming inside her takes over. The wineglass slips from her hands, hits the ground, shatters.
“Oh,” Katherine says.
Then everything goes black.
She wakes in the dead of night, feeling like a stranger in her own bed.
She looks around the foreign room and thinks, Where am I?
Then she notices the man asleep beside her and thinks, Who is he?
Panicked, she bolts from the bed, only to be hobbled by drunkenness. She stumbles out of the unfamiliar room, down an unfamiliar hallway, to a staircase that—surprise!—she vaguely recognizes.
I’ve been here before, she thinks.
She lurches into the kitchen, suddenly parched, as if she hasn’t had a drop to drink in years. Not true, obviously. The state she’s in suggests she’s had plenty to drink recently. She struggles mightily to make her way around the kitchen, searching for a glass. When she finally finds one, she drifts to the sink, fills it, and takes half a sip before being stopped by her reflection in the window.
That’s not her face staring back at her.
It belongs to someone else.
Rather than fearful, she’s fascinated. Whoever it is, she’s lovely. A little ragged from drink, perhaps, but still gorgeous. She runs a hand down this beautiful stranger’s face and thinks, Who am I?
She still doesn’t know.
But she suspects she’ll learn soon enough.
Morning sun spears Katherine’s eyes as she wakes from another dream. They came at her all night. The first was of her stumbling into the kitchen, not knowing where she was or even who she was. It was followed by snippets of time. Pleasant ones. Her and Casey, of all people, in a variety of places. At the airport, the movies, climbing to the high bluff at the southern end of Lake Greene.
But then the nightmares took over—a long parade of images as frightening as they were mystifying. She had another vision of Sue Ellen Stryker, scrambling away from her in fear. There were two other girls in two other nightmares, doing the same thing. Recoiling. Trembling. Pleading. All three ended the same way—their lifeless bodies sinking beneath the water of Lake Greene.
The final nightmare was of her also sinking into the water, staring up at the shimmering surface of the moonlit lake before being engulfed by the darkness approaching from below. Even though she’s now awake, she feels drenched, as if she’d just left the water.
Katherine sits up, startled to realize she’s not in bed, but on the white sofa in the living room. She springs off of it, worried that it’s all wet and that she’s ruined one of Tom’s many prized possessions. A quick check of the fabric shows that it’s dry. She then touches her skin. Also dry.
Yet dread clings to her as she heads upstairsto the master bathroom. The something inside her has grown during the night. She can feel it expanding in her stomach, her chest, her limbs. While taking a shower, she feels heavy and ungainly. Afterwards, when putting on something pretty in the hope it’ll make her feel better, she’s surprised everything still fits. Her body is the same.
Once dressed, she looks in the mirror and is disturbed by what she sees. God, she looks as rotten as she feels. No wonder she dreamt she was someone else, confounded by the sight of herself.
“My name is Katherine Royce,” she says to the mirror, as solemnly as a schoolgirl summoning Bloody Mary. “Katherine. Victoria. Royce.”
Staring at her reflection, she gets flashes to the night before. Sitting by the fire, listening to Eli, feeling panicked and dizzy and sick on the boat ride back home. While all a little hazy, it’s enough for her to know she embarrassed herself. Yet another thing to worry about.
She grabs her phone and texts Casey to apologize.
Sorry about last night. —K.
It isn’t until after the text is sent that she realizes she has no idea how she got Casey’s number. She simply keyed in the digits automatically, as if she had them memorized. She suspects—and hopes—that Casey told her the number last night and that, for some strange reason, it had lodged itself in her brain.
No worries, Casey eventually texts back. Who among us hasn’t passed out in a stranger’s yard?
Katherine’s body buzzes with mortification. She has no memory of that.
It was my first time.
Welcome to the club.
Katherine struggles with her reply. At first, she types a simple Thank you, but deletes the text before sending it. Next, she writes, I think I’m going crazy. Also deleted, out of fear it will scare Casey off. She finally settles on the best summation of her feelings she can think of.
I feel like shit, punctuated with a poop emoji.
Need some coffee?
YES!!!!! Katherine writes back, overjoyed at the prospect of having caffeine. Tom insists that she drink healthy things in the morning. Green tea and kombucha and kale smoothies that taste like liquified salad.
Come on over, Casey replies.
It’s getting worse.
There’s no denying it now.
And Katherine was in denial for a little bit, after her coffee with Casey. She felt good then. Sitting on the porch. Watching the lake. Chatting like they were old friends. She felt normal. By the time she left, she’d started to think nothing was wrong.
But then another vision struck when she was halfway across the lake. Her and Casey in a boat, almost like the first day they’d met. But this time it was dark, and Casey looked both angry and terrified. As for Katherine, well, she wasn’t herself at all. She was someone else.
Being shoved into the lake.
Splashing and sputtering and begging for help as Casey watched and the dark water took over.
Katherine was zapped back to the present, stunned and confused and scared. So unbearably scared.
Because what she just saw couldn’t have been another nightmare. It was a memory. So were the others. She was certain of it.
She had experienced those things.
They had truly happened.
Now, after a whole day of trying to understand what it all means, Katherine sitsin Tom’s office, frantically using his laptop. She knows she should be sleeping. She’s also afraid of going to sleep, certain there’ll be more nightmares.
No, not nightmares.
Moments she never experienced yet holds in her aching head as if she had.
Because Casey was in some of them, Katherine Googles her first, finding articles about her movies, being fired from that play she and Tom saw, Casey’s very public drunkenness and, finally, the death of her husband.
She clicks on the obituary of Leonard Bradley, screenwriter, who drowned in Lake Greene. A picture accompanies the obituary, showing a good-looking man of about forty dressed like the stereotype of a writer. Rolling Stones tee. Plain black blazer. Hair tousled just so.
That’s me! Katherine thinks, and for a second, she’s shocked to learn that she’s dead. Her mouth drops open, a hand flies to her bottom lip, and her eyes grow wide. Surprise makes her blink incessantly.
That’s not possible.
She’s Katherine Royce, not Len Bradley. And what’s happening to her is all in her head. It has to be. Insanity is the only logical explanation.
Yet the thing inside her stirs and her vision blurs and a tsunami of information about Len floods her brain. His mother’s favorite perfume. The feel of his father’s knuckles smashing into his face. The first girl he kissed. A mouse he caught when he was eleven and beat to death with a stick just because he wanted to watch it die.
Katherine turns to the office door, checking to make sure Tom hasn’t stirred. Assured the coast is clear, she starts Googling things she never, ever thought she’d search for.
Missing women in Vermont.
That brings up three names and three frighteningly familiar faces she’s seen only in her dreams.
Megan Keene. Toni Burnett. Sue Ellen Stryker.
Katherine keeps searching. Haunted lakes. Ghosts in reflections. Swimming at night. She scans the results, finding stories similar to the one Eli told, rumors of cursed bodies of water containing the souls of the dead, accounts of people who almost drowned suddenly acting out of character.
Her stomach grows more unsettled and her head starts to spin.
All that stuff Eli said is real and true and happening to her.
One of the links is to a YouTube video. When Katherine clicks it, she’s confronted by unsteady cell phone footage of a teary-eyed woman speaking directly to the camera.
“Someone’s inside of me,” she says. “Someone I’ve never met. I know their thoughts. I know their memories. It won’t stop. They just keep coming.”
Katherine leans forward, more frightened than she’s ever been in her life.
This isn’t happening.
There’s no way this can be happening.
Not to her.
Yet it is.
If it wasn’t real, she wouldn’t be experiencing the memories of a dead man. Or feeling the thing inside her expanding like a balloon. Or be so dizzy with terror that everything grows blurry. Like thick, black water is lapping at the edge of her vision.
“What’s going on?”
Katherine jolts at the sound of her husband in the doorway. She slams the laptop shut, spins to face him, tries to think of something to say. She should tell him what’s happening. He’s her husband. He’s bound to notice something is wrong, if he hasn’t already.
Yet she can’t bring herself to do it.
Because to say it out loud would mean it’s real, and she’s not ready for that just yet.
“I couldn’t sleep,” she says. “Thought I’d do some online shopping until I got tired. Retail therapy cures all.”
“Always.” Tom chuckles and scratches the back of his neck. “But it’s late. Come back to bed.”
Katherine stands and kisses him, pretending that nothing is wrong, even though everything is wrong.
And she fears it’s only going to get worse.
Rather than going back to bed like Tom suggested, Katherine locks herself in the master bathroom. She doesn’t want to go to sleep. She fears that if she does, she’ll never wake up. Even now, the dark water keeps clouding her vision.
I’m drowning, she thinks, because that’s what it feels like. Sinking into the depths even though she’s on dry land.
She stumbles to the sink and the wide mirror above it. Her reflection is pale and thin and foreign to her. A mere ghost of the person she used to be.
“My name is Katherine,” she chants. “My name is Katherine. My name is—”
The black water takes over now, clouding her vision, blocking out her reflection. Katherine grips the edge of the sink and closes her eyes, waiting for it to pass. When she opens them again, she finds herself facing the same reflection she saw in the kitchen window the previous night.
Only the person in the mirror isn’t a stranger. Not anymore. It’s her, only different. New and improved. Yet inside this sparkling new package is the same person she had always been.
“Len,” she says as she stares at her reflection. “My name is Len.” Then she smiles.