Excerpt from The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Lake of Dead Languages

by Carol Goodman

The Lake of Dead Languages
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2002, 390 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2003, 413 pages

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"Disembodied eyes with tears turning into razor blades, that kind of thing. I suppose the images aren't unusual . . ."

I notice that the rest of the table has grown quiet, and it occurs to me that I shouldn't be talking about my student in front of the entire teaching staff. Dr. Lockhart must think so, too.

"Perhaps you should come see me in my office to talk about Athena. I'm in my office by seven. Why don't you come in before your first class?" Dr. Lockhart suggests.

She no doubt sees my reluctance to agree to this early appointment--I am thinking of the lake swim I try to take each morning before class--and so she adds this last piece of admonishment.

"It's crucial we address any preoccupation with death or suicide immediately. These things have a way of turning into trends, as I'm sure you know from your own experience here, Miss Hudson. Don't you agree, Dean Buehl?"

Dean Buehl sighs. "God forbid that happen again."

I feel blood rush to my cheeks as if I had been slapped. Any thoughts I had of protesting the early-morning meeting are gone now, and Dr. Lockhart seems to know that. Without waiting for my answer she rises from her chair and adjusts a pale blue shawl over her suit jacket.

"I especially want to know if that Crevecoeur sisters legend . . ." The rest of her words are drowned out by the bell ringing to signal the end of lunch hour and the scraping of chairs being pushed back from the table.

Dr. Lockhart, unencumbered as she is, glides out of the dining room while the rest of us gather books and shoulder heavy canvas bags. Gwen especially seems to list to one side from the weight of her book bag. I ask if she needs some help and she pulls out a thick manila envelope and hands it to me.

"Oh, thank you, Jane, I was going to ask if someone could type these student poems up for the literary magazine. I'd do it but my carpal tunnel syndrome's acting up." She lifts up her arms and I see that both forearms are wrapped in ace bandages. All I'd meant to offer was to carry something for her, but what can I say?

I transfer the heavy folder from her bag to mine. Now I'm the one listing to one side as we leave the Music Room, and Gwen, lightened of her load, hurries on ahead to class. I trail behind the rest of the teachers thinking about what the psychologist had said about preoccupation with death and suicidal trends. I picture my students with their skull jewelry and kohl-rimmed eyes.

The nose rings and skull jewelry and purple hair may be new, but this preoccupation with suicide is not. Like many girls' schools, Heart Lake has its own suicide legend. When I was here the story would be told, usually around the Halloween bonfire at the swimming beach, that the Crevecoeur family lost all three of their daughters in the flu epidemic of 1918. It was said that one night the three girls, all delirious with fever, went down to the lake to quench their fever and drowned there. At this point in the story, someone would point to the three rocks that rose out of the water off the swimming beach and intone solemnly, "Their bodies were never found, but on the next morning three rocks appeared mysteriously in the lake and those rocks have from that day been known as the three sisters."

One of the seniors would fill in the rest of the details as we younger girls nervously toasted our marshmallows over the bonfire. India Crevecoeur, the girls' mother, was so heartbroken she could no longer live at Heart Lake, so she turned her home into a girls' school. From the school's first year, however, there have been mysterious suicides at Heart Lake. They say that the sound of the lake lapping against the three rocks (here the speaker would pause so we could all listen to the sound of the water restlessly beating against the rocks) beckons girls to take their lives by throwing themselves into the lake. They say that when the lake freezes over the faces of the girls can be seen peering out from beneath the ice. The ice makes a noise like moaning, and that sound, like the lapping of the water, draws girls out onto the lake's frozen surface, where the sisters wait to drag the unsuspecting skater through the cracks in the ice. And they say that whenever one girl drowns in the lake, two more inevitably follow.

Excerpted from The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman Copyright 2002 by Carol Goodman. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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