Check out our episode here! Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis
The story begins with an interview by C. J. Lahey of Nolan Nox, director of Nightjar, a horror movie from 20 years ago set in Harrow Lake. Mysterious things happened on the set and one of the camera men went missing and was never found. They heard strange clicking... there's no telling what it was, but it was definitely not the man-eating monster Mister Jitters. Don't be ridiculous. Nolan doesn't want to talk about that, or the fact that his daughter disappeared from the same area one year ago. Let’s travel back in time now and see what happened. Lola is out for an evening of pickpocketing. No one knows who she is unless her dad is around and since she snuck out, well, no one knows who she is, which makes burgling easier. Her dad's driver, Larry, pulls up, saying he got a text from Nolan to come find Lola. But Nolan doesn't text. Back at their apartment full of boxes for moving to Paris the next day, Lola follows a trail of blood to her dad's office and finds that he's been stabbed. This is Not Optimal. She hears a mysterious clicking sound nearby but doesn't see anything, so she calls 911. Nolan also called for help, so they're already on their way.
Lola's been at the hospital for hours, waiting while Nolan is in surgery. Larry arrives, wondering why she didn't call him. He says he checked the security cameras in the apartment but there must have been a glitch because there was nothing on them showing who stabbed Nolan. Larry tells her that Nolan always had a plan for Lola to go to her grandmother's house in Harrow Lake if anything happened to him, so he's sending her there for a few days. He's already packed a bag for her and everything. Did he pack it while he was there stabbing her father? No. No way, Larry would not do that.
She arrives in Indiana and is met by a man called Grant who will be taking her to her grandmother's house. His eyes linger a little too long on Lola, but he gets her to Harrow Lake in one piece. As they drive through town, she sees the townsfolk setting up for a festival. Grant tells her it's for all the people that like to come to the town because of the movie. She sees a tall creepy guy for a few seconds outside the museum, but he's gone when she looks back. They arrive at the house and she meets her grandmother, Moira, for the first time. She calls Nolan from the landline because the cell phone Larry gave her has no service. The nurse who answers tells her Nolan woke up for a few minutes and he's doing well but he's asleep again. While on the phone, Moira went to bed, so Grant grabs her bag and shows Lola to her room, which is her mother's old room, and tells her he could have been her daddy while looking her up and down again. Yeesh. When he leaves, she looks around her mother's room. She notices beetle wallpaper that covers the exact same beetle wallpaper and 72 jitterbug boxes, giving her a sense of deja vu. Did her mom like bugs? Why are there so many? She sees her dresses from Nightjar hanging in the closet. Then she sees a girl outside the window, who quickly disappears. Not Optimal.
The next day, after a shower, Lola can't seem to find her bag so she puts on a dress from the closet… minus underwear. She asks her grandmother, who has been baking up a storm, if she's seen her bag, but no, and it doesn't appear to be anywhere in the house. She'll talk with Grant about it later, but for now, Moira suggests Lola put on some of Lorelei's old makeup. Nolan always told Lola that she didn't need that crap, but why not? With the dress from the movie and her makeup done, she looks just like her mother, or Little Bird, from Nightjar. She goes out for a walk around town, alone, which is not something she'd ever been allowed to do with Nolan. The town seems stuck in the 1920s, or is that because of the approaching Nightjar festival? Hard to say. While walking around, she feels a sense of deja vu again. Lola gets a lot of stares from passersby. She's not used to so much attention because Nolan has always kept her pretty sheltered. She is his. She thinks back to a time when she was nine and was on the set of one of his movies. A girl who was supposed to play the main character in a flashback suddenly backed out, so she stood in. Nolan edited her out of the movie and told her that if she was in the movie, she would be in people's thoughts and you can't control how or what someone thinks about you (which feels really icky).
She goes into the museum where she saw the tall creepy guy the night before and wanders around. The docent is pretty dismissive of her because she's gallivanting around town dressed like her mother. She meets two girls there that work at the diner, Cora and Faye. Faye leaves to go to work, but Cora stays to talk to Lola about her mother and Mister Jitters. Mister Jitters is a recluse who used to make moonshine but got washed away in the flood and landslide back in the 20s. He was buried alive with some other townsfolk and ate them to stay alive. He developed a taste for man meat after that so kept on taking people to the underground caves and eating them year after year. Still does it, too, even though there's no way he's still alive. Cora tells Lola that people in the town didn't really like her mother much because she was almost a monster herself. She got cast in Nightjar after the first actress disappeared after hearing someone tapping on her trailer walls and the two girls she auditioned with also disappeared. Rumor has it that Lorelei asked Mister Jitters to get rid of her competition. After this story, a little puppet version of Mister Jitters comes to life inside his little case and starts tap-tap-tapping on the glass. Lola is freaked out. Cora didn't see anything like that happening at all.
Lola leaves the museum. She had plans to go through each area of town in the same order as the movie, which would be Optimal, but comes across the fairgrounds and decides to stop in. Inside a roller coaster, she sees a mural that's been covered up. A person in the painting has literally been defaced, and that person was Little Bird. When she exits the roller coaster, she runs into Cora who tells her she's trespassing and that the fence is electrified, so she'd better watch out. Turning to leave, she runs into someone else, a young man named Carter who is Grant's nephew. They're working on the fairgrounds to get them ready to open after the festival. She also sees the girl from outside her window, but she disappears again.
Back at her grandmother's house, Lola runs into Cora again who is picking up all those baked goods from earlier to take them to the restaurant. She is surprised that Lola was able to escape from her brother so easily. Oh! So Carter is her brother! Hmm... Cora invites Lola to meet up with her and her friends later. Lola decides she might go. She heads up to her room, or Lorelei's, and notices all the jitterbug boxes are closed even though she opened every single one of them the night before. Clearly Grandmother has been in her room. Lola looks around to see what else has been tampered with and messes with the wallpaper again. While standing on the bed and trying to stick the paper back up, she falls over and rips it all the way down instead. The exact same wallpaper is behind, but it is covered in tiny stick drawings of Mister Jitters. Then all the jitterbugs start jittering. The tapping sound is terribly loud so she leaves the room and slams the door. She decides she needs to call Nolan because she's freaking out but her grandmother grabs her hand as she's reaching for the phone. She chastises her for calling boys, calls her Lorelei, and tells her not to be an embarrassment to her and her father. Uh, what? This is Lola, not Lorelei. She leaves and runs into Grant who is lecherous again, so she takes off through the woods to meet up with Cora and her friends.
She finally finds them after wandering through the woods for a while and eavesdrops on their conversation instead of joining them. They don't say anything very terrible, but they do talk about her and Nolan's latest release which was based on a short story she wrote, but he changed the ending, telling her her ending was no good. That's really nice. Then the group talks about what happened to Nolan so she decides she needs to get to a place that has signal so she can call him. Or she should probably call her grandmother instead because she's pretty sure she's lost now. Just as she has signal, she drops her phone into a really deep hole at the base of a tree filled with white acorns. Reaching down to retrieve her phone makes her remember a time when Lorelei made her hold a spider. The spider bit her, but Lorelei told her never to tell her father, but to write down this secret and hide it. Uh... That's probably not a good practice to keep, but Lola's been doing it ever since. She even did it with something unimportant Cora said earlier. She retrieves the phone and also finds a jitterbug. Weird. A park ranger comes then, which is good because Lola is lost and creeped out. There were jittering sounds again while her hand was in that hole.
The park ranger tells her about the Bone Tree, which is the tree with the white acorns they're standing under. But those aren't acorns, they're teeth. People tie their teeth to the tree because they don't want to put any part of themselves underground before they're ready otherwise Mister Jitters will come. That's just crazy superstition. Lola shows the ranger the jitterbug and mentions the sound, which worries her. Does that sound mean another landslide is coming? And the jitterbug was probably just a gift for Mister Jitters. She tells Lola of another superstition that the local kids have. If you put your hand in the roots of the Bone Tree for longer than a count of five, that's another way to make Mister Jitters come. Lola's hand was in the ground for way longer than that. Uh oh. The park ranger walks Lola back toward her grandmother's house and asks her not to mention any of this stuff to anyone. Don't want to get them worked up thinking there's an omen that a landslide is coming.
In bed that night, Lola can't sleep. It seems that her grandmother has put the wallpaper back up, but it's peeling back again from the corner. She stares up at the paper and sees something moving beneath it. A long skinny finger slides out from underneath. Then another. Then a hand. An arm. A shoulder. Tap-tap-tapping all the while. Lola finally moans and scrambles out of bed, knocking something from the bedside table as she does. She looks up and realizes the wallpaper is fine. Then she sees what she knocked to the floor. It was the jitterbug. Then she realizes all the rest of them are gone. The next morning she asks her grandmother about them, assuming she hid them in the same place she hid her suitcase. But no. Grandmother is startled by the jitterbug that Lola found under the Bone Tree though. That one was her mother's favorite and she assumed she took it with her when she left. Her father made it for her, her very first one before she learned to make them herself. She and her father were very close. Well, yikes, Lola probably shouldn't have taken it then as it was probably some sort of gift for Mister Jitters. She goes back outside hoping to get signal to call Nolan but Carter stops her on her way up the hill, telling her that there are signs of a landslide - fallen trees - and that his mom sent him to take notes. As he walks her back home, she trips, drops her phone and falls inside a sinkhole in the ground as she tries to retrieve it. Her phone is gone.
She falls into an underground lake. She doesn't know which way is up. It feels like something bit her. She's drowning. Someone is pulling her down. Mister Jitters?! No. Now someone is pulling her out. It's Carter. They make it back to the surface and take a look at the cut in her arm. Carter says he'll need to take her to his house to clean it out because there's something inside. His house is close, so everything will be fine. Nope. Lola digs around in the cut on her arm and pulls out a tooth. They go back to Carter, Cora and the Ranger's house and she's wary the entire time of being in a boy's room, her inner-Nolan chastising like he always does. Carter asks about her life in Manhattan, if she has friends, you know, general things. No. She doesn't have friends. She had one, once. A doll from a movie. But then Nolan got annoyed with it and put it away, so after that, she had an imaginary friend version of the doll. When they moved from that house to film in another location, Larry threw the doll away and she never saw her imaginary friend again. Carter seems to take all this in stride as he cleans her arm. He offers some of his sisters or his clothes for her to wear since she’s covered in sinkhole water, but Lola turns him down. How would she explain that to her grandmother? Carter is a little upset that she doesn't say thank you for anything he's done to help her all day, but Nolan taught her that thank you and sorry were empty things to say. She says it, though, just to make Carter smile.
Carter changes clothes and Lola sits in the living room waiting for him. Then she notices his mother in the kitchen, drinking whiskey. She goes into a small office room and sees an old photograph featuring Lorelei and the Ranger when they were young. The ranger comes in then, makes some menacing, drunken comments about how Lorelei stole things and maybe Lola steals things, too, and that they stopped being friends after that picture because Lorelei stole the spotlight, and potentially her man. She says Harrow Lake changes people, not for the better, and maybe it's already started changing Lola. Carter comes in then as his mother leaves the room, and Lola says she's ready to go home while putting the framed photo in her pocket.
Back at her grandmother's, she talks to Larry who says the police got the vagrant who stabbed Nolan, but that he isn't doing so well and is going to a private hospital to get better, and she has to stay in Harrow Lake for a few more weeks until he does. She gets upset and looks all over the house for her bag, but doesn't find it. Grandmother tells her to come down when she's finished sulking. She goes to the museum after this, and asks Carter to help her research her mother, which he offered to do when he was cleaning out her arm. While he goes to find a box of files, she takes a sketch that Carter's father drew and puts it in her pocket. Then she hears someone behind her and goes to find who it is, because it's not Carter or Mr. Bryn, the docent. It's the girl again. She comes across a small theater screening room playing Nightjar, but it’s all cut up and playing in reverse. Then there are scenes that feel like when she was in the underground lake and Mister Jitters is there. But he wasn't in Nightjar... She runs out of the museum and under a tree outside, then wakes up in her bed at her grandmother's. She looks out the window and sees the girl again, but this time instead of running away, she runs inside the house. It's her imaginary doll friend, Mary Ann, but she's all grown up. She pulls Lola down on the bed and they go to sleep.
The next day is the start of the festival. Lola watches the parade and talks to Cora, who was in the parade but snuck away to talk to Lola. Cora tells her that the girls who played Little Bird in the past have disappeared. Is it because her mom supposedly asked Mister Jitters to get rid of her competition? Cora also says her brother was worried when she disappeared from the museum and asks if she's going to the picnic after the parade. Yes, she is. And she needs to talk to Carter about why he left her in the museum. At the picnic, the Ranger gives Lola a piece of cake that turns out to be cut from a life-size cake corpse of Little Bird. She almost barfs then runs away from the picnic and from Carter who followed her to see if she was okay. She does barf then and runs back to her grandmother's house. Mary Ann is in her room when she gets there and asks if Nolan is mad at her again. When Lola was younger, she and Mary Ann would do things to try and get Lorelei to come back, but nothing worked. Lola then decides that Nolan is mad at her for not being Lorelei, or actually Little Bird, so she puts on her makeup, cuts her hair and goes to the diner. Carter sees her and follows her inside. He asks where she went and apologizes for the cake corpse. She asks him again to help her find out about her mom and tells him that she wants to go to the church from the movie, but it's at the bottom of the landslide and the path to it in the caves is blocked. She knows he knows a way down there, though. When he asks where she went after the museum, she lies.
Lola wakes from another dream, this one full of other people's teeth pouring into her mouth while she sits on a pile of bones. Mister Jitters is there, but it's Nolan. Then she wakes up. Mary Ann tells her that they need to go to the Bone Tree because Mister Jitters is coming. He looks in through the keyhole when she's not there and makes the jitterbugs shake. Lola remembers half-waking from dreams with Mary Ann when she was younger and she'd wander through the house until Nolan started locking her in her bedroom. Mary Ann says again that they go to the Bone Tree. She says Mister Jitters is upset that she's looking for Lorelei, so they have to go to the Bone Tree and tie her hair to it. On her way, she runs into Carter again who's stopping kids from getting into the fairgrounds to write a message to Mister Jitters. This is another superstition. The person who plays Little Bird in the parade has to write “Lorelei is gone” inside the park. Maybe keeping them out is what made those other girls disappear. Carter has the tooth Lola pulled out of her arm and she has her hair hank, so they climb the tree over a swarm of rats and tie them on. Mary Ann is nowhere to be seen. Carter tells Lola he has her phone and that she needs to come by his house tomorrow and get it because her grandmother might let loose her flying monkeys if he goes to her house. Speaking of, grandmother is upset Lola is sneaking around with Carter. His mother's great-grandfather was one of the people responsible for the harrowing, the cause of the landslide. She calls her Lorelei again and storms off.
Grandmother finally has had enough. She tells Lola that Nolan told her Lorelei killed herself, after they came to visit, after her father's funeral. Wait? They came to visit? Yes, Lorelei brought Lola which is why Lola has been having deja vu. She really has been there before. But why would Nolan tell Grandmother that Lorelei committed suicide and tell Lola that she ran away? None of this makes sense. Lola needs to talk to Nolan. She goes to get her phone from Carter and runs into Grant along the way. She asks him if he thinks Lorelei could have killed herself. He says no. She was really into Mister Jitters though and was always down in the caves. She continues on her way but goes toward the Bone Tree where she is tackled by the girl who played Little Bird in the parade. She's hysterical and calls Lola Lorelei and says she sent him! Mister Jitters? She runs off screaming. Lola tries to follow but the girl is gone. Then she hears the jittering. He's coming! She runs to Carter's house.
The Ranger opens the door and she and Carter go looking for the girl while Cora and Lola take a bottle of her mom's liquor and go drinking by the quarry. They drink and talk about what they want to be when they grow up. Cora wants to get out of Harrow Lake and become an investigative reporter and Lola wants to be a writer. Carter shows up then, reporting that the girl is gone, just like her older sister, and that the police will look for a few days and then give up. Lola then realizes that Carter has been punched in the face. Apparently Grant did that, thinking the two of them had something going on and her grandmother asked him to put a stop to it. He also had her phone. Lola tells Carter that Grandmother told her Lorelei killed herself and that she really wants to investigate the church in the caves. It's dangerous, but he agrees to go with her. Back at the house, Lola asks grandmother about her phone and if Lorelei really believed in Mister Jitters. Grandmother shouts that HE NEVER TOUCHED HER AND SHE'S JUST A LYING BITCH JUST LIKE YOU LOLA. Sheesh. What the actual fuck?
Lola and Carter go through the caves and get to the church. They don't stay down there long though, because she gets an odd flash of memory saying "Nolan, you're hurting me" after Carter backs her into a headstone in the collapsed cemetery. Then she sees pinpricks of light in the cave. It's Mister Jitters! She screams and screams and can't stop, so Carter takes her back home. She asks him to take her to the airport in the morning because she's got to get out of this town that has made her go crazy. She puts the photograph of Ranger and Lorelei on the mantle, hoping her grandmother will like it. After resting a bit in the rocking chair, she sees Mary Ann in the front yard, beckoning for Lola to follow her. She does.
Inside an old apartment, Lola hears Nolan and Larry talking about how Lorelei was going to leave Nolan but Larry says it's taken care of now, and so is her mother and maybe Lola should have gone with Lorelei too. But no, she only heard them arguing. She and Mary Ann hide in a coat closet, but then Mary Ann is gone and there are too many coats and there's a dreadful record playing, the song her mother always used to sing, and the record scratches and jitters and oh no! He's here! He's choking her! And then he's gone and so are all the coats. Lola wakes up under the Bone Tree and goes back to her grandmother's house. Her grandmother is nowhere to be seen. Lola looks in her grandmother's closet and finds a stairway up to the attic and finds her bag there. Now that she's in her own clothes again and finally wearing underwear, she feels more like herself. She decides to search all over the house for her mother's secrets because she's the one who taught Lola to write hers down and hide them. There are secrets everywhere. The ones in the clock were the worst. She learned that every time Mr. Jitters came to her mother, she'd carve another jitterbug. Yikes.
Lola tries to find Carter but on her way, she notices the town is empty. She goes to his house and he says the town has been evacuated because there's going to be another landslide. His face is even more banged up now. His mother beat him for making Lola run away. Well, that's not what happened, so how could his mother do that? Why doesn't he leave? She shows him all the notes she found and he realizes what we've all realized, that Lorelei's father was abusing her. She refuses to believe that though. It was Mister Jitters! Then he asks if maybe she wrote the notes herself about being trapped by Nolan. No no no. This is ridiculous. Mister Jitters is real and she's going to prove it.
She runs into the fairgrounds that light up around her. She keeps seeing a figure that must be Mister Jitters and hearing his jittering. She decides the only way she can get out is to go through the caves and out of the sinkhole at the church. But she gets lost in the caves. And then someone calls her name. She's hopelessly lost and then falls down a hole into the gondola that was in Nightjar, a prop from the movie. But in the boat is a body. An old body. She realizes it's her mother's, then she realizes that Mister Jitters really was her abusive grandfather and that the white jitterbug, the first one, glows in the dark with Mister Jitters face on as a reminder that if little Lorelei ever told on her father that Mister Jitters would get her. She also realizes that she's the one who stabbed Nolan, because Carter was right, he'd never let her go. Just like he didn't want to let Lorelei go until he killed her. She remembers that, too, her father killing her mother. Then the remembered scene with Larry saying he'd taken care of things, which he did by dumping her body down here in the sinkhole. She screams to no one, LET ME GO! and then there's an avalanche. She scrabbles up, out of the ground and walks away.
Now back to a year later and the interview between Nolan Nox and C. J. Lahey. We know now that the interviewer is Cora, a hard hitting reporter just like she wanted to become. She reveals a lot of evidence against Nolan including testimony from Moira and photographs of Larry disposing of Lorelei's body that we can only assume we're taken by her father, the missing cameraman, who was also probably murdered and disposed of. While crews were in Harrow Lake repairing the damage from the last landslide, Lola's landslide, they found Lorelei. “So, what do you want?” Nolan asks. “Money? A part in a movie?” No no. Just for the world to know what he's done. Good thing she's been live streaming this whole interview. At the end, there's a 5 star review of a book written by L. Evangeline about a girl who escapes her suffocating father into a world of monsters as she recovers from the violent trauma of her life. Seems that both girls got to leave Harrow Lake and become what they've always wanted.