by Jeremy A. Wall
Hank didn’t like going out at night. The gnats were bad once the sun dipped below the tree line, and as the sky bled out its purples and reds, the lake took on a different quality. It was the quiet that made him most uneasy. As if once dark, the water grew ears. Listening. Waiting.
“Stop here,” Em told him. “This is the spot. This is where I saw it.”
Hank sighed and pulled in the oars. He didn’t believe she’d seen anything. Never in all these years. Not even with the special goggles he bought her on their anniversary. She’d smiled and clutched them to her chest that day.
Now the lake was a silky black. He almost couldn’t see her in the faint light.
“It swims deep,” Em said. “I’ll need to take a deep breath.”
“This is a bad idea.” Hank slapped a gnat against the rough skin of his neck. “There are snakes. They come out at night to hunt.” He wondered if that was true.
“There are no snakes.”
“What about plants?” he added. “Those long viney ones. You can get tangled up if you swim too deep.”
“That doesn’t happen.” Em clicked on the underwater flashlight and slipped it below the surface. Hank saw silt and debris. Like the lake had been turned upside down then quickly reset. Em took the disturbance as proof.
“See that?” She was excited. “It’s close!”
Hank's smile was frayed. He thought about the worn corners of the couch in their living room. He thought about watching TV while she nodded off in her chair, the simple rhythms of their life undisturbed by fantasies.
Em stood up. The small wooden rowboat wobbled. Hank said, “Be careful.” Then, “You don’t know what’s down there.”
“I do know,” she said, her voice already far away.
“You don’t know if it's friendly.” He realized he just admitted it was real.
“It is kind.”
“I don’t know that it is kind.”
Not once had Em ever told Hank what it was. She only said it was beautiful. That it was slender and mysterious. Its eyes glowed with intelligence and curiosity. “It is wiser than us,” she said one night when it was raining. “It will make us all more beautiful.”
Em shrugged off her clothes.
“Don’t.” Hank’s whisper didn’t reach her. She took a deep breath and dove. Her splash made no noise.
Hank could only watch her pale body in the water. So like a ghost under the surface, fading with every kick.
There were no stars in the sky that night. No moon. Only smears of light on the water from the living rooms and TVs near the shore. Em’s ripples circled through them and were gone.
Hank saw her only once after that. Several years later. The TV was off, softly ticking as it cooled. Hank put on an old swimsuit and waited until the sun went down and the lake grew ears.
It is kind, she said.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jeremy A. Wall is a writer, educator, and musician living in New York's Hudson Valley. His fiction was featured in The Enclave Reading Series in NYC, and his nonfiction for children has appeared in Muse magazine. He is at work on a novel and lives near a lake with his wife and cat.
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