Kelsey dangled her feet over the edge of the dock, toes trailing through the dark water. Fingers wrapped around a mug, heat seeped into her hands in delicious contrast to the glacial chill of Sable Basin. Even in the depths of summer, the lake felt brisk. Not that she’d dare jump in. She didn’t swim. Not anymore.
Still, it was peaceful lounging by the calm waters, drinking tea while a fat moon emerged between the craggy peaks beyond the lake. No traffic, no cell service, no nosy neighbors––it made for perfect solitude. Tense muscles unknotted as she took deep breaths, exchanging smog-filled city air for clean, sweet mountain draughts. It would be hard to let the place go.
Something beneath the surface brushed Kelsey’s foot, like clammy, groping fingers. She shrieked and scrabbled back. It took a minute for her to convince herself it was just pondweed and longer for her jangling pulse to slow. By the time her breath calmed, the water had stilled. She reached for her dropped mug.
With a sigh, Kelsey gathered the shattered pieces of ceramic off the dock. She and Aimee had pooled their allowances for that mug when they were eight. She trailed her fingers over the red script––World’s Greatest Dad––and swallowed a lump in her throat.
Tranquility spoiled, Kelsey turned her back on the moonlit lake and headed into the cabin. She didn’t bother locking the door behind her. Up here the only potential intruders were raccoons sniffing out scraps. One summer Dad had chased a posse of ring-tailed marauders from the pantry with a broom, while Kelsey and Aimee screeched from their perch atop the couch.
With a bittersweet smile, Kelsey shook off the memory. She crossed to the kitchenette and tossed the broken mug in the bin. Twisting the handle, she held her hands under the faucet. The pipes groaned. She frowned and jiggled the knob. An icy, brackish stream gushed from the tap.
The shock of freezing water crashed over her, stealing her breath. Legs thrashed, turned heavy. Below, her twin sank deeper. She reached down, fighting against the hands that dragged her back towards the surface.
The tap water ran clear over her fingers and she shivered as she turned the faucet off. There were too many memories here. It was past time to put the cabin on the market. She squared her shoulders and grabbed a dusty bourbon bottle off the top of the fridge. Something stronger than tea was needed if she was going to make it through the rest of the packing.
Sitting cross-legged on the living room floor, she sorted through a stack of old papers––old notes and half-finished manuscripts. Summers at the lake house were vacation for the twins, but Dad had been there to work. He should’ve paid closer attention to the girls. Scrawled words on yellowed paper blurred, and Kelsey scrubbed the back of her hand over her eyes before taking a swallow of bourbon. The amber spirits burned like smoky peat in her throat.
Outside, something splashed in the lake––too loud, too big for a leaping trout. Kelsey froze, bottle poised below her lips, the second pull stalled. She strained, listening over the sound of blood rushing in her ears.
On catlike feet, Kelsey crept to the window, bottle clutched white-knuckled in her fist, and peered out from behind sun-bleached curtains. A ribbon of silver illuminated the dock. On the rough wood, a trail of child-sized, wet footprints glistened in the moonlight. Kelsey’s heart hammered in her chest. Wide-eyed, she scanned the shadows. The night held its breath.
A floorboard creaked. Kelsey whirled and the bourbon bottle fell with a crash.
Aimee’s pigtails dripped, framing her pallid face like ropes of blonde pondweed. Water poured from her nose, leaving a murky puddle around her bare feet. Her milky eyes fixed on Kelsey with an accusatory stare.
“Oh, Aimee. I’m sorry…” The air turned arctic, Kelsey’s breath puffed white.
“I shouldn’t have dared you to jump in the lake that day.”
A rush of water gurgled from between Aimee’s blue-tinged lips.
“Double dog dare.” The words sounded garbled.
She reached out and cold, water-wrinkled fingers clamped on Kelsey’s wrist like a vise.
Lungs burned, as frigid water churned around her. Too far above, her sister’s hand slipped from her grip. She couldn’t force her leaden legs to move. Gasping, water rushed into her throat, and with it––darkness.
Kelsey blinked and rubbed her eyes, thoughts foggy.
She set the bourbon bottle down on the dock next to her. In the center of the lake, something large rolled, disturbing the surface. It was peaceful lounging by the rippling waters––no responsibilities, no funeral arrangements to be made, no busybodies intruding on her grief. Maybe she wouldn’t sell the old place after all.
Eyes unfocused, she slipped into the lake, the biting water closing above her head.
Perhaps she’d stay.
MM Schreier is a classically trained vocalist who took up writing as therapy for a mid-life crisis. Whether contemporary or speculative fiction, favorite stories are rich in sensory details and weird twists. A firm believer that people are not always exclusively right- or left-brained, in additional to creative pursuits Schreier manages a robotics company and tutors math and science to at-risk youth.
Recent publication can be found in The Corona Book of Science Fiction, OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters, Page & Spine, and Youth Imagine Magazine. Additional publication listings can be found at: mmschreier.com/publications/