I See the Lake. Part 2
Then they began to undress and the cry stuck in my throat. Each wore a shapeless dress, one I remember was bold green, and when they lifted them over their heads, there were no panties beneath. The girls tossed their clothes aside and were as bare as newborns.
Try understand. I’d never seen nude women other than the two-dimensional creatures that lived inside my magazines and even with the distance between us I could make out the happy circles around their nipples and fuzzy patches of hair, two brunettes and one fair.
Not surprising to say, but the flaming nail lost my attention, so it was by complete accident I realised it had disappeared. I scoured the surface but the lake had returned to glass, no trace of disturbance. Five decades of self-doubt was the price I paid for taking my eyes off that fire, but at the time I didn’t care. I was happy to say goodbye, felt a knot loosen in my chest once the flame was gone.
The surrounding rock megaphoned the girl’s voices. One was so close to the water I half expected the lake to jump out and swallow her.
“Don’t go in the water. Go back to your campsite.”
No wonder they didn’t hear me. I didn’t want to yell, didn’t want the water to hear me.
One of them whistled and ran in. I clasped both hands over my mouth and my scream turned to saliva in my palms. She fell forward and became a blurred mass of brown hair and pale skin under the surface. I held my breath as if I were underwater with her. When her head burst out, I thought the noise was a gurgled scream.
“Ah! That’s better,” she said.
I removed my hands.
The other two waded in holding hands, then paddled chin deep into the water, the ripples circled and then happily disappeared. I even heard a sigh of bliss as one of them massaged the lake into her scalp. Those girls expected pleasure and, yes, the water obeyed, the lake loved them. The fair haired girl splashed her friends and the water landed on their faces as rain, not bullets.
But it was the same lake. There was no great space between us, no divide. I scrunched my bleeding toe and released a fresh ripple strong enough to make my eyes run. My pain, mixed with the sound of their happiness, twisted me and an unsettled feeling burrowed deep. I still feel it now, stuck to me like tar on the lungs.
A new voice blasted out the trees, made me jump.
“Hay minx, what’ya doing? You said you’d wait for us.”
Two men weaved out from the drooping branches, one walking behind the other. They were both tall, their hair long like mine, one was topless and so thin I could count his ribs from the distance.
“Aw. Tex I’m sorry babe,” one of the girls called out. She stood up and the water coursed down her back and over the curve of her buttocks. “It’s too hot. Get in here already.”
Another girl waved her hand at the boys. “Charlie, this was a perfect idea. I feel so much better. You’re coming in too, right?”
“You know I am, sweetness, be patient,” said the man named Charlie.
The boys talked with low heads and lower voices and I wondered what they were discussing so seriously. I figured they were talking about the lake, felt like nothing else in the world existed except the damn lake. The girls hooted, beckoned them in with long leg strokes. The boys attempted to ignore them, which seemed like a superpower to my young mind.
“Fuck, Linda I’m coming alright,” said the skinny man, Tex.
Charlie gripped his shoulder and made a gesture that I took to mean ‘we’ll talk later’ and the two of them undressed down to their nothings.
I didn’t call out, not this time. Those two men strolled into the water without a flinch, without even a light bruise. I puffed out. I don’t know what I did wrong but seemed I was the only son-of-a-bitch bitten by the lake.
The men sank real slow and their obvious relief felt like a massive fuck you smack in my face. I stepped backwards, feeling ultimately finished with the lake – finished with the entire holiday – but kept watching. The first stars lit up on the navy blanket above me and I continued to play chicken with the growing darkness.
Tex swam up to the fair haired girl named Linda and wrapped his arm around her teeny waist. He kissed her mouth and then her neck, and I figured that’s what love must look like. He lifted her up in his arms mid kiss, and then pulled away with a grin.
“No, Tex don’t-”
Linda kicked too late. Tex tossed her sideways and dunked her head several times under the surface. She thrashed, a drowning lamb struggling against a hyena.
“Nah man, stop it,” Charlie said. Charlie walked through the water with a girl on his back, her wet arms draped over his chest. The lake parted against his step with such infuriating ease.
“Don’t disturb the spirit of the water. There’s life in water, you know that, and if you show it respect then your body will drink up the spirit. Show some respect.”
“Yeah, Tex,” said the girl on Charlie’s back. “But don’t actually drink the water.”
“Leslie, hush,” Charlie said and Leslie was quiet.
Tex nodded and floated on his back. The third girl rested her head on Tex’s feet, as though she could fall asleep. Poor Linda took Charlie’s hand and they swirled together, Leslie holding tight as his jet pack.
“A song?” said Linda.
Charlie kissed her hand and started to sing. It was a Beatles song, goes something like, ‘she’s well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand like a lizard on a window pane…’
His voice swarmed the forest and the five swimmers moved in drunken sways. The guy had a good voice, strong without that airy hiss of breathing between the words. Leslie slid off Charlie’s back with her eyes closed and her arms moved under the water below Charlie’s waist.
Charlie stopped singing. “Thank you baby, but don’t do that, not while we have someone watching.”
He pointed towards the rock shelves above him. At me. Every muscle in my body screamed.
Someone whistled. Tex turned to where Charlie pointed and stood up in the water, and all of a sudden he didn’t look so skinny. He was certainly bigger than me.
“Howdy,” Linda waved with both hands. Someone slapped her hands down, but I wasn’t watching to see who. I was climbing. I lurched up the rough stairs of boulders, ducking under branches as I hopped off the rock shelf. A bright pain radiated up my leg, the gash on my toe left a trail of bloody breadcrumbs. The rocks I’d skipped down not so long before I now scrambled to climb up. I never took a backwards glance of the lake and I’m mighty grateful I didn’t.
I reached the top of the sunken forest ledge, the opening between the trees lay dead ahead. That’s as far as I got. Tex caught me by the elbow and pushed me into the dry mud, I caught a rock with my face and grazed my cheek.
“You make yourself comfortable in the dirt, alright?” He yelled without volume. “Don’t move.”
I nodded and sank my head into mud. My t-shirt and pants lay on the rock shelf where I left them, and the sticks and snags prodded my bare chest. My heartbeat prodded right back.
Ash Tudor is a horror writer from Perth, Australia who hides from the sunshine while she scribbles dark tales. She has a degree in ancient history and is a trained ancestry researcher, but now devotes her time to creating nightmares. Her debut short story released last year on Writer-Writer and her work has been shortlisted in several competitions. Currently Ash is writing a collection of short horror fiction and hording werewolf teeth in her attic.
Find Ash on Twitter @AshTudor888
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