I’m Not The One They Come To See
by Corey Farrenkopf
The row boat ran aground as Mila sat beneath the broom-like branches of a pitch pine, late September sun warming her legs. She almost didn’t look up from her novel until she noticed no one pulling at the oars. The wind was dead. There was no current in the pond, despite its connection to the Herring Run. The one and a half mile expanse of water stretched out of sight, devoid of other vessels, the only motion a subtle shifting of lily pads floating along the shore.
The chapter’s climax could wait.
Mila left her book splayed on her towel as she jogged across the root-thick beach, Converse sinking into sand. Her dyed-purple hair floundered in a braid over her shoulder.
The crescent shoreline was abandoned. Temperatures were unseasonably cool. Summer humidity had been replaced by the scent of fallen leaves and their moldering decline. The town already removed the portapotty by the boat launch. Moorings no longer bobbed off shore. Seasonal cottages were empty. If Mila ignored the arrival, no one else would inspect the boat. It was familiar in some way, like the small sailboat neighborhood kids rigged on weekends before everyone’s lives became too busy.
“Oh god,” she exhaled, peering over the bow.
Inside the skiff lay the body of a young boy, red swimsuit, flip flops dangling from his feet. He was pale, redheaded, clutching the dried body of a box turtle to his chest. Mila waded into the water, soaking her jeans to mid-calf before lifting the boy. She strained to carry him up the beach, stumbling around water-eaten knees of pine.
Dropping him onto the towel, she punched 911 into her phone. The boy wasn’t breathing. As the operator picked up, she tried to remember steps from her CPR class sophomore year, breaths and compressions, hand placement. Pinch nose or don’t pinch nose?
There was a click and a man’s voice filled her ear. Mila managed to regurgitate her location before the emergency operator dictated CPR instructions, filling in the blanks Mila’s mind couldn’t.
When the ambulance arrived, lights strobing across park benches and wild blueberry bushes, the boy hadn’t recovered, despite the seven minutes of compressions. The EMTs nudged Mila aside. She looked away when they flattened defibrillator pads to the child’s skin, the surge of electricity causing the boy to jerk as if life might linger.
It didn’t. The boy was pronounced dead at the scene.
A police officer drove Mila the half-mile home. Her mother met them at the door, hysterical tears drowning the officer’s assurance that no, she was not in trouble. She had found the Connelly boy, the one who flashed across local news channels for the better part of the year before television anchors moved on to more recent traumas. They could only broadcast the same second-grade school photo so many times before viewers lost interest.
The story of the boy who’d wanted to take his pet turtle for a boat ride had faded into obscurity until Mila dialed those digits.
The entrance to Monomoy Regional High opened to a vaulted annex, skylights letting sunlight filter down to the tile floor. Posters for upcoming Shakespeare auditions and Gay-Straight Alliance meetings hung from bulletin boards. The new building smelled of cleaning products and sweat from the track team’s early morning miles. Shark emblems were emblazoned on most surfaces, the school’s mascot ill-conceived considering the great white attacks earlier that year.
The front office stood behind a bank of windows. Mila expected the secretary to call her inside but no one beckoned. Most days, Mila felt invisible. Only a few kids in the creative writing club nodded at her passing. Rare fist bumps were exchanged with the bass player or lead singer of the punk band that played the VFW on weekends. She was fine with going unnoticed that day. There was no story she felt less inclined to tell than the one printed in the papers that morning.
Mila traced her customary route to her locker. Once open, the scent of dried flowers drifted from the open space, a bouquet of Black-eyed Susans hung inverted from a hook within. Neighboring lockers smelled of forgotten milk, peanut butter and jelly long dissolved into sludge. She needed a pleasant smell to get through her days.
As she withdrew a History text, a hand tapped her shoulder.
“My mom wanted me to give you these,” Tony said, a Stop and Shop assortment of wildflowers outstretched before him.
“That’s kind of her,” Mila replied, taking the bouquet, tongue pressed firmly into her cheek.
“We appreciate you finding Joey like that,” Tony said, his voice distant, the year of waiting hardening his vocal chords against the sadness. Tony was the young boy’s older brother. Mila sat behind him in Spanish, traced his laps around the gym’s lacquered floor during PhysEd. He was of average height. Tight jeans and a monochrome t-shirt accentuated his thin physique. His red hair was shaved low on the sides, left curly on top.
“It just sort of happened. I didn’t really do anything,” Mila replied, feeling awkward.
“The cop that stopped by our house said you did CPR the entire time you waited for the ambulance. That’s something.”
By that point, a small ring of students had gathered around their conversation, blocking off a stretch of lockers. They leaned in, clearly eavesdropping. Their eyes felt heavy. Mila’s name was usually foreign to their tongues. A wrong step and she’d hear her name echoing down the halls, muttered over cafeteria tables for weeks.
“Anyone else would have done it. I thought it might help, but I guess that’s crazy looking at the timeline,” Mila said, exchanging the living bouquet for her remaining textbooks.
“Either way, my family’s thankful. Joey would’ve been glad you tried,” Tony said, the flicker of a smile seeping into his features.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t…” Mila began.
“No worries. There’s nothing you need to apologize for. I’ll see you later.”
“Thanks,” Mila replied as Tony drifted through the crowd. While Mila straightened her things, she wondered why Tony had come to school that day. The office would have given him a pass for at least a week of grieving.
But he’d already had months to mourn. It was the inevitable end to the story. Tony couldn’t have been surprised by the outcome.
The rounded lens of the TV Camera reflected Mila’s image back to her. The placid lake lay in the background. Jen, the news anchor, stood at her side. The rowboat had been removed, undoubtedly stored in a police evidence locker. Yellow caution tape draped between pitch pines, cutting off access to the beach. The anchor hoisted a microphone towards Mila, the arranged interview minutes into recording.
“…and you were sitting right here when the boat landed?” the woman asked, her black hair stiff in a meticulous mess.
“Yeah. I was reading and it just…” Mila began to respond when the anchor rolled through her seventh reiteration.
“But there was no one paddling the boat? Are you sure you didn’t miss something? Someone running into the woods? It’s unlikely the boat could move the way you’ve described with no one in it.”
Mila shook her head, purple hair down instead of tied back in her customary braid.
“They wouldn’t have time to disappear. It’s not like I’d miss somebody crashing through the trees,” Mila said, indicating the narrow stretch of woodland dividing Long Pond from a neighboring swamp.
“You never know,” the anchor said. “Joseph Connelly had been missing for over a year. Not to be graphic, but his body didn’t sustain the decay that would come from that length of exposure.”
Mila hadn’t expected an inquisition. She felt the leading questions were meant to catch her at something she couldn’t comprehend. Her face grew red, patience wearing thin.
“What are you trying to say? All I know is I was out here reading and the boat showed up. I found the kid and tried…” Again Mila was cut off, not by the anchor, but by the cameraman. The lens swiveled away, focusing on something over Mila’s shoulder.
“You guys seeing that?” he asked.
Mila turned. In the glassy water, half submerged, half beached, was the body of a swimmer wearing a blue and white one-piece, a rubber cap half covering a shock of brown hair. Mila recognized her school’s shark emblem stitched into the material between the swimmer’s shoulders. The girl didn’t move, her skin a pallid white, nearly translucent.
“Jen, get over there,” the cameraman said, violently pointing to the body.
Jen shook as if casting off a daydream.
“Did you do this?” she asked, turning to Mila.
“What?” Mila stuttered.
“The boy, now Caxley Smith. They’re here. You’re here. They were both missing for so long. It doesn’t make sense,” the woman rattled on, eyes squinting, jumping from Mila to the drowned swimmer. “Why are you doing this?”
The swimmer’s name summoned recollections from three years prior, when Mila was a Freshman in high school. Caxley had been the star of the swimming team. Her name was written on banners hanging in their gymnasium, touting record lap times. The girl went missing during an early morning lake session, a routine she’d practiced for years, attempting to cut lap times even further. No one believed Caxley could have drowned, given her grace in the water. More fish than human, her parents used to brag.
“We need to do something,” Mila said, lifting the caution tape, ducking beneath. She ran to the body, rolling her over, checking for breath, beginning the compressions the EMTs had instructed. The camera lens followed her path, hurriedly absorbing her press and release, the terror etched on Mila’s face.
“Don’t touch her,” Jen said, refusing to dip beneath the tape. “You don’t know what will happen, what else you’ll dredge up.”
The camera panned to the anchor in disbelief, the uttered prophecy more fitting Greek tragedy than the morning news cycle.
That was the image editors left audiences with. Not the ambulance arrival, or the ten minutes of CPR Mila administered to the dead girl. Instead they left viewers with Jen’s words, the fear of what had sunk in the lake coming to the surface, washing ashore at Mila’s beckoning.
It took a week before Mila’s classmates started drawing the waves on their hands, three undulating lines etched in blue. The general population of Monomoy Regional shared news clips of Caxley’s arrival, the anchor’s words echoing from tiny speakers, what else you’ll dredge up static and breathless. It chirped from every classroom, filling the feed of every social media platform. Sometimes fifty students would school around Mila when she stepped into the building, their questions endless.
“Do you speak to them?” one kid asked.
“That’s ridiculous,” Mila replied, trying to sidestep the boy who blocked her locker.
“Then how do they know to come?” another girl asked.
“Is it a different language?”
“A psychic call?”
Mila didn’t have the answers the students craved. In her mind, it was all coincidence. She felt no different, physically or mentally, before or after the arrivals. There was no invitation, no dialogue or discourse.
“I don’t speak to them. The dead don’t talk. That’s not how it works,” Mila said, immediately regretting the phrase.
“Then how does it work?” the first boy asked, the rest of the crowd falling silent at Mila’s mistaken admission.
Mila swore under her breath, searching the hall for an exit. Tony squeezed around the throng, trying to move towards their English class. He was one of the few who hadn’t drawn the waves on his hand.
“Hey Tony,” Mila called, slamming her locker, cutting a swath through the gathering. “Did you figure out last night’s homework?”
Tony looked up, startled, the wall of students crashing towards him.
Mila was afraid he’d ignore her, leaving her to navigate the swelling horde alone. A look of realization passed across his face. He reached out an arm, entwining it with hers. Mila startled, nearly stumbling away. Regaining her composure, she leaned into Tony’s shoulder.
“Oh yeah,” he replied. “Iambic pentameter’s rough. I can definitely show you whatever you’re getting hung up on.”
Tony picked up the pace, speed-walking towards the safe haven of the classroom. Their teacher, Mrs. Doyle, never let the swarm follow Mila inside. She’d handed out detention slips like Halloween candy last time they tried.
As the pair ducked inside, the swarm pulled up short, an invisible barrier keeping them out. Ms. Doyle looked up from her computer, eyes narrowing.
The swarm dissolved.
“Another day I guess,” Ms. Doyle said as Mila found her seat, Tony dropping down next to her, abandoning his customary spot up front.
“It’s getting bad,” he said in a whisper.
“That’s an understatement,” Mila replied.
“They bugged me for a few days about my brother, but I think they got bored.”
“I’m glad they’re leaving you alone,” Mila replied. “I have no idea what’s going on and they don’t believe me.”
“Have you gone back to the lake?”
“No. God. That’s the last thing I want.”
“Would you go if I went? Maybe things will make sense if we keep it quiet.”
“You’d do that?” Mila asked. She and Tony had only spoken sparingly their entire K-12 experience, a conversation about Shakespeare here, a brief discussion about Holland’s tulip mania there. All strictly academic. He ran in a different crowd. Cross country and STEM clubs were more his affinity than punk shows and literature.
“Yeah, if it helps.”
“Are you around after school?” Mila asked, as Ms. Doyle moved to the front of the room, projecting a marked-up poem onto the whiteboard, overhead lights cutting out, the red glow of annotation stressing each necessary syllable.
October brought the removal of the swimming buoys at the lake, the last sign of the season’s waning. Mila and Tony carpooled to Long Pond in his aging Volvo. He parked beneath the pitch pines. The water was rough. Wind blew in from the north, whipping up knee-high whitecaps.
The beach wasn’t long enough for a sufficient walk, so they took the wooded path into the oaks separating the body of water from neighboring swamps. The deer path was too narrow to stroll side by side. Tony followed Mila into the underbrush, dipping around wild holly. Mila tried her best to hold back maple switches, but couldn’t catch them all.
“Do you feel anything?” Tony asked, the lake stretching out to their left, algae-strewn rocks marking the embankment.
“Not really. Nothing out of the ordinary,” Mila replied.
“When Joe’s boat showed up, you felt nothing?”
“Beyond wondering what was going to happen in my book, no. Sorry.”
“Again, nothing to be sorry about,” Tony replied as they passed an abandoned boogie board caught in the limbs of a low-lying cherry tree.
Mila could feel a sadness radiating off Tony. She turned, placing a hand on his as he leaned against a pine, looking out over the water.
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked.
“That’s fine, pretend I didn’t mention it.”
As Mila moved to let go of his hand, Tony squeezed her fingers, refusing separation.
“It’s just really fucked up. My parents wondered for so long what happened, and now he shows up, dead, like there was any other option…I thought they’d snap out of it, their distance, the constant quiet. All the blame, the silent anger. No one talks in my house anymore. My dad sleeps in the basement. Mom just moves from couch to dinner table to bed. It’s like everyone died, not just Joey,” Tony said, eyes tearing up.
Mila wrapped her arms around Tony as he cried into her shoulder. They stood there, listening to waves roll over the rocks along the shore.
“You think they’ll get better?” Tony asked.
“Of course. Eventually. Time moves differently when stuff like this happens. It slows down. Give them a few months. Talk to them. Ask how they feel.”
As Mila stepped back from Tony, the sound of metal scraping stone drew their attention from the trees. In the algae-choked shallows loomed the front half of a BMW, its hood sheared away, the front end bent in harsh angles. Half the interior was beneath the water. Through the shattered windshield, Mila saw the silhouettes of a woman and a small baby. She stepped closer. The woman’s head leaned against the side window, a purplish bruise encircling her neck, tangled water lilies drifting throughout the vehicle. The child was strapped into a carseat, fully submerged, pale as a ghost.
“Oh god,” Mila said, hand over her mouth. “I need to go.”
Her eyes darted down the path, searching for onlookers, someone who could place her at the scene.
“I can drive you,” Tony said.
“That would be amazing. I’ve got to get out of here before anyone notices. This only gets worse each time,” Mila replied.
Then they were ducking through the forest, branches crawling over skin, sidestepping moss-laden tree trunks and damp ferns. When they emerged from the undergrowth, a woman was standing next to Tony’s rusting Volvo, her gray whippet pulling at its leash, barking at their approach. The woman looked away from them, down the shoreline. Her mouth dropped open as she caught the glint of the submerged car farther out, the sun reflecting off the shattered windshield.
“Aren’t you that girl?” the woman began to ask as Mila and Tony pushed past her, struggling with the doors. The car was old and didn’t have automatic locks. Mila attempted to shade her face, turning away from the woman, but it didn’t work.
“Mila, right? You were the one who found Caxley, and that boy. You…” Mila cut the woman off by slamming her door, Tony finally flipping the lock from within. He backed out of the parking spot, careful to avoid the whippet pulling against its teether.
Mila wanted the woman to walk away, to take the road diverging from the water, trailing off through the cattails in the neighboring swamp. But she didn’t. In the side mirror, the woman raised her phone to her ear, Mila’s name repeating again and again on her lips.
The protestors gathering outside Mila’s parents’ house didn’t draw waves on their hands like their school-bound counterparts. They were from local church groups and the Long Pond Housing Committee, middle-aged couples, pouchy and balding, hoisting picket signs that read Only Satan and Jesus Raise The Dead And This Girl Definitely Isn’t Our Savior. She recognized her school’s resource officer, the local Baptist minister, and a few of the neighborhood kids’ parents. They swarmed close, almost pressing against the front windows, crowding flower beds, trampling the perennials Mila planted the previous spring.
Her own parents would slowly back through the crowd to bring Mila to school, the bus stop no longer a safe walk. Protestors batted the sides of their hybrid with signs, chanting into closed windows. Their eyes were wide when they alighted on Mila’s face, usually half blocked by the dust jacket of a book, not wanting to meet their gaze and the hatred burning there.
When her parents couldn’t make the drive, Tony would part the crowd with his Volvo.
“How long before they start burning crosses on my lawn?” Mila asked, attempting a joke.
“I give it a week, two tops,” Tony replied.
Mila laughed nervously.
“It won’t get that far,” Tony said, making a quick recovery. “This will blow over. They can’t stay hung up forever.”
A brick crashed through Mila’s front window two weeks after she discovered the bodies of the young mother and her baby. Half the town was out on their front lawn, chanting into the night air, howling at her to come out.
The woman had been the daughter of the guy who owned half the properties along the lakefront, Mr. Slate. He’d made a fortune converting old cabins into condo units and summer rentals, which had subsequently dropped in value since the bodies started surfacing. There had been articles in the paper about the woman’s disappearance years ago, her blotch on the family’s pristine reputation, the baby born out of wedlock, the money and car she’d stolen to supposedly skip town. Instead of calling the police to take her father into custody, to inquire into the bruises and the stories he’d told regarding his missing child, the crowd swelled, finding an easier outlet.
“If you feel free to judge, then judge,” came a high wail through the broken window.
“How dare you call them back.”
“Let the dead lie!”
The front door splintered as a burly man in a hunting jacket tossed a shoulder through the cheap boards. Mila and her family cowered in the back bedroom, the space with the least windows. It took the swarm seconds to locate them. The house was small, the number of rooms limited.
A thousand hands fell on Mila’s body, tugging her from her parents, pushing her out into the hall, through the living room, and out of the house, the star-hung sky scattershot overhead. The crowd had torn branches from trees in the neighboring lot, lit pine needles until they smoldered in the damp fall air. Mila tried to swat away those ferrying her forward, but there were too many hands, too many bodies in her path. The crowd passed her along, roughly shoving until she stood before the drowned woman’s father and the priest.
“Care to take a walk?” Mr. Slate asked.
“I told you I don’t know what’s happening,” Mila shivered.
“That doesn’t mean we don’t,” the priest said. “It’s best not to drag this out. If you want to air our shame, why not do it all at once? These people want their town back, their community to heal.”
“And you’re going to give it to them,” Slate said, pulling Mila up, guiding her towards the pond. The flock followed along the side of the road, feet pressing into the sandy shoulder, the scent of burning pine magnified as others lit their makeshift torches, filling the night with cinders.
Mila stood knee deep in the water. The lake was frigid, gooseflesh slipping over her skin. The crowd populated the shoreline like the border of a forest, a thousand trees standing sentinel, waiting for their past to breach the water’s surface. Before the woman and her child arrived, Mila hadn’t realized the town’s scorn for the dead, symbols of their shame and failings. With the last arrival, she felt the connections, the boy unwatched, the girl pressured to perform, the outcast daughter. She would never have categorized them as such. They were people, not objects, impossible to reduce to a single flaw.
“Speak to them. You called the others, why not draw out the rest?” the priest bellowed from shore.
“That’s not how it happens. I can’t will them into existence. You can’t just snap your fingers and make this go away,” Mila called back, fear morphing into anger. No one else entered the water. She waded out on her own accord, desiring distance, wanting to put space between their cruelty and herself.
“Doesn’t seem that way,” Slate said as a shadow rose through the water, untangling itself from spent duckweed. It was a man, stripped to the waist, pale as the sliver of moon above. “Pull him out.”
Mila shook her head.
“Pull him out,” the priest echoed.
The crowd took up the chant.
Deep within the forest of bodies, Mila found her parents’ faces, torch-lit. Tony stood next to them, nervously looking at those clustered near, eyes wandering to the burning brands, the other dark shapes lifted before them. Mila didn’t want to know what the gathering would do if she refused.
She bent at the waist, hands wrapping around the man’s cold shoulders, hauling him into the shallows. When he lay on the sand, the priest pointed back into the water. “And her.”
Another body rose out of the depths.
“And her,” Slate added, gesturing towards another floating corpse.
It went like that for some time, bodies silently drifting ashore, Mila lugging them inland until her back ached. The bodies were taken up by those standing on the sand, carried away to where Mila could no longer see them. With each arrival, a small group of those gathered broke away, slipping off into the night. The soft give of the dead’s skin was getting to her, their stillness unnerving. She didn’t know their names, couldn’t place their swamped faces. Unlike the others, only a few in the gathering recognized their dead, what dark significance they played in their lives. Lost brothers, unfaithful spouses, a grandfather who couldn’t outrun his racist past.
“Is that the last?” the priest asked after Mila dropped a final body at the man’s feet. The crowd had dwindled to less than a dozen, her parents and Tony among them.
“Has to be,” Slate said. “Everyone else left. There’d be more present if more were to come.”
“Only so much sin in one community. There had to be an end,” the priest said. “And here he is. Mathew Smalls. Does his name ring a bell?”
“Never heard of him,” Mila said, shoulders shaking.
“He was the one who burned down that abandoned hotel on route twenty-eight. Seven people died. Killed himself when he couldn’t afford a lawyer,” Slate said.
“Wasn’t he just trying to keep warm?” Tony asked from over the man’s shoulder. “Weren’t they all homeless? It wasn’t like he was an arson.”
“Some say it one way, some say it another,” Slate replied, hoisting the last body from the sand. The rest of the crowd gathered to help, each man and woman heaving Smalls up as they walked down the road.
“I’d advise you to avoid the lake,” the priest said before following. “People are fallible. Just because the waters are empty now, doesn’t mean they will stay that way for long.”
“Thanks for the advice,” Mila said.
Her family and Tony were all that were left. Tony produced a towel from somewhere as her mother offered her a coat.
“We need to get you home before you catch pneumonia,” her father said, shaking his head.
Mila wasn’t going to ask why they hadn’t helped earlier. She’d seen the number of the crowd, knew the three weren’t going to fight off the hundreds. They weren’t violent people. She didn’t hold it against them.
In January, the lake froze. Some sections were glass-like, allowing a view down to the leaf-littered bottom. Others solidified in crashing waves, jagged and frothed. Mila and Tony sat on the same beach towel she’d been planted on when his brother’s rowboat came ashore. Their breath rose in plumes.
No bodies had surfaced in months.
“You know what’s good about a frozen lake?” Mila asked.
“What?” Tony replied.
“No one’s showing up until spring. It’s not like they can break through a foot of ice to get to me.”
“I thought the lake was empty?” Tony asked.
“Every day’s a new opportunity. I don’t read the newspapers anymore.”
“It’s probably better that way.”
Footsteps crunched through the frozen pine needles at their back. Both Mila and Tony turned. An older woman dressed in a ski jacket and a pair of corduroys crossed the beach, her whippet in tow.
When the woman noticed she’d been noticed, she paused, adjusting her cap. The dog let out a yip as its collar pulled tight.
“You’re the girl, right?” the woman asked.
“I’m pretty sure you had no problem recognizing me last time,” Mila replied.
“I didn’t mean for it to happen like that,” the woman said.
“How’d you expect it to go?” Tony asked.
“Not like that, but you have to forgive me. I thought the car might have been connected to… “ the woman broke off. “I’ve actually been coming here every morning hoping to find you.”
Tony rose from the blanket, standing between Mila and the stranger.
“Whoa there. I don’t want to hurt her. Just to ask a question,” the woman said as the dog snarled.
Mila placed a hand on Tony’s shoulder, easing him back.
“What is it?” Mila asked.
“Have you found my son?” The woman asked.
“No one’s washed up in months. Are you sure he’s dead?” Mila replied, caught off guard.
“I’m not, but I was hoping…” the woman broke off, a sharp rasp escaping her throat. “I was hoping if he was, you might have seen him.”
“What?” Tony asked.
“He’s addicted to heroin. I haven’t seen him in months…” The woman broke off, shaking her head. “He used to go swimming down here with his friends. I figured he might have gone into the water instead of…” the woman trailed off, the press of sorrow serrating her words.
“I’m so sorry,” Mila said, hesitant, not knowing whether she should reach out or let the woman sit with her emotions. “But I haven’t seen anyone.”
“That’s alright. It would just be nice to know,” the woman said.
Mila recognized the sentiment from the first time Tony spoke about his brother, about the effects of loss on his family. She grabbed a notebook and pen from Tony’s backpack, turning to an open page before pushing the book to the woman.
“If you write your number, I can call if anyone shows up,” Mila said.
“That…that’s kind of you,” the woman replied, taking the paper and pen. She scribbled down nine digits and handed it back. “If it isn’t too much to ask, could you call me first, before you tell the police? I don’t want it on the news. I just want to give him a proper burial, quiet, away from everything.”
“We can do that,” Mila replied, dog-earing the page.
“Thank you,” the woman said, turning from the couple, before tracing her path across the gravel parking lot, whippet in tow.
Instead of returning to the towel, Mila walked to the water’s edge. Tony trailed behind. A cool wind swept across the ice, dragging flecks of snow upward in haphazard gyres, some the height of a man, others stretched out like sheets on a clothesline.
“Figures I’d disappoint the only person who thinks I can help,” she said.
“Besides me, you mean,” he replied.
“Yeah. Besides you.”
“Hey, you took her number. That in itself’s a kindness.”
“I hope she saw it that way,” Mila replied, eyes trailing over the frozen pond.
Something was off.
A black spot slowly gained mass beneath the ice, like a great sea creature nearing the surface. Mila stepped onto the frozen surface. She needed to see what it was, if the body belonged to the woman’s son. Tony’s arm shot out, fingers wrapping her tricep. Neither knew how thick the ice was, how much weight it could support.
“He’ll still be there in the spring,” Tony said. “If you break through, who’s going to be around to call her?”
“You could,” Mila replied.
“I’m not the one they come to see,” Tony said, refusing to let her go.
Mila looked out to where the darkened silhouette bobbed beneath the ice. It was a body, as it had been with the others. There was the vague sprawl of limbs, a head nudging the underside of its glass ceiling. Mila couldn’t tell if it was a man or woman. She shook her head, shrugging off Tony’s hold, stepping back towards the towel. She retrieved the novel she’d been trying to start when they first sat down, creasing the spine.
“Are you ok?” Tony asked, standing over her.
“Yeah. I don’t need to add another body to the lake. There’s been enough down there already,” Mila replied without looking up from her page.
She wasn’t going to miss the climax again.
Corey Farrenkopf lives on Cape Cod with his wife, Gabrielle, and works as a librarian. His short stories have been published in Tiny Nightmares, The Southwest Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Catapult, Three-Lobed Burning Eye, Flash Fiction Online, Bourbon Penn, Uncharted, and elsewhere. He is the Fiction Editor for The Cape Cod Poetry Review. To learn more, follow him on twitter @CoreyFarrenkopf or on the web at CoreyFarrenkopf.com