Authors: Eva Truesdale
“Late, late yesterday I saw the new moon,
With the old moon in her arms;
And I fear, I fear, my master dear!
That we shall have a deadly storm.”
-The Bal ad of Sir Patrick Spens
It was a beautiful day for a funeral. That didn’t exactly help the situation. Somehow it seemed that, given all that had happened to me over the past few weeks, the weather could’ve at least been catering to my feelings. So it should’ve been raining. No, more like storming—with gale-force winds and hail the size of golf bal s. Enough of this sunny sky and cool breeze nonsense. It was starting to piss me off.
My dad was the guest of honor, the one we’d all come to say goodbye to. We’d kept this affair as intimate as possible and invited only family and close friends—emphasis on the word ‘close’— because if we hadn't it was likely the whole town would’ve shown up. This was mainly because of two reasons: one, because in our rural, mountain town of Cody's Creek, North Carolina, everybody knew everybody, and that somehow gave everyone the right to be involved in everyone else's business. And two: because my dad's death, and the stories surrounding it, had been dominating the headlines of the local newspaper for the past week. It had even been a story on Channel Three's six 'o' clock news one night—which was a big deal for a town whose front-page news normal y contained such fascinating stories as the one about Farmer Such-and-Such, who broke a long-standing town record with the incredible girth of a pumpkin he managed to grow. And the sad part is I’m not making that up. That real y was a story last November.
An accidental drowning. That had been the newspapers’
conclusion—and it made sense. After all , as far as I knew, my dad didn’t have any enemies. In fact, he was arguably one of the most well -liked people in town. Besides that, stuff like murders just didn't happen here in Cody's Creek—it had been something like fifty-years since the last known one, I think. Plus it had been raining for days before the one Dad went missing, and the lake we lived next to had been steadily rising to dangerous levels. Combine that with the fact that my father had never been a particularly strong swimmer, and everything added up just fine.
Not that that stopped people from coming up with their own crazy conclusions. I had to admit—it was tempting to come up with one myself. Because the fact was, I couldn't help but be a little bit angry with my father, for going and drowning like that. I know that sounds awful. But at least if he’d been murdered, I could’ve directed my anger at someone else, and not toward Dad on the day of his funeral. Because that seemed…wrong, somehow.
So there I stood, between my younger sister, Lora, and my mom, Anna. The latter had her hand resting lightly on my shoulder, in what I think was an attempt to be comforting. It wasn't a very good one. My mom was a very practical, no-nonsense kind of woman—she didn't do the touchy-feely stuff much, so her hand being there came off as more awkward than anything else. Still , I suppose it was the thought that counted. I sighed and leaned against her, and she wrapped an arm around my shoulder as I stared numbly forward.
The pastor from our church—who had been a close friend of my father’s—was reading something from the Bible propped open in his arms now, his voice sounding like it might crack any second. A small group of mourners stood with us in a semi-circle around him. Most of them had wads of well -used tissue clenched in their fists and were dabbing at puffy, red eyes, which made me feel a little ashamed. My own face was dry, and it had been since I’d learned of my own face was dry, and it had been since I’d learned of my dad's death. It wasn't that I didn't feel like crying. I just couldn't make the tears fall . I think maybe I was still too shocked to do anything except stare blankly at the world around me, like I was doing now as the pastor said his final words.
A few other people spoke up after he had finished, but I didn't hear a single word any of them said. Like it mattered.
What could any of them possibly say about dad that I didn't already know, anyway?
I shuffled restlessly where I stood. The cemetery’s giant oak trees had been providing us with shade for most of the morning; now the sun was hovering directly above us, and I had to throw up a hand to shield my eyes from its rays.
Apparently, the sun's annoying new position was a cue of some sort, because a minute or so later silence descended over our group. The pastor took a handful of dirt and tossed it across my father's coffin while chanting something about ‘ashes to ashes and dust to dust'.
And then it was over.
The pastor closed the Bible, and people turned to their neighbors and shook hands and hugged each another.
Then one by one they directed their attention to us. I wasted no time ducking out of my mother's one-armed embrace and attempting a bee-line toward our SUV.
Something about me must’ve been screaming “I don’t want to talk to anyone”, because I managed to escape most of the crowd with only a few discreet head nods and brief embraces. I hadn’t quite made it to the safety of our vehicle, however, before I had that inexplicable feeling of being watched.
I tilted my head to the left, and saw the reason instantly out of the corner of my eye; she would’ve been hard to miss, since she was staring blatantly in my direction, her eyes resolute and a creepy statue-like air to her. Without thinking, my pace slowed almost to a stop. My hand had already reached for the car door. Now it simply rested on the handle.
For a moment I couldn't help but stare back, but that quickly got uncomfortable for me—even though she seemed unnerved by my returned stare. Seconds later I admitted defeat in our staring contest and averted my eyes, pulled the car door open and clambered inside. I slumped down as far into the seat as I could go—far enough so that I couldn't see out the windshield.
I stared at the dashboard for a long while before sitting up and chancing a glance in her direction, but by this time the strange girl had already disappeared. My gaze was met instead by what was left of my family just as they reached the car. They didn’t say anything as they climbed in. I didn’t bother to interrupt the silence.
That girl’s face followed me home. I’d seen her somewhere before, I was sure of it, and now she hung in my memory like a nagging tune I couldn’t name. I knocked my head lightly against the headrest in frustration, and my mother glanced over at me, her lips forming a thin frown.
"You okay, Alex?"
Well that was a loaded question.
"I'm fine Mom. Just thinking about something." She gave me one of her I-know-better-because-I’m-your-mom looks, but all she said was:
"Okay." The silence settled heavily after that, and lasted throughout the remainder or the trip, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
Eventual y, the longest car ride of my life came to an end and we turned left into our long, twisting, gravel driveway.
My nose was pressed against the window, causing a tiny cloud of fog to appear on the glass with each breath.
Outside, the wind was picking up, and the trees lining our Outside, the wind was picking up, and the trees lining our driveway were bowing forward, their branches skimming the top of the car. The glass was getting colder, despite my warm breaths, as the sun was now completely hidden behind the gray clouds. A thunderstorm—a nasty one from the looks of it—was roll ing in quickly, as they had a tendency to do during our North Carolina summers.
It was about damn time the weather got with the program.
My door was open before the car had even made it into park. I jumped out and pulled the light jacket I was wearing more tightly around my self, and took the front porch steps at a run without offering so much as an acknowledging glance over my shoulder at either Mom or Lora. My house key was out and ready when I got to the front door, and I hastily shoved it in the lock. I didn't bother to shut the door behind me as I darted off down the hall . As I reached my room I heard the wind fling the screen door against the brick siding with a loud bang!—which I mimicked a second later when I slammed my own door. I walked to the overstuffed couch in the corner of my room and slumped down into it, promptly burying my face in its cushions. My eyes were closed within seconds.
Outside, car doors were slamming. The front door was opening and closing, and the distant murmur of quiet voices and footsteps of our friends and relatives was getting louder and louder. But none of that mattered right now.
Right now, I just wanted to sleep for as many days as I could possibly get away with.
That word was still hard to swallow. I guess now I understood the comfort people found in believing in life-after-death. It made things easier, I guess— the idea that you might see them again. As for what I believed? I wasn't sure. I didn't want to think about it.
So, in an effort to keep myself from thinking, I spent the next few weeks doing anything I could to stay busy. I took extra shifts at the library where I worked during the summer. I volunteered my time to help out with Lora's soccer team. I helped our elderly neighbor, Ms. Cartwright, with her yard work. I reorganized my closet about ten times. I reread nearly every book I owned (which was no small feat, given that I owned several bookshelves full ) at least twice.
It was inevitable, I suppose, that I’d eventual y run out of things to distract myself with.
It happened a lot sooner than I would have liked, on an overcast Saturday afternoon exactly three weeks after my dad's funeral. I sat on our front porch, my head resting on drawn-up knees clad in sweatpants I hadn’t bothered to change out of when I woke up that morning. The ear buds of my Ipod were wedged in my ears, blaring my music at a volume my mother probably would’ve nagged me about. I was, not for the first time that week, mul ing over the idea of taking a walk down to the lake.
My eyes drifted toward it—or at least to what I could see of it through the fortress of thick-trunked trees that separated the two of us. That was were my father had taught me how to swim. My fists clenched at the memory.
He should’ve spent more time teaching himself. What had been the very first lesson he’d taught me? Never swim alone. He’d been alone. And dead almost an entire day before anybody knew because of it.
I got to my bare feet, and before I knew what I was doing my I got to my bare feet, and before I knew what I was doing my legs had taken several strides toward the trees, closing the distance in a matter of seconds. I pushed aside the branches along the forest edge and made my way down the well -beaten path that led down to the lake's edge, stumbling over the limbs littering the ground as a result of last night's storms.
I cleared the trees and paused, admiring the enormous body of water I was facing. The surface of the lake was dark and foreboding in the meager light of the gray sky, but surprisingly smooth, given the deteriorating weather conditions.
The wind was picking up, so I pulled the hood of the sweatshirt I was wearing over my head and huddled over in an attempt to shield myself from it. It didn’t do much good.
Shivering, I picked my way down to the pebble-strewn beach until I reached the water's edge. My eyes closed as I inhaled the fishy, soggy smell that enveloped me. Every now and then a gust of wind would urge the water to slide over my bare feet, causing chill bumps to erupt across my skin. The lake seemed unseasonably cold, but I rolled the bottoms of my pant legs up and waded further out anyway, until I was knee deep in the murky water.
This had always been my place. No matter what I was going through, no matter how horrible a day I'd had, I could always count on the lake to make it all better. Now, standing there I felt empty. Alone. Like I was drowning in the knee-deep water, even as I took slow, deliberate breaths of air.
And then, very suddenly, I realized I wasn’t alone at all .
A distinct click sounded behind me. I spun around, forgetting for a moment how deeply I had waded out, and nearly lost my balance. I threw my arms out to steady my self, just as my gaze found the source of the click, and I froze, hands still in the air. My eyes were the only thing I dared to move. They widened slowly as they took in the sight of the man who stood before me, staring with an appraising look in his narrowed eyes. I didn't recognize him as anyone I'd ever seen around town—or around anywhere else, for that matter. But I didn't linger too much on who he might’ve been.
Because at the moment I was a bit preoccupied by the gun he was pointing at my chest.