Winter Lake

Alice drifted toward the lake's edge, her corn-silk hair knotted atop the crown of her skull and tied in place by a thistle-colored ribbon that matched the dress billowing out around her calves. She stooped down and plunged her hands into the water, aware of the icy chill but she had no outward reaction to it. After she scrubbed her hands clean and scraped the crud out from under her nails, she made a small cup out of them and bent forward at the waist to take a drink. The taste of the unfiltered minerals hit her tongue as she swallowed, her throat protesting the liquid with a harsh ache. She rebelled by gulping down more and nearly choked. She wiped her mouth and smacked her lips with a sigh, then stood up. Just a short time ago she'd felt the cadence of her own heart rattling in her ribs like some wild animal gone insane from confinement, but the creature was now docile and contented in its cage. Her stomach ached, reminding her how long it had been since the last time she put something in it.


She walked through the blue air inside the small tavern toward the bar, the shoes of her heels clicking on the sawdust covered floor. This was the kind of place where everyone in town went to escape their stressful jobs, run away from their troubled marriages and forget that they had children to parent at home. The bartender played the part of mostly silent therapist, handing out liquor and a few carefully dispersed pearls of wisdom instead of antidepressants, his shoulders permanently stooped forward from bearing the weight of an entire population's dirty laundry. The stool let out a high pitched squeal in protest of being spun and groaned as Alice settled on it. She slipped her hand into the secret pocket of her dress skirt and took out a five dollar bill that she slapped onto the bar top. Paul turned from his conversation with Reverend Gordon about the hockey game and walked down the bar to get her a light beer. He didn't bother asking her what she wanted since he already knew, just like he knew the rest of his patron's choice of poisons. She took the cold bottle that he opened for her with a light tip of her head and took a drink. She hated the taste of alcohol but it calmed the noise in her head, brought everything into focus.

“Hey Lucy,” he said. He'd been calling her that ever since she started coming in here even though he knew her real name. He said she reminded him of his high school sweetheart who was “the prettiest girl these tired out eyes have ever laid on”. He'd always been kind to her, and she wasn't too fond of being named after her alcoholic grandmother anyway, so she didn't make a fuss. “You're all dressed up. You got a date tonight?” He asked, glancing over her shoulder at the door.

“No date,” she answered, tearing the corners off her napkin and staring as if transfixed by the amber-colored bottle in front of her. “I'm actually just on my way out of town.”

“Oh? Where are you going?”

“Into the mountains, I want to drive up to the lake. My family has a cabin on the water and sometimes I like to go up there to have some time alone. It helps me think.”

Everything up here in the mountains was brown this time of year except for the snow which valiantly tried to disguise the muddy earth as something beautiful but failed, only managing to draw attention to the unsightly environs. She remembered as a girl thinking there was something majestic about the rocky slops covered in white patches with bits of grass peeking through, back when she and her father would drive up here and lay on the hood of his old Nissan truck, surrounded by the deep stillness. Now those memories had gone stale, left a sour taste in her mouth that made her swallow with great effort. Her father was a liar and a cheat, emotionally and mentally abusive to her mother by forcing her to believe she couldn’t ever leave him. Her mother was no better, spineless and weak for allowing these things to go on for years and believing one day her father would change. Alice’s well of sympathy for the woman had run dry a long time ago.

She crossed her arms over herself, more out of habit than from cold, her eyes trained on two smallmouth bass hunting down and devouring an aquatic frog, one decapitating the prey while the other tore off one of the back legs, blood and frog body debris coloring the water with murky rust around them. They finished their meal and then swam off to clearer waters, leaving no trace of the carnage behind them. All in nature is violence, every creature born with an instinct to destroy. Only humans dilute themselves into believing they are any more kind. Humans like to believe we've evolved beyond that point. But what is more evolved than to know one's true function in life, than to understand that life is cruel and if you are not the one eating then you are being eaten, in one way or another. To fully comprehend where you stand is true evolution.

A shrill call pierced the air like a scream – a warning – forcing her eyes upward. A bird tore through the air, sending up the alarm. Danger! Alice squinted in the hard gray light, gritting her teeth. Shut up. Her fingers curled around an imaginary gun and she raised the invisible muzzle, training it on the alarmist and pulling the trigger. Bang. The bird made a swooping arch around her head and then disappeared over the trees, out of harm's way at least for the moment. She thought again of the fish and decided she was hungry, walking back to the truck and getting the chicken salad sandwich she had wrapped up from the back seat. She slammed the door shut and pulled herself up on the hood, considering each bite before she took it. The slate gray sky was darkening, the clouds clustered up into large piles on top of each other. The temperature had dropped since she arrived; it was fixing to snow again. That was all right.

She gazed out at the landscape. In a few months everything would start to green up again, the warmth of spring thawing the ground and allowing the sagebrush and buttercups to grow along the shoreline once again. But for now winter still held a tight choke-hold on this part of the earth, snuffing out anything that suggested that this was a place where life, at some point, happened. For now the only things that thrived here were the fish, the other animals tucked away in the forest below, safe in their burrows and caves. Even they knew this cold, ex-animate world was no place for those with warmer blood in their veins. Only those who were as dangerous as the world they occupied, those who could adapt to the harsh surroundings, could make it out here.

She noticed the rocks jutting out from the shore, the water lapping up against them. Most were still, unmoved, but one rocked back and forth with each push and pull of the water, unable to break free of the others that enclosed it. There are two kinds of people in this world, Alice; those who are willing to stand their ground and don't let anything shake them, and those who are knocked around on a whim. The strong, immovable ones are the ones who get by. The others just get carried away in the undertow. She'd allowed herself to get knocked around too many times, struggling against people who were not willing to budge for her.

She heard the hard beating of wings again. The bird, her nemesis, had doubled around and was now flying over head again, his cautionary call slicing through the still air. She decided it was time to go, wrapped up the rest of her lunch and got back into the truck, putting the key in the ignition. The tires strained through the gravel as she threw the vehicle into reverse then drove back to the main road. The fish were looking for their next meal, the bird calling again and again, his eyes trained on the two smallmouth bass gliding through the water. The hunter being hunted.

Alice would leave the beasts to their business.


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kayla97068
Short Story
Crime
writing kayla97068
There is a balance of life; for every positive there will be a negative, and with every negative soon will come a positive. If you hold on long enough through all the bad, you'll be able to find something wonderful and cherish it all that much more.
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Synopsis
Based on a prompt given in my college fiction writing class where we were asked to describe a lake as seen by someone who has just committed a murder, but the catch was we were not supposed to mention the murder.
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