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Amanda Ellis

Artwork by Merlin Flower

The water felt warm, surrounding her body like a blanket, but the breeze made goose-bumps pop up on her shoulders. As she treaded in the water she looked around to see if she could spot anyone else in the lake. Not a soul—she was alone. She swam over to the floating square of wood and climbed onto it, being careful not to scrape her knees or shins on the edge. She used to wonder how these things stayed in place when she was a kid, but remembered her grandfather telling her they were chained down to a piece of cement, and held up by buoyant barrels filled with air.
She leaned back on her arms and felt the water droplets travel from her shoulders to her wrists, escaping onto the dry wood. Tall, dark green trees surrounded the crystal clear water of the lake. It was deep, fed by an endless supply of water from the artesian springs. She couldn’t believe this land was hers now. She spent so many summers here with her grandparents. They often sat on the screened-in porch and admired the lake from their house on the hill.
She turned her gaze above her and admired the blue sky as though it were some Renaissance work of art. Puffy clouds lingered over her head as if they knew her and wanted to stop to say hello.
After staring at the sky for what seemed like an hour, she slowly lowered her head and looked toward the shore. She wasn’t surprised to see someone standing there—oftentimes locals would come to have a dip in the lake, especially on a beautiful day like this. What surprised her was what the man was wearing. He certainly didn’t come here for a swim.
She got goose bumps again, but this time there was no breeze to trigger them. They were accompanied by a shiver that traveled down her spine. The man was just standing there, at the edge of the lake, in a dark suit and brown trench coat.
She tried not to seem startled, but the man was staring right at her. He wasn’t moving, just standing and staring. He had his arms hanging at his sides, and this bothered her more than if he had them in his pockets. It made him seem stranger, somehow.
She shaded her eyes with her hand to try to get a better look at him. With the sunlight coming from behind him, it was impossible to see his face. And he didn’t move, still.
She didn’t see a car in the small circle of gravel near the shore where the road ended, where everyone either turned around or parked. There was nowhere else it could be, either—unless he walked the five miles from the main road. There were no shoulders to pull off on and no driveways that led off the road; only her own, blocked by a gate that was always locked. No one walked here because it was too far. The only people that ever came here were the locals that had been given permission by her grandparents years ago, before they passed. So what was this guy doing here?
She swallowed her fear and yelled towards the shore. “Hello?”
The man didn’t move or respond in any way. She tried again. “Hello!”
He just stood there.
Her heart began to beat faster. She pulled her legs close to her body, and wrapped her arms around her knees. She turned her head to scan the edges of the lake, to see if she saw anyone on the shore besides that man. No one. It was just her, and him. Why wasn’t he moving?
She thought about swimming to the other side of the lake, but her phone, house keys, her shoes—they were right there on the shore. The other side was at least four times as far as the swim she made to the floating dock. Without shoes, it would be hard to walk—or run—home through the woods, and she had given her set of spare keys to her best friend last week when she was visiting. Of course, she had forgotten to get them from her before she left. She had been meaning to make another set. It was a little late now.
Maybe she was just overreacting. Maybe he was just admiring the view, the peaceful tranquility of the lake. Maybe all she had to do was jump back into the water, and swim to shore, and everything would be alright. Maybe he would just leave.
She sat still, holding herself, having almost dripped dry by this point. The man was still standing there. The sun began its descent towards the horizon.
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