The boat was still moored in the shallows when I got to the lake, but Cori was already there waiting for me. She was lying on the prow, her hair pulled back, drinking a Pepsi. Watching the water.
I waded out through the rushes and climbed up beside her. “Anything interesting down there?” I grinned.
She didn’t look at me, but I could tell she was smiling. “No. Just water.” She sat up. “There’s more soda in the back if you want it.”
I shook my head and leaned against the windshield of the boat, letting my gaze drift heavenward. A clear harvest moon had risen over the distant oaks, and high above, the stars were coming out, shimmering like flecks of silver dust. “You really think there’s a God up there?”
Cori turned to face me, her eyes glowing in the milky moonlight. “Why shouldn’t there be?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. You tell me.”
She laughed. “It’s not complicated. God loves you, and he sent his son to die for you so you could live with him.”
“Let me guess, that’s where the whole Jesus thing comes in.”
“You got it. Jesus died so you could live.”
I had to laugh. “Right. Like anyone would die for me.”
She shook her head. “You’d be surprised, Trent.” She got up and climbed over the windshield, into the boat. “Come on. You drive tonight.”
I grinned and let go the moorings, then followed her.
We had been all over the lake before, but never back into that misty channel on the far shore. I revved the motor and steered toward the fog.
I’m not sure when I first noticed that the lake had become a swamp. I kept the boat steady into the mist, a thick murk of shredded reeds frothing up behind the outboard. Maybe it was the fog, maybe it was the darkness; either way, I didn’t see the log in the water. I’m not sure I would have recognized the danger even if I had.
It’s strange, actually, how fast it happened. I felt the boat lurch, saw the lake tilt up toward me, heard Cori shout my name, and then I was over the side, plunged into raging silence beneath the water. It was so dark down there. Cold vines swayed around me, a quiet ghost dance of lake reeds lit by the rippling moon above. They coiled around my body, pulling me deeper, drifting like skeletal trees in the murk. I was sinking, I was caught; panic gripped me and I strained, thrashed, fought against the bonds. It was no use. I was drowning, trapped at the bottom of the swamp—
Something broke across my vision, a silhouette against the shattered moon. Cori stroked down toward me, her hands outstretched, reaching into the weeds, grasping my shirt, breaking me free of the snares. She was beside me, beneath me, all around me, tearing back the vines and pushing me toward the surface. My mind snapped back into place, and I groped upward, kicked my legs—
I broke out into the air, clear moonlight spilling around me. The boat was nearby; Cori must have shut off the motor. I struggled toward it, grabbed the rail and pulled myself up onto the deck, dripping, gasping, exhausted. I laid there for almost a minute before I realized that Cori hadn’t come up to join me. A slow, numb dread crept over me, and I suddenly felt very cold and sick.
I got to my feet. “Cori?”
I grabbed the edge of the boat and leaned over, peering into the darkness, searching. “Cori?” It was black, like staring down into an empty sky. Ripples flowed across the water, spreading outward into the night. She’s still down there, I realized; oh God she’s still down there. Down in the reeds. No way I could find her. And as the moon’s reflection began to end its seething dance and the ripples faded away into a deep, deathly stillness, I realized she wasn’t coming back up.
I watched the water for a long time after that. It grinned back at me but didn’t say a word. She was gone.
I’ve never returned to the lake. Somehow I can’t bring myself to step into that water again, knowing she died there. Saving me. She died saving me.
But I’ve been thinking a lot about what she said that night; it’s starting to make sense now. And I want to know more.
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