This week’s fiction Friday piece is a mystery/thriller that will keep readers on the edge of their seats as they ponder the future of the character’s existence and relationship. It ponders themes of friendship, loyalty, and nature.
The night Maggie and I ran off the edge of the splintering, wooden dock, a full moon floated high above Crescent Lake.
“What if we go for a swim?” I asked her after a particularly heavy conversation on my back porch about her dad going back to rehab.
“It’s midnight,” she said.
I didn’t take no for an answer and dragged her through the sparsely wooded yard to the dock. And, when our heads surfaced from under the water I could see that I was right. Maggie belonged in the water. She could swim in college if she wanted to. If she could get to college. Unlike me. Maggie knew she’d have to drag me through the water if we swam more than a hundred yards.
“What are friends for?”
I laughed as we floated under the bright flow of the moon. When Maggie didn’t speak again, I knew I’d momentarily lost her to the inside of her own thoughts. The hallways of her brain were wallpapered in anxiety and maturity, but she locked the door to the house all the time.
I felt the water move under my arms and realized how little I had to worry about in comparison. My family had lived on Crescent Lake my whole life. To be specific, my family of two working parents and the dog: all very nuclear. Most families around Crescent Lake were nuclear like that. The arrival of Maggie with her single father and wild little sister, Laurie, sent a wave of gossip across the water.
The first morning they woke up here, Maggie swam across the lake and back.
“Remember you’re not allowed to do that,” worried mothers warned their prepubescent children who were likely to try and copy the mysterious new girl.
“Where’s your mom?” was the first question I asked Maggie and it almost won me a position on the black list like the rest of the neighborhood.
But, as she told me later, the naive neighbor boy who flew his drone over the lake at sunset was too interesting to ignore. Or was I the only interesting one around? Whatever Maggie’s exact wording, I won the spot of sole friend in the tiny lumbering town.
“Can we swim to the island?” Maggie asked, “please, we have plenty of light from the moon and I’ll help you.”
I gave in. Maggie’s dark hair was already as soaked as mine, and I knew we’d have to throw our wet clothes in the outside washing machine from the moment we got in the water. As we turned over in the water, I tried my hardest not to stare at Maggie’s white ‘Young the Giant’ t-shirt, or what’s under it. She’s beautiful, yes, but I knew better than that.
It’s about a hundred yards to the island from my dock. I’d make it there, no problem. It was the swim back that worried me. And the wrath of my father if he found out I went swimming at night. He was not a fan of my friendship with Maggie or anything that put me in danger. The two often went hand in hand.
Like the summer night last year when maggie got me to smoke pot for the first time. The afternoon we ice skated on the lake when it had only been frozen over for one night. Even though I was only as deep as my knees when I fell through, my father was ready with the ‘didn’t I know that freezing water could shock my heart?’ reprimand.
One time Maggie and I went driving in her dad’s car, maybe without permission, and he reported it missing. So dad reported Maggie’s father to CPS. I didn’t see Maggie for almost a month.
“Little further,” she cried out and I breathed a deep sigh of exhaustion and relief to see the shore again.
Eventually little rocks scraped my knees, so I knew to stand. Behind us, my dock looked like a faraway lighthouse. Maggie didn’t turn around when we reached the shore, she kept pushing forward to the tree line.
“I needed this, Brady,” Maggie said, sitting down on a rock. I sat next to her on a hard bump.
“Happy to help. And I can do more than swim to the island, remember,” I said before once again offering my house and groceries and parents as stand ins for whatever Maggie needed while her dad was gone.
“I already told you, Jackson is going to come stay with us and help me pay the bills.” Maggie folded her hair into a braid as she explained this plan. She always braided her hair around Jackson. Stupid Jackson. Her hair looked fine, better than fine, down and natural. What did that twenty-one-year-old know or do or say that I couldn’t? They were dating: Maggie and Jackson. He was one of the other neighbors she didn’t turn away from. And Maggie told me everything about the two of them. Even the details of their sex life, too many details about their sex life.
“Come on, I want to be distracted from all that shit back home,” Maggie said. We stood and started walking deeper into the shrubbery of the island.
Maggie loved this island even more since she discovered the hunting stands in the trees. In hunting season, some of the locals hunted small game and deer that made it onto the island. The further we walked, the darker it got.
“Maggie, slow down,” I yelled when I could hardly see her silhouette. She said nothing and her outline shifted. I stopped when a feeling in my gut made my skin prickle. What was it? Something didn’t feel right.
Leaves rustled fast, like an animal sprinting across the forest floor. Crash, the clank of metal rang out only seconds before Maggie’s scream followed it, in harmony.
“Maggie?!” I cried but couldn’t move for fear I would step in a trap too. My heart thudded hard in my chest. Calm down, calm down, I repeated to myself. I couldn’t let my heart rate get that high.
“Brady, go get help!” Maggie said between cries.
“I’ll call an ambulance.”
“No,” Maggie interjected, “the police will come too and they’ll realize my dad’s gone and they’ll send me and Laurie away again.”
“Call Jackson, my phone’s on the dock!”
I turned around without worrying about more traps. If we walked in that far, safley, then I could go back the same way. And, I tore through the shrubs, so fast my arms were flailing and my feet landed unevenly across rocks and ditches. My heart throbbed. I know, I know, I said to myself. I needed to calm down.
And then I reached the water’s edge.
A hundred yard swim ahead of me after such a shock. This was why people with holes in their hearts weren’t good athletes. They’ve tried twice to fix mine, with little success after either attempt. He’ll just always be a little smaller and a little slower, the doctors assured my parents. This advice my parents interpreted as: limit his physical exercise and feed him lots of red meat.
But regardless of what they assumed of my abilities, I had to do this hundred yards. Just a hundred yards, I convinced myself as I splashed into the water. Every second I waited put Maggie in more danger.
Kick, kick, pull, breathe, I chanted in my mind as each limb moved. I probably looked like a panicking dog in the middle of the lake, not moving very fast. I’ve almost never swam that far by myself.
Closer. Closer. I could see the pier transform from a shadow to a real object in front of me.
Finally my hand slapped a mossy, wooden leg and I scraped my hand against in-grown shells to find the ladder.
Water dripped from my shorts onto the boards and I heaved over, trying to catch my breath. Oh my god. I did it.
I had to focus and found Maggie’s phone while bent over in exhaustion.
She said to call Jackson, I recalled while her phone recognized my pruney thumbprint. But, what was he going to do? His unshaven face stared at me through the homescreen. It was one a.m. on a Friday night. He probably wasn’t at home or sober. Calling 911 made much more sense. It would actually save Maggie and show up when asked; instead of, standing her up, bleeding in the woods. But would Maggie forgive me for the fallout of calling an ambulance? I thought of Laurie asleep a house away. At least she’d be alive.
They asked me to stay on the line after they asked my name and what the emergency was and where I was.
I sat with the silent phone pressed to my damp ear on the dock. I waited to hear sirens that I was sure Maggie would hear too. The town wasn’t that big. And, maybe she’d be mad. Curse me. Cry.
Maybe she’d already be dead and then she’d never know what I did.
A few minutes later I could hear the whoops and bells. The blue and red lights painted the trees and their shadows. Our entire lake looked like an inner city club scene. Or at least, movies I’ve seen of club scenes.
Before I knew it, men and women with an inflatable motor boat pushed past me and cut through the water towards Maggie. Maybe now I should call Jackson, I thought. Or maybe not. Nothing would have changed about the situation he was probably in. The 911 operator hung up on me.
“Son, are you okay?” a spare paramedic asked me. His face was highlighted in the same red and blue emergency lights.
I hesitated before answering and thought about the whole night. Then I said, “No, I have a heart condition.”