The Lake

The Lake now updated to include Part 2.

                                                                   THE LAKE

Part 1

I lose count of the times I have sat here on this bench at the back of the house, the one that overlooks the lake. Hour upon hour I have looked into these waters, my eyes searching it’s surface, listening keenly, casting out the wind and the rustle of the surrounding trees in search of her voice. Now and then I sense her presence; a movement at the corner of my vision, a whisper faintly recognised over the breeze, but I know that these are but imprints, creations of her passing. So, I wait, knowing that when she comes to me it will not be as a faint mist or ripple upon the lake , but as the daughter I raised and loved, whole and full of life; my Helen.

Helen, who I lost to those dark, black waters.

Helen was eleven when she died. It was a cold January day, very much like this one. The snow that had began to fall the previous night lay heavy on the ground, casting a white blanket over the garden and surroundings; the trees, stripped of their leaves, had their skeletal frames dressed in glittering flakes of ice, and the lake had taken on the resemblance of marble; pale, lined with roots and branches that ran like veins beneath it’s surface, erupting here and there, betraying the beauty of it’s ancient face.

She was wearing a bright yellow coat that morning. Edward, her younger brother by four years, wore a woollen fleece. I watched them from the window as they played, throwing balls of snow and running amongst the trees. I would join them later, when I had time. The phone rang and I answered it: a cold caller trying to sell me roof insulation. I was on the line only moments. Moments; on replacing the receiver upon it’s cradle the screaming started.

The ice broke under my weight as I made my way towards them. I caught my son’s arm as it thrashed wildly out of the water but Helen was far from my reach where the water was deeper. They say that I could not have saved them both. It would have been impossible to reach her without forsaking my son’s life and probably my own. They say I did the right thing by lifting Edward out of the water and onto the bank before returning for my daughter.

They say all these things.

I still question my actions, though it’s been over two years now. They tell me it’s natural to feel this way, and that the dreams that wake me in the night will decrease with time. Yet, part of me wishes that this is not the case; it his her I see, after all, and I have no desire to lose whatever link I have with her, however tenuous. Though in sleep, the vision her is a twisted, brutal thing.

My wife, Amanda, couldn’t come to terms with the death. Our relationship, which had been rocky for a number of months previously, crumbled into resentment and she left not three months later; a note left read that although she didn’t blame me, she could no longer look at my face for fear of being reminded of what was taken from her. I thought she would call now and again to speak to Edward, but so far this hasn’t been the case. Helen was always her favourite, and the new life she has sought abroad seems to have no place for the one’s she left behind.

Edward appeared to come to terms with Helen’s death more quickly. He engrossed himself in his schoolwork, making friends and enjoying the sort of activities young boys do. He also developed a more understanding and gentler nature than he had exhibited before. On times when I was feeling particularly sombre; on what would have been Helen’s birthday, or when I sat in her bedroom, staring at her photograph, he would place himself beside me and rest his head on my side. He didn’t speak during these moments, there was no need. His presence said all he needed to convey: I’m here and I share your sadness, it said, but we still have each other, and together we remember her.

Family and friends did their best to persuade me to sell the house and move away, but I felt that doing so would lessen Helen’s memory somewhat – a feeling my son also shared – so we stayed in the house by the lake and in time the voices calling for us to start a life elsewhere hushed. My work, as an illustrator of children’s books gained more notoriety amongst the publishing world, and the commissions paid well, and with this, and the days turning to months, then years, the foundations of something of a normal life began to return. Edward was doing well in school and was popular, and by the time the second winter following Helen’s death came around, I began to think we had turned a corner. The bad days, though still there, were broken now and then by moments of laughter, and the guilt that had weighed so heavily upon me was lessening. I began to think that perhaps yes, life could continue, and with effort, it could be a good one at that.

I was naïve to think such things.

It was December the 21st. I had been working on a commission which was proving demanding; I was about to set down my paints and brushes with the thought of retiring to bed, when I heard my son’s voice raised in conversation. Opening the door to my study I walked down the hallway to the back of the house, where I found Edward standing by the door, his face pressed against the glass.

”What you doing up, Ed? It’s very late” I said. ”And it’s school tomorrow.”

He chose to ignore my voice, and instead cupped his hands near to his face in an effort to see the garden outside more clearly.

”Edward,” I said more sternly, and this time he acknowledged my presence, turning to face me.

”I was…I thought..” he stammered, ”I was…”

”Was what? Ed, what are you looking at?”

His face looked pale and tired. I knelt down and rested an arm on his shoulder. ”What on earth’s the matter, son?”

”I just thought, thought I heard something.” Then, ”Probably just a dream, is all”

He didn’t say any more and I felt it best not to press him.

Edward had suffered bad dreams for a time following Helen’s death, and they still surfaced from time to time. I tucked him into bed and retuned back downstairs to pack up my things, pausing by the door to the garden. The cold air chilled me immediately as I stepped outside, the scent of the lake’s frozen water reaching my nose, carried on the mist rising from it’s surface. I stood still for a moment, looking out towards the water, then turned my gaze left to right, my eyes straining against the darkness. I didn’t know what I was looking for, or what I hoped to find. There was only the outline of the trees dusted with white and the pale gleam of the lake’s surface before me.

Just a dream.

That’s all it had been.

The morning brought with it grey clouds and thr threat of more snow. I rummaged around for Edward’s scarf as he finished his breakfast, and on enetering the kitchen he looked up at me and said ”Last night, I thought I heard her. I forget sometimes that she’s…” He trailed off, tears forming in his eyes.

”I forget sometimes too.” I knelt down, placing his hands in my own, then looked up into his face. ”It’s okay, and it’s good to remember her. In a way, she’s still with us. I dare say she’s here now wondering why you’re sitting here when you could be out playing.”

He smiled a liitle at this. ”Yeah, she always loved the snow.” He sniffed then added, ”I miss her, Dad.”

And then the crying began again and this time it was joined by me own as I held him in my arms. And the snow once more began to fall outside the window, keeping pace with out tears.

Part two

Whilst Edward was at school I caught up on my work. I was illustrating a book for a new writer the publishing house chosen had as their new darling; a novel aimed at the low teenage market. It required a dozen plates, all to be completed by mid-March. At first I had progressed well, the first eight or so being completed in a matter of weeks, but upon reaching a scene involving Melissa (the heroine of the story who was escaping the villain), I reached something of a creative block. Taking a break, I stepped outside and lit a cigarette, the smoke rising into the cold air. It was then that I saw it.

A pale blue ribbon lay on top of the snow by the porch step. I reached down to pick it up, examining it in my hand. It was the same one Helen had been wearing the day she was playing by the lake. The day that she drowned.

”How could it have been me? I was at school, remember?” Edward slammed the door to his room. I suddenly felt ashamed I had accused him. But if it wasn’t he who placed it there, then who? I started up the stairs after him; but then stopped. Better to leave him for a while then make matters worse. I sat back down in the kitchen and poured myself a drink, and after a time the tightness of my hand that still gripped the ribbon lessened.

After a time.

That night I was awoken once more by the sound of Edward’s voice rising from downstairs. Pulling on my dressing gown, I quietly made my way to the landing and down to the hallway, softly approaching the kitchen so as not to disturb him. He stood once more facing the door, though this time it was ajar, allowing the cold night air to flood the room, and as I watched him I heard his voice rise one again.

”I don’t want to play,” I heard him say, ”Not tonight. It’s too cold.”

I watched him move forward and close the door, then quietly, so as as not to alert him to my presence, I returned to my room. Moments later, as I lay in the darkness, I heard the sound of his bedroom door close, followed by silence.

Edward had received counselling following his sister’s death. Two times a week for six months he had sat in a doctor’s office, coming to terms with the tragedy. ”There may be repercussions,” the doctor had said, ”They may not manifest themselves for months, even years, but when events such as these happen they take a toll on the mind. Especially on one so young.” The doctor’s words came to me as I lay in the darkness. ”Some block out the memory all together as a way of coming to terms with the pain. Others become introverted and must be allowed time to think. In rare cases schizophrenia may surface; the sufferer may act as though the person who died is still with them. They may talk to them, aloud as I am to you, and go as so far as to leave items and clothing around to enforce the illusion that the person is still living with them. Though as I say, this is rare.

I should have known. I should have realised that Edward had adjusted too quickly; that I had put my grief before his own. Wasn’t it he who had comforted me rather than the other way round? And I realised at that moment that I had failed him. That he couldn’t be blamed for placing the ribbon, for speaking to the night air. I would speak to him in the morning, I decided. Do my best to be there for him. To be the father he deserved.

”Edward, I’ve made you breakfast! Egg soldiers, just the way you like them. Hurry up! They look good and I’m pretty hungry.”

I laid the table and sat down, waiting for the sound of his footsteps on the stairs, sipping my coffee, playing out in my head what I was going to say to him. A moment passed and I called again. ”Edward”

Nothing.

I put down my mug and walked to the stairwell, placing my hand on the bannister before calling once more. When there was still no answer I made my way up to his room and knocked on the door.

”Edward, your breakfast will get cold. You up?”

Silence. I grasped the handle and opened the door. His bedroom was empty, the bed made and his school bag gone. Leaning down, I placed my hand upon the bed sheet in an attempt to judge how long he had been gone.

It felt cool to the touch.

It was unlike him to leave the house without eating and even more so for him not to say goodbye. He must have been angrier with me than I first thought. I picked up his dirty clothes from the floor, then, feeling a draught, looked up to find he had left the window open; he’d been watching the snow no doubt. Holding the clothes with one arm to my chest I reached over to pull it too, only to stop suddenly as my hand grasped the handle.

The hand-prints on the glass had frosted in the cold air, small fragile fingers open like spiders legs upon the pane. Too small to be Edward’s,was my first thought.

The second was that the prints were on the outside of the window.

I couldn’t concentrate for much of the day and my work suffered as a result. In my frustration I replaced my working canvas with a new one and set upon it with a mindless determination; squeezing the tubes of paint thickly over the pale surface, moulding it over and over, not caring what I was creating, just that my mind be free for a moment, to lose myself to instinct and the repetitiveness of the brush strokes.

After a time I tired. My restlessness had produced only a brown mess of black and brown smudges that had no particular shape or meaning; the canvas punctured here and there where I had pushed too hard; the acrylics covered my hands. I looked like a mad man who had played in his own filth. I turned away and made for the bathroom, eager to wash away the dirt and the thoughts that troubled me.

It was a round five when Edward arrived home. He was a little later that usual but I let it go, eager to mend the rift between us. I made dinner and watched him eat in silence, unsure as what to say. As it was, he was he who spoke first.

”She won’t let me sleep.”

His sudden frankness caught my unaware. I looked at him, his head down as he played with his food, not daring to speak for fear that he wouldn’t continue.

”She taps on the window and doesn’t stop until I talk to her. At first I was pleased to see her, but she isn’t nice.”

”Not nice?”

”She tells me she’s tired of waiting. That it’s time for me to join her at the bottom of the lake.” He paused, then added, ”I’m scared, Dad.”

His bottom lip quivered, and I walked over, holding him close to my chest. ”It’s alright, son,” I said. ”No one’s going to hurt you. I’m here. It’s just bad dreams.”

I raised my head and ruffled his hair and saw that flakes of white had started to fall again outside. They began to patter the glass, and it was then that I thought I saw the condensation marks of someone’s breath upon the window. The snow melted there for a moment, then quickly took hold before I could be certain. But, my doubt remained long after the pane was once again painted white.

Part 3 to follow next week.

Posted in Uncategorized

Fisher of Men

Perched upon a steep incline that reaches down to the promenade, a dozen houses stand. Their brick work is often dusted with the sands that carry up from the beach, and the paint upon their faces is weathered and worn. As it is the north sea that they face, the houses often feel cold; for the winds of the north are unforgiving and their breath chills not only the waters but the surrounding lands; and no buildings, however strong their timber or solid their brickwork can fully protect against the elements. It is folly to think otherwise, though no doubt the hands that raised the houses by the sea thought differently, and to their credit, after a hundred and twenty years the result of their work still stands; but in time the rain and the wind will win over. The cold has crept and seeped. Its touch has infected each nook and cranny; unseen it eats away at the timber and brick, until finally, the cement will crumble and like the men who laid the foundations and laboured upon their construction, all will be forgotten.

For now though, the houses are occupied. Here, at number 9, the house nearest the cliffs edge, a boy lays awake listening to the ocean. It is something he does often, even though, with his window slightly open, the cold permeates his room and causes him to pull his bed covers tighter around his slender frame. The chill is a small price to pay he reasons, for as the sounds reach his ears, his imagination stirs. He imagines himself walking upon the waves like Peter in the gospels, or sailing upon ships old and majestic, joining his shipmates as they sing of lands undiscovered, for such is the lure of the sea to a small boy. So attuned is his hearing to the sounds of the sea he has come to distinguish it’s moods. From the hush that comes as it breaths gently upon the shore when calm to the thunderous crashes of its anger as it throws its weight against rock and stone, the boy knows each well. Which is why tonight, he appears anxious – for there is a still to the air. And in the quiet an altogether different noise stirs him from his rest. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized

Wash the sins

The forest is not half a mile from our house. The area is unsuitable for cultivation, or so I am told. So, the trees continue to grow and the moss gathers ever thicker, continuing the trend that has perhaps lasted centuries; and if secrets are kept there, they remain hidden under heavy canopies of leaf and darkness.

Mostly.

There have been tales. Stories recited from the mouths of parents as they gather in the fading light of day. From my vantage point on the stairs I have heard them speak of children lost to the woods, and of the mothers and fathers spending the remainder of their days calling out the names of their loved ones as they search as methodically as they can amongst the elms and oaks; for no man can truly claim to know the depth and breadth of such a land. I hear claims that the children were lost to the many bogs that litter the terrain, or, in mores hushed tones, that the woods themselves stole each child, and that is the blood of the young that causes the forest to grow so tall, the foliage so lush.

I listen. But, I know these things not to be true. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized

The apartment

When I first moved into my present home, the building wasn’t actually complete. I always thought there was a story there, but like so many other ideas it sat at the back of my mind, gathering dust, waiting for the moment when like a forgotten gift it is retrieved once more. Yesterday, I had a clear out, and there, dusty and buried under notes about this and that, discovered the tale of the apartment. I quickly jotted out the little piece that you will find below and found that it could be worked into a larger story. I doubt the scene I share here will find it’s way into the finished product (it’s rough, having been written in half an hour or so), but I do think it raises a little chill. And I do so like to shudder in company….

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized

A tearful visitation

I was a quiet child, and like many quiet children my days were spent alone. Perhaps, it was this loneliness that saw me turn to books for company, that in the lives of others I would find the companionship I silently yearned for. And so,  days were spent brooding over the contents of my parents shelves, seeking out adventures to partake in, characters to enjoy, and then, alone in my room, with a lamp by my bedside, I found the friends that I sought. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized

The Black Fairy

NOW.

My vigil is showing upon me. It etches lines upon my face, it fades my once dark hair to a sullen grey; eyes once eager to see the world now no longer want to view it’s wonders, for they have seen enough. And know what hides in the dark. Yet, still I sit, fighting against the sleep that entices me with release. For it is an empty promise. There is no comfort to be found behind closed eyes. A momentary escape perhaps, but that is all, and that too demands a price, one that my heart could not bare. So, my hair greys, my face ages and I sit. Sit in the wooden chair in the corner of my son’s room. Watching over him throughout the night. Keeping him safe. Safe from what I know to be also be waiting, there in the dark.

And unlike me, it’s eyes are always open. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized

The butterfly brooch

 

There is a path not far from where I live. To the uninitiated it is by all accounts, a path like any other. It’s flank is lined by trees, which though bare in winter, bloom greatly in the spring, locking overhead to create a canopy from which one can take shade from the sun. The route of three miles or so follows the river Nene, which itself runs from Northampton through to Peterborough before branching out to the nearby town of Wellingborough, On summer days it is indeed a pleasant walk, but we are not passing through those months at present, and it is the winter days, and more particularly nights that concern me here. For it is during these times that the path draws me.

To understand it’s power I must go back a little. Twelve years in fact. A time when I was renting a small one bedroomed house a stones throw away from the Peterborough city centrer. The house itself has little baring on this story, only to say it was located in a small cul-de-sac in which 6 flats were situated at the entrance, with my house and one other at the rear. The two houses were joined and the builders of the properties, wanting to save money, had skimped on materials. The plumbing and heating was inadequate and the walls, made from plasterboard, were paper thin. One could hear just about every word that passed between their neighbour if they so wished just by pressing an ear to the wall. The rest of the time brought a muffled background noise consisting of television noise and footsteps on stairs. Quiet was not an option. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized

The witch and the paperboy

I recently offered to help friend of mine deliver some Thomson Direct books. They, in what I can only surmise as a moment of madness, took the job of posting some 3000 books through doors up and down the city in exchange for payment, and I owed them a favour, so why not?

How hard can it be right? Exactly.

Yet, it has caused me sleepless nights. I’m to deliver the books this Saturday. I shall be working during the day, the sun will hopefully be shining and it may even be fun. But, for all this, the thought of doing it is causing me some concern. And here’s why. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized

The town that ended

Some of you may have seen me write about a number of re-occurring dreams that I have had.  Some may have not. For the latter, know this: One such dream involves a dark haired woman who has frequented my sleeping worlds on and off for a great many years. To this day, I have no knowledge of her name, whether she actually exists or is just a phantom of my imagination. Only that she haunts me, and that we have a shared bond. We are connected in some way. Today, she made her presence know once more… Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized

Magic : A true story

Great Yarmouth, a town thirsty for miracles. Thriving in the sixties it had drank deeply, gorging its self on new home owners and holiday camps, but now, just six years into a new decade, it’s glamour was fading. And quickly. The home owners had moved, the camps closed; unemployment was rising and the town was only spoke of by those who wanted to leave it. Perhaps, it was precisely because of this that events like the circus were so popular. That people needed a bit of colour to brighten lives darkened by lay-offs and power cuts. That they, like the town had pallets dry and looked for something to quench their appetites. The carnivals sensed such desperation and even with the summer season over, some still endeavoured to travel to the sea-side town. If not to make a fortune, to at least ease the harshness of winter trade, and so it was that the people of Keruul loaded their wares and stowed their animals, and made their way eastwards. Just as eager for custom as the townsfolk were to slake their thirst.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized