“The water is perfect at this time of night.“
Shana lifted her long, white dress over her thin shoulders and dipped under the cool depths of Lake Diamond.
“Don’t be such a baby, Freeman. We didn’t come out here at two AM for nothing.“
She smiled when she spoke. I loved that. After five months of sulking through Stanford High’s senior year, Shana looked so absolutely amazing when she finally just… smiled. It was stupidly simple.
“Not too hot, not too warm. The Goldilocks Zone.” She tilted her tendrils of water logged black hair to the side, attempting to shake some of the fresh lake out of her ears as she floated effortlessly in the waves. “Do you know the reference?“
“They say something lives at the bottom of this lake, have you heard that story?“
She lowered her shy green eyes with a sly grin as she spit some water at me. “Its real deep here. Most people don’t even know how deep.“
I peeled off my shirt and stepped over the missing planks of the old wooden dock.
“Did you know that?” she asked.
“Well, Mr. Freeman. It does appear you knew everything!” Shana replied with a shocked shout.
“I do,” I replied, right before jumping in like a cannonball, shamelessly spraying some water into her eyes. I reached out to grab her, and she played like she was putting up a fight. I kissed her neck softly and it tasted like perfume and sweat.
“Are you scared to be in here tonight, Mikey?” she asked while staring straight ahead.
As if in response to the words, a weak wind started to pick up in the willow trees surrounding the coast. The branches swung back and forth lazily as a storm started to pass through. Tiny droplets of rain and discarded leaves dotted the lazily drifting waves as we struggled to stay above the surface.
“A little,” I admitted. “My mom used to say I get seasick.“
“You can’t get seasick on a lake, Michael,” Shana said in a daze as she stared at something beyond the shore. “Did you know people have died here?“
I didn’t. It was never in the papers.
“So you don’t know everything?” Her tone turned cold and lonely. “My great-grandfather did. In 1875. He was swimming here, in the middle of the night. The same as he had done a million times before. Same as we are doing now.” She paused. “This shitty dock is ours, after all. His wife always said he needed to get more use out of it.“
“Sounds like a good reason to get out of the lake, Shana.” I said, insistent and confused. “Let’s fucking go.“
She stared at me from the bottom of the ladder and shook her head. She was soaking wet and stunned by the significance of something I could not see beyond the trees. “He drowned. I was with him.”
“What are you talking about?“
“Grandpa told me he could do it. We saw a bright light under the waves. It was so warm. It was… it was beautiful, and comforting, and perfect all at the same time. But so strange. Where did it come from? What did it want? It was like somebody turned on a heater on the lake floor.“
It didn’t make any sense. Nothing she said was making sense anymore. I was just an innocent seventeen-year-old kid, hoping to score with the hottest girl in school.
“I wanted to touch it. The light. Grandpa said he would swim to the bottom to get it for me. He held his breath real big and went to look. Like this.” Shana disappeared.
“Motherfucker… this is not funny! I screamed to the empty night.
I looked around and no one was nearby. I reached underwater and caught a flailing foot. She surfaced with entangled limbs and hopeful screams.
“Can you see it?” She slapped me in the face as I tried to pull her away from the waves. “LOOK!”
A bright luminescence lit up underneath the surface. It was absurd… and exactly as she described. The light encompassed every inch of the storm fused lake. I leaped onto the deck and grabbed Shana by the arm. As I started to pull her towards me, she pulled back with surprising force. I landed back in the water with a belly flop.
She wrapped her thin arms around my shoulders. “Grandpa never came back. I hope you do.“
Shana kissed me. The same as she had done a thousand times. But something was different. Her lips were dry and crackled. A warm and sticky liquid flooded over her teeth and into my mouth. I opened my eyes and spit out the liquid. It was blood; redder than her underwear.
Then she dunked my head without any explanation.
The light was pulsating at that point. I could see it even through closed eyes. I screamed, but water filled my lungs. After it felt like there was no fight in me left, something relented as I broke the surface.
But the face in front of mine was not the one I recognized.
She still wore the same bikini top. It was crimson red, with tiny little hearts rounding the corners. But the skin behind it was old and grey. Layers of it raised up to form complicated wrinkles on her chest and arms. Her teeth were decaying and that illustrious black hair was falling out by the root.
As I looked into her eyes, they were still the same color green.
“I need the light, Mike. Go get me that fucking light,” even her voice was different. It was tired, old, and angry.
A neighbor must have heard the commotion. He opened his door from a few hundred feet away and called out into the dark.
“Are you kids alright? It is too late for swimming!“
“NO!” I shouted back. “PLEASE HELP ME.“
When I turned to face Shana, she was gone. The lake was dark again.
A dive crew searched Diamond’s grounds for hours. They never found my girlfriend, or anything that suggested an electrical source.
The body of a deceased senior citizen washed up on shore the next morning. I kept my mouth shut, even though the reveal answered my own haunting question for sure.
Shana really did need the light that night.