A Lakeside Story
BY Melanie Abrams
There is a place by a lake, and the people who find it never find it by accident. The people who sit by the lake are motley and mottled, with bleeding toes and hacking coughs. Some of them are old and wrinkled; one of them is fourteen years old, and has the word "sock" tattooed on her ankle.
The place by the lake is grassy, but the grass is thin, and dirt creeps out from underneath the grass and stains the bare feet and clingy pants of the people who sit by the lake. The water of the lake is murky most days; once or twice a year, it is as clear and golden as the famed drinking fount atop Olympus. Towards the middle of winter, however, it tends to dusk, until it is as dark as a dark circle, and as heavy as the water of the river Styx. Never, in all my years of sitting there, have I seen the waters ripple, twitch, or move.
The people who sit by the lake hardly notice the changes; that is not why they found the lake in the first place. The people who find the lake have nervous, twitching fingers and irksome habits. The people who find the lake have firecrackers shattering their skulls from within, and no eyelids whatsoever. The people who find the lake burn from the marrows of their bones to the jostle of their kneecaps; they cannot find a comfortable position to sit in, they cannot stand the heat, and they shiver in the cold. The people who find the lake often do not leave.
Sometimes, the people who find the lake do leave. Some of them will grow still and grassy over time, and looking into their eyes is like watching rain and buttery sunlight bounce from a shining green leaf in the springtime. They will stand up, and they will breathe deeply from their stomachs, and hobble off to face the world in their unwashed, threadbare clothes. Most of us are glad for them, some of us no longer see them at all.
I have watched twenty humans' lives extinguished by the lake, slowly and laboriously. The people who die by the lake hardly notice what is happening, but continue to sit cross-legged by its banks, as the dirt creeps upwards and petrifies their limbs. They are overtaken by fungus. Their skeletons sit there still, cross-legged and motionless, the skulls uplifted, eye sockets ablaze.
Melanie Abrams is an undergraduate studying biology at MIT. One of her flash fiction pieces appears the National Scholastic Arts’ Best Teen Fiction of 2013. When not writing, she also loves to sing, draw, act, ballroom dance, and play in the mud.