The map was wrong. "Honey!" Jill Reynolds said to her husband, Tom, who was easing their camper van along the road shoulder, "the Native American village is on the other side of the lake!" Tom raised his sunglasses and squinted. "Yep. I can see three or four wigwams from here."
His tone was gentle, and she was grateful. Since the death of their only child, Timmy, a year earlier, all the starch had gone out of their marriage. They were like two broken people, shuffling around in each other's lives, trying to help each other across psychic streets and up tormented curbs. You are young, the counselor had said, you will heal. You will plant and harvest again.
"Pull over here," Jill said pointing to a small store, "I'll jump out and ask about the map." The Queeks River cut through mountain gorges, then widened into a mile-wide, ten mile lake before becoming a river again.
As Tom drove, and the tires crunched on gravel, Jill saw that, on the distant Washington State mountains, a thunderhead was growing like grayish-black volcanic smoke. And a dark line ran through the heart of the lake, like a vein of blood.
The gravel path led down to a small rocky beach overlooking the mile-wide Manuit Lake. Tom parked next to the small wooden building, which was festooned with colorful flags and signs. Some of the advertising was commercially done; some of the signs were quaintly hand-lettered.
"The map!" Jill exclaimed putting it on the counter inside.
"Ah yes," said a man and a woman, "lots of folks come here expecting to buy dolls and such. The map bein' wrong's how we get half our business.
"I'll buy two candy bars," Tom offered diplomatically.
Jill gave him a glare; he put one back.
"How do we get to the other side?" she asked feeling victimized by ruthless entrepreneurialism.
"Oh, 'bout ten miles along there's a bridge over the Queeks, then you double back on the state road the other side..." the male store keeper said.
"That's twenty miles!" Jill said. She told Tom: "Oh Honey, we'll never make it to Stewart on time for dinner with the Madisons." The Madisons, thirtyish like Jill and Tom, were friends who'd moved from Los Angeles four years ago to get away. Jill and Tom were just taking their first vacation, their first time away from the empty boy's bedroom, the silent smiling pictures, the still closet. The Madisons had talked them into coming to stay for a week, to start letting the past drift away downstream the way of all things. Now Jill could feel little things becoming important again, all the little petty joys and dissatisfactions of real life. "I do want so to see the Native American Village."
"We can't do both," Tom said. "I could call and cancel dinner."
"That would be rude," Jill said. An idea formed. "Excuse me," she asked the shop lady, "would you have a small waterproof bag?"
"Honey," it was Tom's turn to say.
Jill had been a New York State champion swimmer during college. The lake water looked placid and friendly. Little snatches of sunlight winked here and there. The white bows of sailboats peeked from beside cottage wharves. The sky was whitish blue and clear except for the distant thunderstorm.
"I do have this," the storekeeper said, showing Jill a small, clear plastic zipper bag.
"Tom, that's it," Jill said. "I'll stash a towel and some flip flops in this little bag. I'll swim across, check the stores out, and be back in an hour or two." The shopkeeper and his wife accompanied Tom and Jill to the door.
"I wish you wouldn't," Tom said, while Jill got ready. But then that was what Tom would say. He and Jerry Madison were mortgage brokers, not risk takers. Jill and Louise had, besides working as legal assistants, led a victorious soccer league, an explorer scout troop, and hikes in the Sierra Nevada. This lake will be chump change, Jill thought. She asked the shop keeper: "How is the water for swimming?"
He and his wife exchanged glances standing on the porch. "Well," he drawled, "it's posted no swimming in this section. That's the state parks department and Lord knows they got their reasons."
The wife added: "People go swimming along the beach all the time. And boating. You ought to know there's a mountain current runs down the middle. Ain't many folks want to swim back and forth."
The husband added with a laugh: "Then too there's the lady of the lake."
"The what?" Tom asked turning pale.
The wife looked a little embarrassed. "Oh, it's nonsense. An old old story about some Native American woman's ghost that walks on the lake looking for her dead kid."
The husband seemed to agree. "Ain't nothin' happened out here in years. Just mind you don't get a ticket from the lake ranger for swimmin' across."
Thank you for reading. If you love it, tell your friends. Please post a favorable review at Amazon, Good Reads, and other online resources. If you want to thank the author, you may also buy a copy for the low price of a cup of coffee. It's called Read-a-Latte: similar (or lower) price as a latte at your favorite coffeeshop, but the book lasts forever while the beverage is quickly gone. Thank you (JTC).
Copyright © 2018 by Jean-Thomas Cullen, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.