Time for another great ghost story semi-finalist:
“The Lady of the Frozen Lake,” by Jonathan Muzzall of Madison, Wisconsin.
Every night that summer, Theo walked to the end of the dock and sat. He drank one beer and smoked one cigarette; he deposited the butt of the cigarette into the empty can. When she beckoned, he followed, and he drowned: exquisitely, completely, drowned. He went home with water in his ears, and in his boots.
He stumbled through his days, because it was only at night that he lived. Because of the dark circles around his eyes, people asked, “Are you getting enough sleep?”
Theo answered, “I get what I need.”
Sometimes it was hard to eat, for all the water he had swallowed. It was hard to breathe, for all the water in his lungs.
He’d taken on a blue tinge. People whispered, but he only cared about the lake, and about her. The hours of the day couldn’t pass quickly enough, while those of the night were gone before he could grasp them.
Things went on like this until late October. The weather forecast called for plummeting temperatures and an unseasonable snowstorm. They were saying on the radio it would be “The Storm of the Century,” but they were always saying that. Theo put on his coat and hat, drank his beer and smoked his cigarette, and waited on the end of the dock. The wind blew. Snow fell. He waited. Though he received no sign from her, he went in.
When she saw him, she said he shouldn’t have come. She said she couldn’t see him anymore, that nothing good would come of it. Theo said he couldn’t stay away.
That night it was cold, colder than it had ever been before, but the way she held him and warmed him felt almost human. She wore the necklace she always wore: a gold chain with a locket she refused to open. Theo didn’t know how long she had been there. He didn’t know she would leave if she could.
She was always the one who told him he had to go, but now she sat apart from him and said nothing. He was going to learn much more than he wanted.
“Now I get to stay?” he asked.
“Now you have to.”
Instead of carrying him back to the dock, the water rushed into Theo’s mouth and held him down. The pressure made it feel like his head would burst. He had opened his eyes but could see only darkness, save for a faint light above him. He swam toward it, fighting the weight, only to come up against a layer of ice. He pounded on it. He pounded and pounded. The ice was in his head, in his veins, in his heart, but he kept pounding. He could see the sun, he could see it. If only…
He heard a crack, sharp and short, and when he hit the same spot, he heard it again, longer and louder. Finally he was able to break through and pull himself into the cold air and breathe. Though the sky was clear and the sun shone, his lungs hurt badly and his skin felt like it was being peeled off of him.
The storm was over, but the cold air remained, and he was miles from shore. He began walking. He stumbled and fell. He heard the ice cracking, and it wasn’t the hopeful sound it had been while he was still underwater. He got up, shivering, and began walking again.