To keep from tripping and falling to our death, we walk in pairs down the trail to Rotmon’s Cove. The cove, or Rot’s as it was locally known, was my cousin Karl’s latest discovery in his quest to find the best place to drink booze, smoke marijuana, and talk shit about everything in the world we despise. Now, I wouldn’t have stoked his fantasies if I would have known the risks of reaching the damned place.
“You know, going back up to the truck all stoned and hammered isn’t going to be easy,” Sheila, my trekking buddy, speculates as she slaps another mosquito on her chest. “Fuck, where’s the bug spray? And a tissue? I think I just got bug guts all over my boobs.” I totally understand wanting to look hot for the older guys Karl brought along, but you would think Sheila would have enough sense to wait until we reached the water before showing off that ridiculously small pink bikini top. Besides, we’re both in the very front; we have no audience. I can’t help but to scoff at this blond Barbie bimbo.
Either Karl or Stephen shouts from the back, “Just chill; you can wash it off in the lake.” It sounds like Stephen, but it’s hard to hear over the roaring parade of crickets and cicadas. “Look, you can kind of see it from here.”
Sure enough, the faceless, nameless voice is right: through a small break in the line of dead trees I make out the glimmering cove – honestly, from the distance, it looks more like a mass of thick, cooling, black sludge drowning countless bursts of silver and gold. Then suddenly a dark silhouette, which I previously assumed was a tree, moves out of sight.
“Karl?” I ask into the stillness of the night. “Will anyone else be joining us?”
“No, Jess. It’s only us.”
Should I tell him of what I saw? It was probably just a homeless person or a fisherman gearing up to head back home. The odds that it was something benevolent heavily outweigh the chances it was an axe murderer or some demented pervert. (Why bother killing residents of Panuk county? Most of them are old and dying anyway. They’d be doing them a favor, really.) So, I keep quiet and march down the jagged bluff.
Suddenly, somebody behind me shouts, “Sonofabitch!” I turn back to see Stephen on the ground attempting to regain balance, his eyes as large as the moon. The flashlight he was holding tumbles deep into the crag. The light beams upward, a lost spotlight.
“You okay, bro?” Karl asks between chuckles, heaving the frantic frat boy to his feet.
I feel the air grow a little warmer from Stephen’s burning humiliation. I imagine his face is red and hot enough to melt steel. Too bad it’s too dark to tell for sure. “Yeah, I’m fine. I must have slipped on a loose rock or something. Fuck, my jeans are torn. This better be worth it, Karl.”
Before long, the hard ground goes soft as I step onto saturated sand: the journey was over. We find an area that’s not too wet and sit down. “This is pretty great, right?” Karl asks, while tossing a can of bug spray to Sheila.
I retort, “It’ll be a whole lot more fantastic after a few beers, but I’ve got to say this isn’t bad at all compared to last time.”
“Damn straight. I’ll never look at limes and fishing line the same again,” Sheila shouts and tosses a handful of sand at Karl. She wiggled out of her shorts and motioned for us to follow. “Anyone up for a swim? I haven’t hit the water since my last 200 medley in high school.”
I follow suit and strip out of my jeans and blouse, positioning myself so that Stephen could see me. That boy has been given so many hints, why he acts so oblivious to my affection for him I have no idea. How much more obvious do I have to be, before it turns flat out shameful?
But I’m only left disappointed. “Nah, you girls go ahead. I want to talk to Karl about something.”
“You sure?” I ask, before slowly walking into the lake. “It won’t be as fun without you!” He seems to ignore my request and begins chatting with my cousin. I know I have no business crushing on Stephen, but what can I say? I’m a crazy girl in love.
By the time I dive in after Sheila, she’s already way ahead of me. It nearly kills me catching up to her. “Damn, girl, how long did you say it’s been since you’ve been in the water? You’re a fucking shark!”
She releases this sorry attempt at a giggle – it’s more like a regurgitated shriek – that screams “compliment whore” and she speaks. “What was that, girl?”
“What was what?”
“You’re so shameless! And thirsty! Girl, I don’t think there’s enough water in the world to quench your thirst for Stephen.” She splashes water in my face.
Swallowing my rage, I send a little wave her way (it’s taking everything to keep me from drowning the bitch). “Excuse me for trying. I doubt he even notices I’m here.”
Sheila shakes her head, her wet blonde locks glued to her neck. “Look, you need to just tell him. Guys are stupid, and you won’t get anything if you expect them to come to you. We don’t live in that age anymore.”
Suddenly we hear a scream from the beach – Stephen and Karl are nowhere in sight.
“Fuck, girl, your sorry excuse for a cousin happened to choose the best night to haul us out here, didn’t he?” Her voice is eerily calm and collected, despite the possibility that we are in the presence of an axe murderer.
My heart is in my throat. What was happening? I admit my eyesight isn’t too great since I got a different prescription of contact lenses, but there is literally no sign of anyone – or thing – back on shore. “Come on!” I yell. “We have to get back there and see what’s going on!”
Sheila scoffs. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching scary movies, it’s that unless there’s a killer shark or evil mermaids after you, you’re safe as long as you stay in the water. For some reason the demented psychopaths can never seem to swim.” She wets her head and whips her hair back. “Sorry, baby girl, but you’re on your own. Horror flicks ain’t just meant to scare the bejeezus out of you; they’re to educate you for when you meet some trouble of your own.”
Disappointed, I start swimming back to the bank, all the while wishing there was a hungry orca around to take care of that ignorant slut.