I turn, keep walking. A cab drives by, its For Hire sign lit up, and I tell myself to hail it. To climb in and let it speed me home. It’s the smart thing to do, the safe thing, as both the rain and the wind are picking up. And yet I can’t bring myself to do it. The same electricity that made it impossible for me to sit still in the theater makes it impossible now for me to do anything but keep walking.
Lightning splits the sky, lighting up the desolate street and scaring the crap out of me. I don’t know how a street can look worse when it’s illuminated by lightning than it does in the eerie glow of a very few streetlights, but somehow this one does. It doesn’t help that Cesar Chavez, while bustling during the day, is all but deserted at this time of night—the occasional car my only company.
I start to run, which is really more of an awkward jog in Lily’s high heels. Part of me is terrified that I’ll slide on the slippery street and plunge headfirst into the path of one of those few cars, but I’m even more terrified of the lightning that is exploding all around me while thunder rumbles nonstop in the background.
I know I need to get out of the rain, know this kind of lightning could be deadly. But somehow all the logical parts of my brain—the parts that should be in control of my decision making process—are shorting out at once. Instead, I can’t do anything but continue walking, following the inexorable pull down this street toward goddess only knows what.
I cross side street after side street, huddling against buildings and under awnings when I can get the shelter. More than once a cab slows as if to pick me up, but I wave it on. I don’t understand how I know this, but where I’m going no cab can take me.Finally the compulsion drags me to the right. I cross the street and start up Pleasant Valley toward the lake. And just that suddenly I know where it is I’m heading. To Town Lake.
I just wish I knew why.
I see it, up ahead, and I know I’m right. Especially when my entire body starts to pulse with the need to hurry, the need to be there now.Strangely, it’s the urgency that sets me off, that makes me remember. When I do, the true fear sets in, a living breathing nightmare inside of me that feeds on the knowledge and chokes the very air from my lungs.
And still I don’t stop.
I’m almost to the lake now and I stumble off the sidewalk, head for the grassy knoll that sits a few feet from the water. The ground is soaked from the storm and my heels immediately sink into the earth until every step is a challenge. I wince at the sucking sound that comes every time I pull my foot out of the earth, then cringe more every time I put it back down and the earth draws it under.Like it isn’t bad enough I walked out of the Paramount with no explanation to Lily, no text, nothing. When she finds out I ruined her Jimmy Choos, she’s going to kill me. Slowly and with great relish.
But even that can’t make me turn back. Nothing can. The water is calling to me and there’s nowhere to go but forward.
I try to stay on the balls of my feet to protect the shoes as best I can, but the grass is too slick and the heels too high. Besides, they’re the only things that give me purchase as I stumble off the grass and onto the running path that goes around the lake.
I’m under the bridge now, trying to take what little shelter it provides. The rain is slashing in at an angle, slamming against me despite the coverage. Still, it’s better than being out in the full force of the storm—and at least I’m less likely to be struck by lightning.
I pause, take a second to brush my drenched hair back from my forehead and rub a palm down my face to squeegee the rain from my eyes. I expect to feel a wave of relief, but the chest-clenching drive to get to the water doesn’t let up. This isn’t where I’m meant to stop. Hiding here under the bridge isn’t enough. I take a step closer to the lake. And then another.As I do, the wind caterwauls through the place, stirring up the sickly cloying smell of guano. Though the bats haven’t migrated back from Mexico yet, years and years of the stuff layers the area, creating a stench that not even the storm can chase away. Usually the scent makes me ill, but tonight it doesn’t repel me the way that it should. Though I’m having trouble breathing through my nose, I have no urge to flee. Instead, I want to go closer.
I need to go closer.Grabbing on to a tree branch, I use it to steady myself as I creep down the slope to the water’s edge. The fear is bigger now, nearly all-consuming. Not for myself, not about what will happen to me, but for what’s drawing me in. For what I might find down here under this bridge. I don’t know what I’m doing down here, don’t know what spell I’m under that has brought me here. But something has and somehow I don’t think it’s for the midwinter view.
Unable to bear the suspense any longer, I drop to my knees by the edge of the water. Muck squishes under my jeans, causing me to slide a little as I bend forward to peer into the lake. I don’t see anything, despite the lights stationed every few yards on the running path, and I fumble for the flashlight on my key chain.
I shine the small beam at the water, then jump when I see my reflection on the surface. For a second, I’m surprised that it’s bright enough to see anything shining off the rippling water, even if the reflection is little more than a pale oval and tangled fan of short, black hair. Except the longer I look at it, the more I realize the mirror image is all wrong. It’s upside down and her eyes are closed. No, not a mirror image I realize as the water smooths out. Not a reflection at all. The face I see in the lake belongs to someone else entirely.