“I’m gonna miss you guys,” I lean against Cora.
Sam brushes a strand of dark hair from his face as he stands over us. Forever the protector.
I couldn’t leave my new home, even if times were tough. The little town of Point Roberts had rapidly become my home. Nobody thought of me as the girl with the crazy dad who was rotting away in prison. No one even knew my dad.
Sitting on the dock, I let my feet soak in the cool water of the Marina. The sun was dipping below the horizon, leaving a ruddy glow on the few boats that were still moored.
“We should go swimming!” I glance at Sam. If anyone were going to jump in, it would be him.
Cora’s voice cut in before Sam could speak, “No! It’s against the rules!”
Laughter echos in the night, and Sam and I meet eyes. I didn’t really want to swim. That marina water was pretty disgusting, but Cora’s reaction was priceless. Damn, I was going to miss that girl.
Sam's mirth faded. He looks at us. “In all seriousness, guys, my grandfather always warned me not to go in the water after sunset. Water babies and all.”
“Water what?” What was he talking about?
"Spirits. They bring bad omens, Ava."
His face, illuminated by the setting sun, is still, and silence fills the air for a moment. I feel the little hairs on my arms lift as a chill moves through me and something small brushes my skin. I yank my feet out, almost falling. Sam's firm hand grasps my arm, keeping me from plunging into the water.
“Okay, Dad,” I say mocking him while trying to hide my fear. Sam is our defender, and I’ll try to listen to him. He always had some story or other to keep us in line. I was going to miss him the most. He was one of the few people in my life I felt one hundred percent safe around.
Tonight was Cora and Sam’s last night in town. I didn’t blame them. Life had sucked since the border closed, especially for young people. Most everyone my age left last April when things shut down. The three of us held out through the summer.
The final straw for the two of them had been when Cora had twisted her ankle. She swore she had heard a snap. It was a forty-five-minute drive to Blaine through Canada to the nearest U.S. doctor. The three of us were sure they would let us through for an emergency. But, border patrol turned us away.
Our little town didn’t have a doctor or even a valid pharmacy. It was insane. Point Roberts was becoming a ghost town. I could understand why everyone left. My friends had held on as long as they could.
Cora and I had both worked at the Breakaway, waiting tables, and such. Cora had been the first friend I made when I moved here. We both had sob stories we preferred not to share. I loved she wasn’t nosey. We had met Sam a few months later. His uncle owned the marina, and he had worked there shortly after graduating from high school.
When the little house on Pelican Place became available to rent, the three of us snatched it up in a heartbeat. Cora and I shared the larger bedroom, and Sam got his own. Those few months before COVID hit were probably the happiest in my life.
The sound of Cora's voice snaps me out of my reminiscing.
“We should probably get home, anyway. Big day tomorrow,” She looks at me, and I can tell she is trying not to cry. “It’s not too late to change your mind.”
“Naw, I’m in it for the long haul. Someone needs to look out for Mrs. Albert.”
I pause to look out over the water one last time, knowing I wasn't going to tell them I had nowhere else to go. The only family I had left was in prison, assuming he was still alive.
Mrs. Alberts was our landlady, and she was a feisty woman in her eighties. Our little two-bedroom cottage sat in her backyard. When the shit hit the fan, and we were all laid off, she had told us rent was no longer necessary. The three of us had taken turns checking in on her. When Cora and Sam had decided they were going to move to Blaine, I took the job over full time, figuring I should get used to it just being Mrs. Alberts and me. Tomorrow my friends would leave on the Ferry.
Cora touches my shoulder, "Come on, Ava, time to go."
The sun was just starting to sink below the horizon as we head home together for the last time. The otherworldly glow of dusk dominated our vision. Our hearts were heavy as we walk, lost in thoughts for the two-mile trek home.
As we pass the little pond near the golf course, an eerie wail sounds in the night.
“Was that a baby?” I turn and glance at my friends.
Cora’s head tilts, listening closer, but Sam’s face is ghost white. “We need to get home,” he stammers, picking up his pace.
The cry sounds again, much clearer this time. “That is definitely a baby,” I observe.
"Maybe it's one of the water spirits," Cora giggles.
The area around the pond was mostly dark, but I could just make out a small mound that looks like a child swaddled in a blanket. A gust of wind blows, and the temperature drops. It’s only September, but the nights can get pretty cold around here in the fall. If it was a baby, it could die.
“We should at least check it out,” I whisper to my friends.
“NO!” Sam barked. “Let it be. No one has a baby, and no one can get here, anyway. Just call the police.”
“The police won’t be able to come until the Ferry comes through,” Cora stated. “We really need to get an officer to live over here.”
“For the ten remaining people? Not likely.” Something about Sam’s resistance gives me pause, and I feel an icy fear threaten to overwhelm me.
“Well, if it’s a baby, we should at least check, so it doesn’t die. It’s the least we can do. There is no one else to help.”
“Which is exactly why we leave it alone,” Sam argues.
Another cry sounds, piercing this time, as if the infant were in pain. “Enough arguing. It’s the right thing to do!” I hiss while treading the swampy grass toward where I see the blanket. Turning, I expect my friends to be right behind me, but I only see their outlines in the dark.
“Oh god, oh god, oh god,” Cora’s voice echos in the darkness.
Sam is silent, but I can feel the anger radiating off of him. He thinks I am stupid.
I slow as I approach. It’s no longer making noise, but I can see the compact bundle rising and falling in erratic motions as if it’s struggling to breathe. My heart is hammering as I reach out my hand. The blanket is damp and heavy, and I peel it back. In an instant, a flash of silver comes at me, then slithers to the pond.
I scream and jump back. Sam runs through the marsh to reach me, and I collapse into his arms, laughing, “A fish!”
My heart rate is slowing again, and I grin at him, “It was just a giant strange fish. Did you know fish screamed?”
He is not laughing with me. My body stiffens, and my pulse quickens again. “Why are you not laughing?”
Sam holds me up as we walk back to the road where Cora waits. “I called the police, and someone will come over on the ferry tomorrow to check it out. I gave them our address so that they will check in with us,” she says.
“It was just a fish.” I laugh as my eyes dart back to the pond. “You can call them back and let them know I am an idiot that’s afraid of a screaming fish.”
Cora dials the police, then looks at her phone. “No signal. Strange. I’ll try again when we get to the house.”
Sam says nothing, and I can tell he is still upset that I had gone near the water.
“I’m sorry, Sam,” I whisper to him. He doesn’t reply.
Mrs. Albert’s house was dark when we arrive back at our place. “That’s strange,” I muse as we head past it. “I’m going to check in on her. She is usually awake until at least ten.”
“Don’t stay too long! Tonight is our last night together!” Cora says.
“I’ll be back quick as a bunny!”
I knock on the heavy oak front door, and the sound reverberates through the night. “Mrs. Albert? Are you there?” The stillness of the evening hangs in the air, and fear creeps in. I hope nothing has happened to her. “Mrs. Albert!”
Still no answer. Mrs. Albert probably just went to bed early, but I should check anyway. Trying the door, I am relieved to find it open. There is no need to lock the doors these days. It’s not like tourists can come here anymore. I flip the light switch in the entryway, and nothing happens. It hadn’t seemed windy enough for the power to go out. It’s probably just a burned-out light.
I bumble my way to the kitchen and try the switch there, still nothing. When I try to swallow, something gets caught in my throat. I'm pretty sure my legs feel are going to collapse under me. I grab my cell phone to call Sam. Living alone was going to suck.
No bars, so I switch on the flashlight feature. I can see our house out the kitchen window, and it looks dark too. Power must be out, or Cora would have had the porch light on for me.
Mrs. Albert’s kitchen door is slightly ajar, and her rocker is swaying slightly. Letting out my breath, I head outside. She had probably just fallen asleep watching the sunset, especially if there was no power.
I open the door and give her a nudge. “Mrs. Alberts? It’s me, Ava; I think you fell asleep on your porch!”
She grunts and blinks twice. “Oh dear, thank you, sweetheart. Will you help an old woman to her bed? I didn’t want to attempt the stairs in the dark.”
“Of course!” I put my arm around her and help her up to her room, my flashlight brightening the way. “Have good rest,” I whisper at the door.
The floor creaks as I tiptoe back downstairs. The kitchen door is still open, and I will just cut through the yard to get home. As I step onto the porch, a metallic grinding scrapes somewhere nearby. It reminds me of anchor chains at the marina, moving against the concrete. Then there is silence.
The fear grows again, and I have to remind myself there is nothing to be afraid of in the dark. Glancing back at Mrs. Albert’s living room, I contemplate just spending the night on her couch, but Sam and Cora are leaving tomorrow, and I want to spend time with them.
Inhale, I got this. Maybe I should holler for Sam. No, I don’t want to wake Mrs. Albert. I am just going to make a mad dash for the house. Getting ready to go, I glance at my destination. Between the house and me is the outline of a tall thin man, with chains draping over him.
As he steps towards me, I open my mouth to scream, but nothing comes out. My chest is heavy, and my heart is racing. I squeeze my eyes shut, trying to reach for courage. Standing here is stupid; I want to go inside and slam the door, but my feet will not move.
When I open my eyes, the figure is gone. Did I imagine it, and am I just letting fear get the best of me? The muffled sound of the chain surrounds me, and I can feel the blood drain from my face as hot terror takes over. My vision blurs, liquid is filling my lungs, and I choke violently.
“Sam!” I croak, his name escaping my lips with the remaining air. The last thing I remember before blackness is the thin man on the doorstep of our cottage.
"Glad to see you finally woke, Sweetheart," Mrs. Albert says, as her warm hand strokes my hair.
Soft beeps reverberate in the background, and the muted sound of conversation surrounds me. The memory of my lungs filling hits me, and I inhale sharply, grateful for the full breath of air.
“Sam? Cora?!” As I sit up, it is as though a ton of bricks hits me. I lay back down quickly.
“There now, you need to take it easy.” She continues stroking my hair. “Nurse? She is awake!”
“Where are they? Are Sam and Cora okay?”
Mrs. Albert’s face looks sorrowful, and she stops stroking my hair to take my hand in hers. “They didn’t make it, drowned. They found the two of them in the old pond at the end of the street, all wrapped up in chains. You were unconscious at the edge.”
My vision blurred again, and I could hear my heart echoing in my skull. “What happened?”
“Police think it was a suicide pact, and you changed your mind at the last minute. I know better., although I'm surprised the local boy didn't warn you.”
This was all my fault; why hadn't I just listen to Sam? The tears started to well in my eyes.
Mrs. Albert inhaled, “You should have just let the Paakniwat be, sweetheart.”