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Fiction Thriller Fantasy

Travelers come to our small southern town of Humphrey from all over the world just to see the permanently frozen pond. Naturally, tourism is more rampant in the summer when the outside temperature hovers around ninety degrees.

In the 1970s, geologists migrated from all over the world to study it; none ever able to find the root of the phenomenon or the age of the pond. The town was smart enough to make a civic campground in the footprint of the scientists’ departure, though. When kids can go skating outdoors in mid-July, tourists will pay big bucks for a prime campsite.

What the scientists were able to determine is that the ice encapsulates the entirety of the pond, not just the surface, and that the water, when chipped away and melted, contains no foreign or unknown compounds. It’s just good ole’ pond water. Our strange little mystery, attracting scholars, religious zealots, billionaires and hunters of the unknown, is what keeps our town afloat.

“On Frozen Pond” t-shirts, snow globes, key chains are top sellers. The diner employs over twenty-five people in high season, touting “our pond might be frozen, but our coffee is always hot”. You can buy or rent figure skates from almost every business in town including the supermarket.

I, Jasmine Singh, work at the Humphrey Historical Society and Museum. I have managed the archives for the last thirty years; a job that was held by my grandmother before me and her grandmother, one of Humphrey’s original settlers, before her.

Humphrey was colonized by eight families in 1899. This is what we relay to the tourists. The descendants of the inaugural inhabitants are all still here, one hundred and twenty-two years later. This is our story, our legacy, because, you see, we know what keeps the pond in its icy stasis.

At the turn of the last century, my ancestors and seven other families were ousted from their Fijian village. The tribal leaders deemed that there had been witchcraft of a nefarious nature afoot and blamed it on these lineages. Fish stopped biting, fruit rotted before it was picked, the fresh water wells dried up. The accused, totalling sixty-three people, were put on a boat with minimal provisions and set afloat on the Pacific Ocean. When it docked three weeks later in San Diego, there were forty-seven bodies on board, all alive, but barely. The locals who discovered the battered, leaking ship did their best to help us, but they had never seen the brown of our skin or heard our language before and it frightened them. They patched up our people, fed them, and the law transported them to a dead land outside of Yuma; left our people there to fend for themselves or die trying.

Legend has it that Humphrey was named after a bull found wandering through its wasteland. It was skeletal, experiencing some sort of mania, and walking in circles. The colonists saw it as a sign, a gift from the Gods sent to keep them alive and slaughtered it as a sacrifice, choosing not to cook the flesh, but instead, drink the blood. They buried the bovine along with precious heirlooms that had managed to survive the trip, one from each family. My grandmother’s grandmother, Alitia Prasad, had brought a doll made by her grandmother’s grandmother. All were covered by the dust of a barren land that could sustain no plants, secure no huts, and yield no water. A few days later, a young boy appeared in search of a bull that had wandered off. A bull that he called Humphrey. The details are hazy, simply because of the language barrier.

Alitia documented the entire account, later to be the foundation of the archives of which I am currently the curator. I can’t imagine the struggle, making something out of nothing with no way to communicate, but they survived, and eventually thrived.

“Jasmine? There are some curious pseudo-historians here looking for help”, my colleague, Ronny, gives me a wink and an eyeroll as he ushers the couple into my office. We get several of these here every season; wannabe academics who think they can solve the mystery with a few clicks of the mouse and a gander through microfiche. I always humour them, knowing that nothing could ever come from their sleuthing.

“Hi!” says an exuberant twenty something in a bikini and jean shorts, long dark hair and huge sunglasses perched on top of her head. “I’m Dianna and this is Jon.” Her voice is high pitched; headache inducing. This is going to be excruciating. Jon is wearing a Hawaiian shirt, red and hideous, and a straw hat. He’s quite a bit older than Dianna and looks like he tried way too hard to resemble a tourist. He’s carrying an expensive camera; very specialized. I already know that they are not who they say they are and brace myself for the show I’m about to put on to quash whatever their endeavour might be.

“What can I help you fine folks with?” Smile, Jasmine.

“Oh, you know..” she snaps her gum. I’m still forcing myself to grin, not grimace. “We’re just here to solve the mystery. Right, honey?” She gives a fake giggle and playfully elbows Jon in the ribs.

“Right”, a man of few words. Dianna sidles up to him, wrapping her arm around his waist. He awkwardly reciprocates, making it painfully obvious that this is not a couple. I’m on alert as I wait for one of them to speak again. I peek out the window, hoping to see what they’re driving, but the only cars in the lot belong to me and Ronny.

“Okay, then”, I tell them. “Let’s get you set up.” I put them at the small boardroom table and bring in boxes of aged papers that we have curated for our curious visitors over the decades. The info is full of truths, easily fact checked and provable. What they are really hoping to find is well hidden, divided among the eight founding families whose lifetime mission is to keep the secret of our frozen pond.

“You’re Fijian”, he says to me.

“Well, I’m second generation American, but yes, my ancestors, this town, was founded by Fijians.”

“Very interesting”, he mutters to himself as he pulls a notepad from his breast pocket. He’s flipping though pages of his own notes, looking for something. He’s piqued my curiosity.

“This pond, it’s quite an anomaly, wouldn’t you say?”

“Sure. I suppose it is. We are used to it around here, though.”

“Did you know they found another one? A permanently frozen body of water, found in a previously undiscovered cave.” I didn’t know that. “In Fiji.”

“Are you a geologist?” I’m still smiling, but now I’m on high alert. Who is this guy? “What did you say your last name is?”

“I didn’t.”

At five PM I gave Jon and Dianna, if that’s even their names, the boot. Today is August 13th, Founders Day, and there is a celebration to attend.

Barbeques are set up all around the pond, local amateur chefs serving up a feast of Fijian specialties. The residents are dressed in tribal ware, although the outfits are all decked out for the tourists and much more elaborate than our traditional frocks. Locals are putting on a song and dance, literally, and tossing “Sacrifices” on to the ice; pennies, toys, shoes, hand carved animals; as a gift to the Gods to keep our town healthy, prosperous and frozen.

The party wraps up at about nine PM before moving to the campground where the travelers continue on celebrating. Celebrating what, exactly? They don’t know us. They’re here for a few nights and never return. We leave them to party, drink, dance on the ice, and retreat to the basement beneath the Historical Society building.

The eight homesteads from the original colonists encircle the Historical Society. They’re part of the museum now, but the descendants are still deed holders. Each one has a hidden crawl space with a tunnel that leads to the cellar in which we currently stand. These tunnels have been used since 1900 and only on Founders Day, allowing us to congregate without witness. Now, there are eight town leaders gathered, donning the articles of clothing that were worn by their ancestors on August 13th, 1899 and headdresses that were crafted shortly thereafter.

” We are gathered here tonight, one hundred and twenty-two years after our forefathers first set foot on this wasted, barren land; left for dead. They did not succumb to the unforgiving terrain, but instead prospered. Farms flourished, wild game became abundant, infrastructure and development thrived. Humphrey not only succeeded, but provided. This evening, we give back; in thanks and in sacrifice.”

As I wrap up my sermon, I see a flash of light. Others witness it as well, dropping hands and breaking the Circle of Elders. Whispering ensues, speculation of what we could have possibly seen.

“Everyone, walk back to your tunnel and to your cottage. Reconvene here in ten minutes. Find out what that was!”

I enter my own path, carefully making my way back to Alitia’s base. The only light, a candle I am carrying, hoping not to extinguish with the breeze caused by my pace. I step on something, hear a crunch. Sunglasses. Big sunglasses. Damn. Jon and Dianna – they must be in the cottage. I move as quickly as I dare and do a search of the premises. Nothing. No sign of anyone, so I turn back.

The circle has reunified, but with two extra bodies. Dianna looks terrified, Jon is clutching his camera as if it’s a lifeline.

“Welcome”, I say. They stay silent. “This is a very nice surprise”. My fellow elders are nodding, smiling, and holding our guests still. “Do you want the inside scoop on our miracle?” I ask, calm.

“Yes”. Jon grunts. Dianna starts sobbing. “Shut up”, he mutters to her.

We lead them down the ninth tunnel, to the bottom of the pond. It’s a cone of ice, resembling a tornado, a hundred feet in diameter at the top. The lifeless bull, staring out at us with dead eyes. The original sacrifices, the artifacts, Alitia’s doll, settled to the bottom of the funnel.

“This is unbelievable”, Jon whispers. “It’s impossible; amazing. I need to photograph it!”

I give him my sweetest smile. “Go ahead, Jon. Take as many pictures as you like.” The others are nodding, giving wordless permission. He takes a few shots, mesmerized.

“It’s midnight”, someone announces.

“Hmm?” Jon is half listening, but mostly lost in his discovery, no doubt counting the riches he thinks are heading his way.

The inverted ice cone starts moving ever so slightly; the temperature rising. The bull blinks, opens its mouth. Movement ensues inside the now gelatin textured anomaly. People appear. Moving as if in quicksand. Horror and silent screams emitting from each of them; dozens of human beings, dressed in clothes from throughout the years, trapped inside the frozen pond, a hundred yards below the surface.

Jon doesn’t move. He’s stopped filming; Dianna screams, breaking the solitude that is our yearly ritual, snapping us out of our peaceful silence, grace and giving of thanks.

“Now”, I speak the word with authority and my fellow elders guide our guests closer to the pond’s root. They are in shock, which is very helpful when we shove them into the base of the funnel; sacrifice them to maintain our way of life. To keep Humphrey thriving. As the ice reforms, we lose sight of our guests.

This was my year to surrender myself. I guess I should buy a lottery ticket.

October 26, 2021 14:05

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