It always happens this time of night, the time when almost everyone has gone to bed, and the last of the porch lights blink out across the lake. It happens when the moon has consumed the sky and has its partner shimmering in the center, and a song starts drifting across the water. It is an old song, some folk melody which was popular long before someone was around to make a recording. The song climbs up out of the water and begins snaking its way to any who might be awake, carried as if on but against the wisps of wind.
The song is faint but clear. It is clear enough that it makes household pets stir, whimper in their beds and cages. It is clear enough that anyone could recognize the melody, though perhaps not remember it. It haunted the listeners, stole into their bones, and profoundly unnerved them. Not that there would be many people up at that hour to listen.
The rumor, the story the told older members of our community is that the song is that of a lost girl. A girl who fell into the lake long ago, so long ago that no living memory could recall her face and all that was left was the memory of memory, spoken of in whispers by the grandparents and retirees. These were not comfortable murmurings, they were mixed with the strange bitterness of the half memory of a violent act. There is some collective unconscious that speaks of a dark reality hiding behind the already less than cheerful recountings.
As near as I can tell, no one is willing to tell much of the story, no one is willing to express the pus from this local nightmare. And no one is willing to discuss what can be seen on clear, moonlit nights like this. Nights when the moon is bright enough to read, and it magnifies itself in its reflection on the lake. It is on nights like this that we locals know not to stray too close to the water.
There was a night, maybe years ago now, though maybe more recent, that I sat in the parking lot to one of the beaches. Leaned back, staring out over the water. I don't remember why I was there, maybe just had some time to kill as a teen, maybe later, in my young adult years, maybe after marriage but before children. But I was there, staring but not really looking at the lake.
I did not hear the music at first. I wasn't even aware of it until it had been going on for some time. But I did see the churning that started in the middle of the lake. I saw that the normally placid waters started bubbling, boiling right under the reflection of the moon.
I stared, transfixed, as the water grew angry. I could tell that something within, something under the surface, was pushing its way up, was unburying itself from whatever prison that the mass of waters had managed to collect in that murky pool.
Soon, I saw a hand drifting slowly out of that chaos. It was a hand, followed by an arm, each deathly pale, even for the white-washed world of the moon's light. These were followed by a head, torso, full body of some child. She came out of the middle of the lake and stood there, hoving just above the surface.
There she was, looking at me. Her song growing obvious now, coming forth almost directly into the thoughts. I could not hear an echo, but I was more focused on what was in front of me than what might not have been around. The girl was just there, facing me over the lake. Then, ever so slowly, she started getting closer.
It wasn't an obvious change. I don't think I noticed any motion in that unnatural stillness, but she was certainly getting closer. Her motion was unnatural as she was. The movement as though it were through a scratched record instead of something organic, or even something that is comprehensible. It wasn't smooth, she moved in quick jerks instead of straight ahead.
I just sat there, watching her as she grew closer and closer until she hovered over the very edge of the water.
She stood there, just over where the water no longer knew the land, watching me, her mouth moving, making the inaudible sounds along with the audible melody, singing, beckoning, inviting me to join her under the surface, in the cold depths with no memory of the air above. And she was beautiful.
I watched her though I would turn away. My stomach murmured, whispering of the danger, mimicking the churn of the waters from whence she came, begging my mind and body to leave this place, to forget about the woman, or rather, the young girl over the waters. But my mind would not listen, for it was beyond listening to anything but the haunting song of forgotten words. My eyes could no more turn away than my heart could stop within my chest.
My heart had actually slowed. In times of danger, in time of threat, the body will release adrenaline, it will trigger the profound and primal fight or flight instinct. That instinct should have been trying to protect me, to keep me safe, to divorce me from that dreadful moment, to drive me away to someplace comfortable, someplace like home. That instinct failed me.
There was no trembling, though the terror was great; there was no movement, though the dread was strong. Like the forest animals blinded and paralyzed by the sudden lights of the road, my terror was eclipsed by a tremendous and terrible non-motion.
And, I'm not sure that it was fear that paralyzed me. I was afraid, I was deathly afraid, as though this strange supernature was a horseman of my own apocalypse, but that song still drew me. There was something profoundly attractive, seductive about that woman's gaze, her song. I wanted to listen. As much as I was afraid, I wanted to listen, to surrender to her, to give her my life and join her in some perpetual song deep under the waters.
I do not know what happened next. Perhaps it was the bark of a dog, some lonely, overly excited, or maybe over-zealous beast. Perhaps it was the motion of one of the many waterfowl, startled into wakefulness by hunger or some perceived threat to her nest and her kin. Or perhaps it was the call of a man, or the echo of his steps as he took some late night stroll aside those strange and awesome waters. But the woman faded.
She was there in her beautiful and tremendous majesty. I lifted myself, began walking towards her, falling for her, giving in to this strange and frightening song. I was approaching, and I could not help but believe that my willingness to join her, to be part of her melody, to remember the words on her behalf caused her some joy. There was more than a hint of a smile upon her lips. I was to be hers.
But then the instant was shattered. I had not yet gotten to the edge, to where the small waves of the lake embraced the land, where water mixed with stone and sand in its own perpetual night rhythm, when she disappeared before my eyes, and I was left alone.
I have pondered many times that moment by the lake, that night where the still waters churned and boiled, revealing that beautiful and awe-inspiring, that disturbing and terrible sight of the woman over the waters. Her pale shape unbound by gravity, begging me to join her court, to serve under her in the depths of the tranquil and cold waters. And, despite my uncertainty, despite the fact that my brain wretches at its impossible supernaturality, despite the fact that my limbic system protests and would draw me anywhere but there on those clear, moonlight nights, I find myself walking the same paths, hoping that the woman might return to me.
Maybe it was my hesitation, maybe it was the nature of the difference between my seduced mind and my terrified body. Maybe I failed her and now I return her loneliness, or maybe in my loneliness, I have joined her in a more profound way than I would have ever dreamed. But here I wait.
Here I wait, night after night, forgetting obligations, family, and spouse. Here I walk, surrendering the night hours to the woman of the lake, despite the needs of the day. I continue in my bizarre and unrequited love affair with this night song with the woman of the lake.
If she returns to me, this time I will join her in the waters.