~ A. P. Howell
He stood in the lake between the boat ramp and the dock. Just the same as last night, and so many nights before. Sharon no longer wondered if her eyes were tricking her, if the human shape was merely an illusion of shadows and memory.
The moon was out, bright and full and shining on the water. The lake was just the tiniest bit choppy, animating the edges of the long strip of reflected moonlight. The wind set Sharon’s chimes singing and carried the scent of the lake to her nostrils. It wasn’t a good scent. The algae bloomed in the August heat, nothing she’d want to drink or swim in but more hassle than danger. The brightly colored patches were easy enough to avoid if you knew to look for them.
Sharon felt like she owned the lake, or at least a part of it, no matter that the deed said the property ended more or less where the water began. She knew the curve of the shoreline, the place where rocks gave way to silt, which of the little island coves would clog with weeds, which channels allowed access and which would cost her a prop blade. And he, too, had become part of the landscape.
His body was a black cutout against the water, limned in silver. She couldn’t make out any details of his expression, but she could feel the weight of his gaze.
It didn’t bother her, not any more. If he was determined to stand in the water all night, every night, let him. She was not about to sacrifice her view of the moonlit lake. Not tonight, not any night.
Sharon had considered selling the place, her spoils of war, her legal entitlement that was worth so much less than she deserved for what she’d been put through. Take the money and never look back. That would be a kind of victory. But she had fought to remain here, had been so very patient. She deserved to sit here, and did not quite know who she would be if she went elsewhere.
Seven years was a long time to wait, but at least he had not made the sort of will he’d sometimes threatened when at his most angry, drunk, or petty. The local fish and game club would see no windfall, nor would the cousin he’d loved like a brother when they were young.
Seven years was a long time to wait, but the years before had been even longer. Sharon didn’t like to think of herself as weak, but apparently she had been, given everything he’d put her through. She could have left—especially early, before so many doors closed, before she became so dependent—but at least she’d become strong in a different way.
Seven years, and all the years since, waiting for a story on the news. An angler with a gruesome catch. A dog retrieving an unexpected bone. No one was searching for him, but the lake wasn’t deep.
She wasn’t afraid any more. She’d spent too many years afraid. At some point, her heart and resolve had hardened permanently, and the way she’d felt on that night long ago had become her constant reality. Most days, she liked that; and even when she didn’t, it wasn’t as though she had much choice. Hearts and minds had minds and hearts of their own.
For the longest time, it seemed like he’d stood chest deep, deep enough to swamp waders. But as the years passed it became clear that he was coming closer. The water no longer reached his waist. At some point, he would climb out of the water, moving ever closer to the cabin.
It would take a while for him to make his way out of the lake. Years, based on how long it had taken him to get this close to shore. Then he’d have to walk up the little boat ramp and the switchbacked driveway, or else crawl up a ten foot ridge. He’d have to cross the remaining flat ground to the cabin.
And after that, he’d have to come inside.
If he could’ve done anything from a distance, surely he would’ve by now. He’d never been patient with anyone, least of all her.
When he was close enough, well-lit enough, would he look like he had in life, the way he used to look in her nightmares? Or would she see the blood from that last night, his expression one of accusation and surprise? Sharon’s curiosity was dulled, and she had not felt a fight or flight reaction in years.
There was no need to think about events far off in the future. That sort of leisurely attitude was something she’d always liked about the lake. She had plenty of time. And it wasn’t like she was going to live forever. Heart disease or cancer might get her before he came anywhere close to the cabin. Sharon was well past the age of resenting genetic predispositions and the frailty of the human body.
She held her mug up in a good-night toast, drained it, and turned off the porch light before retiring to her bed.
A. P. Howell’s jobs have spanned the alphabet from archivist to webmaster. She lives with her husband, their two kids, and a pair of rambunctious puppies. Her short fiction has appeared in various venues, including ParSec, Martian, Dread Space (Shacklebound Books), Bicycles & Broomsticks (Microcosm Publishing), and Darkness Blooms (The Dread Machine).
She sometimes hangs out online on Mastodon (wandering.shop/@aphowell) and her homepage is aphowell.com.