Nick tugged the wheel again, and the car was slamming crazily back and forth, throwing her against the back seat, then against the door. She hit her head hard on the window, stars flaring. Headlights loomed, sweeping out of the dark, a horn blaring as Nick swerved again. “You want out?” he taunted her, and swerved again.
“Nick, please! Just stop and let us out.” She’d found HighJinks now, the kitten a frantic ball of terror, scratching her as she folded him into her sweatshirt and hunched around him in a fetal curl on the back seat. “Please,” she begged.
Lindsey shudders, pushing faster up the trail to the overlook of massive granite opening a glimpse of the river valley and clouds lifting for a moment to reveal jagged snowcapped mountains.
Feeling at least the burn in her legs and lungs, sweating and panting, she crests the rise and drops into the lake ravine. Rain-beaded lacy huckleberry bushes shower her face, the trail turning mucky past a bog of skunk cabbage and rotting logs. In the subdued gray light, the mosses coating every rock and tree trunk somehow glow a brighter green than they would on a sunny day. Breaking through the deep foliage, she stands on a finger of rock extending into Fern Lake, its perfectly round, deep green bowl reflecting the calm gray clouds, the glossy dark green cedars and brighter spring green of alder leaves.
The lake waters are perfectly calm and flat under the overhanging alder boughs. No one else here on a drizzly day. No sound but the distant chortling call of a raven. Water striders glide beneath her on their sticklike insect legs as she steps out onto the gnarled root mass forming a suspended nest over the lake.
Lindsey scrubs at her face, takes a deep breath, and concentrates on quieting the ringing in her ears. She sets her knapsack aside, pulls off her boots and socks, settles into the meshed, mossy roots that make a perfect cupped perch for her butt. She dangles her feet in the water for a moment, taking a quick breath at the cold, then pulls them in to sit crosslegged. She gazes out over the lake.
The buzzing fades, and she almost hears a gentle voice: Let it go. You’re okay now.
A trout jumps, ripples spreading in circles. Nosing along the far shore, maybe a couple hundred feet from her, a pair of mallard ducks spread another set of ripples, iridescent green of the male’s head catching the light in a flash of brilliance.
Lindsey looks up, sees the clouds are breaking apart, gray wisps thinning, letting in the sun.
A breeze shivers the surface of the lake, glittering bits of sun flashing in a sweeping arc across the water. Shimmering reflections of light off the lake pulse along the silvery alder limbs overhead, strobing over Lindsey’s face. She holds out her bare arms to see the waves of electric energy alive on her skin. And suddenly there’s no separation—she is that branch reaching down to touch the water in pulsing reflections of light and shadow, its crooked mirrored arm stretching across the rippled surface toward her.
The limb grows, flowing across the water and up her chest, into her, piercing the brittle shell of her skin. It twines deeper, down into her heart, and rips her open. Lindsey can feel the pain now—ruthless, ecstatic. She’s alive. She gasps in a breath like the first breath of being born into the suffering and joy of the world. She’s alive. Alive.
She flings off her clothes, dives into the cold shock of the lake, gasps again and strokes fast across it, breaking the smooth skin of the surface with her own ripples. Concentric rings pulse outward, and she’s the center.
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