I know the environment of Glen Lake better than I know the streets of Fairhaven. I’ve lived here the last fifteen years that I can remember, and four before that as well.
I know the sheds on O’Brien Point that I can use as shelter if weather catches me unprepared – the one on the east side of the point that has a rudimentary kitchen and outhouse, and the one on the west side that is little more than a rough-lumbered shack with a corrugated tin roof, and a slate floor. I know the blind spots on West Castleton Road. I know the narrow mouth at the north end where the road turns into a rutted track, and how even that fades out south of the Mueller’s place around the curve. The Bortell’s had a cabin there years ago, but it’s been abandoned since they split up after their oldest died in Afghanistan in ‘06.
I know the docks that are in use during the summer, and which ones still have activity in the winter. I know which cars belong on the roads around here, and who is driving them. And I know that there is something wrong with the people staying at the cabin just off the clearing on the southern end of the lake.
For starters, the cabin belongs to the Forest Service. Not that the rangers use it, other than to do some basic maintenance every two or three years. For another, not a one of the people at the cabin are from around here. Not the unshaven guy in the torn leather jacket. I don’t need an up-close view to peg him as bad news. Not the greasy-haired woman with him, maybe a bit younger than him, but still on the wrong side of fifty. And definitely not the little girl, who looks like she should be spending her days at the elementary school, rather than camped out in a Vermont forest in April.
They’ve been here nearly a week now, and they haven’t left the place once that I can tell, other than to slip over to the shore and toss in a couple of fishing lines. They came in here on a battered ATV that looks like it came from the Lake Bomoseen Golf Club. And since the LBGC doesn’t rent out their four-wheelers, I’d guess there is something sketchy about that as well.
Maybe the first thing I should have done was contact the sheriff, but after the first couple of days went by, I knew I couldn’t explain why I hadn’t reported it right away. So here I am, spending my spring break, watching strangers doing strange things, and hoping I can see something that will let me go to the sheriff without a lot of awkward questions being asked.
This morning, all three of them are on the rocky shore. Anything with that many slate chips scattered over mud is a shore, not a beach. Each of them is carrying an idiot pole that they likely swiped from the cabin. Basic fishing poles with a line and bobber that anybody can use, whether they know how to fish or not.
I’m in one of my bird-watching patches, maybe a hundred yards across the water, my bike stashed well back in the trees. My binoculars bring all three of them up to giant-size, so close I can see the expressions on their faces. The waves form a patient soundtrack to their activity, tiny breakers endlessly falling against the rocky land.
The girl looks cold – the windbreaker they’ve got on her has no business trying to stop the chilly breeze once she is out of the trees. And she’s sad. Sadder than any kid should be with a pole in her hands. She’s concentrating all her attention on her fishing line, and ignoring everything going on with the adults behind her.
The adults are and concentrating on each other. They look too mad to be cold, and neither of them care a bit about the fishing. Turned towards each other, the angle is wrong, so I can’t tell what they are saying, but it clearly isn’t about the weather, or what game they’re going to play for family fun night.
Whatever the guy says seems to be the last straw for the woman because she hauls off and slaps him full across the face. Gets her whole arm into it, whether the kid is right there or not. In my shock, my trusty Bushnells fall to the ground, and I lose track of the man and woman for just a moment. By the time I get them back into view, it’s too late for me to do anything. Maybe it was always too late.
He has her forced down to the ground, dirty hands squeezing her throat, indented so deeply it seems like her skin should be tearing. The woman’s hands futilely wave at him, like the broken wings of a bird hit by a logging truck. I try to shout, but all that comes out is a pitiful squeak. Her hands are already dropping, her arms flopping weakly, like a blind man grasping for skipping stones, slashing themselves bloody on the muddy slate beneath her.
The girl must have been really good at shutting things out because she kept her eyes on the water during all of this, but she finally turns around. I catch her widening eyes, and her mouth flying open, and then I hear her. A shrieking wail that carries across the lake like an alarm siren. Fury rolls across the man’s face, reminding me of the ice storm that crippled the area last winter. Cold, brutal, and utterly unstoppable. He releases the woman’s body, and takes two quick steps before yanking the girl to him.
Her pole, dropped and forgotten, begins to slide into the shallows behind her, as the bobber suddenly dips under the water, a fish striking at last.
Desperate to leave, I stumble to my feet, but before I can lurch towards my bike, her scream cuts off. Not a trace of her anguished cry remains in the air. Just the waves continuing their relentless lapping against the edge of the lake.
Just the sound of the waves, and silence.