The sky was a particularly sigh-worthy shade of pale grey when Brigid grabbed her gloves that morning. The sleepy blue forest had long since frozen over. Some said it was like that to begin with, but there were always different words in their eyes when they did.
She was seeing hesitation less and less. It was easier to see in older villagers, but even that was few and far between lately. The more they insisted they didn't know what she was asking about, the more bitter that gap between their words and that something else became.
In the chilly kitchen, she pulled her snow boots on from where she kicked them off the previous night. The ragged faux fur had been white at one point, but now matched the sky. Though, her knitted gloves were still a lovely shade of rose pink, however thin.
She wrapped a woolen scarf around her tan face, pulled her hat lower, and lumbered over an uneven wooden floor to the back door. In ritual fashion, she lifted her spear-like saw in its leather case, sat the fishing pole more securely down inside, then slung the package across both shoulders. She hooked her arm through the strap of her little camp chair, and was gone.
It was months since she had the idea. It was weeks since she gathered the nerve to do something about it. It took a fraction of that time for the mockery to start. Why look for what didn't exist, if what did was good enough for others?
For the last forty days, except for that brief blizzard that left her barn buried, she'd all but ruined the lake top. Or so she'd also been told.
The books were fairy tales.
The biographies were of madmen.
She was only nineteen, so what did she hope to accomplish?
There was nothing of importance underneath. Why else would it be frozen over?
Brigid left her cold husk of a home and followed her own footsteps from days before. She used to be able to stand on top of the snow, but each path to and back weakened the surface. It wasn't long before she fell knee-deep in it, the end of the pole high above her head swaying with each step.
But she kept going.
There were some truth to stories, just as there was some truth to what she saw in the elders' eyes. It wasn't disappointment in her so-called wasted time, but somewhat closer to fear. If they wouldn't tell her what they were so afraid of, she would have to find it and make up her own mind.
The black skeleton trees ringed the lake, blocked only by occasional puffy green and green-blue silhouettes of the firs and pines. She trudged on, passing one or two bundled villagers but paying them no attention. Her quickly-learned habit was the only reason she didn't see the boy stop in his tracks once she passed, then look over his shoulder with recognition.
Over the weeks, she had punched dozens of vaguely round holes into the surface of the ice. She was about to try one more.
Brigid liked to think getting out of her house was the hardest part. Though it wasn't exactly the best in town, or even tenth best, it was more comfortable than the chill seeping through her knees as she dropped down and removed her leather case. The sound of sawing erupted through the still winter morning.
The boy, bundled head to toe in ragged layers, turned back. He watched the strange woman take another circle out of the lake surface, just as he watched her every day he could.
Once the camp chair was placed, Brigid pulled the pole from its seat in the case. She then walked away a few yards, and turned. The rod pulled back. The reel spun as she cast toward the small hole.
The two waited.
She sat at the hole, air seeping into her bones, unaware of how much time had passed. She waited for the sky to darken, or her hunger to grow. She'd done this before and, if this time didn't work, she'd do it again. She knew how long she could last, and she was learning how to stay at it longer.
The boy watched from the snowdrifts a hundred yards away, binoculars to his eyes. He'd learned, too, and read the books right after her in the library. When they started looking at him like they looked at her (or was it his imagination?) he followed her that first time. Today, she was late; he had nearly left.
Brigid woke to someone screaming her name.
She stirred, fell out of her chair, and realized he was running toward her over the ice, waving his arms.
The whole lake rumbled and glowed beneath her, spider-web cracks starting to form. It was even brighter through her fishing holes and widening rifts.
That light was a warm, invigorating yellow that both terrified and intrigued her. The stories said it would be yellow.
They never mocked her again, mainly because she was nowhere to be found after that – or the boy.
The other reason was because, that evening, it instead began to rain.
Entered in the Winter 2020 24 Hour Short Story Contest,
hosted by BookLocker.com
January 11, 2020