Making her way slowly through the melting snow, Annie began to realize she may have waited too long. The chill of the early evening was becoming deeper, and she pulled her wrap tighter around her frail neck. Resolutely she trudged on, her thick rubber golashes crunching in the icy grass, they were beginning to take on the cold, only the two pair of wool socks kept her feet warm against the frozen elements.
Finally, she reached the end of the path and the darkness of the naked trees hovering over the path opened like a wide gaping yawn that ended as the path disappeared into the dark frozen water of Sletcher Pond. Rocks held in suspended animation where the ripples caused by the birds, fish or young skinny dippers used to lap, silenced by old man winter’s harsh chill. She stopped at the edge of the ice, not daring to trespass least she anger the beast within the ice.
Annie’s slender figure went unnoticed by the rest of creation, her long blond hair tucked tightly under her dark brown parka, she shoved her kid-skinned, gloved hands deeper into the wool lined pockets. Vacantly her crystal blue eyes stared out over the smooth surface of the foreboding ice. It was slick still, from the morning sun, but would soon refreeze in the rapidly dropping temperatures.
Having never returned to the pond while it was frozen, she had stood in this very spot many, many times before. She had raged at the pond, she had raged at nature, at the unseen creator, she had wept here, and she had stood in silence, but never in the two years since had she come when the pond was frozen. Was it fear of the unknown? Fear of the elements? Or fear of memories?
She had decided last night it was surely the memories, now she had come to make peace with it. Her anger and her sorrow had taken its toll on her health and her happiness and certainly on her family. She was twenty-one now and had scarcely finished high school last year, but she had made a promise to Shelly, and Darrin, and of course Brandon, she would finish for them. They would never get the chance, so she would do it for them. Her dream of a professional figure skater had dissipated that night, a distant memory, associated only with terror and heartache.
A strong chilly breeze wafted across the ice, causing Annie to shiver. She closed her eyes and allowed the memories she had fought so hard to keep buried slip in. The four friends had come for one last skate before the danger of thin ice ended skating season. There should have been no problem the winter had been exceptionally cold and the ice plenty thick, one warn day should not have caused problems.
They laughed and teased each other as Annie skated circles around the others. She would soon try out for regionals. Brandon had been so proud, he held her hands, though taller by several inches it was easy to pull him along, his dark eyes and slicked back ebony locks flowing behind, under that ballcap. Always a ball cap, today was the Pirates, usually it was their baseball team the Wildcats. He smiled at her, that alluring, possessive, you are all mine smile she got lost in the first time she met him. The new shortstop from down south, he was just becoming acclimated to winter sports. But he loved her he had told her so just last night when he had kissed her senseless and given her the promise ring she still wore, two tiny rubies, representing two hearts.
The memories came faster, he had let go, Annie’s heart began to race, she wasn’t sure if she could survive the wash of emotions. But she had opened the door and must finish what she started. Brandon glided over to Shelly and Darrin, standing in the middle of the pond, it was half an acre and left plenty of room for Annie to practice her free skate routine. Her friends and boyfriend watched as she completed two rounds, once more she attempted the triple toe, landed awkwardly, then went down hard. She looked up from the frozen surface, Brandon was coming for her, then she saw it.
Terror filled her heart as she watched the crack in the ice open, the jaws of a great dark monster opened in slow motion. Shelly and Darrin disappeared before her eyes as she reached for Brandon, he slipped into the jaws of the great black monster that had appeared in the middle of the pond and swallowed her two friends. Annie screamed into the face of the darkness and after seeming an eternity, suddenly it spit Brandon back up, he clung to the edge of the ice. Annie grabbed his hands. Flat out on the ice she dug the toes of her skates in and held on with everything she had.
Screaming for help she saw the vacant look in Brandon’s eyes. Annie continued to scream for help, the horror of what was happening shot through her fragile body once more. She grabbed her head as the terror sliced through her, nearly bringing her to her knees. She bent one leg as she pulled on Brandon, hooked her skate and pulled again. He was half out of the gaping jaws when suddenly there were more hands more voices. Someone had heard. She later learned a jogger had called it in and the fact that Brandon had been under for a minute and a half meant he had little chance of survival. The bodies of Shelly and Darrin were recovered later the next morning. She was lifted from the ice, wrapped in blankets and transported separately from Brandon. She was numb, her mind was numb, her world has collapsed in on her.
Annie stood still shivering, something brushed her arm and she jumped inwardly. A tree branch. Sucking in a freezing breath the pain in her throat caused her to return to the present. She looked heavenward, Annie had long ago given over her two friends, tonight she would give over Brandon. She had held him in limbo all this time, now she whispered to the Creator she hoped was there listening to her heart, “I give him to you, I can no longer hold onto him.” The pain tore through her body, she looked up into the serene night sky, stars winking at her. Maybe, just maybe the universe would smile on her, just this once.
Tears slipped down her frozen cheeks as she looked one last time out over the glistening ice. She felt the burden lift, she would carry it no more, she had given the love of her life over to a higher power. Slowly she turned and made her way back through the trees, up the winding path and onto the sidewalk on the east side of Wellington Hospital and Nursing Facility. The specialist had told her the only reason Brandon had made it as far as the hospital was because the pond where it happened had been so close.
Annie gave the receptionist a tired smile and unwrapped the long, knitted scarf her grandmother had made for her. The warmth of the hospital enveloped her, and she removed the wet parka and hung it on the chair outside room 107 of the long-term care unit. Then carefully removed the golashes and placed them on a small mat under the chair. As she entered, she smiled, she always smiled, then took her customary seat beside the still figure on the bed. She picked up Brandon’s right hand and caressed it. She then closed her eyes and leaned back in the chair.
Had she imagined it, or had he squeezed her hand back? Just a little, not much at all. Nearly exhausted and needing hope Annie chose to believe he had not left her yet.