HIDDEN DEPTHS – by Veronica Ryder
Serene and still, the lake gives nothing away. It mirrors only what lies above, selfishly guarding the secrets beneath. Smoky mist drifts. Stark branches of trees point accusingly, twisted and bony like witches’ fingers. Shadowy figures gather at the water’s edge, breath mingling steamily, voices raised. The divers emerge sending ripples cascading across the surface of the lake. Thumbs down, heads shake. Nothing has been found. Too deep. Too dark. The search, finally, is abandoned.
‘I come from a long line of mad people,’ he told Molly on their first date. She thought he was joking; they both laughed.
‘What is sanity anyway?’ she asked, so flippant, so confident.
Looking back, she realised she had been posturing, pretending to be someone she wasn’t. Bright, smart, sassy - that’s what Jake wanted, and she could be that person, for a while. But eventually the role became too demanding. He was smothering her.
When she told him it was over, she thought at first he had taken it well. They were in the park, walking round the lake with the autumnal smell of fallen leaves lying damply on the grass, the water peaceful and calm.
‘We can still be friends though, can’t we?’ he asked, and she said yes, of course, not realising what she was signing up for.
He rang her that evening, as if nothing had happened.
‘I thought you might like a walk on Sunday,’ he said. ‘The forecast’s good.’ The silence crackled between them.
‘Jake, it’s over. I told you - we’re not going out together any more.’
‘But we’re friends, right? And friends can go for a Sunday walk, can’t they?’ He sounded so reasonable, so … normal.
‘I’ll think about it.’ Even as she spoke, Molly regretted giving him this glimmer of hope. Cruel to be kind …. the words popped into her head. From now on, she’d just ignore him.
The texts started next day, becoming angry when she didn’t respond. ‘I deserve more than this.’ Then: ‘I’m watching you.’ It began to freak her out.
Next day, he was waiting for her in the lobby after work.
‘I thought I’d walk with you to the station.’ He gripped her arm. The musky smell of his aftershave was overpowering.
‘Actually, Jake, I’m meeting some of the crowd for a drink. Please leave me alone.’ She shook free, walking purposefully across the car park to the main road and the warmth of the pub.
It was good to be with friends. Cath and Pete were wrapped round each other as usual in the corner, Steve was on sparkling form, making her laugh. Molly’s anxieties began to abate: of course she could handle Jake.
Yet when they left the pub, she was glad that Steve was heading to the station too. She linked her arm through his, and he gave her a peck on the cheek as they went their separate ways.
‘See you tomorrow, gorgeous,’ he called.
It was dark and cold when Molly reached her flat. She closed the curtains, lit the gas fire, then realized the answer-machine was flashing a message.
‘You tart. I saw you.’ Then silence, breathing. A click as the caller disconnected.
It didn’t sound like Jake, but it had to be him - didn’t it? She tapped in 1471: number withheld. Molly played the message again. Was Jake really watching her every move? She switched off the lights, peered into the street below. Nothing. Should she tell the Police? But what could she prove? Best to wait and see what tomorrow brought.
‘Have you heard about Steve?’ Cath asked next morning as Molly arrived at her desk. ‘Someone lobbed a brick through his window last night. Can you believe it?’
Molly’s heart missed a beat. ‘Did he call the Police?’ she asked.
‘Yes. They said it’s probably kids, nothing they can do. Mindless vandalism.’
‘Cover for me, Cath, will you? I’ve got to make a call.’
The Police were sceptical, but agreed to speak to Jake. Later, an officer reported back. Jake had gone away, back to his home in Yorkshire.
‘His landlady said his mother is ill, he’s not expected back.’
Molly checked with the firm’s HR department. Yes, Jake Matthews had quit the job because of his mother’s illness, they were sending his papers and belongings on to him.
For a while, Molly remained unconvinced but there were no more texts, no phone calls, no sudden appearances. Jake must have accepted the situation, moved on. It was over.
At last she felt she could go out without looking over her shoulder.
On Saturday, she decided to go for a run: down to the park and round the lake, connecting with nature in a burst of endorphins.
The sky glowered like a child planning a tantrum. It was unnaturally quiet, as if the park was holding its breath in anticipation of what was to come. The only sound in the stillness was the steady pounding of Molly’s feet as she ran, the rasping of her breath. In out, in out, left right, left right. She wasn’t aware of the darkening sky. She wasn’t aware of the figure watching her from the folly by the lake.
He stepped into her path.
‘What a coincidence,’ said Jake. Then he lunged towards her. She saw the glint of steel in his hand. No time to think, adrenalin pumping, survival instinct taking over. She side-stepped, caught him off balance, pushed as if her life depended on it. Which it did. He teetered on the bank of the lake, falling back into the water.
‘Help me, Molly, help,’ he shouted as he struggled. ‘I can’t swim.’ He sank again, arms flailing.
Molly turned and ran, leaving the lake to finish what she had started.
Molly sits by the lake in the Spring sunshine. The horrors of that winter night are fading, though the nightmares sometimes return to haunt her. Her phone trills and she glances at the message. ‘I’m still watching you. Jake’. The musky scent of aftershave drifts from the lake and wraps around her like a shroud. He can’t be alive. Can he?