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The Last Summer
The first summer that someone disappeared into the lake, Darya was fifteen. It wasn't someone she knew well, no, but the older brother of a girl in her grade. He had been swimming, they said. Gone without a trace, they said. An accident, they said. The official report read, “An eighteen year old, Kyle McMann, reportedly drowned while swimming with a friend on Sunday. A body has not been recovered. Foul play is not suspected. A memorial service will be held at Maricopa Baptist Church on Thursday at 5:00 PM.”
Darya had been curious when they had not found the body, even after dragging the lake, but not curious enough to take time out of riding her bike around the pier or laying in the sun, ice cream dripping down her wrist.
No one thought much of it when, the next year, a girl disappeared from the pier. She had been drunk, they said. Must have fallen in, they said. Darya didn't think much of it either, as she was now sixteen, and she was young enough to know everything.
The school year passed without much coincidence, and not many noticed when Kyle McMann’s sister started to cry during lunch, whispering, “It was a monster, it was a monster,” under her breath.
When someone disappeared the next summer, something was different. This time, Darya had seen it.
Darya lay on the pier, sunlight dappled against her eyelids. Her brown hair lay in loose spirals around her head, and her chipped blue fingernails drummed against the water worn wood.
“Darya,” someone yelled, laughter in their voice.
“What?” Darya called, dragging out the ‘a’ with a lilt to her voice.
“Come on, get in,” Jake called, tugging at her ankle.
Darya opened her eyes, looking through her lashes at the boy who held onto the pier next to her feet, his fingers white against the wood.
“Fine,” she sighed, sitting up. She slid into the water, tightening the tie of her cobalt swimsuit.
Jake swam away, laughing. Darya swam after him, moving through the lake water, nearing where Mia lay on a pool float. Jake doggy paddled next to her, and then sunlight blended with their hair. Mia leaned down to kiss Jake, tangling one hand in his hair.
Darya’s heart panged, and she ducked under the water to hide her expression. She held her breath for a moment, and then emerged from the water in a shower of sunlight.
Mia leaned back, looking at the sun.
“What do you think college will be like?” Mia drawled.
“Fun,” Jake laughed.
“I don't know,” Darya said. She sunk underneath the water again, but before she could look around, something brushed against her foot. She burst out of the water, looking around.
“You alright over there?” Mia said, laughter in her voice.
“Yeah. Yeah, I just thought I felt something,” Darya said.
Jake grinned, and then started to swim. Putting a finger to his mouth, he swam behind Mia, and then leaping from the water, pulled her under. The blue water sparkled in the sunlight, and Jake reemerged, hugging Mia. Darya looked at them, and then down. Something hit her foot again, this time more forcefully. Darya reared back out of the water, startled, and then felt a tug at her foot.
“I’m going back to the pier,” she said to Mia, who was now perched on her pool float again, talking to Jake, who lay on his back in the water next to her.
She turned and started to swim, as fast as she could.
“Darya! Hey, Darya! Wait up,” Jake called. “We’re coming, too.”
She kept swimming, and heard the other two splash behind her.
“Race you,” she called. She swam harder, ducking her head under the water.
She opened her eyes, squinting through the dark blue water. She was close to the pier, so she kicked harder.
Bursting from the water, she pulled herself up by the edge of the dock, panting. She turned, squinting at the sunlit water. Jake pulled himself out of the water, collapsing onto the dock next to her.
Darya smiled at him, and he smiled at her, and her heart swelled. Then, she looked out at the water, scanning the expansive blue for Mia’s blonde hair. It was nowhere to be seen.
She looked over at Jake, whose eyes darted back and forth across the lake.
“Mia,” he yelled. “Where are you?”
“Mia,” Darya called, joining in.
An echo of a sob pealed across the lake, like the sound of a wind chime during a storm.
“Mia, this isn't funny,” Jake yelled. “Where are you?”
Darya slid into the water, looking around. Jake jumped in after her, and they both started to swim. .
A cry echoed around them again. Then, Darya saw her. Mia burst from the water, screaming. Blood ran down her face. A creature emerged after her. It was a human, a fish, and it was hideous. It grabbed Mia and pulled her back under. The water bubbled, and it was silent and horrible and terrifying.
Jake screamed, and started to swim back. Darya was frozen. The water around her turned red with blood. She couldn’t move. She felt something, someone, grab her arm, and she screamed.
“Darya! Darya, we have to leave!” Jake screamed, and Darya started to swim. He pulled her onto the dock with him. Darya scrambled backwards, shaking.
Jake sat on the dock, unmoving.
“Jake, we’ve got to call 911. We’ve got to get help,” Darya said, voice shaking. She dug through her bag, and then clicked the emergency call button.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“My friend, something- something… She’s gone.”
Jake and Darya sat on the dock, huddled in blankets. The lake was being searched for a body. They weren’t going to find one, that Darya knew.
“Jake, we should tell them what we saw,” Darya whispered.
Jake laughed, a hollow empty sound.
“No one would believe us,” he whispered.
“But you saw it,” she said.
“It doesn’t matter, does it?” he said, his voice harsh as he away.
Darya sank back into her blanket, dejected and shivering. Her legs were dyed a deep pink, and she almost vomited when she realized that it was Mia’s blood that stained her skin. She closed her eyes, trying not to cry. There was nothing she could have done, nothing she could do. Jake was right, no one would believe her. She would be questioned soon, on whether any of them had been drinking, about when she last saw Mia. She couldn’t, however, say that the last time she had seen her best friend she had been covered in blood, and that some creature had dragged her back under and killed her, filling the water with blood. She couldn’t say that she had barely talked to her best friend, her best friend since she was six, that day because she was jealous.
Darya went home, after being questioned by the police. They had asked her questions ever so gently, like they thought she might break. She had ripped down the Polaroid pictures that decorated her walls, those of Mia and Jake. She couldn't look at them without wanting to vomit. She had showered, scrubbing her skin till it was raw, trying to erase the feeling of her friend’s blood in the water around her. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw Mia’s bloody face, her terrified expression. She saw it, the horrible creature that had done this.
Morning came, the sunlight shining through the quilt over Darya’s head, and she did not get up. Her mother came into her room, carrying a porcelain plate with a sandwich and glass of water, and she did not get up. Night came, and Darya cried in her bed. She didn’t leave her room the next day, or the next.
Then night fell. Darya started out her window. Her face was wet with tears, shining on her skin like the stars in the sky outside of her window. She got up, rubbing her eyes. Her legs shook in the cool air.
Darya pulled on leggings and a shirt, and crept down the stairs. She needed to talk to Jake, she knew that. She pushed open the white lacquered front door, pocketing the house key that sat on a table next to the door.
The street was eerie at night, the brightly painted lake houses looming against the night sky. Darya’s feet scraped against the ground. Maybe she could talk to Jake, convince him to tell someone. And then they could watch a movie in his room, and it could be just like it had been before, with blanket forts and truth or dare and popcorn. Like it was before Mia was gone.
Darya and Mia had met on the second day of first grade. Darya, who had been playing tag, was pushed down by Jake. She had skinned her knee, and started to cry. Mia, in all of her pink and blonde glory, had marched over and helped Darya up, telling Jake off. He stood there with his mouth open, and from that day on, the three of them had been inseparable.
Until one night, when Darya and Mia were curled in a tent in Mia’s back yard, and Mia had whispered in Darya’s ear, “I’m in love.” She had said it breathily, and she had smelled like bubblegum.
Darya had turned on her side, and ever the more serious one, had said, “Who?”
Mia giggled, tangling her feet in the quilt they shared. “Jake,” she whispered.
Darya froze. She looked at her friend through the darkness, and then she forced herself to smile.
“I’m so happy for you,” she whispered. And really, she was. “You should tell him,” Darya continued, biting back the knot in her throat.
“You think so?” Mia said, rolling over on her back.
“Yeah,” Darya responded.
“You’re a good friend,” Mia whispered.
“I know,” Darya had laughed.
Not long after, Mia and Jake had gotten together. It had broken Darya’s heart, but she had said nothing, instead distancing herself from them. She regretted that now, regretted it as she turned the corner onto Jake’s street, staring at the moon and trying not to cry.