From the journals of Jessamine Katherine Whitlock
Late winter/early spring
I smelled the big lake before I saw it. It was deep in the woods, bordered by high cliffs and tall trees.
It was a still place, peaceful and private, like holding your breath inside a secret. Since it was early morning and there was no one about, I decided to indulge myself in a swim and a long-overdue washing. I hurried down to the crescent of pebbles that bordered the lake, and I stripped there and ventured naked into the frigid water.
The sunlight was childish and sweet, and the water rippled around me in a very pleasing way. I swam and swam, imagining that from far above I looked like a tiny golden pupil in the middle of a round black eye.
I floated on my back for a time, picturing that. The air is so clear at this time of the year - it's what relief feels like, clear air and the sight of tall trees against the sky. I was thinking of all this as I looked up at the trees and the cliffs. I saw a shadow-
a man, silhouetted against the sky. He was looking down at me.
I dove under, swam to shore without coming up. When I emerged, I didn't even towel myself dry before I began pulling my clothes back on, even though I hate the feel of wet fabric clinging to my extremities.
I thought I might be quick enough, but I was wrong. Clothes are too fragile for me to move at my fastest speed.
He approached me from the north, coming down from the cliff. He moved carelessly, the brim of his hat pushed back on his head. He was young, maybe 19 or 20, and he looked like a rich boy playing hobo. Fancy boots but patched pants.
"Don't run off on my account," he told me with a swaggering snigger. I am still wearing the police man's jacket, with the patches torn off, but I hadn't put it on yet. My undershirt and my sweater were both clinging to me. More specifically, to my chest.
I drew myself up. "Leave this place immediately," I commanded him, shaking my hair back so it dripped wet down my shoulders.
I had killed the butcher (after the salesman who was after the police man) three days before so I decided I would let him live, if he moved on.
He smiled at me, jumped toward me and I feinted away. "After a show like that, now you want me to leave?"
I could feel his lust growing, turning to craving. It tasted like piss in my mouth.
"Yes, I want you to leave," I said and I pulled on my jacket quickly. (The police man's jacket is long in the sleeves and covers my hands.)
Foolishly, I'd left my satchel near the base of the cliff he walked down from, sheltered under an overhanging rock to keep it dry and safe while I swam in the lake, and he spotted it. "What's this then?" he asked, and he reached out his arm under to grab it.
This journal, my only remaining companion, was inside it, and he pulled it out, began to flip through it. My words are in the code I invented, so they were naturally unreadable to him, but I keep all my maps at the back, the records of the places I've traveled. I want to map as much of the country as I can, especially all the hidden, lonely places. I have a dream that those maps will be my legacy. Maybe one day I will have someone to show them too. I can show Peter and Charlotte when we meet again.
"Stop this," I warned him again.
In answer, he walked over to the rock. "Don't want to lose your little book. Your pictures," he laughed. My fists clenched inside my sleeves, and my nails slid into the grooves they have cut in my palms. "Tell you what," he said, magnanimous now. "I'll trade you." He held my journal out over the water, dangling it from his fingers, and he grinned. "Your book for a handful of those titties."
The force of my body carried us both out ten feet into the lake. As we flew through the air, I ripped his arm off and threw it back to the shoreline. The journal was still clutched in his fingers. The pages were sprayed with a bit of blood and water, but they will dry.
He looked so surprised in the instant before we crashed through the black into the water. I think he really believed I might give in.
I drank him, then I dragged him down to the bottom of the lake, piled rocks on top of his body.
Marco Reyes liked to keep human heads in one piece, so they could be stuck on posts like Cromwell. He thought it was a final humiliation, but I always wondered - perhaps once the meat of their eyes rotted away, they could still see. Who's to say? It would be finer, wouldn't it, to stare at the plains or the mountains, than to spend eternity seeing nothing but dirt, or the inside of a wooden box. It's a kindness, to give them a lasting beautiful thing.
So even though the hobo was disgusting, I left his head uncovered, his red hair wisping in the water like tiny rivulets of blood. The smallest fishes will graze on him and his empty eye sockets will look up through the expanse of black water and find the sky. I don't think it a bad ending.
I kept his hat and a harp he had in his pocket, and his socks. I had almost forgotten how much I hate wet wool. I was sopping and miserable until late afternoon.
Also, I believe someone is following me.