It wasn't unusual to find bodies in the lake. What was unusual was for the bodies to be living.
This body was the body of a woman, a girl really. At first it was difficult to ascertain how long she had been there in that state between living and dead, though the medical examiner and the town psychologist/convenience store owner did their best.
The girl wasn't talking, but we couldn't blame her. Being unburied was hard. Some of us believed that she wanted to crawl back into the water sludge and stay there. Our lives were difficult, and we too at times felt the pull of the water. We could understand the stories of the girls who had gone in, dressed in bridal gowns, intent on drowning themselves. We even knew the names of all the girls who had succeeded: Evelyn, Mariah, Lilly, and Jane. In a way they had achieved what had alluded the rest of us: immortality.
The girl wasn't, we thought, local. Or she hadn't recently died. Maybe by some dark magic, the lake water had preserved her for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. What if the girl predated the existence of this town, this state, this country?
Eventually we came to believe that, long-haired, pale-faced, wrapped in a red cloak, she had been drowned as a witch, only her magic was so powerful that they couldn't kill her. Instead all they had done was suspend her in time, in a sleep-like state. And we, in our ignorance, had awakened her.
After we unburied her, alarming things began to happen. Cows began to die, crops began to fail, children began to fall ill with mysterious illnesses.
People began to suspect that that the girl was at fault. It made sense; the connection seemed too strong to be coincidence, though some said we were jumping to fallacious conclusions. They said that just because one thing happened before another, it didn’t mean the first thing caused the second. But most of us didn’t listen to those people. Blaming the girl was easier.
A movement started to put the girl back where she had come from. Since she survived before, the town council president argued, she could survive again.
In a four-to-one decision, they decided to tie her to a rock and launch her back in the lake. The one opposed vote represented a group of vocal dissidents including the high school earth science teacher, who felt we should study her, as well as the local Methodist minister who didn't think that re-drowning the girl would be good for our souls. The Presbyterian minister, on the other hand, was on the fence. He said that maybe the girl's death was predestined. The Catholic priest, who was also an avid fan of horror films, wanted to attempt an unsanctioned exorcism. The Neo-Pagans, who met in the basement of the Unitarian church, held an emergency meeting at midnight to try to save the girl. They called to the four corners of the earth to aid her. But they failed.
The earth let us do what we were determined to do. The rock held her down. In what state, dead or undead, we did not know.
Afterward, things went back mostly to normal. It was like she never was, except that we saw the girl, cream-skinned, black-haired with stunned eyes, everywhere. And even in sleep, we were never at rest.
Lori D'Angelo is a grant recipient from the Elizabeth George Foundation and an alumna of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. Recent work has appeared in JAKE, One Art Poetry Journal, Toil & Trouble, and Wrong Turn Lit. You can find her on X/Twitter @sclly21 or Instagram @lori.dangelo1.