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SOLITUDE

WINNER
The 2017 Screw Turn Flash Fiction Competition

BY MINDY McGINNIS

There is something at the bottom of the lake.

I came here for quiet and have found exactly that, at first enjoying the utter silence of my isolation. There was no small joy in letting a cup of coffee grow cold in my hands as I sat on the deck, never hearing a car or the small vibrations of my cell, long dead. The white noise of life faded away, and once left with nothing I became keenly aware of the soundlessness, a pressure upon my ears.

I have walked the paths around the lake, the grass beneath my feet obscenely loud, each falling leaf that hit the ground as jarring as a record scratch. It was inexplicable, until I learned of the thing at the bottom.

A mother duck knew and went to it, her path crossing mine briefly as she led her babies to the water. They swam single file, heads dipping occasionally beneath the surface, shaking themselves as they came back up.

Until they reached the middle and never resurfaced. I stood on the bank, waiting. The ripples of their movements found the rocks at my feet, ebbed and flowed, until the tide they had created ceased entirely and I knew they were gone.

The second day, a fox followed, legs meant for land refusing to swim, the decision to sink already made. On the third an osprey plunged from above, diving for prey, never rising. His splash made a wave that reached the tips of my shoes, closer to the edge than they had been the day before.

That night I dreamed of creatures in the depths, not going to whatever waited for them, but returning. Raccoons trailing algae. A housecat with soaked fur, his tail reduced to exposed vertebrae. A moose with waterweed strung in its antlers. A girl, lonely, missing one slipper, her nightgown stuck to her knees. They all came to the deck, wide-eyed. Waiting.

Today I wore my coat, and gathered rocks to fill my pockets. There is something at the bottom of the lake. And I go to meet it.



Mindy McGinnis is the author of Not A Drop To Drink and In A Handful of Dust, a post-apocalyptic survival duology, as well as A Madness So Discreet, a Gothic historical thriller which was a 2016 Edgar Award Winner. Her novel, The Female of the Species, was named on School Library Journal’s Best of 2016 list. Given to the Sea, her upcoming fantasy, will be available in April from Penguin/Putnam.

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