Thursday, December 10, 2009

By the shore

It's warmer tonight and a fog lies across the lake. The ice is still sound -- it won't thaw yet for weeks -- but as soon as evening falls, even on a moonlit night, nobody ventures out on it. It's not that we're afraid of them, exactly -- they must be far more afraid of us, I suppose, though who knows what they think? -- but all the same we keep our wary distance as they keep theirs. In the morning, perhaps, as we hack through and clean out the holes in the ice and set our lines, we'll come across their traces, their scratchings and their footprints, the bloody scraps of a desperate meal they wrested from the black water below.

Many of us have never seen them, or aren't sure. Sometimes, staring out at the lake, the fog swirls apart and for an instant something seems to dart across, far from shore, or stands, just for a moment, and stares back. They never come ashore, never pick around the edges of the camp in search of old bones or flakes of desiccated fish, not that there'd be much to find. Where they go after sunrise or once the ice breaks up for good and spring comes we don't know and don't ask. To the far shore, we suppose, or deep into the woods beyond, where we ourselves don't venture.

The worst is when they fight among themselves. It doesn't happen very often; only now and then, in the bitterest part of the winter, when we ourselves are nearly starving, without notice their hideous screaming cuts through the night and we cover our ears -- though who could block out that sound or forget it once it is heard? Then after a while it's suddenly quiet, and we know perfectly well what that quiet means. No one has ever found a body, the next morning, on the ice.

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