Marcus
ABOUT THIS STORY: I wrote this story when I was in ninth grade. I was living in Florida at the time and missing New York. I wanted to just remember the place that I grew up in. The pond that this story is about really exists. I was thinking what it would be like if I went back to visit when I was grown up. The story is just a story. I’m not sure what influenced me to write it. I never lost any family member to drowning so don’t think that.

Early Morning Pond: Triebert


Markus was still there.
       I felt his presence as I walked the snow covered path. If anyone had never been there before they would never had known there was a path at all. I remembered it in perfect detail. I walked its meandering length up the dike to the shore of the pond. I turned to the house, which was visible that time of year through the dormant crab-apple trees. During the spring and through the summer the thick leaves hid the pond from the house. I could see its sorry condition even at that distance. Its dilapidated shingles and worn roof looked like the house was diseased at that distance. The broken windows gave the house a look of foreboding. My grandfather had bought the land and erected the house where it stayed in the family for two generations. It was handed over to me when my own mother died, but I never moved back into it. It had been vacant ever since. My younger brother Markus and I claimed the pond as our own domain. In the hot summer days we used it to cool off, swimming in the murky water. We sometimes swam in it from dawn to dusk. Our skin would be darkened from the sun, wrinkled and soggy like rotten tomatoes from the water.
       Winter froze the pond to a glass like finish. We would spend hours skating on the ice. Sometimes we would forget that our hands and feet would get numb from the cold. I remember the winter Markus got frostbite on his toes. It didn’t keep him from the pond for long.
       Markus spent more time at the pond than I did when school was in session. I was busy with sports, Markus didn’t care to play in sports. He went right home after school and when Mom couldn’t find him I always knew where he was. He would be either swimming alone, or skating or fishing. Looking back I don’t think Markus was ever happy unless he was touching the pond somehow, either body, or skates or fishing line. He didn’t have a girlfriend that I knew of. He never seems interested in anything outside the area of the pond. As we got older and started dating he stayed home and went to the pond alone.
      

It was getting dark earlier and the clouds at the top of the hill obscured the setting sun, making premature night fall faster. The wind pushed through the bare trees, making their branches whistle with the cold air. I stood on the bank of the pond, staring at the ice. My hands were deep in my pockets but I could still feel the brisk air.
       The wind and cold reminded me of how it had been that night. Chills captured my body as I recalled the night when I was fifteen and Markus was twelve.
      

“Alright!” Markus yelled. His strong, young voice echoed crisply through the hills. “Try this one.”
       He raised his homemade hockey stick in the air and hit the tennis ball, sending it my way. I blocked the ball and knocked it back in his direction. Markus laughed as he scrambled for the little green ball escaping him.
       I watched him glide across the ice as he chased after the ball. Twilight was upon us. My hands ached in the cold but I tried to ignore it. Markus had always been better at tolerating the cold than I was. It was as though he was impervious to it. Even after his frostbite he embraced the weather.
       “Come on, Markus, you’re so slow.” I skated toward him a little then stopped. I held the stick off the ice with both hands.
       Markus sent the ball toward me again. It skidded across the ice with a kind of graceful motion.
       The game went on into the dark. My eyes adjusted to the gloom. My ankles were tired and I had made myself comfortable on the shore in a pile of snow. I watched Markus skate across the ice. The sky had turned a dark blue. The clouds filled in every available space across the atmosphere. When I looked up I could see the snow falling. The snowflakes drifted down and it was as though I could have counted them as they fell.
       Then I heard the crack like a muffled firecracker. I jumped up and tried to sturdy myself on the skates.
       I saw Markus standing near the center of the pond. He wasn’t moving. He just stared back at me in wide eyed terror. I never felt so helpless. I walked awkwardly along the shore, afraid to step on the ice. There was a low groaning complaint from the ice followed by the screeching of surface ice as it opened.
       “Don’t move, Markus!” I shouted. “I’ll go get Dad!”
       “No! I’ll be all right.” He and I both knew it would be the end of our time on the ice for the rest of the year, and there was too many more months left to be shunned from the pond.
       He slid his skate forward slowly. I could see his fists were balled inside the mittens in concentration. He slid his other foot forward. The skates carried him further as he pushed the tip into the ice for support. The ice rumbled under him.
       “Markus, stay there!” I paced the shore. The hockey stick was in my hand. I couldn’t bring myself to step on the ice.
       “See?” Markus asked. I could tell he was trying to convince himself more than me about how safe it was. “All you have to do is take it slow and you won’t have any problems.”
       I admired his bravery. Then the ice boomed and I froze. My eyes fixed on Markus. He kept a calm exterior. He steadied his balance and kept his pace. He had about twelve more yards before he would be on the shore next to me.
       There was an amplified sound like someone slowly biting into an ice cube. I saw the wide eyes of Markus again as he came to a stop. Then his face turned in a way to make me think he know what was going to happen next.
       He shook his head and dropped through the ice out of sight. He didn’t even put his arms out to stop himself from going under.
       I don’t know how long I stood on the shore waiting for Markus to surface. My brain was overloaded so much that every second turned into minutes. Then Markus popped up like a cork we used for bobbers fishing in the summer. He didn’t make a sound except a gasp of air. He stretched out his hand to me.
       I tried to move but it seemed to take all my strength to get myself onto the ice. For a moment I forgot I had skates on and they took me by surprise. I went face first to the ice, sprawling my arms and banging my knees. My chin hit hard and I the misfortune of having my tongue between my teeth.
       I hoisted myself up and caught sight of Markus going back under again. The look on his face made me forget my pain. Blood flowed from my open mouth. It splashed in black puddles in the dark on the ice. I grabbed the hockey stick and pushed myself toward the hole. When I was closer to the hole I laid across the ice spreading my weight out evenly.
       I got to the hole. The ice around me groaned. I tried to keep the idea from my head. Markus was nowhere in sight. I shouted his name. The black water gave away no secrets. My heart was racing. I plunged the hockey stick into the water. I moved it around hoping it would touch him and he could grab it. The stick moved like the water was made of cold molasses, but it moved without sticking an obstacle.
       Frantic I let go of the stick and plunged my arm into the icy water. The cold bit into my arm as I waved my hand around grabbing for anything I could find.. I was up to my shoulder in the freezing water. I heard pounding behind me.
       I pulled my arm out and rolled away from the hole and stood. Markus wasn’t anywhere near the opening in the ice. He had drifted deeper into the pond, away from the shoreline. I skated over to where he was. I had dropped my hockey stick so I didn’t have anything to break through the ice. I could see his distorted image as Markus clawed at the thick layer of ice. I started kicking at the rime. The ice chipped in tiny shards. On the other side of the ice Markus was kicking and punching the surface. I saw his mouth open. I could hear him screaming, it sounded like he was saying my name. Through the cloudy ice I could see his redden face pressing against the ice as he gasp for air.
       Then Markus stopped kicking and punching. He stared up at me, the rest of his body disolved in the murky liquid. His eyes were wide but there was a look of peace instead of the terror. His face pulled away from the ice and he sunk into the blackness. I screamed his name and slammed my foot into the ice, trying to break it.
       As lightning would strike Markus shot up from the depths and slammed against the surface ice. His arms gave and he hit his forehead on the ice. The near water got darker around his face as blood mixed with it. As I watched, unable to move again, I saw Markus stop fighting. His eyes rolled up in his head and he went back down into the murky abyss.
       I dropped to my knees and pounded my fists against the ice. His name echoed through the cold, dark hills. Someone grabbed my by the coat and yanked me out of the way. Dad had his ax and started chopping at the ice. Mom held me in her arms. She was crying and holding me too tight.
       We watch Dad chop at the ice. Chunk of ice flew everywhere.
      

Markus’ body was never found.
       I used to hear people talk about it behind my father’s back. Some said his body was dragged into the springs that fed the pond. He would have been caught up in the underground river system. There was a tombstone erected in the cemetery in remembrance of him. Every year on Markus’ birthday my parents would visit the headstone. I never could. I could never bring myself to see the stone.
       Dad died two years after Markus’ death. I knew he died of a broken heart. We didn’t talk much after Markus died. We didn’t have a lot in common. I knew he secretly blamed me for Markus’ death. I was fine with that; I blamed myself.
       Mom died three years later. She left the house in my name. I had thought about selling it often but never got around to putting it on the market. I had college to think about and a career to start. I never found the time for a steady relationship.
       It had been a long time since I saw the house and property. It took a lot of energy to get myself to drive the distance. It really wasn’t worth the trip, not in the middle of winter; not on the anniversary of Markus’ death.
       I blew into my cupped hands then rubbed them together as I stared at the pond. I remembered that night as I stood very close to the place I had stood all those years ago. The pond had a smooth layer of ice across it, just like it got every year from my youth. The ice was clear and the dark water made it look black. The snow never stayed on the ice for very long, it blew across its surface and gathered at the edges.
       I wiped something from my eye as I looked to the dark house through the barren tree limbs. The snow was drifting down lightly. I rubbed my hands together again.
       “Hi Simon.” A young voice said from behind me.
       Startled, I turned quickly.
       It was a boy. He was walking toward me from the path. There were a pair of skates ties together and slung around his neck. I didn’t say anything for a long time. I think I was shocked to see another person out here.
       “Hello.” I finally said. He had walked up the bank to the pond and stood on the shore a few feet from me.
       He seemed to be more interested in the pond than me. He was watching the surface intently. He was dressed for the weather with a scarf around his neck. He had on a knit cap, mittens, and an old heavy coat. It looked to be too big for him.
       He found a high mound of snow and made a seat out of it. He pulled the skates from around his neck and untied his boots one at a time.
       “You come out here a lot?” I asked him.
       He took a boot off and replaced it with a skate.
       “All the time.”
       I watched him lace both skates and tighten them. He stood up, leaving his boots resting on the shore. He walked down to the ice and pushed off. My stomach turned some with nerves.
       “You skate by yourself?” I asked. My hope was to keep him near to the shore.
       He glided away from me, heading farther out to the center of the pond. The snow was falling in big flakes around us. The wind was nonexistent. The snowflakes fell in slow motion.
       “I used to skate with my brother.” He shouted from his distance. “But he doesn’t like to skate anymore.”
       “Why?” I asked. My voice bounced off the nearby hill.
       He moved in a figure-eight.
       “I don’t know.” He said. “I guess he’s afraid of the ice.”
       In the atmosphere like it was it was easy to hold a conversation from a long way apart. I think it was because our voices didn’t fan out. The sound was collected by a low ceiling.
       He got near the center of the pond and stopped skating. I was staring at him. I don’t think I had really looked at him before. There was a par of me that didn’t want to see him. But I really saw him as he stood there on the ice. Something came back to me. I remembered him saying my name when he first arrived. He had known my name and I thought about the fact that my back was to him. How could he have recognized me?
       “How did you know my name?” I asked him.
       He raised his head slightly, the scarf dropped below his chin.
       “Don’t be stupid.” Was his reply.
       I remembered that voice. I knew that hint of sarcasm he used. It wasn’t something I admitted lightly to myself.
       “Markus?” I whispered.
       The boy had heard me. “Of course!” He said, throwing his arms back.
       I made a conscious effort to close my eyes, squeezing them tight. When I opened them he was still there. He started skating again. He moved to do another figure eight. I heard a low rumble.
       “Don’t move Markus.” I told him. I couldn’t bring myself to step on the ice.
       He looked back at me. “Why?” He commented. “You’re not going to do anything.”
       The ice growled under Markus’ skates. He acted as though he didn’t hear it. I paced the shoreline as the ice groaned and rumbled.
       “Markus damn it! Don’t move!”
       “Ooh, I’m gonna tell Dad you swore!” I turned in a circle and stayed near the center of the pond.
       “Please, Markus, just stay put. I’ll go get help.” “No you won’t.” He continued skating around.
       I stopped pacing when the ice creaked. I stood silent listening to the skates scraping the ice like nails on a chalkboard. The ice rumbled angrily.
       I swallowed as much fear as I could and stepped onto the ice. It was difficult to negotiate my way because it was unbelievably slippery. I lost my footing several times.
       I saw Markus finally stop moving around. He stood motionless to watch me wander awkwardly toward him. No matter how much I tried I couldn’t steady myself. I felt as if I had skates on my feet as well. I made progress getting toward Markus. If he didn’t move away from me I could grab him. The ice groaned at me.
       He was an arm’s length from me when I extended my hand out to him. I was shaking so hard my hand wouldn’t stay still.
       “Come on, Markus. Let’s go.”
       The ice rumbled again. I felt it heave under my feet. I looked down at my feet. I caught sight of Markus’ skates. They were a shadowy image now. The rest of him was fading out of sight.
       By the time I saw his face he was a shimmer. He smiled at me.
       “Thank you.” He said. As soon as the words left his mouth he was gone.
       I was left standing in the middle of the pond alone. I heard the ice growl at my presence. I looked down wondering if I had really seen Markus or just imagined him. There were scars in the smooth black ice as if made by ice-skates. They could have just been weak points from the ice cracking around me. I tried to see through the ice. I looked down into the cold black hell and knew what was going to happen.
      

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