THE LAKE, WHICH WAS commonly known as Dead ¬Water, lay like a well between steep mountains, and anyone who tried to wade into it would sink up to their knees in its soft mud. On the shore, partially hidden by spruce trees, sat a small log cabin. Axel Frimann was looking out of the window. It was almost midnight on September 13 and the moon cast a pale blue light across the water. There was something magical about it all. At any moment, Axel imagined, a water sprite might rise from the depths. Just as the image came to him, he thought he saw a ripple in the water as though something was about to surface. But nothing happened and a smile, which no one noticed, crossed his face.
He turned to the other two and suggested that they should go rowing. “Have you seen the light,” he said, “it’s really cool.”
Philip Reilly was reading. He tossed his long hair.
“Yes, why not?” he said. “A trip on the lake. What do you say, Jon?”
Jon Moreno was lost in the flames of the fireplace. The fire made him feel warm and dizzy. In his hand he held a blister pack of anti-anxiety pills and every four hours he pressed one through the foil and put it in his mouth.
Did he want to go out on the lake?
He looked at Axel and Reilly. There is something about their eyes, something evasive, he thought, but then again, I’m not quite myself, I’m ill, I’m taking medication, calm down, they’re my friends, they just want what’s best for me. But he did not want to go out on the lake, not in the middle of the night in the cold moonlight. He did not trust himself completely. In here by the fire he felt safe, in here between the timber walls, in the company of his friends, because they were his friends, weren’t they? He tried to catch Reilly’s eye, but Reilly had got up and was fumbling with something on a shelf.
“It’s important that you get some exercise,” Axel said. “Sitting still only makes your anxiety worse. You need to get your blood circulating, get it delivering oxygen to your cells. So come on.”
Jon did not want to let them down. They were doing this for him, they wanted him to have some fun and he did not have much of that at the hospital. Only endless days where nothing ever happened, spent wandering up and down the corridors. They were smiling at him, encouraging him now, Axel with his dark eyes, Reilly with his gray ones. So he got up from the chair and put the blister pack in his pocket. He never went anywhere without it. He reached out for his cell phone which lay on the table, but changed his mind. His anxiety hummed through his body like an electric current. Somewhere a demon is flicking a switch, on and off, on and off, he thought, and I can’t breathe.
“Put your jacket on,” Axel said. “It’s chilly.”
Jon looked around for his jacket. He could not remember where he had put it, but Axel found it and brought it over. Reilly blew out the paraffin lamp and a sudden darkness descended upon them. Jon knelt down to lace up his boots. A knot and a bow followed by another knot. Axel and Reilly waited.
“What about the fire?” Jon asked.
“We won’t be gone long, there’s no danger,” Axel said. “Come on.”
“Shouldn’t we put the fireguard in front of it?”
Axel shrugged. “All right.”
He disappeared into the kitchen and they heard him scrabbling. Then he returned with the fireguard and placed it in front of the fire. The cast-iron fireguard was decorated with two wolves baring their teeth.
Jon looked at the wolves and at his two friends.
“We ready to go then?” Axel said.
Reilly nodded. Jon stuck his hands in his pockets. Axel patted him on the shoulder. His hand was warm and comforting. Trust us, the hand said, we only want what’s best for you, you’re among friends.
It was Friday, September 13. They went out into the dark night and fetched the oars from the shed.
A narrow path led down to the shore of Dead Water.