An excerpt from Winterswim.
There were a few inches of snow on the ground and more falling. The pastor walked to the edge of the lake cautiously, dragging the girl, naked but for a pair of white ankle socks, behind him. She was high—they both were—and she was barely conscious, certainly not enough to try and resist. He stepped on the ice, dragged her a few feet out. He was wearing his good boots, the black leather pair he’d had for years. They had been a gift from a congregant, a reindeer farmer.
The pastor steadied himself and lifted his foot, stomped, heel first, on the ice. A few tries and it began to break. Soon the hole was big enough. He leaned down and grabbed the girl again. Her skin pulled from the ice like Velcro. She squealed and the pastor hushed her.
He kneeled on the ice, barely feeling the cold as it seeped through his jeans. He looked up into the snow. It created the illusion that he was moving, speeding toward the heavens. The girl whimpered. The pastor closed his eyes and prayed.
Then he sprang into action. He grabbed the girl by the back of the head and pulled her over the hole in the ice. He plunged her face into the water. Her body jolted to life, twisting and turning. He pulled her out again. Her eyes were open and clear now.
“Do you ask forgiveness of your sins,” he said, his voice like ice floes breaking apart.
The girl nodded frantically.
“Do you accept Jesus as your lord and savior?”
“Yes,” she said. “Yes.”
Their breath mingled in white clouds between them. The pastor reached his hands around the girl’s neck. He squeezed until she gasped for crippled breaths and then he plunged her into the water again and held tight, increasing the pressure on her head. His fingers grew numb as the girl began to flop on the ice like a fish.
When her body fell limp the pastor let go of her hair and pulled his hand from the water. He pulled his arm into his sleeve and beneath his coat and sweater, he stuck his hand down his pants to warm it up. It was a trick he’d learned from his father. A lesson his dad learned after losing two fingers to frostbite.
When the pastor’s hand tingled back to life he slipped it out of his shirt again. He looked down at the girl’s body. It was dark, but between the snow and the ice her bluing skin provided a contrast. He reached out, let his hand hover over her body, as if it were x-raying the curves of her torso, her hips, her ass. Then he stood and positioned himself behind the girl. He reached down and lifted her by the ankles and dumped her into the water.
Stevie had never so much as entered his father’s room without asking, so his first B&E was remarkable enough. That the target was a morgue, that he did it alone and of his own volition could have convinced the most skeptical of folk to consider that Stevie had been possessed, and perhaps he had been, but certainly not in a Stephen King sense.
Stevie himself would never have guessed that the first naked girl he’d see in real life would be a dead one, but when things go wrong they have a tendency to go very wrong. Especially in a town like Wasilla. The girl was Paris McCarthy. Stevie had known her his whole life.
Unsure of what to bring to break into a morgue, Stevie took a hammer, screwdriver, and flashlight from his father’s toolbox. He stuck his mini tape recorder in his pocket. He pulled on his hoodie and snuck out his bedroom window. The morgue was a mile from Stevie’s house. He got on his bike, pulled his sweater over his face to shield against the wind, and began pedaling.
The streetlight outside the morgue flickered in quick spurts. Stevie grabbed the door handle with his sleeve and turned. No luck. He reached in his backpack for his father’s hammer. It took a couple small swings to wedge it in the door. The wood splintered, but as soon as he resorted to the hammer Stevie gave up the idea of a clean break-in. The door pried open and Stevie pulled the flashlight from his backpack and switched it on.
Wasilla was a small town, so dead bodies didn’t exactly pile up. Paris’ was the only one in the morgue, and it was laying on a gurney in large room past the cramped lobby. A sheet covered her face. Just like in a movie. Stevie grasped for the edge of it. This is why he’d come after all, to see her one more time. He took a deep breath and pulled the sheet from her face.
Stevie had never seen a dead body and he was struck by the paleness of Paris’ skin. She had always been pale, fair-skinned, like most red-heads, but now she was glacial, nearly translucent. An anchor dropped in the pit of Stevie’s stomach. The only real color in Paris’ skin was the faint red of some markings around her neck. He wondered if there was an Autopsies for Dummies book.
Plenty of rumors circulated through Wasilla High about Paris. She was called a slut, ridiculed for being goth or punk. For all Stevie knew she was a masochist. He’d watched porn where girls liked to be choked. But the truth was she just wasn’t a Wasilla girl. She didn’t dress like a cowgirl or listen to country and classic rock. She didn’t like to shoot guns or ride horses. Hell, she didn’t like skiing, snowboarding, or even snowmobiling or four-wheeling.
She was a city girl with no city, and it’s unlikely she would have fit in anywhere in Alaska. She reminded Stevie of the first girl he’d fallen in love with, Kate, and any time he saw Paris, at school or church, his pulse quickened and blood drained from his brain. The same was true now, only it was out of confusion and sadness.
Stevie had heard a rumor that Paris had a tattoo. She was only sixteen so there was plenty of speculation as to how she had gotten the tattoo and where it was on her body, but standing next to her now Stevie couldn’t help wanting to know. If the tattoo rumor was false, maybe the rest of the horrible things people said about her were, too.
Carefully Stevie pulled the sheet further down Paris’ body. It was like looking at a fake person, how stiff and plastic she appeared. Her breasts nearly flattened into her chest, only her pubic hair stood out from the morbid hue of her skin. Stevie walked around the gurney and saw no sign of a tattoo. Not that she couldn’t have one on her back, after all weren’t tramp stamps more common for girls? Stevie hesitated, wondered if he should bother looking. He couldn’t help remembering how good her ass looked in tight jeans.
Stevie slid his fingers under Paris’ torso. How long he’d wanted to touch her, but this wasn’t how he’d imagined it happening. Her skin was cold, rubbery. He lifted and found her heavier than he expected. He leaned down and looked at her backside. There was no tramp stamp, just the divot of her tailbone. Stevie laid the body back on the gurney, ran his hand over Paris’ ribs, then pulled the sheet back over her naked body.
He wanted to cry looking at her lifeless face. He sat on the ground and stared up at her. The marks on her neck bothered him the more he looked at them. Police had pulled her from Wasilla Lake and drowning was the obvious conclusion. Still, he couldn’t stop staring at her neck, and the more he stared the more the marks took on the shape of fingers stretched across her throat.
Photo By: Lars Lundqvist