Tristan stood at the shore of an expansive lake. He searched the twilight for a shore across the water, but he found little definitive evidence, beyond a far-off treeline, to determine an end to the liquid mirror. His feet impressed upon the soft, damp, ghostly, grey and silver sand. He pinched small chunks between his big, and longest toes, feeling the wet grittiness tingle the tiny, sensitive patch of skin between his toes. He felt the mild, cool, breeze brush against his cheek, and tingle his scalp at the roots of his short hair. He took a deep breath, and filled his lungs and nostrils, with pine-tinged notes of the nearby trees, fresh, mossy, vibrant, waftings of forest ferns, moldering, wet, aquatic-plant tinged scents of the lake water, and the earthy, herbal, fungal, aroma, of wild mushrooms.
He had a far off gaze, that absorbed the obsidian lake, rippling, inconsistently, with the exhalations of an invisible god. Tristan saw the moon reflected upon on the surface of the lake, pale, white, luminescent, and appearing as it would to one under heavy drug influence, pulsing, shifting, undulating, and changing in size. When he shifted his gaze skyward, and viewed the moon directly, it was a still, pallid, charcoal-accented, eye in the heavens.
The subtle, tranquil, sound of the mellow swell of lake waters against sand, and shore, and the gentle whistling and swooshing of the wind amidst the trees, were soothing to Tristan. Light, successive chirps, from a distant bird, sweetly accented the placid atmosphere.
Tristan felt three points of warmth at his left forearm, one close to his palm, and two, in line with each other, behind the first, closer to his elbow. The tingling tri-point glided towards his fingers, crested his wrist, and proceeded into his palm. As the three tendrils of warmth spread from his wrist, towards his fingers, two, additional, tingling, contacts, suddenly alighted upon the skin tenuously sheltering the skeletal rigidity of his left forearm. The five, warming, stimulating, points, inched towards to end of his fingertips.
The tingling, warming, sensations gave way to a sensual burst of heat pressed against his palm, and the five stimulating points moved beyond his palm, past the space between his splayed fingers, curled around the outside of his hand, and applied light pressure and warmth.
He heard the light, tender, relaxed, exhalation of a sigh, and the corners of his mouth raised ever so slightly. He felt the raven locks swish against his upper back, before accepting her head against his shoulder, as she silently slid into him; the sides of their bodies pressed together, and their clasped hands melded in between.
They savored the tranquil moment for an abbreviated eternity, and then she shifted her head slightly, nuzzling against him.
“It’s beautiful here.”
“It’s so perfect. I don’t think it too bold of me to say, I could live in this moment forever.”
“It would be tremendously disingenuous of me to say that I don’t feel similarly.”
She slowly pivoted around her right foot, swinging her body towards his, until her left foot was at his right instep. She separated her right hand from its intertwined state in his left, and brought it up to cup his left cheek. With a slow, subtle, shift of her right wrist, she brought his gaze down from the lake, to look into the brilliant, sparkling, pools of her eyes. She pressed her body into his, then raised herself up on sand-anchored tiptoes. She pressed her warm, soft, not-thin, but not too full, lips against his, and passionately kissed him. After several long seconds, she pulled her head back several inches, opened her eyes to briefly meet his, then quickly closed them, tucked her head under his chin, placed her lips on his neck, and gave a warm, tingling, peck.
“Would you like to take a walk?”
“I would love to.”
Again, her fingers found his, they interlaced, and their hands fused together. Devoid of a sense of hurry or rush, they began to walk along the narrow, ashen-colored shore. They strolled slowly, in sync, and with intense awareness of the footfalls of the other. Their languid, swooshing, steps, displaced small chunks of fog-grey sand as they moved along the shore.
The pair continued their leisurely stroll beside the lake, following its simple, lazy, shifts and occasional, broad, elongated curves. Occasionally, the gritty, ghostly, sandy, shore became damp, gnarled, root, moisture-tinged, verdant, emerald grasses, long, sturdy reeds, and water plants, hovering atop the shallows. The duo was forced to shift away from the water, detouring from the bog-like, hazardous muck, to tread on drier, forest floor, and push through light brambles and thickets. Despite these impediments, they maintained their hold on each other, and navigated several deviations from the silvery sand, each time keeping a close eye on the water to their left.
When the time of their walk neared an hour, the pair approached another section where the sandy shore began to narrow. The shape of the lake bent towards their right, then straightened, and in the distance, approximately a quarter-mile, the line of land-against-water took a broad curve to the left, before continuing in a straightaway, parallel to the one directly in front of them. They continued to survey the far shoreline, when, surprisingly, Tristan felt a sharp squeeze of his right hand.
“Is that what I think it is?”
The trees on the far shore were gently pushed, and pulled, back and forth by invisible ropes. The surface of the lake rippled, then stilled. And the pale moonlight created a shadowy effect, like wraiths moving back and forth, behind, and in front of the trees. Tristan waited, patiently, for his vision to clarify the object that he thought he perceived, amidst the shifting ghostly shades.
“I can’t be entirely sure, but I do believe that it is.”
“Shall we get closer, so that we may clarify?”
“If you would like. I will continue to enjoy being at your side.”
She took a step forward on the narrow, slate shore, her fingers still intertwined in his. After she planted her left foot in the sand, she attempted to take her second stride with her right leg. Her right arm was behind her as she pulled the right side of her body forward, abruptly halted by the clasp that they both maintained on each others hands, and the rigidity that Tristan held by not moving his feet.
“Is something the matter?”
“I don’t believe so. ”
“Do you not wish to find out? Would you prefer to go back”
“I don’t want to go back. Of course I want to find out.”
“Will we not go together? You’ve made no effort to move forward. It’s just on the other side, likely it won’t take long to reach it.”
“I’ll certainly go with you. Something gave me pause. I’m not entirely sure what caused me to spring roots. Let’s move forward. We’ll need to push through some rough shrubs, and push through the woods to get to its location.”
He allowed his arm to be pulled forward, with his shoulder subsequently obeying, followed by his upper torso, then his legs and feet succumbed to the inertia, and he stepped forward with her.
They stepped along the ashy remnants of the sand, before shifting to the right, away from the increasing moisture, and dwindling, solid soil under their feet. The pair parted increasingly long grass with their strides, and moved towards the trees a short distance away. They pushed through several thorny thickets, before finding a lightly trampled deer path, in close view of the water.
The path meandered trees with incredibly thick trunks, very near each other, but with enough passage that the pair could slip through one at a time, and still maintain their hand hold. Occasionally, a path of lightly stamped ground, highlighted by broken ends of brush and dried sticks, directed them towards the water. The duo ignored these, knowing them to merely be often used, easy way for wildlife to quench their thirst.
They came to the end of the straightaway, glanced at the gently waving, ivory accented lake water, and shifted their trajectory to the left. They navigated the curve with little incident, pausing only when nagged on the occasional thorn, or when plucking an insistent cocklebur from their clothing.
The once, seemingly distant, straight shore across the water, awaited them at the end of the arc. They leapt over a slithering snake, carefully stepped over languid snails, smiled at colorful salamanders, and dodged nigh invisible webs, avoiding the hungry eyes of the patient spiders. They clambered over trees felled by intense lightning bolts, flung from the hand of an enraged diety. They straddled giant roots that rose from the forest floor. And they painfully placed their bootless feet upon large, jagged, rocks that they occasionally met during their progression.
In time, the environs that they were exploring, began to redirect them. The water to their left was no longer part of an elongated U-shape. The pair had come to the straight away, that they had noted from their prior, momentary, stopping point. They kept the same, relative distance from the water, and pressed forward in mostly linear fashion.
Eventually, the fairly straight trajectory, shifted, and forced them to direct their path to the right. As they adjusted their orientation, through the trees to the left of them, they saw the giant, light-tinged, obsidian expanse of the lake. They stopped, made a slight alteration to their intended direction, and walked left, to the line where the trees feared water, stepped forward, and looked left to note their prior vantage point, the one from where they saw the object. Once they determined the position where Tristan had made himself a statue, they looked in front of them, each taking a deep breath, as they absorbed the placid beauty of the massive lake, shimmering in the moonlight, with midnight blue, amethyst, and glistening raven liquid rippling slightly, as illuminated eggshell accents touched the surface.
The incredibly beautiful, and exceedingly soothing, visual, made the pair pause, momentarily, and appreciate its serenity. Each stood still, but for the drawing of breath through their nostrils, into their lungs, which caused the slight raising of their chests. They exhaled, and their chests sunk from their inflated state. They turned towards each together, letting go of the continuous clasp of their hands. Tristan brought both hands to her face, cupped her cheeks, and drew her face towards his. She wrapped her arms around his back, and succumbed to his draw, eagerly placing her lips on his. They locked together, for uncountable heartbeats. After an incredibly long time, the need for breath trumped their passion, so, they disconnected, and turned to focus their gaze on the broad, beautiful, reflective, lake.
“It should be close, don’t you think?”
“If it is indeed, there at all.”
“I’m confident in what i saw.”
“From where we initially observed, if it is what we believe it to be, its location shouldn’t be far from here.”
They kept the water, and shoreline, close to their left, knowing that the object they had seen was near the shore, visible from a distant vantage point. It was not something they needed to delve in to the depths of the forest to find. They explored the curved shores of the lake with their footsteps, and within a few minutes, found the object that they were seeking.
“Is it what I think it is?”
“Let’s find out.”
The pair approached the wooden object. The bulk of the vessel was obscured by overgrown reeds, and vibrant, ivy-colored grasses. The bow, however, was firmly set in a small, pearlescent patch of sand; the lake waters lightly lapped against its bottom.
“It’s here! I couldn’t be confident from where we first glimpsed it, but it is what I believed!”
“I didn’t think it would likely be what thought from afar, but here it is. ”
“Shall we take it into the lake?”
“Let me make sure it is water worthy.”
Tristan approached the craft, and with both hands, took hold of the port ridge, and yanked the hull towards the water, liberating it, slightly, from the grasses. It was a small boat, at most, twelve feet long, and four feet wide, with a pointed front, and a squared off back-end. In the moonlight, the wood used in its construct was difficult to determine, thought it appeared thick, sturdy, rough, and unpainted. Tristan carefully surveyed the hull of the vessel, and noted no discernible gaps. He addressed the bow, noted no cracks, or gaps, and moved to survey the back end of the craft. As he shifted his attention towards the stern, he noted two paddles, secured on either side of the vessel, cradled by two, thin, metal housings, beneath the gunwales.
The remainder of his canvas revealed little of consequence, other that what appeared to be, a waterworthy craft.
“Would you like to go out?” She whispered, after Tristan had conducted his scrutinizing survey of the small boat.
“It seems seaworthy. Or in this case, lakeworthy.”
“I would love to go with you.”
“Let me move the boat, so we may enjoy the lake.”
Tristan once again grabbed the side of the small craft with two hands. Then, with incalculable power, wrenched it free of its stasis amidst the marsh-like, soggy ground, and the enclosure of limp, saggy, plant life.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course. I’ll steady the boat, then push us off.”
“Yes, of course.”
She stepped toward the craft tenuously, then placed her left hand on the port side gunwale. She swung her right leg over the side, then grounded it on the wooden bottom of the boat. Cautiously, she maintained her balance, left hand still on the rail, right foot on the deck, then she quickly, drew her left leg into the boat.
“Are you ready?”
“You are the one perched at the head of the boat.”
“I suppose that I am ready. Shall we?”
“I’ll push us off.”
Tristan shifted around the side of the boat, to place himself, ankle-deep in the soggy muck, and knee-deep in the viridescent grasses. He twisted back and forth, lowered his head, rotated, then shrugged his shoulders toward the sky. He exhaled forcefully, then pressed his shoulder against the flat, transom of the vessel.
He drove his legs into the soft earth, and forced his upper body into the vessel, ignoring the resistance that he felt upon his upper torso, and feeling the burning in his powerful legs as his quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, tensed and flexed. After several long moments of inactivity, a low growl, that gradually increased in volume, came from Tristan’s throat. Just as the growl was approaching a roar, the craft slid forward several inches, and Tristan took a step toward the water, to capitalize on the small bit of momentum. He shoved against the rear of the craft, and the boat slid further into the water, allowing him to take another step towards the lake. With Tristan powering forward, the skiff gathered speed, and glided over the sand towards the obsidian lake.
Tristan increased the speed of his stride to match the acceleration of the boat. As the bulk of the boat slid, and dipped into the dark fluid, Tristan gave the back-end of the vessel a powerful shove, and watched the rear of the boat bob into the midnight-shaded water. He took two quick steps back, then sprinted to the edge of the water, launching himself into the air. With both feet touching down simultaneously, he landed on the hull of the skiff, causing the transom to submerge in the lake, nearly to the point where water spilled into the vessel.
The bow shot upward, and her eyebrows rocketed toward the sky with the sudden motion, her lips parted, and her eyes grew wide. She prevented herself from launching forward with a white-knuckled grip on the sides of the craft, and both heels pressed against a raised brace.
Tristan smiled at her as the craft pitched forward, then backward, several times, before finding its equilibrium. The momentum that he had provided from the shore propelled the vessel towards the expansive center of the lake. The shape of the lake made it difficult to pinpoint a precise “center,” but the pair knew that where they were heading, would be far from shore.
“Will that be the end of your acrobatics?”
“I’m sure I could manage something else.”
She leaned towards him, reached out, and playfully swatted him on the arm.
“Let’s save the theatrics for another boating expedition.”
“I think I might be able to restrain myself.”
Tristan winked at her, and she beamed in his direction.
Tristan leaned against the back of the boat, and smiled at her from the stern, while she grinned, lovingly, from the bow. When the seemingly seemingly timeless moment passed, she rose, and moved towards him, the vessel tipping slightly side to side, reflecting each tiptoe as she inched closer to him. When she was close enough for him to feel the heat from her body, she slowly turned around, her raven hair swinging back, and forth as she rotated. When she finished her turn, her back was to him. Tristan slid backwards on the horizontal, wooden, plank, as she lowered herself to sit between his legs. She leaned back into his body, and he draped his right arm over her shoulder, letting his forearm rest between her breasts, and laid his hand on her stomach.
In this way they continued to slide forward on the black mirror. Their silence mattered little, their barely audible exhalations more, and their proximity and touch most. Tristan leaned forward slightly, and planted a kiss on the top of her head; she murmured contentedly.
“This is perfect.”
“If this was eternity, I would be elated.”
“As would I.”
The boat had glided through the water, now it coasted Soon, it would crawl, then it would be inch.
Tristan shifted uncomfortably.
“We are slowing down, I’ll need to take the oars soon.”
“Let’s enjoy our drift, there’s no rush.”
He resettled into her, and though he couldn’t see it, he felt her cheeks raise, and knew that she smiled. The boat languored on, and the pair stayed close. She brought her hand to his, the one on her stomach, wrapped her fingers around the outside of his hand, and tucked them beneath his palm. She brought her other hand back, and upwards, until it cupped his right cheek. He took her wrist, pulled her hand away from his face, turned his head, placed his lips at the center of her palm, and kissed her hand.
She pulled her hand away from his face, and placed it over his right biceps. She turned her head to the right, and nuzzled against his chest. He brought his left arm forward, and around her left shoulder, crossing it over his right arm, and cupped her right obliques with his left hand.
The boat crept to a swaying halt, and the pair in the boat held on to each other. They drifted at the behest of the breeze, and dipped and bobbed with the rippling of the lake.
In the middle of a vast, dark, lake, upon a moderately water-worthy craft, with no food, no supplies, and no direction, the couple clung to each other.
Time seemed to pass, unnoticed, by the pair. It may have been minutes, or hours, but their proximity to each other rendered measurement unimportant.
“This is amazing.”
“I feel so close to you.”
“All we need is each other.”
“You should stay here forever.”
“Here? On this boat, in the middle of a lake?”
“With me, stay here with me, it’s perfect, we’ll never be apart.”
Tristan stirred, and pulled his arms back from where they crossed over her body. He placed his hands on her back, near her shoulders, and pushed her body away from his. She turned around to face him as the shove shifted her away from the seat. She looked radiant, and he felt a palpitation in his heart. She reached out, and again, cupped his cheek in her outstretched hand.
He closed his eyes, as he felt the warmth of her skin against his cheek. He nuzzled against her palm, and kissed her on the inside of her wrist.
“I love you.”
“We need to get back to shore.”
“We don’t, all we need is you, and I, here, together, forever.”
“We can’t stay here. There is more than just this lake.”
“Please, please stay.”
Tristan leaned forward, forcing her backwards toward the bow, and placed his hands on the oars, secured against the inside of the skiff. He liberated the paddles from the rusted, metal clamps that held the pair, and slid them into the oar locks on the side of the boat.
“We don’t need to go anywhere. Everything is fine. We have each other here.”
Tristan dipped the oars into the water, and executed several rowing motions. The boat didn’t move very far, despite his powerful strokes, and at a count of twelve or thirteen, Tristan looked at the ends of the oars as they rose from the dark lake.
There was a shimmering, ebony, royal purple, and dark, cosmic blue fluid clinging to the ends of each oar. Tristan tried several more rowing motions, found that the resistance had intensified, and that the volume of the curious fluid, attached to the oars, had increased.
He turned to her, and realized that she was watching his failed efforts with amusement, a slightly cruel smirk on her face. As he struggled with his efforts, she leaned against the bow, and spread her arms wide, resting her elbow to her fingertips on the gunwale.
“You’ll grow weary with these exertions. Disregard these notions, and capitulate. Stay with me.”
Tristan ignored her, and threw himself into twenty more, full body engaged, rowing motions. Each dip of the oar into the lake caused more strain on his muscles, and yielded little motion from the craft. As he drew the handles of the oars towards him for his final stroke, the paddles crested the surface of the lake. The shimmering coal, nightshade, and space-colored ooze had completely coated the paddle, and was moving up the handle.
“No. This cannot be.”
“This isn’t real. We’ve never been here.”
“Stay, stay with me.”
Tristan dropped the oars, and rose to his feet, delicately maintaining the balance of the skiff. She stared intensely at him, from a few scant feet away, and shook her head condescendingly.
Tristan ignored her. He turned around, placing his back to her, and breathed in deeply.
“You shouldn’t do that. Everything you need is here.”
Tristan placed his hands on the back rail of the small craft. He raised his right leg first, and placed his foot on the gunwale. Cautiously, he lifted his right hand from the transom, as he lifted his left leg, and placed his foot on the right gunwale.
“You don’t have to do this.”
“No. But I have to try.”
Tristan perched tenuously, with his feet on the outer edges of the tiny craft. He glanced over his shoulder, and beheld incredible beauty. She lounged at the bow of the craft, distant, curious, mischievous, and radiant. Tristan’s knees quavered, and he felt a pulse of doubt ripple through his heart.
“Come down from there. You don’t have to do this. I’m here. What could you possibly want out there?”
“Please stop. I will allow you to torture me no more.”
Tristan redirected his gaze, and once again faced the back end of the craft. He stared out over the great expanse of the lake. He focused on a tiny patch of ghostly sand, and a small clump of reeds and tall leaves. He gauged a rise, with brambles, thickets, and brush. And he peered into the pale-moon accented forest, and appreciated the subtle swaying of leafy branches, the stout presence of stalwart trees, and the ethereal glow of moonlight, seeping through the canopy of foliage.
Tristan took a deep breath, then sighed. He closed his eyes, and tilted his head down.
He leapt from his perch on the edges of the boat and plunged into the dark water. When he surfaced, he rapidly kicked his feet, in alternating fashion, against the dark fluid. He swung his arms around his shoulders,and in front of his face, successively. He propelled himself towards the shore with fervor.
Tristan was incredibly strong, and gifted with immense stamina. Yet, before he had swum more than a hundred yards, fatigue began to grip him. His strokes began to become less frequent, and were executed with less brawn and robustness. His legs began to kick with less intensity, then, slowly, and ultimately, with little effort at all. Tristan noted a small collection of dark ooze on his fingertips, as his strokes broke the plane of the water.
He could see that the shore wasn’t terribly far, and that he needed only, to muster enough energy to get him to solid footing. He couldn’t see her smiling at him bemusedly, from the bow of the boat behind him, but he felt her gaze burning into the back of his skull. He only saw the shore before him, an energetic swim away. He willed his arms to continue their desperate, reaching strokes, and forced his legs to kick.
But his will was not enough.
He progressed toward the shore, felt a heaviness in his limbs, and a sense that he was losing buoyancy. When he felt his forward progression halted, he stopped trying to swim, and tried to tread water.
He lifted his hands, briefly, out of the water, and saw they were coated to the elbow, with a weighty, dense, shimmering, black ooze. He could feel a downward pull on his legs, and knew, without seeing, that they also, were coated with this strange fluid.
His legs lost their function, and Tristan knew that his arms would soon fail at their repetitive parting of the water, which kept him afloat. With immense effort, he managed to turn his body around, so that he faced the boat. His arms were near spent, and he had sunk to the point where his neck and head were the only parts above the blackness.
She lounged on the boat, gazing at him from a distance.
Tristan’s arms failed. He began to sink rapidly, the coal-colored lake, cold against his lips. His eyes never left her, as he went under.
She was beautiful.
Tristan sank beneath the surface, and seemed to temporarily float in oblivion. It was impossible to know how long he descended, but he felt the pressure intensify as he sunk deeper. Cut off from a fresh oxygen supply, his lungs began to burn. He choked on dark lake water, and knew he would soon become unconscious. Being weighed down by the curious, dark, ooze, he couldn’t even fight against the inevitable, as his body was unresponsive. Just before he blacked out, Tristan ceased sinking, and he stopped on, what he could only imagine, was the bottom of the lake.