Dark Water & the Maiden
Author: Richard Shifman
Copyright 2018, all rights reserved
This novel is dedicated to friends and angels of all kinds.
"The Moon in June"
Monday, June 3rd, 2008
4747 Spearwood Road, Bethesda, Maryland
The pills had done their job.
She floated from the back deck, through the kitchen door, and into the party. Bits of grey fogged the periphery of her vision. She could see straight ahead, but not much else.
Her ex-boyfriend sat at his kitchen table, directly in her line of sight, a golden-haired Riverwood Academy cheerleader astride his lap. The corners of his crooked mouth turned up as she stumbled into the kitchen. He took a sip from a water bottle and tossed her a tiny head nod. She understood the intent of the minuscule gesture: He was the lord of the land, and she, as far as he was concerned, was toilet scum. He turned his face away from her.
Her friend, Debra gripped her elbow, steering her through his kitchen. She leaned into Debra, speaking next to her friend’s ear. “It’s his house, but God, he’s the worst. Who’s that dumb blond on his lap?”
“Mmm, hmm. Your hair’s blond too, Jenna.” Debra rushed her past the kitchen table, through an open doorway, and into the living room.
She continued to speak into Debra’s ear. “You know, when we dated, sometimes he’d get this friggin’ happy look when I talked about how my mom didn’t have money to send me to Riverwood after eighth grade. Meanwhile, he’s barely hanging on after his sophomore year at Riverwood. And I, uh, got straight A’s in high school. I mean, except last semester. Mr. Big Deal National Prep Wrestling Champion. Moron. Ooh, I’m dizzy.” She plopped onto a sofa, her head tilted back, legs splayed at the knees.
“Mmm.” Debra gazed down at her friend. “Jenna, I gotta go to the bathroom. Stay right here.”
Jenna closed her eyes. The smell of stale beer drifted into her nostrils. She opened her eyes, and there stood Max Loppino, one of her ex’s good friends. Max held a full bottle of vodka.
“Hey, gimme some of that, Maxie.” She grabbed the clear bottle.
And everything turned black for a while.
Now, in a darkened bedroom, Max’s shadow sat on the bed beside her. He pulled on his socks.
‘How did I get here?’
She lay on her back and stared at the ceiling, which had begun to rotate slightly. She squeezed her eyes shut. ‘God, don’t let it spin.’ She hated when it spun. ‘Like a damned Ferris Wheel. No, wait, a merry-go-round spins sideways in a circle. Not a Ferris Wheel. Whatever.’
The room began to spin again.
‘I shouldn’t have taken those pills.’
A wave of nausea steamed through her. A bolus of vodka-laced vomit knocked on the door of her esophagus. She tasted the acidic burn of the vodka, which mixed with stomach juices at the back of her throat. She swallowed hard, willfully shoving her devil back into its place. Her long, dirty-blond hair, damp with perspiration, stuck in clumps to her neck and bare shoulders.
The room began to spin faster. ‘Oh, God! I am on a Ferris Wheel,’ she thought, horrified.
For a moment, the nausea and fear left her. Her horror morphed into a dark emptiness. ‘Where will I go when I die? I have nothing but regrets.’
Music drifted through a vent in the floor. In the kitchen, the crowd of partying teenagers sung in unison to a tune blasting over the downstairs’ speaker system. Trembling, she turned her head to the side, staring out the window, searching for the absent moon. She focused her attention on the noise of the partygoers, whose singing floated through the aperture.
The partygoers yelled the last two words of their song, and their singing abruptly stopped. A moment later, a roar of laughter welled up from below. Perhaps somebody had told a joke.
‘Coldplay. Fix you.’ She recognized the band and the song. At that thought, she drifted in and out of consciousness, riding a wave from dark to light and back. Each time she opened her eyes, staring at the blurred image of the dim fan lights above, she concentrated on containing the nastiness raging to be set free from her stomach.
Max rose from the bed. “Going to wash up, Jenna.”
The young man did not notice she lay immobile. He disappeared into the darkness at the back of the room. A thin ray of light poked at the bed for a moment. Then he closed the master bathroom door, consuming the room in darkness once more.
‘I’m blind.’ Her eyes fluttered and closed for the last time that night.
She lay on her back, trapped between the realm of consciousness and that isolated place where dreams—both good and bad—are cobbled together. The demon that had been greedily trying to force its way out of her body climbed again into her throat. This time the devil would not be denied.
Jenna’s body stiffened, and a belly-full of vomit spewed into her mouth and nose. There it sat, a thick, warm bog, blocking her airways.
Only days before, eighteen-year-old Jennifer Kristine April, whose friends called her Jenna, had given the salutatorian address at her graduation from Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland. Tears had flowed as she had spoken eloquently of her father, whom she had lost at eleven-years-old. She had talked, oddly enough, about the possibilities of other worlds. ‘For those of you that have lost somebody special, what if there was a world where your loved one was still alive? Would you go there, in search of a ghost of the actual person you used to love? Or would you instead stick with this world, knowing this is the only world you’ve got to live in, knowing this is the world in which you belong? Instead, would you stay here and make this world the best it can be, for you and for others?’
As she had departed the stage to thunderous applause from a standing crowd, she had marveled at how she had fooled them all. ‘What a con,’ she had pondered. ‘What an absolute con.’
And now, this dark night in June, Jenna April, a young woman with more than one world on her resume and her whole life ahead of her, stopped breathing.
Later that morning, Jenna died.
It would be both a matter of several hours, as well as one-hundred thirty years before she would return to life.