‘C’mon, Spense. Said you were gonna do it.’ The drunk girl beckoned him as she moved to deeper waters, her challenge bare as her body. She threw her half-empty bottle of unlabelled alcohol into the water beside her, the splash breaking the reflection of bright stars into frightened ripples on the lake surface. ‘I’ll cry if you leave me alone in here,’ she teased. Spenser didn’t want to suffer seeing puffy red eyes mar Isabella’s perfect face, not yet. He pulled his clothes off without hesitation and walked in until he and the pale-skinned beauty were nose to nose and the cold froze his toes.
Cerulean moonlight peppered her cheeks, her naked shoulders, and the swell of her breast, like restless snow. He moved his hands up her arms, brushed a drowned twist of blonde hair from her exposed collarbone, and caressed her neck with his fingers. He watched her lips, imagining them screaming at him, that she couldn’t stand his possessive obsessions.
‘Stop looking at me like that.’ She drew her arms up to cover her chest. ‘What- What’s your problem, Spense?’
‘You always loved this lake,’ he said. ‘You thought it was cleansing for the soul to be so alone.’ A cloud devoured the moon and the remaining illumination was from the headlights of his truck, it did horrible things for her complexion. For a moment she wasn’t Isabella, she was a dead woman; eye sockets sunken and skin little other than raw meat stretched across bone.
‘You’re beautiful, Isabella.’
‘What? My name’s… I’m not…’ She blinked slowly and his fingers tightened on her swan’s throat, taunting in its elegance. Her eyes widened and she made happy splashes that encouraged him to smile.
‘You’re beautiful, like–’ She smacked his strong arm playfully, gurgling like a silly girl. The powdery darkness cleared overhead, revealing a sky that never lowered its fulgid gaze. ‘Like the stars! Isabella, like the stars.’ Here came the tears, her bloating face ruddy. ‘Stars don’t go out.’ Fingernails stabbed into his shoulders, a tendril of blood slithered down his forearm; a vivid slash of colour to distil the murk-steeped jetty.
Isabella had bled last time, he’d done the letting. She hadn’t stayed on that occasion, or the next, but it wasn’t perfect before. This time, comrade nocturnus cooed for the silence his compressing fingers brought about. Her body arched as her dyed eyes rolled, a silent display of majestic loveliness. That was all he’d ever asked. Had he ever asked more of her than simple fairness? Was a Water lily not loved for its plumage? Then why?
‘Why do you let me do it? Every single time.’ Each word was punctuated with a brisk shake, golden hair quivering as it always did. He quietened, and basked in the glow of the moment’s excellence, because she was gone. Isabella was gone, limp limbs a testament.
But the girl was no more a star than he was the moon. ‘Stars don’t die.’ He dug his thumbs deeper until her skin yielded dripping, traitor mortality.
Releasing the girl’s body, her grimacing cadaver bobbed, spread-eagle.
‘You’re not Isabella.’ His voice was softer than the wind rustled grass that stood witness on the muddy banks. She’d liked his voice, his true beauty with dark mocha skin and hair black as a raven’s. He felt sick, how could he have thought the drugged runt, the young girl floating away, was his wife? He’d rather die than be seen with someone like that, die screeching and soiling himself as Isabella had.
No, she hadn’t. She was alive.
He would look further, past the bars and pubs and in the direction of the sunrise. It was too lonely out here, too many voices to be heard whispering sweet ‘wake up’s through the bushy foliage, bogging his mind down with the long nights. But, a swim was good for the heart, especially one ripe with unrest. A breast-stroke to shore was invigorating, though how he’d gotten there was a mystery.
Why was he naked?
Spenser tugged on his clothes over slippery wet skin, already thinking about going for a drive. He liked driving now, ever since… something. Amber tendrils of sun peeked and burned over the horizon’s hedging of trees, scalding his worry away. It was perfect, a perfect morning. He took a moment to watch the ball of fire, hands on his hips and the corner of his mouth up in a small smile, watching carefully as it rose from the dark. The orange soaked water was calmer now, save for ripples bouncing off a shining bare body.
He put a hand over his brow, shading his eyes as he squinted, trying to make out the other blobs in the water. A man on the opposite side, face up and eyes gauged; a pretty sight in all his glory. There was another! Spenser chuckled. A lady with an eternally optimistic grin and a yellow dress relaxed in his private lake. Another was little, quite little. Isabella didn’t mix with the dead, though; she wasn’t party to the stew that lapped at his boots.
He sniffed and turned to his truck, mumbling angrily as he turned the lights off. The battery was out of steam, his expedition would have to wait. Instead, he headed over to the log cabin at the lake edge. Pushing open the splintery door, he searched the small living room for the only thing that could take away the stench of death. He smiled just as wide as the yellow dress lady when he spotted her.
‘I’m here.’ He kissed her rotting, black cheek and her skin peeled at his touch, but it felt smooth and youthful to his lips. The corpse’s stink made his eyes water and his gorge rise.
‘Beautiful as ever, my Isabella.’