Lanterns on the Lake
By hilary west
It was extremely quiet in the house. Susan Deverill had always appreciated that; trying to write the final chapter of her new book had given her quite a few problems, and the quiet was a godsend. She could concentrate. Outside the coloured lanterns glowed bright but misty, in shades of emerald, cerise, yellow and sapphire blue. They cast beautiful shadows on the lake. It was february, not the best time to be in Windermere but preferable to high season in august when daytrippers and holidaymakers flooded the town.
Susan's beautiful grandfather clock chimed midnight. She put her pen away for another day. It was then she glanced out over the lake and thought she could see a figure standing in the garden only twenty metres from the lake edge. All her muscles tensed and for the first time in this house she was afraid. She began to relax when she realised it was a female. The woman was wearing a white, flowing gown; something completely unsuitable for a freezing february night. It was misty outside; there had been freezing fog for many nights and now this woman grew ethereal and otherworldly. I wish she'd go away, Susan thought to herself, but this apparition was becoming more and more substantial. She wondered if she should telephone her neighbour Marjorie Spinks, just to feel not so alone.
Susan began to dial, but when she looked out of her window again the vision had gone. It was time for bed. She put out the lights and made her way to the bedroom. Getting into bed she felt slightly nervous, maybe she should have rung Marjorie after all. No wonder people get married, she thought. There are reasons for all these things. Susan had never taken the plunge; she knew why of course; men did not attract her, and when she thought about this floating, white vision outside, she felt not horror but an overwhelming sadness she could not account for.
This woman was very attractive with flying golden hair and faraway features that were soft and beckoning, beckoning her on to go outside and confront the woman. Should she open the door and see if the woman was still there? The apparition was very attractive to Susan; she felt a magnetic pull to the lake.
She got out of bed and put her gown on. Susan was intrigued; at first she had been afraid, but that was gone now. She felt interested in the woman. She wanted to speak to her, bring her into the house. Then suddenly the door chimes sounded. Instead of being alarmed Susan thought my love has come to me, at last my love has come. As if in a dream Susan drifted to the front door, all caution thrown to the wind, and opened the door.
On the porch was the woman, cold and wet and eager to get inside.
"Please come in" said Susan, now completely besotted by this beautiful woman. She thought nothing of the strange time and her own vulnerability. Susan Deverill was living dangerously.
"I wanted to see you," said the woman. "My name is Melinda, Melinda Rose."
"Oh, are you alright? Why are you out on the lake at this time of night?"
"I walk out late at night often. I have often looked into your windows by the light of the lanterns on the lake."
"Come in and get warm by the fire," said Susan.
The two moved over to the hearth and took up position by the fireplace. Susan wanted to reach out and touch Melinda. She had been frustrated for years, yet she held back, not wanting to do the wrong thing. But why not, why not reach out to Melinda.
Susan took her hand in hers, but it was stone cold. And when Susan bent over to kiss her, her lips were like ice.
"You have been out in the cold too long," said Susan.
" Oh, I am used to it," said Melinda.
They talked for a long time; they seemed to have so much in common, and then the woman said she used to live in this very house.
"It was a long time ago," said Melinda. " I used to swim in the lake."
"Oh, I do sometimes," said Susan.
"Let's do it now," said Melinda.
"But it's february."
"So, it'll be fun."
Not knowing what she was doing Susan joined Melinda by the edge of the lake. The lanterns glowed mysteriously. The women stripped naked and took to the water and soon were splashing around like nymphs. Now Susan's body was as cold as Melinda's. They embraced in the lake and were one.
"Come with me, Susan," said Melinda, as she headed for the deepest part of the lake.
Oh no, thought Susan, it is dangerous. Susan panicked and started to swim back to shore, forgetting Melinda altogether. Melinda kept calling, "Susan, Susan," but her calls fell on deaf ears.
Susan scrambled back to the lake edge, put on her gown and hurried indoors.
I shouldn't have left her, she kept thinking, but all the time she was suspicious.
Was Melinda trying to kill me?
Susan fell into bed, after she'd dried off and fell immediately into a deep sleep. The next morning she woke early. It was six o' clock and the lights on the lake were still lit. She looked out of her window. Briefly, so briefly she thought she saw Melinda again in the mist of the lake.
Susan went back to work on her book and looked through her research material. She came across an article she hadn't seen before about a local drowning in 1924. Then her jaw dropped. The woman who drowned was called Melinda Rose.
All the lanterns on the lake went out.