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Ash Morelock

Decorative Green Leaf with pink stem

There’s a mass floating out in the water when she goes to cast her first line. It’s almost evening already, the day having completely gotten away from her. She needs to hurry up and get a catch if she wants anything more substantial than popcorn for dinner.

     She can just barely make out tendrils of something from her spot on the dock, floating like listless pieces of seaweed. She thinks of the pretty cashier at the gas station in town, hair always scooped into an unruly bun at the nape of her neck. Then there’s a bite on the line and her attention flickers, focused on whether she can gut the fish before it gets dark out and how much she’s dreading driving to the grocery store tomorrow.

     The thing is closer in the morning. The mosquitos are out in full force despite the early hour, and she slaps at them distractedly as she locks the door and heads to the truck. She can make out the outline better now. It’s larger than she thought, with a mass of that dark something on one end. A log with some slimy plants caught on it, probably. She climbs into the truck.


     It’s a girl. Or—

     She shouldn’t assume. She was raised better than that. But it’s got arms, spindly limbs bobbing up to the top of the water when the tide jostles it.

     She almost wants to take the boat out to it and check, but she knows better than that too. She’s alone out here. Some things are simply none of her business.


     She tries to put it out of her mind, but she isn’t heartless. Whoever it is out there, they had people who cared about them. A favorite color. A comfort movie. They bob a little closer to her dock every day, and every day she makes out another detail. The hair is long and darkened almost black by water. The arms are long and thin, oddly proportioned against what seems like a comparatively large torso. One day she catches a look at the fingers and must go inside early, shaken that death seems to have sharpened them.

     She tries to make dinner, read a book, clean the house, anything, but she can’t get it out of her mind. She thinks of those fingers against her face, tracing her cheekbones with a ticklish point. She’s been trying not to think of what they might look like. Her dreams that night supply the cute clerk, hair loose around her shoulders and dripping water onto the floor. She’s definitely alive, or at least was earlier this week, but in the dream her eyes are milky and unseeing. She wakes up in a puddle of sweat.


     If the body doesn’t drive her insane, the mosquitos will. Even when she doesn’t see them, she hears them buzzing right next to her head no matter how much bug spray she uses or how many citron candles she lights. She’s taken to staying inside more often than not, uneasy with the lessening distance between her and it. Gators or something must have got to it because there’s fresh blood in the water one morning, clouding the water right next to the body. She can’t stomach fish after that, thinking about what they might be feeding on. She drives into town to stock up on cans and scan the notice boards as nonchalantly as she can. Lots of missing people, as always, but no one that looks like hers. She can feel the clerk’s eyes on her when she fills up before heading home.


     It’s been a stalemate of sorts for a while. She doesn’t go out and doesn’t look, trying to convince herself that the tide will pull it away eventually. It’s not like she can get the police out here, and even if she could they’d just be trouble. Moving it herself feels wrong, somehow, and then what would she do? Bury it? A week and a half since she first saw it, it floats directly in front of her dock.

     She stands at the kitchen sink, scrubbing dishes, and is seized with the sudden image of going out and walking right off the edge, into the water. She can feel the way her toes would scrabble for purchase in the sandy mud as she waded deeper and deeper in, her head disappearing under the surface in seconds. She’d walk along the bottom of the ocean floor until she couldn’t anymore, and then she’d be free. Floating, the sun warm on her back, the entire ocean under her, no worries about gas money or the fridge dying or anyone finding her out here. By the time she snaps out of it, she’s halfway out the door.


     It could be a lot of things. Lack of sleep, irritability, hypervigilance. Hell, climate change might have thrown everything out of whack and moved their breeding season, for all she knows. But the mosquitos are insane. She’s lived here for three years now, and they’ve never been this bad. She can hear their buzzing inside like she’s in the middle of a swarm. She hunts them like it’s a household task, setting aside time specifically to arm herself with a shoe and make sweeps of the house. She finds some, but nowhere near the amount she hears. It’s maddening. She’s so preoccupied with them that she almost doesn’t notice when the body disappears.

     Once she does, the sense of relief almost knocks her off her feet. She goes out and sits on the edge of the dock, feet dangling above the water. She can just barely see it on the horizon, drifting away. She almost waves to it.

     Things are good, for a little while. She starts fishing again and gets back into a routine. The mosquitos seem to relax, and she does too.


     There are two of them.

     They bob slowly toward the dock, heads slipping under the water every so often. When she loses sight of them her stomach clenches with terror, sure they’ll drag themselves up on the shore somehow and come knocking. The edge of the kitchen table creaks in her grip. Maybe they’ll be gone in the morning. One washed away. Why can’t two?

     She heads to her room, though she knows she won’t be able to sleep. She doesn’t want to, anyway, too afraid of dreaming; but maybe if she could, she wouldn’t be hearing the damn buzzing returning in full force. Are mosquitos drawn to corpses, like flies? Are corpses drawn to her?


     She knows as soon as her bare foot makes contact with the water that it’s the latter. The buzz travels up her leg and into her core, every cell in her body alight with a humming melody. She’s just like they are. A girl alone, drifting, aimless. Why hadn’t she come to check on them? Why had she left them to rot in the sun? The hum makes its way into her ears as she wades deeper, tickling somewhere she can’t reach. She had ignored them. She’s doggy paddling now, stricken with a guilt she can’t begin to put words to. They had been trying to help her, and she’d ignored them.

     She reaches one, struggling now to stay above the water. It’s the first one that came to her, she knows instantly, dark hair flowing down its back. Its head is tilted up, eyes just barely peeking out of the depths. They’re the filmy green of algae blooms and bloated fish bellies, unseeing and yet somehow fixed on her. Something swishes in the water behind her, fast as a shark. Cold flesh brushes against her back. They’re together now. She’s not alone. The song comes to a screeching crescendo, so strong it makes ripples in the water around them.

     She floats.

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