Night TidesBy: Alex Prentiss
Rachel stood naked in the darkness, in water up to her thighs. Lake Mendota stretched out before her like a dark void. Forty-eight hours’ worth of frustration and mounting desire were about to culminate, and she was as wet as the body of water before her.
“Do you want me?” she whispered.
She slowly sank to her knees. For two days she’d been twitching like a downed power line, every nerve ending on overload. Now, as her knees settled into the soft mud, something small scurried out of her way, but it didn’t bother her. Nothing in the lake would harm her, and everything was secondary to the water surging over her thighs. She slid her knees apart to let it reach her intimately. It lapped at her and she sighed, imagining the waves were fluttering fingers expertly teasing her, coaxing her open.
The water grew more solid and, with no further preliminaries, slowly penetrated her. It was torturous the way tingles built under its ministrations. The pressure built within her, and her muscles trembled in anticipation. Her whole body seemed to clench in on itself and she heard her heart thundering in her skull.
Then she suddenly seemed to leap from the lake to the sky. Before her was the face of a beautiful sad-eyed girl. The instant impression was of warmth, kindness, and affection. The girl was smiling, bathed in golden light.
Save her, the lake spirits said. Save her… .
THE TERROR BEGAN, prosaically enough, with casual rudeness spurred by a misunderstanding.
Twenty-year-old Ling Hu opened the cooler door, took a bottle of flavored water from the bottom shelf, and walked sideways down the narrow aisle to the checkout counter. The place had all the accoutrements of a standard convenience store crammed into roughly two-thirds the usual space. It was a neighborhood institution, though, and the owner had never considered remodeling.
As the college student paid for the water, a voice behind her said, “Love your ink. The design is gorgeous. Who did it?”
She turned. A man with long gray hair, balding on top, and a pasty complexion stood behind her with a six-pack in his hand. He had to be referring to the elaborate dragon’s foot design across the small of her back—the only one of her tattoos her clothes didn’t completely cover. And that tat showed only when she squatted and her jeans rode down, which meant he’d been staring at her ass while she got her drink.
“Fuck you, creep,” she said, scowling. And he was creepy. Not only was he at least forty years old, but his skin was unhealthily pale and gleamed with sweat. She rushed out the door and into the twilight after paying, glad to get away from him. Then she put in her earbuds and cranked up the music as she headed off down Willie Street.
“GIRLS,” THE CLERK said disdainfully as he rang up the sweaty man’s beer. The open books and laptop behind the counter marked him as another student in the man’s eyes. “They dress to say, ‘Stare at me,’ and when you do they say, ‘What’re you looking at, asshole?’ You wouldn’t believe some of the shit I see in here. And the ones that stay for summer classes are the worst. Must be the heat.”
The man took his beer outside and gazed down the street. He spotted Ling Hu several blocks away, flouncing along to her music, the moment in the store no doubt already forgotten.
Two contradictory emotions battled for supremacy in him. One was outrage at her cavalier arrogance, while the other was wonder at the certainty that she had not recognized him.
Then an idea formed. It was a terrible idea, and a wonderful one. For the first time in weeks, his despair began to lift. After all, what did he have to lose?
He quickly went to his truck.
AN HOUR LATER, Ling Hu stood naked in the bathtub with her latest boyfriend, Ken, making out as the shower sprayed down around them. They’d just had sex on the rickety balcony of his apartment, despite the summer mosquitoes drawn to their sweat. After, she’d immediately hopped into the shower. He had followed. She might be late for her study session, though, since her soapy writhing against him had brought Ken—or, at least, parts of him—back to life.
“No, I have to go, seriously,” she said, and pushed him lightly away.
“Are you seeing that other guy, the football player?” he said, cupping her behind.