The Murky Depths
by Daniel Miess
I always seem to fall asleep at the beginning of the car ride. I wake up when we pull into the long, winding driveway up to my grandparents’ farmhouse. I think it’s magic. For the next month, I’ll be with my grandparents in a place I always imagine as a castle – complete with turrets. I like to imagine that I’m a prince there.
It’s an old farmhouse that’s been in the family for 150 years. In 1850, Bernhard Schreiber stepped foot on American soil. He left behind Germany with nothing a but few possessions in a brown wool sack and his wife and thirteen kids to come to America. I don’t know quite how he did it – but every nail that holds up this place was put in place by him. The years have gone by and the size of our families have decreased, but whenever I go home I feel his watchful presence.
We drive the long driveway. Dense forest first gives way to an orchard. My grandpa tells me that these trees are older than he is. I can tell you what though, the apples grown on this farm always taste better than supermarket apples. They’re crisper, sweeter and don’t taste like cardboard.
We finally reach the end of the long driveway. Grandpa is there on top of his old ladder. It’s older than God and is about to break down any day. Just look at the way it sways. Well, maybe part of the problem is that he’s so heavy.
He has this great big grin on his face – it lights up the sky I think. I swear that when he was born he stole a ray of the sun.
We park the car and walk over to the red front door. My grandmother greets us with a big platter full of freshly-baked brownies. Grandmothers have a sixth sense – they know when their kids and grandkids are coming over, just right in time make sure to have food ready.
Dinner is always served an hour and a half after we get there. We freshen up and then head downstairs. Grandma just made a delicious meal: pot roast with cooked carrots, mashed potatoes, dinner rolls made from scratch, green bean casserole and some delicious German Chocolate Cake. No wonder Grandpa’s always been on the heavy side. Grandma sure as hell feeds him well.
After dinner, Grandpa takes me to the side and whispers something into my ear, “We’re going fishing son,” which means roughly, “We’re going out for a smoke.”
The two of us walk out the backdoor with fishing poles in hand and cigarettes in pocket. We park our asses down on the banks of the pond and listen to the crickets.
He lights up.
“Don’t tell grandma!” he says, “She doesn’t know that I haven’t quit.”
I think she knows. Nothing gets by the sharp mind of that woman. She’ll scrunch up her nose and tell him to take a bath as soon as he enters the house.
“I don’t want you stinking up the sheets,” she’ll say.
Together we sit and stare out at the night sky.
“That one’s Cassiopeia,” he’ll say. That man knows about every constellation there is.
Everything’s calm. It always is. We both dare not speak. Grandpa says we shouldn’t disturb the fish. But, I think it’s more than that.
“Look, Grandpa! I think something’s pulling on the line.”
Sure enough, something is – it’s just about the biggest bass I’ve ever seen. He hasn’t stocked the pond this year. Somehow, I guess, God plopped one there in the middle of the pond. Just to think, all we thought we’d catch were sunnies
“Why don’t we keep that one Grandpa! He sure looks like he’d make a good meal for tomorrow!”
“Well, I guess it be ok, but we’d have to ask the Nixe first.”
“Who’s the Nixe?”
“She’s the water spirit. She’s good to you if she likes you, but drowns you if you give her some sass. So just be careful around this pond, ok?”
I nod my head, but I don’t believe him.
I’ll admit that I’m a bit skeptical. It’s just old German superstition. I return back to thinking about the night, watching my fishing rod and flicking ash to the wind.
Tonight, I can’t fall asleep. All I can think about is the pond.
I tip-toe out of the house, cross my legs and sit down. The sound of crickets filters through the air. A splash interrupts my solitude. I assume that it’s a fish.
Off in the distance I hear something. It’s almost like a wolf. I heard my grandpa tell me once that his grandfather killed the last one in these parts.
I hear a woman’s voice, “David, David!”
First, I look around. Then, I see her. A young woman emerges from the water. Long strands of elodea dangle from her hair. Her body is beautifully bare. Her hair cascades down, framing her breasts. The only time I saw a woman like this was once when my father left a Play Boy Magazine out one day
“You know you want me,” her hypnotic voice hums.
I don’t know how to respond. My eighteen year-old hormones tell me one thing. My mind another. Sensation holds me prisoner. Goosebumps form on my arms and my body tingles. I harden at the thought of her. Electric tension stirs in my blood.
“Um…” I said, “I think I should get be getting to bed.”
“But, I can make you feel good.”
“Seriously, I’m not…”
“Shh… young man! They’ll never know”
She walks up to me. My body is cement. Enchanted or just plain horny – my feet are glued to the ground. I feel her touch and start to groan.
“You see, I know what men want,” her sultry voice hisses into my ear.
I can’t say that she isn’t wrong. First, I try to pull away. I feel a tension in me. This tension of desire and restraint. My heart throbs.
“Uh… I’m not supposed to.”
How am I supposed to get myself out of this?
“Well, I’ve gotta go to bed. I’m, uhh…. feeling a little tired. That’s right! Tired!”
“You lie young man! I know you want me… the Nixe gets what she wants!” she says almost singing into the air.
I dash back into the farmhouse, then walk up the stairs. Thud, Thud, Thud pounds in my chest.
I’m safe now.
I reach the second floor. My grandfather waits for me.
“You weren’t at the pond were you?” he asks.
“Well, uh, no!” But, quickly my lie is exposed.
Downstairs, the backdoor opens wide with a big, “C-R-R-R-E-E-A-K-K-K!”
There is the Nixe. Water pours off her naked body. Her skin has a bluish hue.
“Well, I guess, the Nixe just decided to appear out of nowhere, didn’t she?” my grandfather adds sarcastically.
I am utterly shocked. I can’t hide the mess that I’ve made.
“Well, stop looking like a wounded puppy. We’ve gotta do something about her quick. Get yourself some salt. Your grandma keeps it up above the stove. You’ve gotta run as quick as you can and throw it at her. It’ll keep her away for now,” he says quietly so she couldn’t hear.
I run to the kitchen. I’m not quick enough. She grabs me and starts to drag me away. My grandfather races as quickly as he can on his stout legs. Somehow, he catches up to us.
“You will NOT take my grandson,” he shouts.
“But, I love him,” she responds back.
“You aren’t going to take my grandson. Not if I have anything to do with it.”
She starts to cry. “But, I loved him. I really loved him.”
Tears form on her dripping wet skin. She leaves the house and jumps back into the pond. A circle forms after her as she sinks down into the cool, evening water.
I don’t know what to feel. Relief? Grief? She lingers in my thoughts. My grandfather can’t protect me in my dreams.
It’s been ten years since that day. I still can’t get her out of my head. My grief lingers and makes the obsession worse.
A year ago in April, my grandmother complained that she was having chest pains. My grandfather rushed her to the hospital. It was too late. She died that evening.
He didn’t know quite how to take it. He started forgetting things like doctor’s appointments. At first, I thought it was old age. When he started forgetting who I was, I knew there was a problem. Gradually, his last bit of vitality slipped away and he disappeared into the fog.
I can’t believe he’s gone.
I linger in the empty corridors of the farmhouse. I am now lord of the castle, so to speak. My grandfather can no longer protect me from I want.
I know that I shouldn’t have, but I broke down and bought a pack of cigarettes. It’s like old days. It’s the only thing I know of that helps me not to think. The smoke reaches up into the air with all my grief.
I sit by the pond and wonder if she’s still there. An owl hoots in the background. A chill pierces through my spring jacket.
Does she know I’m alone?
I have no one. My father isn’t a father. He’s a distant man preoccupied with money. His idea of love is sending me a card with a $1,000 check. That’s not love, that’s bribery.
I heard Grandpa say once, “Your father forgot who he was sometime after he went to college. He said he always wanted to be a teacher when he grew up. Somehow, money became more important than his dreams or love or anything. It’s a shame.”
My mind returns to the water that reflects the night sky. I try to remember how it felt when grandfather would put his arm around me. Safe.
Putting out my cigarette butt on the wet grass, I stand up and walk inside.
Then I hear a breeze whisper what I think is, “David, David… I’ve never left.”
She looks the same way she did ten years ago. Long brown hair. Eyes emerald green.
“Do you want me now?” she says.
This time, out of longing I reach toward her. My heart beats rapidly.
She kisses me. Wet lips touch my own. Tender: like the feeling of butterfly wings. We own each other.
“I’m here to love you,” she says.
“I’ve always wanted you!” I answer back. I finally allow the enchantment to take over. I don’t care.
Hand in hand we dive into the dark pond. Ripples of water meet against our bodies. With new lungs, I breathe water. I don’t drown. Rather, I live in the murky depths.
Short Story©Daniel Miess