KAITLYN COTTON


Xander screamed, water bubbling from his mouth, as I kept him away from the body.

It lay inside a Christmas tree storage bag on the lake floor twenty feet away, hard to see through the murky water. I clung to him as he thrashed. His elbow struck me and pain forced my eyes shut. He broke away and swam to the bag, looking for the zipper.

Heart pounding, I went and strangled him. He banged my ribs and I gasped and tasted water before he kicked me away. Short on air, we raced to the surface and our heads popped out the water to the scorching September sun.

"THE HELL'S WRONG WITH YOU?" He shouted between breaths. "TRYING TO KILL ME?"

I slapped him. "STAY AWAY FROM THE BAG OR I WILL!"

He raised his fist but stopped, trembling.

"What's in the bag?" he asked.

"You think I'd tell you?"

"Trust me I—"

"Why do you want to know?" I cut him off.

As we treaded water, he looked away.

"Well?" I asked.

Water splashed over the lakefront and birds chirped from the woods.

"I was curious, OK?" He said. "If you're so scared about this bag, maybe it's better I don't know."

"You think I'd believe that?"

"For Christ's sake you tried to kill me."

"How do I know you won't look behind my back? You could be lying."

He splashed water on me as he threw his hands up. "What do you expect me to do?"

"Don't come here anymore."

"Try something else, that's not going to work."

My heart pounded. "Why?"

"It's a long story."

"And you complain about me keeping secrets."

He closed his eyes. "I swim here to get away, to get my mind off things."

"How often?"

"As much as possible. And I stay until dark."

"We'll do this," I said. "I'll come when you do so I can make sure you don't touch the bag."

"You realize how crazy that sounds?" He splashed water. "You might as well just tell me what's inside."

"It's the only way I'll know. Tell me whenever you're coming here."

He threw his head back. "Christ you're insane. Fine."

Together we climbed out the water, droplets plopping the ground at our feet. The sky darkened and the air was hot and muggy. Grabbing his clothes, he got dressed. Mine were drenched because I'd worn them in my hurry to jump into the lake, and he stared through my shirt like a 10 year-old. I picked up my iPhone lying beside my socks and shoes, which I did take off beforehand.

We exchanged numbers. Lighting a cigarette, he filled the air with smoke. He swore to me he was going home before he disappeared into the woods.

I climbed a cliff, heart still hammering, and saw the bag on the lake floor. Xander never found the dead body, but he knew I was hiding something. Making matters worse, it would be easy for him to look inside the bag behind my back.

Should I trust him? He gave his word and seemed to respect how important the bag was to me. But if he lied and found the body, everything would be over.

I dialed his number.

Over the phone I said, "Promise me you won't look. You better not have lied."

"Not in a million years." He laughed.

I hung up, hands shaking, and walked home.

30 minutes passed as I stepped through the woods and called again.

"Take a picture and show me where you are."

"Really?" He said.

Silence, before a message notification appeared on my phone with a picture of his backyard.

I said, "Did you just take this?"

"For Christ's sake," he said. "I'm home, don't call again."

He hung up—I would call later. Harassing him like this would create the fear that if he looked inside the bag, I'd kill him. He'd remember our fight in the water and decide to stay away. At least, that was the plan.

My house stood on the edge of the woods, and near the backyard was a shed. The door creaked open and I smelled grass from the lawn mower and garden tools. I switched on the lamp and grabbed a tool box. Inside lay a handsaw and various knives. I pulled out a knife, its blade covered by a sheath, and slipped it against my back under my waistband and shirt.

I hoped I'd never have to use it, but if Xander became a problem, what choice would I have?