Read an Excerpt
We're not gonna make it.
I looked nervously across the lake as the sunlight dimmed, then pulled hard on the oars in the direction of home. Cool feathers of fog slipped over the glassy water, whispering insidious moist threats.
Siegfried peeled off his sweatshirt and handed it to his sister, who shivered in the stern of the old wooden skiff. She tossed him an uneasy smile and put it on. Wispy vapor draped the boat, stroking my bare arms with cold fingers.
I took a deep breath and nodded to the ten-year-old twins with more confidence than I felt.
"Don't worry. We'll make it. We're almost to Moose Point."
Elsbeth drew the sweatshirt tightly around her. The sleeves were six inches too long. She slid them up to free her hands and peered at me through a mass of dark curls, moving closer to her brother for warmth.
"What's happening, Gus? Why is it so dark?"
I cast my eyes around the lake and then up to the sky. It was sunny when we set out for Horsehead Island. Now the thick fog bank obliterated the sun. I answered carefully, feeling responsible for the two since I was a full year older.
"It's just the fog. Don't worry. I'll row to shore and we'll wait it out, okay?"
Elsbeth nodded and yanked the hem of the sweatshirt over her bare legs. Her eyes darted with apprehension. I wrenched harder on the oars and broke into a cold sweat. They creaked in the damp silence. Siegfried turned and looked toward the disappearing shoreline, wrinkling his brow.
"You'll row to shore? What shore?"
He was right. The land had vanished. Returning his sombergaze, I swiveled the oars into the boat. Water dripped from the wooden paddles and pooled below. The fog enveloped us, filling the air with a ghostly gray mist. I shifted on the seat cushion that doubled as a life preserver. The cracks in the vinyl chafed my legs. A loon warbled in the distance, his cry distorted to a hysterical giggle. Blind, we sat in the rocking boat and waited.
"Well," I sighed, "we can sit here 'til it clears. We'll be safe. If we hear someone coming, we'll just make a bunch of noise."
Siegfried nodded, running his fingers through his long blond hair. It had grown over the tops of his ears since his last haircut. He looked more and more like the lead singer in Herman's Hermits. I was envious and begged my parents to let me skip my weekly trim at the barbershop. So far, they hadn't surrendered.
"Good idea. Gut," he said. Although the twins had been in the States for six years, they still harbored traces of a German accent. Siegfried, in particular, often combined phrases from both languages in the same sentence.
Elsbeth suddenly sat up and stared anxiously past my shoulder across the bow of the boat. She held up one hand.
The faint drone of a motorboat purred in the distance. Motionless, we strained to hear. It growled louder, heading in our direction. Siegfried's blue eyes widened in alarm.
"Move!" he shouted as he motioned toward the oars.
I picked them up and spun the boat around, hoping to row away from the oncoming craft. Pulling with all my strength, I struggled to move the boat across the dark water. The thrum of the motorboat escalated as it bore down on us. We shouted, trying to warn them.
"Watch out!" Our voices combined in a triad of shrieks as we screamed warnings into the air.
Shrill laughter reverberated behind the veil of fog as the boaters gunned the engine and splashed toward us. My heart sank to my bare feet as I realized they must be either drunk or insane. I dragged harder on the oars until my arms burned, propelling the skiff forward into the mist.
A dark shape emerged from the fog and almost scraped against our stern. The erratic driver barely avoided us as he accelerated back into the mist. His passengers shrieked with laughter. The wake from their boat rocked us violently, causing our craft to skitter forward.
Without warning, a great ripping crash knocked us from our seats.
Siegfried pointed at the bow.
"Gluck mal! (Look!)"
Water gushed through a ragged tear in the bottom of the boat. I swiveled around to inspect the damage. It was bad. Very bad. Peering over the bow, I looked down. A glistening turquoise reflection loomed large and sullen beneath the surface.
"Oh, crap," I yelled. "We hit Big Blue!"
Elsbeth and Siegfried both scuttled to the front of the boat and looked overboard at the monstrous boulder that glimmered beneath the surface. Water swirled around our ankles.
"Mein Gott!" screeched Elsbeth as her hands fluttered to her mouth. She stared at the water creeping toward her calves. Siegfried grabbed his sister's floating red cushion and forced her hands through the loops.
"Hold this, Elsbeth. Hold it tight."
The water bubbled higher and the boat listed to the bow, throwing us off balance. Siegfried snatched his green cushion and motioned for me to grab mine. It floated beside my legs. Temporarily frozen, I shook myself out of the stupor and followed his lead.
"Come on," I said with new purpose. "Let's get out and stand on Big Blue."
I set one foot on the slimy boulder. It was slick beneath my toes, but I found my balance, threw my other leg over the bow, and reached back to help Elsbeth out of the boat. Siegfried followed. Within seconds, the boat disappeared.
"My father's gonna kill me," I whispered. I'd cared for the boat for the past three summers with the understanding that I'd return it to my grandfather in good shape at the end of the season.
Elsbeth said, "It wasn't your fault the fog came in. He'll understand, won't he?"
I hoped she was right.
We shivered knee deep in the water of the Belgrade Lakes, clutching the cushions to our chests.
"Listen!" Siegfried said.
The voices of our parents echoed across the lake. Their words traveled in muted, garbled waves through the fog.
"Gus! Elsbeth! Siegfried! Where are you?"
We shouted back in vain, yelling until we were hoarse. Our cries were gobbled by the fog. Realizing that it was futile, we stopped. Even if we knew which way to go, it was too far to swim. Had we been in the boat, I might have tried to row toward the sound of their voices, but as it was, we were stuck.
"Shoot," I said, trying to hide the cold fear that rumbled in my stomach.
"Scheisse," muttered Siegfried, surprising us with the German profanity.
He stepped back quickly and looked down at his feet. Elsbeth yelped as something brushed against her legs. A two-foot lake turtle swam between them. She screeched and jumped into the water, arms churning as she splashed away from the snapper. Siegfried shouted to her, then dove for her red cushion bobbing in the opposite direction. Fearing we'd be separated in the fog, I yelled and plunged after them.
"Wait up! We've gotta stick together!"
Elsbeth and Siegfried joined hands as I swam toward them. We linked our arms together above the triangle of floating seat cushions and treaded water as the light dimmed and the fog thickened. I gripped their hands and waited for the air to clear.
Elsbeth began to cry. The fog condensed and settled in for the night. It was thick, impenetrable. Our parents' voices continued to warble through the mist, becoming fainter as we drifted away from them.
The lake water was warmer than the air. We reconnected our grip beneath the floating cushions, looping them through the handles and grasping each other's prune-wrinkled fingers.
"Don't cry, Elsbeth," I pleaded. "It'll just make you tired. You've gotta save your strength."
I could barely see the outline of her head in the darkness. She sniffled and nodded. "Okay. I'll ... I'll try."
Siegfried used a firm voice as he appealed to her.
"Elsbeth Marggrander. You must be strong. Stay awake. As long as we are together, we will be okay, nicht wahr? (right?)"
"Ja," she mumbled as she pressed our hands beneath the water.
The minutes passed as we struggled to avoid sleep, singing "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," "Can't Buy Me Love," and "Please, Please Me," until our throats were sore. The camp waitresses in the little red cabin had blasted the songs the last few weeks. We knew them by heart.
The tunes billowed in the night air, punctuating our bizarre watery world with lost love and youthful yearning. My voice rasped as we sang, becoming weaker. I laid my head on the cushion. Exhaustion took hold as my eyes grew heavy and my lips slurred the words. Suddenly, the faint sound of splashing washed in syncopated rhythm with our voices. Reluctantly, I raised my head from the cushion. The soft sound of water lapped the shore nearby. I squeezed the twins' hands.
"Which way is it?" Siegfried whispered.
I could barely make out Elsbeth's hand as she pointed. "It's over there. That way. Come on. Auf geht's. (Let's go)"
We paddled toward the welcome sound. Within minutes, our feet touched soft sandy bottom. Walking quickly toward the dark shore, we climbed up on a granite boulder that stretched into the water under a canopy of white birches.
"Where are the cabins?" Elsbeth asked as we huddled together.
I strained to look into the pitch-black night. No lights shone through the fog. No aromas of grilling burgers wafted on the air. And no sounds of scampering children met our ears. Aside from the chorus of crickets and peepers, it was dead quiet. I sighed, realizing we must be far from civilization.
"We're probably on the west end. We'll have to walk a ways to find someone. Come on. We'd better get going."
Visibility was a mere three feet. We picked our way carefully along the narrow shore trail made by campers and hikers. Occasionally, we stepped over fallen trees blocking the way. When we'd walked in the fog for about twenty minutes, we stopped to catch our breath. Shivering, we stood barefoot on the pine needles that softened the trail.
A yellow orb glimmered on the trail ahead. Someone skittered toward us, running away from the flashlight. A wisp of a girl with long, blond hair came into view.
The light bobbed in the fog as its owner approached.
"Sharon!" a man's voice roared. "Sharon, where are you?"
The girl stopped as she nearly collided with us. Staring with huge, frightened eyes, she raised her hand to cover a trickle of blood that ran from the corner of her mouth. Her slight form was silhouetted by the eerie glow of the light. She breathed hard, with palpable fear that caused goose bumps to rise on my arms. Before we could speak, she panicked and hopped off the trail into the woods.
A flicker of fear passed through me. Siegfried sensed the danger and pulled us both into the woods just before the man lurched past. The stench of whisky and sweat filled the air. He crashed along, treading heavily on the trail as he bellowed Sharon's name.
"Sharon! God damn it, girl. Where are you?"
Sharon had disappeared. After a few moments of tense silence, we chanced it and returned to the trail, racing away from the drunk. The office of The Willows campgrounds came into view. A pale orange light glowed above the door of the camp store, enveloped in a festival of fluttering moths. We opened the screen door and fell into the dry warmth. The woman behind the counter nearly dropped the half-gallon of milk she was ringing up for the customer at the cash register.
"Well, my heavens! What have we here?" she asked.
The three of us babbled about the fog and the capsized boat and were soon surrounded by caring adults who wrapped us in blankets. Our parents were called. We told the storekeeper about the girl and the man who'd been chasing her. A deputy arrived. He drove us through the dense fog to Loon Harbor, my grandparents' rustic fishing camp, where our parents descended on us with concern and hot chocolate.
When I finally crawled under the woolen blankets in my small bedroom over the lake, Sharon's face floated before me, sending shivers down my back. I had shared her fear as we'd trembled side by side in the dark woods. She was terrified. And hurt. The lout had hit her. I knew it.
I prayed she escaped his grasp. After an hour of tossing and turning, I drifted off into fitful dreams.