It looked higher from above. When she’d been on the boat, looking up to the rock, it hadn’t seemed that far a jump. Now, perched on the outcropping, her toes curling over the edge for balance, she thought she must be crazy.
“Jump Rachel!” Jason hollered. “We’re not staying here all day!”
She didn’t jump. She dove. She wanted to show off for Jason, her new boyfriend, and so she sprang off the rock, clenched her eyes closed, and locked her fingers together so the force of hitting the water didn’t break one. Even so, the shock nearly buckled her arms.
Her body knifed under the surface of the lake. She could hear the throb of the boat engine far above her. She opened her eyes, peered into the murk. They said the water here was over sixty feet deep. There was nothing but darkness beneath her. Her heartbeat was returning to normal, she still had a few seconds left. She was so deep the water was icy. She turned and scanned the base of the cliff, wondering if there was an outcropping.
The child surged out of nowhere, blooming like a sea anemone out of the rock. Blond hair floating in an aureole, one pale hand outstretched.
Have to rescue her! she thought frantically. Then she saw the white eyes. Dead eyes. And the swollen face. Too late! Her heart started hammering and she looked up to the surface. It was so far away, just pinpricks of light. Kicking frantically, she headed for air. Blackness filled her vision and she struggled the last couple feet. Someone reached down and hauled her in the boat.
“Did you have to scare me like that?” Jason tossed her a towel. “Don’t you know it’s dangerous here? I almost jumped in to get you.” He must have noticed her expression then, because he stopped and knelt in front of her. “What is it? What happened?”
“She’s down there,” chattered Rachel, her nerves coming undone. “We have to c-c-call the police!”
“Who? Who’s down there?”
“I don’t know! Some kid!” She pulled the towel tighter around her shoulders, trying to keep herself together by force. “Just call the police, will you?”
He didn’t argue. And then they waited. He wanted to dive down and look, but she held him back. When the police divers arrived, she pointed to the spot where she’d seen the girl.
They were down a long time. More than an hour. When they resurfaced, she was relieved to see them carrying a black plastic bag. The body was out of sight, hidden. She felt her chest muscles relax. And then the police officer was in their boat, asking questions.
“Describe exactly what you saw,” he said, and she did, right down to the floating blond hair. The police officer looked upset. “I know how you feel,” Rachel told him. “It was an awful sight.”
“No, it’s not that.” He hesitated, then said, “come over here.”
She climbed onto the police boat and waited while they unzipped the bag. She looked in. There were just bones. A skull. A jawbone. Long bones, short bones, and all greenish and pocked with age.
“I don’t understand,” Rachel said. “Didn’t you see her? Where is the little girl?”
“This is all we found. The bones were at the very bottom, in the sediment, mostly buried. We never would have found them, except we were looking for a body so we kept searching. These bones have been here a long time.”
There was no little girl. Just a wet bones. “I don’t understand,” she said again. She reached out and touched the skull with the tip of her finger, and the vision that hit her sent her reeling. “No! No! Don’t! No! Please!” She dragged air into her lungs and screamed, lunging for the side of the boat.
Hands caught her and held her back.
“What is it? What happened?” The police diver asked.
“Someone killed her. He pushed her off the cliff. And he made sure she never came up again.”
“How do you know?”
“Because he put a chain on her ankle.” The memory of the vision made her shudder.
The police diver looked over to Jason, still in his boat. “It’s all right. We’ll take care of her if you want to go back.”
“I better take her back. I promised her grandmother,” said Jason in a voice that Rachel recognized. It was the last time he’d take her on a date.
“You don’t have any lights, and it’s nearly sunset.” The police diver pointed to the sky. “Don’t worry, son. We’ll make sure she gets home all right.”
Jason threw Rachel’s backpack over, and told her to bring his towel back or his mom would kill him. He revved up his boat and drove off. Rachel was left with the police diver and the police officer.
“What else do you need me for?” Rachel asked.
“We found the chain.” The diver said. He looked at her with a mixture of pity and fear. But that look too, she was used to.