Sergeant Gains had been sitting in his truck with the engine running and the dome lights on and the radio near mute and a video playing on his laptop for about an hour or maybe an hour and a half, but he’d had about four beers and at that point for him the edges of everything could get a cunt’s hair fuzzy. He was a police sergeant, he reasoned, at just about all times, but at the moment he was a contractor and he was well alone and this night-shift job was about as boring as shoveling horse shit, and he’d done it all summer long and a six pack was the damn least they could allow him for watching this dump-hole water park all night long.

Two sharp-lipped fake dykes licked pussy and squeezed each other’s tits and fucked scissor-style on screen and Gains took swig after swig of good cold Bud from his cooler and tapped his fingers on the steering wheel to the little he could hear of the opening riff in “For Whom the Bell Tolls” above the truck’s air conditioner.

Fuck yeah.

Gains kept it quiet, with the truck and the girls fucking and Metallica’s hi-hats lightly driving, he’d barely be able to hear another engine coming up behind him, and with all the beer he might not catch their lights in time.

The park closed every night at dusk, and it opened seven days a week in the hot months around six. For half of those nights, when he was mostly sober and chit-chatting other cops from gas station to gas station, he missed his spot at the park. He missed the old sign that read Highland Lake Water Park and featured an illustrated coyote, a halo over its head, inexplicable as it was, arm in arm with a rabbit character and slaloming down a whitewater drop. Gains liked the hand-painting. He liked the five spotlights that shone on the white plywood at all hours, no matter whether the facility was open or not. Sitting in his truck, fingers tracing his laptop bezel, crushed cans on the floor, eyes fixed on the fucking girls, he liked all the company he could get. But he also liked the freedom. Gains loved all sorts of freedom. He was an American, and he was not shy of reminding himself of that fact, or anyone else who might threaten his status, offend his sense of democratic pride, or simply look goddamn funny. He’d been divorced once and that was a big enough reminder that this shit ain’t free, and he’d best do whatever he could to keep it cheap.
 

The Highland Lake Water Park overworld was a nest of blue snake chutes and small and large pools abutted at every end by bright parking lots and less functional access roads which all led into forest and leaf-strewn hillside. From the sky looking down, Highland was a dense complex, a place where a lost child might not be found for twenty or thirty minutes. The park’s namesake body of water was not part of the map; rather, it was located a near mile north in a muddy tributary field that fed freshwater to Highland’s waterworks. Pumps and filters cleaned what ran siphoned underground to the harshly chlorinated attractions in the park. From the ground looking up, the sky there was always deep purple at night, scattered with dim stars and clear glimpses of Mars at the right times of the year. The water in the starlit wave pool blackened after the start of each shift, as Gains drove in, KC Lights blaring.


 

The best he could do to deal with his ex-wife was drink. He and Anna had given it a good three years with some separation toward the end, and Gains did what most cops did and told her it was tough on the force. Shit was hard day to day. Seeing what he saw, what did she know. Most cops wives only knew what they’d seen on TV, and Gains’ wife was no different.

It’s just that I want to go out with my friends. I want us to go to dinner parties and be a real couple.

We are a real couple.

Yes, but I want people to see us that way.

Well, shit. People see me and they think one of two things: He’s gonna kick my ass, or he’s gonna say something nice about my hair or my tits.

I wish you wouldn’t say things to other women.

I’m only saying what I see. That don’t mean I don’t look at you the same.

She’d sigh most of the time and put a hand on her forehead, and she’d shake her head and furl both her lips and take off her glasses and wipe her eyes.

Are you ashamed of me then?

Of course I’m not.

Then why don’t you take me out?

Well, I don’t have the sense to. Do you want to go out tonight?

I want to go out without a prompt.

Well.

Gains never pinned her as the kind of woman to leave, but he supposed that’s what most men felt when they had the run of the roost. He had no problem picking up a black-haired tattoo girl at any of the bars two or three towns over. They’d fuck hard parked in his cruiser at Highland Lake, him sometimes saying backdoor was the only option or he’d never cum, and usually the tattooed ones would comply, weepy or not, and he’d drop the girl off back at the bar or the restaurant or dingy backwoods club, careful to wipe down the seats with clean sprays alcohol and water. It was easy enough to do this once or twice a week and still take care of his wife before another third-shift, and Highland never filled his spot on the off nights. Gains forbade it at the station. One cop is all they need unless they get a call when I’m off. No moonlighting, no pussyfooting in the daytime. Drag those nose-ringed kids out by their hoops and kick some dirt on the blood.

Like he hadn’t expected his wife to go, he’d never predicted her leaving cold turkey. No other man, no threat of another man. Nothing to get him hard-knuckled at all. She left in a strange way, like a battered woman, off in the mid-morning with her all of her bags from their little apartment, and the dog they shared in tow. Gains slept hard after an early night of action—interviewing, then fucking the pussy mouth of a goth ex-girlfriend than some drunk cashier he nabbed rifling through boxes at an old apartment house. Gains showered twice at the station afterward, and his wife slept where he fell into bed, and she’d left for Indianapolis by the time he woke for lunch.

Each night he was able to spend at Highland Lake was not a night he spent drinking burnt coffee and hearing about any given detective’s fantasy football picks. Each night at the lake was grounds for a good walk around the perimeter, which was a time he’d made his space for worship, and for every night Gains walked, he went home feeling a little lighter, absent of a few more rumors of guilt.
 

Highland Lake Water Park had been open 25 years, owner after iteration and so forth, put through a long cycle of alterations to its identity, membership clauses, indoor exhibits by way of rented seals and otter romps, outdoor exhibits by way of bikini contests and ski-surfing, private tolerance of non-whites, public embrace of youth culture, and overall indecision on operating costs and development budgets. Somehow, the park persisted. It had eclipsed the point where its closing would make a headline, rather than a news segment on its legacy, and the town of Brandywine Falls had, on numerous occasions, bailed out the facility from near death in order to keep its own name from touching the edges of Ohio obscurity.

Only one event had truly shaken the lake. Thankful to the mayor, it was not an exclusive event, and thankful to the state it was one for which there was no missed contingency plan. In the early nineties, a ten-year old boy entered one of the park’s pools through a high slide, little arms crossed like a mummy as he slid quickly, back lifting from the plastic, teeth clenched and eyes no doubt forced shut, plunging into the blue water and sucking into his nose Naegleria fowleri, a microorganism which ate his brain after in a brisk week one warm summer after weeks of tepid rain.

With a good deal of misdirection, Highland Lake was spared. Disney World had a similar case. Ponds in Arizona and Louisiana made passage for other amoebas, and other boys died swimming. The town revisited the lake’s water quality, and its access to the Great Miami, and government loans, given on the behalf of a town that swore it would die without its rare Midwestern tourist economy, built a better waterworks, the cantankerous ocean-blue facility, bright in the forest and visible from hills and roads in all directions, that Gains passed by every night when he prayed a sort of prayer, walking nightstick and flashlight in hand, surveying for the coyote and rabbit that smiled grace across the park’s whole sign.
 

Gains stood bare-assed in front of his truck, on a road that had led them far past the theme park’s fenced machinery and farther past a short row of administrative trailers to a yard, a wide dirt patch he reasoned had once been built with fill dirt, and which formed, at least in the dark, a hard and uncomfortable beach before the black water lake for which the park was named.

He’d found Cammy at a bar he was sure none of the other cops visited. Not a fag bar but a young sort of place where kids on the edge of fleeing their parents’ basements were known congregate. She showed him her tits, white under-shirt in the KC Light sunbeam. She had sleeves of tattoos on either arm, a mix of Hawaiian flowers and Day of the Dead skulls and filigree in contrasting colors, with curling lines painted all the way to the base of her neck. Gains jerked himself off with lotion from a bottle he left lost in the leaves somewhere.

Have you ever caught a guy jerking off before?

No.

Oh, really? So, what’s like the biggest cock you’ve ever seen? I want to know. He looked at himself.

Maybe like nine inches?

Like three inches bigger, he retorted. You’re fuckin hot.

When Gains was twenty years younger he’d sneaked around this area. It was mostly forest back then. The access road was still there, and most kids would skinny dip in the lake, but Gains would fuck eighteen year-olds just out of high school, them squatting on the ground, while he was still a sophomore, cruising around in borrowed cars without a license or any truth to his age when asked by these girls.

He remembered, his hand grease perhaps reminding him, something about these girls. How it was kind of like hunting in a way. Not like fucking was killing or any of that shit, but there was something about how these girls were loose in the world. They had a scent he could track. He knew all of their looks, all of the signs and the tells they’d make when they lied about their boyfriends or their fathers, and Gains would always think about those men. His dick buried in their girls, how women were free at a certain time to go about the world and be manipulated by anyone, even other women. How that was somehow fair. They had to learn somehow. He had to fuck someone. It was a kind of survival of the fittest. Men loosed unto the world had to fight. They had to pick up their fists and say, “Fuck you, you’re not fucking me.” And when one man fucked another man’s girl, or his daughter, there was a deep reflection incumbent on that man. A kill was a kill. Someone was going to shoot and you’d better be God-damned if you shot at a carcass you couldn’t defend. Gains didn’t have any kids, and he reasoned, as he shot a rope of cum at Cammy’s bare feet in the dirt, that he may have avoided children not because he was afraid of his wife, but because he was too busy worrying about defending himself.

He stood dazed, one hand holding his whole body as he rested his weight on the truck hood, breathing heavy and spitting at the dirt. Cammy strode to the water, drunk enough not to think twice and bothered too much by the semen to wipe it off with a dirty rag from the back of the cab. She dipped a long toe into the water, no dock nor distance from the muddy bank, sinking herself into the brown ivy mud and kicking the semen and the dredging sharp tree branches as she did.

Maybe don’t go in that water, Gains shouted. His voice hit the trees and the hillocks and rang all the way back at the pipes. That might be shit in there, he yelled again.

Fuck, she said, frustrated. Fucking mud everywhere.

Yeah. Yeah, that’s a dirty fucking lake. We used to swim in there until this kid got killed.

Cammy eased herself deeper as she tried to ease herself out.

He got some kind of brain-eating shit and got fucked up and died.

God, she said, twisting her waist at the ankle-high water and nearly plunging herself hands first to break her fall. She froze in a half-contort and grabbed one of the branches.

That’s some shit—I told you, he said, wiping himself with his shirt. He put on his underwear and his jeans and his boots and walked to Cammy. The mud at his soles burped puckers of oily mud up to his pant legs. This is the shit, man.

Gains grabbed one of Cammy’s hands and yanked her to the bank where she stumbled and fell and dirtied herself further. She sat muckcovered and cried.
 

A week after Cammy there was Buckley sucking Gains’ cock in the moonlight by the lake. Buckley was cool. She was some kind of artist who made all of this furniture Gains couldn’t figure out. Weird three-legged tables that could fall over with the wrong slam of a beer can, or bright chairs with savannah murals.

Where she knelt carefully on a beach towel she’d brought herself, from Gains’ perspective, Buckley was a real angel. She tucked her brown hair back, adjusted her surfer girl sweatshirt and sang into him, and he blossomed quick and hot onto her face, and she laughed and stood and wiped herself and smiled.

That was fun.

Shit, Gains said.

Come on, she said, and she grabbed his arm still pulsing hard and pulled him over to the water tossing her sweatshirt down to the towel and kicking off two sandals in the dirt.

It’s fucking freezing out here. What do you think it’s going to be like in there?

It’s going to be fun.

She went in first, still trailing him along on an imaginary finger leash as the black water rose above the start of her vagina, to her navel and upward to her breasts. Gains lumbered in and stopped, kicking his boots off with their steel toes and tumbling with her, socks still on, into the water. He was too sweaty to care, and she swam out, looping around him and kicking up the awful water at his face.
 

The day the Naegleria fowleri killed the boy who swam in Highland Lake, there were many news stories and broadcasts and samples taken. There were grieving parents and extended family, an upset school shaken to a narrow core, and there was a whole town who was scared only for concern over its worth and its ability to function, and the boy who was dead was nameless and ageless beyond “boy,” and his future was an imaginary abstraction built from the dreams of all the other boys on his block, and since the neighborhoods of Highland Lake were all a hive of adolescents ready to fuck their way through four grades to college and return to sew the Highland earth with more boys and more tired ugly mothers and more money for the grocery stores and gas stations and dipshit bars, this boy, Naegleria fowleri’s boy, was a nameless prick of a kid that his parents called Tim.

Tim was a good kid by all local measures. Perhaps by greater rule. He had one sick day on file for his whole academic career. Once when he was in third grade, when he was insistent on wearing his choo-choo suspenders to school, and after the cutest girl made fun of him for that, and after he threw up at his lunch hour, he was home for the next 36 hours rebuilding himself and preparing for the years ahead until, prior to his death, he was a kind of young, fragile and inopportune sex-affect of the school.

There was Sheila, a red-haired girl who told him in Biology that she found a porno video in her parents’ bedroom VCR.

There was Angela, who was Italian and whose pubic hair rose to her navel, who told him what he could see while both her parents and her brother were at the subdivision block party.

There was Stephanie, the jock. She had muscled calves and arms. He’d seen her in dirty volleyball kneepads.

Tim had had a good life up until his slow demise, and all the while he was dying he did not know he would be dead. The protist that killed him was a master, with less than 2% of a likelihood of losing to Tim’s central nervous system. Stiffnesses lead to fevers and great visions of a thick snake that lived in the ground, a thing built to much a larger scale but not unlike the pink ribbed flesh of Tim’s small penis when it lay hot and flaccid and unusable in his pants while he died dreaming about the few angel-girls he fucked before exiting high school far prior to graduation.
 

Buckley was out barely a quarter of the way between Highland Lake’s center and its opposite shore when she stopped her drunk breast stroke and treaded water for a few panicked moments. Gains watched her face though he wasn’t sure what she was feeling. There was a calculated moment of terror, a stage that skipped dread, and a scene that was viewable by all the Highland woods that night. Somewhere surrounding the greater perimeter of the water there were red foxes and coyotes and slumberous deer and squirrels and worms and dirt and every clicking beetle in all the forest and all these living things, the true souls of Ohio among the salamanders and the wood lice and the dirty girls that Gains loved so much, they all stopped for a moment and turned to the center of the lake, visions zooming downward from black sky on black water, a nonreflecting mirror unto the center of the Earth, where on a true and polar locus Buckley’s thick legs kicked soles arced and toes cocked as something wholly unappreciative of all life and the truth of all living things had erected itself face-up in the murk below, its facelessness growing slowly as its wormlike body was shot out of the lakebed as a long and breathing turd being born for all hate everywhere.

Buckley’s confusion was quick to turn blank before disappearing entirely. Gains dove just under the water’s surface and kicked hard until the bank smeared his chest, until he pushed himself up out of the water and stumbled drunk onto dry ground, looking frantic in the dark for his boots or anything he’d cast aside.

The thing flung the front half of its body up through the disappearing water, carrying with it layers of red clay that had rested at the lake bottom in some porous fashion for hundreds of thousands of awful years. Earth and black water sprayed in all directions and its jelly-cock body heaved for breath, though it was clear to Gains, who’d crushed enough doodlebugs in his childhood, that the thing did breathe, look or stare like a man. V-shaped holes striped its body on the rises of fat that formed filth-white valleys all along its larval body as though it had slept for centuries, and since been reformed like putty, by a large corrugated pipe beneath the water. Its face titled drunken to the dirt patch. No eyes, just a large cyclopic lens darkened amber in the middle and sharp above two mandibles that thwacked together soundless, save for its splashes, and the flutter of all the birds for miles that had flown their nests or died on site.

It lifted nearly vestigial arms out of the muck. Thin, snowcrab pedipalps that scanned the dry land for anything responsive that it might touch.

Gains stepped back and walked himself in reverse to one trailer wall.

It dragged its two arms limp from tree line to floor and wriggled its larval girth further out of the wet hole that once was Highland Lake.

What the fuck, Gains figured. Something that can’t see for shit. There was no finding Marsha in the sinkhole muck, in the water, or in the fat creases of the monster. She’d been tossed skyward and impaled on a birch a hundred yards away, and for all Gains knew this FUBAR thing was really good at smelling or checking for vibrations or some shit like that.

There was his phone. He could call someone. This was a big enough thing that it’d be easy to prove. Text a picture to the station. Have the guys come out. No, fuck the guys. They don’t believe half of anything he says. And they don’t listen neither. He could text it to Cammy or Buckley or one of those sluts. Fuck, the sluts they hardly listen either. Shit shit shit.

Gains strafed down the wall to the end closest to the road and watched for the monster’s arms to swing at him. They weren’t that long, he realized. They were shelled and spiked with hair, like a lobster’s legs. There was no chance they’d snap forward to clasp his whole body like a rattlesnake at an ankle, and he stood in the dark, picturing each animal and looking at the immense thing, itself certainly not an animal, and he reconsidered. It may well have a hundred other arms stuck in the mud, and he’d be fucked if he gave it one more reason to shake them loose.
 

Gains stood over the sink in their nook of a kitchen, drinking coffee while Anna cooked his breakfast with her back to his, shuffling a pan of scrambled eggs over an electric burner and humming. Gains held his stomach through his shirt and turned to her: Did you ever think you’d have a gut?

What are you saying, I’m fat?

I mean, did you ever think I’d have a gut? Did you see us getting fat?

I guess I figured we’d end up looking like our parents at some point.

Anna pushed the eggs onto plates, plucking toast from the toaster and buttering it. Gains grabbed her from behind and wrapped his arms around her chest, pulling them up to her nipples hard beneath her robe. Anna squirted ketchup on the eggs. She turned, still embraced, and took two napkins from the holder. Gains watched her, smelled all yesterday’s places still in her hair. He let go and sat at the table and pushed the salt shaker from end to end, waiting.
 

The thing bobbed from its hole in the ground, having struggled enough to require a small moment’s rest before attempting to lunge again. Gains turned the corner of the trailer and backed himself onto the road. The tubular mass of the monster was, from this safe distance, no different than what’d seen at the Natural History Museum. Just the same as the dusty model monsters in all the fucking little scenes and deep-sea dinosaur displays. For some reason that gave him peace of mind. It’s a thing from a place he was at when he was a kid and that thing was just a goddamn inconvenience on a good night like any other when he could be blowing loads into some young artist as grossly as this thing wanted to tear into him. Worthy, he thought. Worthy fucking adversary.

Gains turned his back to it and started walking down the road. His body trembled from its center toward his hands and feet and the top of his head. His hair seemed to shake. His teeth hurt, afraid. He turned around one more time and it looked back, woozy and beat. Worthy, he thought again, pushing up his bottom lip to nod. Gains took his phone from his pocket and opened the camera app, aiming at the monster. Without good light, it was an amorphous amber shape in a viewfinder, a Christmas float stranded in pixel darkness, as real or fake as anything the guys at the station emailed him twenty times a week, as unrecognizable as a thing that he was already calling a “sea scorpion,” despite the fact that this was probably not one at all.

Gains snapped the photo and the sea scorpion twisted as if trying to crack its back. It twisted again and again, and Gains put away his phone.

Shit.

The sea scorpion dislodged itself from the lakebed. The trailer shifted from the collapsing ground. Several trees cracked and fell, struck by its back-end. Gains started to run. Behind him he could hear more trees falling. There was a slow-sounding lurch, the opposite of a slither, that chased him. Still, it moved and Gains pulled his knees up for every step, unable to stop himself from trying to calm himself, recollecting the different faces he’d taken down this road, their different tit and ass sizes, and of course Buckley. He’d left Buckley back there in the hole. Dead, he was sure, maybe crushed under its weight or drowned prior to it unsheathing or perhaps dead, as he had nearly been, from total fucking shock and awe.

As Gains approached the fenced-in machinery that ran Highland Lake, the road’s light poles went black and all at once sound from the water works ceased its chugs and whirrs and there was a negative silence, only white forest noise, that could be heard. The sea scorpion stopped its lurching and more trees cracked and fell. This time Gains could feel the bottom-end of their echo in his chest. He could hear the thing’s movement much better. He could just about see its fat shape in a turn-around, heaving back toward the lake. Fuck, he thought, invisible fence.

He could feel his last steps on the road in the bones of his heels, in his knees and ankles. He fell onto his truck door and panted. Everything around him was still dead quiet. No animal sounds and not a single car. He opened his truck and turned the key and his AC clicked on and Metallica resumed playing, and he rested his head on the seat and checked his phone to make sure the pictures didn’t disappear for whatever reason, and he texted all three to the Chief and dialed into the station.

Hey.

I’m sorry is this an emergency call?

No, it’s Gains. Yes, it’s an emergency.

Sergeant Gains?

Yes.

Why aren’t you using your radio?

I’m not on patrol.

What’s wrong?

Is the Chief there?

He’s asleep

Oh, right.

Listen, do you have your phone at your desk?

Yes.

Okay. I’m going to text you some pictures of this thing.

What is it?

This fucking thing I saw. I don’t know what it is. I’m out at Highland Lake.

Gains, I have to get off the line. Do you want me to radio someone out there?

Yeah. Whoever’s nearby.

Gains sent the pictures again and shut off his stereo. He rolled down the window and heard nothing. He turned on his lights so they might see him and took three cans of Bud from his cooler and drank each one, setting the cans on top of his dashboard. He drank one more can and shut his eyes and fell asleep, waking up an hour later to piss on the road in some attempt to maybe shift the odds of safety, unsettle the idea that playing in the road means death, a little in his favor, so that the goddamn car she said she’d sent an hour ago might fucking show up in a fucking instant. But it does not, and Gains finds a last Bud floating in cold water and pops it open and drinks it, driving home and passing Buckley’s desolate brown-brick condo complex. He wasn’t all that sure what she drove anyway.

At home Gains took several pulls from a Jack Daniel’s bottle and fell asleep naked on the couch. His clothes were in the trash. His truck was parked half on the grass. The TV was on, and as he slept he saw it again. It appeared on repeat no matter how many times he woke from his drunk pass-out, thinking the intoxication had broken and that he’d fall back into real sleep. When he finally sat up in the morning, it was unclear what differed between his dreams and the real-deal thing. It all seemed pretty much real. Gains told himself he was not capable of dreaming something so fantastic without having not seen it first. Gains checked his phone and no one had called or texted him back.

Hello—he called his ex-wife.

Yeah? she answered.

Can I come by?

What for?

I just have to talk to you about something.

Oh, Jesus.

No, no. He said. Just about this thing I saw. I’m fucked up, Anne. I just want to talk about it.

Alright. Come by. I’ll get dressed.

On the way over, Gains called the station but no one answered his call. Gains walked into Anne’s house and took off his shoes and left them on the front mat. She’d filled a small ranch with all manner of Disney World glass figurines on mirror-shelves and in two-door display cases and across the window sills in her dining room.

Jesus, he said, helping himself to a look around.

What? What is it that you had to come to my personal space?

Anne, did I ever see weird shit when we were together? Like hallucinate?

No. I don’t think so.

Yeah, me neither. Look I was out at Highland Lake last night. I was working a job like normal. I ended up going for a walk. Just to check out the grounds, you know. Never know what’s out there.

Mm.

Remember that kid Tim that died out there when we were kids?

I do, she said, sipping coffee in front of a three-quarter size ceramic Pluto.

So I get to the lake feeling kinda spooked, kinda fucked up like I’m going to see the ghost of Tim. I don’t though. I hear this weird fucking howling and clapping like a plane is going down somewhere. The most horrible sound. These guys come out from the woods. A big blue spotlight comes on. Fucking weird-looking guys with hazmat suits on. They’re telling me to get back, to stay away from the lake.

Really?

Yeah.

Isn’t that crazy?

So what was it? Were they workers?

No, he said. I mean not for Highland Lake.

The government?

Well, yeah. I told them I was a cop right away. Showed my badge, explain why I was there.

Oh my—

They said the lake is contaminated again. Just like when Tim got sick. They said it’s practically airborne, and I was only a few feet away from the contamination zone.

They didn’t have any signs or anything?

That’s the thing. And this is why I came over. I was there seconds before they got there. They came on some special helicopter because they’d been notified about the contamination that night. Anne, I was thinking about standing out there and having a beer or skipping stones. I could have been contaminated before the government even knew about it.

Oh my God. That gives me chills.

Freaks you out right? I probably breathed it in, but they checked me. I’m clean.

Thank God for that, she said, putting her hand on the cushion between them, closer than her hand had been to him in some time.

That’s what I was thinking.

Gains phone started to vibrate in his pocket, and he pulled it up to his ear without checking the caller. Cammy shouted from the other end: Gains guess what? I got a new job!

What? Cammy?

Who? Anne asked, putting her coffee down.

Nothing, Gains said.

You got what job?

Um, at Highland Lake. Assistant Planning Director for the new water park. I mean you talked to them for me, right? You’re like the only one I’ve talked to about my sketches.

Uh—

Who is Cammy?

No one, Gains said.

Who is that? Cammy asked.

No one, Gains said again. I have to go.

Well, thanks again, Cammy said.

Gains set the phone on his knee, Cammy still thanking him over the small receiver. Just a thing for work, he said to Anne. New dispatcher.

Let’s fuck again, Cammy said high-voiced over the receiver. But you have to promise me someplace nice this time.

God, Anna stood. Get out, please.

What?

Please get out. Please don’t bring that sort of thing back into my life.

What? It’s some fucking dispatch girl. I don’t know what she’s talking about.

Out the way you came in. Out now.

Fuck, he said.

She picked up her coffee and used it to point: Out.
 

Gains got back in his truck and drove to the station. He was half-excepting to see no cruisers in the parking lot. No lights on in the building. No flag flying.

He was buzzed in and a few of the guys stood outside of dispatch, passing around a plastic container of cookies. Jim’s wife makes good shit, one of them says, passing the cookies to Gains.

Thanks, he said, taking one.

Chief in?

No, he’s out at the lake.

Fucking hell. Is he? He get my text?

The fuck’s wrong with you man?

What?

You sent Jo Ann a dick pic?

No.

She showed me man. You got a real chode.

Shit.

Chief got it too. Were you fucked up or what man? What are you doing in your off time? Peyote?

What’s he doing at the lake?

Meeting with some developers from New England. Said they need security over there for some big ass project they’re starting.

Why didn’t Jo Ann send anyone out last night?

Out where?

Out to the lake.

Shit you were at the lake getting fucked up.

When did those New England guys get in?

This morning? Yesterday? I don’t know. He went there first thing.
 

Gains tried calling the Chief but got no answer. He parked his car on a picnic lawn across the street and walked over to the parking lot filled with a handful of rented town cars and a single cruiser. Yellow tape was ribboned around the trees, around the ticket booths. Gains could hear the water works’ machinery whirring again.

There was a light on in a trailer near the entrance. Before Gains could decide what he wanted to do, the Chief came out, laughing and smiling on the tail of a joke told before the door had opened. Gains ran back behind the ticket booths and the tape. He went across the street into his truck and peeled out, driving around the park’s roadside property to a road that wrapped around the back.

He called Buckley and waited with the ring. Her voicemail message picked up and he closed his phone. Now he’d incriminated himself. Smart, he thought. Piece of dog shit he was. Gains coasted around the park property to what he figured was the opposite end. He parked at a blocked access road and got out of his car. Smart. Probably cameras. Probably watching you from in that trailer, you asshole.

Gains took a blanket out of his truck and threw it up over the razorwire. He climbed and vaulted himself over the caught blanket and thin blades poked through, pulling his skin apart in straight lines from shoulder blade to last rib. He fell from the top of the fence and broke his tailbone, landing nearly seated. On the other side of the fence miles of young woods divided him from the Chief and the developers. He walked several yards ahead and stopped. A black chasm split the forest earth left and right like a wide and bottomless stream, and down in the chasm Gains could see nothing looking back to him. He kicked dust down and the dust turned black and was gone. He dropped a rock and the rock was gone. He followed the chasm in either direction and in both he would have sooner reached the road than the end.

Gains shut his eyes and called Buckley again. He could feel himself shifting down. Anna had not called him back. No one from the station had called him back. Buckley’s phone rang to voicemail. Standing before the chasm, not looking, Gains envisioned himself beneath the world. Under the surface there was murky water that formed a lake no one could see. In some places there were holes in the Earth. You could fall down and see. In different parts, people had ladders or cemented chutes to rappel down. In these holes and under the Earth and in the water you could look up and through all of the fish shit and the parts of dead plants floating you could see the dim surface and crust distorted like the bottom of a new, clear ice.