27 Jan The Drowning Pond
“The Drowning Pond”Written by Eli Pope Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 20 minutes
Tanner Lee Palper, or Tilper as people had called him even before he could remember, sat on the old rustic bench he’d put by the pond years ago. His pole sat leaning against the limb that jutted towards him from the water. It was his fishin’ branch, and his bobber slowly floated in circles. He figured the worm below the surface must be wriggling, attempting to escape the hook its slim, dangly twisting body hid. Tilper noticed the tiny rings that echoed out and away from the red and white plastic ball. The liquid palpitations mesmerized him into a state of hypnosis as each movement of the worm created another ring cascading across the glassy surface topside. Certainly, such wriggles would entice a hungry bass or possibly trout.
Tilper’s spring-fed pond stretched out about three and a half acres. It sat south through the woods of his property, a lengthy walking distance from his home. Tilper’s parents had left him the homestead he’d grown up on and still resided. All thirty-five acres were wooded with steep hills and rocky ridges surrounding his pond. The walnut and oak trees camouflaged several small cave openings. The Little Sac River skirted one edge of his property and he kept a canoe chained to a tree surrounded by brush about thirty feet from the shore. He knew this property well and only left it to get groceries and supplies. He held no need for people—for the most part.
Winter was now on the cusp of returning and the colder weather had begun to bring the depression and pain along with the dropping of the fall leaves. Tilper felt very small and alone in the forest now that his parents were deceased. A man of only twenty-four shouldn’t be allowed to let his life shrivel and dry up, becoming so atrophied. Living alone let the haunts of lonesomeness invade his mental state in paralyzing ways. Tilper hadn’t wanted it this way, but life brings unwanted gifts along the journey sometimes. Withdrawing more each day, a little farther into the recesses of the torment he felt surrounded in.
The people from the nearby town put up with him, but never really welcomed his presence. Once upon a time, his freshman year, he’d been a local hero of sorts for a short time. Back before the accident. Nowadays, the town’s people just took his money for the supplies he purchased, but never included him in conversations or gatherings. That was fine with Tilper though. He learned to not much care for people. Afterall, people hurt one another. They looked down their noses at people. People like him.
Tilper would load up his groceries in his dad’s old Ford truck along with his big blue-gray pit bull and head back to the shack in the woods— home, where he felt safe and secure. His old truck seemed to know on its own when to turn off the highway and onto the old farm road that led to the stone bridge which stood high over the Sac River. The front tires would slowly roll into the downhill curve that led to the sharp turn before crossing onto it. Tilper would idle the truck slowly across and many times if another farmer were behind, they’d lay onto their horn in hopes of pushing old Tilper to pick up speed so they could pass as soon as they crossed and left the narrow bridge behind. It never worked and Tilper would ignore the yells through their windows and the mean finger they would display at him. He’d never respond back with the like and I imagined that more than likely prodded their anger for him even further.
On cold nights Tilper would work on making his hand-carved fiddles right there on the cement floor of his metal shack he lived in. The home his parents and he had shared now left in a charred pile no more than a couple hundred feet from the metal storage barn he fixed up enough to live. The “tin shack.” Tilper missed his parents and the comforts of the home he’d grown up in. The memories still seemed fresh though, and the tin shack had heat and running water. He was comfortable and satisfied with simplicity.
Somehow, he’d escaped the ravaging flames that night some two and a half years ago. The fire that killed both of his parents, along with destroying the home. Sometimes after a rain, the scent of fire and burning wood remained and wafted over to the tin shack, reminding Tilper of what he’d lost and somehow lived through. He’d been blamed at first by the town’s people for setting the fire, which of course was ludicrous. He loved his parents and had no one else other than them. What would be the reasoning? There was no insurance money. Their family was poor and struggled for everything they had. All that was left to him that hadn’t been burnt up, was the thirty-five acres, a 1976 ugly Ford F150 truck, and the tin shack, heated by firewood. It did have plumbing and was insulated with pieces of random Styrofoam, but it was nothing to look at and surely held little value monetarily. No, he’d have held no reason to burn everything up.
Tilper sat on a stool in front of the Ben Franklin stove which was tightly snuggled into the corner of his shack near the front door. The warming flames rippled and sparked from the stacked logs within. The crackles and pops filled in the background of the otherwise emptiness of his home. Wheeler, his best and only real friend, lay sleeping on the wadded-up comforter next to his feet. Tilper nestled the piece of thin walnut in his lap and lightly pulled a razor-sharp hand-scraper across the hourglass-shaped piece of wood, honing its body into a smooth-to-touch perfect piece. The dark grain was beautiful and would make a very handsome instrument when he was completed. The perfect Christmas present for the only girl he’d ever had eyes for—Emily Sue Merriweather. He remembered before the accident she asked his fellow teammate about him. It had made the school buzz. One of the prettiest girls asking about the awkward wide receiver for the Ash Grove Pirates. The memory still came to mind, after all these years passed.
Just the sound of Tilper silently speaking her name in thought sent chords of a lovely melody throughout his veins. She’d been the only one outside his family that gave him happy thoughts. She’d been nice to him back in their school days when so many others were not. She too had stayed in the area while many of the others moved off after graduating high school. She played violin and played beautifully even way back then. He would hear her throughout the years at the town’s festivals or at church. He was a silent admirer—from a quiet distance, never feeling in her league to move forward in any way other than a little wave or smile from the crowd. Even after the praise of his football abilities, he never felt worthy enough to approach Emily Sue.
Something Tilper never had been privy to, was that Emily Sue, even with her beauty, had grown up feeling very similar to his feelings of inadequacies to the social life of high school and the other kids.
Tilper nor Emily Sue had no conditions mentally or medically to be so withdrawn. It was just the circumstances of makeup. Quiet, withdrawn families that each stuck to themselves, rarely venturing out much with others, other than church. Small towns can be difficult cultures to break into if you live on the outskirts and aren’t outwardly overt to others. Families can quickly become labeled poorly among the small clicks. This is the unfortunate outcome of the Pappers and the Merriweathers.
Hours would pass as Tilper scraped and honed the wooden parts he created from the old, downed walnut tree on his property. He shaped and formed the wooden pieces into an incredible piece of musical art. While he’d tried to play back in school, he could never master much more than sour screeches and poorly tuned notes. What he lacked in musical talent, he made up in wood crafting. He would be able to finish the gift for Emily Sue before the church’s Christmas celebration in two weeks. Now he’d just need to muster up the courage to give his gift to the only girl he ever admired and was sweet on but lacked the courage in letting her know his secret.
Rodney Lane Miles was the starting quarterback in 1978. It was the year Tilper and he ruled the field together and stunned the town of Ash Grove while putting it on the map. The magic of Rodney’s bold passing game and Tilper’s hands managing to catch anything thrown close to him was a perfect combination. Rodney had held doubts at first when he met Tilper. After all, Tilper didn’t really look or act like someone of knowledge, talent or love of the game. Rodney’s family recently moved into the area from Kansas City. He’d grown up football. After the first several summer practices, Rodney sensed a talent in Tilper. He befriended him that first year, as much as one could befriend an odd kid like Tilper.
That first game was magical. The two couldn’t seem to miss. They slaughtered Greenfield Forty-two to nothing. The local news channels went crazy talking up that first game. Rodney and Tilper soon became the talk of town. Unfortunately, after a 10 and 0 winning streak—the magic died instantly. The brain injury that was caused by a nasty tackle on Tilper at the ten-yard line, ended his short-lived winning career with high school football and the Pirates. He was out for the last game of the season and even after recovery, never came back to the field ever again. Soon, the kindred friendship with Rodney went sour also. Neal Ballard took Tilper’s place alongside Rodney for the last game and shoulder to shoulder at school. That last game of Rodney’s first season on the Pirates ended in a horrible loss. Neal had kept up on receiving touchdown passes all the way until half-time. It appeared Neal was the perfect replacement for Tilper. But something went south, and they ended Rodney and Tilper’s previous winning season with a 28 to 41 loss. And to a team whose record had been 2 and 8. Ash Grove’s next two seasons with Rodney and Neal failed miserably. Their fame withered away.
The simple truth was, Rodney resented Tilper from that tragic night of the injury ‘til he graduated. The talk was that he also pursued Emily Sue just to spite Tilper, knowing how he quietly felt about her.
Now though, it was water far under the bridge. Rodney ended up joining the Army after graduation and soon his family left Ash Grove too. Emily Sue never gave in to Rodney’s attempts to date. Life moved by slowly and quietly, admirations silent and unknown. Everyone always questioned why Emily Sue, so pretty of a girl, never dated or found anyone to be serious with. No one ever thought about Tilper being single though—in fact, no one ever thought much of anything about Tilper. He just faded off into obscurity as the awkward quiet boy whose parents died in a suspicious fire outside of town. No one even remembered he had been a huge part of the 1978 nearly undefeated winning season of the Pirates. The year Ash Grove High ended up losing the State Championship. Deep down, Rodney held Tilper accountable throughout his last two years as they never repeated another winning season besides the games that he and Tilper had ruled playing together up until the injury that stole the magic.
Emily Sue Merriweather laid the receipt for the meal on Joe Massey’s table. “I hope everything met your satisfaction Mr. Massy.”
“Emily Sue—I’ve been coming in here every morning for the last thirty years…about sixteen years longer than you’ve been working here. You do know my name is Joe, don’t you?” He smiled as he stuck the toothpick into the gap between his two front teeth. “Damnit girl, you make me feel old with the Mister stuff!”
“I’m sorry, Mr., I mean, Joe. I surely don’t want to make you feel that way. I guess I just feel the need to show respect. I’ll try not to make you feel old again.”
“You gonna play violin this Christmas at the church again? You sure have an ear and talent, Emily Sue.”
She blushed. “Why, thank you, Joe. And yes, I plan on it. Pastor Jesse expects it every year now. He says the Christmas Eve service wouldn’t be the same without it.”
Joe smiled, “Pastor Jesse, would be correct. If I happen to be short of the proper spirit of Christmas up ‘til Christmas Eve—your beautiful violin playing always speeds me back into that spirit of joy at the last minute! Sometimes that’s difficult now that the Mrs. passed.”
“I’m sure it’s difficult this time of year, Joe. My thoughts and prayers will be with you in mind, and I’ll do my best to usher the proper spirit into your holiday.”
Emily Sue heard the familiar sound of a certain Ford truck and shifted her gaze toward the window just in time to see Tilper’s old truck idle down Main Street past Lydia’s Diner.
Tilper quickly looked to his left to see if he’d catch a glimpse of Emily Sue at a table. Yep, there she was. This is the year I’m gonna give Miss Merriweather a Christmas Present. Tilper quickly turned when he saw Emily Sue look out the window his way. He swore he noticed a sweet smile and glimmer in her eye. Nah, surely not. Just my imagination.
It was Christmas Eve and the temperature had dropped very timely in the last several weeks. Thanksgiving was unseasonably warm, and Tilper was glad the odd and untimely heat wave had retreated, bringing normal temperatures and the possible chance for snow back into the areas forecast. He looked at the single wrapped gift neatly tucked under his freshly cut Cedar tree. Wheeler peeked up from his comforter bed on the floor with his sad eyes and tail gently beginning to wag at the sight of his master eyeing him.
“Do you think she’ll accept my gift, Wheeler? Will she like it?” Tilper calmly asked.
Wheeler’s tail wagged with more gusto and steadiness.
“So, you think so, buddy?” Tilper smiled. He hoped he hadn’t overdone it. He’d barely squeaked out a hello every time he’d gone to get scrambled eggs, bacon, and pancakes at Lydia’s Diner. They were tasty, but he couldn’t really afford to eat them as regularly as he’d liked. He just had to see Emily Sue’s sweet face at least a time or two every week. She always treated him so nicely at the diner—and at Sunday church, of course.
Tilper was proud of the instrument he’d made. It was by far the best he’d completed to date. He even hand-carved a pair of beautiful, intertwined hearts on the face just below the bottom soundhole. He’d hoped she liked it and wouldn’t be too embarrassed or bothered by the carving. It was a one of a kind. He’d bleached the carved hearts, so they were lighter than the walnut, and then had mixed a special red dye and stained them. They had just the right hint of red as to not stick out too boldly but were visible. He also carved his name on the back. Tilper. Even Emily Sue called him by his nickname. He wasn’t sure anyone really knew his given name was Tanner Lee. It was as if it really weren’t. The only time he’d been called Tanner Lee was by his momma. Even his daddy called him Tilper.
He looked outside as the sun began to drop below the horizon. His little tin shack sat in the middle of the woods and even though most all vegetation was long gone from the trees and shrubs, it still became darker around his shack quicker than anywhere else. He could hardly wait until tonight’s midnight service. Tonight, would be special.
There were the beginnings of a good dusting of snow as Tilper’s old Ford rolled onto the parking lot of Pastor Jesse’s church. Several cars were already parked, and the stained-glass windows appeared extra beautiful behind the snowflakes wafting down slowly. It just looked warm and inviting inside. It was Christmas Eve and Tilper’s heart felt warm with the spirit of giving. He’d worn his best clothes and carried in his beautifully wrapped package. He hoped to see Emily Sue first thing, while he had his courage up. As he walked through the front door, he immediately spied Pastor Jesse. “Pastor, sir. Merry Christmas. Is Emily Sue here yet?” He spit the sentences out so quickly; it drew a smile from Jesse Gibson.
“Why, yes she is Tilper. She’s in the choir room readying herself for the program. You’re free to peek in and wish her Merry Christmas. I’m sure she’d love that.”
“Thank you, sir. It’s why I came a bit early. I…uh…I…I have a present…a present for her, sir.”
“I was thinking that beautiful gift looked very intriguing. I’m certain she will cherish whatever it is.” Jesse nodded and smiled and held out his hand for the Jenkins who just stepped in behind Tilper.
“Thank you, sir. I’ll just go see her real quick-like. I won’t keep her too long, sir.”
Tilper nervously walked to the choir room door and stood for a second. He was trying to work up the courage to turn the doorknob.
“Here ya go, Tilper…” Bobby reached over and twisted the knob, pushing the door wide open. “Sometimes it sticks!”
* * * * * *
Emily Sue’s eyes shot to the opening door half startled. For some reason her nerves got the best of her every time just before showtime. Her eyes appeared as two startled full moons for a second.
“I’m…I’m…I’m…so sorry…Emi…Emily…Sue. I didn’t…I mean…Bobby…pushed the door….”
Her look of being startled quickly morphed into a warm smile. “It’s okay, Tilper, really. I’m glad you came in. I’m just nervous and…you know, jitters and all. But—Merry Christmas, Tilper! I’m glad to see you. You are kind of a sight for sore eyes! I’m calmer now!”
“Merry Christmas, Emily Sue. I…um…I made…I made this for you. I’ve wanted to do this for some time now…and…well…Christmas…seemed like the perfect time. I hope it’s okay I done this.” He nervously held out the gift towards her as she walked closer to him.
“Oh, Tilper, it’s wrapped beautifully! But you shouldn’t have….”
“Christmas is…the giving…time and…” Tilper stepped closer and put the package into Emily Sue’s hands and stepped back, “…you don’t have to open it now…you can just take it with you…after…after the service if you want.”
“Tilper! I wouldn’t dream of not opening it in front of you!” She motioned with a head nod toward the row of chairs. “Please, please sit down with me, I’ve got plenty of time to see what’s inside this beautiful wrapping.”
They both sat like nervous school kids back in the time of high school and nerves and butterflies in the stomach. They slowly sat and Emily Sue glanced up at Tilper as she held the gift on her lap. “You look really handsome tonight. I mean, not that you don’t always…should I open it now?” She asked timidly.
“Of course, Emily Sue. I was hoping you wouldn’t wait until later! Who knows, you might could use it sooner than you thought!”
“Well, now you’ve got my curiosity up!” Her fingers carefully slid under the fold of the taped paper as she slowly slid her finger the length of the box. “I can’t even imagine…I wish I could say I had a gift for you…but…I had…no idea that….”
“It’s okay Emily Sue. I didn’t expect a thing. The only gift I want is to watch your eyes sparkle as you open it.”
“That’s really sweet of you to say….” She peeled back the paper and began to edge her fingernail into the tape that held the box flaps closed. After finally breaking the seal all the way around the top of the box, she looked up at Tilper with question. “Is it okay to open it now?”
“Of course, it is, Emily Sue…it’s yours!” Tilper’s eyes glistened with the excitement of a young boy on Christmas morning with gifts awaiting his hands to tear into.
As she opened the flaps up and parted the tissue paper, one hand immediately went to her lips. “Oh, it’s beautiful, Tilper!” A tear gently popped from her eye and began the slow descent down her cheek. She lifted her eyes up and looked directly into Tilper’s. “This is the most beautiful present I’ve ever received! Did you make this?” She lifted it from the tissue and held it gently up to study it. Her lips mouthed “oh my” as she noticed the delicate carved and stained hearts and then turned to look at its back and noticed his carved signature. “I absolutely love it and will treasure it forever.” She leaned over and with one arm reached around Tilper and pulled him into a hug. She pulled back and began to put the violin back into the box. “I’ve got to put it down for a moment and give you a proper thank you hug.” She turned back around and put both arms around him, pulling him close enough she whispered into his ear, “I love this, Tilper. It means everything to me. How completely unexpected and sweet of you….” She pulled closer again and maneuvered to where her lips could meet his for a kiss.
That was when the door swung open suddenly. When they quickly pulled away from each other, no one other than Rodney was standing in the doorway. He looked shocked. “Tilper? Emily Sue?”
Neither Emily Sue nor Tilper knew why they felt as if they’d been caught in some horrible act, but the awkwardness set in quickly.
“I’ve got to prepare…Rodney…could you please close the door? Tilper, I want you to stay for a minute, please.”
The door banged to a close and Tilper quickly began to apologize.
“You have no reason to apologize for anything! You’ve done a very generous and loving thing by spending all of the time it must have taken to create this beautiful gift. I’ll never forget it or let anything happen to it. It’s gorgeous…and you…you are such a wonderful Christmas gift yourself. I’m very blessed tonight and I want you to know how much you mean to me. Can we maybe go for a walk in the snow after the service or something? I won’t want this Christmas Eve to end tonight now!”
“You just gave me the best gift ever, Emily Sue. Your smile and a walk together on the best night I’ve ever had.” He smiled. “Now, you need to prepare, and I need to go sit down and regroup these new emotions I’m feeling….”
Emily Sue smiled and pushed her lips in a quick kiss as Tilper turned and pushed the door to a soft close.
As the lights went dimmer in the sanctuary, the beautiful melodic sound echoed throughout the Christmas-filled room. The pews all held garland on the ends, there were several Christmas trees decorated with white and red ribbon and angels. Candles filled the room and flickered as the Christmas carols echoed beautiful and willowy from a marvelous walnut violin showcasing two hearts intertwined as Emily Sue’s hand moved the bow in an orchestrated dance back and forth across the strings. She looked the happiest she’d ever looked, and people whispered such back and forth to each other.
At the close of the service, the congregation each held candles and sang Silent Night together to the wispy sound quietly singing out the melodic tune everyone knew so well. As each blew out their candle before heading out into the snow and their homes…Rodney calmly walked over to his old football friend he hadn’t seen for at least five years and whispered in his ear in nearly a hushed sentence no one else could make out. “Your silent night is coming—it’ll be a cold one too, you’ll see.”
Tilper swore he saw the devil dancing in Rodney’s eyes as he turned and walked out into the cold of the night. But Tilper’s heart still felt so warm from Emily Sue’s kiss, he shrugged the thought of Rodney and his threat off, instead choosing to hold warm thoughts and Emily Sue’s hand as they walked around the snowy streets of Ash Grove’s downtown. Snowflakes slowly danced around them as the colored lights in the window fronts twinkled on and off.
Tilper’s eyes began to open. Wheeler stretched his legs and pushed on Tilper’s back. Yep, queen-sized bed and once again Wheeler has somehow scooted me to the very edge. As he pushed back against Wheeler, he began the struggle to roll over and surmise his dog’s lying position. There sat three-quarters of unused bed while he’d been almost shoved off the side. “Wheeler! If it wasn’t Christmas morning…I’d…” He shook his head while Wheeler lifted his up and stared at him with big brown loving eyes. “…well, I wouldn’t do nothing. And you know it.” Both dropped their heads back down to the pillow. Tilper had no idea what Wheeler was thinking, but he himself couldn’t wipe the big smile from his face. Last night was the best. He rolled back over to face Wheeler and threw his arm over him, rubbing the top of his head. “Boy, life is different today. Very different. Merry Christmas, and he reached over opening the drawer on his nightstand. He grabbed a brand new bright yellow tennis ball and tossed it toward the foot of the bed. Wheeler snapped around and almost beat the ball to the foot.
The snow continued to fall most of Christmas day. Tilper had invited Emily Sue over for an evening Christmas dinner. He spent late morning cleaning the house spotless. He hummed and whistled throughout never dropping the smile he wore.
About seven o’clock, Tilper began to worry something had gone wrong. Emily Sue should have been there by now. He knew she was a punctual kind of person and would have called if she’d changed her mind. The telephone rang and broke the silence. As Tilper reached to pick it up, he suddenly felt relief. Something must have kept her running late. “Hello….”
A familiar voice spoke out, but it sounded cold and harsh, “Tilper, Tilper, little lover boy….”
“Hello? Is this…is this Rodney?”
“This is your devil, Tilper, a grinch if you will—to come and steal your fuckin’ Christmas….”
“What do you mean, Rodney? Are you still mad about the game? Or Emily Sue?”
“I got a present for you, little Tilper…it’s down at your pond—better hurry, run fast!” CLICK, the line went dead.
Tilper grabbed for his Carhart jacket, leaving Wheeler behind as the door quickly slammed closed. He was running in as long a stride as he could through the snow and down the trails towards the pond. It was cold and the ground was slick, spilling him to his knees several times. His determination was strong, but he was becoming winded, his heart pounding. He couldn’t think. Why would Rodney be doing this? And on Christmas. Why was he even back in town? He had no family here, no friends…the only people left here in Ash Grove from those days were he and Emily Sue. He panted as icicles began to form in his mustache and goatee. The pond never seemed this far away.
He suddenly had to stop a minute. He was sucking cold moist air into his lungs, and it hurt. It burned deep within. He couldn’t imagine what would be down at the pond for him to see. Would he be waiting there? Was he wanting to hurt him? Oh, shit! He thought. Wheeler wasn’t with him. What if he needed him? His heart began to race even more, and he lifted his body upward from where he’d been bent over, hands on his knees, attempting to catch his breath. I can’t go back for Wheeler now, I gotta go….
As Tilper raced down the hill, tromping through small drifts of snow, his hands bouncing grip from one tree to the other, he was about to reach his fishing spot when something caught his eye. There was a strange reddish clump in the middle of the pond and an odd stick figure poking up that he couldn’t make out. His eyes scanned the area as he slowed to a fast-paced walk, attempting to make out what the debris in the water was and the tree line surrounding in case Rodney or whatever was there waiting for him.
His breath shot from his nose and mouth. The cold air steamed from his body. Sounds of strain escaped his lips along with the sucking of air back in. His eyes were blurred, and he attempted to wipe them clear with his cold fingers. There was silence. No birds, no squirrels—nothing but the noises he made. He began walking again towards the edge of the pond, staring and trying to make out what was out there. It didn’t make sense. “Where are you, Rodney?” He cried out. “I’m here, dammit! What do you want from me?” As he came to the edge of the creek, he noticed something. All around as far as he could see, the water’s edge held a thin layer of ice. From the grounds edge and out about a foot and a half or two. Everywhere but one small spot about thirty feet from where he stood and to the left. That’s when he noticed footprints in the snow that seemed disturbed and disrupted. Something appeared to have been dragged or been in a scuffle. The closer he looked the more he saw that weeds and brush were bent over and it just didn’t look as if it matched the rest of the pristine white untouched grounds. Tilper’s eyes trailed from where the disturbance in the snow started…up just inside the tree line and then he made his eyes follow the trail back down towards the pond’s edge. He looked from the broken ice out to the center to the reddish clump with the odd twig…and that’s when his heart slammed to a halt. His breath ceased and his mind went temporarily numb until something clicked, and his legs began tromping quickly through the water to the center and the object.
“No! No! Please, God! No….” Tears poured from his eyes mixing with the splashes coming up off his knees, the cold chilled wetness slamming into his face and stinging. The roar of moving water quickly began to flood his ears. It’s all he could hear except for his own voice screaming, “…God no! Please no….”
As he almost reached the floating clump, his mind rationalized what the twig had been. It was the violin neck he’d made. It was rising from the clump of wet clothing or something. He struggled through the frigid water to get closer only to realize it was a half-clothed body. He reached it and grabbed what he could to pull it up. An opened torn red dress parted enough to see pale white and frozen skin. He lifted it with everything he had and began backing up towards land. Hollering, “Emily Sue, please be okay…please….” He backed as fast as he could until he tripped, pulling Emily Sue’s body on top of him as he fell backwards and became swallowed up by the cold pond water. Emily Sue’s body that he clung tightly to, began crushing him further underwater as his clothes became heavily soaked and saturated. The more he struggled, the more entangled he became in the cold silt and weeds. It pulled him deeper, and he struggled to catch his breath, only to suck in nearly frozen silt-stirred water. He fought to climb back to the top, his eyes could see the dim light through the murky water. His face and mouth just inches away, but it may as well have been hundreds of feet. His strength could no longer find any fight and he refused to loosen his grip of Emily Sue and his attempts to keep her above the surface. His mind wouldn’t let him acknowledge she was already long gone. All his brain would do was sacrifice to save her, his one love that had finally become real.
Up on top of the hill, behind several trees, sat the devil himself. Deep inset eyes, cold of death and destruction, staring with intensity at Tilper’s struggle below as he was being swallowed up by death.
Rodney had died several months before. Hate and jealousy was his demon he’d succumbed to. He’d watched his chance at fame die quickly when the better half of talent he shared, suffered the horrible debilitating injury from a pass he’d thrown so poorly. It had been a miracle Tilper had even caught it. Unfortunately, at the price of stretching out far enough to catch it, that his maneuver left him wide open to the harsh tackle that took him out of the game. Rodney knew deep down that his pass had been the cause and fall of the teams winning streak and loss of his once best friend and teammate. His psyche wouldn’t allow him to accept that fact, so he sought to place blame and cause destruction to his friend. He tried to hurt him as repayment by stealing the only girl Tilper ever loved. Rodney couldn’t give up his vengefulness after never repeating any football success. Even years after moving away and joining the army. His misguided hate followed him through drugs and booze and finally a deal made with the devil. A deal he wasn’t even able to do more than orchestrate. The devil wouldn’t allow him to watch his final deed. Just another price to pay for hell.
The devil was enjoying it though. He’d wanted little innocent Tilper from day one. Emily Sue was just collateral damage. The devil’s eyes glowed at the sight they took in. “Christmas…HAH.” He hissed. The devil was so busy relishing in his cruelness that he never saw the beast coming. Never heard it’s run through the buffeting snow. The cold layer that killed any sound of what was about to hit.
Wheeler plunged forward, paws outward in the air as he flew the last few feet. His jaws wide-open and sharp fangs digging into Satan’s laughing throat.
Silence had filled the pond where Tilper and Emily Sue now rested below the surface, cold and rigid. Death had swallowed up Tilper’s and Emily Sue’s Christmas love and future.
Wheeler’s jaws though, held tight as he and the devil rolled down the hillside, tumbling with hideous screams from hell until they spilled into the cold waters edge of the drowning pond to the sizzling hisses of a demon’s instant death.
To this day, some people say if you quietly walk down to Tilper’s pond on a snowy Christmas day, you’ll see Tilper and Emily Sue holding hands sitting on the old rustic bench, and hear beautiful chilling sounds emanating through the trees from his handmade violin gift given on that one extraordinary, snowy Christmas Eve. Several feet down the shore by the spot where Tilper drowned, at the water’s edge, still sits Wheeler, his blue-gray Pitbull mix, patiently waiting, eyes fixed on the water’s surface, for his master to reappear and come home.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableCraig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A