Night enveloped the empty mall parking lot, and under the hazy light of the waxing moon John Paulson unlocked one of the building’s back doors.
Once inside—his manager’s key eliciting the satisfying click—he walked swiftly to the department store changing rooms, from which he retrieved several memory cards, and the women’s washroom, from the toilets of which he retrieved several more. Each had been pulled from a hidden camera.
Security room: he erased all evidence of his visit.
The night air caressed him.
Although he’d planned to drive home before viewing this week’s footage, his excitement caused him to pull over, and he jerked off on the unpaved shoulder to the flickering images of women undressing, posing, peeing…
At home, he downloaded the footage from each memory card, scanned through it and edited the good parts into an hour-long video, which he uploaded to his subscription site.
What had started as a hobby had become a successful side hustle.
Successful enough to take that trip he’d dreamed about: to Possum Lake, where his parents had taken him so many times as a child.
But never in winter.
Never when the lake had frozen over and become a black mirror, majestically reflecting the silence and the moonlit—
The crunch of snow beneath his boots echoed amongst the bare trunks.
His breath mistified the impending dark.
From somewhere deep within the uninhabited woodland, an animal scurried from branch to broken branch.
Possum Lake lay ahead.
John Paulson laid down his backpack.
He’d found his spot.
He worked quickly: erecting his tent, heating food, and—as outside night descended upon the blizzarding world—climbing into his ultra-warm sleeping bag, from which memories and sleep took him swiftly.
He woke suddenly—
Underfoot: cold, hard; ankle-deep in snow.
The moon was gone.
Yet he knew he was on the lake—in the middle of it—and as his eyes adjusted he realized the lake itself was glowing.
Light and sound emanating from underneath, filtered through the accumulation of snow.
He dropped to his knees, dug with his hands—
A face stared back.
Female and distorted by the frozen surface of the lake.
Scurrying in reverse.
Plowing through the snow.
More warped female faces.
The air thickened.
He knew the faces, all of them—vaguely in some recess of his mind.
They’re drowning, he thought, and began pounding on the ice, which cracked, thick lines spidering across its mammoth surface.
Faces flowing underwater.
He pounded until he could not breathe.
Until the world—
And he realized, choking, he was in the freezing water, flailing, lungs filling; drowning, as the faces moaned above.
He pounded on the underside of the ice.
Seeking a way out.
Each time he broke the ice with bleeding fists, swimming for salvation, their hands pushed him in. The surface froze over.
So it was: drowning without dying, suffering without end.
Always under gaze of those eyes.