A SHADOW ON MERRIMACK RIVER

By Daniela Alibrandi

Literary fiction, Thriller, Historical fiction, Young adult

Paperback, eBook

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560
4 mins

 

          

FROM CHAPTER 1 

She was skating, finally able calibrating the force exerted on the leg movement with the frozen water resistance. Before her gaze, the river gray light melted with the sky darker color. It was even pleasant to feel the cold air on her face, as she closed her eyes and drifted slightly on the icy surface. Farther her friend Jenny was trying to do the same and, in spite of her obesity, she was able to express lightness and agility. Only the two skaters going on and, in the dim light broke the silence, they were even able to look and smile at each other. The whole winter had passed in the icy New England. Now it wasn’t difficult to bear the less sharp cold, a signal of spring approach in New Hampshire.
Several times, she had been told not to skate on the iced river, where in the past fatal accidents occurred, especially at winter season ending. The Merrimack had swallowed some boys and, at best, they found their bodies, after the thaw, many miles downstream to the Ocean. Diana, however, preferred to listen to Jenny and picked a spot on the river icy surface where, beating with skates, they delimited an area that appeared solid and secure. Besides, the only ice skating rink was on the other side of the woods, obtained by freezing the large swimming pool water. It was easy to get lost in the scrub forest during frequent snowstorms.
─ Jenny, do you think it's time to go?
─ No Diana, please, only five more minutes, I promise!
Her friend was never happy to return. She would find an alcoholic mother and a violent stepfather. On the contrary, Diana felt that it was really time to go home. She was sure her maternal grandfather was anxiously waiting for her, in the house where she figured a warm smell of soup and desserts was already spreading. She decided, anyway, to please Jenny, another five minutes weren’t much. In those last moments, she wanted to reach, with a generous impulse, the boundary of the safe perimeter they had drawn, a last thrill before returning. While she was lightly sliding, she heard a thud below the ice, curbed up and realized that, at that point, the ice plate was thinner and was giving way. She shivered, stood still; every movement could have been fatal. Suddenly she realized it was almost dark, the ice beneath her feet couldn’t stand and she would be floated below. She had the only strength to bend her head forward and to look beneath the surface. As she feared, she could guess the water moving and clearly felt that something bumped the ice thin layer. Her eyes dilated in the incoming dark and carefully observed what was happening. It seemed an object, no, it was a dark form carried slowly by the current, and looking closer, what had hit the surface was one hand outstretched as asking for help! The dark shadow passed slowly beneath her and slipped, revealing the shape of a head and a swollen body. If the ice plate broke, that corpse would swallow her up, carrying her away. It would have dragged her along into the deep darkness of the river.
─ Jeeennnny! ─ She shouted loudly and began to run, planting her skates on the ice that, under the blows, drew spooky cobwebs.
─ Diana, what is it? ─ Her friend asked alarmed. Now she had no time and energy to talk, her feet were wet with cold water and she felt she was surely going to die under New Hampshire ice. << Move fast >> she thought dragging her steps forward << more quickly to survive! >>. In the distance she could hear Jenny’s scream, for she finally realized what was happening. The skates were now weights that would have dragged Diana down, but were still her only and last means of anchor.
─ Jenny, run, help me! ─ Her friend seemed paralyzed and numb, but suddenly woke up, skating at full speed toward her. She tried to pull up a few feet, holding out her hands. Diana understood that Jenny couldn’t reach closer; otherwise, she would have sunk into darkness too. Two or three steps more and she could clutch Jenny’s hands, but if the ice continued breaking up, she wasn’t going to make it.

Everything now seemed to be part of a reality, which she would no longer belong. Few centimeters had become an insurmountable distance, through which her young life would dissolve, and she was feeling too tired to overcome it. Despair and terror took possession of her. The cold water had reached her legs and their movements did not meet the febrile commands that she was trying to send them. Jenny's hand was almost there, but she would never reach it, while she already felt sucked into the icy water. Now with her body thrown backwards, she was aware the end was coming.
─ No Diana, you can do it! Take my hand! ─ Jenny shouted desperately, advancing another step. Something in that piercing cry made Diana move her petrified legs. She felt that, at that point, the ice sheet became stronger and finally could hold her. She pointed the skate, felt Jenny grabbing her hands and bringing her finally in safe. Jenny was exhausted and dragged her like a sack on the ice to the river’s shore. The cold water seemed to have reached even Diana’s bones. She began to tremble like a fragile leaf.
─ Damn you, Diana, didn’t you know where the safe limit was? ─ Diana was slowly catching her breath. On the dry land, Jenny took her skates off and then began to remove also her friends’, who seemed unable to make even a single movement.
─ Jenny ... ─ Diana tried to articulate the words, but now it seemed impossible to think in English, a language that did not belong to her. She strongly tried and translated what she had to tell.
─ Jenny, you'll never believe what I saw! ─ Her friend was putting on the snow boots with useful Snowshoeing, and was struggling quite a bit.
─ What have you ever seen? Maybe the death sitting near you? ─ She tried to joke.
─ No! ─ Diana said ─ I saw a body sliding under the icy surface! It was a body... ─ she felt afraid even to pronounce the word ... ─ it was dead and bloated! We have to tell my mother, we have to call police! ─ Jenny opened her mouth and sat down exhausted.
─ It's almost night Diana, who knows what have you seen, with the terror on you! Do you want to tell everybody; maybe you're stupid? We were skating where they forbidden us to do, if my stepfather comes to know it, he will surely kill me! No, I will never say I was here with you, everyone will believe you a liar or worse, a crazy nut! Diana deemed that her friend was right. She would be punished too, now that spring was beginning and lacked so little time to her return to Italy.
Jenny looked at her firmly:
─ Believe me, I know this place very well, I was born here. Everyone prefers to know only what is allowed to. It’s much better to forget what you have seen, if you really saw it. Let's stop here with this story and let’s go home! ─ It was true; better warm up for not freezing to death.

                                                            ***
Don’t look at me with those wide-open eyes! I don’t feel any compassion and you should know that. You wiggled too much, while slipping into the icy water. I had the power to decide about your meaningless life and you’ll never understand what is the burst that crosses mind and limbs of the one able to kill. Your hand in search of safety, your eyes without any courage in front of death. It wasn’t the first time for me to kill, but don't deceive yourself thinking I did it for you. This time I killed only because of her blue eyes.

                                                             ***


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