This is one of my short stories from a while ago. I thought it would be fun to revise it and bring it back into the world.
Early that afternoon the weather had gone from sunny with a cool breeze to completely unbearable. At around noon it seemed every whisper of cool air that had previously blown through the trees had completely vanished, leaving in its place a dreadful stagnant clamminess that clung to clothing and made lungs ache. That morning, Emma had overheard two of the counselors talking about how a massive heat wave had hit the east coast. One of them said it was heat that could put people out of their right mind. All the land sports scheduled for that afternoon had been cancelled, and every camper in camp Tsylatac was being forced to do mandatory half hour long swimming rotations in the lake.
Emma was assigned to be swimming buddies with Jane, which she was sort of happy about, even though she didn’t like Jane. She was weird and unpopular but it was better then having to impress anybody. They were assigned to rotation three, and rotation two still had ten minutes left in the water. They filled up their water bottles from the pipe behind the sailing shed, the one everyone knew was the coldest, and found a long triangle of shade behind a rigged sailboat that had been pulled up onto the beach and abandoned, still tied to the dolly. Emma wondered who would even bother rigging a sailboat on a flat, windless day like this.
Jane talked on and on about camp, and her unwavering love for it. She wanted to go since the first grade, and had been promised every summer since then that she would be able to. Now it was the summer before fifth grade and that promise had finally been recognized. She complained to Emma about her small town that bored her, her strict catholic school where she had to walk down the hallway in a prissy, silent line and wear stockings that itched, even in the summer months. Her biggest complaints, however, were about her three older brothers, who she said treated her like a girl and not a person. Emma found Jane extremely annoying. Emma loved her small town. She loved her public neighborhood school where she could wear whatever she wanted. She loved that her three best friends lived right on her road. She also thought about how much she would have loved to have three older brothers, because she only had a younger sister, Lauren, who was two and no fun at all. And Emma detested camp. She had been looking foreword to another summer of sleeping late, watching television and going to the pool club with her neighbors. When her mother announced she would be going to camp, her meticulously crafted routine crumbled around her. Her mother argued that it would help her “build character,” and meet new friends besides just the neighborhood kids. “You need perspective” her mother had said. “You need some independence.” Her mother had driven her to the mall to get a trunk and clothes for camp. At the trunk store, her mother traced her fingertips along the top of a navy blue one with brass buckles and murmured something about it looking just like the one she had when she was Emma’s age. That night, Emma watched Barbie’s Princess Adventure in the downstairs den with Lauren while her mother was up in the girl’s bedroom, packing Emma’s trunk alone.
* * *
Emma and Jane stood on the dock side by side, waiting to be let into the lake. Emma thought that if they did not blow the third rotation whistle soon, she would for sure pass out. Then they would have to send her home. She realized she was still wearing her shorts, which made her bad mood worse, because they were about to go swimming after this long wait, and the thought of running back to the cabin to put them away in this heat made her want to throw up. She stuck her hand in her pocket and ran her fingers over the ankle bracelet she had spent all week in macramé workshop making. The colors she used were supposed to symbolize courage to some sort of Native American tribe. Navajo, maybe, or Cheyenne. She couldn’t remember.
When the third rotation whistle finally blew, Emma and Jane walked to the end of the dock. A short girl with a blond ponytail and a red lifeguard tank top was holding a clipboard, taking down the names of all the buddy pairs. She had a silver whistle around her neck and looked no older than sixteen. She glared down at Emma and Jane.
“I’m Kayla.” she said, deadpan and miserable. “Stay near your buddy at all times and don’t get out of the water unless there’s and emergency.”
While swimming, Emma’s mood worsened. The sun was so hot it made the lake feel like bath water, making the long wait to swim disgustingly anticlimactic. She floated on her back in the warm murky water and tried to imagine she was home with her friends at the pool club.
“Emma!” Jane called, “Emma come here! I found a cold spot!” Emma swam to her slowly, thinking how stupid Jane had to be to think there could be “spots” of varying temperature in one small lake. But sure enough, the spot Jane had chosen was significantly cooler than where Emma had been.
“I love finding the cold spots” Jane said quietly to Emma. “In science class we were talking about how in oceans, there can be spots where the temperature of the water changes. My teacher was saying it could be a lot of different things. Like, maybe there’s a spot that’s shallower or deeper then anywhere else. Or maybe there’s a spot that doesn’t have as much sunlight hitting it, like it’s directly under a cloud or something. A tiny spot the sunlight can’t find. Pockets, I think they’re called. Temperature pockets. They are like little secrets hiding in the big ocean-“
“Yeah. Okay” Emma said. “Except this is not the ocean. And there’s not one cloud in the sky today, and this whole lake’s pretty deep, so I don’t think it is any of those things. It’s probably just a mirage. I heard someone today saying that the heat makes us all crazy.” Emma swam away. She wanted to be alone. Jane looked pained, and Emma knew she had been short with her, but it was Jane’s fault for being so annoying and not even realizing it.
Ten minutes later, Kayla blew the whistle for buddy check. Emma awakened from her daydream and looked for Jane. None of the smiling bobbing faces were hers. Maybe she just dunked under, Emma thought. So she waited for Jane to pop up. A minute went by. Nothing. Emma’s annoyance was quickly being replaced with consuming fear. In a minute she went from burning hot to freezing cold. The were goosebumps on her skin and she was sweating ice.
“Jane!” she yelled. Nobody turned around. “JANE!” Kayla was on her cell phone. Emma yelled once more but nobody was paying attention to her. She needed to get out of the lake and run. She hoisted herself onto the dock and tore off.
“Hey!” she heard Kayla yell after her. “ Your times not up yet! Where are you going! Where is your buddy? Oh my God. Where is she?” Emma heard someone scream something to Kayla, and as Emma put more distance between herself and the dock, the last thing she could hear was Kayla frantically ordering everyone out of the water. Quickly, Kayla was saying, move as quickly as you can, somebody’s missing.
Emma ran until she came upon the boathouse. The sailboat was still there, pulled up onto the beach. Emma crawled behind it and lay perfectly still within the triangle of shade the sail made on the sand. She heard the faint sound of ambulance sirens down the main camp road. She put her hand in her pocket. Her bracelet had fallen out. She squeezed her eyes shut and thought about how she wanted to stay in the little triangle of shade forever. She thought back to Jane’s story about the temperature pockets in the ocean, and wondered if there was something like that on land, too. A little spot in the world where not even the sun could find you, that swallows you up and makes you disappear forever.