The Hole in My Heart Yearns Only for You

She had never understood why her family liked visiting the lake. The air was always too cold, mist constantly blowing off the rocks and stinging her eyes. The pine trees reminded her of a chain-link fence, pinning her in on all sides, jutting so high into the sky that there was surely no chance of escape. And then there was the lake itself. Its frigid, clear water lapped at the sharp gravel of the shore, rolling it back into the depths of its vast, dark body. It always seemed to her as though the lake were hungry.


“Lord, I’ve missed this place!” Her mother sprung out of the car and twirled, throwing her head to the sky as she breathed deeply in the crisp fall air. Her dad made some comment about the traffic on the way up, and her brother grunted, eyes glued to his phone. Maya remained silent. They knew she hated this—she had brought it up before, multiple times—but they dismissed her concerns, waving them away with “the importance of family bonding” and “when you’re older, you’ll wish you appreciated this opportunity.” So here they all were, standing together in the driveway of their house on the lake.

Her dad fumbled in his pocket for the keys as her mother continued her slow spin toward the door. Maya drew her jacket around herself and shivered. The weather wasn’t like this back home—they were too far south, and the cold hadn’t hit there yet—but here she could feel every degree below room temperature as it crept in around her face, wrists, and ankles. And wherever she turned, the lake hung in the corner of her vision, reflecting the light in just such a way that she could never ignore it. She pulled herself tighter.

Finally her dad opened the door, and she hurried inside behind her mother. While her parents concerned themselves with the contents of the kitchen, Maya retreated to her usual bedroom in the corner. She dropped her backpack down onto the rough wooden table, pulled out a book, and began to read.


That night it rained. Her bedroom had a window that stretched across half the wall, and huge droplets splattered up against it like machine gun fire. The curtains had long since been eaten away by moths and old age. “It’s fine,” her mother had said, “nobody else ever comes here! You don’t really need privacy from a couple of deer, do you?” But now, with lightning splitting the sky in half and illuminating the lake outside, she would have given anything for some small layer of protection.


The lake was full the next morning, its shores swelling with newly-fallen rain. She sat, clutching her legs with her hands, on the edge as her dad and brother cast long lines into its body, her mother choosing to lay back and listen to music. They wouldn’t catch anything, Maya knew; she couldn’t imagine there was a single fish in the world that would call this place home. Her dad would always say he felt a tug, but when he reeled it in there would be nothing, and the tiny worm he used as bait would be gone. “Just missed her,” he would say, “just gotta give it another try. She’s a sharp one, you know, but we’ll get her.” Her brother never took his eyes off his phone, neither Maya nor her mother were invested in this activity; he was clearly just speaking to reassure himself.


In the night it rained again, somehow even harder than before, so hard she worried the glass might shatter under its onslaught. The thunder formed a continuous drum-beat, swelling and crashing in an orchestral tempo, and the bursts of lightning shone even brighter than the days’ overcast sunlight. Maya stood at the window, glaring at the lake, daring it to stop this madness, but it was unrelenting. The lightning flashed, then vanished, and it was just her, the window, and her reflection, lingering a little too long in her vision.


“You don’t feel it?” she had asked her mother one day, determined to break the silence between them.

“Hmm? Feel what?” Her mother barely looked up from her crossword.

“The lake. It’s… I don’t know. It always seems so… I don’t feel like we should be there.”

“You’re being silly. You’ll have fun. You always do.” Her mother tapped another word into her tablet.

“I don’t know. Sorry I bothered you.”


Their swimsuits were all laid out in the living room. “We’re going canoeing!” her dad announced, seemingly proud of himself for coming up with the idea. Outside, the canoes were already halfway in the water, rocking gently in the lake’s tiny waves. The vessel rocked as Maya stepped in, sliding slightly down into the water before her mother grabbed it and got in herself. Out on the lake, the air was still, and there was barely a sound beyond the quiet splashes of oar in water. The surface pulled back at her as she paddled, and when she yanked the oar up from the water it stuck a little, like the lake didn’t want to let go. She kept her eyes on the horizon, not wanting to look down into the empty depths, not wanting to see the void below her.


Through the downpour that night, Maya could see something in the darkness. Either sitting on the shore, or half-submerged in the lake, was a figure, just a smear but ever-so-slightly darker than its surroundings. When the lightning flashed, it would disappear, only to return with the darkness, growing more and more defined as the night grew later and the rain grew heavier. She tossed and turned in bed, but no matter which way she tried to settle it was there, always lingering just on the edge of her vision. She didn’t like that it was out there, watching her through the window, waiting for her to make a move. She didn’t like that it felt familiar.


There was hardly any wildlife at the lake, just splintery trees, dead grass, and vast fields of rock leading down to its shores. She had only ever seen an animal drink from it once. It was a deer, small and frail, its legs twisted out of shape and bending in ways they shouldn’t, and it leaned down and gulped desperately, the frigid water bloating its stomach. The next day she found its body, crumpled up and discarded deep among the trees, its body mangled but unmistakably the same creature. There was no blood, just fur and bone, and there was no water.


When it finally came time to swim, Maya rejected the idea wholeheartedly: “It’s too cold.” Of course that wasn’t the real reason; she enjoyed the occasional cool shower and knew the temperature wouldn’t bother her. But if she submerged herself in the lake, she knew it would wrap itself around her, dragging her down into the depths, and it would never let go. No amount of parental nagging or familial obligation could convince her to enter those waters. She returned to her room and slammed the door just as her parents were dragging her brother outside. She buried her face in a book and tried her best not to look out the window.


The rain lasted long into the night, the noise of water against glass so loud that she couldn’t sleep. The figure was there again, fully distinct now, the shape of a person traced out against the lake. It didn’t move, just stood there and watched, until finally she couldn’t take it anymore.

“WHAT DO YOU WANT?” she screamed. She didn’t care if she woke her family. She didn’t even know if they had returned, or if the lake had taken them like it would her.

The figure didn’t move.

She slammed the window. “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?” No response.

That was it. She knew what she had to do now. She didn’t even bother grabbing her shoes as she stomped outside and into the pouring rain.

It was still there. She had known it would be. In the darkness, the form of a girl, cutting through the sheets of rain and glaring into her eyes. She walked up to it, rain sloughing off her shoulders and sharp rocks cutting into her feet. “Why?”

“You know why.” The voice echoed through her head, her own voice but not, like it was speaking from the other side of a telephone or the bottom of a well. “You know what you have to do.”

“You’re empty.” The lake was nothing, a missing space where something should have been, and only she could fit inside. That was why she kept coming back despite herself, why every moment she was here she felt herself drawn toward it. It needed her. She needed to fill it.

For a moment the figure was illuminated, its face her own, stretched wide in a grin of complete satisfaction. Then it was gone. She stepped forward, feet trembling as her toes entered the water, cold liquid wrapping around her feet, moving deeper and deeper, water running up her legs, engulfing her, and she submerged herself in the lake, seeing for the first time the hole at its heart, yearning only for her.


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