*Note: This story's not actually about my character Kaid persay...I just found it easier to write this pretending that I was writing about one of my well-developed characters, so I called this guy Kaid. Interpret it as you will.
October 7th, 2003 6:42am. It was a chilly morning at Prior Lake, Minnesota. That was what anyone else would say if asked about the state of the day. Kaid didn’t need to ask, not that such a response would mean much to him anyway. Days changed, time changed, places changed, it was all just a relative system designed by a society that couldn’t stand to live without structure. Kaid didn’t need a clock or a calendar to dictate his life. He could tell the time and season by the sun, the tint of the sky, the taste, smell, and feel of the air. And in his opinion, these things always said much more than a time and date. October 7th, 6:42am wouldn’t tell anyone that the best time to visit the lake was in the morning. But then again, these days no one was really concerned with things of that sort. Unless the “best time to visit the lake” meant the best finish hour, best boating and waterskiing season, or the best time to sit out in the sun and get a tan, no one was concerned with really knowing what the “best time” was. To Kaid it was most certainly none of these things. To Kaid it was the way the air smelled as the sun slowly warmed the air and melted last night’s frost from the ground. It was the way the lake glistened as the pale light of morning hit the water at just the right angle. To Kaid it was the perfect silence of these early hours that wasn’t really silence at all but the sounds of nature no one bothered to listen to. Perhaps this was why people rarely visited the lake at this hour, not that many people visited it this season either. By October, the summer’s heat and humidity had died away, replaced by the icy chill of approaching winter. The water-skiers, swimmers, boaters, and beach-loving children wouldn’t be seen again until next summer, leaving to make way for the winter crowd. However, with no snowfall yet, the ice fishermen, skaters, and young snowman-builders had nothing here for them either. This was part of the reason Kaid loved this time of year. The seasonal limbo provided him with a single rare moment of peace where the lake remained perfect and pristine, nature uninterrupted by noisy thrill-seekers.
Still, Kaid too had been one of those people once. In the summer, as a child he had played on the beach, hunting for leopard frogs and toads in the tall grass, and trying to catch the little turtles that darted in and out of the sand when the tide came in. He’d catch a few now and then, and keep them in a bucket as his pets for the day, naming them all and assigning each of them a unique personality and back-story. He’d watch them and play with them until it was time to leave, and then he’d empty his bucket back into the lake, promising he’d see them again next time he visited. When winter came and his animal friends were hidden or hibernating to escape the bitter cold, he’d build snowmen with his friends along the shore, competing to see who could build the biggest, or sometimes challenging each other to build different things like dogs or even little snow houses. Kaid’s favorite snow creation had been a little castle, complete with spindly icy towers and a little frozen moat. He and his friends had then proceeded to act out the most terrifying blizzard of the century, in which the grand fortress had been reduced to a pile of snowy rubble, only to be replaced by an even grander arctic structure the next day.
As he grew older, childish games had given way to new pastimes at the lake. He remembered the summers spent fishing with his father on the dock, and how his mother taught him to swim and helped him to overcome his fear of the snapping turtles that roamed the lake, until he loved exploring those murky depths and challenging his friends to see who could swim the farthest or the deepest. Winter pastimes changed from snow-sculpture to snowball fights and ice staking. And then, when he was a teenager, his best friend had taught him how to water-ski, and they’d spent many long hours speeding around the lake with boat and skis, laughing whenever one or the other fell off. When they couldn’t water-ski in the winter, the teenage boys would find new challenges. Games of chicken were a favorite. They’d dare each other to walk far out onto the ice, seeing who would loose their nerve first. It was usually Kaid who lost. He’d never liked the game much.
His reminiscing was suddenly broken by the laughter of children. He searched for the source of the sound, wondering if perhaps others had discovered the beauty of the lake this time of year as well. Four children were running through the cold sand, yelling and laughing with each other. They stopped a short ways from the water, and one of them reached down to retrieve a white round object from the damp sand, and then the all promptly turned and left. Just a morning baseball game interrupted when their ball had rolled down the hill towards the lake. Kaid watched them as they made their way back up the hill and out of sight, carrying their energy and laughter with them and once again leaving the lake in still silence. Kaid sighed, it really did seem like the good old days were gone. This was no longer the lake he’d known as a child. It seemed all but forgotten in the chilly fall between the busy seasons, with only the occasional visitor, betrayed by faint scattered footprints in the sand, or more often than not these days, harsh tire tracks made by those too lazy to walk to the far ends of the shore. The peaceful lakeside community had changed, grown, been replaced by noisy city dwellers with their cell phones and expensive cars and boats and designer clothes. Wealthy families who snatched up summer homes in the quaint little community so they could have their boating, water sports, tanning, and the statement that they spent the summer “out in nature,” to impress their friends, only to abandon it in the winter to the few aloof ice fishermen camped out on the ice who hadn’t yet given up those “good old days.”
Kaid turned his attention back to the lake, watching as the small waves lapped at the shore. The water’s tranquil surface was now dotted with tiny ripples and Kaid wondered if it had begun to rain. He looked up at the sky to see not rain but little snowflakes, the first snowfall of the year. The seasonal limbo was ending and Kaid’s peaceful reverie would soon be broken by the lake’s noisy winter crowd. He probably only had a few weeks left before the snowfall was thick enough to attract the attention of the children, and a few more before the lake’s surface would freeze, inviting the ice fishermen to begin their work, while the local teenagers raced out onto the frozen sheet to play their bold games of testing nature’s limits.
Kaid remembered well the last winter he’d spent at the lake as a teenager. He’d received an especially brutal teasing that day from the other, more daring kids. Generally he’d never thought their foolishness warranted any congratulation, and he saw his cowardice more as common sense. As he’d grown older, the games had seemed more and more idiotic. He’d used to gripe and roll his eyes when his mother scolded him for joining in, but adolescent pride had eventually given way to maturity and intelligence. He’d spent more time at the lake than any of his friends, he knew the dangers of the ice and he knew the lake had much more to offer if people would only stop to look for it. So generally those days he’d gracefully declined offers to go out onto the ice, ignored the taunts of the other kids, and kept to himself enjoying his newfound (or perhaps rediscovered) appreciation for the simpler pleasures the lake offered. He’d spent many long hours sitting out on the dock, writing, thinking, or sometimes just thoroughly immersing himself in his surroundings and enjoying the quiet winter landscape. He really enjoyed those peaceful winter days, he never really minded the time by himself. Which is why he often wondered just what had been different that one day, when he’d abandoned his lonesome post at the dock to join his old friends out on the ice. Something struck him that day. He’d walked down to the lake with some strange desire to prove himself. He would be leaving his lifelong hometown for college soon, and at some point during his thinking that day, he’d decided he didn’t like the idea of just quietly drifting away and being forgotten. He’d seen his old friends out there on the ice and decided that somehow he needed to leave an impression on this place, somehow he needed to make sure he left here with something to remember, and to be remembered by. He needed a way to ensure he’d never loose his connection with this place he’d grown up in. Of all the options available, the ice games seemed the clearest at the time. So he left the dock and walked to the south shore where his friends were gathered, stopping at the shore. No one noticed him at first, then he spoke up.
“Hey guys, mind if I join in? Y’know, one more time just for old time’s sake.” Some of the other boys seemed happy to see him, while others just snickered and whispered to each other. This only gave Kaid more confidence. They were expecting him to hang around the sidelines, taking a few safe steps onto the thick patches of ice guaranteed not to even splinter. Well, he intended to surprise them.
“So Kaid, you gonna take an extra step or two for us? Leave us all with something to really remember? Maybe you’ll even get two feet away from the shore this time!” one of the boys jeered. Kaid said nothing and stepped onto the ice. Several of the other kids clapped and cheered with mock amazement. Kaid began walking, still safe on the thick ice. He was a few feet away from shore now, the sheet beneath his feet still steady and firm. He reached the point he generally stopped at, and kept walking. Some of the other kids whistled and clapped, expecting those few extra steps to be as far as this went. But it wasn’t, Kaid kept walking. He walked and walked, a firm look of determination on his face, until he reached the middle of the lake, where he stopped and turned around. He was pleased to see the stunned expressions on the faces of his friends. He’d made it father than any of them had, he’d certainly left an impression. He would leave here, not as the quiet, shy boy who was too afraid to take a single risk, but as a brave youth who faced a challenge without hesitation. The stunned silence of his friends was broken with cheers and clapping, this time not in jest. He began his slow, careful trek back towards shore to receive their words of congratulation and the respect they’d never given him. He picked up his pace, smiling, proud of his victory. All he could think of was how good it felt to finally accomplish something to be proud of, to be remembered by. He didn’t really have time to react when his next step didn’t end when his foot reached the ice’s surface. He didn’t even have a chance to speak or yell as the thin sheet swiftly splintered under his weight and his legs plunged into the icy water beneath. His only reaction was stunned silence at how suddenly his moment of glory had so quickly crumbled. The cold water bit at his skin like a thousand knives until he couldn’t even feel his limbs. His head felt sluggish as it sunk beneath the surface, the rushing of icy water drowning out the now panicked cries of his friends as he slipped beneath the ice. He thought he could vaguely hear them arguing about what to do, one calling to another, insisting they go get help, a group yelling as two of the boys decided to rush out onto the ice to help Kaid. But none of it really mattered, he thought. None of it seemed important as he felt himself sinking into the thick, murky blanket of cold. All Kaid could think of was his little dock, where he’d spent so many days just sitting and enjoying the happiness the lake had to offer. He wanted to be there now, on the dock. It was warmer there, brighter too. He should have stayed there, he had everything he needed there, he didn’t understand what had been so important to warrant leaving in the first place. When he got out of here, he promised himself, he’d not take that dock for granted anymore, every time he visited the lake, he’d go to his little dock, and stay there, and be happy, and not need anything else. He thought he could hear the faint sound of the waves beating gently against the dock in the summertime and he smiled to himself the darkness pulled him in.
Kaid’s thoughts returned to the present, and he shivered slightly with the memory of that day. He’d never walked out on the ice again. He’d kept his promise. In fact he’d visited that dock almost every day for the past fifty years. He’d watched the lake change, the people come and go, he’d sit there and think and dream the way he used to. But time changed, places changed. The lake changed. Kaid looked down at the water, his gaze following the little specks of sunlight that dotted its surface. His eyes fell on a spot a little ways offshore. That was the spot he used to call his own. The spot where his dock used to be. The dock was gone now. It had grown old, rotted, broken down. It was considered unsafe for use and had been removed. No one really visited this part of the lake anymore anyway. It was too quiet, too peaceful, not exciting enough for the visitors of the fast-paced present. It had been forgotten, just like the old dock. It had been forgotten, just like Kaid. A boy who had taken too long to realize that he’d been looking for his connection to his past in the wrong place. A boy who had chosen reckless glory over the things that had really mattered. A boy who had loved and understood this lake in a way no one else could. The memories of people who knew that boy would fade, with all the rest of the memories of this place. But Kaid would remember. He would always remember. He’d made a promise to himself that he intended to keep. This little spot of the lake was his now, even if no one else wanted it. He would keep its memory alive by never again losing sight of what really mattered. His connection with the lake was all he needed. He didn’t need the attention of friends, or the grandeur of silly teenage games. He had already left his mark on this lake by the time he’d spent here, the memories he’d made here, and as long as he still had that, that connection would never fade.
He turned away from the lake, walked away from the shore. Leaving its peace and beauty untouched. He preferred it that way. He hadn’t disrupted its serene beauty since that terrible day on the ice. As he disappeared into the distance, the lake was once again left alone, an untouched relic of the past, remembered only by a single daily visitor who no longer left footprints in the sand.