She was gone.
Barbara wasn’t near the pond; she was nowhere to be seen. The yelling from the pond had ceased once more, and the only sounds came from the blowing of the wind, and the creak of the old mill above him. Frank looked around again, frantically searching for clues to where she had gone to, but saw nothing. Nothing around him but white snow and the pond, which lay almost perfectly still, as if made of glass.
He had seen her, hadn’t he? She was right there…right near the water’s edge. He saw her in her summer dress, standing exactly where he now stood, but there were no footprints in the white snow; no indication that anybody had stood there except him. He shook his head and turned around again, hoping to see her leaning up against the old oak tree and smiling at him, the way she used to…but there was nobody there.
Could he have imagined her? Could he have imaged all of it? The voices and the screaming and Barbara…could they all be tricks that his mind was playing on him? Was it possible that he was losing his sanity, as so many people in town said?
He looked up at the old mill once more, as if searching for answers in the old stone and wood. His eyes stopped at every window; every hole in the wall, searching. He was not even sure what he was hoping to see up there; he just knew that he hasn’t going crazy. She was here, dammit. He saw her, clear as day…he hadn’t imagined it.
Defeated, he heaved a deep sigh and turned back towards the water. It shone back at him, reflecting the rays of the sun in a brightly lit pattern that hurt his eyes. He started to look away, intent on heading back up to his old piece of fence to try and figure out exactly what had transpired here today…when something under the surface of the water caught his eye. It flowed beneath the surface, near the middle of the water. It seemed to be swimming…no, it was floating. The yellow hue of color beneath the water was darkened by the depth of the pond, and the murkiness of the water inside it. Frank squinted, and stared at the floating object with curiosity…what was it?
He began to walk along the bank of the pond, never taking his eyes off of the strange, floating thing under the water…it almost looked like some type of plant, but it was much too large to be something as simple as a leaf. The wind began to blow harder, and the chill was beginning to creep up his legs, and into his belly. He began to shiver, and crossed his arms over his chest as he walked along the pond, staring out into the watery depths. Then, almost in slow motion it seemed, something began to emerge out of the water where Frank was staring. It was straw, or something like straw, anyway. It was black and shiny, and matted together in large clumps as it rose from beneath the surface of the pond. Strands of it stretched out over the water, and rose along with rest of the head…
Oh my God, it was a head…a person’s head? Somebody was coming up from under the water! Frank’s eyes widened, and he shut his eyes tightly and shook his head. Was he really seeing this? Who would be in the water? There wasn’t anybody around for miles…
He jerked open his eyes as the realization hit him: Barbara was in the pond. That’s where she had gone to! Without another moment’s hesitation, Frank plunged himself into the icy cold pond and began to trudge towards the center of the pond; towards Barbara. The water stung his legs and feet, and with each step the level rose higher and higher, until he was almost treading water. Each time his hands entered the water, it felt like daggers piercing his skin, and he could feel his legs beginning to go numb from the cold…but he had to keep going. Just a little further, and he was there. He could see her head more clearly now, and it was definitely her…the grey streaks were much more evident, now that he was level with her in the water. He called out to her to hold on, as he waded as fast as he could, which he knew was not very fast, indeed.
He could no longer feel the soft earth beneath him, and was now swimming out into the middle of the pond, as his teeth chattered and his arms grew tight. He knew he couldn’t swim very long in the water; it was too cold. Already, his legs were almost completely numb, and though he tried to kick them harder, it felt as though weights were attached to his ankles, dragging him under. Still, he kicked more and more, and drew his arms through the water, swimming in the frigid cold liquid towards his goal. He tried to call out to her again, but water sloshed into his mouth and choked him. He spat it out, and kept swimming; kept swimming out into the water, as the waves he was now making splashed into his face and over his head.
He could see she was only a few feet away now, her head turned around facing the other way. He couldn’t see her arms…was she treading water? Oh God, was she even alive? He quickened his stroke, and kicked his stiff legs more frantically than ever.
Just a few more feet…
When he was almost able to grasp her, her head suddenly sank back beneath the surface of the pond, as was gone. Bubbles popped up in its place, and Frank heard the unmistakable sounds of something sinking.