Crying out, he dove under the surface of the pond, arms outstretched and searching. He pulled his arms through the water, and dove deeper and deeper down into the cold blackness; blindly grabbing the shadows, searching for any sign of Barbara. The water around him was growing darker, and the cold had now fully seized his limbs; he was barely making progress, now. He turned his head up towards the surface and began to kick towards the air, but saw nothing above him but black. He was turned around. Panicking, Frank turned to his right, and then to his left. Nothing but darkness surrounded him, as if all the lights in the world had suddenly been shut off. His lungs were burning; he couldn’t hold his breath much longer. Frantically, he tried to swim in another direction, searching for any signs of light from the surface of the pond. He could feel the cold water on his eyes, as they opened and closed, but he could not even see his own hands in front of him.
He was too deep, oh no he was too deep and he couldn’t find the surface anymore. Where was Barbara? Had he swam the wrong way to save her? He turned again, and headed in what felt like “up” to him. His lungs were burning harder now, and his heart was pounding in his chest so loud, he was sure the sound was echoing throughout the water in vibrations that would cause ripples on the surface.
He kept kicking, praying that any moment, he would see the sun shining down through the water and know that he was safe. He kept blinking his eyes and pushing the water in front of him, trying to gain some type of speed, though this proved to be difficult, since his legs were now so numb, they might as well have been anchored to the ground with chains.
As Frank began to believe that this was where he was going to die, drowned in the small pond by his mill, he saw above him very faint traces of…light. Light! He had chosen the correct direction to swim, after all! There was the surface, directly ahead of him, not very far away, maybe twelve feet. He rushed himself towards the soft yellow and white glow, a feeling of relief washing over him as he grew nearer and nearer to the sunlit salvation above him. He kicked his feet faster and faster as he drew close to the pond’s shiny surface. He was almost there….almost about to break free of his watery prison and breathe again. He reached out his hands, ready to make one last pull out of the water, when he felt a sharp pain run trough his fingers, and down his hand. He yelped under the water, a muffled cry of pain that almost sounded comical. Not caring what he had struck his hands on, he pushed towards the surface again…only to feel his head bang against something hard, like a ceiling. He thrust his hand out in front of him instinctively, and felt a hard, cold surface above him.
The pond’s surface was frozen over…but how could that be? He was just on the surface, swimming…there was no ice anywhere around him. Surely, it could not have gotten that cold, so quickly?
His lungs were burning harder, now. They begged to be free of the water, to swallow in oxygen again. His heart pounded still louder in his chest. He began to beat his hands against the bottom of the ice, trying to make a hole. He pounded as hard as he could, his hands smacking the jagged ice with as much force as a man could muster underwater, and in some places the ice was so sharp it began cutting into his knuckles and skin. His blood began to form a smoky red haze around him, yet he continued to hit the ice and try to break free from his watery coffin. Finally, he heard a loud crack and he knew that the ice above him had begun to give way. He pushed hard with his hands, and in a Herculean effort he broke away a chunk of the ice ceiling, and was able to shove his head through, into the open air above.
He let out a gasp, as if he were exhaling and inhaling at the same precise moment. He felt the hotness leave his chest and face, felt himself relaxing again. He took another deep breath, and then another. Soon he felt normal again, and began to realize that only his face was out of the water; the rest of him was still trapped below the layer of ice. He tried to pound again on the ice, but his arms had begun to go limp from the cold water, and the loss of blood in his hands. He began to scream for help, a cry of need and distress that only a man in a desperate situation could attain; a cry of sheer panic and fear. He yelled and yelled, and began to beat his head on the side of the ice, hoping to make a larger hole for him to escape from. The ice caused stabs of pain in his temple as he tried to jar loose one more piece; then suddenly he felt a small explosion of pain on the left side of his head, and then a feeling of warm began to envelop his neck and chest, and he knew he had cut his head open on a piece of sharp, jagged ice. As his own blood flowed around him, he cried even louder and begged that somebody could hear him as he pushed and pushed at the heavy ice that held him captive.
Suddenly he heard a cracking behind him, and then another crack…and then another. The ice was breaking! He was doing it! He pushed harder, but soon realized then that the sounds he heard were not the ice breaking, but footsteps. Somebody was walking on the ice, and they were walking towards him. He yelled for help and tried to crane his neck around, to see his savior. Then his eyes fell on her face, and he smiled. It was Barbara, she was safe! She was staring down at him, and smiling. He smiled back and thanked God that she was here now to save him. Then, she turned and started walking back to the edge of the pond, her yellow summer dress blowing in the wind.
Where was she going? Was she going to get help? Perhaps a large branch to help break the ice around him? He called out to her, but she did not respond. He could no longer see her, and panic set in once more, as he yelled again for her help and began to scream.
Then, he heard it.
A soft sound, it carried to him in waves. It grew louder, and louder as he listened, and he slowly began to realize it was laughter. He turned his head once more, and saw Barbara standing on the edge of the pond, staring at him and laughing. Her hands were folded over her chest, and her eyes burned with hatred. He could see the maniacal glee in her eyes and she watched him struggling beneath the ice, helpless.
He began to scream again, and then stopped suddenly as a realization stuck him that was almost as horrible as the icy water he was trapped in. He stared into Barbara’s eyes, searching for pity or forgiveness, but finding none. She stared back at him, and
without another sound, she turned around and walked back to the mill, her hair blowing behind her.
* * *
That was how they had found Frank Sutherland; frozen and lifeless, floating in that pond in a pool of red blood. Nobody could figure what had happened to old Frank, or how he had fallen into the pond in the first place. When they pulled him out of the water, they saw all kinds of marks and gashes on his hands and face, but couldn’t come up with an explanation as to the cause of them. The local police and some of the town’s more helpful locals walked out into the pond and tried to find clues to the reason for Frank’s demise…after all, the water was only a few feet, at it’s deepest point. They found nothing, and Frank Sutherland’s death became the talk of hushed whispers and gossip, as his wife’s death had been.
Maybe people in town believed that Barbara Sutherland had simply left town; that she had moved in with her sister in the city, and that was the end of that. Still others said that they had never heard from Barbara again, and that she had never reached her sister’s home, and that Frank had killed her in a rage. They never found her body, but they did find her suitcase and purse tucked away behind some old wooden beams in the old mill. When the police asked Frank about this, he came up with wild explanations and lies, and soon not one person in Applecroft believed that Frank Sutherland was anything less than a murderer. After all those years working in the mill, if Frank had wanted to hide his wife’s body, he could have done so with almost no effort. Still, no charges were filed and Frank was left to his own despair and guilt.
The people in town continued to speculate and talk long after Frank’s death; about his wife and about their deaths. If you asked any of the older members of the community, they would tell you that Frank killed Barbara and hid her in the old mill, and that her ghost drove him to the tiny pond, and drowned him.
Whatever the truth was, the people of Applecroft would never know. They forgot about the old mill and the tiny pond, and soon the spot became nothing more than a distant memory; a shadow of old times and ghost stories that would only be remembered by
the children telling each other stories about the ghost of old Mr. and Mrs. Sutherland that haunted the tiny pond by the old tree.