ECHO LAKE is Letitia Trent’s debut novel, out this month from Dark House Press. Please enjoy this excerpt, and be sure to check out the book!
Excerpt from Echo Lake
by Letitia Trent
Christopher walked at night along the dirt roads near his parent’s house, down the same roads he’d walked as a kid and would probably walk until he died, just like that old man who lived down by the high school who had died in his house, slumped onto the kitchen counter over a bowl of soup. He faced this matter-of-factly, without anger. He wore a headlamp, the kind hunters used to spot deer, so he wouldn’t be surprised by a dog or bear. When cars passed, he jumped down into the ditch by the road. Everybody knew him—they waved from their cars and sometimes sounded the horn. He nodded, but rarely waved back. He kept to himself.
In high school, he had been a fixture, neither loved nor hated, just one of the people who had grown up in Heartshorne, who had always been there and always would be. He remembered his high school years fondly, though imperfectly. He remembered everything being easy: schoolwork, the mostly friendly and familiar people around him, the teachers in their seats at the front who didn’t ask much of him but his presence.
He lived in his parent’s basement and had since graduation, when he decided that life didn’t need to move forward. If he stayed where he was, in the same room, the same house, things could remain as they had before. And they did. Not completely, of course. He had a job. He worked at the lumber yard just outside of Keno. He drove there in his truck every morning, usually before the sun was just a haze at the horizon, and came home well before dinner, exhausted. He took a nap until hunger woke him and he wandered upstairs to see what his mother had made for dinner. He’d come back down afterwards and listen to music or watch television. He liked shows about traveling and food. The best shows were about both traveling and food—about the strange things people ate who lived in other countries. Bugs or organs or animals that people here used as pets. Sometimes he went fishing or drinking with buddies from high school, other young men who had stayed in Heartshorne, men who lived in the low-income housing just outside of Keno or with their parents, creating lives that echoed the smooth hum and movement of a school day. He had a girl who drifted in and out of his life: she didn’t seem to expect much, and he liked it that way. She’d gone to visit family in Tulsa and he didn’t miss her, but he knew that he’d be glad to see her when she showed up at a party or called him up to meet at a bar. She didn’t ask anything of him that he wasn’t willing to give. It was just like in high school, only they could drink legally and she’d sleep with him almost any time he wanted. School, he decided, had been the best time of his life. He hadn’t realized it then, but now he knew the secret that adults didn’t tell: it wouldn’t get any better after graduation. Life had never resumed that delight of daily expectation—the bus arriving in the cold at the same time each day, lunch on a regular rotating menu, and that beautiful hour of waiting for the last bell to ring to go home again. It had been so simple.
In school, you were always moving forward to a higher grade, a higher status, until graduation, when everyone recognized that you had achieved something. How could you move forward working in a lumberyard? You could go up to manager, of course, but there was only one of those. Sometimes you got stalled along the way, and at some point, there was nowhere else to go. There was no more up. You mostly just went along doing the same thing until your hands got shaky and you had an accident—crushed fingers or a broken elbow or, this was the worst, something to do with the machines, which would almost certainly mean losing a finger.
It was late July when Christopher decided to walk to Echo Lake, farther than he’d walked in a very long time. He used to ride his bike there, back in elementary school. The road must have been smoother then, because now it was impossible by bike. It was scarred with deep grooves that filled with mud when it rained and most of the gravel had washed away into the ditches. It was barely dark, but already the air had that peculiar damp, heavy scent that it carried on summer nights. He turned on his headlamp. The path before him was laid out brightly, the shadows around it darker in contrast. But he wasn’t afraid. He’d lived here for twenty years now, twenty years of nothing much happening except a copperhead in the garage or a cat dying under the house. People died here, of course, but usually from doing stupid things, like jumping from the water tower into the lake or driving drunk in the mountains, hill hopping their way into the bumper of another dumbass who was hill-hopping, too. There were urban legends about the lake being poisonous, ghost stories, and the occassional panic about prisoners escaped from the maximum security prison outside of Keno, but most of that was nonsense. His cousin had been in prison up in Keno for a year and said it was nearly impossible to get out, not worth the trouble.
He passed a trailer, wrecked, probably empty. He shone his headlamp on it briefly, surprised by the corner of turquoise siding that had flashed in his lamp’s proximity. The yard around the trailer was overgrown, the driveway covered with low brush. Two windows had been broken and were covered with cardboard from the inside. He wasn’t sure how long the trailer has been there; he hadn’t been out this way in years.
He kept walking. He’d be close to the lake soon: already, he could feel the damp, the mosquitoes thick in the air. Soon, the road would dead end and a path would lead out to a small beach, the shore rocky, the water first shallow then deepening at a sudden drop. It wasn’t a safe place to swim, but he had swum there since childhood, so he knew where the drop was. The light on the water highlighted the darkness around it. It was still, only slightly lapping at the shore. Christopher regretted coming out all this way once he had finally reached the shore. It had seemed like the right place to go, fitting somehow for his mood, but now that he was there, he was bled by bugs and jumpy at the rustling sounds in the leaves. The lake put off a fog, too, a damp air that hung above it. It smelled like salt and reflected back his headlamp, blinding him.
The woman in the trailer had not slept for days. When she woke, she lay collapsed in the bathroom, the one room that still had glass instead of cardboard in the window. The man had left her hours ago and taken everything but the broken, blackened lightbulbs and foil and one lighter with him. The light from the bathroom window shone onto her face from the road. That’s what woke her up. She’d been dreaming that she was playing with her daughter at the old trailer, the place where she had lived when she was happy and had a good job at the feed store, before she met him, before she got thin and forgetful and found herself walking with a trail of blood around the store, hardly noticing that a piece of broken glass had gashed her bloodless palm and was told to go home, go home until she was feeling better. She did not feel better, and no amount of time at home had helped. Alexis lived with her grandma and father now: they’d taken her away one day a few weeks or months ago. When they left, she’d torn at her hair until somebody made her stop and she woke with bloody spots on her pillow. The last time she’d tried to visit the child had cried and Glenn, that bastard, had said just look at you—have you looked at yourself? You hardly look alive. You aren’t fit to raise her.
When the woman woke the light shone on her face and she was afraid. She wasn’t supposed to be here: she was supposed to be home. If they found her here she’d have to go back to jail. Her mouth and throat were dry. She climbed up the sink, supporting herself on the cracked plastic basin, and turned on the faucets. Nothing came out. The light shone again in the window. She wanted to lie back down on the floor and go back to sleep, but she was afraid, and her mouth was dry. She bit her tongue hard to make blood or salt come up in her mouth and moisten it. She had to find water.
About Letitia Trent:
Letitia Trent’s first novel, Echo Lake, will be published by Dark House Press/Curbside Splendor in 2014. Trent’s work has appeared in the Denver Quarterly, The Black Warrior Review, Fence, Folio, The Journal, Mipoesias, Ootoliths, Blazevox, and many others. Her first full-length poetry collection, One Perfect Bird, is available from Sundress Publications. Her chapbooks include You aren’t in this movie (dancing girl press), Splice (Blue Hour Press) and The Medical Diaries (Scantily Clad Press). She was the 2010 winner of the Alumni Flash Writing Award from the Ohio State University’s the Journal and has been awarded fellowships from The Vermont Studio Center and the MacDowell Colony.