Trivia threw a stone into the lake, as Ray had, but her stone was larger and vanished from view before striking the water. Again, he heard no splash. Rex flopped out in the sand near his mistress. The spooky crabs kept their distance.
"Careful, you could tear your rotator cuff." Ray didn't believe his words – her throw had looked effortless – but he needed something to say.
Trivia looked out on the still water. "It isn't safe for you to be here."
"I know. I nearly drowned before, and the crabs played Gulliver's Travels when I made it back to shore." Ray walked nearer to Trivia and scratched Rex behind the ears.
Rex allowed Ray to keep his fingers.
She gave Ray a look of confusion. "What do you mean?"
Ray walked his fingers his arm until they perched atop his head. "You know, Lilliputians."
Trivia shook her head. "You jest. The lake would have taken you."
"I had help." Ray pointed to hoof prints near the water's edge. "But don't give it too much credit. That stupid deer is the reason I went swimming in the first place."
"The deer, again? You have a dauntless soul." Trivia smiled, but Ray detected the implicit comparison.
"You aren't a coward," Ray said, "Audubon is just—"
Trivia interlaced her fingers with his. "Let's talk about something else."
"Okay." Ray pointed across the lake. "What's with the creepy village? Who lives there?"
"No one lives there. The dead reside." The absence of Vincent Price melodrama in her voice somehow made it worse.
Ray had already known, but to hear it said aloud redoubled his fear. "Are we in Hell?"
Trivia shook her head. "This shore, and these woods, are part of the Green. That shore is a dying-place, but not a place of torment. I have never swum all the way across but Audubon visits from time to time. The dead tell her secrets, and she likes the flowers that grow there. There are meadows of, how do you say, daffodils?"
Ray thought, daffodils? "What about the lake? I think it wanted to kill me."
"No, only to make you forget. This lake has many tributaries. One is a river called oblivion. If you touched its undiluted waters, even your dauntless soul would not save you." Trivia dipped her finger in the lake water and traced a teardrop's path down Ray's cheek.
He touched his face, and his index finger went numb. "It's so cold, like acetone evaporating."
"It is a kindness." Trivia wiped his cheek with her thumb and warmed it with a kiss. His other cheek flushed as well.
"I don't see how."
"Then you've never done something that you wish you could forget," Self-condemnation was ingrained in her expression, like a devoted monk's footprints in a wooden temple floor.
Say something kind, he thought. Show you understand how she feels. This is an important moment. Don't just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind.
"I peed myself in sixth grade!"
Bewilderment replaced Trivia's sorrowful façade.
YOU ARE READING
King of the Woods, or Trivial PursuitFantasy
Florida Forest Service duty officer Ray Lumley is in love with a white fringetree. Not an I-read-Walden-in-high-school love; a sweaty, sappy, I-want-to-rub-against-you-'til-I-get-splinters love. It's awkward. So, he's relieved to learn that he's rea...