Tag Archives: Suspense

Walk on Water

The boy and the man—the boy’s stepfather—came every year when the ice was thick enough to hold them. “Let’s walk on water,” the man would say. And he’d grin at his own joke and reach out and give the boy’s hair a tousle. And the boy would roll his eyes and resist, but he would smile, too. It was usually January.

The owner of the fish house rental knew them. He was a barrel of a man with chapped cheeks and a purple, cratered nose carved from the wine-soaked end of a cork. A white mesh cap with a yellow band of sweat squeezed his head. Red letters screamed BIG MIKE’S FISHIN’ SERVICE, LAKE MILLE LACS, MN across the front.

“Got you a twelve-by this year.” Big Mike spoke with a high-pitched voice on the wrong side of puberty. “Four bunks, couple of rattle reels, nice, big center hole, just augured this morning.”

The boy, the man and Big Mike sat around a card table in the kitchenette of a mobile home on the southwest bank of Lake Mille Lacs—Big Mike’s office. The flimsy table creaked and wobbled under the force of Big Mike’s ham-sized arm as he filled out the rental form.

“What’s biting?” the man said.

Big Mike stopped writing and leaned in close to the boy. A mix of chewing tobacco, coffee and baitfish filled the boy’s nose. “Your dad really think he’s gonna catch anything but eelpout again this year?” He winked. “Go ahead. Ask your father, boy.”

The boy met his stepfather’s eyes momentarily. They both looked away.

Big Mike flicked his eyes back and forth between them. “Crappie,” he said, “Big ones. Guy pulled out a monster last weekend. Fourteen-incher.” He bent over the form again. “Two nights, right?”

“Right,” the man said.

Big Mike scratched a red ‘X’ across the bottom of the form and turned it around and slid it across the table. He set aside a white mug half-full of brown sludge—coffee or tobacco spit, the boy couldn’t tell—and lifted the pages of the desk-sized calendar underneath. The top page was wrinkled and stained with an endless chain of coffee rings. “Same time next year?” Big Mike said.

The man signed the form as he spoke. “Not gonna make it.”

“Well, hell. I was only kidding about the eelpout.” Big Mike winked at the boy. “Moving?”

The boy watched his stepfather’s reaction. The man’s gaze drifted up to Big Mike but looked through him. He squinted, as though attempting to focus on thin air—a ghost maybe. “No. Not moving.”

“Well, you’re a fountain of information, ain’t ya’?” said Big Mike. He pulled the form back and ripped off the carbon and slapped it on a pile of similar carbons. The card table bounced.

At this, the man snapped back from where ever he was. “I’ll be here in spirit,” he said.

“Spirits don’t pay the bills.” Big Mike stood and turned to the lake map duct-taped to the wall.

“True.” The man glanced at the boy, but the boy stuffed his hands in his coverall pockets and stared at the map. It was dotted with red pins.

“Right,” Big Mike said. “The ice is eighteen inches all the way out. No fissures I know of.” He traced a hand-drawn red line on the map with a stubby finger. “Just follow the plowed road about three-quarter a mile out on the lake. You’ll see the house. It’s the only one out there yet.” He tapped on one of the red pins. “There’s some drunks out there,” He flipped his head toward the lake and rolled his eyes. “Some boys renting from Kenny’s. They’re further out, a good quarter mile up the same road, but they’re there.”

The boy and the man stood. Big Mike grabbed the man’s hand. “Guess I won’t be seeing you.”

“It’d be a miracle.” The man smiled.

“It’d be a miracle, if you caught something.” Big Mike winked once more at the boy.

As they walked out the boy looked over his shoulder and saw Big Mike lift the sludge-filled mug to his mouth. He pursed his lips and spit a brown stream of tobacco into it.


The man usually let the boy drive on the lake, but this day the man slid behind the wheel. “Your mom made me promise,” he said.

The boy shrugged and climbed in the passenger side.

The man brought the Ford F-150 to life. “No seat belt and keep your door cracked.”

“I know.”

“We’re not going in. I’m just sayin’. If we do—”

“I know.”

The brakes squeaked and the Ford F-150 rolled to a stop beside the fish house.

The truck tires crunched over a thin blanket of snow that had fallen on the lake that morning. The Ford’s big-block engine droned and hummed in a deep, throaty voice. The man’s key ring tick-ticked rhythmically against the steering column. And the boy’s thoughts drifted back to the night before. Back to his promise.

His mother sat next to him on his bed. “It will make him happy,” she said.

“I know,” the boy said. 

“He loves you.”

The boy twisted the frayed threads that bordered a kneehole in his jeans.

“Do it for me. He needs to hear it.” His mother’s soft fingers cradled his chin and lifted his head. Her eyes pleaded. “Just say it for me.” 


“I know it’s hard,” she said.

“Geez.” He ripped his head from her grip.

“He deserves to hear it.” She reached for a pillow.

He went back to the hole in his jeans.

“He’s raised you. He loves you.” She fluffed the pillow and a puff of air filled with the lilac smell of his mother’s favorite dryer sheets blew across his face. “He’s a good man.”

“I know.”

“You’ll miss him.” She placed the pillow straight against the headboard and patted it flat the way the boy liked it. “I’ll miss him.” Then she wrapped her hands on both sides of his face and turned it to hers and leaned in. They were nose to nose. Her eyes threatened to overflow. “Promise me.” 

He tried to turn away again, but she tightened her grip.

“Promise.” A tear spilled over her eyelash and fell warm and wet on the back of his hand. “Please.” Her chin began to quiver.


The brakes squeaked and the Ford F-150 rolled to a stop beside the fish house.

(Originally appeared in Stones Throw Magazine)

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