Below Freezing

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: March 17, 2018

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Submitted: March 17, 2018

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Below Freezing

The temperature had been cold, unusually so and the skies had remained clear. For the first time in years the lake had frozen solid. A few people ventured out on the edges, skating, sliding, but everyone knew it would be foolish to venture out too far.

Ms Kent and Mr Fuller debated about whether to take their young pupils for a nature walk. Although they both knew that there was some risk involved, wasn’t that true of any time that they ventured near the lake? After a few minutes of tossing the idea backwards and forwards they both agreed that this was just too unusual an event to miss.

Coats, gloves, hats and boots on, kids! We’re going exploring. Stay in pairs and stay with us, okay,” Ms Kent instructed.

And that goes for all of you,” Mr Fuller added, turning his eyes towards Fergal and William. Whenever there was a problem they were the two that were guaranteed to be involved.

Twenty-two people, the two teachers and the twenty young students, left the school building, well wrapped up against the cold wind. It was not far to the lake, and there was lots to look at along the way. The way the frost formed on the plants was fascinating. The crackle of the frozen leaves, the patterns that the ice formed; and there were birds landing close by, rooting around for any little bit to eat. It had proved to be quite educational before they even reached the lake.

It was a large lake, but not so big that you could not see straight over to the other side. Neither of the teachers had been living in the area for more than ten years; none of them present had ever seen it frozen right across. It was a deep lake and there was no way of telling to what depth the ice went.

Around the edges though, it was solid.

Stay off it, okay, kids. It might look nice and safe from here, but there’s no telling when you might come across a softer part, or when it might crack.” Mr Fuller stared out over the surface.

That’s right,” said Ms Kent. “There’s no such thing as a safe place on a frozen lake. Let’s all have a look around on the banks and see what we can find.”

The children split up in to groups of ten, one group to go one way with Mr Fuller, the other would head off in the opposite direction with Ms Kent. The cold put a damper on the usual messing that large groups of children tend to be inclined to. They would not be staying out for too long.

Look! Look out on the lake!” It was Fergal shouting. Even though he was in Mr Fuller’s group, the other teacher could here him clearly. She turned, looked round, and gasped. There was a small figure standing way out towards the middle of the lake, all alone and obviously petrified. She squinted her eyes as she hustled the children back towards the other group. It was Jessica, she was sure. A quiet and so well-behaved girl, what could have possessed her to walk out there.

What are we going to do?” she asked, when Mr Fuller was close enough for her not to shout.

I’ll have to go and get her. You keep an eye on them all, okay.”

I’ll go.” Ms Kent said. “Think about it....I’m lighter. The ice will be less likely to crack, don’t you think!”

Are you sure? I’m responsible, she’s a part of my group.”

No, I’ll go. But what I don’t understand is why she’d do it? Not Jessica, of all people.”

Mr Fuller nodded his agreement. “If it had been Fergal, or Gary, or even Ellen, I’d not have been so surprised. Fergal raised the alarm. I reckon there’s more to it than a girl just wandering off.”

I’ve got to go. She’s terrified. Wish me luck, and see if anyone has anything to say.....”

The woman stepped down on to the ice. Her boots were firmly soled but still slipped on the ice. She’d have to take very small, and careful steps. Inch by slow inch she moved away from the bank. The young girl had spotted her, was moving towards her but too fast. If she did not slow down she’d fall and the impact could cause the surface to fracture.

Slow down, Jessica! Tiny steps, do you remember them? That’s it. Nice and small, just like I’m taking. Good girl!”

Ms Kent was surprised not to hear her own terror. She couldn’t see how deep it went, still, but she could definitely feel more ‘give’ in it. The girl was almost alongside her when they both heard the ominous crack. The young girl screamed but Ms Kent told her to stay calm and keep making her way to the edge where the others were waiting. She was relieved when the girl had passed her, scared that their combined weight would break up the surface and plunge them both in to a freezing wet tomb. She shut her eyes, attempted to block out the picture.

Jessica was making good progress. Either the terror from the cracking sound or the nearness of the bank caused her to speed up. Ms Kent stayed where she was, wanting to see the girl reach safety before she risked moving, herself. Another cracking sound and a split became visible. She’d have to try to move.

Think, she told herself sternly. Would it be safe to crawl or would it be better to stay on her two feet? Her mind wouldn’t work, was frozen in panic. She took one step towards the bank, then another. The split in the ice seemed to be widening as she put more weight on to one side. A picture of her face, under the ice, screaming silently, paralysed her. This time she let her foot slide back, just a short way, then followed it with the other. Sliding gave no jolts but if she should slip, should fall, she had no doubt that the glass around her would shatter.

Not far now! She could hear the children, hear Mr Fuller, but it was muddled; her concentration was so focused on her movements she could not separate the voices from each other. There were more people by the lake now, some of the locals, but none would set foot on the ice. They could all see the cracks now but she’d make it....arms reach, a hand held out, gripped and Ms Kent found herself on ground. She turned away and vomited, the fear, the shock, taking their toll.

Mr Fuller hurried the children back to the school with a couple of parents who had witnessed the stranded teacher’s narrow escape. Another couple stayed with Ms Kent. Did she need an ambulance? Was she sure she was not in shock? Eventually satisfied, they helped her make her way back to the heat of the school.

What happened?” she asked. “I can’t believe Jessica would do that, it’s so unlike her.”

Ellen pulled her hat off her head, tossed it way out on to the ice. Of course she claims that Fergal told her to, which he, in turn, has of course denied.”

So we’ll never know then!”

Mr Fuller shook his head. “Not for sure. But one thing I do know, if that lake freezes over again we’ll stay well away.”


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