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Cold Hands

Shannon Fay is a Clarion West graduate and writer living in Mi'kma'ki/Nova Scotia. Her first novel, Innate Magic, is out now from 47North, and its sequel External Forces is due out soon (or, possibly, by the time you read this, now).

Legere Lake was named for the Legere family, white settlers who came to Mi'kma'ki in the late 1800s. They built their house on the banks of what was then called 'Grand Lake' by the English, using local aspen trees for the walls and bird's-eye maple for the floors. In time other houses would be built on the lakeshore, first bungalows for local farmers and later on summer getaways for rich city folk. But all that came long after the Legere's drowned.
The story goes that on a clear winter day, the entire Legere family decided to go ice skating. Grandma, mama and papa, two teens and a toddler, all six put on their skates to glide across the green-white frozen lake.
It's not known who fell through the ice first. No one was around to witness it except the Legeres themselves. But neighbors heard the screams and came running through the pine to help. When they arrived, all they found was a large, jagged hole in the middle of the lake, ripples already settling on the icy water.
The bodies of the Legere family weren't recovered until spring.
My family moved into the Legere house in the 1960s. By then it had been extended, a second floor put in and the foundation shored up. But I still felt uneasy there, as if the dark knots in the floorboards were in fact eyes, watching me.
"You don't have to worry," ma told me. "The Legeres don't haunt the house. They haunt the lake. Never, ever go out to the middle of the lake in the winter, no matter how solid the ice looks. The Legere family is waiting out there. Their hands will burst through the ice and pull you under."
"But ma," I asked, "why would the Legeres want to do that?"
"It's the only way they can add to their family," Ma had replied. "So, Davey, don't you go out there unless you wanted to be adopted by a bunch of ghouls."
And I listened to my ma, until one winter's day when Joe Melvin and his pals dared me to walk out to the middle of the lake. I was eight and they were 10 and I wanted more than anything to be to be their friend. With my first few steps onto the lake I brought my boots down hard, the thwak of my boot heels against the ice causing Joe and the others to cheer.
My steps became less forceful the further in I got. Soon the other boys were just tiny figures on the bank. It was so flat and barren--I felt like Jack standing on a giant's tabletop. The wind scattered the snow around. It was oddly peaceful.
Then I heard the crack. I'd stayed in one place too long, the weight of my little body causing the whole surface of the lake to flex and bend and give. I started running, slipping on the ice a few times, the impact causing more cracks to form, deeper and bigger. And under those jagged, lighting bolt lines, I saw them. Hands. Blue and waterlogged, pressing up against the ice. Reaching for me.
That got me up and running again. As I raced towards where the other boys were hollering on the shore, I looked back only once. I could still see the Legeres' hands under the ice.
When I grew up and had kids, I told them the legend of the Legeres, adding my own personal experience to really drive the point home. They all took my words to heart, perhaps a little too much. When my daughter Katie was 12 I'd catch her looking out at the lake. I knew Katie was going through a hard time at school, but I'd left that to my wife to deal with. It's not that I didn't care, it's just I knew that girls got bullied in a different way than boys, and I figured there wasn't really any good advice I could give her to deal with it all. I tried to instead be a fun, supportive dad.
But it wasn't enough. One night Katie went missing. It was like she'd evaporated; there was no sign of her in the house, but her winter coat and boots were still be the door.
"She's probably just hiding somewhere," my mother said. After dad had died my wife and I had moved into my childhood home. Ma now lived with us. "She knows not to go out onto the lake."
She'd said it almost smugly. But her words made my heart beat like a deer's. I looked out the window and saw a small figure on the ice.
I was out of the door, shoving my feet into old Crocs and nearly tumbling over myself as I tugged on a jacket. The wind scattered around hard pinpricks of snow, the drift making the familiar pines waver like a mirage. Down the banks I ran, my feet once more hitting the ice with hard Thwaks as I ran towards my daughter.
She was far out, a lone figure silver from the moonlight, standing in the middle of the lake. She turned to face me just as the ice gave and plunged her into the water.
"KATIE!" I ran towards the break in the ice. My mother's voice was in my head, berating me: don't go out to the middle of the lake. It was too late. I couldn't help Katie. I was merely running towards my own death. Soon we'd both be members of the Legere family.
But when I got close to the break a wonderous thing happened. Katie emerged from the water, her limp body pushed back onto the surface by a dozen blue hands. Once she was safely out and on solid ice the hands retreated, sinking back under with barely a ripple.
I was shocked, but only for half a second. In the next heartbeat I'd scooped Katie up and was racing back to the shore with her. She coughed up water on the way. My wife bundled her up and held her in the backseat as I drove us to the hospital.
The docs all said she'd be okay. She'd been underwater for such a short time and didn't show any sign of brain damage. At worse she might catch a cold.
I left my wife with Katie at the hospital. I needed to have a word with my mother.
She was sitting up in the living room when I returned. For a moment I just stood there, the two of us staring at each other as snow melted off my boots and seeped into the maple floorboards.
My mother spoke first.
"How is Katie?" she asked. "That girl... she should have known better... I told her, we all told her...."
"Why did you lie to me about the Legere family?" I said. Ma blinked at me.
"What do you mean?"
"You told me they'd pull me under if I went out onto the ice," I said. "But that's not true. When I was a kid, they held the ice together so I wouldn't fall in. And tonight they pushed Katie out of the water."
Ma sighed. "Well... it seemed dangerous to tell kids the truth."
"Yes," Ma said flatly. "If the kids knew there were some ghosts out there looking out for them, they might get reckless. Better to use the Legeres as a boogey man."
I ran a hand through my hair. "You made them out to be evil killers," I said, "when all they wanted was to make sure no one else went through what they did."
I turned back around and went back to my car. It'd been a mistake coming here. I needed to be with my daughter.
At the hospital my wife took a break from being at Katie's bedside to go get a coffee. I sat down next to Katie. She looked so small in the hospital bed.
"The docs said you can go home tonight," I said, trying to sound cheerful.
Katie shrugged.
"Katie, what's wrong? You can talk to me." The words came out rough, like I was trying to convince myself. Katie gave me the side-eye that implied it hadn't worked.
"Is it about the girls at school? Your mom--"
"It's not about the girls at school," Katie said, disdain clear.
"Then what is it?"
Whatever bluster she'd built up deflated.
"It's just..." she said, "some days it feels like there's nothing good in the world."
For a moment we sat there in silence. I didn't want my daughter to grow up like I had, afraid and distrusting.
"That's not true," I said. "I need to tell you about what happened tonight. But first I need to tell you about something that happened to me when I was a little boy...."
The End
This story was first published on Friday, December 16th, 2022

Author Comments

Sometimes it's easier to believe the world is a scary place, because it would take understanding and effort to see things otherwise. It's also a story about how spooky and cold winters around here can get.

- Shannon Fay
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