The Lake | Pushing the Wave

The Lake

Story, 14 June 2023
by L.A. Davenport

From the collection No Way Home

Rutland Water at Dusk
Dusk at the lake


The soldier’s feet kick up small stones and dust as he is dragged across the hot ground. His head hangs limp between his shoulders, and barely a trace of pain registers on his face as he is pulled along.

Eventually, he is dumped behind a truck in the shade. He winces at the pain slicing him in two as he lands. He hangs his head and lets his arms fall by his side, unable to do anything more. A man in the same uniform but with a straggly beard kneels down beside him.

– Just hold on, Hans.

– Mmm…

– Hans, can you hear me? Eh?

– Uh, yes.

– The helicopter is on its way. It should be here in...The man checks his watch...Ten minutes. Max.

– Mmm…

– Did you hear me? Hey, Hans.

The bearded man gently slaps Hans, adding yellow dust to the sweat pouring down the young soldier’s face.

– Yes, yes. I heard you.

Hans slowly opens his eyes and looks up into the bearded man’s face.

– Thank you for saving me, Carl, he says weakly. – What happened?

– An IED.

Hans frowns and fear flashes across his face.

– My legs...?

– I don’t know, Hans. Just wait for the helicopter and let the docs do their work.

– I can’t feel them.

– I know, but there’s nothing we can do now. Just wait and let them take a proper look at you.

Hans looks out into the heat haze. Everything is hot and yellow. He turns some soil over in his hands.

– The others?

– I don’t know. You were hanging out of the side, so I dragged you out first, but by the time I got back it was too hot for me to get close.

A tear rolls down Hans’ cheek.

– They trusted me.

– Don’t think about it, Hans. They knew what they were doing.

Hans swallows and searches Carl’s face.

– Did they?

Carl stares back at him.

– Look, I’m sorry, Hans, but I have to go. I have to see if there are any other survivors. Can you wait here and keep calm until the helicopter comes? It’s on its way. It should be vey soon. Okay?

– Okay.

– You’ll be okay. Just hang on.

Carl squeezes Hans’ shoulder and stands up. Hans watches him glance from side to side and then run back the way they came.

Hans swallows and tries to resign himself to waiting. He watches an insect scramble over a rock and then run under the truck. The heat is rising and he wishes he could drag himself to a better spot to wait. In the distance, there is an explosion.


In the dark green forest, the birds arc and turn through the dappled light, following the line of the brook as it wends its way down the valley. A large white butterfly dances past the soldier and lands on a flower. He breathes deep the cool, clear air, and smiles.

– Wait for me.

He turns and watches her step down from a fallen tree trunk, a bunch of flowers in her hand, and run towards him.

He sees, here in this green kingdom and away from the grinding noise of the city, how she is borne of nature, a lithe and athletic creature that radiates grace. His heart leaps for her and wishes they could stay here forever, building a house in the woods and leaving the world far behind.

She stops right in front of him, panting slightly, and smiles, her soft dusting of freckles moving as she does so. If only he could melt into her and they become one.

– I love you.

– I love you too.

He turns and they walk together along the brook hand-in-hand. Eventually, they reach a clearing, a perfect circle between the trees where the brook pools and turns. The lights catches the purple and yellow flowers as they dance in the breeze, and dragonflies flit back and forth over the surface of the water.

The pain rips through Hans’ body and he wakes, surprised to find himself in the heat and the dust. The sun seems hotter now, and he wonders if he can drag himself further into the shade. He pushes against the dust and rocks, his uniform catching and scraping with every millimetre. He is no longer horrified to see his immobile legs, which slide like a doll’s within the material of his trousers. Now he is just curious. Puzzled even.

Eventually, he manages to pull his body further under the shade of the truck and falls back, sweating profusely, against one of the tyres.

A soldier runs in front of him and is blown up. Panicking, Hans listens intently for the helicopter, but cannot hear it.

Everything falls quiet. There is no shouting anymore, no more gunfire.


The soldier steps out of the vintage car and stares at the large mansion. He does not know how he got there or where he is, yet the house seems familiar. There is something about the sweep of the gravel drive, the statues nestling in the floral borders, and the faux crenelations on the rooftop that reassure him he is in the right place.

He walks up the stone steps to the double front door, which is open, and walks in. An older man, in a tailcoat and bowtie, is waiting for him, smiling. He shakes the soldier’s hand firmly and seems to suggest he likes the way he is dressed. The soldier looks down and realises he is wearing his dress uniform. Why? Why am I wearing that?

By the time he looks up again, the footman has gone and there are people running around with flower arrangements and table decorations, bundles of streamers and bottles of champagne. The soldier smiles involuntarily.

He walks through the house and stops to gaze out over the vast garden, one side of which is filled with marquees and smaller tents. All sorts of people, some he recognises, are getting ready for something. Trays laden with food and drinks pass, and a small orchestra is rehearsing. The table decorations he saw earlier are being carefully put into place. What is this all for? A wedding? For whom?

The soldier spots a path that leads down to the forest at the end of the garden. He steps onto the soft, comforting grass and a light rain begins to fall, a gentle, caressing fine mist that coats everything it touches.

The soldier walks past the brightly coloured marquees and the waiters and footmen running back and forth. No-one notices him as he passes, and he walks on towards the forest, everything falling away as he crosses into the dark shade of the trees. Every leaf, every branch, every flower is dripping. The enveloping moisture becomes rain. He raises his hands and watches the soft drops land on his skin.

He looks up and sees through the raindrops something glowing in the distance. He steps over tree roots and pushes back the sodden branches as makes his way into the interior of the forest. The ground is soft beneath his feet, yielding, like moss. On and on he walks, the rain falling more and more heavily, while the distant glow becomes ever-stronger.

Eventually, he reaches a clearing, a perfect circle between the trees, and stops. The light falls through the raindrops from all directions, creating rainbows wherever he looks. Once his eyes adjust, he sees a woman in a white dress near the middle of the clearing. She stands in front of a small pond surrounded by flowers, where dragonflies flit back and forth over the surface of the water.

She turns and smiles and he feels the electricity flow through him. She radiates grace and beauty. It is her.

He approaches and she stretches out her hand to meet his. The rain falls faster now, in large, heavy drops, and the pond grows and widens into a lake, covering the ground and advancing closer and closer to the woman’s feet. He looks down and sees a dark red stain growing on his uniform. His legs become weak and he realises he is running out of time.

He stretches out his hand and she pulls him alongside her. He knows he is safe now, and they stand in the teeming rain, contemplating the lake growing by their feet. He looks at her. She is perfect, radiant, glowing in the light refracted by the raindrops.

The drops become larger and larger, and they drum rhythmically on the surface of the lake and the leaves of the trees. The soldier and the woman, hand-in-hand, stare at the surface of the water and then slowly walk towards it. The water laps against their feet and they wade on and on, the dark water higher and higher, creeping up their bodies until their heads disappear beneath the surface.

They swim now, into the infinite darkness, hand-in-hand, further and further from the light. In the clearing, the rain drums against the surface of the water, the light catching the drops and the wings of the dragonflies that flit back and forth.

A local tribesman squats on his haunches in the shadow of the truck and contemplates the face of the young soldier. He seems peaceful, asleep even. Or he would if his unseeing eyes were not open.

The tribesman sighs and closes the young man’s eyes before straightening up and walking away.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

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The Lake | Pushing the Wave