One Friday afternoon this spring, Thea, Simon and I came home from a hike we’d done, this one much farther from home than our other isolated adventures. The whole day had been a weird mix of magical and mundane. It had been misty with humidity, the air cool but oppressive. The path we walked followed along a river with many small waterfalls (Thea counted seventeen, though I’m not sure all of those individually qualified as waterfalls) but there was also trash littered along the path. On the hikes we’d done near our house, we’d only once encountered another person and it had been easy to steer wide, stepping briefly off the trail and into the woods to give her room to pass, and so we hadn’t been hiking with masks. Mine was in the car and I hadn’t even brought the kids’. But at this park, everyone we saw--a group of women in the parking lot, a family fishing, a solitary man hiking with his dog--were masked and I felt embarrassed and inconsiderate for not doing the same.
By the end of our hike, the fog had burned off and it was a hot, sunny, day. On the way home we stopped at a dairy farm for ice cream (I ordered from the car and picked it up wearing my mask). I’d been there once before, on the way home from coaching at the state track meet when I was pregnant with Thea. Back then, I had made myself sick with the nauseating combination of dairy fat and sugar on an empty pregnant stomach, but this time the ice cream was perfect. From the farm, I took back roads home, passing yard signs for high school graduates and unfamiliar street names, and then crossed over the Housatonic River at a beautiful but eerie dam where years before I’d done a trail run along the muddy shores. On that run, I had listened to the feeling that told me to turn around. Something about this dam reminded me of another time and place--or maybe both--of the dammed lake I often ran to in West Virginia, of that Ozarks RV park at the end of Gone Girl. I felt comforted by these reminders, but they also made me feel unsettled. When I read in the local paper that a black bear had been spotted at the lake, I thought this must explain that instinct I’d had.
But when we crossed after our ice cream stop, I was struck again by the feeling of something not just eerie but malicious lurking, in the woods or the lake or the air. Back at home after I’d ushered Thea and Simon inside, I took my laptop to our bedroom. In 1986, a man had been convinced of killing his wife, freezing her body, and then disposing of it into the lake using a wood chipper. The case was the inspiration for that famous scene in Fargo.
When Thea and Simon were out of earshot, I told Nick, in breathless, interrupted bits: he’d seen Fargo, right? Hadn’t we watched it together? Also, did he remember crossing Lake Zoar once on the way home from watching planes take off at the municipal airport? I was giving too many irrelevant details--an idle question about Edie Falco, the municipal airport and the dinner we ate there while watching the planes take off last summer, did he remember that? The roads we took home, but not on the way there? We’d crossed it then. That dam, that has a bad feeling? A creepy feeling? I told him about the trail run I cut short years ago and my assumption about the bears and then about the wood chipper and then that I’d sensed it. But Thea and Simon were milling and I couldn’t say the word murder or find out if he thought I was crazy, or even be certain he now remembered what lake and dam I was talking about, and ask if perhaps he had sensed this too.
I googled again that night. I told my mom, texted a friend who’d grown up nearby. And all the while I felt some repulsion with myself. A real woman had died. A real town had seen a salacious murder portrayed in a famous movie. In part I’d wanted to validate my intuition, to myself and maybe even to Nick. This might be proof. This felt creepy to me because it was creepy. It felt haunted because something haunting did really happen there. Of course, a skeptic could point out I might have heard the story years ago and forgotten it, the same qualities that made the lake appealing to a murderer disposing of a body--remote, dark, roads with no clear vantage point ot the shore--might have been the qualities that, for completely rational reasons, made me feel uneasy.