I watched her by the lake: it wasn't the first time and I didn't expect it to be the last. The morning was cold and still, giving the world an unearthly silence, broken only by the gentle sound of the water playing amongst the pebbles that lined the shore.
I would like to be able to explain why she stood there; I would also like to be able to explain my compulsion towards her, but all I knew was that whatever the weather, come dawn, she would be standing, watching, waiting ... but for what, I did not know.
Her name was Alison. She had long, unkempt, blonde hair and eyes of the palest grey, eyes that reflected the melancholy that seemed to absorb her so completely. In her youth - not that she could have been far north of thirty when I first noticed her - she had been considered quite the beauty and as such she had gained the attention of many a young man: these facts I discovered by talking to those young men. Now, most would have confessed to their families and careers as being priorities, but it cost me more than one drink to ascertain that I wasn't the only one struck with the fascination of Alison. Some confessed a deep longing to hold her, to know her; to others she was merely a schoolboy fantasy turned mildly interesting recluse. One thing was certain, something had changed Alison and, whatever it was, I needed to know. It consumed me, as much as Alison, as much as whatever it was she was waiting for.
I continued to watch her. I never considered my obsession unhealthy, but sitting there watching her I wondered about my motives. I told myself it was curiosity: I wanted to know who she was and what she was waiting for. At times, I even tried to convince myself that my watching - I never thought of it as stalking - was a kind of therapy, a time when I could reflect, at dawn. However, this time something occurred to me: maybe she was as lonely as I was, did she know something that I ought to know, could whatever she was waiting for save me too? I was overcome with the urge to go to her (not for the first time) but once again I let my head override my heart. Would my intervention scare her? Could she continue her morning ritual knowing that she was my morning ritual? Would she even acknowledge me? My own soul was drifting through a sea of loneliness on the ever-changing current of time and all I had to cling to was Alison. She was my note in a bottle, my only treasure, possibly my only hope: I needed to know her secret but didn't have the courage to open the bottle should her secret hold no comfort, or worse ... no reason.
The sun broke over the lake's placid surface and she blinked as if the realisation of time had shocked her back into existence. As she turned to walk away my body began its own subconscious course home, but something had changed: I needed to know more. I perceived this critical juncture and knew that if I walked away now I would never know her secrets, those most intimate of thoughts that I believed could be shared with me alone; and so I followed her, knowing that I couldn't turn back.
The path away from the lake wound through frosted meadows like the loneliest of Siberian streams and my feet were carried on its current in pursuit of her. She moved surprisingly quickly up the hill away from the lake, but then hadn't she been taking her own subconscious route home longer than I? With every step I took she was carried farther away from me, her feet propelling her slight frame with an unknown purpose, an unnatural speed that I could match only at the expense of my breath.
She continued to move away from me, the gap between us ever-increasing as she approached the horizon. Soon she would disappear over the top, and not knowing what was over that particular horizon meant that all I had was faith with which to continue my pursuit. She was gone: I shut my eyes and accelerated towards the horizon. I felt as if I could take off, continue running into the sky, but realised that if I had lost her the feeling would be similar to running flat out over a cliff towards the only inevitable truth that life holds.
I opened my eyes and the cold air flooded into my lungs, feeling like drowning should, drowning in the morning air, out of my depth and out of sight of my old self. I didn't know if the rest of me made it over the horizon but all that mattered now was Alison.
"You followed me." It was a statement with no intent, not aggressive or welcoming.
"Who are you?" The words sounded fragile as I spoke them: they lingered just for a second and were consumed by silence, regaining its unnerving presence.
"It doesn't matter, you're here now." She looked down, breaking eye contact, lest I discern the secret that lay within. I walked towards her, slow but purposeful. Her body seemed to tense as I approached her. I stopped short and she looked up into my eyes. I had never seen them this close before: they opened up before me and sucked me in.
"Why ...?" She shook her head. I knew as soon as I said it there would be no answer, not then, not ever. She took me by the hand and we walked back towards the lake, in silence, lost in thoughts previously unknown to me, to my old self. I was with her. Nothing else mattered.
We walked side-by-side, with no discussion as to where - our feet seemed to know - we were drifting together now, Alison and I. We came to a stop. I didn't know why but we had found our way to the very spot where I had sat not long before watching Alison. That moment seemed distant now and connecting with it felt comforting, a link to my old self, a self to whom Alison was only just more than a waking fantasy.
Sitting with her there, both of us silently watching the spot where not too long ago she had stood and watched, I felt at peace, so much so I lapsed into unconsciousness, a serene sleep broken only by sporadic images of Alison and myself.
I was looking into her eyes. She was crying, but they seemed tears of happiness - she had found a release and could finally let go. Was it me she was waiting for? She looked down at my hand: in it was a rock like the ones at my feet, a rock from the lake. In my dream I stared at the rock, its surface dark and smooth: it appeared to gleam with a potential unknown to me.
I found myself awake, if only briefly. The sun had crept its way across the sky and now looked down upon the lake with the sort of patience that only a celestial being could know. Alison was standing at the lake, watching, waiting. The sun reflecting off the water wrapped Alison in its welcoming glow. She looked more like an angel than I ever imagined an angel would look. I wondered if I was still dreaming, but such thoughts were negated when I slipped back into unconsciousness.
I was looking at her again: she was smiling still but her tears had run dry. It was a timeless moment, the world stopped.
"Thankyou for finding me," - her voice was little more than a whisper - "thankyou." The finality of her tone shocked me for a second, but she leant over and kissed me and I knew it was over. I had found Alison, I could give her what she had been waiting for.
In my mind I watched myself raise my hand, still clutching the rock from the lake. My knuckles, white from gripping the stone so hard, looked oddly lifeless next to the surface of the rock, a rock so alive, so animated, so real, that it seemed to tell me what to do. I tried to think of something to say but there were no words to express how I felt: it was bliss.
Raising the rock above my head I swung downwards. She didn't scream, she didn't even blink. I looked into her eyes and they seemed alive for the first time, gone was the loneliness: I had saved her. I blinked. The sickening thud which accompanied her skull cracking was dull and lifeless ... was this still a dream? I looked down at my hand and the blood-soaked rock fell to my feet, towards Alison. My mind's inner eye watched her there. As she thought her last mortal thoughts, no sound escaped her lips and no life was left in her eyes, just the sound of the water playing amongst the pebbles, the water carrying away her blood.
It was dark, the moonlight oddly bright. I didn't know how long I had slept, but it was too long - Alison was gone. I moved towards where she last stood. My face felt sticky like an extra layer of skin had been added just a fraction out of place: I had been crying in my sleep. Standing where she stood I looked out over the lake. It surprised me: I had never stood there, never seen what she had seen, but I did - it all made sense. Looking down, my eyes were caught by a rock, large and smooth, dark and glistening with what seemed to be sickening delight, a rock with a life. I picked it up: it glistened with blood, dark and opaque. A tear came to my eye. I didn't know when Alison would come back, but I would wait for her.
It's dawn now. I'm standing at the lake where once Alison stood: I will stand at dawn until she returns - I have no choice - or until somebody saves me, someone who wants to know who I am, why I watch, why I wait. Someone to set me free, so I can be with her, with Alison.