It was the year our band changed its name, before breaking up for the last time, and it was the same year the lake ripped free of its dam. But this happened before those things and maybe should’ve been the omen of what was to come. The thing about omens, though, is that they don’t seem prophetic until you’re looking back at them, dazed, as you watch whole houses being pulled down the river.
My sister was the one that found the arms. She was on one of her hikes away from town to get some goshdarn peace, for gosh sake, from the tourists that swarmed the Dells in summer like plagues of short-short and baseball cap wearing locusts.
“There’s a house of arms, Cal,” she told me.
I pictured coats of arms painted onto a house, in the same way our neighbor had painted Favre’s jersey on the wall of his house that faced ours—prompting dad to black out our windows on that side while muttering “that man betrayed us.”
“No, like, arms,” my sister exclaimed. She waved her own pair in the air, to emphasize her point.
So I followed her to see them, expecting both a prank or a grisly murder scene in equal proportion because you could never tell with my sister’s imagination—sometimes she downplayed and sometimes she was just dumb.
We walked for probably a couple miles into the woods. The woods were so quiet compared to the buzz of town. Or rather, they were noisy in a different way: the hush-swish of leaves embracing each other in the breeze and the low throb of insect song.
It was a state park and there shouldn’t have been a house in there. There were laws and stuff, I was pretty sure. Plus, I’d walked those woods before—Mom leading us on nature hikes where she’d point out weird fungi and say things like “you know, it’s probably poisonous, but it looks kind of delicious. That’s how I’m going out one day, guys.”
Fact, I was positive I’d been in that exact spot before—probably looking at some psychically-displeasing colored toadstool— and there was never a house.
But now there was. It looked old and immutable, like newspaper headlines from decades ago about now famous stories, like how the Titanic looks doomed even when it hasn’t yet set sail.
It was a cabin of brick and old wood, with cobweb soaked windows. I wanted to get in there with some Windex.
“Look!” my sister said. She pointed and I saw.
Mannequin arms in the windows, white and delicate. A woman’s. They looked more perfect than human and yet they didn’t look like they’d been created by anything other than life. The arms reached up and up.
“What does it mean?” My sister asked.
I shrugged. I took a step closer. The light shining through the trees made them glow.
I’d remember those arms for years, the slightly bent fingers, as if about to grasp something. When the dam broke, when the band fell apart, when every startling thing happened in my life, I would remember them and try to answer the question I’d kept on my tongue then.
What were they reaching for? But the answers I came up with never would fit—would never erase the feeling that had crept over me–as I stepped closer and closer to the window, as the arms moved ever so slightly, beckoning me in or trying to tell me to flee.
Chloe N. Clark’s work appears in Apex, Flash Fiction Online, Gamut, Glass, and more. Her chapbook The Science of Unvanishing Objects is available through Finishing Line Press. Find her on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes or at chloenclark.com