Comfort doesn’t write the words in the steam on the mirror, but she watches as they appear, letter by letter, drawn by an invisible finger that can only belong to one person. She doesn’t know for certain why Stella lurks in the room during Comfort’s baths, but Comfort thinks the spirit is drawn by the water. Her iron tub is a far cry from the icy depths of the fishermen’s pond, but the connection is strong nonetheless.
By now, Comfort doesn’t bother to sink lower in the water to hide herself. She’s gotten used to Stella’s presence, and knows there is no shame to be felt from her gaze. She is not exactly comfortable to have Stella there, but it does no good to fight against it at this point. “Come out,” she says to the air. “Please don’t hide if you’re going to be in here.”
There’s a movement in the shadow of the corner by the door, and Stella steps forth from nothingness, wet slip clinging to her thin body, damp hair curling around her face.
“If you have to stay in here,” Comfort says, “I need to be able to see you. I can’t do this if you’re going to hide.”
Stella says nothing. She walks to the tub, then sits on the edge. Despite the heat in the room, there are goosebumps visible on her white skin.
“Where do you go, when you’re not in the house?” Comfort asks. “Do you go back to the pond?”
Stella only stares at her.
“Do you visit anyone else?”
Stella leans forward and puts her hand into the water in the bath, making no ripples, causing no splash.
“You can’t stay here forever. No one does. Other than my father.”
Comfort is startled as the spirit puts one leg into the bathwater, then the other. She slips into the tub at the opposite end from Comfort, and Comfort feels the slightest brush of a touch on her legs as Stella settles with her back against the white iron. The water level does not rise.
Comfort crosses her arms in front of her chest. “I don’t like this,” she says quietly.
Stella sinks lower in the water, submerging her chest, then her neck, then her chin.
The spirit goes lower, the water covering her lips, her nose, her eyes,
Without a ripple, Stella vanishes completely from sight.
Comfort keeps her arms crossed, unsettled. Having the ghost in the room with her is one thing. Sharing the bath with her is quite another. She makes the decision to get out of the tub, and is reaching for the towel draped on the edge of the sink when Stella’s hands grab hold of Comfort’s ankles, and pull her down beneath the surface of the water.
It is as though she has somehow entered into freezing Lake Ontario itself, for the iron bottom of the tub is gone, and the suddenly frigid water stings her skin like icy needles. Comfort sinks down, lower and lower, and the light from above grows more and more dim. She kicks her legs, attempting to free them from Stella’s grip, but the dead woman’s hands are like chains around her ankles, chains attached to anchors, dragging her into the depths.
Comfort struggles, twisting and writhing as her lungs begin to burn. Something brushes against her face, and she flails her arms against it, realizing then that it is Stella’s slip drifting around her like an abandoned shroud. Then somehow it is no longer drifting, but rather Comfort is wearing it herself, and the hands on her ankles have released her. She begins to swim, rising toward the surface she is certain she will not be able to reach before the water surrounding her rushes in to fill the hollows within her chest.
Her hand reaches into the cold air above the water a moment before her head does, and she sucks in oxygen in deep, heaving gulps. It is several moments before she realizes that she isn’t in her bathroom anymore, that she is outdoors in the dark, kneeling in the pebbled bottom of a freezing pond, with the sound of falling water crashing from somewhere beyond sight.
Comfort realizes that she is in the fishermen’s pond only a moment before a different pair of hands grabs her from behind, and she is pushed down below the water once more. She feels the stones beneath her back as they press against her, and above the surface, she sees a vague and unfocused shape hovering over her. It’s a man, she can tell from his bulk, and from the thick feel of his hands against her chest as she tries to slip her fingers between his and the fabric of her
slip, which he is clutching in both his fists as he holds her underwater.
Comfort thrashes, hoping she can twist free, or at least roll over onto her stomach so that she can use her arms to try to push herself up in the shallow water so she can take a breath, but the man is too strong. His weight on her increases suddenly as he straddles her, one leg on either side of her waist, and what little space she has left between her and the bottom of the pond is snatched away in an instant. She takes her
hands away from his and reaches up through the water for his face, wanting to claw at his eyes. Now that he is on top of her, however, he doesn’t need to hold her down with anything other than his own weight, so he releases the slip and grabs her
wrists in his hands. He presses them down into the rocks beneath the water on either side of her face. Comfort can’t pull them free, so she turns her head to one side and puts her teeth to the man’s wrist, biting hard and tasting his blood in her mouth. In response, he pulls his hands and her arms further away from her head, and leans harder down on top of her. His fingers dig into her
skin, and stars begin to appear at the corners of her vision. Against her will, her body exhales sharply, emptying her lungs of all the expired air that is trapped in them, and at the very moment that she must breathe in, knowing that she will take in nothing but icy pond water, and that the man above her whose face she cannot see, but whose terrible weight she can feel pressing down, will drown the life from her…
… Comfort splashes up through the surface of the bathwater, grabbing the side of the tub in both hands, and pulling herself halfway out in one quick move. She bends over the tub’s edge, and coughs up what feels like a gallon of frigid water, letting it splash against the tiles of the bathroom floor, running onto the bathmat, slipping into the cracks between the toes of the tub’s claw feet.
When her shaking stops, and at last her breathing begins to return to normal, she pulls herself back into the tub, and sits against the iron once more. Stella, she sees, has reappeared at the other side of the bath, with the water sitting just above the upper edge of her white slip. The spirit eyes her silently as water drips from her dark hair into the bath.
“Did you see him?” Comfort asks. “Did you see his face?”
Stella nods once.
“Can you tell me who he is?”
A shake of the head.
“Can you…” Comfort pauses a moment before she can continue. “Can you take me to him?”
Stella sits without moving.
A droplet of water runs down the side of her face and below her chin, quivering for a moment on her lifeless skin, before falling into the bath.
Stella nods once again.
Comfort breathes in sharply, suddenly aware that she is on the verge of tears.
“Okay,” she says. “Okay.”