Joyland

San Francisco |

Tahoe

by Kate Folk

edited by Lisa Locascio

We’d been warned not to ride the ATVs straight up the hill, but we did, and one of us, I think it was Joel, toppled backwards and his ATV fell on top of him. The night before we’d gone into the creek behind the cabin and come out with leeches on our calves. We pried them off with spoon handles and tossed them on the coals of the grill. They were still alive and their bodies sizzled and popped as they burned and I wondered if anyone else felt bad about that.

We were in Tahoe for a bachelor party. I’m not sure which one of us was getting married, that trip. I want to say it was Jim. But Jim got married after me, and I remember that weekend trying to call my girlfriend at the time, Bonnie, who went a little nuts if I was out of touch too long. It was after the leeches had shriveled to husks on the coals and I was roaming the woods climbing foothills trying to get a bar or two of service just to shoot off a text to Bonnie so she wouldn’t get drunk and start calling ex-boyfriends. I didn’t marry Bonnie, of course. I married a woman who needs me less, and all in all it’s worked out.

They say at the deepest part of Lake Tahoe the water goes down over sixteen hundred feet. They say the cold of the lake at such depths can preserve a human body in perfect condition for centuries. One of us, maybe Mark, or it could have been Jim, or Joel, or even me for that matter, said we should rent some scuba gear and see what we could find. But only Mark and Jim, or maybe Mark and Joel, but definitely Mark, were certified for scuba and the next day we ended up getting the ATVs instead and one of us toppled his ATV onto himself falling backward going up a hill. Come to think of it, it might have been me the ATV fell on. I remember hard blue sky through a fringe of trees and gasoline ribboning the air and the pressure of a tire on my chest.

So I know the trip happened before I was married, while I was still dating Bonnie, and that there were four of us: Jim, Joel, Mark, and me. Then again I remember our friend Emile, who lives in Sacramento, popping into the cabin the first night with a bottle of Johnny Walker Black, so maybe it was the trip we took later, to San Luis Obispo, because we didn’t meet Emile until 2008, and I think Jim got married in '06. We might have rented ATVs in SLO and taken them on the beach, but it wouldn’t make sense for Emile to come all the way to SLO from Sac, seeing as he wasn’t that good of friends with any of us. So it must have been the last trip, when Mark got married in 2010, and Emile popped in, but Mark definitely got married after me, so then how to explain my searching for service in the forest so I could text Bonnie? At any rate I definitely remember forest and not beach while we drew close to whichever one of us was screaming under the ATV, whether it was me, Joel, Jim, Mark, or maybe even Emile.

After the ATV accident we went back to the cabin and made dinner. We each assigned ourselves a little job. I prepped the skewers. Jim was on the grill. It was Mark’s family’s cabin, or maybe Jim’s. Probably not Joel’s because I think Joel’s parents live in Boston. It’s possible it was my family’s cabin, because we do have one in Tahoe. Anyway we went down to the basement after eating and threw darts and got drunk on Corona and whiskey and blasted Zeppelin and pissed in a storm drain out the sliding door by the patio furniture instead of walking upstairs to the bathroom.

Around ten a stranger knocked on the door and asked us to turn down the music. We invited him in for a beer. He was maybe fifty, tall and broad-shouldered with long gray hair pulled into a ponytail. He carried a wooden walking stick carved like a snake with a bowl built into the head. We sat in the living room and smoked the stranger’s weed while he drank our beer. We took turns putting our lips on the little snake mouth. We asked the man if the rumors were true about the mafia dumping bodies in the lake in the 50s and the man said he didn’t really know because he’d lied to us about living down the road. We asked where did he live and he said Reno. He asked did we mind if he stayed the night? We said sorry but he couldn’t stay, this was a private event, our friend Mark or Jim or Joel was getting married.

Around three a.m. we told the guy straight up that he needed to leave but he wouldn’t move from the couch and we were worried about him stealing the Blu-Ray so one of us brought out a rifle and pointed it at him and told him to get out. And the stranger took a hunting knife out of his waistband and lunged at the guy with the gun and the guy with the gun, maybe Mark or Jim, or maybe even me, but probably not Joel if he was the one injured in the ATV accident, seeing how his arm was in a sling and he wouldn’t be able to hold the rifle, whoever had the gun pulled the trigger and killed the stranger and we rowed the stranger’s body out on the lake as far as we could by the light of a full moon and dropped it in the part we hoped was deepest, maybe not sixteen hundred feet but plenty deep, deep enough. In the morning I was in charge of making the omelets and Mark made the pancakes and Jim made the coffee and Joel just sat there groaning from the pain of his arm that had been injured in the ATV accident. Or maybe I made pancakes and Mark made omelets. Jim definitely made the coffee though.

I just tried to find Joel’s number in my phone and set some of this straight and my wife asked what I was doing and I told her and she said, what are you talking about, Joel died in that ATV accident at Jim’s bachelor party in '08. My wife also pointed out that it’s too late at night to be making phone calls.