by Maura Yzmore

Mortimer’s family had a cabin in the woods on a small mountain lake, near my parents’ property. I’d never been inside his house. Instead, he would meet me by the water, ready to fish or throw rocks. Sometimes, he would come and fetch me in the early morning, before my folks woke up and started screaming at each other. For that, I was grateful.

Mortimer had always seemed a little feral, with his hair bleached from the sun and a deep perennial tan, even during winter, when my family and I stopped by our cabin for the holidays.

He would get really upset whenever I suggested I call him Morty because I though his full name made him sound ancient.

One late-summer evening, Mortimer and I sat on the waterfront, surrounded by the pine trees so tall they must have grown there forever, covering the sky, hiding all within their darkness. We were gawky, in the throes of adolescence, drinking stuff that burned our throats from a green bottle with an embossed snake, which I’d stolen from my mom’s cabinet. She went through a dozen each week; she wouldn’t miss this one.

“I wish you didn’t have to leave,” Mortimer said.

“Why?” I took a swig, then handed him the bottle. “Don’t you like school? Don’t you miss your friends?”

“No. I don’t care for any of them.” He took a quick sip, then turned toward me and offered me the liquor. “You know you’re my best friend, Randolph.”

“I hate it when you do that.” I snatched the bottle.


“Call me Randolph. You know that’s not my name; I must’ve told you a thousand times.” Annoyed, I took several large gulps, until there was nothing left. The drink made me cough. “And even if I were Randolph, I’d never go by that old man’s name. I would go by Randy. Or Trey. Or Rocket!”

I stood up, ran a few steps before I stepped in the water, and flung the bottle into the lake, as far as I could.

When I turned around, Mortimer was smiling. I sat back down next to him.

Night fell slowly as the liquor spread through my veins and made my head swimmy. In silence, we watched the green bottle float away.


My parents filed for divorce and the cabin was tied up in the court battle for years. Eventually, Dad got it. In the meantime, I’d grown up, and didn’t think much about the woods or the house, or about Mortimer.


“Daddy, look what I found!” Millie, my daughter, came back running from the waterfront.

“What is it, honey?”

“Look!” She held out a green glass bottle, dripping. “A nice boy by the lake gave it to me. He said it was special.”

I inspected the bottle and a shiver slithered down my spine: the embossed snake. It couldn’t be… This was my first time back here since my Dad had died and left me the cabin, decades since I’d last seen Mortimer.

“That’s great, honey.” I swallowed hard. “Can you take me to that nice boy who gave you the bottle? I think we need to thank him.”

She grabbed my hand and led me through the trees toward the lake. I held the bottle tight.

I froze when I saw the familiar golden mane by the water.

Mortimer turned around and grinned. “Hello, Randolph.”

“Go back to the house, Millie,” I said. “Go help Mom with dinner.”

She looked at me, confused. “Didn’t you say we should thank the boy?”

“I did, and we should. I’ll take care of it. You go help your Mom, please.”

“But why can’t I…?”

“Millie, go! Now!”

Her eyes welled up, but she ran up to the house without another word.

The boy who had no business being a boy slowly moved toward me.

“Long time, no see, Randolph,” he said.

“Mortimer, how… How is this even possible?”

“You left me, Randolph. Again.”

“You know my name isn’t Randolph.”

“I don’t care what you call yourself. I know who you really are.”

He was just a few steps away from me.

“Mortimer, what is going on?”

“You said you loved me, Randolph,” Mortimer whispered. “You said we’d always be together. But you left me. You always leave me.”

I backpedaled slowly up the hill, toward the cabin. He followed, step for step, eyes locked onto mine.

“Why did you have to go to war, Randolph? You left me here all alone. And now you’re back with a family? With a woman, a child?”

“Mortimer, I never went to war. Whoever that Randolph is, it’s not me!”

His face was very close to mine.

“You belong to me, Randolph. You always have.”

He grabbed my head and placed a kiss on my lips. It was forceful, desperate. He felt cold, so very cold and wet, like I was being immersed in the lake.

“Get away from me!” I pushed him away and I ran back up as fast as I could.

“I won’t let you leave me again!” Mortimer yelled.

He was gaining on me. We were almost up at the house.

I stopped and turned toward him. My heart beat in my throat.

“I am not Randolph!” I screamed, and swung the bottle as hard as I could. It shattered against the side of his skull, as if it had hit a wall.

Mortimer grabbed his head where I’d struck him. Water seeped through his fingers, his face contorted with pain and confusion.

“My Randolph was gentle,” Mortimer whispered. “He would never hit me. You…you are not him.”

I sighed. “No, I’m not.” My arms felt heavy. I let them drop by my sides. “I’m sorry, Mortimer. I’m sorry Randolph broke your heart.”

Mortimer looked at me, his sadness deep and dark like the oldest part of the forest. His body vibrated softly, turning clear and fluid, dispersing into a fine lake-water mist.

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