The duty to visit the lake on the eve of the Weeping Moon went around to all those of age. It was decided by lot, so the order was never set, but once your name was drawn and you had performed the ritual, you were free until the names had all been drawn and the lots reset.
Roni had been drawn early, their first year, and late their last. They supposed it only made sense that they be drawn in the middle the third time. After this, they would have two more years in the drawn, and then they would be too old.
No one had ever told them why the ages were as they were. It wasn’t as if those drawn were children, nor stopped when they were elderly. Instead, it was five years, the first five of adulthood, and no more. Roni had wondered at that, had even, when they were younger, asked, but people didn’t like questions about the lake ritual. It seemed as if it were something dark, something secret, even though everyone in the village knew of it, had taken part or would take part in it. To Roni, that meant they should all know as much as they could. But no, this was not agreed, and so there were no answers to be had.
At least, no answers in the village. The lake, though, the lake was another story.
The ritual itself was simple. Take the basket, with the bandages, tincture, blanket, and rope, to the large flat rock. Sit on the edge of the lake as the weeping moon passed over, wait and watch, and be of help if needed. No one every explained what help they might have to give, but Roni thought the contents of the basket gave some clue. They thought, also, the rock gave more. When they sat on the rock the first year, they had kept their eyes fixed on the water the whole night. They had watched the ripples in the water and the reflection in the light.
Their second year, however, they had split their attention between the water and the stone, which was how they saw them. At the edge, as if someone had been clinging to the side, scratch marks. They must have been very old, for the marks were almost as weathered as the rocks themselves, but in the deepest pores they were still flecks of rust, and Roni couldn’t help but picture the bloodied fingers that made them.
Someone, they thought, had been at the lake during the weeping moon. Someone had needed help, but there was no one there to offer it, no one to throw a rope, grab their scrambling hands, and pull them up onto the safety of the rock. No one to treat and bind their wounds and wrap a blanket around their shoulders to stave off the chill. As Roni sat on the rock for this third vigil, they wondered why the village expected such a tragedy to reoccur. Or, if the intention was to remember it, why no one spoke of it.
They wondered that, right until they heard the first frantic splash and a sputtering cry for help.