The Dead Kids of Hennepin County

The Dead Kids of Hennepin County

Eric Magnuson


The boy's mother assumes God is an asshole. The girl's mother says the boy is an asshole. The girl's father blames:

This half-frozen lake. Global warming. But also, not enough global warming. Himself. Teenage dreams. The neighbors for not seeing. The night for not letting them see. The sundown. Time. In general. He should have told her how to be young.

Pulling the bodies from beneath the ice is complicated. And yet.

Most of the kids at the party could still count every beer they've drunk in their lives. Tyler, 56. Madison, 11; didn't like it, though she'd pretend.

The diver's glossy black scalp emerges from the frosted hole. The sheriff, his deputies, firefighters, some ill-prepared volunteers; all attentively wait at the edge. The diver pulls the oxygen from his mouth, spit stringing off his lips. The sky distressingly clear.

Antics. One kid was very unoriginal: His vomit melted the backyard's snow. Another kid repeated jokes from a movie. Madison gripped Tyler's hand like he'd leave her for internet porn. The kids were good with their shitty jokes. The kids were good with their alcohol. The kids were good.

A week earlier, the sheriff stepped onto the ice, a satchel full of police flyers at his side. The surface pooled at noon in the sun, forming wet constellations between icehouses—the plywood boxes filled with men and fishing holes. Spring came early: The sheriff trudged from one icehouse to another for last warnings. He tacked notices to each door: Thank you for your timely removal.

A table cluttered with a Polaroid's last photos: Tyler happy enough, obviously happy(?), but Madison's smile always strained and awkward, seeming to know that he'd end it before graduation beat them to it. Somebody snapped the wet snowfall, all of the beer bottles spread about, and a girl named Brianna, catching the glint of her braces as she stepped out of the guest room door. She told Madison that she just saw Tyler's dick in Catherine's mouth. I saw it!

The diver's eyes are much bluer than the water rippling around him.

Madison didn't move, then moved, then didn't move, then peered through the guest room door, Tyler sitting on the bed, his legs hidden over the edge facing the opposite wall. A blonde head hovered just past the mattress's ridge. Madison may have spoken, she didn't speak, she panicked toward the living room's sliding glass door and stepped out. The air halting, but no longer deepest-winter cold—degrees above average. She crunched through crusty snow toward shore. Yet just past the guest room's bed, a second head rose. A third. Boys and girls. A boardgame laid flat between all four. Beers left watermarks on play money.

At sunrise, the couple's tracks still dotted the snow, leading to the middle of the bay where ice turned damp and gray. At 2:00 a.m., when winter returned out of breath and frigid, their footprints briefly froze in the top-layer of slush. Then the footprints stopped.

The game finished, every beer down, Tyler went looking for Madison, but left the room only to cheers and laughter. Jealousies became pranks became word quickly spreading; word became incredible rumor; rumor became everyone's reputation come Monday morning. Distraught, Tyler picked up Madison's coat and jogged outside. Beneath a half-crescent of moonlight, he saw a silhouette holding itself tightly, walking unsteadily, already fifty yards onto the ice.

Two sets of parents wait in cars on the shoreline. Each vehicle puddle-splashed and idling. From the hole, the adults are only dark shadows behind windshields. From the cars, the hole is unseen; only uniformed men and women standing on water. Then a lump is pulled from the ice. One car pulls away. Then the other.

No neighbor heard the boy screaming for the girl. Nor the girl for him. In the basement's music, no kid heard the watery pop that engulfed both in a widening rim.

Parents and police ask. They get muddled answers. The kids are too embarrassed to admit why Tyler and Madison crossed the ice. They let the community blame:

Teenage drinking. Budweiser. The 22-year-old coworker who bought kids alcohol. The Johnsons for not being home. Movies. Movies about teenage drinking. Pop stars.

The kids are still embarrassed by love.

Eric Magnuson's fiction has appeared in Camera Obscura, The Los Angeles Review, and Midwestern Gothic, among others, while his journalism has been published in many magazines, such as Rolling Stone, The Nation, and The Art Newspaper. He is writing a novel based on "The Dead Kids of Hennepin County." Follow him at @EJMagnuson.

Illustration by Lydia Fusco.

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