“Opal?” my mother calls from the hallway. “Are you ready yet?” Her words sound like razors and train tracks, metal on metal, but I’m past answering. She only gets sharper as my father’s presence fades from the house. The windowsill is hard against my palms and my toes stretch down to reach the ground below my bedroom window.
The summer grass is cool and sticky soft under my feet and shoes would have been a good idea, but they were the furthest thing from my mind. I run through the back fields and the tall grass swallows me whole, catching my hair and the breath I didn’t know I was holding until it rushes from me. This is Willowreach in the summer, all green, even in the dark. I run fingertips across rough tree bark as I pass and the trees whisper sweet nothings to me. I could listen to them all night, but I don’t have the time. I pass my dad’s grave just yards from where the river took him, and a fresher one next to his.
Fireflies light the banks of the river, like the slowest strobe lights in the world, and I’m looking for Indie. I startle a bullfrog from the reeds and he splashes into the water, the ripples lapping at my toes. Something heavy presses at my temples and it has a voice like blades against my skin. The draw to walk in and let the warm water have me is immense. I’ve felt the pull all summer, like a buzz in my brain, getting louder as time passes. Mud squishes between my toes and I swear there are voices in the water too. They say things I couldn’t repeat to my mother without getting slapped. An arm snakes around me and pulls me back. My feet squelch out of the mud, as if it was already trying to pull me in.
“You shouldn’t be so close to the water.” Indiana’s eyes are green really, but in the night of Willowreach they’re as dark as the shadows the trees throw around us. “It’s talking to you.” It’s not a question, but it should be. She always knows. Her eyebrows come together and she looks as angry as the water sounded.
“Yeah, it is. Everything is.” The truth hangs between us, heavy as a summers storm. I hadn’t said it out loud yet.
She spins away from me. “Shit.”
It sounds like anger but if I know her at all it has to be fear, and I know her better than anyone.
My fingernails dig into my palms, but it’s the only way to stop my hands from shaking. The bullfrog gurgles in the silence that only he and the river break into pieces. “What do I do?” My voice sounds like a smaller version of myself.
She is beautiful and terrified and she says, “What do I do?” and all I can think is I love her and I have to kill her. The frog screams murder to the night, but I love her. This is the magic of Willowreach. I’m tied to this place by every string I tried to cut, but they buried my father here, and hers before him, and we can’t get out. It steals us away, just like my other said it would. And hers. Like poison, it’s in our bones. I love her, but it doesn’t matter. Everything talks. Everything whispers.
It’s all about how we will destroy everything we touch. I followed her footsteps to the bank of the river.They burned holes in the grass. The tree she touched is smoking, smouldering.
She didn’t see it, but this morning I dropped a bird straight from the air with just a breath. Yesterday I burned my mother’s skin with just a touch. She’s long gone now.
“We gotta go, you know?” Hand on her shoulders, I push her back a step so that the river laps at her heels. Her skin is hot, but the air is cool and alive around us.
“We shouldn’t be so close to the water.” She is shaking as much as her voice and her blonde hair is like white silk in the light of the fireflies, reflecting off her like so many sparks. Her pupils are pools of night deeper than anything I’ve ever seen.
“We have to go. You know we can’t stay.”
The tear that slips down her face sizzles at it hits the ground, and the plants under it die in seconds.
I take her hand and we walk into the water. It welcomes us like family, and that bullfrog sings murder the whole time.
For more inspiring art by Tian Miao Lin, please visit her website (http://www.wanggongxin.com/). Sculpture © Copyright, Tian Miao Lin 2004. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Stay tuned for extra content this week from Julie. Return next Monday for Anne’s answer to this prompt.