The Last

by Brittney Corrigan

 

When the northern white rhino shows up, Fin is ready for the rites. The animal’s massive
horn materializes first, followed by small, black eyes and then heavy, three-toed hooves. Fin had been watching the free-standing archway, waiting for the beast to step through the gnarled wooden aperture into the plain of light. Now, she stands before the arch, holding a tall stone pitcher of water. The gray armor of the rhino’s shoulders emerges, then thick, wrinkled flanks, a curl of tail. The rhino is nervous, confused, its eyes wide and wary. But Fin is never afraid of what comes through the arch. She steps toward the rhino, carrying the stone vessel with practiced
ease.

Fin can’t remember ever being anywhere but here. She has always been the receiver, the
celebrant, the caretaker of the beings that come through the arch. Fin is a fulcrum, standing in the middle of the plain of light, the horizon gleaming beyond the arch. And beyond that horizon, the creatures she’s already ushered through call to her, lonely in each other’s company as they wait for her to return. Their voices tug at her, and she aches to go to them. A few decades back she could spend whole days among them, smoothing their feathers and stroking their fur. But new animals come through so often now that Fin can never leave the arch, can scarcely keep up with the rites.

The rhino takes a tentative step forward, lowers its head before Fin. She places a hand on its front horn, then tilts the pitcher over the rhino’s forehead and pours slowly, so the water rivers between its ears and down its face. Fin walks along the length of the great ungulate, pouring water over its back down to its tail, which relaxes as the last of the liquid drips down its leathery skin. The rhino shivers its hide, and its body begins to shimmer. The animal lifts its head toward the sounds coming from beyond the plain’s edge. It looks back for a moment at Fin, who stands quietly, holding the empty pitcher. Then the rhino takes off in a run, charging across the plain of light.

The sorrow that inhabits Fin whenever an animal comes through the arch sometimes feels too heavy to hold. She remembers them all: the Pyrenean ibex with knobby, ringed horns whose back sagged with the ghost-weight of the fallen tree that killed it; the Tasmanian tiger still stinking of zoo as Fin washed its banded fur; the Xerces blue butterfly that landed on Fin’s shoulder, allowed the anointing of its delicate wings. And many centuries before, the flightless dodo, stumbling through the archway, unafraid. All of them burdened with their solitary passings. All of them the last of their kind.

Fin walks a few paces to where a bright turquoise pool glistens on the plain of light. She dips her pitcher, fills it once again to the brim. For some time now, at least three creatures have come through the arch every hour. Insects with colorful bodies, birds with astonishing feathers or feathers muted as stone, frogs no bigger than Fin’s thumbnail. Creatures from the oceans’ depths, floating through the arch in search of the sea. Fin tends to all of them, sends them off across the plain of light.

*****

Fin fills pitcher after pitcher of water as the pace of creatures entering the plain of light
quickens. Sometimes animals from different continents come through the archway together, tangling with confusion and alarm. Fin cannot properly receive them, cannot give them the attention they deserve. She is coaxing a hawksbill turtle from the muscular arms of a mountain gorilla when a bird flies through the arch and continues right over Fin’s head, toward the clamorous horizon. Fin cannot tell what species of bird it was, may never find it again. She worries what will happen when it crests the horizon, unanointed. Fin’s pitcher is empty again. She lifts it with faltering hands.

A cheetah arrives at full sprint, streaking past her in a blur that becomes the plain of light
itself. Fin rushes to refill the pitcher, but the turquoise pool is empty. Fin stands rooted, wrestling with the unfamiliar disquiet that rises through her. The air is crowded with insect noise, squawking, and howls. Her head rings with the sounds of bats and dolphins trying to echolocate across the plain of light. Fin can feel the many species of whales calling to one another beyond the horizon, each in their own beautiful language. Then the plain shudders. Fin loses her balance, falls to the ground beside the arch.

A cascade of creatures streams through the opening, a mass of feathers and fur and
scales. There are so many of them, the ground disappears. The sky becomes a riot of wings. Fin struggles to her feet just as an elephant lumbers through the arch, swinging its trunk sadly from side to side, regarding her with vast, liquid eyes. Fin runs her hands along its flanks, but it shies away from her, turns its head toward the horizon. No animal has ever refused Fin’s comfort, her touch. She reaches for the pitcher, but it lies shattered at her feet. And for the first time in her existence on the plain of light, Fin is afraid.

For many moments, nothing else comes through the arch. All the creatures approach from beyond the horizon and fall silent, watching Fin. She turns her attention again to the archway, for now something else is approaching. Fin steps toward the arch to meet it, and relief washes over her like water. The creature before her is upright, skin smooth and barren except for long hairs sprouting from the slope of its skull. Its eyes are terrified, remorseful, and it hesitates before the creatures on the plain of light. As it passes through the arch, it flounders, and Fin reaches out. She takes its trembling fingers within her empty hands.

 


 

Brittney Corrigan is the author of the poetry collections Daughters, Breaking, Navigation, and 40 Weeks. Her newest collection, Solastalgia, a collection of poems about climate change, extinction, and the Anthropocene Age, is forthcoming from JackLeg Press in 2023. For more information, visit Brittney’s website: http://brittneycorrigan.com/.

Gray

by Nina Semczuk

 

Morning light illuminated the dirt pathways of Forest Park. Birds sang greetings as specks of golden dust seemed to hover between tree trunks. The place felt worlds away from the city. Abby barely noticed. She was pulled inside herself, repeating the conversation she had with her mother the night before. Advice. That’s what she needed before making a decision; that’s what friends were for.  

Turning a corner, she saw them. Rebecca was curved over the stroller, adjusting baby Toby in his seat. Nate stood to the side, stamping his feet. It looked like impatience, until she noticed the flashing sequence that played each time the ground met rubber. She hadn’t realized light-up shoes came in such a small size. A month had passed since Abby had last seen her friend. Now that there were two kids, it was hard. Abby had willingly made the trek from southern Brooklyn to see them.  

“Reb!” Abby called. She trotted toward the trio. Thank god Dave was home working, she thought, a sigh of relief tumbling through her mind. These days, it was rare to catch Rebecca without Dave in tow. Dave was fine. Tolerable. But he reminded her of a cliff. Abby would ask questions—polite ones, deep ones, funny ones—and it was as if she had tossed a bundle over the edge of an abyss. No reactions, no wafting back the conversational birdie.  

“Help Nate find his ball,” Rebecca said. She didn’t look up from Toby’s shoes, where she adjusted the straps. “He tossed it somewhere over there.” A jerk of her head indicated the sloping wooded area. Abby paused. Should she lean in for a quick hug? Just then, Nate started screaming.  

“Abby, please. He’s going to get worked up.” Rebecca tightened Toby’s seat buckle.  

Abby looked at Nate.  “Hi, little guy!” Her voice sounded garish, modulated bright and child friendly.  

“Let’s find your ball,” Abby said, feeling a bit stupid. She started down the side of the path, her eyes scanning left to right, right to left. It had rained a few days ago, and the ground was soft. Her shoes left indents. 

Abby heard Nate whining. She looked over her shoulder. He tugged at Rebecca, who ignored him. Rebecca’s thumbs stamped into her phone, her forearms resting on the stroller.  

Rebecca glanced down the hill and caught Abby’s eyes. 

“Forget it. I’ll just get him a new one,” she called. “Let’s get moving otherwise we’ll miss nap time.”  

“Oh. Alright,” Abby replied. She started up the slope. She felt the sticky black mud cling to her sneakers. She wondered if she’d be able to wash them in the tub without upsetting her roommate. Jen expressed herself by taping index cards to objects. Close the lid when you flushno candles in the living room; stop cooking after 9 p.m. Classic passive aggressiveness, Abby’s friend Victoria had said. Do you ever communicate in person? she had asked. Abby had shaken her head. Somehow emails, index cards, and text messages had become the forum for their relationship. We may have never had more than one conversation in person, Abby had said, but at least she cleans her dishes and takes out the trash.  

But you live with this person. Don’t you want to be friendly?  

She shook her head again. What’s the point? We’ll each replace each other sooner or later, move on, that sort of thing.  

Rebecca was walking down the path. Abby hurried to catch up.  

“Sorry,” said Rebecca. Her lips attempted a smile. “It’s so much harder with two.”  

“Of course.” Abby slung an arm around Rebecca’s shoulders and gave a quick squeeze. “No need to apologize.”  

They walked down the path, Nate wandering in front of them, Toby cooing from his front-row seat. “How is everything?” asked Abby. 

“Oh god. Remember when I said the boys were in a motion sickness phase?”  

Abby nodded. Rebecca continued. Those rear facing car seats were murderous on inner ears, and upholstery. Next, Dave refused to help with the kids in the morning. He needed the mornings to prepare for work. That was rich seeing as his commute was less than two strides—he worked from the dining room table. Then, how Rebecca’s parents were avoiding confirming Memorial Day plans. They always gathered in Central Park for a picnic, why wouldn’t they just stop being difficult for once? Didn’t they know how little time she had these days? 

Abby listened. She nodded or shook her head at the appropriate times. When Nate fell down, she fitted the vee of her hands under his tiny armpits and set him back on his feet. 

The sun had moved overhead by now. The park suddenly was crowded with dogs and their owners. Rebecca stopped talking. Abby glanced over. Rebecca flicked through pictures on her phone.  

“But what about you?” Abby asked.  

Rebecca had craved motherhood. Kids would happen, or she would leave, was what she had said to Dave. Abby remembered that storm in her friend’s relationship. But now her desire manifested had been rough. Rebecca blacked the screen and looked at Abby. Tears threatened the corners of her eyes. “I’m so tired.”  

Abby reached a hand for her shoulder. She nodded again for Rebecca to keep talking. Rebecca continued, her troubles falling over themselves as they exited her mouth.  

Eventually, they came to the train tracks that marked the end of the walk.  

“Your turn,” said Rebecca.  

Abby inhaled. “Well. Last night, my mother called.”  

Just then, Nate tripped. He fell to his hands and knees. He looked up at his mother.  

Rebecca’s face was crumpled in concern. “Baby,” she cried.  

Nate’s face morphed from stunned surprise to distress. He opened his mouth and shrieked. Rebecca scooped him up. She started walking away.  

“He'll quiet if I run him,” she said, starting a light jog. “Push the stroller, would you?” she said over her shoulder. She bounced away. 

Abby placed her hands on the bar and pushed. The wheels remained static. Abby looked up. Rebecca and Nate were yards ahead. 

Abby stared at the stroller. There were tabs on the side. She pressed them. No movement. 

“Rebecca!” she called. “How do I work this?” The park swallowed her words. She craned over the shade to look at Toby. He stared at the distant figure of his mother.  

“Don’t worry, little guy. She didn’t forget you.”  

Toby’s eyes stayed forward, intent on keeping his mother in his frame of sight. Abby bent down to look at the wheel. She prodded it. 

A spandexed runner took pity. “You have to release the lever on the bottom,” said the woman, jogging in place. “I have the same model.” 

“Thanks!” said Abby. The woman’s head stayed forward as she glided off. She was either too focused or too far to hear.  

* 

That evening, Abby found herself shrinking away from the tall man next to her on the subway. The crush of riders had squished her under his armpit. She twisted sideways to avoid touching him, and adjusted the earcups of her headphones. She turned up the volume on the ambient playlist and tried to pull her body into itself. She was almost to Penn Station. 

Her music stopped. A phone call cut through. PAMELA WARIN read the notification banner. Worry bound Abby’s breath. She stuffed it down. An exhale wheezed out. She pressed dismiss. It was too soon. She hadn’t figured out what to say.  

The train slowed to a stop. Abby was carried out of the doors by the collective surge. She wove through the congestion of people to make her way to—she checked her phone again—Shake Shack. Lynn and Robert were near the front of the long, clustered line. 

“Hey guys,” Abby said, maneuvering her way near them.  

Lynn turned. “So sorry! I thought Robert made the reservation at Friedman’s—” 

“But you said you did,” broke in Robert. He turned to Abby. “Sorry. This was the only place with gluten-free stuff for her.”  

Abby looked around. There were ledges to eat on, but no tables, no chairs.  

“No worries!” said Abby. She knew they were busy with renovations for their house in Hudson, and with their careers in finance. She was grateful to spend time with them before they headed upstate to Albany to see Robert’s sister. “I’ve been sitting all day anyway,” she lied. She had learned early to make others comfortable, a reflex she couldn’t suppress.   

Lynn angled her jaw toward Robert. “Well, I haven’t. I worked from my treadmill desk all day.”  

Robert lifted his arms, his two palms facing Lynn.  

Lynn continued. “I was looking forward to having a nice, cozy, seated, chat with our friend.”  

Abby forced a chuckle. “It’ll be fine!” She looked from Robert to Lynn.  

“Can I take your order?”  The cashier stared at the three of them. Lynn stepped forward. 

“Hey, you cut the line,” said a woman behind Abby. Abby bit her lip. She felt a hand tapping her shoulder. She turned. 

“We’ve all been waiting much longer than you.” A stout woman with a cloud of wiry red hair glared at Abby. She adjusted her bag and angled her body. Abby felt slivers of panic start to pierce her insides.   

“I’m sorry, I’m with my friends,” she offered. Her face warmed. The line, zombified with hunger, had awakened to see what would happen. Two teen girls looked up from their phones to watch. One angled her phone in their direction. 

“Well, that doesn’t help me, or anyone else who waited their turn, does it?”  

Abby turned around again, looking for help. Lynn and Robert waved from the side; they had found ledge space. Lynn mouthed “We’ll save you a spot.” Robert took his phone from his jacket.  

“Well?” asked the woman.  

“No fucking cutting,” said one of the teens. 

Abby felt as if she were on a stage, poised to be pelted by tomatoes. She held up her hands. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” She sidestepped around the woman who stood like a blockade in her path.  

“Sure ya are,” the woman said. She stepped up to order, shaking her head at Abby. 

Abby walked to the end of the line. The panic melted into something dark and viscous and sad. A dragging sensation tugged at the base of her skull. Shaking it away, Abby lifted an arm to wave at her friends. Neither Lynn nor Robert noticed, their heads were bent over their phones. The glow illuminated their faces.  

She took a spot in the line that now unfurled into the hall of Penn Station. Was it even worth ordering? By the time she had her food, Lynn and Robert might be done. She waved again; no luck. Abby pulled out her phone. She texted Lynn. Had to get back in line. Lady said I cut. Sorry! Three dots appeared, then a message: No worries! We’ll join you when we finish. So hungry. 

As Abby waited, a mottled ache began to whisper from behind the shutters of her eyes. After twenty minutes, Abby was finally within the footprint of the eatery, but a half dozen people remained in front of her. Lynn and Robert appeared, flanking her. Robert wiped ketchup from his mouth on his coat sleeve. Lynn threaded an arm around Abby’s waist. She squeezed. “I was famished! I feel so much better now.” Lynn released Abby’s waist and reached over Abby’s head to ruffle Robert’s hair. 

“Same,” said Robert, laughing.  

Abby smiled at them. She tried to shove away an uncharitable thought that blurted through her mind. If their positions were swapped, she would have ordered for them, or at least have shared her food. She had traveled from Brooklyn to see them; it wasn’t her fault they screwed up the dinner reservation; she wasn’t allowed to pick where they ate, on account of Lynn’s dietary preferences. Abby swept away the thought. Expecting people to act how you would was a path to unhappiness. That’s what her yoga teacher preached. 

“Excited for Albany?” Abby asked. She wanted to get the small talk over with. The line moved forward. 

“Oh, you know how I feel about Sylvia,” Lynn said. She lifted her eyebrows.  

Robert shot her a look. “You two need to play nice.” 

“I would, if she wouldn’t always ask us for money,” said Lynn. 

“Me,” said Robert. “Not us.” 

“We’re married, so it’s our money, not yours.”  

Robert opened his mouth, then shut it. He looked at Abby. “Enough about us. What about you? Lynn said needed our opinion?” 

Abby grimaced. This wasn’t how she imagined opening the scab that was her relationship with her mother. 

“Yes,” she said. “My mother called the other day and asked me, well... told me—” 

The cashier broke in. “Can I take your order?” Abby’s head toggled from Lynn to Robert.  

“Don’t look at us, honey. We’re stuffed.” Lynn said. “Unless you want a shake?” she asked, looking at Robert.  

“No, the ride will be uncomfortable enough as it is without tempting my lactose intolerance.” He laughed.  

“Your order?” asked the cashier. 

“Go ahead,” said Lynn to Abby. “We’ll leave you to your dinner.” She looked at her phone. “We have to get to the track.” She pecked Abby two inches from her right ear. Robert squeezed her shoulder. “Sorry to eat and run!” They were off with a clatter of rolling luggage wheels. Abby felt something surge within her, threatening to reach the upper limits of her threshold. She lifted her shoulders up, bracing for—something—when the smell of ketchup cut through. The sounds of Penn Station washed over her as she settled back into the footprint of her being.  

* 

Abby shoved the last of the burger into her mouth and stuffed the bag into the overflowing bin on the Franklin Ave stop. Ahead of her on the stairs leaving the station, a pair of friends paused on the steps. One leaned into the other to catch her words. Abby’s heart yawned in envy. She took her phone out of her pocket and called Victoria. She answered after one ring.  

“So sorry to cancel on you!” Victoria said. “Tinder Dan came through and you know how it’s been for me.” 

“Wait what?” asked Abby. “No coffee tomorrow?” At the base of her neck, a buzzing sensation tickled. 

“No, I sent you the text just now. I thought that’s why you called,” said Victoria. 

“I just got off the train. It didn’t come through yet.” 

“You really should get a better phone.” 

“I know, I know,” said Abby. “I wanted to talk to you tonight anyway, instead of tomorrow.” 

“Shit,” said Victoria. “I dropped acetone on the floor. Hold on.” Abby heard her best friend shoo away her orange tabby. 

A few minutes passed. The inner buzzing quieted to a dim hum. 

“Sorry about that,” said Victoria. “What’s up?” 

“My mom called—” 

“Your mom!” cried Victoria. “You heard from her?”  

“Yes, actually, she called to—”
“Hold on, hold on,” Victoria broke in. “It’s my lawyer, I have to answer.” 

“But it’s so late.”  

“I know, that’s why I have to get it,” said Victoria. “Don’t worry. Next time we see each other we’ll chat. I have lots to tell you about Tinder Dan.” 

“And my mom,” started Abby. 

“Yes! Of course,” said Victoria. “Gotta go, love you!” 

Abby turned on Sterling Place. She could see her upstairs neighbor outside the building with her dog, returning from their evening walk. 

Abby trotted forward. “Hold the door,” she called. But Nadia and her dog were already in the building. The door shut. They disappeared up the stairs.  

Abby fit her key in the lock and swung the door open. On the vestibule floor were piles of mail, some marked with muddy footprints. She bent down. In the mess, she found the check she had been waiting for. She opened the mailbox. Nothing for Jen, plenty for Abby. She grabbed the envelopes and headed up to the apartment.  

Inside, on the console table lay a neat stack of Jen’s mail. Faint sounds carried from Jen’s closed door. It was Wicked, again. Jen began singing along. Her evening routine. Abby had bought noise-canceling headphones after Jen refused to turn the volume down, or wear headphones herself. “It's not the same,” she had said. “Besides, I can’t sing with headphones on.” Abby had let it go, because really, was it worth starting a fight with someone who has access to your toothbrush and journal? Tonight was different.   

Abby knocked on the door.  

The singing increased in volume. 

 “Jen, let’s talk.” She raised her voice above the music. 

Abby knocked again. “Jen?”  

The music swelled. Jen launched into Defying Gravity, full volume. 

Abby lifted her arm and reeled back. She had a vision of her fist smashing through the door; her hand grabbing Jen by the throat. She took a deep breath. Her arm fell to the side. The anger flared again, lifting her arm in its wake. She shook herself. Exhaled, and deflated. A bath would help. It would be quiet at the other end of the apartment. Abby could pretend Jen didn’t exist.  

She walked into the bathroom. Her mother’s whining, pleading, grating voice filled her head. She had asked for money, again. A year of silence after the last ask, the subsequent collection calls, letters, hounding. She had returned carting the same old tired words. This is the last time I’ll ask you for anything. What kind of daughter ignores their mother? Who raised you to be so selfish?  

Abby looked at the mirrored vanity. Her face, pale and bland, reflected back at her. Something about it struck her as marred. A hint of her mother in the shape of her eyebrows, the set of her mouth. The pulsing began again. The shores of her being began to rise to her inner ears.  

Without consciously instructing her limbs what to do, Abby knelt and opened the cabinet under the sink. There, in the back corner, huddled two small canisters of paint, leftover from some previous tenant. The super had ignored her request to remove them. But now here they were, waiting.  

She lifted the one with white puddles crusting it closed. A flathead screwdriver was still on the floor from last week. She picked it up. She traced its blunt edge on the lines in her left palm, feeling a trail of metallic ice in its wake. Abby jabbed it under the lip of the can. 

She stood. Her hand snatched a makeup brush. Bending down, she pushed the brush into the paint. She raised the dripping vessel and smeared it across the vanity mirror, blotting over her blinking eyes. 

Abby studied the effect. Then her legs bent and again she was underneath the sink. She picked up the other can and levered off the lid. Inside was dark, a smothering black. It felt welcome. Down plunged the brush. She smeared it across the mirror, where it dripped and mingled with the white, creating a shade of concrete. 

Abby stroked right to left, left to right, working up. Her nose and mouth still reflected back, while the top half of her head was obscured. A wail began. Satisfied with the upper half, Abby painted a broad swath across her nose. The wail faded; the sound feathered. Her breath stifled. Abby’s eyes flicked to the last thing of color in the mirror. Her mouth, open. A wordless beacon of hideous pink.  

Her hand jerked down. She drew one line. Then one more.

 


 

Nina Semczuk's writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Coal Hill Review, Sledgehammer Lit, The Line Literary Review, Rougarou Journal, The War Horse, MONEY, Tasting Table, and elsewhere. She has received support from the NEA and Poets & Writers. Before moving to Brooklyn, she served in the army for five years.

Down By The Water

by Naomie C. Monexe

 

July 27 2019 3:40AM  

Izara woke to the croaking of frogs and the smell of the muggy outdoors in her nose. Her bed was damp with sweat, her legs slick with it too. Frustrated, she slipped out of bed and made her way out to the kitchen. The urge to sleep hadn’t come back to her yet so she figured a drink to cool her off wouldn’t hurt. Her stomach churned as the wood beneath her feet dipped.  

 The house wasn’t that bad but its deterioration was evident.  The white paint wasn’t very white anymore. Outside, the brambles grew wild and unchecked and began to crawl its way up the walls. The surrounding trees drooped against the roof, the thick limbs resting on the shoddy thing.  The damage was worse inside with the sagging wooden floors and the spotty holes in the roof. From the scuttling and scratching noises she heard as well, she figured something had dug its way in and made itself  comfortable.  

Something about being back in her childhood home made her shiver.  Before the house sank to this sorry state, she used to live here. The walls had watched her grow up. How many times had she walked down this hallway? The number climbed into the thousands but still, she felt like a stranger. 

The noise of the outside made its way through the thin walls. The buzz of insects, the ever present frogs, the hooting of owls and the chirping of birds. The noises rattled in her brain, she felt dizzy with it.  God, Izara hated the bayou.  

It wasn’t her choice really. Her mother had called her one night unexpectedly and asked if she wanted to come back home. Her immediate reply was no. 

She was proud of the way she said it firmly, amazed at how she stood up to her mother without giving it a second thought.  The situation, she felt, was a result of her mother’s own stubbornness. When she flitted off to whatever city sold large houses for cheap, she was adamant on not selling the house and dragging along her Izara’s already ailing grandmother. The yearly visits to the Basin began shortly afterwards, always during the summer when the heat could bake the earth. From what she could tell, this year her grandmother’s health took a sharp turn for the worst and left her unable to visit.  

It became easier and easier to say no with this thought in her mind until her mother broke down over the phone. Izara could hear the tears in her choked voice.  

“Izzy, you know if I could go myself, I would. I know how much you hate it over there but I can’t leave your grandma alone.” 

Izzy. She recalled the nickname and how it reflected better times, fonder memories. The memories soured when she realized why her mother was using it now after so long. The no was on the tip of her tongue again but she faltered. The combination of her mother’s tears and the nickname left her without the will to argue.  

Izara sighed, defeated. 

And nowshe was back in the house she despised. A week wasn’t horrible when she thought of it. But seven whole days away from the city, away from the new life she created for herself. Izara was extremely content with the fresh start the city offered her when she first moved out. Its promise of anonymity, her own space to grow, a place to create her own mundane rituals. She was hesitant to give it up even if it was only for a handful of days.  

  This place poisons everything it can get its slimy hands on. Izara thought. But it won’t happen to me again. Not this time.  

She plucked a bottle of water from the fridge and drank it greedily and headed back to her room. The walk back was slow. The sinking wood beneath her feet, the incessant cries of the cicadas, and the oppressive dark had a strange effect on her senses. The way back seemed longer somehow, the dark turning the inches to yards. She placed her hand on the wall, feeling for the light switch and was relieved when she flicked it on. The bulb’s light was weak but sufficient and Izara walked the rest of the way unperturbed. 

Izara wasn’t eager to get back in her bed but it beat out the peeling leather couch. She kicked off her sheets this time and stripped down to her underwear.  

As she lay there in the dark, she laughed incredulously to herself. Once again, she was six and twelve and eighteen trying to bear the heat of the Louisiana summer. Who would’ve thought she’d have to live like this again? With no AC or overhead fan? With no one’s house to stay over when the heat got too much to bear?  

Izara reached over to the crowded nightstand and turned on her phone to check the time. The screen read 3:45 and the laugh quickly died on her lips. Before she could banish it, the image came rushing to her. The handclap game she used to play with her friends, the childish nursery rhyme they squealed as her mother approached them from behind with a faux witch’s laugh and waggling fingers.  

Don’t let Miss Mamba catch you past four! 

She’ll have her snakes reaching for you through the floor! 

Fifteen minutes to four. She’d be asleep by then if she tried hard enough. Like she was a little girl again, Izara counted as high as she could go, measuring the moments with her heartbeats until her eyes slid shut.  

 

July 27, 2019 9:30AM 

Izara woke up several hours later, the sun shining in through the threadbare curtain. Being in her old room lulled her back into old habits again. Before she realized it, her hands moved of their own accord. She began listing tasks to do in the morning one by one.  

Take the sheets off the bed. Take your soiled pajamas. There should be rainwater in the kitchen, put the laundry to soak before you wash. While they soak, take out the trash.  It’s been so long since she’s last visited, she figured, why not throw herself into her chores? It made her feel like she was at home without the fear of reminiscing. In the quiet of the morning, she did the chores that were previously designated for her mother, then her. It was odd with the house so empty now but she relished in the silence.  

By late morning she was over this sinking feeling of being a stranger in her own home. She entered the bathroom with the intent to search for a bucket but she paused as she walked past the dirty mirror.  There was a startled girl staring back at her, vaguely familiar. The face was childish, baby fat still rounding out the contours of her cheeks and head just a bit too large for the neck and thin shoulders. Izara whipped around to see if the girl was behind her and the reflection followed. There was a sudden chill in the air as she leaned over the sink’s edge and peered closer at the mirror.  

For a second, she swore she saw someone else. Now, all that was left was her. She prodded at her own face, eyes inspecting her visage. Beneath the dim light of the bathroom, Izara’s brown skin seemed dull. There wasn’t enough time to get her hair done before she flew out to the Basin so it lay in drab, barely shoulder length twists that made her look awkward. 

She thought back to the face she saw before and her mind drifted. Could that have been her? Or was it someone else? A voice cried out in her mind, tone snide and sarcastic, Impossible.  

Izara moved away from the mirror and left the bathroom without the bucket, suddenly chilled to the bone. 

12:00PM 

She was hanging her sheets to dry when she heard the rumble of a car from all the way down the road.  The house was nestled deep in the Basin, their nearest neighbor a short drive away, about a five minute walk if she was trying to get there quickly and ten minutes if she wanted her clothes to look presentable by the time she got there. Easily Izara slipped into another memory, one that made her smile. Years of memory stitched themselves together before her eyes. Still photos of Izara, that familiar girl and the only son of the Lockwoods who lived nearest to them.  Decades ago they gathered together to hang the sheets or dance in the rain or sit on the porch, Izara, the girl and him sitting in a circle feet kicked up in the air. The Basin wasn’t so bad, she supposed, in the company of her friends.  

How strange it would be to encounter the both of them again in this backyard?  

Very strange considering they’re both gone, whispered the Basin.  

Izara pretended not to hear.  

In the distance,  the slosh and splash of tires through shin deep puddles snapped her out of her heat induced daze. 

She turned to watch the grey SUV churn down the road, the hulking mass of a car just a grey spot in the distance grew closer and closer. As it drove past, she squinted to see who was driving but the windows were tinted too dark. Her first instinct was to wave like her mother did. A friendly face and a smile to greet the passerby.  

Izara, instead, curled her hand into a fist and shrugged, returning to hanging the remainder of her sheets. It didn’t matter much to her whether she greeted anybody in the Basin with a smile anymore.  

By the time she’d finished hanging her sheets, the thought of Nathaniel Lockwood left her mind completely. With a large red bucket tucked under her arm, she marched her way to the back door. Again, the sound of an engine could be heard coming down the road toward her.  

The urge to look was like a child tugging at her hair, adamant that you pay attention to them. Izara took a breath and marched with determination. The house wasn’t very far now.  

Her steps quickened when the car engine shut off.  

Don’t look. Don’t look. Don’t look. She repeated this mantra to herself till her hand fumbled for the doorknob.  

“Iz?” The voice called out from behind her.  

It wasn’t the bayou speaking. A real person this time. A person that yanked sharply along the thread she dropped earlier when the car first interrupted her thoughts.  

“Izzy?” Steps advanced toward her till finally, she whipped around, heart in her throat.  

- 

The afternoon passed in a blur of awkward laughter and shy gazes. Nathaniel Lockwood wasn’t gone like she previously assumed. Instead, he urged that it was she who disappeared from the Basin. He spoke of her dwindling presence in the neighborhood till finally, she moved out for college and never looked back. There was a vague loneliness in his voice that matched the look in his eyes.  

Uneasiness coiled tight in the pit of her stomach when his eyes settled on her. Izara felt them take her in and scrutinize her.  Silently she longed to be erased from existence, pink rubber lifting the lines of her figure till she was nothing but dark shavings on the floor.  

Don’t let him stay for too long. He shouldn’t be in this house. It was a mistake inviting him in. These three thoughts circled round in her head like bullets ricocheting off invisible walls. But when she remembered his forlorn speech and his quiet desolation she couldn’t help but want to keep him there for just a moment more.  

You’ll regret this, Izara, whispered the bayou.  

She pressed her lips together and a tiny voice in her mind replied, I know.  

- 

Izara leaned against his car door, head perched against her arms on the lowered window. The crickets had begun to chirp as the sun dipped low in the sky, painting the Basin in a muddled red and orange. From afar she could hear a dog bark then a sharp whistle, the stop and go droning of insects. A chorus of nature’s song surrounded them and soon enough, talk came easy to the pair. Izara reveled in the drawl of Nathaniel’s words, found solace in the way the O’s and U’s left his mouth. Her own mouth wrapped around the letters, slipping into a dialect she could never quite get rid of.  

Overhead, lightning streaked across the sky, the crack of thunder that followed made her jump. The wind began to pick up and she caught sight of the sheets billowing in the growing wind. When she craned her head to look towards them, his eyes followed hers and he offered to help her take them down. Although she did decline, he wouldn’t take no for an answer and together, beneath the darkening sky, they hurried to the backyard.  

As their hands unclipped the sheets and folded them, Nathaniel said hesitantly, “I never thought we’d be back in your yard again folding sheets.” 

Izara shot him a strange look. She could feel where this conversation was going and dreaded it.  

“I never thought I’d see you again,” he whispered, “Especially not after Scilla-” 

Her mouth went dry and panic sunk its claws into her. They spoke together at the same time, Izara with a suggestion to not talk about this anymore and Nathaniel with a question. She froze as the words left his mouth.  

“Why are you here, Izara?” He was expecting a solid answer, she could tell in the way he looked at her with intent, eyes almost forceful, attempting to wheedle the answer from her.  

“I’m here because my mother asked me to be here, Nathaniel. That’s all.” 

He didn’t say a word in reply. He simply cast his eyes downward and allowed his hands to move mechanically.  

They finished bringing in the sheets in silence just as it began to rain. Melancholy was a shawl that draped around her shoulders barely shielding her from the fat droplets of rain. Years and years prior, a shower like this would send kids running home, shoes slapping dully against the waterlogged earth. She missed the sounds of life in the Basin. How she longed for it now to keep her company in this wretched place.  

Izara felt herself sinking low into a dark place, neck deep in dismal reverie. It was a challenge bringing herself to fix the bed then make something to eat. When she finished, she took a quick shower in tepid water and went to bed, not allowing herself to think much too hard about the events of the afternoon.    

 

July 29th, 2019 6:00PM  

It was a quiet evening in the Basin that day.  Izara sat in her mother’s rocking chair where the TV used to be, crocheting needle in hand. It was easy, monotonous work. She enjoyed counting the loops, gazing down at the stitches and back at her template to ensure she was doing it correctly.  

From upstairs came a thump.  

She paused her crocheting to look up towards the ceiling then back down towards the unfinished halter top in her hands. She continued her crocheting again, slowly at first then faster as she caught the rhythm of it once more. Another thump came minutes later in the middle of her counting.  

Izara stopped again, flustered. She’d lost her place.  

A third thump came then fourth. It stopped when she stood up.  

She gazed upwards towards the ceiling, eyes and ears trained to try and figure out which room it was coming from.  

She held her breath. The house did too, the rooms quiet and still once more.  

It was a game of sitting, standing and sitting down again as the thumps continued upstairs. She didn’t have the heart to check but she recognized the incessant rhythm after minutes of hearing it above her head.  

The handclap game was a game every babe in the Basin knew. At crowded bus stops, the rhythm could be heard, the shrieks of glee as the girls gathered to see who could last the longest.  

Miss Mamba’s prowlin’, how long will you last?  

Miss Mamba’s howlin’, better get out there fast! 

The hop forward, then twist as the girls traded partners and slap, slap, slapped their hands against one another’s four times.  

Izara had taken part in these games too. She enjoyed them with her classmates and her mother who had taught it to her. Again, there was a pang in her chest and slowly, she withdrew from the thought before she became entrenched in it. It was easy to get lost like this as July 31st loomed closer, even easier to imagine these sounds now that she was back at home. Everything reminded her of the old days, every move she made riddled with nostalgia. At the edge of her mind lurked the girl from just days before. She seemed to slip right into her memories as if she belonged there. Tiny face twisted into a grin as the moments from so long ago played behind her eyes.  

 

6:05PM 

Red, black, I found it dead! 

Brown, black, I chopped its head! 

The voices echoed clearly in her head now. It couldn’t be, Izara thought. Impossible.  

She scrambled down the hall to where the source of the thumping came from. There were no more girls in the Basin, she thought again. They were dead and gone. There were no more handclap games in the Basin. They’d outgrown it years and years ago.  

One, mamba 

Two, mamba 

Three, mamba 

Four!  

They'll come knockin' at your door!  

There was no logical explanation for these sounds and yet she heard them loud and clear. Izara approached the door to the room at the end of the hallway, the thuping as loud as ever, the voices of children growing in volume. Her palms were sweaty and the doorknob felt cool against her hand. She twisted slowly then shoved it open all at once, prepared to surprise and overcome whoever had snuck in.  

Izara took in the dusty room. There was a twin sized bed shoved in the corner, an empty bookcase and a shabby rug on the floor. Sunlight streamed in through the curtainless windows illuminating the particles in the air.  

If there was nothing there, Izara thought, then what had made the noise?  

Her chest heaved and it became hard for her to breathe.  Children in here, giggling and laughing and playing Miss Mamba. Did she imagine it?  

She couldn’t have.  

Her eyes swept across the room once more and her gaze landed on a picture frame lying face down on the ground. She approached it slowly when she realized the glass had shattered. Izara lifted it from the ground, shaking off the broken glass onto the floor.  

The picture was of her and two others. One she recognized as Nathaniel and the other, the child she saw in the mirror. All three of them were smiling, making silly poses for the camera. In faded blue marker written in a thin, scrawling print, it read: Izzy, Scilla and Nat 06/28/09. 

Scilla. The name made her head begin to throb, like someone tapped at it with an ice pick. Before she knew it she was out of the room. She slammed the door behind her and ran down to the bathroom where she splashed her face with cold water.  

The urge to flee was tempting but she couldn’t. Her mother had sent her in her stead, she couldn’t just leave because she was uncomfortable. What would she tell her in the first place? She was seeing the face of a little girl everywhere? The Basin was making her go mad? It had been a long time since her mother last pitied her and Izara was sure she wouldn’t pity her now.  

She paused to take a deep breath. Three more days, she thought to herself. Then she’d be away from here. A small part of her wondered if she’d make it out of this place unscathed. 

 

July 30th, 2019  

Izara spent the entire day in a stupor. Waking up late in the day set her entire routine askew and she didn’t do much to recover.  Everything outside was grey, she heard thunder and felt the house tremble ever so slightly. Eventually, when she forced herself out of bed, it was like she was drunk. The floor swam before her eyes and she was so disoriented it was hard for her to make it down the stairs and to the kitchen. Even when she had struggled to get herself there, the food she heated up in the microwave made her wrinkle her nose in disgust.  

Izara didn’t know what time it was, nor did she care. She lugged herself to the couch where she spent the remainder of the day falling in and out of dark dreams, one where she heard laughter that did not belong to her, saw faces that stirred up feelings that made her want to weep.  

Thunder rumbled overhead. The sound slipped into her subconscious mind and from it came a dark and fragmented dream. Izara found herself grappling with some kind of beast, slimy like an eel but with scales like a snake. It slithered after her as her unsure feet stumbled through vague surroundings. There was nothing for her to trip on but she fell, crashing hard against the ground. The miry thing was upon her quickly, its tail wrapping around her legs. When it opened its mouth, rows and rows of sharp teeth filled it like a shark’s.  

Izara wanted to scream but she couldn’t. An invisible fist wrapped itself around her lungs and squeezed hard. As she gasped for breath, her eyes caught sight of something- no, someone looming over the shoulder of the beast. It was hard to make them out in the dark but they shuffled closer.  

Izara found her ability to scream then. It was the little girl from the mirror, the photo, the one that prowled in and out of her home and her mind. Their eyes locked and Izara couldn’t believe the sheer amount of pressure against her chest, then this overwhelming dread that overcame everything else.  

With every fibre of  her being, she believed she’d die right then and there, staring into the eyes of that girl. A little girl whose eyes screamed that she knew Izara and that she was determined to make Izara know her as well. 

 

July 31st, 2019 3:50AM 

Izara awoke with a start. Outside it had stopped raining and night had fallen. The house was quiet apart from her ragged breathing. The dream was unsettling, the feeling too real. She felt unsafe in the house now shrouded in shadow. Izara couldn’t stand being here anymore, the thought of sleeping or living trapped within its walls made her want to scream. 

Her head began to pound as she remembered the girl’s face so near and so concrete, eyes so intent on Izara. The flurry of thoughts came quicker than she could keep track and her mind became a living hive buzzing like angry bees.  

One question cut through the noise.  

What was today’s date?  

She scrambled up to her room, staggering up the stairs. She crashed into her bedroom and looked for her phone, hands shaking as she turned it on. The phone lit up and her breath caught in her throat.  

The time read 3:50am, the date July 31st.  

The dream began to make sense and the appearance of the child, too. Ten years ago to the day, something terrible happened in the Basin. Izara forced herself not to remember, and tried so hard to keep the event away. It was so close to 4am too and Izara didn’t want to be awake.  Just as she sat down on her bed, back facing away from the window, a shadow loomed over her and blotted out the faint light of the moon. 

She froze in place. 

From the corner of her eye, she saw a flicker of movement, a back and forth movement that inched closer to her. She forced herself to shut her eyes, breath going ragged once more. This was just a dream. If she sat here long enough she’d wake up. 

Something sidled across the bed and then she felt a cool touch gliding across her hand. Izara had no choice but to turn around and look at what had crawled its way in.  

 A dark, abnormally long finger slid against her knuckles then bile rose in her throat as a smell filled the room. It was dank and rotting, much too similar to the outside.   

Right beside her bed was the curl of a large tail that seemed to wrap fill the room. She didn’t turn all the way around. Instead she hoisted herself up and out of the door, feet taking her down the stairs, through the hallway and out the door. 

 

July 31st, 2019 3:59AM 

 Izara slammed herself against Nathaniel’s door with tremendous force, her fists battering the rotting wood.  

“Nathaniel!” She screamed. The skin on her knuckles split. She saw her own blood stain the offwhite door. Her hand pulled desperately against the doorknob, tugging and rattling on it till she felt it would snap off. The voices from the rotten bayou did little to hide itself, it took great pleasure in her fear, sucking it in and growing stronger as the seconds ticked further and further into 4am.  

She was making enough noise to rouse the entire Basin, she was sure of it but Nathaniel did not appear before her.  

“Nathaniel, please!” She shrieked now as her eyes caught sight of something dark and dripping emerging from the jaws of the Basin.   

She grew horribly impatient, murmuring curses under her breath. It flickered in and out of  her sight but it seemed closer now. Half crawling, half slithering, it dragged itself into the open. Horrified she watched as it rose onto its tail and opened its mouth impossibly wide. Out poured a voice that belonged to nothing she’s ever heard before.  

The voice prowled into her mind, a whisper at first then an ear splitting shriek. She clapped her hands over her ears and once more she felt herself give in to her fate. She’d been in this position once as a child, a little girl attempting to escape a reality she couldn’t quite accept.  

Even if Nathaniel did open the door now, nothing could stop this hungry thing. She felt the snakes slither upwards and around, her body becoming a writhing mass of reptiles. She fell to her knees. Behind her the beast raced forward, drunk on her fear. The long arms tore into the ground and launched it forward.  

It was just then, the door cracked open and a startled Nathaniel appeared in the doorway. When he saw a trembling Izara crouched on the floor, he gasped and grabbed her by the wrist, dragged her inside.  

Izara stumbled inside, into his arms. His bare chest warm against her drenched clothes, she held onto like he was the only real thing on earth. He might as well have been at that point.  

She was surprised when his arms didn’t twine around her waist to pull her in closer.  He didn’t return her warmth. She felt him shaking, like he was seething. Izara pulled away, unshed tears finally streaming down her face.  

“Please Nathaniel, you have to listen to me,” the words that followed streamed out in a muddled mess. There’s something after me. It’s trying to kill me. It wants me dead. Just look outside the window, it’s there. It’s coming. We have to hide before it tries to come after you too.  

Nathaniel’s handsome face was twisted into something so monstrous Izara stumbled backwards. Her breath came rapidly, fear creeping up on her once more as he inched towards her. 

“Do you hear yourself Izara? You’re makin’ enough noise to wake up the entire Basin and tryin’ to tell me it’s because there’s monsters after you?”  

Vexed, she shouted back, “You haven’t seen what I’ve seen, Nathaniel! Don’t you dare try and tell me what’s real or not!” 

“You’re losing your mind because of what happened years ago, Izzy!” 

Cracks in the dam of her heart began to form, she felt the walls begin to tremble and quake. She pressed her hands over her ears, unwilling to hear anymore. Her sense of reality was slipping from her grasp but this would send her teetering over the edge. Like a scratched CD, the word no was stuck on her lips. The frantic pace of her heart was in her ears. The beat drowned out Nathaniel. She pressed harder, squeezing her eyes shut as she did so and was unaware of his hands reaching toward her till his fingers wrapped around her wrists and pried her hands away from her ears.  

Like a wounded dog she whimpered. Like a child she cried. His words pierced every part of her till she could drown in her own tears, till her shuddering could move mountains.  

“What happened to Priscilla couldn’t have been your fault, Izara. You have to let it go.” 

Izara cried out at her name. She’d scratched it out of her mind with sharp fingernails, bent on forgetting, intent on erasing her.  

For so long she had pushed it down, away from the forefront of her memory but in one fell swoop she was there again. An apparition who would never let her go, one that stood at her door and the edge of her memory and in her heart. Priscilla. She recalled her sister’s name and her face and then the nightmare turned real. Her drowning, body thrashing and suddenly disappearing in the filthy water.  

The wound was fresh and deep, time only gouging its fingers in deeper and rubbing salt on the already inflamed skin. Izara was unsure how long she cried but Nathaniel sat beside her until she stopped.  

Izara quivered like a fallen leaf. Nathaniel’s quiet voice called her to the present.  

“Izzy,” he said as if he were talking to a child, “You have to finish this. I don’t know how but you gotta.” 

She nodded. She was terrified of her voice now and feared the words that would come out of her mouth. Izara was vaguely aware of what happened next. Nathaniel had left her side and her bare feet took her deep into the basin. The persistent heavy rains had soaked the already wet ground and flooded the ground. Before she knew it, green grass turned into moist earth then moist earth to mud till her feet were covered in water.  

The night, already split in two, fragmented even further as Izara found herself trudging through knee deep water. The moon offered little light as the trees grew denser.  Around her, the bayou cried out. A haunting, inescapable sound. She heard the voice she knew then more, guttural strings of words she could barely understand. Beneath it all, a laugh that dripped with malice.  

 The Basin pushed her forward two steps and then mud circled round her ankles and sucked her back in. The limbs of trees reached for her, roots arched and poised to trip her feet. Again, she stepped into the mouth of the swamp and it attempted to crush her beneath its teeth, grind her flesh down to nothing. Twice she nearly fell in. The third time, she splashed into the water. She couldn’t help but scream when her hands slapped the water then landed on something writhing within its depths. It curled around her wrist and she cried out, louder this time.  

She had to get out of here. She needed to leave. The feeling welled up in her till she was full to bursting. But she couldn’t. The weight of Nathaniel’s words weighed on her soul like nothing she’s ever felt before. Fear seized Izara’s heart and threatened to stamp out its beat but her feet knew the paths her mind had forgotten. With grim determination, she slogged deeper into the Basin.  

 

July 31, 2019 4:51AM 

Ten years had passed and the heart of the Basin  remained at a standstill. The cypress tree and its giant thorns poking out from the water, its jutting limbs like needles. The darkness was like thick molasses. Izara’s breath came in short, little huffs partly because of exhaustion and another part recognition. If she shut her eyes, she could recreate this hollow of the earth in her mind perfectly. If she reached her hand out, she could feel Priscilla’s hand slip into her own, grubby fingers holding tight.  

They’d always played on the edge of this place, dipping their toes into the warm water and screaming as they slapped their hands against the surface, droplets flying and making the placid surface ripple. They would play Miss Mamba for long stretches of time, treating the game like an incantation. It was always their greatest fear that the urban legend would come rising out of the water with her four giant snakes, each adorning a part of her body.  

‘What if one day she does come out? What would we do?’ Priscilla would sometimes ask.  

‘I’m sending you, Scilla-girl, to the snakes!’ Izara would say, then roar with laughter when her sister puffed out her cheeks and crossed her arms firmly across her chest.  

‘It isn’t funny, Izzy!’ She’d cry out, then add, ‘And don’t call me Scilla-girl!’  

The teasing was harmless and the two would return to their fun and games till the sun began to make its steady descent in the western horizon. The summer days unspooled endlessly before them, their youth and vitality crowning the girls as princesses of the season. It was all cut short that steamy day.  

Izara remembered distinctly how hot it was that week. Monday’s temperatures climbed high into the 90s, Tuesday the same, Wednesday even higher. They spent the days sprawled out on the couch, sitting in front of a shitty white fan blowing humid air back at them, drinking cold glasses of ice water. When the fan died, they resorted to fanning themselves with the cover pages of hardback novels and pressing cold packs to their foreheads. The local news projected the heat wave would end that Friday, July 31st.  

They would make a party of it, the girls assumed. From what they overheard, there was supposed to be a snow cone machine. The Lockwoods next door promised to bring it over once the heat broke later in the day, but, hot and bored, the girls couldn’t be bothered with waiting.  

The final day of the wave was brutal. By noon the house was sweltering. No amount of ice or fanning could soothe this relentless heat. Izara could see her sister’s sour mood when they sat on the couch far apart. Izara was the one who whispered the suggestion. A quiet thing that grew more and more tempting as the degrees crawled upwards.  

The heat made them impulsive. Their mother was busy in the kitchen making a chilled fruit salad. The girls watched her back turned and slipped quietly out the back door.  

Sweat poured in rivulets down their backs. The prickly rays of the sun pushed them forward, urging them to go faster. Hand in hand, they clambered through the wetlands to the heart of the Basin where all the water pooled together. One thousand and one times they’d been there but this time, it felt like approaching the banks of an oasis. Without a word they splashed into the water, careful not to let their heads dip below the surface. They were blithe. They’d almost forgotten this feeling of submersion, they reveled in it, swam as if it were their last time.  

The princesses of summer recalled their mother’s warning not to swim in the lake and paid it no mind. Nothing that felt this good should be taboo, they thought. Noon settled into afternoon and then into evening, the dusk wind began to blow and the heat that plagued them all throughout the week began to dissipate. It was then Izara realized the time. She’d called to Priscilla who had swum out further than she, bravery firm in the lines of her face.  

‘Scilla! We have to go! Ma will get mad if we’re not in before the sun goes down!’  

Priscilla swam backwards, arms windmilling in and out of the water as the distance between the banks and her grew, ‘One more minute!’  

‘We’ll come back tomorrow! Get out of the water!’ 

Priscilla made a sound of protest. Izara felt her patience wearing thin with the girl. 

‘I’m going to leave you here with Miss Mamba and her four snakes if you don’t get out right now!’ She did her best to mimic her mother’s tone hoping it would be enough to urge her sister out of the water.  

‘Miss Mamba isn’t even real, you’re just trying to scare me!’  

She stamped her foot on the ground, groaned her sister’s name. ‘Nathaniel’s going to eat all of the snow cones!’ 

Priscilla didn’t respond. 

‘Fine,’ Izara snapped. ‘I’m leaving.’ 

Izara turned, head hanging low, damp clothes clinging to her skin. She would walk a bit past the thickets of trees to scare Priscilla. She’d get out of the water for sure if she thought Izara was actually gone.  

She crouched low and waited for her sister to react. It wasn’t long till she heard the first cries.  

‘Iz-zeeee!’ 

She snickered.  

‘C’mon Iz!’  

From her hiding place, Izara chuckled quietly. She pressed a hand over her mouth in an attempt to stifle the sounds.  

‘Izzy! I know you’re there!’  

Izara had it all planned out in her head, she’d wait a few more moments, get Priscilla real nervous before she’d spring out of the trees, brimming with laughter.  

‘Iz! Okay, I’m sorry I’ll get out of the water.’ 

There was something odd in her voice. Izara could hear a slight tremor. Her brows furrowed, glee turning into concern. She was making enough commotion for Priscilla to hear her now, she trekked back towards the bank of the lake. She heard something else, a splash in the water. Then another. Priscilla’s shout for help was sharp and distinct, shooting towards Izara like an arrow seeking its target. The splashing continued and Izara broke out into a run. She was only past the cypress tree, it shouldn’t be this far. The panic made her lose her sense of direction, everything so familiar turned alien and threatening.   

‘Scilla?’ Izara panted out her name. ‘Priscilla!’ 

When she finally made it to the edge of the lake, Priscilla was thrashing in the water, attempting to keep herself afloat. In horror, Izara watched as her head went beneath the churning waves. She came back up after a few moments but her cries for help were nothing but a wet gurgle as she went under again, this time for seconds longer. 

Izara dove into the lake, swimming faster than she thought capable towards Priscilla. The water weighed her down like lead and she pushed herself further, quicker, desperation evident in her sloppy movements.  

Izara sought out her sister’s flailing arm as her head went under for the third and last time. She tried diving beneath the rippling surface arms stretching to meet Priscilla’s but there was nothing but reeds and inky-black. Priscilla, who had just been there, kicking and clawing at the water to survive, was lost in the heart of the Basin.  

The walk back home was horrible. There was such a trembling in her limbs, she found it impossible to walk without stumbling. Everything afterward was a blur. Priscilla’s body was never found even when the neighborhood scrounged up enough money to hire a diver. There was only guilt and her mother’s wail of anguish to keep her company for the years to come.  Her guilt calcified, turned her heart to stone. Izara moved out for college then her mother followed suit, leaving her home and dead little girl in the deep south. Izara chipped away at the memory of her sister until eventually there was barely anything left. Or so she thought.  

Now, she stood at the edge of this vast body of water, memory fading out into nothing as she found herself back in the heart of the Basin. There was a ripple of movement in the lake. She thought her eyes were playing tricks on her but she saw it again, closer to her now than before.  

The thing that rose from the center of the lake was the monster she’d seen in her dreams, the beast that chased her through the night. It approached her again, eyes narrowed to slits. Izara could see it smile, teeth wickedly sharp.  

I never thought I’d see you again. Like before, the guttural voice glided into her mind.  

Again? Izara wanted to ask but she couldn’t form the words.  

You have nothing you want to say to me? Its eyes narrowed at her again, she saw herself reflected in them.  

What, you don’t recognize me?  

Izara’s mouth fell open, poised to speak but she closed it again quickly. It couldn’t be. It seemed hurt at her reaction.  

“Priscilla?” Izara asked finally.  

At the mention of the name, the outlines of it flickered. It was there and then it wasn’t dark scales melting into the lake and impossible height shrinking. A girl replaced the monster in front of her, brown skin no longer quite brown, curly dark hair braided in two. The girl wore old shorts and a shirt she assumed was pink. Around her wrist, a dull silver charm bracelet. Izara pressed her face to the wet curls, not paying any mind to the smell of dead leaves or the distinct scent of the lake, or how cold the body in her arms was. She cried again, harder than before this time as she felt her sister’s twiggy arms around her, the dig of her stubby fingers in the fabric of her shirt. It was different but it was still Priscilla. Anything was better than the reality she settled for, the one where she’d never get to hold her sister again.  

Priscilla’s voice shook when she talked, “I was so mad at you, Izzy. I never thought I’d be that mad at you for that long ever. And then you stopped coming and then I felt lonely. I missed you and Mama and Nathaniel. I was so sad I never got to have those snow cones or play Miss Mamba with you ever again. I’m sorry I spooked you. I didn’t think you’d come visit me if I didn’t bring you all the way out here myself.” 

Izara pulled away, laughed weakly and offered a meager apology of her own.  

She shrugged in response. “I guess it’s not really your fault. I’d be scared outta my wits if I were you too.” 

The two sat together, Izara on the outer bank and Priscilla, half submerged mere inches away. She was twelve again sitting beside her sister. Scilla explained how she came to be the best she could.  

“Miss Mamba is real, by the way,” she stated matter-of-factly, “I guess she felt bad or something but she’s the reason I could send snakes over to the house and why I looked like that before. She explained it to me but I keep telling her I don’t really get it.” 

Izara blinked in surprise but she didn’t press her for an explanation.  

 “She’s kinda like Mama sometimes, especially when I don’t listen. Don’t tell her I told you this but,” her voice dropped to a whisper, “she’s weird. I saw her eat a gator once but not in nuggets. Like… whole. 

Izara laughed loudly and tears sprang up in her eyes once more. The realization that it was her sister that sat beside her never ceased to surprise her. Izara pressed her warm hand to Priscilla’s cold one and squeezed, a reassurance that she was really there.  

Time stretched. Minutes felt like months, an hour turned into years. The girls spoke in long winded sentences, the sheer amount and thens uttered that night could wrap around the world twice. So many questions from the ever curious Priscilla and endless explanations from Izara. 

She learned from Priscilla that her mother’s yearly visits to the Basin weren’t just for the house’s sake. Her mother would spend hours at the lake on the anniversary of her death, sometimes with flowers or Priscilla’s favorite food. A simple, tiny gesture to honor the girl she lost so long ago.  Izara kept her mother at arm’s length to avoid facing the guilt and blame but the realization dawned on her as the sky began to lighten. It wasn’t just her who suffered. After everything, a mother lost her daughter. A community lost one of their own.  

Priscilla’s eyes lifted to watch and a sad look crossed her face. She looked back to Izara who hadn’t noticed and said, “I gotta go soon, Iz. Mamba’ll get mad I’m out this late.” 

She recalled the line about this in the handclap game. Get to six and then you’re safe. Funny how after all this time the words rang true.  

Suddenly, Priscilla asked, “Can we play one last time? Miss Mamba says she hates the game but she always asks me to say the words.” She stressed the ‘always’ and rolled her eyes, a habit their mother admonished her for.  

“I think she secretly misses when the Basin had lotsa people. This would make her feel a little better.” 

Izara agreed with a quickness, standing up and stretching her stiff arms and legs before turning to Priscilla. It took several starts because Izara had forgotten the words and her body ached in too many places for her to count. When the game began, Izara smiled so hard she felt her cheeks would split. She let Priscilla win and she cried out triumphant, claiming that it was obvious she won as she lived with Miss Mamba now.   

Priscilla then surprised her with a fierce hug and murmured, “You’re so tall.” 

Izara felt moisture gather at the front of her shirt where Priscilla’s face was. She realized suddenly that her sister was crying.  

“I promised Mamba I wouldn’t cry,” she said frustrated, “She knows I’m not a crybaby but-”  

She pulled away suddenly from Izara and began rubbing furiously at her eyes, “But I just missed you.” 

Moments later, she burst into a loud wail, one that echoed throughout the bayou. Izara had seen a dozen sides of Priscilla that night but not this one. Even while she was living, it was rare to see her sister so utterly distraught that she cried like this in front of another. Izara reached her hand toward her to draw her to her chest once more but Priscilla shoved her hands away.  

Through her tears she hiccuped, “I’ll be fine I just-,” she couldn’t finish her sentence as a fresh wave of tears made rivers down her face.  

It took a little while but her crying eventually ceased.  She looked up at Izara half bashful and half smug, “Look I may not be big like you but that’s not even important ‘cause you’re big and you spent all night crying and screaming your head off!” 

She began to run around in the water, arms flailing.  

Ahh, there’s snakes in my house! Ahhhh, I think I’m going crazy!” Priscilla yelled in what Izara guessed to be an exaggerated version of what she looked like all night.  

“It’s not funny, Scilla, you scared me bad!” 

Just like that, her sister was doubled over, clutching her stomach and teasing her. Izara couldn’t bring herself to be upset. It was ironic how ten years ago, it was Izara who had planned to tease her sister for being scared but now, the tables were turned. 

The girls whispered their goodbyes and Izara found herself in tears again. She watched quietly as Priscilla dove into the water and swam further and further away till she disappeared. Izara’s chest ached and this hollow feeling began to nag at her as she turned on her heel and began to walk back to her home.  

The sky was an odd shade of blue and orange as dawn approached her steadily. Izara walked back to her home, feet aching and mind still whirring from the events that occurred mere hours ago. It all blurred together, scenes of terror already morphing into something else. She recalled the clammy feel of Priscilla’s skin, remembered its firmness beneath hers and shook away the fear that she had imagined the entire thing. The jaws of the wetland opened its maw once more and out came Izara, clothes filthy but spirit changed.  

 


 

Naomie C. Monexe is a Haitian-American undergraduate student at the University of Miami pursuing a B.A in Anthropology. She enjoys writing speculative fiction, horror, and gothic romance. She tends to write short stories and flash fictions but hopes to publish a full length novel in the years to come.

las aguas

by D. Rodriguez

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D. Rodriguez is a writer currently living in Miami, Florida. They have contributed to No Tender Fences: An Anthology of Immigrant & First-Generation American Poetry and Sporklet. They can be found on Twitter @bustingfleets