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 now, she 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.