There we stood, together, as we had always been. Why did I suddenly feel so alone? She was the epitome of the perfect mother; gentle and kind, compassionate and understanding, everything a proud daughter could ask for. Why was I suddenly so scared?
She motioned for me to follow. How could I not? Why would she ever mislead me? I’d always done as she had asked. I knew she would never hurt me. And so, I followed.
She spoke not a word as we approached the end of the pier. The rotting wood seemed to decay beneath our feet. One after the other, with each step taken, the boards withered away and sank into the darkness. But still we walked. This had to be safe if mother thought so.
I looked up into her comforting face. Just a look was all ever I needed for reassurance in the past. Her beautiful brown eyes stared deep into my soul. She knew I was apprehensive around the water – but why should I be? My mother had always taken away my fear. But now a look that once brought me hope brought me to my knees.
I looked back to find the dock had completely melted away. We were now standing alone in the middle of the lake – or was it a lake at all? A dense fog began rolling in revealing the true nature of the swamp around us. A horrible stench filled the air, seeping into my lungs making it almost impossible to breath. The waters below grew thick and dark. I could barely make out our clouded muddy reflection. This wasn’t a lake at all.
I frantically searched my mother’s eyes for some sort of reassurance. We’d be all right wouldn’t we? She said nothing but motioned for me to keep still. I did as I was instructed. Hadn’t I always? Why was she doing this? Maybe I was being punished for something I’d done to shame her.
In the distance, the waters began moving. Something had broken the eerie silence. Overcome with paralyzing fear I stared into the darkness. Mother remained unaffected.
I turned to run, finding nowhere to go. I was trapped inside my own fear. Mother gripped my arm with extraordinary strength. I couldn’t look at her. I stared down into the dark water afraid of the darkness I might see to look up. She grabbed my chin and forced my gaze back out into the night.
The rustling in the water was growing louder. I could feel a smile creep across my mother’s lips. I looked upon her face. Was it a smile at all? She was stoic, unresponsive… cold. I was no longer her little girl. I was on my own.
I felt another presence drawing near. Through the hazy fog appeared a small craft, silently drifting closer and closer. I could make out the silhouette of a body. I glanced over at my mother for an answer. The smile crept back across her lips. What was happening? Why were we here and why did it seem that this person could give her some twisted happiness that I couldn’t seem to give.
Again my mother motioned for me to be silent. Whatever was out there was close now. I could finally make out the shape of an old woman, uncomfortably hunched over in the middle of a rickety old boat. She peered up at me. I turned to somehow escape but my mother held my arm even tighter now and violently swung me back around.
“Hello.” The old woman hissed.
I couldn’t move. I saw her face now. She was old, weathered and horribly angry. Her ice blue eyes stared through my soul just as my mother’s had.
“Say Hello!” my mother screamed. “You’re going to upset her.”
“I, I can’t.” I sobbed.
“You will!” she ordered shoving me forward.
I lost my footing and stumbled from the last board keeping us afloat. I plunged into the water, inadvertently splashing the old woman. She screamed and lashed about. Her face shriveled and melted away. Her white hair turned the color of blood and danced around like fire in the sky. Her painful shrieks of agony echoed through the thick swamp air.
“Now look what you’ve done! Just look what you’ve done!” my mother chastised.
Desperately, I tried climbing into the boat causing it to capsize. The old woman began to sink while fighting frantically to stay afloat. She disappeared beneath the water.
There was a long, silent pause. Time seemed to stand still. The oxygen left the air…
And then suddenly – an explosion, a deep, muffled explosion. The water began to boil and turn red with blood. It swelled violently and began encircling my body. I searched for my mother’s hand to free me from this nightmare. She just stood there, that menacing grin still lighting her face. I sank deeper and deeper into the horror engulfing me.
Already exhausted, I pushed through the ever-thickening ooze trying to make my way to shore. Looking over my shoulder I saw the blood begin to curdle on the surface like oil on water. Slowly the water took shape.
There they were – the faces of lost children screeching in agony. They stared at me as if this was my fault. Maybe it was my fault. Their mangled, distorted faces seemed to eat at my soul. Wasn’t that enough for them?
They moved purposefully, in unison, toward me. I tried to swim away. I felt them at my feet. They were going to kill me.
I fought harder. I could see the shore. I was almost there! Just a few more feet and I’ll be safe. A sharp pain shot up my spine. They were biting at my legs. My fingers felt solid earth. My hands grasped at the stones and crumbling rocks. I dragged my aching body, inch by inch, to the shore and crawled onto the gritty sand. Completely drained, I threw myself over, just in time to see the disappointed faces of all those angry children fade back into the haze.
Through the dissipating fog, I stared out at two shadowy figures hovering, hand in hand, above the water. As the mist danced around their gleefully, angry faces I heard the sadistic laughter of the two women who’d both abandoned me.