It had been twenty-four years since she’d last seen it, but the place looked exactly the same. The lake glimmered in the moonlight and reflected the night sky, making everything look surreal. Her childhood home stood hauntingly behind her.
Claire had always been pulled towards this place as a child, and she felt the same tug now. She drifted towards the lake and couldn’t help feeling excited as she drew closer. Was she finally going to solve the mystery of her sister’s death?
When she was younger, her sister would always come down to the lake to play. Claire could almost see Ellie now, giggling and splashing in the water. Every day, without fail, Ellie would put on her bathing suit (although more often than not she would just wear her clothes) and she would dash towards the lake, barely hearing Claire’s cries of protest.
Claire protested because she was scared of the stories her mother told.
She heard her mother tell tales of the strange being that lived in the lake, the being that had been there since her mother was a girl. When Little Claire asked her if those stories were true, her mother nodded solemnly.
“Yes, my dear. They’re true. But,” she said, and Little Claire leaned forward in her seat, eager to hear more, “the creature will never hurt anyone. In fact, it’s almost like a protector.”
Her mother gazed out of the window and Little Claire went back to playing with her dolls. If her mother said that it was okay, then it was. But Old Claire couldn’t help remembering what Little Claire did not notice: the longing in her mother’s gaze as she looked at the lake. Old Claire wondered what her mother was hiding.
Which is why she was back here, visiting her childhood home, trying to find the missing pieces.
Little Claire believed her mother’s stories, but Old Claire did not. They were fairy tales. Nothing lived in the lake except the memory of her sister’s life.
But then, why did Claire feel a connection to it? Even before her sister’s death, something was calling her. She never heeded that call, but some part of her always longed to run there with her sister, and laugh and be free.
Her mother must have felt it too, that never-ceasing pull towards the lake. It was why she never moved from this house. She was born here, and she died here.
When Claire got older, she couldn’t bear being near the lake. She was afraid of the power that it had over her. She was afraid of what would happen if she succumbed to its bidding.
But she had returned. And the lake still controlled her.
As Claire stepped towards the lake, she heard a soothing melody. A melody that made her want to dance and laugh and celebrate. A smile threatened to burst through the stone wall that was her face.
No. She would not smile at her sister’s place of death.
As the memory of Ellie surfaced, the melody turned sour, almost hostile. Claire tried to back away, but she found that her feet could not move. Her limbs would not work. The only thing Claire could operate was her mind.
She had to get out. Something told her that if she didn’t move, she would die. She struggled, but nothing happened. It was as if her body was not part of her anymore. Memories flashed through her mind.
A Christmas tree. Little Claire sat by the fireplace, unwrapping her presents. A new doll! She looked around the room for Ellie, to show her the gift. Ellie would not listen to her sister’s excited voice. She was staring out the window, looking at something far away. Little Claire’s face fell.
Claire struggled, trying to fight the alien presence that was taking over her. Another memory surfaced…
A birthday cake. It was Ellie’s birthday! Little Claire raced down the hallway to give her sister a homemade card. Ellie took it and hugged Little Claire. “Thank you,” she whispered. “I’ll show it to my friend.” Little Claire was confused. Her friend? Then she smiled with understanding. How cute. Ellie must have an imaginary friend.
“No! NO!” Old Claire shrieked, her voice cracking. “Stop!”
Later that day, Little Claire peeked out the window and saw Ellie kneeling next to the lake. It looked darker than usual. Ellie had something in her hands. Little Claire thought that it might be a drawing. Ellie placed it on the water, and it disappeared into the depths. Little Claire was confused, and a little scared. Was there a creature in the lake?
“Mommy? What lives in the lake?”
“No! I said stop!” Old Claire pleaded weakly. She was on her knees now, much like her sister many years before. “STOP!”
Her mother looked up in surprise. “What lives in the lake?” She glanced out of the window at Ellie. “Don’t worry. It won’t harm your sister. The stories I tell you… they’re true. But the creature will never hurt anyone. In fact, it’s almost like a protector.”
“LIES!” Old Claire screamed. “IT HURT MY SISTER!”
The alien presence forced the tip of her nose to touch the water. Claire was no longer in control of any part of her. Not her actions, not her thoughts, not her emotions. Tears rolled down her cheeks the creature projected her darkest memory onto the surface of the water.
Little Claire was coloring a picture for Ellie. She smiled as she imagined her sister’s reaction. She looked out of the window and saw that her sister was by the lake again. Little Claire felt a pang of resentment and sadness, but it didn’t last long. She wasn’t jealous of the creature that lived in the lake. She wasn’t jealous that her sister loved the lake more than her. In fact, Little Claire was happy that the lake brought Ellie so much joy.
She watched as Ellie waded knee-deep into the lake. It seemed to pulse with light and Little Claire backed away from the window. “Ellie?” she whispered. Although she was far away, Ellie turned her head and gave Little Claire a knowing smile. Then she fully submerged herself into the lake.
“Ellie? Ellie, come back!” Old Claire cried. Although her eyes were tightly shut, she watched as the memory played over and over on the back of her eyelids.
“Ellie!” Little Claire sobbed as her sister’s head didn’t break the surface. She ran out of the door, ignoring her mother’s cries. She slowed her pace as she neared the lake, unable to get any closer. Her mother grabbed her and pulled her away.
“Shhh, Claire. She’ll be okay. She’ll be okay,” her mother soothed.
Claire’s eyes snapped open. Her cheeks were no longer wet with tears. The presence was gone from her mind. She looked up and gasped. Her hands were shaking.
The sky was gone. The ground was soft sand that sloped downward like a funnel. At the bottom of the funnel, there was a girl.
Claire gasped, relieved. “Ellie!” She cried, stumbling in her haste to hug her sister.
Her sister’s eyes were white as she turned to look at Claire. Ellie smiled.
“Sister,” she cooed, spreading her arms. Claire fell into her sister’s embrace. She could feel Ellie’s bones as they wrapped around her. Some part of her wondered how she was down here, at the bottom of the lake. But she banished the thought from her mind.
She was with Ellie, and that was all that mattered.