The first steps into the water are tepid and unfamiliar. The soles of her feet squish against the moss-covered rocks that line the sandy shoreline and the beginning of the east side of Claire Lake. Hannah knows she must move cautiously or she’ll slip on the slick bottom. She knows what the girls at camp will say if she doesn’t return with it. Freak. Loser. Pussy. The words move her forward, her feet melting into the soft mud. Only her pink, freckled shoulders and pulled back auburn hair peek from the lake’s blue-green surface. She inhales, her flat chest rising, shining towards the sky, and then she slips under.
Hannah blinks her eyes open, taking in the underwater world. Fish of various sizes and patterns dart around her, her presence unnoticed. Algae and reeds blow back and forth as though they are dancing. Her eyes can only see a few feet in front of her, the dirt and plants swirl around creating clouds. The perfect setting to meet a legend, she thinks.
Her feet sink into the mud at the bottom of the lake. Her cheeks puff out, her breath caught in her throat. Air bubbles float from her nostrils, flooding the water in front of her. Her chest tightens. The bottom of her throat starts to tingle. Remember what the girls said, Hannah tells herself. Walk into the lake. Go under, all the way to the bottom. Stand there until your lungs burn and you feel like you’re going to pass out. Then she’ll come.
Hannah strains her eyes, willing the Lady of the Lake to appear. Fish continue to swim around her as though she isn’t there. Algae and reeds continue their slow waltz. You’re going to die a virgin, Bug Bites, the girls said. Unless you get her necklace. Please come, Hannah begs the Lady of the Lake. Her throat is on fire. The flame spreads down her chest, into her lungs and belly. White stars shimmer before her eyes. She can’t go back empty handed. She can’t go back to being the only girl at camp who doesn’t have it.
The girl is about to lose consciousness when a ghostly figure materializes before her. Hannah opens her eyes as wide as she can, trying to look past the white stars to the shadow. It is a woman with dark blue skin, hair, and eyes. Scraps of fabric hang from her emaciated torso and limbs as though she is a mummy unraveled. A medallion the color of blood sits on her clavicle. Carved into it is the silhouette of a woman with her arms extended above her head.
Get her necklace. The words surround Hannah like the girls at camp had, their lips pulled back as though they were ready to sink their teeth into her. She shakes her head to push away the girls’ threats.
“I know why you’ve come,” the Lady of the Lake says. Her voice is soft, gentle even. “I know what you want.”
Hannah nods, her head bobbing. The stars are multiplying, flooding her vision.
“I cannot give it to you. It is not yours to keep, but you will not leave empty handed.”
Gravity slips from Hannah, the mud releasing its grip on her feet. She can’t go back without it. She can’t be laughed at anymore.
Her eyes are slits now. She tries to focus on the red medallion.
“You’ll mourn this time once you have it. In my day it was called the woman’s curse.”
Everything goes black, the woman and her medallion and the fish and algae erased by darkness.
A wave of water rushes from her throat. The girl rolls onto her stomach. She lets the water flow from her mouth until strings of saliva drip onto the sandy beach. Pebbles poke the wrinkled skin of her palms and belly. She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand before pressing up to a seated position. A prickle of pain stabs her lower belly. She places her hand to the soft flesh. There is an opening down below, a release. Hannah smiles to herself.
She has it.
The girl stands and walks back to camp, her flat chest pushed forward as though its blooming, each of her steps certain and knowing.
Christina Rosso is a red-headed siren and bookstore owner living in South Philadelphia with her bearded husband and two rescue pups. Her work has been featured in Twisted Sister Lit Mag, Queen Mob’s Tea House, FIVE:2:ONE Magazine, and more. Visit christinarosso.wordpress.com or find her on Twitter @Rosso_Christina.