Copyright is held by the author.
ANNA SPAT out her mouthful of toothpaste, rinsed her mouth and dropped the toothbrush into the ceramic holder before studying her reflection in the mirror. She looked pale and unwell, dark circles beneath puffy eyes. She had barely slept since they arrived at the cottage a week earlier. James had rented it, insisting that the break would do them good. How being stuck in the middle of nowhere — with nothing to occupy her troubled mind — could possibly do Anna any good, she really wasn’t sure.
A knock came at the bathroom door. He was out there, waiting for her.
“Anna, are you finished? You’ve been in there a while.”
“I’ll be out in a minute!” She snatched up a hair tie and pulled her long brown hair into a loose plait. Then, she opened the door. Not looking at her husband, she hurried over to the bed and climbed into it. The window was open, a faint breeze stirring behind the curtains. She glanced over at it. Soon, the voices would come drifting in through that very window. Children’s voices. Calling out to her. One of them, her own child’s.
James strode across the room and pulled the window closed almost violently. She blinked and looked up at him.
“There’s nobody out there, Anna,” he said sharply. “Not Melinda, not anybody. I know it’s hard, but that’s the truth of it. You need to pull yourself together.”
She lay down and closed her eyes. Footsteps crossed the room and the bathroom door closed with a snap. When he returned, she pretended to be asleep. But all the time, she was waiting. Waiting for those cries to summon her. Because tonight was the night. Tonight, she would go to them.
As usual, the cries began around midnight. Muffled though they were by the closed window, she could still hear them clearly. Especially the little girl’s voice. Her little girl’s.
She slipped out of bed as silently as she could, padding barefoot across the room. She paused only to grab a shawl, wrapping it tightly about her body. Down the stairs, through the kitchen and out the back door. A chill wind whipped at her face.
She broke out into a run, heading towards the lake – to where the voices were coming from, mingling with the whisper of the water. As she neared, she could see figures emerging from the darkness that surrounded them. Small figures. Children, all of them. Just as she had thought. Her heart began to pound as she drew ever nearer. Their hands were reaching out to her, as though to drag her closer. Her eyes scanned over them, searching. Searching desperately for a glimpse of her daughter’s face. Her twinkling brown eyes. Her smile . . .
“Melinda!” she called out. “Melinda, where are you? It’s me, it’s Mummy. I’m here . . .”
The figures around her seemed to melt away, back into the blackness of night. She stared around frantically, trying to find them again. She stopped and listened, wanting to hear them. But now, the only cries which hovered upon the wind were her own.
“Melinda . . .” She had to be here, she had to. Anna had heard her.
A figure seemed to materialize then — right out of the centre of the mist which drifted silently over the lake.
Anna laughed, gazing longingly at her daughter. Water lapped around Melinda’s small body as she gazed back at her mother, eyes glittering through the darkness.
“Mummy —” The child held out her pale arms, reaching for Anna, who didn’t hesitate. She began wading through the water, dropping the shawl from around her shoulders so that it floated across the surface of the water like a giant flower petal. Her nightdress instantly became saturated, weighing her down, but she didn’t care.
Tears coursed down her face as she finally drew near enough to reach out for her daughter. But in an instant, Melinda had vanished again. A stifled gasp fell from Anna’s lips, her throat constricting. A slight splashing sound behind her had her wheeling around.
Melinda stood before her once again, the many other children alongside her. Sinister smiles touched their faces. Up close, Anna could see that the child in front of her was not really Melinda at all. The face was blurring before her very eyes — until it, like all of the other children’s, was merely a white smudge in the darkness.
The chill from the water seemed to be seeping into Anna’s blood as the children closed in around her. She felt dozens of little hands pushing her down, beneath the water. She was powerless to resist.
James stood by the window, gazing out at the dull morning. His eyes were sore, his throat raw from crying. In the distance, he could see the glimmer of the lake where his wife had drowned herself. In his hands, he clutched the shawl that the police had fished out of the water when they’d been searching for her. Silent tears streamed down his face.
He leant forward, pressing his forehead against the cold glass of the window. He wished that he hadn’t been so short with her. Perhaps if he had tried harder, she wouldn’t have done this. And now she was gone. Gone forever, just like Melinda was.
Although, for the past couple of nights — as he had lain sleepless in bed — he was almost certain that he’d heard their voices, crying out to him from somewhere outside. It was not real, of course. Grief and lack of sleep had his mind playing tricks.
But maybe tonight, he would go out and take a look around. Just in case.