Lana and Sophia swung around the thinnest and smoothest tree trunks they could find. They encircled the bark, holding with one hand and letting the other droop down, watching their gracefully curved fingers with mesmerised eyes like whirling Sufi dancers. Their dusty pink dresses puffed up in the air like candyfloss clouds.
The Birds, who sat above them, always, crooned and looked at one another with soft, liquid eyes.
“The sweet Cheroke girls are playing again,” said a Blue Jay.
“Ah, yes,” the Robin replied.
“I think they’re a bit too mischievous for their own good,” the Sun chuckled.
“Hmmm,” the Trees agreed, their deep groan vibrating through the forest, rustling leaves and quivering the willow branches.
Sofia came to a stop upon feeling the soft shudder kiss her palm. Her skirt ballooned down like the slow bop of a jellyfish.
“Lana?” she asked
“Yes, sister?” replied Lana, looking up at the leaves of her tree without stopping her spin. The sunrays that escaped through the gaps in the leaves played on her face and bare shoulders.
“Did you feel that?”
“Feel what?” Lana asked in a bold and clear voice.
Sofia watched her sister with admiring eyes: Lana had always been the brave one. She loved watching her, her wavy black hair, which she braided at the crown every morning, her ruddy cheeks, her doe-like eyes. Sofia felt that her own beauty, despite her shining chestnut hair and pretty cat-like features, was undermined and outshone considerably by her sister’s.
“Let’s play a game,” said Lana, coming to an abrupt stop.
“A game?” Sofia asked and hid behind a tree. When she popped out from behind it, Lana scrunched up the hem of her skirt and ran towards her, eyes alight and teeth gleaming. They chased each other through the trees until Lana caught Sofia, pressed her against an oak, and tickled her in all the places she knew to be most sensitive.
“Lana! Lana! Ok. Stop, stop, please.”
The girls retired to the bank of the lake, panting.
Sofia lied down on her belly and stared into the gushing waves, which splashed her hot cheeks. “Say, Lana – what do you suppose is at the bottom of this lake?” she asked to her sister, who resided on her back next to her.
Lana felt too tiresome to answer, as was often her response to her sister’s fickle curiosity, and decided to settle the matter quickly with a soft sigh. Sofia, accustomed to Lana’s weariness, took the cue and minded her own.
Something was drawing her attention to the water. Her eyes kept flicking down like magnets to it. How peculiar, this uncontrollable desire to look, she mused. Perhaps, she thought, I can’t resist its beauty. It shimmers like diamonds in the sunlight so.
Upon noticing Lana’s closed eyes, Sofia felt an aching boredom loom over her. Unable to resist and with nothing else to do, she stared and studied every movement and ripple of the lake until her staring and studying eyes tired her brain and lulled her into a trance-like state. Occasionally, a curious Dragonfly dangled close to her nose. Suddenly, a blurred image emerged to the water’s undulating surface – then disappeared. Sofia blinked. I saw it, I know it, she affirmed to herself in order to press down the doubts riddling her mind.
Sofia hoisted up onto her elbows and inched her face closer to the water until it licked the tip of her nose. Wait a moment, she thought, where’s my reflection? Then it came again, the image, a flicker of a pale face. The corners of Sofia’s mouth dragged downwards, her stomach turned to mush. And just as she was about to wail in fright, the reflection flouted into the water once more.
Her own. It spoke,
“Sofia. Kill Lana.”
“What!” Sofia whispered. A sharp chill pricked at her skin, which was suddenly sticky with fresh sweat.
“What?” asked Lana sleepily.
Sofia did not answer her sister, but studied her face with concerned eyes, anxious to see whether Lana had heard the reflection’s demand.
Lana blinked slowly and yawned. “What are you staring at…? Sofia, you’re scaring me. Stop that at once” she said, prone to waking up with an irritated disposition.
Sofia breathed heavily. She looked back into the water, and to her horror saw her reflection, unmoved, watching her with blank eyes. It spat,
“Kill Lana. Kill her, Sofia. Do it. Drown her. Drown her. Grab her. Suffocate. Do it. Kill -” The demands kept spewing out of the reflection’s mouth over over over. Sofia cupped her hands over her ears and cried, “No! No! Stop it! Make it stop! MAKE IT STOP!”
“Sofia!” Lana cried, jumping to her feet.
Sofia rolled on the grass, bashing her head onto the mossy rocks, pleading for the noise to stop. “Sofia! Stop that! Stop that!” Lana shook her violently, trying at the same time to steady her knocking knees. The forest erupted with incessant squawks, wild chirps and uproar of croaks. With tears rolling down her plump cheeks and into her small mouth, Lana slapped Sofia across the cheek as hard as she could. She kept pounding her and scratching her between thunderous sobs, “Stop It. Wake Up. Stop it!”
Eventually, she did.
At once a thick sheet of silence veiled the forest from the tip of the trees down to the worms. A sharp, thin breeze raced through the thin blades of grass. Lana dared not breathe, but sat there, looking, watching her sister, who lay on the earth in front of her, motionless.
Some Birds exchanged worrisome looks; others looked on, licking their beaks, curious. She won’t. She’s too timid, they thought. Hmmm, the trees groaned in unison.
The Sun dipped into dusk and shined Lana’s face a deep orange. Thin red, vine like veins marbled the whites of her eyes – she had been sitting, watching over her sister with unblinking eyes for many hours.
Any time now, the Badgers thought. Yes! A fat Bird agreed.
When the Sun sighed into its sleep, a twinkling of moonbeams blow-kissed leaves and barks with blue hues and the silver of the moonbeams penetrated and oozed into the Lake.
In a swift, jagged motion, Sofia’s body coiled upwards. Her mouth let out a tremulous groan as she writhed around – her spine arched violently off the ground – her jaw snapped open in a wide gape. Lana pierced the air with her scream. Her sister started using her teeth and nails to claw her own carcass towards the lake. At an unstoppable speed, she plunged, head first, into the water. Lana’s white complexion stood out starkly in the midnight Forest. A sudden cacophony of birdcalls rang in the air like out of tune wind chimes. Some Birds were laughing whilst others sang sweet melancholic melodies.
Overwhelmed, Lana vomited onto the grass by the nearest Oak, grazing her hand on its bark from using it as support to stand upright. Against instinct, she ran to the Lake. My sister, she thought, you are swallowed. What have I done to you? She knelt down and looked deep into the languid waves, not noticing, as her sister had, that her reflection was missing. The wave’s current softened deeper and began to slow into a serpentine dance – slower, slower, hushing, waiting.
The reflection’s eyes were cold, its purplish lips squished up.
“Sofia” Lana cried through her whimpers. She thrashed at the water, cursing. “SOFIA! SOFIAAAA!”
In a panicked delirium and overcome with determination, Lana hurled herself into the Lake. Below the surface, the water inked a murky green and black, thick snakes slimed and twisted around long weeds; bulging slugs burped out sticky bubbles; and sat at bed of the Lake was Sofia’s mangled body.
The warmth of the water enveloped and enshrouded Lana’s sinking body. She thrashed about and finally gaining control of her limbs swam towards Sofia. The thick fabric of her dress dragged at her movements. Even still, she swam, deeper and deeper. Her lungs ballooned in her chest, her blood vessels swelled beneath her skin. Deeper, deeper, always swimming, swimming, always in sight of her sister, her sister, the sister who was only just out of reach, the sister who sat there, smiling brilliantly with her eyes wide awake, sitting at the bottom of the bottomless lake.