Home > NaNoWriMo 2011, The Serial Box > Day One Hundred and Sixty-nine: Water Whispers

Day One Hundred and Sixty-nine: Water Whispers

Ever since I was a little girl, water has talked to me. It doesn’t bother me now as much as it used to.

The first memory I have of it was when I was about ten. I went out to the country to visit my grandmother, who lived in a lovely little neighborhood that was nestled next to a state park. I grew up in a city, so these visits out to where everything was green, and where the noises were all different and I could see the stars at night was a real treat. My mother would let me go out and play with other kids all day, something she’d never consider letting me do in our neighborhood. My father had run off before I was born, which she dealt with by becoming suspicious and over-protective. But there was something about coming out to the country. The sun felt warmer, the air smelled sweeter, and even my mother could relax and let life happen without twenty-four hour supervision for a little while. I really couldn’t think of anywhere I’d rather be than at my grandmother’s house.

The only problem, really, was the creek.

It wound its way through the park about five minutes from the house, and for a kid who never got to see a whole lot of nature, it was a playground. There were frogs to catch and bugs to look at and tiny fish and even the occasional snake. None of that bothered me, either, which would have stunned my city friends. I loved going into the water, whether it was the creek, or the pond it flowed into a few miles away. What bothered me was the day the creek started talking to me.

At first, it just whispered, and I thought it was the water flowing over the stones. I was out there by myself, since Jimmy Sandinsky was being sent by his mom to tennis lessons, and I was looking for skinks or newts or something else that was slimy and would freak my mother out when I showed them to her. I was so focused on what I was looking for that when someone finally said my name out loud, I jumped up and yelped, which was incredibly embarrassing for a girl who had managed to build up a reputation for being the tough one in the neighborhood.

When I looked around, there was a girl standing in the creek with me. She seemed to be about my age, but she was no one I’d seen before. She was wearing a simple white dress, no shoes, and was dripping wet.

“Hi,” she said. “You’re Katerina, aren’t you?”

“Kate,” I said automatically, wiping my hands on my jeans. “Jeez, you really scared me!”

The girl shrugged. “Sorry,” she said. She took a few steps towards me through the water, her hands behind her back. “What’re you doing?”

“Looking for salamanders,” I said. “Wanna help?”

The girl looked thoughtful for a moment and then shook her head. “I have a better idea,” she said. Her eyes seemed to shine, and it occurred to me that they were bigger than they should have been. And black, with just the barest slivers of white showing around the edges. The closer I looked at her, the stranger she seemed, and being alone in the creek suddenly didn’t seem like such a good idea. She smiled, and her teeth looked pointy. “If you come home with me, we can have a lot of fun together.” She held out a hand to me, and I noticed that the fingers were webbed. “What say you?”

While my mother had failed to raise me to be ladylike, she had made damn sure I was polite. “No thanks,” I said, backing away. She smelled, too, like clay and moss. I had to concentrate to not wrinkle my nose at it. “I have to get home. For lunch. Now.” I started to climb up the bank of the creek, leaving the girl standing in the water. “Thanks anyway!” I called.

The girl waved at me. “I’ll be waiting,” she said. And then, as I watched, she melted away into the waters of the creek and disappeared.

There’s really no good way you can bring up something like that in casual conversation with someone like my mother over lunch. Even at that age, I knew it couldn’t be done. She’d think I’d gone nuts, and our vacation would very quickly turn bad.

But my grandmother was different.

Grandma Sadie loved to tell stories, and they were usually about horrible things that happened to little girls who were, in her wonderfully strange accent, “Chust like yu, Katie!” I loved them. They were weird and scary and funny sometimes, and she told them in enough gruesome detail to make my mother uncomfortable. Which was half the fun in itself.

“Grandma,” I said while she was peeling potatoes for dinner. It was our time – I washed, she peeled, and there would be a mound of mashed potatoes in the future for us. “There was this girl down by the creek, and she wanted to take me to her house.”

“Ya?” she said. “Where does this girl live?”

I shrugged and ran another potato under the water. “I dunno,” I said. “But she was kinda weird.”

“How weird?”

“Well…” I took a deep breath and wondered if there was some special place they sent crazy children, or if they just shipped them off into the woods, like in her stories. “Well,” I said again, “after I said that I didn’t want to go, she kind of… turned into water.” I looked up at my grandmother. “And disappeared.”

My grandmother raised an eyebrow. “Is that so?” He held out her hand for another potato and I gave to to her. “That is very weird.”

We prepared potatoes in silence for a little while – washing, peeling, washing, peeling – and then I said, “So what do you think she was, Grandma?”

My grandmother scraped the skin off the last potato, put it in the colander with the rest and ran some cold water over them. “You think I know?” she asked. I just shrugged. Of course she knew. She had to know. She looked sidelong at me, and I knew from her expression that she had a story. I couldn’t pin down what it was – her eyes, the tilt of her head, the vaguest hint of a smile, but I knew what was coming.

She dumped the potatoes into a large pot of water and set it to boiling. “Sit down,” she said as she went to the oven to check the chicken. Satisfied that it was roasting happily, she came to the kitchen table and sat down across from me.

“When I was young,” she said, which was how nearly all of her stories began, “a long, long time ago, there was a friend living near me. Edie, her name was. And she was a lovely little girl. Just like you, Katie.” She reached out and patted my hand, and I grinned. “And one day, Edie went down to play in a little pond that we had in our town. She loved to swim, Edie did, and she swimmed all day in the summertime.” Her eyes glinted and her fingers wiggled like little fish in the water.

“Well, Edie’s mother was very worried about Edie. She knew that there were tricky spirits in the water, who wanted to take her little girl to their home forever. And so she made her a lucky charm to wear when she went swimming, and Edie wore it every day.” She held up a finger, and her face became serious. “But one day, Edie forgot. Maybe she was lazy, maybe she was excited to go swimming. But she forgot. And do you know what happened?”

I shook my head. I could guess, of course, but there was never any need to answer when my grandmother asked that in a story.

“When they found poor little Edie, she was blue all over.” She touched the sleeve of my shirt, which was a pale sky blue. “Just like that, she was. And her mouth was full of water and her hair was green like the weeds.” She sighed and clasped her hands together. “The spirits in the water had taken her, it seemed. But they could not keep her there, because little girls do not live well in the water. But the water spirits, they didn’t know that so well.”

The oven timer dinged, and she stood up slowly. “So. If you meet a water spirit, Katie, do not go with it. Nothing good will come.”

As stories went, it wasn’t her best. “But why did they take Edie, grandma? I mean, they must have wanted something, right?”

She shrugged and checked the potatoes, which had started to boil. “Don’t know,” she said. “Those water spirits are tricky, like I said.” She turned around, wooden spoon in hand. “Maybe they wanted to be her friend. Maybe they wanted to play with her, like a dog or a cat. Who knows?” She came over and patted me on the shoulder. “Don’t you worry,” she said. “Now go on and play. I have to finish the cooking.”

I left the kitchen, questions still in my mind about what had happened, but there were no more answers for me that day. I didn’t go back to the creek for the rest of the summer, and by the time we went back to the city, I had pretty much put it out of my mind.

That didn’t mean that they had forgotten about me, though.

As I grew up, I started to notice them more and more. I didn’t go back to that creek, but that didn’t mean I stopped going to water. There was a pond in the park near my school, and more than once when I went swimming I could swear I saw eyes peeking up above the water to watch me. We took a field trip in high school to the Edles River Aquanaut Museum and I eventually had to beg my teacher to let me sit in the bus.

And, of course, god forbid it should rain.

A Wikipedia search brought up more information about water spirits than I wanted to know, and I spend a whole afternoon trying to find something familiar. The kelpies and kappas and undines sounded close, but none of them seemed quite right. Aside from that little girl I’d seen, none of them were so forward in showing themselves to me. They just let me know that they were there, even if I couldn’t see them. Which made it that much worse, of course. I did my best to stay away from water, which felt weird. Even swimming pools, which had never given me any problem. I missed going to the beach and the lake and exploring the waters, but I hated the feeling of being watched all the time so much more.

I didn’t want to bring it up again with my grandmother, though I don’t know why. As I got older and her stories stopped becoming my favorite reason for visiting her, I thought that maybe I should keep things like that out of mind when I saw her. Maybe she’d think I was making fun of her if I kept bringing her tales of strange water creatures, snakes and frogs that spoke my name and whispers in the rain. Maybe I was just trying to pretend it never happened. When she died, I whispered the truth to her at the wake. Maybe she was listening somewhere, and maybe not. I hope that she was.

But the camel’s back broke when my best friends planned our graduation trip. I offered all sorts of suggestions that would be fun and entertaining and all-around good times. But the consensus among the rest of the group was unanimous: Florida. La Fontana, Florida, to be specific. A vacation town that was pretty much all beaches.

I tried to talk them out of it, to suggest a nice trip to, say, Arizona or New Mexico, but they weren’t having it. And so I was torn between having a great final graduation bash with my friends and giving in to the ridiculous notion that there were water spirits that were trying to take me away to their secret watery kingdom.

And yes, when I said it out loud to myself, it sounded exactly that ridiculous.

The Hotel in La Fontana was about a five minute walk from the beach, and that’s where everyone wanted to go as soon as we arrived. I made an excuse, saying that I wasn’t feeling well, but that I’d join them for dinner. I stepped out onto the balcony and stared at the sea. It was the first time I’d been to the ocean in a long time, and I was struck by how beautiful it was. Bright blue water against white-gold sand, it came in and out and in again, slow and unstoppable. I stared at it for a long while, until the waves said my name, quietly but very clearly.

“Nope,” I said. “Not happening.” I closed the door to the balcony and stayed inside until dinnertime.

By the third day, my friends decided to have an intervention. They sat me down and explained, in perfect detail, all the ways that I was hurting their feelings and screwing up their vacation and how I should get over whatever I was going through and just have some fun for once.

“I’m having plenty of fun,” I said. “I brought books.”

That didn’t go over well. They left for yet another beach party and I went down to the restaurant in the hotel for some dinner.

The thing of it was, though, that they were right, even if there was no way I could explain to them why. I looked forward towards the rest of my life and wondered if I could really keep this up. If I could really spend the rest of my life away from something like water. Never enjoy a day at the beach or go white-water rafting or go out on one of those stupid pedal-boats on the pond with a cute guy. All those things I really wanted to do. Was I really ready to spend the rest of my days holed up in some desert cabin, as far away from water as possible? Afraid?

And that was it. As soon as I thought it, I knew the answer. Was I really prepared to live my life in fear?

Nope.

I went to the concierge and asked where there was a nice quiet stretch of beach. I told him that I was a writer and I liked to take long walks by myself to get ideas. A total lie, of course, but his face lit up and he told me that one time Stephen King had stayed at this hotel and asked the same thing, and oh how interesting it must be to be a wordsmith. Yes, he said “wordsmith.” In any case, he gave me a map and pointed me towards a small cove that could be reached with a short taxi ride and sent me on my way.

The cove was just as he’d promised. It was small, with a white, sandy beach, and there was no one there. The sun was setting behind me, which gave the water a dark and cold look. The waves were coming in with the same rushing regularity, one after another, and I felt my heart trying to smash its way out of my chest.

“Okay,” I said to myself. “You can do this.”

I slipped off my shoes and walked down to the waterline, keeping my toes just barely beyond the reach of the waves. I crossed my arms and dug my toes into the sand and faced the ocean. Far away, the sky was dark with the oncoming night, and I suddenly wished I had done this, say, six hours ago. But there was nothing to be done about it. If I left now, there was no way I’d come back.

I took a deep breath and said to the ocean, “Okay. I’m here. What do you want?”

For a long, embarrassing moment, nothing happened. I started to wonder if maybe I really was crazy. If maybe I’d imagined all that, from the girl in the creek up to everything else, and whether or not getting professional help might be a good idea.

I imagined that right up until the waves stopped beating the shore and the surface of the ocean lay as flat as a swimming pool. The sudden silence in the cove was terrifying. The sound of the surf became one of those noises that you didn’t really notice until it stopped, but the surf wasn’t supposed to stop.

But it did.

The water at my feet began to bubble and swirl, and I took a few steps up the beach away from it. There was a kind of glowing phosphorescence to the water that I’d only ever seen in documentaries, and it made the water look like some terrible Disney sorcery. The water rose up in an impossible column, churning and twisting, but not falling, and then filled itself out in the shape of a man. I blinked and fell backwards, and the water took on form and color, resolving itself. The man took a step towards me, his feet making a slight sucking sound as they left the water.

He was tall, and older than I was, and wore a long coat that looked black in the dwindling sunset. His eyes glowed blue, though, and his skin was the color of a pale blue sky. His hair was the dark green of seaweed. He reached his hand down to me and said, “Let me help you up.” His voice sounded like it was coming from far away, like it was coming in at several pitches at once. It sounded like whalesong.

I took his hand. When I finally got a good look at his face, the first thought I had was that he was a king. He had that kind of strong, bearded look to him, with eyes that could flash from amusement to deadly seriousness. “Sorry to have frightened you,” he said.

“It’s a little late for that,” I said, brushing sand off my legs.

He seemed unprepared for the sarcasm. His face froze, but after a moment he laughed. “I knew I’d like you,” he said, and he put a hand on my shoulder. I resisted the urge to shrug it off.

I took another one of those deep breaths. “What do you want from me?” I asked him. In my head, I channeled the tough girl I had been as a kid. The one who wouldn’t put up with boys who thought I could be pushed around. “Because all this whispering and coming at me from over my shoulder? Yeah, that’s gotta stop.”

He nodded. “Well, you’ve been doing your best to avoid us. Honestly, I’m surprised you even came here.”

“I only came here to put an end to this, okay?” I jabbed his chest with my finger, and he looked down like he was surprised it was even possible. “Whatever you want, spit it out. And then leave me alone.”

The man – or whatever he was – stood there in front of me for a moment, staring at me like I was some weird new kind of undersea specimen. Then he laughed again, and his laugh had the sound of waves underneath it.

“Stop laughing at everything!” I yelled. “This is serious!”

“I know it is serious, Katerina.”

Kate,” I said. “And who the hell are you, anyway?”

“Kate.” He nodded. “You can call me Proteus, Kate.”

That stopped me. “Proteus? Like Greek mythology Proteus?”

He shrugged. “Those stories change in the telling, but yes.” He spread his hands. “I have come to tell you something very important. About yourself.”

“Myself? What do I need to know about myself for?”

He seemed surprised, and bit back another one of those laughs. “We all need to know about ourselves, Kate. At least, ourselves as we are right now.”

I stared at him for a moment and then threw up my hands. “Okay. That’s it. I’m going back to the hotel, and never coming back to the ocean again.” I turned around and started digging in my bag for my phone.

“Kate.”

When I heard the voice, I stopped cold. It was the only voice that could have made me stop at that point.

I turned around and there she was, standing by the waterline. The man was gone, and my grandmother stood there alone, just as I remembered her. “Please, Kate,” she said. The tone, the accent, were perfect, and I felt hot tears rise up in my eyes. “Please, I just want to talk to you.”

“Don’t you dare,” I said as I stalked towards her. “Don’t you dare use her to get to me!” I grabbed her by one of her bird-thin arms and pulled her away from the water. “Come on, get out of there! Let go of her!” I gave another yank and she fell over onto the sand. “Let go!”

When she fell, she splashed, and the water rushed back down to the ocean, which had started to move again. The waves came in and out quickly, as though trying to make up for lost time, and a moment later the man emerged from the water again.

“Don’t you ever do that again!” I yelled. “I don’t care what kind of god you think you are, but don’t you -”

A clap of thunder from the cloudless sky cut me short, and Proteus looked much bigger and much less avuncular than he had before. He stood close to me, towering over me as rain began to fall around us. “You do not get to tell me what to do,” he whispered, and it sounded like rocks falling into the sea. “I have humored you enough. Now we need to discuss what to do with you, daughter.”

I stared up at him for a long time. His eyes had been the bright blue of a tropical lagoon, but they slowly shifted to a color that could only be called “wine-dark” by anyone who’d read Homer. His last word seemed to skitter across my brain, refusing to let itself in. Finally, though, it did.

Daughter.

I blinked.

“Oh,” I said. “Oh, hell no.”

*****

Katerina Miser’s page on 30characters.com

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  1. Lori
    November 17, 2011 at 6:24 AM

    I should have seen that coming but didn’t – excellent! And I absolutely loved Kate’s response!

    • November 17, 2011 at 8:05 AM

      Many thanks! Glad you enjoyed it, and I’m glad the ending worked… *smile*

  1. November 6, 2011 at 6:54 PM
  2. December 4, 2011 at 8:14 PM

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