Guardians

Guardians

Locally they say the lake has no bottom. As a child, I didn’t understand that. The mountain slides down steeply, but it couldn’t go down forever, I thought. Cold, murky and unfriendly, the water remains in shadow for most of the day. Even outsiders aren’t tempted to swim in it.
Grandma lives in a tiny stone cottage by the edge of the lake. Only women have lived in that house, so the story runs in our family. She’s old and frail, her eyes as dark as the water, and as troubling. These days she hardly talks. It’s my job, like some modern day Red Riding Hood, to do her shopping and visit her every day. I check up on her, in case anything is wrong. My mother and aunts worry endlessly about Grandma, and what will happen to her but none of them ever suggests asking her to move. When I was a child, they did not explain. Now I have mostly figured it out anyway. They are not expecting her to die. Not exactly. But when she no longer occupies the house, another woman from our family will have to take on the cottage. None of them wants to do it. Sometimes they look at me from the corners of their eyes and I know they wonder if I am the woman for the job. Maybe I am.

I walk the long, dusty track from the main road. It’s a warm day, but in the shadow of the mountain, the sun has little influence. I have brought strawberries and cherries from town, fresh bread, a pint of milk, a pound of cheese. She doesn’t eat much anymore. She’s stood outside the cottage, back hunched, head hanging low. In the last few weeks she’s been like that more often than not. Just a few feet from the water, staring down. I don’t ask why, and she doesn’t tell me. Age and infirmity have bent her body, making the shape of her less obviously human. She looks like a wizened tree, at best. The sight of her makes me shiver. Today she turns as I approach, and she smiles.

“Afternoon Granny. I bought you some fruit.”

“That’s kind of you Amanda. But I won’t need it.” It’s the most she has said to me in weeks. I lower my bag. In my stomach, something flutters, fearful. The air smells different today, metallic somehow and prickly as though a storm is coming. I feel sick.

“You’ll have the cottage next.” She looks sad for a moment. “None of my daughters is strong enough, but you’ll do. You’ll stay here, and they will look after you.”

“I’m not sure if I want…”

“It’s not about what you want!” Her eyes flash and she seems far less fragile. “You have no choice! You will stay in this spot for as long as you can bear it.”

The sickness in my stomach becomes slippery, slithering out through my limbs until I think I am going to faint.

“I can’t do it anymore,” she whispers. She turns towards the water, engrossed in gazing at the depths.

I think if I run now, I can get away from this mad old woman, go back to the real world and my real life. But my feet won’t move, and my eyes cannot resist watching her as she steps towards the lake.

“It will call you,” she says, her voice clearer now. “It will be there, whether you are awake or asleep. No drug or drink will keep its voice out of your head. But if you give up, then some other woman from our family will be compelled to take your place. Every day you endure it, you spare someone else. Hold that thought. It will keep you strong. I am too old and too tired to fight it now.”

Her words terrify me. “Grandma!”

“I’m sorry Flower.”

She steps into the water. I am frozen and do not know how to stop her. Soon it’s up round her thighs. It rises, like misshapen arms or tentacles. Hideous beyond words. My skin crawls with dread as I watch it wrap its dark form around my grandmother’s ancient body. For a moment, it holds her in an unnatural embrace, then it draws her down. She goes silently into the depths, but I fill the air with screaming.

Afterwards, the water lies placid once more, but I do not trust it. I’ve been coming here all my life, and while it has always seemed a grim place, I never sensed that presence beneath the surface. Never guessed what might lurk there. I do not know what it is, there are no words that could tame it or make it bearable. Now I can hear it. A low, seductive voice, seeping through my skin and into my head, its words penetrating my mind like dark tendrils. It promises much, and it sounds so reasonable, so friendly. I could almost believe it.

“She didn’t know what she was talking about in the end. Just a mad old woman, full of fear. We can teach you much. We can show you wonders.”

Water laps up over the rocks, as though trying to get closer to me. I look back at the cottage, thinking of the many women in my family who have stood guard here, resisting the lake. I wonder if I will do the same.

“Good girl. Trust us. Come to us.”

Ribbons of water reach towards me, inviting me in. I step back. The lake has me, one way or another. I cannot leave. I have seen my fate in my grandmother’s demise. It is inside my head, and there is no escape. All I can do is protect the others by resisting, if I can stay strong. It tempts me so much already. Forgive me when I fail?

www.itisacircle.com

Guardians

Copperage

Joined November 2009

  • Artist
    Notes

Artist's Description

Family duty can be a terrible thing.

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