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Frozen Below the Ice
The ice was crystal clear, showing the tangled green weeds below, but thick enough to make the sight blurry. The lake before me was small, oblong, and mystical. It was said that people that ventured onto the forever frozen surface, always fell through and drowned, no matter how thick it was. All was innocent looking though, the white pine trees sparkling in the sun with icicles growing off their branches, and the cold air nipping at our cheeks as it should in January.
“Come on, Brook. We’re not going to fall in. Those tales are myths,” reassured Luke, as I stared at my boots right next to the edge. He smiled at me, his full lips pulling up at the corners and revealing his straight teeth. The breeze ruffled his short black locks as it swirled between us and his dark brown eyes appeared to be black onyx as they locked mine.
I nodded and my hand found his as we walked onto the glassy surface together. We were cautious on the slippery ice, occasionally splaying our feet till our shoes gripped some imperfection. The center of the lake was reached, and we danced hand-in-hand in a silly celebration.
We stopped dead still when a wolf’s howl shattered the stagnant air. Luke and I were both startled and jumped.
“Let me go see if it is too close.”
“Be careful,” was all I whispered as he dropped my hands and vigilantly skidded across to the shore. As soon as his feet hit the snow, a loud crack sounded. He spun around as my eyes widened in horror. The ice around me fractured to form an iceberg. Before I could react, my weight overturned the chunk and plunged me into the bone numbing waters. The blood in my veins felt like ice-picks flowed through them and my joints ached relentlessly. My ears detected Luke’s yells and his boots thudding the ice as he ran on it. I kicked my legs and was about to brake the surface of the water, but found it solid. My fists pounded to reach Luke, who was beating on top of the ice above me. We both tried with all our might to break the ice, but it would not give.
A tear fell from Luke’s eyes as something grasped my leg and began to pull me down. My consciousness started fading, as was my view of Luke, who disappeared as I sunk. I went down, down, till my feet thumped on the bottom of the lake. I saw before me, a beautiful women, with pearls in her swaying silver hair. Her eyes were like faceted diamonds without a pupil or obscurity. The deathly white skin was in sharp contrast to her bright blue lips. The green seaweed that wound around her like a dress seemed like it would fall off in the currents. She smiled at me, and my eyes went closed.
My body was comfortable on a squishy bed. I wasn’t cold, but my outer body temperature was. I felt like something within me was radiating heat through me and warming me. When I opened my eyes, I found that I was in a lavishly decorated room. My bed was of dark green sponge-like stuff. The walls were of mother-of-pearl and the floors were cobblestone. The furniture, a nightstand and a desk and chair, were of driftwood and were unadorned. On each of them, was intricately carved figurines and ice sculptures. There was one window that was of limpid ice and showed the landscape of the lake bottom that was plunged in twilight. The one door was of engraved wood. The reliefs were of mermaids, graceful women, plenty of fish, wicked sea serpents, and a menacing castle.
I opened the door to find myself in a hallway. On either side, there was door after door. I walked down the hall to the left. The doors did not end, and neither did the hall. My legs were wearing and becoming tired, having to work against the water, when I came to the end of the hall â€” and another door.
Through it, was a court of pearl and shell. On the forum was one ornate chair that was occupied by a proud woman with a crown of silver, pearls, and jewels. A crowd of girls waited on either side of the royal. They were all richly dressed and looked at me expectantly.
I strolled up the carpet till I was before the queen. Uncertain what to do, I clumsily knelt with as much homage as I could muster. Rising, I saw the lady pleased with my attempt.
“Your name, girl,” addressed the magistrate in a bubbly, yet commanding voice.
“Brooke. Where â€””
“Speak when spoken to!” she snapped impatiently, her shoulders briefly tensing, then relaxing as I coward. “You were so foolish as to go onto the forbidden lake and you will now pay the price. We have transformed you into an undine, and what you shall always be. You may speak now.”
“What about Luke?” I breathlessly inquired, feeling my heart sink into the green carpet.
“Your payment is to be of my court and never leave. You have no choice, and will not betray me. As for the boy, he is safely on the land and well in health.”
My eyes didn’t burn, though I would have been crying hysterically if I was in air. The queen dismissed me, and the girl that had drug me down here put her arms around me and shuffled me away. When we stopped, I was once again in my room. The girl didn’t leave, but stayed by me as I tearlessly wept all day and through the night.
The next morning, though I could hardly tell the day from night, I awoke refreshed and with an effort, didn’t break down again. I traversed the hall once more, but this time when I went into the court, they all ignored me except the silver haired girl. She ran to me and towed me to the dining room wordlessly. We sat, and breakfast was served by a homely little girl.
“Brook, I am Juliana. Since you are now an undine, you must learn to be an undine. We shall study together, for I have just now come of age to school,” she kindly explained, her voice sounding akin to the rushing of a river.
“Juliana, how long do we go to school?” I asked indifferently, not really caring what happened, and picked at the fish eggs called breakfast. It was surprisingly delicious, and definitely conquered my hunger superbly.
“School doesn’t last long, only a year or so. However, the training is vigorous and intense. By the time the year is out and we’ve graduated, we’ll be proper undines. “
“When do we start,” I sighed, thinking this place was all the worse for putting me through school.
“Tomorrow, but today, I am to show you the lake. It is going to be fun!” she cheered, bouncing up and down in her chair in excitement.
When we were done, Juliana took me through the castle, jabbering nonstop the entire time. The castle was dark despite the shimmering mother-of-pearl walls, and housed the entire lake’s undine population. Then we went into the royal gardens with water lilies and various other water flowers grew, and watched the numerous fish swim by. From there, we could see the castle from the outside. It rose grandly from the ground and was a foreboding black, with great spiked spires spiraling to the surface. After dinner, we retired to our side by side rooms that were distinguishable from the hundreds of other doors by having our names on them. All day we had been inseparable, but I never bored of her or her continual talking. She was becoming my undine sister, and was always with me.
The proceeding day, we began the ruthless schooling. We learned to dance, dine, play music, embroider with silver thread, and several other skills. I was most intrigued by the history of the undine and the lake and the lore of the “dry world“ as they called the surface.
One afternoon, Juliana and I were sitting with out other sisters, when I finally formulated my plan of escape.
“After we graduate, we get to go to the surface and find our husbands. Then we bring them back down here to live with us. I can’t wait to go ashore. I have never been…” Juliana chattered and kept going on about what we had learned in class that day. But I wrapped myself in my thoughts of how I was going to runaway.
I kept my machinations to myself. The year passed without anyone knowing my loathing for the lake or my plans to abandon it, and before Juliana and I knew it, we were hugging each other goodbye. I floated to the surface, exulted at returning home, and convinced to never go back in water after this.
My first breathe of air was welcoming. The dryness traveled down my throat and filled my lungs. I exhaled, the aridness chasing the moisture away. I laughed with joy at this, my voice sounding true in the gas instead of liquid.
The dress they had donned on me was long and alluring with pearls and netting, but far from in-style. I ripped the bottom half off and twisted the top till it was like a summer dress. My bare feet treaded the snow without being cold.
It was five miles to the town, but I didn’t enter, for Luke’s house was on the outskirts of it. I made a beeline for it, and was soon in his drive. The snowy yard, the picket fence, and the olive green house with cream trim was exactly as I remembered it. I was about to knock on the polished oak door when I heard gravel scrunch in the back yard. I went around to see Luke sitting on the bench, looking forlorn and gazing at the ground, deep in thought. I silently walked to him and lightly sat next to him. He turned, first with aggravation that zapped instantly into shock as he took in the sight of me. His mouth opened and closed like a fish, but couldn’t manage to utter a sound.
“Hello Luke,” I greeted softly, cruelly amused and pleased with his speechlessness.
“What? â€” How? â€” Brook?” he stuttered breathlessly.
“Yah, I know. I’m supposed to be at the bottom of the lake. I â€”” I deliberated telling him the truth and making him think I was crazy, but I didn’t have any other explanation. “Luke, I’m an undine now.”
“What does that mean? How did you get out of the lake? Where have you been? Aren’t you freezing?” he bombarded me with. His face was almost scared as he realized that my being here was impossible.
“Listen to me, for I’m not irrational. It’s all the truth, I swear. When I fell into the lake, I was pulled down to the bottom…” I persevered in telling him all that had happened in the past year.
He was quiet, with wide eyes and an agape mouth. When I had finished, he asked, “So you’re planning to not go back?”
“Yep,” I answered, astonished that he was actually believing me.
“You’re going to stay here, right?” he gestured to the house and then added, “because you are welcome.”
“Thanks,” I replied, taking his hand. I didn’t ask if he believed me, just followed him into his home and tried to forget about the ordeal.
At first, I couldn’t be happier. I was out of the cursed lake and on dry ground with Luke. I was overjoyed at not having to deal with royal politics or be exhausted at school. Everything was in place and was as it was as it ought to be, until I began to miss what I had left. I missed Juliana and my other sisters, the gracious, forgiving queen, the ominous castle that twinkled in the twilight day, and the fish swimming around me. The undine food, the hall of endless doors, the fish rides, and the pearl hunts were beckoning me back to their depths of the lake. I had to go back. I had to go home. I was only torn between asking Luke to come with me, or leaving without him.
I was decided when I read the newspaper that morning. On the front was a couple of pictures of two missing people. The first was a blonde guy in his early twenties and the second was of the gorgeous, somewhat human-looking Juliana. She had brought her husband back, and was in the castle…where I belonged.
The front door clicked as Luke came home. I told him, “I’m going back Luke. I am an undine, and the lake is where I belong. I have to return.”
His face fell at my words. The dark eyes searched mine, but found nothing else. He sat next to me and stared at the grains in the wood.
My feet were once more at the edge of the ice, my hand in his. I tapped my finger to the crystal and it shivered and vanished. The black water was still once my skin left it and we waded in to the middle of the pool, and started sinking.