Magazine, website & books written by teens since 1989

Murky Waters This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

It is a dark night, the stillness disturbed only by the waves crashing on the shore. The sky seems to swirl and billow with black clouds, stars scattered across its expanse; a gibbous moon hangs like a leering eye. The sands glow pallid, the waves are black and violet and deathly blue under the moonlight. The shore has been wiped clean by the tide. It's clear that not one footprint has disturbed the glass-like surface since morning.

I stand alone on the dunes, waiting. My feet are bare, and I dig my toes into the cool sand but keep my gaze on the waves. The ink-black water stretches off into the horizon, where it becomes impossible to discern sea from sky. The moonlight shining on the water gives the only hint, although the waves' constant motion distorts the reflections until almost imperceptible. I stare into the shadows, willing for it to appear tonight. I pray it does. Time is short; now everything depends on whether it comes or not.

The wind that whistles toward me from the ocean is cold. I shudder under a breeze that runs icy fingers down my neck and arms. Already my hands are going numb. I breathe on them and shove them into my pockets. The wind dims down enough so that I am no longer shivering, but I can still hear it shrilling around me.

A voice like a thousand voices whispers beside my ear.

“<i>He comes</i>.”

I wait.

At first there is nothing, just the wind and water and moon, of course. But then out of the corner of my eye I see it: the barest movement, and not that of the waves. I hear it: a splash that is out of place, like stones being tossed into the sea. I do not move. I hardly even breathe.

Sea foam froths on the waves, the spittle of some gigantic monster that hisses and moans. I gaze into the shadows, forcing myself not to look around, keeping a pensive expression on my face. I notice another movement, hear another splash. I wait.

In my periphery vision I watch a long head break the surface of the black water. I pretend not to notice as an arched neck follows with a tangled mane. It emerges from the water slowly, almost casually, as if without a care in the world. But I know it is watching me closely, from the corner of its eyes just as I am.

The water horse is massive. I have seen horses when I was younger, visiting a farm with my parents, and this creature would have towered over all of them. Its body is powerfully muscled, with a broad chest and strong legs that paw at the sand. It is whiter than sea foam — whiter than milk — whiter than the moon above, but when it moves I can see its coat has a kelp-colored sheen to it. In the darkness, it glows like a specter and looks like one, too. The mane and tail are long and silky but drip seawater, grit and seaweed tangled into the pearly hair. It snorts and stamps a hoof. I know its eyes are on me.

It whickers softly, then neighs, and I turn in surprise as if I've just noticed it. The water horse faces me now, and it stretches out its neck to whicker at me again. Over its head is a leather bridle, the straps crusted with salt and the bit jingling as the water horse trots in a circle, lifting its feet to prance. It stops and snorts again, louder, then tosses its soaked mane. It stares at me through a dripping forelock. I can't help but shiver at its blank, black eyes.

Even so, I act enchanted as I approach it, taking slow, cautious steps like anyone would to a strange horse. The creature nickers and steps closer, pointed ears pricking forward. Both of us are acting: I, like an intrigued human and it like an innocent, perfectly tame animal. The wind pushes against my back and I imagine it is encouraging me.

We are seven steps apart. Six steps. Five. I am close enough now to catch its scent. On the farm the ponies had smelled of hay, of sky and the warmth of animal sweat. Not this beast; its body exudes a revolting odor of seaweed and meat and things rotting in salt water. My heart pounds against my ribs, panicked, screaming at me to turn and run.

But I don't dare. To run was to reveal I knew what it was; to run was to provoke death. So I come even closer.

Four steps. Three steps. Two.

The water horse curls its lip and whinnies. It reaches out to me, inviting me to stroke it. I act as though I did not see the jagged edges of its teeth, the bits of flesh stuck between them. Its breath smells of blood.

One.

The wind suddenly picks up and howls around us. <i>NOW.</i>

I grasp at the reins but the water horse is faster. It jerks its head away and squeals in anger, ears pinned back against its head. It half-rears and glares down at me, eyes glinting like shards of glass. The scream that escapes it is high-pitched and inhuman, sending chills down my spine. Immediately the darkest thoughts are flung through my head, thoughts of death and darkness and despair. <i>I can't do this. I can't. I can't.</i> Its hooves strike out at me and although I am untouched, I fall backwards onto the damp sand, gasping. <i>I can't. I'm going to die. I'm going to die.</i>

I struggle to escape the hold of the water horse's call; I roll aside fast as its sharp hooves come plunging down. Scrambling to my feet, I blink sand from my eyes as the water horse wheels around, the bit jangling. No longer does it seem beautiful or mysterious. It is no longer the color of moonlight and sea foam but the color of dead fish's flesh. The color of death. It shrieks at me and I quickly clap my hands over my ears.

That was what it'd been waiting for. The water horse lunges at me with teeth bared and I surge out of its way. It whips around its great head and I hear its jaws snap right beside my temple. I leap away before it can touch me, making a grab at its reins. No good — it jumps aside as well, rearing in fury. I seize the chance and rush forward, hand outstretched even as I avoid its body. My fingers have just brushed the leather of its bridle when the water horse screams, a deep guttural sound that sounds as if it arises from the very depths of the ocean. Out of instinct I freeze, and in the next second a sharp pain explodes across my chest and I am hurled backwards. The water horse has kicked me back, and as I lay coughing it approaches me with angry eyes. With a jolt I realize it intends to trample me.

For a minute that stretches into eternity, it stands above me. Its mane and coat still drip, seawater raining down from its colossal body to wet my clothing. I stare up into its black eyes, panting from the pain in my chest. Then suddenly it tosses its head and rears, a horrific shriek splitting the sound of the waves.

“<i>Take the reins</i>.”

Adrenaline surges through my body and I bolt upright. The wind whips through hair, both the water horse's and mine, and I snatch once, twice at the horse's bridle. The moment I feel leather on my skin, I close my fist and yank. The water horse's head is snapped to the side by my hold on its reins; its triumphant call has become a scream of rage and defeat.

I've taken hold of its bridle. I've won.

Precious time passes as we catch our breath, the creature hissing in an unhorse-like way, tugging on my firm grip on the reins. The pain in my chest is ebbing away slightly, my heartbeat slowing down, but I keep a watchful eye on the water horse. Cautiously, I raise my hand and rest it against the creature's side. The skin is slick and wet, not just the pallor of death but the same icy-cold. It's like touching a soaked corpse; I quickly take my hand away then deliberate on what to do.

“<i>Mount his back</i>,” whispers the wind. “<i>Ride him</i>.”

It is safe now to ride the water horse. So long as I keep hold of the bridle, its skin will not turn adhesive when I touch it and thus it cannot drag me into the water. However, if captured a water horse had ten times the strength of a regular horse and many times the endurance. I needed one desperately and time was running out, second after second. But then another thought occurs to me. After a moment, I start to lead it back towards the sea. Only when we are both standing ankle-deep in the waves do I stop.

“I promise you flesh.”

The water horse pricks his ears forward and he looks at me askance. I tug on the reins for attention, anger seeping into my voice as I continue speaking. “I promise you flesh if you help me.”

Inwardly I cringe. Even I thought I sounded unconvincing — and who was going to guarantee the promise of a water horse? But then again, what choice did I have? “Please,” I say. “Help me find my sister, and I swear I will give you flesh.”

The wind whistles by my ears but says nothing. The water horse, too, is silent.

I do the only thing I can think of. I let go of the reins.

Instantly the water horse wheels around and plunges into the sea, the water splashing in its wake as it dives into the dark water. Sea foam hisses and bubbles on the surface where the creature has disappeared. Then all but the waves are still again. The water horse has vanished.

Panic blooms in my chest and leaves a bitter taste on my tongue. Now what? I was never going to get to my sister in time. Without the speed of a water horse, she would be long dead by the time I arrived. I was such a fool. It was over. There was nothing more I could do.

I amble out of the waves slowly, heading back to shore. For once, the wind is quiet and I am glad. A pink shard of shell catches my eye and suddenly I'm remembering how my sister and I would collect shells on the beach every summer. In a burst of anger I grab the shell and spin around, hurling it out to sea. It splashes lightly into the water and my frustration is still burning. I clench my fists.

A splash alerts me and I lift my head. For a second, nothing — and then a head breaks the ocean surface again. This time, it is a human head.

Black hair drips seawater, tangled with sand and kelp and plastered to his face. His clothing consists of black pants and a white shirt, both of which are soaked through. Only his pitch-black eyes and death-white skin have remained. He strides towards me in bare feet, leaving no footprints behind on the sand.

He stops just before me, staring down with an expression as cold as the ocean depths. He points accusingly. “You have sworn,” he says in a voice like an echo.

I say nothing. He drops his hand and then gestures.

“Come with me.”



Join the Discussion

This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

Thalion said...
Mar. 27 at 6:36 pm
Great story! I love the way you told it and your word choices! Keep up the amazing work!
 
vietblueartThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. replied...
Mar. 28 at 7:44 pm
Thank you! ( ;  v  ; )
 
Site Feedback