The fog lay lightly on the lake, as if afraid to touch it, casting a haunting glow over a once picturesque lake. The water rippled constantly. Something was disturbing it. At first the villagers in the surrounding town thought it was the trees, but they had grown tall over the years, even the lowest hanging branch was nowhere near the water’s surface.
Isabelle looked out of her bedroom window, a fresh cup of tea steaming warmly in her hands. The lake seemed to be calling her. It had since her Thirteenth birthday when she first heard the laughter in the wind. Her birthday had been a quiet affair, as had the others. She had never been one for exuberance. The unrelenting shame she had felt, when none of her thirty invited classmates attended her tenth birthday, was still firmly planted in her mind. She placated her mother by letting her throw a dinner party each year in celebration.
She had always felt different, almost misplaced, as she grew up. Whilst the girls in her class were starting to recognise boys, and the importance of popularity, Isabelle had discovered she had thousands of friends settled comfortably between the pages of a book. Pirate captains, princesses, heroes and villains all came to life in her lunch break, the real world quickly forgotten.
Pulling her thickest coat on, in an attempt to battle the cold winter that had hit her small town, Isabelle said goodbye to her mum and ran out of the door. She was running late for the ‘surprise’ pop quiz, that never surprised her, and needed to get to class. Walking towards the lake, Isabelle noticed how bare the trees looked this winter. The branches seemed almost like arms reaching out for her. Slowing her pace as she walked past them, she took the time to feel the cold trunk of a tree. Running her hand against the grain of the oak, a feeling of calmness and belonging engulfed Isabelle, until she sat at the base of the tree inhaling deeply. The warmth of her coat intensified and wrapped around her like a blanket. She didn’t want to leave, her eyes started to close in an effort to get some much needed sleep.
The crunching sound of leaves being walked upon woke her instantly. Her heart rate quickened as she desperately tried to get a grip of her surroundings. Glancing at the lake she saw the fog was still light on the surface. She can’t have slept that long! The dull glow of her watch informed her it was 8.49. She had been asleep for over an hour, she would never get to school on time now.
The crunching was getting closer, now followed by the dull thump of a foot hitting the sodden floor coupled with the laughter she had heard in the wind. She held her breath. Getting to her feet, as silently as possible, she pushed her body against the bark of the tree so hard, that she could feel the knots protruding through her coat. Silently, she forced her stiff body to look around the trunk towards the source of the sound. Nothing.
She froze, as leaves crunched under her feet, as she cautiously took the first step towards the hazy lake. Scanning the area for any sign of movement, she edged closer towards the lake. If she could make it to the water’s edge she could run to her house as, fast as she could, and lock the doors behind her. As she took her next step a loud sound came from behind her, like a heavy weight dropping.
“Urgh, I can never get used to this being on land stuff”. A voice came from behind her, high pitched, childlike. Turning cautiously, Isabelle stifled a scream, as she saw the pale figure trying to stand up. The girl that stood before her could not have been older than 5 but had a look of wisdom about her, as if she had lived well beyond her years. Her body seemed to be the same transparency as the mist surrounding the lake. Isabelle felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end.
“H-Hello” she stuttered in her anxiety, all the while pinching herself to wake from this horrible dream.
“Hi, I’m Charlotte. You must be Isabelle” she continued noting the wide eyed wonder in Isabelle’s eyes “ I have heard a lot about you from mother”.
“Mother?” Isabelle could not find the words, this was surreal, she pinched herself hard enough that her eyes stung. She was awake, this was really happening.
“The lady of the lake, you must have noticed the never lifting fog, the constant movement of the water. She has come to find you, to save you.” As Charlotte spoke about this mystical figure, her emerald eyes lit up with excitement.
“To save me from what? My pop quiz?” She said with naive ignorance stemmed only from fear.
“From the humdrum life you are living. You don’t fit in here, you clearly see that. Come with us and see the world, learn the earth’s secrets and be forever present!” Charlotte’s voice didn’t falter at all, she had either practiced this or, as Isabelle thought, had said it before. “You hear about children going missing all the time, never again found as if they had vanished into thin air. They are our brothers and sisters. Children that were always known as the quiet ones, unnoticed, but with talents beyond anyone’s measure. We take them in, guide them, teach them and truly embrace them. Education and elegance is not squandered with us, it is celebrated”
“But what about my mum, my school? I can’t just up and walk away”. Isabelle was shocked to hear that she wasn’t questioning the voice, rather trying to justify to herself why she should not leave with this stranger who, instead of scaring her, calmed her in the same way her books did. She took Charlottes hand in hers, looked at her with steely determination and nodded her head silently, she had to do this.
“She will worry, mourn and eventually move on” Charlotte explained as she guided her towards the lake. Isabelle flinched as her feet touched the water. It was so cold. She didn’t think her heart would take it if she walked much further, but Charlotte gently pulled her arm guiding her forward, letting her know it was ok. Isabelle closed her eyes tightly and tried not to think of her mother as she walked forward, the cold water enveloping her like a welcoming hug. She was nervous, but not scared, this had to happen.
Eowyn, was looking out of the window as the fog suddenly gave way to the sun. She smiled, wondering how Isabelle was doing at school, when the phone rang. Isabelle’s headteacher was on the other end, frantic with worry, “Mrs White, Isabelle never showed up at school today”.