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The silver-haired mare appeared at dusk, grazing in the field between the lake and the playground. Two children ran through Ari’s campsite, barely missing the tinfoil-wrapped ropes that staked the tent into the ground, but she didn’t mind. She found the chaos of children to be joyful. The kids raced to the last available swing, the girl beating her brother just barely, and the boy stalked to a lone tree and pouted at its base. He faced the mare and her glittering tail, but he didn’t seem to notice. Ari drank her beer as she looked from the children to the adults that watched them, and none looked towards the mare in the field.

It wasn’t the first time Ari hallucinated. She had been taking medication to help her sleep since the accident, and sometimes she could still see her daughter. Especially when she mixed the drug with alcohol.

She took another gulp of her beer.

A girl with long blonde hair laughed as she went down the slide, hands up and head tilted back at the brief exhilaration of uncontrolled falling. When the girl’s mother met her at the bottom, tickling her to elicit another round of giggles, Ari accepted that this wasn’t her daughter. She looked back to the horse that crept closer to her campsite, so close the orange of the campfire danced in the blue eyes that returned her attention.

Her therapist had told her it was a bad idea to come back to Moonshine Lake. He cautioned the risk of a setback, an aggravation to her delusions that she could recover her daughter’s body after a year, but Ari had dismissed his concerns. What did a man know about a mother’s grief? She had brought her daughter here at the end of summer every year for all Michi’s eight years of life. Ari had to come back here for closure, camping next to the playground that Michi once played on, by the lake that claimed her life. The lake that swallowed Michi whole while Ari yelled for help from the shore, knee-deep in the water and too slow. The last thing she saw of her daughter was a mess of blonde hair breaking the water tension, and then she was gone, pulled down into darkness. Her body was never found, claimed by the lake, the police said. Since she arrived, Ari had walked the perimeter of the lake, circling it repeatedly until her feet formed blisters, searching for some clue. Only the allure of alcohol had brought her back to her campsite.

Two mothers at the playground whispered to each other, glancing towards Ari. She knew one of the women, the mother of Michi’s best camp friend, Petunia. Her family also returned to Moonshine Lake every summer. Petunia had waved to Ari the first day, but her mom had pulled her away. The words “crazy” and “drunk” had carried on the wind from the conversation between mother and daughter.

Ari put down her beer and approached the horse that watched her with equal longing and curiosity. She swayed on her aching feet, tired and drunk. The mare whinnied invitingly, and the woman reached her hand out to touch the pink nose. It felt like velvet. In the fire, the horse’s hair glowed, each follicle as reflective and jagged as broken mirrors. Ari ran her hand down the mare’s neck, half-expecting to be cut on the sharp edges of the hair, perhaps even wanting to be cut, wanting the pain to bring her back to reality, but it was as soft as a newborn baby’s downy fluff of hair. She ran her fingers through the mane, each strand impossibly thin glass, and when she lifted a fistful of it and let it fall again, the sound of the tinsel-like hair tumbling back into place was as gentle as wind chimes. The horse lowered to the ground, and Ari found herself on the horse’s back, her hands wrapped in the mane, and a feeling of numbing peace filled her. She didn’t panic when the horse moved. Instead, she felt herself rocking to sleep.

Even when the lake water first touched her shoes, she didn’t react. She buried her face in the mane and breathed deeply the aroma of gutted fish and stagnant water. Her eyes fluttered open, and a blonde child, her Michi, waved her arms from the shore, trying to get her attention. Michi silently opened her mouth like she was yelling and waded into the shallow water, but she was too slow. Ari weakly pushed back against the haze, only realizing she was in the center of the lake when the horse submerged. The water was murky, but clear enough to see the horse’s fur had changed into white scales, dulled by the growth of algae. The scales cut into her bare knees like razors, and the pain, too late, woke her to the danger she was in. The mare’s glass mane had become long green grass, and it wrapped around her hands and held her captive against the animal’s back as she freely bled into the water.

Her ears ached as the water pressure pushed against her eardrums. Her lungs burned as she struggled against her bondage, and she screamed silent, pointless screams as the horse swam deeper. The mare’s legs and hooves transformed into nearly translucent fins that stuck out from the horse’s sides. It felt like falling, falling and falling in an endless hole. Emerging from the murk like a break in the fog was an underwater forest of grass longer than a man.

The horse bucked Ari off.

Ari made a desperate attempt to swim for the surface, but her efforts halted when she saw her daughter. Michi’s eye sockets were empty, picked clean, but her greenish-blonde hair danced behind her in the current. Beyond, there were more. The bodies at the bottom of the lake were mostly children, their waterlogged, half-eaten corpses held together by tight cocoons of pondweed. Fish swam between the garden of the dead, pecking off bits of loose flesh before darting away from the water horse.

The mare circled back to Ari, the blue eyes now fire orange with large fish-eyed pupils, and the snout shortened and lined with teeth that left no mystery to the creature’s diet. Yet, for the first time since Michi died, Ari was at peace, reunited with her lost child there at the bottom of Moonshine Lake. As the kelp tightened around her, pushing the little air remaining out of her lungs, she reached her hand out for Michi. She wanted nothing more than to touch her daughter’s hair one more time.


THE END


 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lilly writes from Jonesborough, TN, where she lives with her husband, four children and many animals including service dog Ghost. She has recently been published with Flashglass, Little Patuxent Review, Entropy and others. She is an MFA in Writing candidate at the Vermont College of Fine Art. She writes both fiction and creative non-fiction. To read more of her writing, check out her website at LillyRoan.com and follow her Instagram account @TheRoanWriter.

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