This was a collaborative story with another member of our writing group. We used the photo prompt from a November challenge from the Stine Writing blog’s ‘Simply Six Minutes’.
Jane Pogbee (the Whittlesey Wordsmith who illustrates our anthologies) wrote a ‘part one’ giving it the title Angels, and I completed the tale the following month, taking the opportunity to remind (or introduce) readers to the mirlings…
by Jane and Cathy
Angela looked at the gravestone her parents had placed on Annette’s grave. It was a plain cross on top of a fairly plain stone with Annette’s name, date of birth and date of death. It simply said, “Sleeping with the angels”
Angela knew this wasn’t true, she was sleeping with the fishes. Annette had drowned in the Manor House fishpond. It was called a pond but was more a lake.
Today she turned away from the gravestone and faced the small pond nearby. She walked to the edge and stared at her reflection and waited for her sister to appear. She always did. Standing next to her reflection was Annette.
Angela spoke to her, telling her what she had been doing during the past week at school and how her parents were keeping. The rows and blaming each other were beginning to lessen but they were still over-protective of Angela, hardly letting her out of their sight. Even now they were sitting on a bench not far away, watching her like hawks.
Annette sympathised with Angela and soon they were chattering away just like they used to. Eventually Annette asked Angela if she would do something for her, something that could be dangerous but would help her parents. Of course, Angela said yes as she would do anything for her twin sister. It was arranged that they would meet that very night at midnight at the Manor House fishpond…
Angela heard the grandfather clock in their hall begin to strike midnight. She squeezed through the gap in the fence behind their shed, and the tolling receded as she ran across the Manor House lawn and past the memorial, to reach the edge of the fishpond.
Annette was there, waiting for her, as always. Her hand reached out of the water, inviting, and Angela took it. Of the two, Annette had always been the leader, initiating their adventures and protecting her little sister, who was younger by almost two hours.
Now she drew the trusting Angela down into the water. In a very short while, Angela found she could not hold her breath any longer, and tentatively inhaled. To her surprise, her lungs accepted the water as if it were air, and she found she could breathe as easily as the large carp that swam around them.
Although neither had ever learned in life, Annette swam easily, while towing her sister with one hand to the far end of the small lake. Here reeds lined the banks, and a willow tree overhung the surface. Among the reeds, tiny people with arms and legs, like humans, but scales and gills, like fish, waited to receive them in the watery light of the full moon shining through the ripples.
“Welcome, Angela, sister of Annette.”
The voice was in her head. She opened her mouth to reply, but only bubbles emerged. The tiny people laughed, producing bubbles in their turn.
Annette’s eyes smiled at her. “Just aim your thoughts toward us, Angela, and we will receive them.”
So Angela did. “Thank you for your welcome, but who are you?”
“We are mirlings. We live in this pond and want to thank you for allowing your sister to join us.”
“Me? I had no wish for Annette to drown.”
“She fell while trying to retrieve the doll you dropped. Had you not cried so at the loss of your doll, she wouldn’t have reached so far and overbalanced.”
This was not what Angela wanted to hear. She had banished the guilt that arose whenever she recalled that afternoon and had almost managed to convince herself that she hadn’t driven her twin to such an extreme. Tears that had fallen so freely for the loss of her doll hadn’t fallen for her sister, as if some barrier held them back from releasing again.
One of the mirlings reached out her hand.
“Please don’t be sad. Annette has come to teach us about humans so that we can better evade their notice and live safely here in the pond, tending our fish. We value and honour your sister.”
“They are very kind to me,” Annette confirmed, “and I have become fond of the fish that share our pond.”
When Angela heard her sister referring to “our pond”, she knew Annette was happy here, away from the embroidery lessons she hated and their father’s rules that she didn’t so much disobey as forget.
“But why have we never seen mirlings in the pond?”
Annette replied. “We stay out of sight when people are near, afraid of being caught in a net by curious humans. Like the fish, mirlings will die out of water. But it would be even worse to be kept in a fishtank and displayed like freaks in a fairground exhibit.”
Angela nodded her understanding. She looked around at the mirlings, who seemed nearer her own size than when she first arrived. She realised that the fish seemed bigger too – or were she and Annette shrinking to mirling-size?
“Will I ever go home again? Or must I stay here with you?”
She was not as adventurous as her twin. Angela was perfectly happy learning the things that bored Annette, like embroidery and piano playing.
“That is up to you, Angela. If you wish, you can stay here with me and the mirlings and swim free with the fish. Or you could go back to your life above with its petticoats and lace and the prospect of husband and children and housekeeping and Sunday services and afternoon teas.”
It was clear from Annette’s tone what she thought of those… but her eyes were sad, because she knew her sister well. To Angela, all the things Annette hated didn’t seem boring, but familiar and cosy and safe. Unlike her twin, Angela looked forward to growing up and being like their mother.
So the sisters returned to the far side of the pond, where the moon hung over the memorial, and by the time they reached the other side their heads almost reached the water’s surface. Annette retrieved Angela’s doll from under a waterlily and handed it to her in parting.
And Angela found she could cry after all. Great heaving sobs rose from her chest, choking her in a way that the pond water had not, until she found herself drowning in her own tears. The watery moon above them disappeared and her world turned black.
Eyes screwed shut in her efforts to breathe, she felt Annette shaking her shoulder, and heard her calling her name.
“Angela, Angela… wake up, dear!”
It was her mother’s voice after all. Father’s voice was brisker.
“Come along, Angela. It’s only a dream. Stop crying now.”
“No, George; let her cry.” Mother sounded almost relieved. “She needs to cry.”
And Angela couldn’t stop crying until Father had gone back to bed and Mother sung her a lullaby from when they were small.
Mother remained until Angela fell into exhausted sleep. Only then did she rejoin her sleeping husband, leaving the lamp burning low. So intent had she been on comforting Angela, she still hadn’t noticed the soggy doll propped against the bed’s footboard, its eyes peeping out above the rumpled coverlet.
Read all about the mirlings in The Pond People
cover illustration from John Spiers
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