Red rings lapped the shore, one by one disappearing. Annabel sat repeating over and over mentally, Please come up, please come up, please. She looked at the beautiful watch: Four oh-two. Take a deep breath. Count slowly. She began the hold-the breath-game. Annabel always fizzled out after sixty seconds. Amazingly, Petr could hold for nearly three minutes. He claimed the secret was to think of a faraway story. Go away mentally. Take a little trip. Forget about breathing.
She exploded after thirty-two seconds. Okay, too excited. Don’t count, don’t think of minutes. She stared at the pool, whispering: “Come up, oh please come up.”
The water was a blank red mirror. Nothing appeared. No dripping brother saying, Rocky, I really fooled you this time! Any real boy would try the game again. Hold your breath!
She sucked in a big lungful of air. This time she tried remembering a story Big Jack told her when building their cabin last fall: Don’t ya go dandling off into the woods now, little darling. Ya hear them whispers in the stream? Them’s voices of lost children! She laughed but Jack continued sternly. Water kelpie’s got’em. He’s the prettiest pony ya iver seen. But onc’t ya hop on, ya can niver get off. Yoor stuck like glue. Takes away many a fair lass and lady ivery year, sad but true. He nearly got me onc’t when I was just a young soncie. Beware of the Water Pony.
She laughed, her breath exploded–and the red mirror held nothing at all. How long has be been under? The watch read four oh-four. Petr underwater four minutes? Impossible. Maybe the water kelpie got him too. Maybe he was playing a game just to scare her. But that was no good. He doesn’t know you’re here. She stared at the red pool. “Okay, you won the game, Petr. Now please come up, please, please.”
Still there was nothing and Petr wasn’t coming up, and then Annabel must–
She touched the water. It felt like cold teeth biting her hand!
You cannot go down into that faceless mirror of death. It’s suicide. It’s–
Go down brave boy! And find what? His bloated body stuck beneath slimy rocks? Not Petr anymore but a terrible clay cocoon? She dried her fingers on her dress. She put the gold watch in her pocket where it belonged. She picked up his shirt. She pressed it hard into her face and it smelled good: salty, tangy, sweaty leather aroma of Petr. She pulled on his floppy boots. They came up over her knees. They comforted her. Wearily she lay down using the shirt for a pillow but she began shaking, trying to hold back tears. Not a very boy-like thing, was crying. Just keep your eyes on that lake!
Exhaustion rolled her over. She was worn out. All that uphill climbing and downhill running and hopping streams, had done her in. Go to sleep now. Get some rest.
No, I won’t sleep! Maybe close my eyes for a quick minute. I’ll be right here when he–
She barely whispered: “When he comes up…please…come…up.”
She couldn’t help it. She fell deeply asleep dreaming a long dream that began with children laughing, crying, playing. She knew all about them: the lost children who thought they knew better than big folks, thought they could wander off alone in the mountains. She knew because Big Jack had told her. But why did they sound so happy? They would never be seen again because the Water Pony took them away. Jack warned her about the Water Pony. It took children and drowned them.
The day was getting worse because now she saw it. The Water Pony galloped around the lake. Now it stood before her. It was beautiful