The grass was as burnt and dry as Penelope’s young skin. She regretted not taking her mother’s advice to put sunscreen on but thought she was being over dramatic as summer was never this hot. Not for at least fifty years which is what she heard old people say, as everyone was talking about the weather, like they always did.
“Penny! Penny! I’ve got a idea!” her excited friend shouted as she ran towards Penelope whom was laying on the grassy bank, examining the scratchy, scorched blades.
“What idea?” Penelope asked, not bothering to look up at her friend.
“Let’s go swimming!” she rejoiced.
Penelope frowned in confusion and looked up “Where?”
“Billy heard about a place along the river. . We can ride! It’s about 20 minutes he said, there’s a bit where everyone swims” her friend exclaimed, unable to contain her excitement.
“Be ready in ten minutes!” she called out as she ran off to her house down the street.
Penelope considered the idea for a few seconds and then launched her self up from the bank and ran into her house behind her. She ran straight up to her room, and peeled her clothes off in a hurry, throwing them blindly in any direction and then wiggled into her red striped swimsuit that she had hung on the back of the door. As she ran out of her room, she paused and looked down at herself and then ran back as she picked up a mismatch of clothes from the floor to put over the top.
“Where are you rushing off to?” her mum’s voice called out from the kitchen.
“I’m going out with Jinny, I’ll be back in a bit!” she yelled as she slipped on her flip flops and ran outside.
Penelope grabbed her bike that was propped against the wall and rode to Jinny’s house. Jinny was busy on the ground, repairing her tyre as Penelope zoomed past shouting “Come on then!”
Within moments, Jinny was up and riding fast behind her as they rode to the riverside path and then overtook Penelope, laughing back at her friend. The sun dappled through the trees as they rode, and a few intermittent, jovial screams came from the girls as they rode through clouds of midges.
When they had reached the spot, they threw their bikes down and ran over to the group of boys that were launching themselves through the air and into the water.
“Hey Jinny! Penelope! Watch this!” shouted Billy from the tree. As soon as the girls looked up, Billy jumped out of the tree, splashing everyone on the river bank.
“Billy!” squealed Jinny, as she whipped off her sundress and jumped in after him. Penelope laughed and scrambled out of her clothes and slowly walked down into the water, feeling instantly refreshed as the cool water touched her sore skin. She stood at knee depth and tied up her auburn hair into a bun and then lowered the rest of her body, breathing in sharply at the cold.
“Hey! Where did Hamish go?!” Billy called out suddenly.
“He’s messing around, he just pretended to get pulled under” Harry called back.
Billy scowled and then dived underneath to see if he could see Hamish. After a few seconds, Billy emerged. “I can’t see him!” he shouted.
Penelope stopped where she was in the shallows and looked over at Jinny with wide eyes. Jinny looked back as she tread water, and then quickly decided to swim over to Penelope, to stand in the shallow water next to her.
Harry’s smile slid away as he looked at Billy. He breathed in deeply and then dived under as Billy dived back underneath after him. The girls waited with bated breathe, and after a moment too long, Jinny shrieked out “BILLY!… BILLY!”
Before Penelope could stop her, Jinny trudged further into the river and swam out.
“JINNY DON’T!” Penelope shouted frantically just as Jinny dived underneath.
After another torturous few moments, no one had surfaced and Penelope started to breathe heavily in panic. She looked all around her helplessly and then ran back over to her bike and pulled her t-shirt and shorts on. Just as she had clambered onto her bike, she looked out at the river and was stunned by what she saw…
There in the middle of the water, was a dark figure of a woman. She appeared to be standing upright, floating on the water’s sparkling surface as if it were made from glass. Penelope couldn’t make out any detailed features as her face seemed to be obstructed in shadow, but the woman looked like she was wearing a dark, long dress. Penelope gasped as she froze in terror and looked on as the woman started to slowly move towards her, gliding across the water.
The dark woman stopped moving, not too far from the river bank and slowly lifted her arm, beckoning Penelope with her long, gnarled finger. Penelope’s shallow breathing felt more rapid as she kept her eyes on the woman. She finally found the strength within herself to break her gaze and ride clumsily away, but had to look back once more to confirm the truth to herself.
She peered over her shoulder and saw the woman still standing on the water with her spindly arm outstretched. As she looked, she veered her bike towards the river’s edge and let out a terrifying scream as she lost control and went hurtling into the water.
Everything fell dark as Penelope thrashed around in the murky depths. She felt her bike sink away from her and slimy reeds brush against her legs. She fought to swim but arms her felt restrained and then.. nothing. Everything stopped. Penelope could no longer feel her body so she didn’t know if she was still in the water, or if she was breathing or not, or if she was even alive. Until she heard the laughing. The soft laughing of children from beyond the black.
She could hear water running lightly and then heard the children run off. Penelope tried to find herself in the darkness and then for a moment, she could feel her arms so she stretched them outwards and could feel a light breeze against her skin and water fall onto her hands so she cupped them. It was only when she heard Jinny’s voice call out her name, that she froze. Her arms stiffened and then lost all feeling again.
“Penny” ...“Billy” Jinny whispered longingly before quietening. Penelope tried to see but could see nothing at all, she heard nothing, and felt nothing, and quickly knew nothing, anymore.