Ever since her little doll had gone missing, Emma Whelker had become increasingly and increasingly morose. Not being able to play with a toy for less than a day held a far deeper significance for twelve-year-old Emma than her parents could fathom.
It was a Saturday. Emma sat in the verandah of the countryside cottage. Her father tended to the fireplace while her mother talked his ear off about finding her brother a job. The house smelled of honeysuckle and freshly-baked bread. For all intents and purposes, this was a day straight out of a dream. Emma did not think so. Wiping a tear with the back of her hand, she stood up and dusted her clothes off. "Mama!" she called out. "I'm going down to the lake! I'll be back in time for dinner!"
"Emma, wait!" her mother huffed. "This girl!"
Emma's father smiled and poked the fire a bit more. "She'll be fine," he said, and reached out for his wife.
In the moonlight, Emma ran. Her feet padded along the grass, kicking up small clouds of dew as she bounded across the countryside. It was lush, like a spell had been cast everywhere, infusing every little bit of nature with life.
The lake was wider than anything Emma had seen, and it reminded her of a calmer place, and so it became her safe space. She came down here to tell the lake about her life. There were frequent monologues at the lake about the boys at school, about the teacher who reminded her of uncle Jakob, about the weird way her nose was shaped, about all the things that made Emma happy, and sad, and sometimes both.
Today, Emma cried about her doll. "Oh, Zelda!"
The lake rippled softly in a gentle breeze, a wind that caressed Emma's face, as though to let her know that yes, we feel your sorrow. Zelda, the toy that Emma had bought from the flea market. Zelda, an even bigger confidante of the shy girl everyone bullied at school. Zelda, who had been missing from the house for the whole day.
"Oh, Zelda" wailed Emma, running her fingers along the waterline. "I miss you. Jared looked at me today." Emma grinned. "It was fun! Come back, Zelda."
The water gurgled. Emma thought about Zelda's weird and misshapen face. It gave her confidence. Why, she, Emma, was so much prettier than this ugly doll? Why would I care about the bullies?
Emma thought about Zelda's twisted torso, bound together by rags of a child who could perhaps only dream of affording to go to school. Flea markets were fun places, Emma thought.
The water rippled, a little more roughly than a moment before.
Emma thought about the times she had punched the doll in abject bouts of anger, in misguided acts of boredom. She felt the absence of the doll's company, but not as a companion, no. As an object of catharsis, maybe.
The lake suddenly parted, and a dark, wet object floated to the top, barely a stone's throw from Emma. She looked up, shocked into immobility. The doll's moist surface glistened in the moonlight. "Emma..."
Emma's eyes widened in glee. "Oh, joy! Zelda!"
"Do you want to be my friend, Emma?" The voice was soft, unwavering. It echoed strangely around the lake, as though it existed only in one's own mind.
"Yes!" Emma stepped forward, one foot in the lake, damp and cold, one foot on the bank of the lank, warm and dry and hesitant.
"Come, Emma," said the soothing voice of her only acquaintance in the whole wide world. Emma lifted her other foot and raised an arm, hopeful, happy..
The lake churned, a slow and steady wave that started in the middle. The wind was suddenly strong... too strong.
"Yes, Emma," said the voice. Voices... Emma glanced up at the sky, her face locked in a wide grin. There was a thunder cloud rolling in. Even as her hair was whipped around by the howling wind, both her feet touched the lake, and she was completely within its boundaries. "We'll finally be able to play!" the voices rose in a sharp crescendo, and there was a loud thunderclap, the loudest you could imagine, and a burst of lightning lit the entire sky up, and for a brief moment one could have seen the entire countryside, and its lush meadows, and the strange lake down yonder, and the silhouette of a little girl reaching out for something dark up ahead, and then the moment passed, swift, like a photo flash, and then lake was silent again.