This story is by B.M. Burns and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Brea heaves a sigh of relief when she breaks through the tree line and sees the stony shore of the lake. Despite it being dark, the lake shines pearlescent as the moon hangs high over its waters. She has not heard the horses hooves pounding behind her and she is confident that she lost the men chasing her. Although their absence is quite abrupt. Her steps slow as she nears the water’s edge. The waves are embracing the beach, the faint hiss of water over rock eases the tension in her shoulders as she sinks down to her knees for a brief respite.
Dipping her hands beneath the surface of the water she is shocked by its chill. Being mid-August, the waters should be warm. Squinting she can see across to the other side where the trees creep up on its beaches. Despite the coolness, the water is refreshing and her parched throat reminds her just how long it has been since her canteens were filled. Brea considers the water for only a moment before she dips her head below the surface and takes her fill.
The cool water melts away the scratch in her throat. When Brea’s head comes up from the surface there is a large smile spread across her face, despite the tang of after taste. She doesn’t bother to wipe away the droplets before settling down, making sure she is close to the water’s edge. Brea digs into her bag. Pulling out her prize, the reason the men are chasing her; the new Duchess’s tiara. The trinket is meant to be worn on the Duchess’s wedding night, but instead the gems and precious metal will see her in a life of comfort.
Brea lays down on the beach and holds the tiara up before her to inspect her handy work. A giddy laugh courses through her body and her head feels light. Attributing it to lack of food she shakes off the lingering dizziness. A part of her cannot believe she pulled off this heist. As she runs her fingers over the hundreds of grooves each dotted with a gem, Brea feels her limbs grow heavy with exhaustion and her heart slow down to steady and thunderous beats. Her arms fall to the ground, her eyes close, and soon she is asleep. The tiara is still in her grasp.
Waking up several hours later, she is disoriented. The sky is pitch black; the moon hidden behind the thick clouds, and she cannot see the water to her left nor the trees to her right. Brea can still hear the hiss of the waves and that calms her. The tiara is in her hand, she can feel its cold hard metal but not see the glimmer of its gems or gold.
Just as she is about to relax and lay back down there comes a soft growling sound from behind her. Brea freezes, waiting to hear the noise again. Despite no rustle of steps she hears the growling once more, this time close enough for her to feel hot breath of a beast on the back of her neck. Part of her wants to panic and get up to run away but she knows that would just anger the whatever is here with her. Hoping it is a large animal of some kind, she thinks perhaps it would not follow her into the water.
Brea sits still as stone and listens once more, hesitating. The moon shines, released from its prison behind the clouds, and illuminates the shore in front of her. With her back to the water she sees a score of beat up wolves. Their fur is matted and bloody, snarling faces are missing teeth, and bones jut through their skin. Her vision is swimming and she is having trouble focusing, but Brea knows the beasts are on the land surrounding her.
With jilted movements she pats herself down, hoping to find a weapon, but there are none. She discarded everything in her mad dash from the castle. The only thing left she can use is the tiara. Stumbling she takes a few steps forward and waves the jeweled piece in front of her, hoping the glint of metal will scare the monsters into dashing off. Instead, one lunges for her and in the barest knick of time she is able to move back and avoid being bitten. Her ankle lands in the lake.
Freezing water embraces her foot and the nip does not comfort her. In the dark, with no real weapons, she cannot hope to fight off the deranged horde of beasts, which inch closer but whine when nearing the shore. Brea decides to risk the water and wait the wolves out. Climbing in is a slow process, she wants to make sure her body has time to adjust to the temperature. Her limbs feel heavy and she just wants to float, but still she goes slow. After what feels like hours she is waist deep. The moon hides behind the clouds again, shoving her back into darkness. Despite her proximity to the shore she can no longer see the beasts. Straining her ears, she listens for retreat and does not trust that they have gone. She does not care leave the water and its promise of safety.
Soon Brea is chest high and shivering as her body adjusts to the temperature of the water. Her breath comes in gasps, in part due to the cold but also fear of freezing. After a few minutes she becomes comfortable. To protect the tiara, she places it on her head and spins, imagining herself at one of the Duke’s grand balls. She can see the velvet cushioned chairs, musicians on the balconies, multitudes of flowers and decorative plants arranged as center pieces. In her mind, she is drinking the dark red wine that tastes of berries and spice on her tongue. She indulges in the roast duck and goose, calling for seconds. All while still in the water, spinning in circles, each movement drawing her deeper.
Her next steps bring her in too far and she is pulled from her reverie at the same moment her head dips below the surface. Her clothes weigh her down, she didn’t take off her belt, boots, or cloak while fleeing the wolves. Kicking hard she attempts to reach the air but something latches on to her ankle and draws her further down. Brea’s lungs are on fire. Bending over she tries to pull whatever it is off her leg, but she cannot see. The depths are even darker than the blackened sky above.
Unable to hold any longer Brea breathes in the water, coughing, choking, each convulsion killing her. Her eyes are bulging and her limbs are growing colder by the minute. Soon, Brea stops struggling. Her hands release from the vine that is holding her hostage. When it too releases it’s hold on her, her sodden clothes drag her to the bottom of the lake. As she falls down, the tiara dislodges from her brow and settles on the lake floor. The moon comes out from behind the clouds, illuminating the depths. In the faint moonlight, the lakes secrets are exposed. Laid there forever, are a multitude of jewels, and corpses.