They said I had an over-active imagination, let my brain run wild with the stories in my head. My grandparents thought I’d had enough of books, filling my head with stories, time to let me go out in the real world. They didn’t understand that’s where it all came from.
I sat by the stream deep in the woods, the same stream I’d sat by a thousand times. The grass was still damp, soaking slowly into my trousers as I stared into the sparkling water. I often asked why the water never ran dry, not even slightly low. Mumbles were thrown back in my direction until I realised the adults had no clue. The trees soared above me all the way into the sky. They reached out and grabbed onto each other, covering the sky, hiding me from the clouds. Sunlight managed to find the gaps and stab at the forest floor. Animals scurried across them, feeling the warmth for a split second before darting back out of sight.
The forest was never quiet: the wind whispered and the birds called back. Leaves crackled in defiance on the ground as the creatures tunnelled their way through. But none of this held my attention for long. I always stared deep into the water, tracing the ripples as they chased each other downstream as they were carried by the current. The bottom wasn’t deep and the water was crystal clear and colourless enough for me to count the pebbles that lay there. My place on the floor was becoming uncomfortable and I decided to wait only ten minutes more; the light wouldn’t last much longer anyway. Ten minutes passed and still I stared deep, perhaps today was not the day.
My family thought I made it all up, it hadn’t taken long for me to realise it was better to say nothing at all. My tales of creatures and other worlds entertained them at first until I insisted it was true. The stream was a window, one that was not always open.
As I was about to give up, a flash of green caught my eye. I focused, leaned closer. There, the water became still, coalesced into a mirror. I saw myself, clear as day, as solid an image as you could get and then, it was gone, replaced by another place.
I saw a hill, rising up into the clouds. A small town below bathed in twinkling lights. Emerald green covered the whole scene as I watched life play out. Horses stood waiting for their masters, a glittering sheen covered their coats. The view soared, climbing the side of the hill with such speed I had to look away. When it finally settled, I saw a woman and a man with magic in his eyes. They looked lost, searching a room. Their mouths moved but I could hear nothing. They faded from view, another creature taking their place. A short, ugly man, his face twisted and gnarled. His eyes were full of jealousy and greed. It felt like he was staring directly at me, sending a shiver down my spine. His hand rose up and touched the mirror, thick pointed nails, tracing a circle. The creature wore clothes that made him look like a highwayman, a long jacket with ruffled sleeves, gold lining down the front. His smile was enticing, drawing me in. I had seen him many times before when I looked into the water. My drawings were now hidden under my bed for fear my family would find them.
The woman people appeared again; I could tell she was angry. The creature popped out of view and reappeared behind her. I leaned closer to the display, eyes wide with awe as they danced round each other, locked in a dangerous dance. Lights exploded across my vision – magic was being thrown in all directions. And then it was over. I sat back, disappointed it had been so brief. I only ever saw flashes, leaving me to fill in the rest. I was already playing out the heroic fight, the woman besting the creatures and being lauded as a hero but the water drew my attention back towards it.
The glass surface had been broken, now it was shaking, the surface rising and falling as if boiling. I had never seen it do this before. I scooted backwards. The water became more violent, splashes shooting up and falling back into the stream. The ground either side got soaked as it grew more intense. I stood, ready to run, there was no way I could tell my parents about this. They would think me mad. Perhaps I was imaging it all.
Suddenly, all went still. With a shake of the head, I relaxed, letting out the breath I had been holding.
A strange noise filtered through the forest. Hairs on the back of my neck stood up. The air seemed to crackle with energy. Panic rose up as my head snapped side to side looking for the source of the noise. It was coming from the water. I covered my ears. It sounded like nails on a chalkboard. I looked back down at the water. There was a hand. A familiar hand. One pointed nail was tracing a circle, scoring the glassy surface. I could see a glowing trail his finger left behind. The two ends of the line met and the noise stopped with a pop.
I found myself frozen in place, my voice useless as the hand rose up through the hole reaching onto my side of the stream. The hand was followed by the arm, and a head. Greedy, malicious eyes stared at me from the surface of the water.
The bottom half of his face rose out of the water. The golem-like creature I had seen before smiled at me. Water dripped off his face as his lips curled up.
“Hello my dear,” his voice had a melodic quality but there was no denying the hiss that lay beneath. “How about a wager? If you can’t guess my name in three tries, you have to do whatever I say.”