The crow girl sits on top of the phone box, tossing pennies at the loch. Flip. Pitch. Splosh. Copper frisbees catch the afternoon sun, sink beneath murky water.
“You trying to bait Nessie?” I ask, slinking up beside the old, red booth. “You’ve got the wrong loch, if you are.”
She snorts. “I’m not an ijit.”
“Right.” I stuff hands deeper into my school trousers; she throws another coin. “Whatcha doing, then?”
“None of your business.”
I look up, but her straight, dark hair hides most of her face; all I can see are brown eyes watching the water. Her jumper is tattered, the sleeves chewed, and her skirt flutters in the wind. School shoes and white socks lie on the gravel at my feet.
Her name is Morrigan. Only three weeks she’s been here, but it feels like forever.
A glint: sea glass and fallen coins lure me down the slope. I scramble over rock, picking precious treasures from the shore like a housewife at market, choosing only the best, the brightest. Only shiny will do for her. The air smells like rain and grey gathers over the hills on the far side of the lake.
“Here you go.” I hand up my offerings to the goddess on her pulpit.
She pulls her head in, eyebrows dipped, and when she leans down a minnow squirms in my chest. “What’s that?”
I draw back my hand, checking. A marble: blue-green, perfectly round. Half-scratched so it’s like a cloudy eye.
“A witch’s bead,” I say, holding it out, looking through the blue to blue beyond. “Like a crystal ball can see the future, this’n knows the past. You can tell it anything, and the glass will hold your secrets until it can’t see any more. Then it crumbles into dust.”
I hand it up.
She smiles. “A rare find.”
On pale feet she stands, wobbling only a little, toes gripping the slick roof. She winds back her arm like a bowler, and throws the marble in an arc that whistles through the sky before the water swallows it without a sound, like dreams washed away in the evening tide.
She turns to me. Meets my disappointed frown. “The most marvellous things belong to the world; don’t you think?”
Her arms sway. She could be flying, up there.
“Someone else will find that, years from now, enjoy its beauty just as we did.” Her gaze returns to the water. Mine cannot move. “The loch will look after it for us.”
I’ve nothing beautiful left to give her.
“Help me down?”
Her voice breaks my inward stare. I stammer and stand, awkward now, teenage hands trembling on cold skin. Morrigan’s arms in mine are soft, pale and pink, and I’m reminded of the candy in my bag, twists of rainbow marshmallow that melt in the mouth.
The crow girl leans in, and takes a kiss. Her eyes are dark pools in which I drown.
“Another one for the water,” she says.
Emma Louise Gill is a British-Australian writer, cat herder, and coffee addict. Her most recent short stories appear in Curiouser Magazine, Etherea Magazine, The Piker Press, and longlisted at Reflex Fiction. She blogs at www.emmalouisegill.com and procrastinates way too often on Twitter @emmagillwriter.
photo by Aleks Marinkovic (via unsplash)