Something Found, Something Lost

Bonnie screamed, but she was cut off almost immediately as the green pond-creature wrapped a scaly arm around her throat. Its other arm was curled around her stomach, and it held her aloft as if she weighed nothing, though it was only child-sized itself.

It had a face like the ugliest monkey imaginable, but with scales instead of fur. It had green lips curled back in a ferocious grin, revealing sharp, pointy teeth. The top of its head looked as if a little bowl had been carved into its skull, and water sloshed around in the depression. Dark, glassy eyes regarded Alexandra and Brian as they both jumped into the water with a splash and advanced on the creature. "Let her go!" Brian screamed, but he stopped when it squeezed Bonnie's throat, making her terrified eyes bulge in her head. She gurgled, trying to breathe.

"Look, look, who came back to my pond!" it cackled. "Three naughty children, now who'll be dinner? Mmm, so sweet and juicy!" It did a little hopping dance right there in the water, lifting one webbed foot then the other out of the mud, never taking its eyes off of Alexandra and Brian, nor letting up in the slightest on its grip on Bonnie.

"Let my sister go!" Brian repeated. He was paralyzed with fear, but Alexandra, though her heart was hammering in her chest, was trying to edge just a little closer. The creature was quite aware of her maneuvering and edged away by the same amount. Alexandra wondered why it didn't simply back away into the deeper water, and drag Bonnie under. It held the girl effortlessly, so it was likely strong enough to hold her down and drown her while they wrestled with it. No inspiration from An Encyclopedia of Spirits, Sprites, and Fairies came to her; this was definitely not a naiad.

"What are you? What do you want?" Alexandra demanded.

The creature cackled again. "Why, I have what I want! The only thing that could be better than one warm juicy child is three!"

"You can't have all three of us," she said, and noticed that the bracelet was sitting in the mud between them. She also noticed that as the creature weaved this way and that, anticipating any sudden movements Alexandra or Brian might make, it was carefully keeping its head level.

"Just one then," the creature replied. "I'll suck out her blood and suck out her marrow, and leave only her insides on her outside." It smacked its lips with relish.

"No!" Brian gulped.

"You won't mind if I take this, then?" Alexandra inquired, pointing at the bracelet.

Its fishy eyes narrowed. "No, no, mine, you can't throw me beautiful shiny things and take them back, nasty, nasty child! And look what it lured into my pond!"

Alexandra jerked forward slightly, keeping her eyes locked on the creature's face. It twitched in response to her feint, and the water in the bowl in its head sloshed a little. Its lips peeled back to reveal more teeth. "Leave it, leave it!" Its fingers tightened around Bonnie's throat. She made a frightened little squeak, and then only a hiss escaped her. She was wriggling in its grasp, but weakly, and her face was turning purple.

"Alex," Brian moaned. "D-don't make it angry! Look, you can h-have the bracelet! Just let my sister go, please..."

"No, the bracelet's mine," Alexandra said. She straightened up, slowly, and the creature did too, matching her posture, eying her suspiciously.

"You can't have it! Go away now! The girl is mine, the bracelet is mine, if you stay you'll be mine too!" It hopped up and down, making ripples in the surface of the pond.

Alexandra lunged for the bracelet. The creature hissed angrily and let go of Bonnie with one arm, but it still held her by the neck, while it dived forward to try to snatch the bracelet with its other hand.

Alexandra abruptly changed direction and tackled it, wrapping her arms around its neck and pulling it even further forward. It screeched as the water in the top of its head spilled out.

"Brian, help me!" she screamed as the monkey-like creature thrashed in her grasp. It was very strong, yet she could feel it weakening with every passing second. It was still strong enough to hold onto Bonnie while clawing at Alexandra's face, though, and she could only spin in place and try to keep her feet while tilting her head back to keep its claws out of her eyes.

Brian's mouth dropped open, and Alexandra felt the creature's claws gouge her cheek, and then his paralysis broke and he lunged forward as well, wrapping his arms around its waist.

"Don't let it back in the water!" she gasped, while it hissed and thrashed and almost bowled them both over. And it was very hard even for Brian and Alexandra together to maintain their grip on the creature. It snapped like a turtle and only Alexandra's grip around its neck kept it from biting off her ear. It let go of Bonnie, who fell into the water with a splash.

"Bonnie!" Brian screamed.

"Don't let go!" Alexandra yelled.

The wrestling match between the two children and the ugly pond-thing only lasted minutes, though it seemed like an eternity to the two children. The two of them held it aloft like a great big ugly fish flapping and twisting in the air. Bonnie rolled over in the water and managed to halfway sit up, but couldn't move as she tried to recover her breath. Alexandra felt as if she were going to lose her grip and collapse beneath the creature's weight at any moment, and she thought that if they all went into the water together, it would regain its strength. Its thrashing became weaker, and its hissing tapered off to a piteous mewling sound.

"Let me go!" it pleaded, and Alexandra snorted.

"Now who's got what they want?" she asked. "Why should we?"

"I will do anything you ask!" it cried.

"You promise not to try to drown anyone else?" Alexandra demanded.

"Yes! Yes! Never again!"

"And you won't steal things anymore?"

"I didn't steal! I didn't steal! You left your bracelet in my pond!" it protested.

"I dropped it when I was chased into your pond by the redcaps! If something gets dropped by accident it doesn't mean it's yours!"

"Yes, yes, agreed! You can have it back!" the creature said hastily.

Alexandra wasn't at all sure the creature was trustworthy. It definitely wasn't a naiad and she didn't recognize it from any of the other descriptions in her book, and spirits, sprites, and fairies seemed inconsistently bound by their sworn word anyway. She supposed there was no guarantee that it couldn't break its promises, but on the other hand, she and Brian couldn't hold it forever, and they needed to get Bonnie out of the water.

"We'll toss it towards the shore, on the count of three, okay?" she said to Brian. He could only swallow hard and nod. Alexandra counted to three, and then with a heave, they threw it onto the banks of the pond, where it cried out as it landed with a wet thud.

Brian immediately put his arms around Bonnie and dragged her out of the water. She was shivering and sobbing incoherently.

Alexandra bent over to grab the gold bracelet. As she climbed out of the pond, she saw that the creature was crawling to the water's edge.

"Don't ever let us see you again!" she commanded, with considerably more authority than she actually felt. She suspected once back in the water, they would have no further power over it, but she never intended to come near Old Larkin Pond again.

They walked without talking, dripping wet and still in shock. They stopped only when they reached the woods, out of sight of the pond. Brian finally sat Bonnie down, and then sat down himself as his trembling legs gave way beneath him.

"Are you okay, Bonnie?" Alexandra asked. The girl looked awful. Her face was white and she was still coughing up pondwater. She couldn't speak and looked as if she'd been frightened out of her mind. Alexandra felt bad for her. She twirled her bracelet anxiously around her wrist.

Brian eyed the gold circlet, as he put an arm around his sister's shoulders.

"You got your bracelet back," he said, and the bitterness in his voice was unmistakable.

"I didn't know that thing was in the pond. I thought... I thought maybe there was a naiad but... well you didn't really believe it either, did you?" Alexandra was more shaken than she wanted to admit. She looked at Bonnie, then at Brian. "I didn't think there would be any danger!"

"What are redcaps?" he asked.

She blinked. "What?"

"You got chased into the pond by redcaps. That's how you lost the bracelet. Right? So what are redcaps?" He was staring directly at her, and for once, Alexandra was having trouble meeting his eyes.

She had lied to Brian earlier, but she didn't see any way out of it but by telling the truth now. So she did. She told him about how she'd fallen asleep, and about how she'd been awoken by the sound of something creeping about, and then, half-fearing he wouldn't believe her and half-fearing he would, she told him about the horrid little men who had backed her into the pond until she produced fire from a wet stick and escaped in a blaze of magical pyrotechnics. And finally, she told him what she'd read about redcaps in An Encyclopedia of Spirits, Sprites, and Fairies.

He didn't say anything for a long time. Bonnie was still taking deep breaths, and had now buried her face in Brian's arms as he held her.

"You took us down there, knowing that these... fairy muggers were there?"

"Redcaps only come out at night," Alexandra said.

"Oh, your book says that? And I suppose it was written by someone who's actually seen redcaps? It's not just a book about fairy tale creatures no one really believes in?"

She opened her mouth, but she couldn't really explain why she'd been so certain that they wouldn't encounter the creatures that had harried her two nights ago. Any justification seemed feeble now.

"I didn't expect any trouble. I just..."

"You just wanted your bracelet back." Brian pronounced each word slowly, so it sounded like he was saying, "You. Just. Wanted. Your. Bracelet. Back." The words piled one on top of the other like little bricks, each one an accusation.

She looked at him, with an uncharacteristically guilty, pleading expression. In almost eight years of friendship, they had had fights and disagreements, and this wasn't the first time Brian had accused Alexandra of being thoughtless and reckless. But she had never seen a look on his face like the one he had now. He wasn't just angry. He looked as if he were seeing someone different. He had a look of betrayal.

"I'd never let you or Bonnie get hurt," she said, softly. And she meant it. She really did. She might not have realized it until now, but the last thing she would ever want to do was see her best friend or his sister come to harm. Yet even to herself, the words sounded a little hollow. In the back of her mind, a small voice was telling her that she hadn't even thought about Brian or Bonnie getting hurt. She'd only been thinking about her bracelet. And that was exactly what Brian was thinking now.

She knelt next to them, and turned to Bonnie, breaking away from Brian's angry, accusing stare.

"Bonnie, it's okay," she said quietly. She put a hand on the girl's shoulder. "You know I'd never let anything hurt you, right?"

Bonnie was still heaving, and didn't answer, nor did she look at Alexandra. But Brian said, "You don't get to let things happen or not happen, Alex. Just because you can... do things doesn't mean you can control what happens."

"I figured out how to beat it, didn't I?" she snapped. She was feeling defensive, and after all, hadn't they won? They'd rescued Bonnie, defeated the creature, and recovered her bracelet. Yet she knew immediately that was the wrong thing to say. Brian's eyes turned cold and distant, and he shook his head.

"Come on, Bonnie," he said gently, and he helped his sister stand up. "We're going home."

Alexandra walked along with them, but there didn't seem to be anything else to say. She didn't even want to think about what Mr. and Mrs. Seabury would do when their children came home soaking wet and smelling like the pond, nor about what Brian and Bonnie would tell them.

They trudged back into town, getting a few odd looks from people on the street. Bonnie was breathing normally again, though she was sniffling and had one hand clutched to her throat where the creature had grabbed her, while her other hand held tightly to Brian's.

They reached Sweetmaple Avenue, and Alexandra's house, and Brian and Bonnie kept walking.

"Brian," Alexandra said. He didn't stop or look back.

"Brian?" she repeated. "Bonnie?"

The other two children kept walking towards their own house, leaving Alexandra standing alone on the sidewalk.

She watched them until they reached their house down the street, feeling a lot of emotions she wasn't used to, like guilt and sadness, but also feeling a bit sorry for herself. And then, finally, she turned towards her house, and only then realized that Archie's truck and her mother's car were both sitting in the driveway. They were both home early, which meant there was no hope of Alexandra sneaking in and cleaning up. Not only had she violated her restriction, but she'd gone back to Old Larkin Pond and fallen in again (at least, she'd have to tell them she'd fallen in), and she was about to be caught red-handed. Their wrath would be unprecedented. She really was going to be grounded until she was eighteen.

However, as she shuffled up the walk, still dripping muddy green water, her eyes were not on the front door, behind which her mother and stepfather were no doubt lying in wait, ready to unleash a fit of screaming and yelling not heard on Sweetmaple Avenue since Alexandra had stolen Archie's keys and dropped a concrete block on his truck's gas pedal after starting it. (She was trying to use her magic to guide the truck by remote control. It hadn't worked.)

Instead, she was looking at the unfamiliar car sitting on the street in front of their house. It was a big, shiny, silver car that looked very new and expensive, not the sort of car one often saw in Larkin Mills, and certainly not sitting in front of the Green residence. It had a bright silver falcon as a hood ornament, and its windows were mirrored glass. The license plates said 'LILITH.'

She paused in her front yard, studying the impressive yet sinister-looking vehicle. She looked up and down the street. There was plenty of room for it to park in front of someone else's house. Mrs. Wilborough across the street was looking out through her curtains. She must have been curious about the strange car parked in front of Alexandra's house too. All of their neighbors would be.

Then their front door opened, and Alexandra's mother said, "Alex, come inside, please."