The chink of metal against stone woke Charlie early one Sunday morning. Before church. Before the dog decided it needed to go outside. Just as the sun was cresting the horizon.
Her father hated fish, so his trenching for a goldfish pond took her by surprise. Even when he told the family it was for the children, she had her doubts. Not with the way the veins stood out in his neck, like he’d run too hard up a hill. And she’d seen him run up hills. It was never a pretty sight. She’s also seen him lie enough to know it elicited the same response.
Not until the shallow pond was filled with plants, water and tiny o-mouthed goldfish did Charlie notice something strange. Whenever the sun rose, just before the first rays drenched the world, just for a few seconds she could see her; the girl in the pond; an uneven outline against the black tarp that served to contain the water.
At first she thought her father hadn’t smoothed out the bottom properly. Yet, as days passed and the tarp stretched out completely under the continuous weight of the watery world it held above – the shape became clearer.
Until it was a profile with closed eyes and shallow cheek bones that tugged at Charlie’s memories, though she couldn’t place it. Only visible twice a day.
And then it visited Charlie at night, in her dreams, haunting her. She screamed at it to leave her alone and woke, gasping for air and sweating with exertion. Her sleep grew short and fitful until she was too scared to close her eyes. Charlie fought, but exhaustion won the battle and then the cycle started all over again. Every night it beckoned to her, like she should know it.
Three Sundays later Charlie waited for the sun to rise, gaze intent on the pond, fingers brushing against the early morning paper delivered moments earlier. She leafed through it in the light of the porch to stave off the nightmares trying to claim her. Or maybe it was so she didn’t have to think.
The page she landed on as the sun rose reflected the face back to her. Charlie frowned, skimming the words, fixating on the picture. Not only under the water but in her hands as well – the perfect profile match. Same cheekbones and nose. Three weeks gone from a home two blocks over. Three weeks missing.
The pond beckoned to Charlie, screaming the secret she now held in black and white print. The secret she should have understood weeks ago.
Charlie stood, pages falling from numb fingertips as she gulped down air to stop the shakes that wracked her frame. She knew what she had to do. Clenching her small fists she turned around, resolved to call the police.
Only to find she wasn’t alone.