When a tiny silver fish is caught on Annie’s hook, she is quite literally hurled into a magical world beneath the pond on her grandmother’s land.
Being distracted by the many bird calls welcoming the sun rising through the oaks and maples, I almost missed the tug on my line. The world was perfection right then. I could forget sadness and frustration. With the pond radiant in pink and gold ripples, a warm breeze on my cheek, the fragrance of honeysuckle and morning glory filling me up with every breath, I scarcely noticed that something had taken my bait.
The Hospice nurse was with Grandma, which was why I managed the escape into the magic of the pond at sunrise. The two deer hadn’t even moved when I arrived. They knew they were safe. Grandma kept the five-hundred acres of uncut woodland secure for all its inhabitants.
Our older brother George called this a crime. He saw a housing development with clubhouses and pools. Leaving the land undeveloped was downright mean, he said. It was robbing us all of a decent life. Our older sister Leslie agreed. Not that she lacked anything, being married to a Sinclair. Maintaining a Sinclair lifestyle cost money, she said. Our younger brother Rob, a struggling artist in New York, was always short of funds. All three of them had been after Grandma to sell for years. Now, with so little time remaining, they were content to bide their time. Biding their time at a distance, you understand. None of them had come over since the diagnosis.
George: “The way she’s been stingy with that valuable land all these years, I don’t have nothing to say. I’ll be there for the reading of the will.”
Rob: “Yeah, I’ll try to come down for the funeral.”
Leslie: “I’m no good with sick people. What do you even say? It’s awkward. You should look after her, Annie. I mean, it’s not like you have a life.”
Becoming conscious of the tug on the line, I started to reel in my catch.
Why, it was only a tiny silver fish. It was scarcely as long as my thumb.
Then with a suddenness that took my breath away, the tiny fish pulled back. With a force that could not be possible, I was flung forward into the pond. I barely had time to inhale before the water rolled over my head. And still I was being pulled downward.
The pond was fed by a natural spring. Back when we were kids swimming there on hot summer afternoons, we called it the bottomless pond. We would dare one-another to dive down and find out. Now this tiny fish was pulling me straight down, and for some reason I couldn’t release my hold on the rod.
Then when it seemed I could not hold my breath a second longer, we passed through something like the filmy covering of a bubble. This is the only way I can describe it. One moment I was being pulled through water, and fearing that my lungs would burst. The next, I was in a dry bubble breathing fresh air. I came to rest on white sand.
What was this place? I could see the rippling water above me, still golden in the early morning light. Glancing to my left, I saw that the water still went down into the bottomless spring. This place inside the bubble was on something like a shelf of rock, jutting out into the water. And there was a cottage built into the rick with fragrant herbs and flowers all about. Coming toward me was a young girl, scarcely more than a child.
Her golden hair fell almost to her feet. She wore a gown of shimmering pink. She removed the silver fish from the hook, gave it a kiss, and tossed it into the spring. She took a step toward me, saying in a sweetly perplexed voice, “You are not Suzanna.”
“Su…” I was distracted by the pendant at her throat, which she fondled between delicate fingers. What was this girl: Water nymph? Sprite? Pixie?
“You have seen one like this before?” she inquired, holding the pendant up toward me.
“My grandmother has one exactly like that. She never takes it off. …My grandmother Suzanna.”
“Your grandmother? But only yesterday she was a girl smaller than you. …Oh, I always forget how quickly life passes for the greedy ones.”
“Greedy?” I protested. “My grandmother was never greedy. She could have been wealthy, if she sold this land. She deprived herself of everything, just so that she could pay the taxes.” I thought about the old wood-frame house that George called a rotten old shack. I could not control the tears that filled my eyes. “She is old now. She only has a few days to live.”
“Forgive me,” the girl said. “I did not mean that Suzanna is greedy. I meant that greed flows in the blood of your kind.”
“What-who are you?” I demanded. How did you know my grandmother?”
“Suzanna said there are myths about my kind. The tiny silver fish brought her to me.”
I glanced up at the rippling water, which was losing the golden tint of early morning. “I must go back now,” I explained. “The nurse will want to leave. I can’t leave my grandmother alone. She only has a few days left.”
“You will care for the land, after she is gone.” This was not a question. To my ears it sounded like a command.
“That’s not my choice.” With much haste I explained about my siblings.
A tear rolled down her cheek. “They do not know the harm their greed will cause. So few clean places are left to us; so few of us left to sing to the dawn. Must your kind take everything?”
I thought about George’s description of the land made profitable. The pond would be surrounded by million-dollar homes, each with green lawns and swimming pools. Where the oaks and maples stood, why that was the perfect location for a golf course. Must your kind take everything? Her words rang in my head. “I am just on person,” I protested. “They never listen to me anyway. I’m too easy to overlook. I’m not talented like Rob, or beautiful like Leslie, or motivated like George. I’m just Annie, a forgettable girl who dropped out of college because she couldn’t see the point anymore.”
“This land is not worth fighting for?”
“I love the pond and the land!” I protested. “I wish I could stay in Grandma’s old house forever. You just don’t understand. I have never won a single argument with my brothers or sister. They will never listen to me. I am a nothing-noggin. That’s what they call me.”
“Very will,” the strange girl said. I noticed that as the gold left the water, so did it leave her hair. It was now a very light yellow. Her gown had turned from pink to pale blue. She said, “I will ask you for one small favor. Do this, and all may be well.”
“What do you want?”
“After you grandmother draws her last breath, take the necklace. Fling it into the pond. That is all.”
“How will that help?” I was thinking about how much Leslie admired the pendant. If I obeyed this favor, she would accuse me of taking it.
“Suzanna promised to protect the land, and that was a promise freely given. Her promise was a gift, and so I gave her the necklace. The necklace carries the memory of Suzanna’s kept-promise. Never underestimate the power of kept promises. Return the necklace to me, and all will be made right.”
Before I could argue further, I felt a tug at my body, and I shot upward to the pond’s surface.
Three days later my grandma died at sunrise. I kissed her forehead and lifted the necklace from her throat. I must act quickly. Her Hospice nurse would arrive soon. She always came early because she loved the ride into the country that time of day.
The necklace lay heavy in my hand. Was I doing right? This was all I had left of Grandma. And Leslie was sure to start something, when she noticed it was missing. And why should I listen to the sprite, or whatever she was. I must have dreamed her, anyway. I mean, it wasn’t like I had slept much those past few weeks. Of course it was a dream. How could I throw away Grandma’s necklace?
This was foolishness. No way could a nothing-noggin stop George from developing the land. Leslie and Rob would take his side. But hadn’t Grandma promised to protect the land? What was a necklace compared to helping Grandma? Maybe it was a stupid thing to do, but…
Still wearing my nightgown, without stopping to put on shoes, I dashed down to the pond and flung away the necklace. Tears gushed down my cheeks. “Grandma!” I cried out. “Sprite! Silver Fish! Tell me I did right!”
The four of us gathered in the conference room at Grandma’s attorney’s office to review the will. Rob was telling Leslie about the loft he wanted to lease. Leslie showed him the plans for her kitchen makeover. George was sending texts to people that wanted to come in on the land venture. I did not mind being ignored. I had nothing to say.
Grandma’s Attorney, Mr. Shad, joined us. He reviewed what we already knew. After our mom’s death in the car crash five years ago, we were Suzanna Gifford’s only surviving family. Well, I won’t repeat his words verbatim. What it all came down to was that we four were free to stay at her house whenever we wanted, but not a thing was to be changed on the land. The property was to be kept in trust, and managed by a Mr. Silver.
George was livid. “She wasn’t in her right mind! We will certainly contest this will.”
“She was in her right mind up until the end,” I said. “All the people that were around her, which was only me and the nurses, we will swear that her mind was good.”
“Annie, for once in your life show sense!” George thundered. “Do you have any idea what you’re throwing away?”
“I know what I’m helping to keep,” I said.