Stolen children leave traces behind…
The apple trees in the neighbours' garden were in full bloom when my sister vanished. The police threw around words like 'human trafficking' and 'pedophile', and my parents' tears fell as thick as the petals swirling down onto our lawn. No-one listened to me when I told them the faeries had stolen her away.
At first I hadn't believed her, either. Too old for children's stories, I scoffed at her immature flights of fantasy. But she had shown me the secret places tucked in the space between seconds, nestled in the crumbling mortar of the ancient stone walls. Pixies, faeries, redcaps, sirens and selkies; all sorts inhabited her mindscape and peopled our land.
I asked the dryad who lived in the crabapple tree at the bottom of our ramshackle, sprawling garden if he had seen my sister, but he was drunk on the heady nectar of new growth and blossoming things and didn't answer me.
On the night of the full moon, when the sun-soaked ears of wheat swung heavily in the hot, dry air I left a saucer of milk on the windowsill for the brownies, hoping that they could tell me the secret of my sister's disappearance. But before midnight the cat knocked the milk over and ignored me when I scolded it. I ran upstairs and pretended to sleep, all the while listening to my parents wonder about the shards of smashed china and the puddle of milk.
Storms whipped through the trees at the edges of our property, sending red and orange leaves streaming through the chill air like flames. In the distance, between the branches and the howl of the wind, I heard the banshees screaming on the boundaries, but no matter how long I stood on the roof or how soaked I got wandering through the woods they never answered my shouted questions.
Ice crystals ringed the half-frozen pool where I knew the kelpie lived. I threw a pebble in, watched the ripples fade away, but no-one answered. In the dim half-light of the dying moon my reflection in the still water was deathly pale, my skin pallid, ashen and waxy like a dead thing. It was so cold my breath no longer fogged.
Behind me, footsteps crunched in the snow.
"I'm back, big bro." Her voice was like sunlight on a warm day, and I spun to greet my sister. She looked older than last I saw her; maybe twelve or thirteen, a blossom about to unfurl with the coming thaw. My mouth opened but a crushing pressure on my chest stopped any words from coming out. Instead, when she walked past me and sat at the edge of the pond, I sat next to her in silence.
She placed a bouquet, brilliant colours almost bright enough to stain the crisp, clean snow, on the ground in front of her and stared at the water. The stars twinkled back at her from the depths.
"I'm sorry... I couldn't... I couldn't stay. Not..." She stopped, her voice choked off by the tears that glistened like diamonds on her cheeks. The snow shifted and crunched as she stood, and I reached out to grab her hand and stop her leaving. I'd been waiting so long for her to come back.
But her hand passed through mine, and she turned and walked away, leaving two sets of footprints by that frozen, icy pool. Hers, coming. Hers, going.
And I stood, unable to cry, in the place I could never really leave because I had come to see the kelpie, years ago.