Beyond the Broken Sky
by Fiona Gehrke
Content Warnings: Some creepy, scary descriptions and ghostly content. One injury mentioned, no blood.
Aisla tugged the reeds from their place in the riverbed, then tucked them into her basket. She made her way towards a thick clump of similar plants, holding her plaid skirts above her ankles with one hand. She bent to grip them by their roots, but the reeds refused to come up. Aisla let her dress drop and swirl around her ankles in the water, trying to get a better grip on the plant stalks. She had just managed to extricate them, when a gentle splash sounded behind her. Aisla turned, and the reeds fell out of her limp hand.
There, in the river, with her green dress eddying about her like a ripple of ink, was a woman. She possessed an unearthly beauty —her pale skin unblemished, long black hair as dark as the night sky— but there was something cold about her smile, like someone who had forgotten how to.
She knew that something was horribly wrong with the woman— after all, she had grown up on tales of malicious water demons that waited in hiding to drown you, to make you one of them. But Aisla’s feet betrayed her wary mind, and she found herself edging along the slippery riverbed. The stranger’s smile grew, until it became obvious that it was no longer a smile. It was then that Aisla realized what was wrong.
The woman’s legs were covered in dark brown fur, and they ended in hooves. Her eyes were an unnatural kaleidoscope of green and blue, so deep and endless that Aisla found herself staring fixedly into them. The glaistig —for that was what she must’ve been— outstretched her arms, like she was waiting for an embrace.
At last, Aisla came to her senses. She swung the basket of reeds out in front of her as a makeshift weapon. “Stay back, ye evil fuath!”
The glaistig’s smile turned into a snarl. It struck the basket out of Aisla’s grasp, sending it skittering away over the wet stones, reeds spilling out into the river. One of its fingernails ripped a jagged cut down her palm. The water spirit lunged for her, clammy hands clamping down onto her forearms. Aisla screamed, trying to pull away, but the glaistig’s grip was superhuman, and she felt herself slipping, losing more ground by the second.
Her foot caught on a protruding rock, and she went under. The glaistig appeared in front of her, its eyes twin pinpricks of malevolent green, grasping fingers now tipped with jagged claws dragging her deeper into the river.
Aisla’s last sight was the distant sky that seemed broken by the rippling waters, as she and the spirit sunk into the darkness.
A young girl stumbled over the muddy riverbanks, her shoes sinking into the mud and catching on buried rocks. Her foot hit something partially submerged underwater. Elsie knelt down, and upon doing so, realized that it was a tattered basket. There were a few reeds trapped inside of it, and they swirled away with the current.
She glanced up in search of it’s owner, but there was no one in sight. The girl turned to place the basket on the grass, when her eyes fell on something just below the surface of the water. She knew that she should’ve turned and ran —having heard horrible tales of water spirits that longed to turn you into one— but there was something so entrancing about the young woman that stood there, in the middle of the river.
It gestured for her to come closer. Elsie returned its cold smile, and took the outstretched hand, without noticing the scar that ran down its palm, or the way that its green eyes glimmered with something inhuman. If anyone had walked past, they would’ve seen an old, frayed basket, and two sets of footsteps— both leading into the river, and neither coming out.