With Mama long gone, and Daddy away on business trips often, Grandma Verona took it upon herself to raise us as good-willed, God-fearing children. And she succeeded, at least as far as I went. All the stories she’d narrate about Hell, and the terrifying abominations that awaited us there- lest we didn’t abandon our ‘misbehaving, bratty ways’- kept me sufficiently scared. I prayed every night before bed, finished all my green peas, and never cussed. Hell scared me, and if heeding to Grandma’s words kept me safe, I was happy to comply.
My younger brother Jimmy, though- he kept being a brat. Grandma’s hellish tales amused him, he called those stories ‘bullshit’ straight to her face. Even cussing aside, he, and his best-friend Davey, never ceased from making trouble. Jimmy and Davey would chop off my dolls’ pigtails, pluck fruits off the neighbors’ trees, chase the stray dogs away with sticks and stones- essentially, they did all the things Grandma Verona didn’t approve of.
Suffice to say, she’d get mad. Never laid a finger on Davey, but after each one of their antics, she’d welcome my brother back home with some crude punishment or another. Spank him on the rear with her long bamboo cane, shut him up in the attic for half-day, make him scrub the toilets— you know? Classic, old-people, punishment stuff. Made me watch, too, probably to send a message. But watching my brat little brother succumb and squeal in fear only made me giggle.
Later, she’d make up for her crassness with a nice, pancake dinner for the two of us. She’d serve them with warm hugs and forehead kisses that’d make us both happy. Shortly after, Jimmy would revert to his insufferable ways. And that’s how the cycle kept running.
Of course, it had to stop someday.
That day came when Jimmy nibbled off a leg-piece of the Thanksgiving dinner turkey Grandma and I had prepped. When confronted, he lied— which only riled her more. Riled me too— we had worked hard on stuffing and decorating the bird, and frankly, I was getting a little sick of my 9-year-old brother’s misbehavior. Not as sick as Grandma, though— she had conjured a rather cruel, novel punishment for my brat brother.
Jimmy didn’t seem much scared when Grandma gripped his hands. But once he realized where we were headed to, he started flailing wild. You see, my brother, literally, never showered. Claimed that the water clogged his ears real bad, made him feel like drowning or something. We both knew it was just one of his white lies— Grandma never made much of a fuss about it. But at that particular moment, as we dragged my wildly screeching brother to the pond in our backyard, there was something strangely poetic about the whole ordeal.
“Liar, liar, pants on fire. This ought to quell your bad, lying-ways, boy,” she said, before dousing Jimmy’s head in the cold water.
I know— what kind of a monster grandmother tries to waterboard her grandson? And what a shitty sister I must have been to support her! Well, as far as my 10-year-old-self knew back then, Grandma was just trying to pour some reverence into his thick skull. She was smiling, after all— she had to be knowing what she was doing. At some point, she pulled him back up, and he made shrieking sounds like a girl. Sounds cruel, but hearing his shrill, effeminate, squeals— they made me chuckle. Believe me, Jimmy had been super irksome lately. It was nasty, the way he and Davey had ripped my beloved Dolly’s blue hair to shreds… he had this one coming. So I continued enjoying the music of his shrills, as Grandma kept his head-dunks flowing.
It wasn’t until his screams stopped that we realized we might have gone a bit too far.
Grandma pulled him back, but he had stopped flailing. She shook him vigorously (I did too) but he just wouldn't stir. Five whole minutes of shaking later, we tried CPR. Half expecting Jimmy to open his mischievous blue eyes, and yell ‘Gotcha!’ at our anxious faces.
He stayed silent, though. Grandma checked his pulse. That too, refused to answer.
Jimmy was gone.
The mere sight of my formerly nimble-footed brother just lying at the pond-side, bloat-faced, unmoving and silent, warded off all pragmatism out of my head. Fear and terror had gripped my head, much so that the thought of alerting the meds didn’t even pass my mind. Grandma Verona probably felt the same as I did— except that she had an extra, emotional baggage of guilt to deal with. “Jimmy, Jimmy, now don’t you try pulling one over your Grandma. Wake up!” That’s all she kept saying, crying— until her voice broke down.
Minutes flowed like hours, but we just sat there silent, contemplating our next move, still waiting for the grief to wash over us. Grandma Verona finally shifted, possibly getting up to break the news to my father. I did too.
And then, the pond started to bubble.
Grandma turned her head with a jolt. I followed her suit. And then we both faced the creature that emerged from the water.
A human-like, female creature— what with her long flowing white tresses, lilac gown, fair-skin, and whatnot. Her pitch-black eyes were what lent her an otherworldly appearance.
Even before we could react, she spoke, her voice as alluring as a siren.
“Say, I think you just dropped your little Jimmy in the water. He doesn’t happen to this Jimmy, does he now?”
As she finished, as if on cue, another entity bobbed up to the surface. Except, this was no other, otherworldly entity, no! The matted, blonde hair, the slight-tanned skin, the dreamy blue eyes that reflected a lost innocence.
This entity we were facing… it was our Jimmy!
Grandma Verona seemed to be choking on her words. The lady from the water must have noticed her dilemma, so she turned her eyes on me. “Well, little Rosy? Is this your Jimmy?”
Child minds are wild. I couldn’t think of alerting the medics when I needed to, but at that moment, as I was that pond-lady charged me with her question, my mind wandered off to one of the stories I had heard my Grandma tell at Church. The story of The Woodcutter, and his wooden ax.
“Well…no.” I began. “Jimmy never combed his hair. And his shirt wasn’t neatly tucked in his pants. And…”
I wasn’t just being earnest for the sake of it. Something about this Jimmy- it didn’t seem right. His blue eyes didn’t have any of that mischief I had come to associate with my brother. Child minds know a stranger when they see them— and this boy in the pond? He was one of ‘em.
The pond-lady frowned. “This is not your Jimmy? Well… now that’s a shame! This boy here kept begging me to take him back to his Grandma Verona and little Rosy. A no-good liar, that’s what he is! Well so long, then, I— ”
Grandma slapped a palm over my mouth, “Oh that is our dear Jimmy, alright! Rosy here, she is being naughty. Children these days— always trying to pull one over us oldies, ain’t I correct?” Her voice had a strange sense of calm. “Oh, you no good Jimmy boy! Won’t quit horsing ‘round, would you? Ah, but it’s all forgiven. Say, how would you and little Rosy like a plate of one of ‘em hot pancakes, eh?”
Pond-lady smiled. “Go on, then, Jimmy. Won’t keep you waiting on your Grandma's pancakes now, would I?”
Jimmy smiled and silently walked over to the surface. With her job seemingly done, the pond lady dove back into the water. Grandma Verona walked over and hugged him, telling her how sorry she was. She then ruffled both our hair and walked us in the house for her pancakes. I cast one look back at the pond’s edge where, not too long ago, my real brother lay unconscious.
Nothing. I didn't see no body.
“None of us gon’ talk about anything that happened today,” Grandma Verona’s whispering voice had an icy-edge in my ears. “Am I clear?”
I nodded. We had Jimmy back. That was all that mattered.
A week passed, but Grandma Verona no longer gave Jimmy a hard time. But I doubt it had anything to do with what we weren’t supposed to remember. This Jimmy, who had resurfaced from the pond— he said all his prayers before we dined, studied his class lessons every night, and even helped Grandma and me with the dinner. “It’s like he has been baptized!”, Grandma would playfully tease once she’d hymned him to sleep.
As a rather gullible, ten-year-old girl, I was unsure what to make of the whole, ‘baptized’ brother situation. Now and then, as I looked him on the table, finishing all his green-peas and vegetables without complaining, I’d get a strange feeling in my head. Something was awry, I knew it. But then again, I had no wishes of going against Grandma Verona’s words. I was, after all, still scared that disobeying her would damn me to Hell.
Eventually, though, I let my guard down, when my brother birthday-gifted me a cute, blue, woolen-wig for my bald Dolly’s head. “Stitched it all by myself. Nicked my finger,” he showed.
“Well, now, bro!” I squealed over a hug. “What’s the idea behind this sudden change into the best brother ever?”
He smiled. “You are good, Rosy. You pray to Jesus, you don’t cuss. I just like good people, I can trust them,” he patted me on the back. “Stay good. Stay honest, Rosy. Always.”
Eleven-year-old me smiled and hugged him back, failing to take note of the red flags that were popping up. But I did, eventually.
One morning, as I was leaving for my choir-practice, I caught a glimpse of Davey’s wild giggles coming from Jimmy’s room. Had been quite a while since I had seen the two monkeying around like they did. Who cared, though— boys are weird anyway. I wished Grandma good-morning and left for my practice.
I returned in the afternoon, tagging my choir-mate Nancy along with me. But when we entered my room, Jimmy was sitting on my bed. His chum Davey stood next to him.
“Jimmy, what the— ”
“Don’t say it, Rosy! This is a holy house, we don’t spew vulgarities around here.”
Nancy gave me a quizzical look. “Jimmy,” I asked, “what are you and Davey doing in my room?”
“Davey has something to tell you, sister.”
I looked at Davey, standing still as a rock, his eyes facing the hard-wood floor. “What is it that you wanna say?”
“I’m sorry for ruining your Dolly, Rosy. I sinned— but do not worry, for I have atoned adequately,” he looked up to face me. Something about his eyes, though…seemed off. “But I still do need to know that I’m worthy of your forgiveness, Rose Matthews. Am I?”
“Umm…yes, I forgive you,” I said, perplexed. “You two can leave now.”
Which they did. But not before Davey looking back and saying, “Thank you, Rosy. It takes an angel’s hearts to bless former sinners like me.” He shut the door.
Nancy teased me that Davey was trying to flirt. I smiled, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling of something not being quite right.
Nancy was going to spend the evening, so we had a lot of fun games planned up. After a while, though, we got bored of playing Hasbro’s Sorry. That’s when Nancy came up with the fun idea of prank-calling our classmates.
I won’t bore you with the cheesy details; Nancy dialed one of our dorky classmates named Travis Penn, and lied that she wanted to date him. Much to our amusement, Travis couldn’t see through our ruse, and ended up confirming the next weekend free. Soon after hanging up, we burst into a squeaky school-girl laughter. We were just prepping for fake-ordering a pizza, when a domineering voice startled us.
“How does it please you to shatter someone’s weak heart with a lie?”
We looked over. Jimmy was standing at the doorway, his arms crossed. “Jesus, Jimmy, you scared us. God, what is up with you today?”
“Do not take the Lord’s name in vain, Rosy. Lest you want to end up like your sinner friend here,” his fingers were pointed at Nancy.
“Give it a rest, Reverend Douchebag!” Nancy hit back. We both giggled. Jimmy left, prompting us to laugh louder.
Night came soon after, and Nancy and I soon drifted off in my room. Midway through my sleep, a faint splashing sound woke me up. You know how scenes like this work- Rubbed my eyes, didn’t find Nancy in her sleeping-bag, wondered where she was, heard another splash, looked at the window— yada, yada, yada, right? I’ll straight skip to what I saw from the window.
I saw Jimmy, trying to hold down a struggling body against the pond’s water surface. Even before I could call any names, the struggle ended, and the limp body sank into the water. Seconds later, it rose on the surface, her face visible this time.
My heart froze, as I watched my brother hand Nancy some towels to wipe herself. After she was done, they did a small bow-down at the pond’s edge, before heading back indoors.
I would’ve rushed to Grandma that very instant, were it not for Nancy quietly opening the door to my room. And for as naïve as I was, something in my head advised me against confronting her at this hour of the night.
“Let angels bless your dreams, Rose Matthews,” I heard Nancy say.
Winter solstice had just passed, but in my eleven years growing up, that was, undoubtedly, the longest night of my life.
I bid ‘Nancy’ a quick farewell the next morning— which wasn’t hard to do, considering she had to ‘bask the Lord’s glory in Church’. First time in my four years of knowing her I had heard her say something like that. Soon after she left, I bolted for Grandma’s room.
“Grandma, wake up! There’s something seriously wrong going on with our pond!”
“Jesus H. Christ, Rosy, can’t you give me- wait, what about the pond?”
I told her everything, opinionating as much as my young brain had been able to process. This ‘baptized’ Jimmy who was living as my brother— he was pious. Otherworldly pious, so much so that he’d resort to purify everything uncouth around him. By drowning those said uncouth objects in our backyard-pond— trading them off for the pious entities the Pond-Lady had to offer. Had made two, human trades already— Davey, and Nancy- and unless we addressed the matter, that toll would only climb.
Grandma Verona stayed silent for the longest while, before uttering, “You are just jealous that Jesus loves him more than he does you, ain’t ya? And he does, Rosy, let me be clear about that. Jesus doesn’t as much bat a second eye for jealous, crazy girls like you! Talking all non-sense about your own, little brother! And what did I tell you about the pond? Honest to God, girl, you have…”
What had I been thinking? Of course, she wouldn’t help! It was up to me to stop my brother. I grabbed Grandma’s mobile-phone off her counter, barely managing to avoid her grip as I shut the door to her room. Call, Jerome (her son, my Daddy). No Signal. Obviously. I had to think on my feet. Outdoor reception was better out in the backyard. So that’s where I rushed.
The call connected, and just started to ring when a pair of hands snatched the phone off my hands. “Grandma, please, you know this is real, we cannot— ”
“I valued your honesty, Rosy. Why would you ever betray me?”
I turned, adrenaline coursing wild through my heart. It wasn’t Grandma Verona. It was my little brother.
“Jimmy, please, stop what you’re doing. This isn’t you- drowning innocent people, this— ”
“You’re da— oh, dear Lord, pardon me— you are darn right, Rose. I am not the Jimmy who kept tormenting the world with his unholy, Christ defying shenanigans and whatnot. I am, something much better, something this world desperately needed. And so were you. You, Rosy— we didn’t need to drown you to cleanse you of any sins. Loyal, honest, loving- you were perfect, Rosy. I guess that’s where you faltered, sister. I should’ve known. Even the perfect match burns out someday. But that’d be a shame, now, wouldn’t it?” An ice-cold grin on his face. “How about we douse you instead?”
I was dumb; dumb enough to have walked right into Jimmy’s watery trap. I was weak; so weak, that I was unable to resist my two-year-younger brother’s vice-grip on my neck as he pushed me in the pond’s chilling water. And as my head descended the chilling, water-surface, I could see the Pond-lady, purity brimming in her pitch-black eyes, as she held up the holy, dead-eyed version of me, Rose Matthews, who would join Jimmy, Davey, and Nancy, to make this world a much better place. She smiled at me- this Rosy- a smile benign of any happiness. That is when I realized.
She. Was. Perfect.
The shortness of breath soon started to drown out my consciousness. I could feel the other Rosy’s palms on my face, sinking me deeper, and deeper, as she tried to make her way up to the surface. Jimmy’s grip was still iron-strong on the other side, drowning out the final bits of my unholy life out in the muddy water. I could feel her now, the other me, just about to raise her head above the water, replacing me for good. I had no choice but to accept— not with my brother’s strangle over my near-dead body.
A loud-gunshot broke me off my swift-flowing train of thoughts. I felt the plunging grip on my neck loosen, soon replaced by a tug that pulled me out of the water. The breath of hot-pancakes filled in my conscience— just like the ones Grandma Verona used to bake us after a day of Jimmy’s insufferable antics.
Slowly, and slowly, my eyes opened. Vision cleared. Jimmy's limp body was afloat on the pond’s surface. Grandma Verona was facing me, a pistol aimed at her left temple.
“I’m sorry, Rosy. It’s all my fault. Unholy souls like me have no right to live. But you- Rose Matthews- you are one honest, and holy soul,” a sad smile on her face. Tears in her eyes. “Always stay that way.”
My screams of ‘NO’ were cut short by an ear-deafening gunshot as Grandma blew her brains off. The sound of her limp body splashing on the pond punctuating her sentence.
I sat there, head leaning against a tree, half-crying, half-coughing the water out of my system, as I watched my brother and grandmother’s corpses sink into the pond. Seconds later, the surface bubbled, and I was greeted by the Pond-Lady, holding up Grandma and Jimmy’s bodies by the hair.
“Say, Rosy. An old woman and a young boy just dropped by my waters. They don’t— they don’t happen to look anything like ‘em, unholy bodies over here,” the dead faces gaped with their open mouths at me. “Do they?”
I screamed, and dashed back into the house, the Pond-Lady’s sickening cackle accelerating my steps.
Daddy returned home that same evening, found me shivering in my room. Heard my story, called the cops to recover all the bodies from the pond. Sure they were skeptical, what with an eleven-year-old girl constantly telling that some Pond-lady took the corpses with her. Still, on my repeated insistence, they didn’t send in any divers, and just used manual machinery for the process. They didn’t find no corpses.
Neither did they find my fingerprints on Grandma’s gun, so I wasn’t culpable for her or Jimmy’s ‘disappearance’ in any way. A detective brought in both ‘Nancy’ and ‘Davey’ for questioning, so that pretty much refuted my claims of Jimmy ‘drowning’ them. The dead-eyed, friendly looks they gave me as they left the room still gives me chills to this very day.
Daddy moved with me to his office apartment in the city, which is where I spent the next nine years of my life growing up. Before leaving Grandma’s country house, though, we poured a layer of kerosene on the pond’s water, and flicked in a few burning matches. I have have no clue if that destroyed the pond. Heck, I don’t even know if someone bought Grandma’s house. I don’t want to do nothing with that place- neither does Daddy ever force me to. He misses his mother and son a lot— but my therapist discouraged him from prying too much.
“Still sticking with that Pond-Lady story,” I once overheard him say. “Now I’m not saying she’s lying, but… I believe the lesser we bring those tragic events up, the better.”
Although he does occasionally tell me of what has happened in my old town. “Very uptight, holy, conservative people coming up there, I hear. Davey and Nancy run the Church. Grandma always said they were a wild bunch of kids, didn’t she? Geez, I wonder how they do it.” Not a question I want to think much about.
I graduated law school, and am a practicing attorney now. You know what they say about that kind of job- it’s all about painting lies and half-truths and fact. And I do lie. A lot. But then every night, I seek forgiveness to the holy Lord, thanks to Grandma Verona’s young-age grooming. I’m not perfect, though- sometimes, I forget. And on those nights, as I prepare to immerse myself in the bathtub, I see the water surface foam up in the middle. And then I’m reminded of my late Grandma and my brother- and how a single, white lie cost them their lives. The thought horrifies me, brings back memories of the Pond-Lady’s sickening cackle.
Nights like those are when I grab my Bible from the shelf, and pray to my lord to forgive me for my uncouth lies.