Jasmine and Lila were eight years old when their parents moved them from the busy bustle of the City to the sleepy little countryside in the River Valley. The house was very old and very big and filled with strange nooks and crannies to explore. The twins loved playing in the different rooms, calling from one end of a hall to another to listen to the echoes breaking like waves on the dusty walls.
Their father worked in his study for long hours, completing a book he believed would be his life’s work. He spent more time teaching in university classrooms and at the heavy desk in his study than he ever had spent with the girls, so the girls sometimes played a game in which he was a friendly ghost and they were his watchers. Their mother was very ill and could only spend time with them once in a while. She slept long hours and took meals in her rooms. Her nurse watched over her more days than the girls could ever spend with her, and she had been there as long as the girls could remember. They played make believe, imagining the serious-faced nurse a witch holding a princess captive; sometimes she was Sleeping Beauty, sometimes she was Rapunzel with her hair cut off at the scalp. Jasmine and Lila never felt alone, for they had each other for company and comfort—and who else could understand their curiosity and their shared world as well as they could?
One day, the twins went wandering across the wide, wild lawns of their house. The echoes in the house kept bouncing from room to room, their giggles splintering like breaking glass in the silence of the walls, and they’d been ushered out so that they didn’t create such a ruckus. They couldn’t understand why their father chose to spend his time with the husks of dead trees when so many sprawled in beautiful shades across the grounds. The couldn’t understand why they couldn’t bring their mother to the little wishing well, which is what they called the little well they found, to wish her well again. They couldn’t understand the need for so much silence. And, so, when they found the little well, stones standing still and ancient around the rim, leaves littering its surface and environs, they couldn’t resist peering their faces in to the circle and calling out to see who was there.
“Is anybody in there?”
“Anybody in there”
“Can you come out to play?”
“Come out to play.”
They did this every day for three days, sometimes wandering off to whisper secrets to the trees and sometimes running wild along the open grass. And on the fourth day, a tall woman came walking through the tree line far at the edge of the grounds. She wore a green dress, gauzy and bright as faraway Spring, earthy as the dust they gathered all around their own matching dresses. She seemed like she might know the song of the clouds, and she was humming as she moved toward them. The sound of the song was like smoke inside an iridescent bubble, like the crackle of a bonfire caught in the shimmer of a firefly. A boy walked behind her, clinging to her hand with one of his. He was barefoot and small, moving with a slither and a shuffle, and his other arm hung from his side like a broken wing, fragile, damaged, delicate, sweet. His eyes darted around her, taking in the color of every sound. His head inclined forward to position his ears, as if he could hear the colors of the horizon. He made no sound, but that of his breathing.
The twins were not frightened. They imagined that the woman must be a faerie queen from the woods or from the stream, and the boy a broken prince. The woman never spoke a word, simply continued to hum and sing melodies made of sounds that had no words. The boy never spoke, but his breath quickened and slowed and he darted around the girls, as they chased each other in the kinds of silent games that need only the sounds of breezes through grass and giggles through the mist to make rules that bend and break into long afternoons.
When the twins returned to the silent house, they missed the strange woman and the strange boy. The next day, they raced to the well again, but no one came through the trees.
“Here, here, here.” They called out in a sounds like Kulning, like the flute-like yodeling that calls home the beasts in the fields in ancient Scandinavian landscapes, something they had learned from their father’s study before he herded them away from distracting him and ushered them elsewhere.
“Come, come, come.” They shouted in sounds like a Raid waiting to take whatever could be taken. Something of this they had learned from their nurse, who rushed them through hasty lunches and brunches and teas on days when their mother was well enough to see them sit beside her bedside, snatching scones and chocolates from the table for their pockets.
“Please don’t leave us, please, please.” They pleaded in whispers that trilled like the edges of tears, like the breeze shuffling dried leaves over cobblestone roads. Their mother’s eyes watched them silently when they opened. Their father’s eyes lingered over hers in stealthy moments from hallways. The night brought shadows with moonlight sounds, they whispered through the windows when the twins curled their small bodies together, missing something they had no words to wish for.
Bitter with loss and a strange and cold loneliness, they walked silently home, hand in hand.
The next morning brought a cold wind, and lizards all along the grounds. They chased them and caught them and let them go, again. They named them and watched them, and delighted in the uncertainty of such a strange thing.
They slept, and rose again with excitement, hastening outside in nightgowns and bare feet, but the creatures had gone again—all except for two. One as large as Jasmine’s forearm, and one as small as Lila’s pinkie. The large one kept a distance and the small one had a broken limb. The girls remembered the Lady of Spring and the Little Broken Prince, as they had named them, and were angry at remembering.
“Let’s sing to see if they will dance,” said Jasmine.
“No, let’s chase them to see if they will run,” said Lila.
Thrilled by the chance to keep them, they chased the little lizards all across the lawn. They caught them, taking them back to the well, and watched them clamber over the stones and the leaves, crunching and crackling in their movements.
“We could keep them,” said Jasmine, looking around for a large leaf or some moss that might make a bed for the one as large as her forearm.
“They will slip away again, anyway,” said Lila, a look like stone in her eyes, angry, “like the visitors.”
Lila picked up the little broken lizard, little as her pinky, its limb like a broken wing. Her mouth set in a grimace, she dangled the lizard over the well. She watched him squirm and wriggle. She dropped him in the center. Jasmine rushed to the edge, tried to lower a basket with rope, called to the little lizard, stared at the reflection of her twin in the water, horrified. Lila smiled. Jasmine grew silent, tears slipping down her face. She took Lila’s hand and led her home. They bathed, they drank their milk with honey, they curled up together in the silent room, dark without much light from the moon.
That night, they shared the same dream. The Lady of Spring came to them, holding the lifeless, soggy figure of the Little Broken Prince, her eyes wild with grief and fury. Her voice screeching like a storm on the wind, like fire against the walls of their home, like smoke rising from an extinguished flame. She had no words, but they understood her words, and the loss of one led to the loss of another.
When Jasmine awoke in the morning, Lila was nowhere, but the scent of cinders and lightning filled the room, a candle blunted and burnt fallen below the window. She raced through the house, calling for her twin. Her father shushed her as if she were a lamb. The nurse shushed her as if she were calming a riot. Her mother moaned a weak sound, as if to silence her daughter’s pain with her own. Jasmine ran through the field and the trees calling to her sister, calling again beyond the echoes.
“Where are you?”
“Will you come home?”
She found her way to the stone well, the large lizard as large as her forearm perched on the ledge. She peered into the round opening, into the deep water. There she saw in the reflection the Lady of Spring, stone faced and smug, The Little Broken Prince, silent, and a face that looked like her own but angry, Lila as a ghostly child, an endless little bride.
Jasmine wept the whole way back to the large house, house filled with echoes and shadows. The ghosts in her own house never mentioned Lila again, but Jasmine saw her sometimes with the Lady of Spring and with the Little Broken Prince, a ghost bride with her own face looking back from the other side of a mirror glass if she passed by. And, with this image, she always found the air perfumed with the scent of cinders and lightning, rain heavy with a song like a home long lost across a field or a horizon of moonlit trees, earthen, ashen, and echoing a loneliness blooming from the darkest of dreams.
Some say that the edges of every mirror carry the echoes of their story, singing in the language of shadows, if you look in just the right mood on just the right night.
Saba Syed Razvi, PhD is the author of the Elgin Award-nominated collection In the Crocodile Gardens (Agape Editions) and the collection heliophobia (Finishing Line Press), which appeared on the preliminary ballot for the Bram Stoker Award ® for Superior Achievement in Poetry, as well as the chapbooks Limerence& Lux (Chax Press), Of the Divining and the Dead (Finishing Line Press), and Beside the Muezzin's Call & Beyond the Harem's Veil (Finishing Line Press). She is currently an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Houston in Victoria, TX, where in addition to working on scholarly research on interfaces between contemporary poetry and science and on gender & sexuality in speculative and horror literature and pop-culture, she is writing new poems and fiction. She studied fiction writing with Aimee Bender, Percival Everett, TC Boyle, Jim Magnuson, and Mary Helen Stefaniak. She serves as the fiction editor at Sundress Publications. She studied poetry with David St. John, Carol Muske-Dukes, Susan McCabe, Naomi Shihab Nye, Eamonn Wall, and Fidel Fajardo Acosta, among others. She is currently serving as the guest poetry judge for Interstellar Flight Space Press. Image: Moonlight Night, Wassily Kandinsky, 1907