Written by LunaLali
Emma giggled and skipped down the foot-worn path, occasionally twirling, the snow continuing to fall around them. Jack chuckled and moved forward to hold her hand. There was no way he was going to have her run off and get lost in the forest. Mother would hang him by his ears, not to mention how worried he himself would be for her.
Jack smirked at his sister, swinging their joined hands and saying, “You’re excited, that’s for sure.”
Emma grinned. “Excited is an understatement. I’ve been wanting to go skating ever since summer started. And now, now you’ll teach me all those fancy tricks of yours, and I’ll show little Miss Olivia Grace Anderson just how good of a skater I am!” The girl nodded to herself proudly, and Jack looked at her with a somewhat teasing smile.
“So this is all just for you to beat some schoolgirl at a rivalry?”
“No, of course not! I just want to be the best skater in Burgess, is all.”
Jack snorted a laugh and covered his mouth a moment too late.
“What?” Emma narrowed her eyes at her brother. “You don’t believe me, do you? Let me guess, you’re about to say that you’re the best skater in Burgess, aren’t you?”
“No, no, not at all. You can go ahead and have that title, I’ve already got a better one.”
“Oh yeah? And what title is that?”
Jack shot her the smuggest grin ever, and it nearly drowned in fake pride. “I was told that I’m the best ice skater in all of Wales.”
Emma burst out laughing at that, skipping a step and swinging their joined hands back and forth. “Of course they told you that. Jackson Overland, best ice skater in Wales, but worst prankster in Burgess!” She danced away as her brother tried to grab her in a headlock, giggling so hard she had to lean against a nearby tree. Jack shook his head with a smile and took her hand again. “Seriously, where are you learning this? I mean, I know I’m sarcastic and all, but this is just too much. I’m never this bad.”
Emma snickered and sang, “I’m not telling. It’s a secret!” She put a finger in front of her lips, ‘shhhed’ quietly, then pretended to zip shut and lock her mouth before tossing the key away. Jack mimed catching it, and ‘unlocked’ and ‘unzipped’ her mouth before stuffing the ‘key’ in his pocket. “Talk. Now.”
Emma rolled her eyes and groaned, throwing her head back and shaking it like she was asking the gods above to give her patience. “Big brothers, always sooo annoying. “ She slumped forward, then jumped up to cling to Jack’s arm. “Alright! So, I met this guy at the library–”
“Woah, woah, woah! Hold on, Ems! Are you telling me–”
“Ugh, no you slush-face! I’m just saying that he was obviously new in town, and was getting almost all the dragon books the library has. He’d picked out some really good ones too, I’d suggest anyone to read Cowell, she’s amazi–”
“And how old is he? And what did he say to you? And where does he live, and what does he look like, what’s his name, address, phone number, social security, likes and dislikes, how has he tre–”
“Jackson!” Despite her annoyance, the little girl laughed, leaning against her brother and trying to stifle her giggles with his jacket sleeve. He grinned down at her, a bit worried about this boy she mentioned but happier at how he’d brought a smile to her lips. She always looked her best with a smile.
The girl shook her head in exasperation at her brother, finally managing to tone down her laughs to a big smile. “You are such a popsicle-head, you know that?” Jack, quite maturely, stuck his tongue out at her, and she responded in kind before moving some hair behind her ear and continuing her story. “So, he was obviously new in town and interested in very good books. After checking with the librarian to make sure he wasn’t a creep or anything, I offered him some book advice, and we got to talking about dragons and good authors, and well, I’d like to think that we are friends now. Sometimes I catch him at the library, sometimes I don’t. We exchange book recommendations, and every now and then get into a debate on book topics.” She grinned up at her brother, very happy to feel like a grown-up, while he had this half-smile half-frown thing on his face. “He’s really nice, and his jokes are sarcastic but pretty funny too! He also has the most beautiful eyes.” Emma sighed, staring up at the clouds, and Jack scowled.
“That’s it. I’m coming with you every day to the library from now on.”
The girl gasped at this. “What, no! You can’t! Besides, you got kicked out of the library three times, everyone knows the rules, ‘three strikes and you’re out’.”
“Emma dear, have you learned nothing while living with me for the past nine years of your life? Rules don’t bother me. I break rules all the time! And I’m going with you to the library for your own safety.” While he had been talking, Emma had been miming him with exaggerated gestures of her hands, hips, and a close-to-disturbing expression on her face. Jack glared at her for a few moments. “You know, one of these days I’ll tickle you to death.”
The girl scoffed and walked right in front of her brother, knowing that they’ll be arriving at the lake soon. “Oh please, everyone knows that death by tickles is just a myth.”
Jack strode right to her side, wrapping an arm around her and making expressions to match every single word he spoke. “Oh no, you’ve got it all wrong. I don’t know who your sources are, but boy do I have a story to tell you.”
“Yes I do! It’s about this little girl, around your age, named Lafin McTickled-”
“…Jack, of all the names in the world you could’ve picked for this story, you decided to make one up like Lafin McTickled.”
“Ems, this isn’t made up! I’m being 100% serious. Lafin McTickled annoyed her older brother so badly that he literally transformed into a real Tickle Monster. She didn’t stand a chance! It was an epic battle, sure, with laser guns and water balloons and, of course, snowballs.”
Emma laughed, shaking her head and running away. “I have a moron for a brother!”
Jack gasped loudly, running after her. “How dare you say I’m a moron? I just might have to cancel this ice-skating lesson after all!”
Emma twirled around, smiling because she knew her brother was joking, while she walked backwards to the small boulders right in front of the lake. “No, no! Please don’t! What ever will I do without these lessons of mine? I’ll be a goner, for sure!”
Jack laughed and sat down on the boulder, taking off his boots and switching them for his skates. “Shut up and put on your skates, you sarcastic snowman.” Emma stuck her tongue out at him before bending to put on her own shoes, and Jack stuck his out right back while he was tying his laces.
The lake appeared to be more like a big pond, it’s top layer of ice glistening with snow. A large, rocky outcropping jutted out from the side, having lifted itself right from the forest floor. Sometimes, when it was summer, Jack and Emma would jump from there and into the lake for fun. It was one of the biggest bodies of water here in Burgess, not counting the river running straight through town. It didn’t have an official name, and too many crazy stories circled around it to really give it a proper nickname. Some people referred to it as the Boogeylake, seeing how it was inside the forest believed to be home to the Boogieman. Others called it Herofall, in reference to a great ice mage who was said to have frozen himself there in suffering after losing his beloved. These names were becoming unpopular fast, and probably wouldn’t be used much longer. Jack and Emma preferred to keep things simple, and usually referred to it as just ‘the lake’. It was all a matter of personal preference, really. But one thing was for sure; this lake was the best for ice-skating.
Its ice hardly cracked, and it always froze over relatively smooth. It usually became quite populated a few weeks right after the first snowfall. Emma and Jack were always the first to go skating. It was somewhat of an unspoken rule; once the Overland siblings had successfully skated, the lake was open to the general public with a guarantee for safety. In the history of their entire lives, the ice had cracked only once. Everyone pretty much knew that this lake was the safest they could ever get.
Emma gasped loudly, hopping to her feet and whining “Oh no!” while trying to get onto the lake. Jack jumped up and grabbed her back, scolding her and saying how he hadn’t checked if the ice was safe yet. The girl squirmed around in his grip. “Let go, Jackson! The snow, it’s stopping! No, I want to skate while it’s snowing, let me go!”
The snow came to a stop, and Emma slumped in her brother’s arms. “No…” Jack sighed, and smoothed her hair down with a gentle hand while searching in his pockets for something to check the ice with. “Sorry Ems. I know it’s a yearly tradition to skate during first snowfall, but I can’t have you going out on the ice without checking it first.”
The girl huffed and turned to glare at him. “Don’t you remember that rhyme Daddy taught us? ‘Blue is ice but white is nice’. Look, the ice is mostly white, it’s perfectly fine for skating.”
“What? No, that’s not how it went. It went something like…Well, I can’t remember it too well, but I’m sure it was ‘blue is nice’.”
“You can’t be sure of something if you can’t remember it!”
“Whatever! He told us that only once, anyways, right after he helped us off the lake when it cracked. How do you know you’re remembering right?”
Emma stuck her nose up proudly in the air. “Because I’m smarter than you, that’s why.”
Jack twitched in annoyance. “That’s it,” he growled playfully, but before he could tickle her senseless, she jolted out of his grasp and right onto the ice. She yelped at her sudden loss of balance, skidding forward unsteadily. Jack clicked his tongue and got up after her, effortlessly skating towards her while trying to be careful. They still hadn’t checked the ice, after all.
Emma tried to stabilize and regain her balance, but she tipped to the side too hard and slipped into a rolling mess. “Ems!” Even Jack winced; the fall looked like it had hurt. The young girl whimpered a little, but stood up anyways, calling out, “I’m fine! Just, uh, just bruised is all.”
Jack huffed, slowing as he neared her. “Emma, you know not to do that! What if you’d–”
A loud crack splintered the air, and the ice of the lake.
The siblings held their breath, and shot their gazes down.
Right under Emma’s feet, cracks were forming in the ice, moving from a crawl to basically leaping across the surface. Her breath hitched as she breathed out, and she swallowed, immediately looking up to her brother. “Jack!”
“Emma! Emma-Ems–Don’t, just, don’t panic.” He said that to her, yet he could feel the emotion bubbling inside him, clawing at his stomach and throat.
This wasn’t the first time the ice had cracked while they were playing on the lake. The only difference was that Dad wasn’t here this time to help them, and it was Emma in risk of falling, not Jack. That made the situation all the more worse.
“It’s okay, it’s okay. Don’t look down, just look at me.” Jack took a calming breath. Emma stood a few feet away from him, gasping and staring down at her skates, cracks spider-webbing in the ice. It was loud, so loud, too loud.
“Jack, I’m scared!” The girl was shaking, glancing from the ice to Jack and back again, swallowing a panicked shout back down her throat and twitching as if she could already feel the frigid waters surrounding her body.
“I-I know, I know–“, the boy took a small step closer to his sister, heart bouncing in his chest, fingers trembling, “–b-but you’re gonna be alright.” Ice cracked and splintered from where his skate landed, but Jack paid it no mind. He had to get Emma out of here. “You’re not gonna fall in.”
He had to find a way to get her out of there. He had to help her calm down. What was he going to do? Plastering on a fake smile, Jack nearly snapped his fingers, instead sliding a little to the side, an idea blooming in his head. “We’re going to have a little fun instead!”
Emma’s voice became louder and transformed into a wail of panic. “No we’re not!”
Jack tried to keep things light, body leaning towards Emma on impulse as she fumbled on her skates. “Would I trick you?”
“Yes! You always play tricks!”
Jack took a few tentative steps forward, testing the ice and how well it could sustain his weight for him to reach Emma. His words tumbled over themselves as he scrambled to regain control over the situation, knowing that he had to keep Emma calm if his forming idea was to work. “W-we-aha, well not-not-not this time.” Hands out to catch her focus, keep her eyes trained on him and not the ice. “I promise, I promise, you’re gunna be…You’re going to be fine.” This statement resonated with Jack’s heart, and solidified his resolve. Emma would not die. “You have to believe in me.”
The girl looked up, and let out a scared breath. But she widened her eyes and focused only on her brother. She trusted him. She believed in him. Jack would make everything alright. She just knew it. Jack looked to the lake, the cracks webbing around his feet, and the forming hole by Emma. He needed something to pull her out from there. But there wasn’t anything, not even a fallen stick, nothing. It clicked, what he had to do then, and he shot a timid smile to his sister. “Hey, you wanna play a game? We’re going to play hopscotch! Like we do every day.” He had to seem confident for her, had to make her believe that everything was going to be alright. He could already see it working, could already see Emma’s lips quirking into a tiny smile, amused at how only her brother would be silly enough to turn such a serious situation into a game.
“It’s as easy as, um, as one.” A step, and the cracks boomed out again, splintering the ice by his feet. He paid it no mind, a flash of Emma becoming panicky once more causing him to try and make this humorous again. He leaned forward, pretending to be off balance; arms windmilling and legs sticking out at awkward angles. “Wooaoooh!” Wasn’t easy, wearing skates, but it was worth the tentative smile he received.
“Two…” The ice did not crack this time, and confidence surged through Jack. He could do this. He could help Emma. He could save her.
“Three!” The step was a bit more slippery thanks to his skates, but then he was on safe ice and it didn’t matter anymore. He breathed heavily, mildly surprised at having succeeded. He bent down, trying to keep his weight distributed equally upon the surface of the lake. It took only a second to calculate; from here, it would be a straight path right to Emma. He’d grab her and throw her away from the ice, that’s what he’d do. It would work. It had to.
“Alright, alright… Now it’s your turn.” One more breath, and a reassuring tilt of his lips to Emma. She looked hopeful, and Jack drank in that expression. It empowered him to make his next move.
“One…” Emma looked down, and timidly slipped her skate forward about two inches. If her brother could do it, she could do it too. She’d believe in Jack, and he’d get them both out of here. But the ice trembled and cracked under her feet, and she gasped, all her confidence zooming out quicker than it had come.
“That’s it, that’s it. Two…” Another larger and bolder step, brought on by panic. The ice groaned and splintered into pieces. Emma whipped her head from her brother, to the ice, and back, gasping and breathing hard, tears watering her eyes and fear seizing up her whole being.
Jack leaned forward, stretching his arms and preparing to grab Emma. “One more, one more! Th–”
A scream. A crack.
And Emma plunged into the icy depths of the frozen lake.
The word still tumbling from his mouth and morphing into a cry of panic, Jack jumped forward and grabbed Emma with all his strength. He yanked her to him, but the momentum brought them both crashing together and falling through the broken ice. It was so cold that Jack could only register it for a few seconds before his body became numb. He scrambled around, eyes closed and refusing to open. Cloth brushed against his fingers, and he jolted to grab onto it. He brought it close to his body, felt it struggle against him and didn’t care.
Both he and Emma sucked at swimming, but of the two of them, he was sure he could reach the top first. The current swept him away from the broken hole, he could tell because things just kept getting darker and darker and darker and-
He needed to breathe-
His eyes shot open and he kicked his legs. The body in his arms–brown hair, floating around him, spreading and almost blocking his vision–was beginning to struggle less. In front and to the side, clear light. He aimed there. It never got closer. No matter how hard he kicked and tugged and pulled and pushed at the water, the clear light never came any closer. His mouth opened, the last tiny bits of air bubbling up and popping, his body completely numb and-
Tired he was so tired-
He clenched his teeth and swallowed the liquid ice in his mouth. Coughing with no air, he dragged the heavy so heavy body in his arms up and with all of his strength, pushed-
Then the darkness swam around him and grabbed at his hair his clothes his arms his legs. It dragged him down, down, down and it was cold-
It was dark-
But Emma was going to be okay, so he wasn’t scared anymore.