religious horror: october bingo

she comes back to the river, constantly in her dreams.

there are women dressed in white, surrounding her. her mother grips her shoulder, pushing her past the women beside her. sometimes they congregants sing, sometimes they are silent. she can hear the rustle of the trees, smell the thick, heady summer, and can taste her own fear all the time.

she was fourteen. her mother had always been open to allowing her to going to her grandmother's to escape her in the summer, where she could clean to her heart's content, where she could catch fireflies, and read all the dirty, unchristian like books her mother didn't allow even though her father put up half hearted attempts to stop. not this, summer though. this summer, her mother insists on baptismal, on making sure that even when penelope isn't under her watchful eye, she's under god's eye.

penny is as tall as her mother now, at this age. in her dreams, it doesn't feel like it. her mother's hand is like iron on her shoulder, steering her forward in one steady motion. in her dreams, penny doesn't fight the way she did at fourteen, trying to plant her feet into the soft, muddy shores, or trying to struggle away. here, she's forced into the arms of the pastor who's eyes glint in a way that makes her heart beat furiously in terror.

in her dreams, the women start to sing. she feels that she's trapped with nowhere to go. her arms go up, folding across her chest. she wants to call out, and then the pastor's hands are on her shoulders, and he's pushing her, pushing her.

her body falls into the water. it seeps over her, cold and fast, and she is pushed deeper and deeper until her head, her torso is beneath the water. in her dreams, sometimes penny screams and the water seeps into her nose and ears and mouth and she drowns. sometimes, she feels his hands leave her shoulders, and she stays, waiting with held breath for him to pull her back up, only to wake up gasping for air desperately.

and on the rare occasion, the memory intercedes: she is lifted up, gasping and coughing back into the sunshine. the warmth is a blast against her skin, and the sounds of the watching women, clapping and singing, sound distorted.

in the past few months, it's felt odd to have someone else watching her in her dreams as this happens, to slowly see diana materialize in her dreams. at first, diana doesn't interfere; and penny understands that it's not because she isn't concerned. something in their shared space tells her that it is because diana doesn't think it is her place, at first, to interfere in dreams. they happen sporadically; and they never talk about them in the light of day.

it continues for weeks, with penny starting to look for diana before she's pushed into the water.

and then it happens: one of the dreams where she doesn't emerge happens. penny sinks into it, knowing that the pastor will not pull her out, knowing that she will wake up in moments, gasping for water, clutching at her throat--

--and instead, this time, the water above her breaks. the dream disorts around diana, but doesn't end. not until her hands clasps penny's, and she pulls her up this time. not into the familiar lake in texas--this is themscyira, under a warm welcoming sun, with grass springy and soft beneath her feet.

penny wants, needs to ask why and how--

but she wakes up.