The Castle

By Michael Conley

We assumed it was a marketing stunt constructed during the night. It rose from the middle of the lake, shrouded in dawn mists like some imposing iceberg.  The kids were enchanted: we were impressed with how Sally swore it was a princess palace, whereas Mark insisted it was a pirate hideout.  We guessed it must’ve been CGI.

Mark barely heard our call to look out for his sister as they jumped in and joined the others swimming towards it.  It was nice to have time to ourselves.  Periodically, we saw their heads appear at the upper windows, and waved back at their shouts.

By midday, some of the parents started calling kids in for lunch.  By 12:30, they were still being ignored.  Shrugging at the selective hearing of children, I volunteered to swim out and be the party-pooper.

I knew something was wrong when it took me an hour to get there: I’m a strong swimmer, and this was not a big lake.  After such a long swim, I was counting on a rest at the castle, but when I reached out to the black rock, my hand went straight through it, like it was mist.  At this slightest of touches, the whole thing started to fade.

Just before it disappeared completely, I looked up to see Sally leaning out of the window, smiling.  Then she was gone.  Alone in the water, I thought I could hear the children still, but their shouts were coming from above me, somewhere far away.

Michael Conley is a poet and prose writer from Manchester, UK. His latest collection of poetry is a pamphlet, published in 2021 by Nine Pens press, “These Are Not My Dreams And Anyway Nothing Here Is Purple.” His last collection of prose, Flare and Falter, was published by Splice and longlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize.

Art by Lesley C. Weston (Mixed media)

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