PERSEOPIAN POND LIFE
With a battered metal bucket in each hand, Mehrak clattered his way downstairs and out of the backdoor.
Louis had found them water. Lots of it. A wide, black lake occupying an area of low land, between mushroom-blanketed hills. Mushrooms teetered at the water’s edge all the way round, and purple clouds spiralled on its surface, mirroring the sky above.
“Is this where we’re going to wash?” Sammy asked.
“No,” Mehrak said. “You should wait inside while I fill the buckets. There are some unpleasant creatures lurking at the bottom of these lakes.”
“Something like that. I’ll tell you about them once we’ve left this place.”
Sammy stayed by Louis and watched Mehrak carry the buckets towards the lake. He stopped short of the water’s edge and waited.
What was he doing? Sammy was about to call out when Mehrak dashed to the water and dipped the buckets into the lake, making barely a ripple. When both were full, he lunged away, back towards Eggie.
“What’s the matter?” Sammy asked as Mehrak returned.
“Nothing.” Mehrak was breathing hard, wild-eyed. “Everything’s fine.” He gasped for breath. “Why do you ask?”
“Why do you think? Look at the state of you.”
“If you’d heard some of the stories that I have …” Mehrak put the buckets on the floor and bent over, hands on knees. He sucked
air in, blew it out, then stood up, putting his hands on the small of his back.
“Bad, yeah.” He took another gulp of air. “I’m also out of shape.”
When his breathing returned to normal, he grabbed the buckets and lifted them up into the back door. “Don’t get any ideas about walking down to the water,” he said as he got boosted up by Louis’s tail and disappeared inside.
With Mehrak gone, Sammy experienced a prickling sensation on her skin and, with it, the realisation that her surroundings had become uncommonly still. The birds had stopped chirping and the ground-dwelling animals had stopped scratching.
Now that she came to think about it, where were all the birds and animals? A mosquito buzzed past then and, in the sound deficit, its wings tore up the air with the ferocity of a chainsaw.
The backdoor crashed.
Sammy yelped like she’d dipped her bottom in a scalding bath.
“You’re edgy, aren’t you?” Mehrak said as he scrambled out of the doorway with the empty buckets.
“Of course I’m edgy!” Sammy balled her fists. “You’ve just told me that the lakes here have monsters, then you sneak up behind me and make me jump.”
“I didn’t sneak up behind you. It was an accident. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“You didn’t scare me. I just flinched … a bit.”
Mehrak rolled his eyes. “If you say so. I’ve got to make another trip to the lake. When I get back I’ll cheer you up with a story of the time I beat the laird of Dungalore at Chaturanga.”
Sammy turned her back on him. “Take your time.”
She stood there, teeth clenched. Louis turned towards her and signed, “Okay?”
She turned away from him, too. She didn’t want to talk or communicate via sign language with anyone. Not that she’d be able
to do much communicating, as ‘Okay’ was pretty much the only sign Louis made that she could recognise.
She had an overwhelming desire to prove to Mehrak that she wasn’t scared. Maybe she’d go down to the water herself. As long as she didn’t get too close she’d be fine.
She waited for Mehrak to put some distance between them, then crept after him. She stopped about ten paces behind and watched him prepare to fill his buckets.
Then she had an idea. She could sneak up and scare him. He was already trembling. Oh sweet justice! She could almost taste it. She crept closer. Two more paces and she’d be right on top of him. She glanced out across the water as she savoured the anticipation. The shimmering reflection of the mushrooms on the far side of the lake took her back in time to the twinkling harbour lights of Dover when she’d crossed the channel with her parents. They’d made the trip to fill their car with cheap booze, and while her dad played the slot machines, she’d stayed up on deck with Mama and watched England float away across the channel. She smiled as she stared out across the water. The surface of the lake was silky smooth, except for a slight distortion in the centre.
She paused. A distortion? She checked again. Nothing. It was probably her mind playing tricks on her, yet she waited and watched. Just in case.
A ripple. Definitely a ripple that time. Closer than before.
She almost sent him into the stratosphere. Mehrak leapt up with such a high-pitched scream that she thought she’d caused him physical pain. He sloshed water over himself as his arms windmilled and he fell onto his bottom.
“There’s something in the water,” she said.
“What? Where?” Mehrak slopped his wet turban back from his face.
Ripples again. Closer. Sammy thought she saw a smooth mound break the surface, then submerge, but she couldn’t be sure as it was as shiny and as black as the water itself.
Mehrak stumbled backwards, keeping his eyes on the lake. He grabbed the half-full buckets and bundled Sammy back towards Louis.
She wanted to see what the thing was, and tried to look over her shoulder as they ran, but Mehrak kept her moving. At the backdoor, Mehrak unceremoniously boosted her up into the hatch, shoving her in by her bottom.
“Go! Go! Go, Louis!” he shouted. He thrust one of the buckets into Sammy’s hand and then climbed up after her.
Sammy stumbled on the stairs as Louis got up and lurched forward, losing some of her water behind her and onto Mehrak’s head. He spat out the water, cursing as he followed.
Sammy ditched the bucket on the kitchen table, then darted for the stairs. She ran to the top and out onto the back balcony.
Louis had already carried them out of sight of the water by the time she got there, although she could still see the large gap in the mushrooms where the lake had been.
Mehrak joined her at the railing as the empty patch of forest receded behind them.
A moment later came a thud and the mushrooms nearest the lake edge shook as if a colossal object had crashed into them.
A trembling bass moan accompanied by a high-pitched squeal sailed over the forest, like the sound humpback whales make on natural history programmes.
Mehrak put a dripping hand on Sammy’s shoulder.
“If you hadn’t been there …” He breathed out heavily.
Sammy turned to face him. His earnest hazel eyes locked on hers. He moved closer, gulped, opened his mouth to say something. Then closed it again. “Thank you,” he said finally, then turned and walked away into the tower.
Sammy watched him go, her heart racing.