It had been a day of sandcastles, donkey rides and candy floss. A day to mend broken hearts. We took the scenic route, following the sat-nav down a coastal road to my parent’s house. Molly was asleep in the back and our springer spaniel, Scout, snored from his crate. The passenger seat, once occupied, was empty. Looking in the rear-view mirror, it surprised me how much Molly resembled her father. Those rounded cheeks, long eyelashes and chestnut hair. She had my lips though, thank goodness, now parted in the slow breaths of slumber. It was hard to believe she was eight years old; she was growing so fast.
The road weaved through woodland. Branches knitted above us, casting shifting patterns on the asphalt. Up ahead, I spotted a thatched roof and gently applied the brake, eventually stopping by a wide gate. A mossy and waterlogged sign read For Sale. Someone had tacked a flyer to the wooden post below. Missing. Ink had run in the rain, the photograph a barely recognisable smudge.
“Why have we stopped, mummy?” Molly asked. Her eyes were bleary and unsure, her voice laced with concern.
“Nothing to worry about, darling,” I said. “Have you seen this?”
The cottage was like something from a fairy tale. Standing at the end of a gravel drive, its walls were coarse, grey stone. A thatch fringe overhung the upper windows and below, flowerbeds popped with vibrant colour. I imagined living in such a place. The rural, seaside location and beautiful secluded surroundings were ideal. It promised so much. The mortgage might be a problem on such a large property, I thought.
“It’s beautiful,” Molly said. “Can we take a closer look?”
Scout opened an eye as Molly and I exited the car. The breeze smelled of pine and leaf-litter. On the opposite side of the road, hidden by trees, the North Sea murmured. The gate was tall and made from wrought iron. It squeaked as I pushed it open. Our shoes crunched down a gravel drive and up a footpath almost hidden by knee high-grass. I peered cautiously through a bay window and, as I suspected, the interior was unfurnished and bare. Molly joined me, pressing her face to the glass.
“It’s so big,” she said. “Daddy would like this.”
“Yes, well, unlucky daddy. Hey, where are you going?”
Molly vanished around the side of the property, skipping along the flagstones. I followed and we found ourselves in an enormous back garden, bordered on all sides by woodland. A patio extended from the back door and out onto an expansive lawn, flanked by flower beds and apple trees. Molly skipped down the incline, her hair bouncing at her shoulders. She was laughing for the first time in weeks.
“Excuse me! You there!”
A man appeared. He was in his fifties or sixties with a narrow, humourless face. He walked with the aid of a stick. Without a glace in my direction, he limped by at a brisk pace. I noticed (with some alarm) a shotgun bag slung across his shoulder. He wore a flat cap, tweed jacket and boots.
“Little girl. Stop!” He shouted.
Molly turned and froze, a rabbit in the headlights. Her eyes flitted between me and the approaching stranger. I followed as quickly as I could, my heart racing. By the time I caught up with them, the man had crouched at my daughter’s level and pointed to something up ahead.
The pond was as flat as a mirror, its surface camouflaged by pond-weed and lilies. To the unfocused eye it appeared to be an extension of the lawn, a carpet of green vast enough to boat on. It smelled of peat and minerals. Molly had skipped to the very edge without even realising it was there.
“It’s deep.” the man said between breaths. “Not for children. Or adults, for that matter.”
“I didn’t see it.” I said. “I’m sure it was the same for Molly. Thanks so much for stopping her.”
Steely eyes glared at me beneath the peak of his cap, his expression stony. He would have been tall had he not been leaning on the stick. His right fist, gripping the handle, trembled slightly. I put an arm around my daughter.
“What are you doing here, anyway? This is private land.”
“We saw the sign out front and chanced a look. I do apologise. Are you the owner?”
“A neighbour,” he said, nodding to dense woodland on the other side of the pond. “Well, as close to a neighbour as it gets around here. I keep an eye on the place. Stop it falling into disrepair.” He squinted up at the cottage. The sky was a canvas of blue, thin clouds floated lazily overhead.
“I’m not sure you and your husband would like it,” he said.
“Osfield Cottage. No-one seems to stay very long, you see. It’s been empty for two years this August. I think the building prefers its own company.”
“It’s just Molly and me,” I said. “We’ve had a tough time lately, but we’re doing good. Isn’t that right, Moll? Maybe Osfield Cottage is the fresh start we need.”
The man’s face thawed and he extended a hand. I took it, and he shook, firmly.
“John Riley, gamekeeper.”
“Lisa Swarbuck, writer. Well, I try.”
“Should you decide to put an offer in, I’m sure you’ll get a bargain.” He said, “but please stay away from the pond- especially the little one.”
He adjusted the walking stick, reached into his pocket and produced a business card.
JOHN RILEY, SHOOTING SUPPLIES.
He tapped the telephone number on the card. “I know this property like the back of my hand. Should you need any help, or have any questions, then don’t hesitate to call.”
John tipped his cap and left. Molly and I stood awhile, watching dragonflies weave in and around reeds like tiny helicopters. I had the strangest feeling we were being watched, but it did little to dampen my mood. I was caught up in Molly’s enthusiasm. We talked about the day at the beach, finding the cottage and what it would be like to live there. Molly pointed up to the window which might be her bedroom and spoke of how she’d grow strawberries and pear trees in one of the fallow flower beds. She asked why I was smiling.
A local company had mowed the lawn before we moved in, and an odour of sweet grass drifted through the open door. Scout ran a dizzy circle, tongue lolling and ears plastered to the side of his head. Molly stood in the middle of the garden, giggling at his overexuberance. It was mid-afternoon. Searching through boxes in the dining room I looked to unpack plates and cutlery. Occasionally I glanced out of the window, checking Molly hadn’t crossed the footpath at the bottom of the garden. It was our agreed boundary, a safe distance from the pond.
The surface was mostly clear. Autumn leaves floated like tiny schooners and the pond-weed had retreated to the edges. The top two or three feet of water was transparent, but muddied below that. I imagined rowing to the far bank, a picnic hamper under my seat and intentions of woodland adventure. It was a romantic notion, but the thought of floating out there, Molly and I, alone, troubled me.
That morning I’d assembled a bed in my first-floor room, having dismantled my double and dropped it off, along with the mattress at the rubbish-tip. There’d been nothing wrong with it, not physically anyway, but it reeked of my husband’s mistake. Out of the window I enjoyed an elevated view of the garden and the woods beyond. Pinpoints of sunlight twinkled on the water, but something else caught my attention. A few feet below the surface, a shape ascended from the murk, glided for a moment and then sank from view. I watched and waited for it to appear again. I started to doubt what I’d seen.
Now, surrounded by the chaotic mess of a house move, I paused over a cardboard box, felt in my jacket pocket and removed John Riley’s business card.
He answered on the third ring. “Riley’s Shooting Supplies.”
“Hello Mr Riley, this is Lisa at Osfield Cottage.”
“When I saw the sold sign, I knew it’d be you. Congratulations.” He said.
“How can I be of assistance?”
“The pond, would you happen to know if anything lives in there?”
“What do you mean?”
“Fish, frogs and the like. I thought I saw something this morning. Coy Carp, maybe. I didn’t want to neglect them.”
Molly threw a stick and Scout chased, kicking up clods of grass from the damp lawn.
“Don’t worry about the wildlife,” John said. “The newts and pond-skaters will take care of themselves.”
“So, no fish? Even the stream near our old house had sticklebacks. This one is like an Olympic swimming pool, and it looks very old.”
The dining room clock ticked and tocked as silence drew out.
“I guess you were bound to find out anyway,” he said.
Gooseflesh puckered skin, up my arms and across my shoulders.
“What do you mean?”
“Three families have lived in Osfield Cottage since I moved to Folly Woods, Miss Swarbuck, you are the fourth. The first was Andrew Phillip Osfield and his wife, Bertha. He was great grandson of Douglas Osfield, the man who built the cottage. Andrew and his wife liked to travel, as a budding gamekeeper they asked me to mind the place in their absence.
Often, they’d buy strange souvenirs. A stuffed Gila Monster from Mexico, ancient scrolls from Peru and a mummified cat from Egypt. Occasionally they’d return with living creatures. Pets. Frilled Dragons, King Cobra and even a black Jaguar they named Suki.”
“You’re joking.” I said.
“Not at all. You must remember, this was long before the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act. You could keep what you liked and the Osfield’s did just that. One day I found Andrew down by the pond. He was very old by then. He was sitting in his favourite deckchair and supervising the removal of a large, empty crate from the water’s edge. It took four men to drag it up the garden, trailing deep grooves in the grass. The internal walls were slick and plastered with seaweed. It stank, like rotten fish.”
“So, what had he brought back?” I asked.
“I don’t know.” John replied. “I asked Andrew if he’d returned from Asia with a new pet and he just smiled. When I asked about crocodiles and piranha, the smile turned to laughter. ‘No. It’s more than a creature. It’s something quite unique,’ he said.
A month later, Andrew Osfield was dead. I found his body, face down on the far bank of the pond. I thought it might be suicide at first because his Beretta was at his side, but then I turned him over. The old man’s face was a mask of fear. His eyes protruded from their sockets and his mouth was open in a silent scream. The coroner’s verdict was heart attack. I wasn’t so sure.”
“That’s terrible.” I said.
“Andrew Osfield was the first, but not the last. Bertha couldn’t stand rattling around the cottage alone. She rehomed most of their exotic pet collection with the Lakeside Zoo and moved out. I don’t recall her removing anything from the pond, though.
A young couple, the Butlers, purchased Osfield Cottage. Both worked for the BBC in London and utilised it as a holiday home. They were nice enough and we struck up an amiable relationship.
I hadn’t seen them for a while when the police knocked at my door. The Butlers hadn’t returned to work after a weekend away and weren’t answering their phones. Their Range Rover was parked on the driveway at Osfield Cottage, but it appeared no-one was home. The police filed round the rear and found the back door open. The house was empty. The Butlers had spread a gingham blanket beside the pond and arranged plates of food. Birds and squirrels took most of it. The rest had partially decomposed.
"I let the police search my house, I think my guns made them suspicious, but of course they left empty handed.”
“Didn’t they dredge the pond?”
“They did. Police divers swept from East to West. One said she saw the flick of a tail, something large, but it was hard to be sure in the murk. She said the pond was over twenty feet deep in places and visibility next to zero at the bottom. It was well stocked with trout and perch but that aside they found only silt and mud.”
My mouth was dry. I grabbed a tumbler, filled it with water from the kitchen faucet and drank. Scout returned the stick to Molly and she threw it again. The trees rustled conspiratorially. I felt a sudden unease about her being out there.
“The Smiths owned the cottage before you.” John continued. “Joel, his wife Sally and their son, Tim. They modernised the interior of the cottage to the standard it is now. Unfortunately, Tim…”
A scream erupted and a murder of crows took flight. Molly. I dropped the handset and ran outside. She was at the edge of the pond, leaning forward, searching the water. A ripple radiated from the centre.
“Molly, get away from there!”
Her legs bent at the knee, ready to jump in. I reached her just in time, my lungs burning, and grabbed her shoulder.
“What the hell are you doing? What did I say about crossing the footpath?”
She blinked at each syllable. Her eyes were glossy with tears.
“Scout, he…he…” she said, her voice hitching. “He’s gone.”
The pond was a sheet of glass. I stared at my reflection and felt something stare back. I spun around, expecting Scout to be chewing a stick under an apple tree, but the garden was vacant. Satisfied my daughter wasn’t going to dive in, I walked along the bank calling out his name.
My calls met with silence. A bubble formed on the surface and then popped.
I took Molly’s hand and led her up the incline, back to the cottage, every step of the way she sobbed, reaching back to the water.
I sat her on the kitchen counter and made hot chocolate.
“I threw the stick too far. It landed in the pond.” She wiped a tear from her eye. “Scout chased it and jumped in. You know how much he likes swimming, mummy.”
I offered her a steaming mug and she sipped. “He swam to the middle to get the stick and I whistled for him to come back. A log rose to the surface nearby, I thought it might have been a fallen tree, but it followed him. It was very big. He yelped, like the time I stood on his paw by accident. Then he went under.”
Outside, a ripple traced a line across the water.
“Can we go look for him? Maybe he climbed out.” Molly said. The hope in her voice made me want to cry. “Maybe phone daddy and ask him to help?”.
“I don’t think so chickpea, I’m sorry. I guess his paws caught in the weeds and he drowned. I don’t think he suffered.” I didn’t know what else to say.
“I don’t want to play in the garden anymore.”
There was a knock at the door. John Riley was red faced on the doorstep, dabbing his forehead with a handkerchief. His eyes flickered with a strange fire, only cooling when Molly peered from the kitchen.
“Thank goodness. What in blazes happened?” he asked.
I sat Molly in front of a cartoon and led John out of the back door. The sun was low and the temperature had cooled. We walked to the water’s edge. The pond was a black iris set within a green eye.
“You’re sure the dog didn’t run away? Maybe he swam to the far bank and escaped into the woods?”
“Molly’s sure.” I said. “He wouldn’t just disappear like that.”
Something splashed by the reeds, disturbing a cloud of mayflies. A glossy, green triangle descended from view and when my eyes met John’s I knew he’d seen it too.
“What was that?” I asked, stepping back. I thought about the police diver wading into the unknown, something circling beneath her feet, and shuddered.
“I’m not sure,” John said. “But Andrew Osfield certainly knew.”
“You were telling me about that family. The Smiths. What happened to them?”
Molly watched us from the living room window, chin resting on her arms. She’d turned all the interior lights on.
“Joel Smith was into clay pigeon shooting. He visited me a handful of times to buy shotgun cartridges. Once, he brought his son, Tim. The boy reminded me of myself when I was a youngster. Blonde hair, freckles, a cheeky grin- Can’t have been more than ten years old. Boats fascinated him and he told me he’d like to row on the pond.
"Of course, I advised against it. I suggested he sail a toy boat in the bath instead. I whittled a hull from a lump of timber, painted it blue and cut a mainsail and jib out of an old shirt. Tim was so pleased. He promised to only sail it in the tub.”
“He sailed it on the pond.” I said.
“Yes, even though his mother and father forbade it. I can’t blame him to be honest, When I was a lad I’d have done the same. No-one knows exactly what happened. Joel was in an upstairs room where he kept office. His mother was at the kitchen window, washing the dishes.”
Molly had returned to her cartoons. I could see her curls of hair over the back of the sofa. The interior lights were bright against the approaching night.
“Joel heard a commotion.” John said. “He looked out of the window and saw his wife kneeling on the bank. She reached into the lilies with both hands, straining against something. The ripples disturbed Tim’s toy boat, which bobbed and weaved in the middle.
By the time Joel reached the garden, it was silent and the air was coppery with blood. Joel shouted his wife’s name, but she didn’t respond. Her torso was completely submerged with only her legs visible. Grabbing her hips, he pulled.”
Winds whipped the water. It was almost full dark, the dying pink sunset transforming the surrounding woods into a bone yard.
“She was unusually light,” John said. “He fell back onto the lawn and her body landed on top of him. She’d been bitten clean in half. Her waist was a jagged circle of meat, punctuated by the white nub of her spine.”
“Good God! What about the boy?”
“They retrieved the boat, but that was about it. Joel went to prison for their murder, but he’ll tell anyone that listens something in the pond killed his family. Something with no right to be there.”
I thought of my warm bed, though I doubted I’d get much sleep. I had a lot to think about. Had I known the sordid history of Osfield Cottage before I took the mortgage, things might have been different.
“I don’t know what to do.” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“About the house. The pond. It feels haunted.”
John leaned on his stick.
“Look, let me have a think about what can be done. I can be quite resourceful when I put my mind to it. In the mean-time get some sleep. You look tired.”
I couldn’t disagree. I thanked John and walked up to the cottage. He stayed at the bottom of the garden. A shadow staring into the void.
Molly had fallen asleep in front of the television. I gently lifted her under the arms and legs and mounted the stairs to my bedroom. With her eyes closed and the steady rise and fall of her respirations she looked like a baby again. My heart bled for her. She’d been through so much, we’d been through so much.
I almost stepped on a rubber bone in the hallway and thought of poor Scout. It was going to be a long and restless night.
I woke to see an ocean of glittering stars. The alarm clock read three a.m. Careful not to disturb Molly, I rose from the mattress and crossed the hallway. I thought about doing a little writing to take my mind off things. I was working on book two of a three book deal, but my publisher had kindly extended the deadline due to my personal circumstances. I was just opening my laptop when I heard splashing outside. I stood and looked out of the window.
A full moon floated on top of the pond, white on black. The patio, flowerbeds and lawn were milky blue. I heard a thin whistle and saw a crouched shape, arms beckoning to the water. The surface distorted into angular shapes as something split the moon in half. It was a fin, the cartilage ragged and torn. A wide, muscular body glided below the surface.
The Stranger fumbled low to the ground and produced something small and limp with long ears and legs. He tossed it into the water and teeth ascended to meet it. A breath caught in my throat. It’s mouth opened, blossoming like an exotic, pink flower and engulfed the carcass. It hung there for a moment and then sank into darkness.
The stranger stood. When my eyes adjusted to the poor light, I saw him looking up at me.
I closed the blinds quickly and sank into my seat, heart pounding. I thought about calling John Riley. In the uneasy silence of twilight and with a stranger lurking, the idea had merit, but what could John do at such an ungodly hour? He was an ageing gamekeeper, not a security guard.
I stood and carefully parted the blind. The shape had gone.
I busied myself patrolling the lonely rooms, checking locks on windows and doors. Eventually I returned to bed. Molly was in a deep sleep, her cheek resting on clasped hands as if in prayer.
We unpacked the groceries. Molly had been uncharacteristically quiet that morning and even a Disney magazine wouldn’t cheer her up. Since we’d returned from the supermarket I couldn’t help but notice her repeated glances out of the window.
“Where is Scout?” She said.
“I don’t think he’s coming back, darling.”
“I know, but where is he?”
“At the bottom of the pond, I guess.”
I thought of our pet digesting inside the stomach of a large aquatic predator, his brown and white fur melting away from his bones like wax.
“Will he float to the surface?”
“I don’t know, darling. I hope not.”
There was a knock at the front door. Relief washed over me as I saw the outline of John’s cap distorted in the frosted glass.
“I thought I’d check you were OK,” he said, as I let him in.
We drank coffee in the living room whilst Molly ate a sandwich in the kitchen. I recounted what happened the night before.
“I suppose it makes sense someone is feeding it,” he said. “It explains how it’s survived so long.”
His eyes shifted to the doorway, then back to me.
“I must confess there was another reason why I came by. I had a good think last night and I might have come up with a solution.”
He produced a small bottle from his jacket and held it up to the light. The glass was brown and filled with liquid.
“Gasterous Barbantiate.” he said. “Poison. Incredibly potent stuff. The dose in this bottle would kill everything in that pond. Every newt, every frog, every fish. The lot. Over time it neutralises and the pond repopulates of its own accord. Don’t ask how I came by it.” He unscrewed the safety cap and handed it to me. The label was a mosaic of hazard symbols.
Powerful fumes ghosted from the bottle in waves, distorting the room. Something was wrong. I frowned. Why had John unscrewed the cap before passing it to me? The odour was overpowering and I began feel odd. The picture frames on the wall tilted at strange angles and colours faded to grey. I tried to return the bottle, fighting against waves of nausea, but pins and needles engulfed my limbs, spreading to fingers and toes. The bottle slipped from my palm and fell to the floor.
John crouched to retrieve it, a handkerchief held to his nose. He said something to me, but words had lost all meaning.
I collapsed sideways on the sofa.
He screwed the lid tightly and limped to the doorway.
“No...” I tried to say, but my lips were unresponsive.
My eyelids fluttered like dying butterflies before darkness prevailed.
A shrill sound brought me back.
My nose itched and I thought of my father. I was a child again, impatiently waiting on the doorstep for him to return. I’d run to meet him as he rounded the corner onto our street. He’d pick me up and carry me in his arms. Quite often he’d reach to my face and come away with his thumb between index and middle finger. “Got your nose,” he’d say. Sometimes it tickled when he did that. I thought about Molly and I thought about her father.
The world opened to me, green and earthy and sweet. Osfield Cottage was there too, between blurry blades of grass. The doors and walls were horizontal and the windows fuzzy and indistinct. My eyes and nose throbbed. A worm wiggled and writhed inches away and a wave of sickness rose from my stomach. I leant to the side (at least I thought it was the side) and vomited.
That shrill sound invaded my ears again. Short and sharp.
“You’re awake.” A voice said.
I reached to scratch the itch, and felt a pinch around my wrists. Both hands arrived at my nose together, bound with rope. Water churned at my back, splashing my blouse.
John stood over me. He held Molly in front of him like a shield. Her cheeks were tear stained and her hands tied. I tried to get up, but the end of his stick found my shoulder and pushed me down.
“Let her go you bastard.” I said. My voice sounded like it didn’t belong to me, gravely and hoarse.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
He moved toward the pond. Molly’s eyes widened and the heels of her trainers dug into the turf. She saw something I couldn’t. Panic electrified my veins and I pulled at the rope
“Don’t waste your energy.” John said. “Save it for the water.”
His eyes were determined but distant.
“I told you about Andrew Osfield.” He said. “But I neglected to mention the family connection.”
He nodded to the water.
“Grandpops gave her the name Amabie. She was his lucky charm but I think he meant to put her down that day. I’m not sure why. Maybe he understood how dangerous she could be, but I made sure he didn’t follow it through.” He mimicked an injection, the thumb pushing an invisible plunger. “The old fool didn’t realise what he had. She isn’t a marine creature, she’s a Goddess.”
His gaze fell upon me.
“In the beginning I stocked the pond with perch and trout, then moved onto larger fish; salmon and tuna. Game followed. I fed her rabbits, pheasant and even deer. Like a reptile, she doesn’t need to feed often, but has a real appetite when she does. As the years passed my energy and mobility dwindled. I wasn’t as spritely as I used to be. That’s when I decided to try something else. Let Osfield Cottage provide.”
“I trained her. She’s well-disciplined and very elusive. Without my trigger, you could skinny dip from here to the far bank and not even know she was there. I can only imagine your daughter somehow replicated the sound before Amabie took the dog. Rang the dinner bell, so to speak.”
John dropped the stick. Wrapping his hands around Molly’s waist, he lifted her off the ground with a grunt. She screamed and tried to strike him with her bound wrists. The pond sloshed and foamed, excited by her fear. My blouse clung to my skin, soaked through. I dug an elbow into the lawn and with every reserve of strength, pushed up onto my knees.
A creature stalked in dizzying circles, churning the water and spilling it onto the banks. A dorsal and caudal fin sliced the surface, but it was unlike any marine animal I’d seen. Its back was mossy green and ridged like bark, its belly the colour of spoiled cream. A triangular head probed the depths with terrifying eagerness. It was as big as a family car.
John launched Molly toward the beast. She hit the water like a cannon ball, landing beside the creature’s gills. Close enough to touch, but mercifully out of range of those teeth. It glided to the far side of the pond and did an about turn to face her. A groan escaped my lips.
I staggered to my feet. John focused on my daughter, a rapt expression on his face. He looked like a child on Christmas morning. In that moment I felt a hatred for him deeper than I’d felt for any man. Hands balled into fists, I lowered my head and rushed him.
I collided with his shoulder blade and he toppled forward into the water with a winded “oof.” I saw something shiny land in the grass as he fell. Sensing larger prey, the dorsal fin changed direction and ghosted towards him, lilies parting in its wake.
I bent down and picked up a small brass cylinder. It was a whistle. The colour of old pennies, it had been engraved. The angular symbols were faded and worn and looked like Kanji. The trigger.
“Amabie, No!” John screeched.
The creature rotated its body, just beneath the surface to find a better angle. It glided, jaws parting in anticipation and engulfed John below the waist. For a split-second he looked like a doll in the mouth of a giant hound. The jaw sprang shut with a snap. Blood erupted from John’s lips like a geyser and spilled down his chin, dark against pale. His eyes rolled to the sky. He tried to scream, but only managed a choked gargle.
It submerged, dragging John down with it. Blood billowed underwater like smoke from a chimney as they descended. Our eyes met and he winked.
I didn’t have much time. I scooped up the whistle and placed it in my mouth. I plunged my feet into the cold water and held out my wrists to Molly. She spluttered and flailed, trying her best to doggy paddle with restricted hands. Her skin was turning blue, hair plastered, lank and wet against her forehead.
“Don’t look back, Molly. Swim as fast as you can.”
The fin emerged on the far bank, pointed in our direction.
“Good girl, you can do this.”
Strands of pond weed trailed in its wake. Now halfway across, it moved at speed.
“Molly, come on! Come on!”
“I’m…I’m trying mummy…”
The creature rotated again, one white eye pointed to the sky, pale stomach exposed. Something limp hung from the corner of its snout. It was John’s arm. Serrated teeth parted in preparation to clamp down on Molly’s legs. Jesus, I thought, it could swallow her whole.
I took a deep breath and blew the whistle as long and hard as I could, with every last bit of strength I possessed. The monster veered away, caudal fin twitching like a fish on a pole. I blew again. The whistle vibrated as the pea within rattled. It circled the pond, passing within feet of us, driven mad by the sound. The resulting wave lifted Molly and pushed her in my direction. I scooped her into my hands and dragged her up onto the bank.
The fin angled into the water and suddenly it was gone, lilies and pond-weed rotating around the surface in a giant spiral.
I collapsed with Molly in my arms and we lay for a while, exhausted, cold and wet.
Molly won’t talk about the pond. She doesn’t talk much at all, really. Sometimes she gazes out of the window with an oddly solemn look on her face. I’d like to think that there’s a part of her, no matter how small, which has made peace with what happened- but I doubt it. The pond robbed her of childhood. She’s not a little girl anymore and that’s a shame.
Osfield Cottage is up for sale, but there hasn’t been much interest. Few pass through Folly Woods, and the locals won’t touch it with a barge pole. They know about missing people and suspicious circumstances. I sometimes wonder if they know about the creature in the pond too. I thought about moving in with my parents again, but what would I say to them, how could I explain?
It feels like we’re trapped here.
I saw another missing poster taped to a lamp post by the mini-market. John Riley’s face stared at me. There was a hotline number and I thought about ringing it for the briefest moment, but decided against it. Molly and I had been through enough.
Occasionally I see a disturbance in the water. A shadow here, the tip of a fin there. I pretend it is all in my head.
Molly was at school when her father arrived like a bad smell. He was early for a change. He’d come to take her to Morecambe for a long weekend. How ugly he’d become, the width of his smile matched only by his waistband.
“Claire’s a senior partner, Lisa, can you believe it? At twenty-nine.” He said, nursing his coffee. “Met her on Tinder. Hit it off straight away. I’m hoping she can join us this weekend.”
“I don’t like the sound of that, Brian.” I said, my blood boiling. “Molly saw enough in Manchester, thanks to you.”
“None-sense. It’ll be fun. Claire’s not an ogre, you know.” He said. “Anyway, once the paperwork is I order I’ll be looking to spend more time with Molly. Perhaps she’d like to live with me?”
I busied myself, packing Molly’s pink rucksack for the journey, hiding my face. He could always tell when I was upset. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction.
“I might sell the flat and get somewhere nice with a big garden, like yours.” He said. I stopped what I was doing and looked up.
“There’s a pond too.” I replied. “Can you see it?”
“No?” He stood to get a better view. Brian was a keen fisherman, always had been, he’d even used it as one of his many excuses to spend nights away from home. Spring was unusually warm and lilies and pond-weeds had spread across the surface like pox.
“Here, I’ll show you.”
The whistle hung from a nail by the door, suspended by a red ribbon.
I took it and led him outside.