Surface Tension by Andy Banks (1st place Oct19)

The sky was dying a red death when we eventually reached the swamp. We’d been
walking for so long that the village was nothing more than a huddled mass of black teeth jutting from the rolling hills behind us. I couldn’t even make out my house anymore.

“Could’ve just gone to the rec,” I grumbled.

“I told you,” replied Garry without looking back. “That’s not where it happened.”

The thin dirt track we had followed ever since leaving the road was turning boggy and
soon water was seeping into my trainers, soaking my socks. Tall, sticky reeds clung to my jeans and scratched at my neck like the sharp fingers of little children. My nose began to run and I had to leave slug trails on my sleeves to stop it running down my face. I imagined the look I’d have gotten from my Mum if she had seen me. She had probably already started cleaning dinner away by then. My stomach rumbled, angrily.

“Garry, come on, I’ve got to be back before half eight or Mum’ll –”

“Nearly there. Promise.”

The reed tips swayed above my eye-line. All I could see of Garry was a rustle of  yellow-green five or six paces ahead. A few moments more and the track had disappeared completely and we had to squelch our way through a thick bog. Above, birds drifted like insects floating on a pink sea. In the distance, I could just make out the dull roar of the motorway.

I thought about turning back; my nose was streaming, my feet were freezing and I was
itching so badly it felt like my back was covered in spiders. But I trusted Garry. He was in the year above me and was pretty much the coolest kid in school. I mean, there were others that smoked and did drugs and swore at teachers and stuff, but of all the kids that regularly turned up to school, Garry was the coolest. He had the blackest hair, straight as a nail and swept to the side into deft perfection. Something about the way he held himself – always moving, always in the centre of things – made him seem tall even though he was a little shorter than I was. He could make anyone laugh and everyone loved him, teachers and kids alike.

Why he hung out with me I have no idea. Maybe he found me funny; he was a lot more
intelligent than he let on, maybe even than he liked to admit. We fancied ourselves comedians. Once, in the week before the summer holidays when everyone else was playing outside, we found ourselves alone in the science block. Garry had written a sketch he wanted us to practice. The sketch was brilliant, involving two men making a business deal while pretending to be chickens, and ended with the two men shaking wings. I held out my hand but instead of taking it Garry reached up and drew his fingers through my hair. His eyes were full and round like warm little hazelnuts. He held his hand there for the briefest of moments and then he was laughing and kicking his backpack around the classroom like nothing had happened. That was back before his
mother had left. Suddenly, in the night, as if he and his father had only dreamt that she had been there at all. After that his hair was never quite as perfect and there were no more sketches. His eyes had become darker. I hated seeing him like that.

If Garry wanted to show me something I was sure it was worth all the wet feet and itchy skin in the world.

Still, it was getting dark. I was close to calling out to him to ask if he was sure he knew
where he was going when the reeds suddenly parted. We emerged onto the sticky banks of a green body of water too small to be a lake and too large to be a pond.

Garry appeared next to me with a wide smile. “Check it out!”

“It stinks!” I covered my nose with a snotty sleeve. The water was stagnant and covered in a thick film of dark green algae and half-decomposed reeds. There couldn’t be anything living in it; it choked your breath just to be near it.

“Nah, it’s fine. Come on, let’s get in!”

A flock of gulls burst into the air, squawking madly as Garry took his shirt off and sprang forward to wade into the dark water. His pale skin shone in the dying light and I watched him for a moment as he drew in a long breath, readying himself to duck under.

“God, Garry, please don’t!” I squealed.

“Why? What’s the matter?”

A blizzard of gnats sprang at me and I danced about in a fit of disgust. “Why the hell did
you bring me here, Garry? It’s horrible!”

Garry spread his arms as wide as they would go. “This is where it happened!”

My feet were sodden and I had begun to shiver. My teeth chattered madly. I could feel
my bottom lip turning blue like it always did in the swimming pool. “Where what bloody
happened? Will you just tell me?!”

Garry lowered his arms and looked confused for a moment. “This is where he killed
her,” he said finally, as if it were something I should already know.

I stared at him, my body suddenly tense.

“Don’t tell me you don’t remember. That girl from the other school who disappeared last year? What was her name? Mandy? Milly?”

The reeds bent around us as if craning to hear. “Molly,” I whispered.

“Molly! That’s it, Molly! This is where she was drowned. This is where he drowned
her! In this pond! Isn’t that cool?!” Garry brought his hands down with a splash to punctuate his point.

“Why are you saying that?”

“I told you. That Molly girl. This is where she-“

“Why would you make up something like that? That’s … that’s disgusting.”

“What? I’m not making it up!”

“Yes, you are Garry. You know how I know? Because no one knows what happened to
that girl. She just … dissapeared!”

“What?! Shut up! Everyone knows.”

“No, they don’t. My mum’s church still pray’s for her to be found safe and alive.

Garry raised an eyebrow.

“God, sorry. I didn’t mean to mention my Mu-“

“You go to church?” snorted Garry.

“That’s it. Come on, get out. I don’t know what you’re doing but it’s not funny.”

Garry bobbed slowly backwards into deeper water. “She’s under here somewhere,” he
said, almost to himself. “All messed up and stuff. You can feel it in the water. It’s like a …
tingling. Come on, get in.” He drifted onto his back, his flat stomach bobbing as he drifted through the algae, leaving a dark shadowy trail in his wake.

“Why do you keep saying that? I’ve had enough, I’m going home.” I released my feet
one at a time from the bog and turned to storm away.

“Are you calling my Dad a liar?”

I turned back to find Garry standing in the water up to his knees, his trousers clinging
tightly to him. The tips of his hair were wet. Dirty water trailed slug-like down his neck
towards his chest.

“Your Dad? Your Dad told you she was here?”

“Yeah. And now you’re calling my Dad a liar.’

“No, I’m-“ My blood ran cold. “What exactly did your Dad say to you, Garry?”

Garry’s body relaxed a little, his shoulders dropping, his brow unfurrowing. “He just said that that Mindy girl-“

“Molly.”

“Yeah. He said she was dragged here and was held under the water until she drowned
and then her body was weighed down with rocks in the pockets of her dress so she wouldn’t float.” He stared at the deeper water behind him. “Bet we could find her if we looked.”

The moon appeared from behind a cloud, pale and sorry in the darkening sky.

“Garry, I – “ My mouth was so dry it was difficult to speak. “I’m going home. I’ll see
you … tomorrow. I guess.”

“No need to go, mate,” replied Garry. He was floating on his back again, smiling up at
the moon. “It’s all sorted. We’ll give you a lift home. It’s fine.”

“We?’ I asked in barely more than a whisper.

“Yeah. My Dad said he’d meet us here.”

The sky was a cold shade of violet, abandoned by birds. The air was still, stagnant. My
lips began to tremble as I turned back to the labyrinth of reeds and from somewhere deep within their midst I heard the squelch of boots in mud.

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