Children of the Pond: Flash Fiction by cam
Girl in the Woods, Vincent van Gogh
Children of the Pond
Jennifer stood on the shore of the pond watching the investigation unfold. Dredging equipment stood ready to go into action after scuba divers made preliminary observations. She felt as though her sanity were on the line. No one had believed her ghost tale as a ten-year-old, and she hoped today her story would be proved true. Thanks to the county voters, there was a new Sheriff for her to work with, and he was behind all the activity that was going on around her. Jennifer allowed her mind to return to a summer night, twenty years earlier.
Jennifer and her parents spent the week in a forest cabin. She was prone to wander in search of anything peculiar such as a web-building spider or a beaver gnawing on a tree.
Her parents were relaxing on the porch late one afternoon when Jennifer wandered into the forest. Not one to stay on the main trail, she took a path that branched off into the darkness of the trees. Something bright, colorful, yet small caught her eye. Jennifer loved collecting pretty stones so she picked up the red oval object. A jelly bean? A step farther, she found a green one, then blue. Soon her pocket was bulging with the colorful candies.
When she turned around to go back to the cabin, she heard the voice of a child calling from the shadows. She and her parents had been in the wilderness for several days and hadn’t seen anyone, so she was surprised to hear the voice of another child. Jennifer walked until she was standing on the shore of a pond. She looked to her left, but no one was there. She looked right and was startled to see a man, standing ten feet away, exhaling twin jets of smoke from his nose as he held a cigarette in one hand and a bag of jelly beans in the other.
“I heard a child calling,” she said to the stranger. “Did you hear it?”
The man said nothing, but flicked his cigarette away. Jennifer watched the butt arch through the air, sparks falling into the dry, mid-summer grass.
“You shouldn’t do that. You might start a fire,” she said. When she turned back, the man had disappeared, but the cigarette continued to smolder. She walked over and stomped until there was no sign of smoke.
“Where are you?” she said, speaking to the child who continued to call out, the voice coming from the pond. The setting sun cast long shadows across the water. She waded in until something surfaced, swimming toward her leaving a wake behind. She backed toward the shore, but too slowly to escape.
The man rose out of the water, standing on its surface. He was smoking another cigarette. As smoke rolled from his nostrils, the child’s voice came from his mouth.
“Help me,” he mouthed. “Come to me and help me.”
She was standing in water up to her chest when the surface began to churn as if boiling. Dozens of hands and arms rose from the roiling pond, reaching for her with bony fingers partially covered with decaying flesh, grasping as they moved in her direction. Jennifer screamed as she backed away from the oncoming horde.
Heads broke the surface with vegetation growing out of empty eye sockets and nostrils. Mouths opened and closed, releasing guttural sounds, befitting orcs and goblins. Ghosts of the dead children moved in and out of the corpses as if they were unable to fit into their own bodies. The man grabbed her shoulders and lifted her from among the rotting children. “Daddy?” she cried. A burst of laughter on a fetid wind and a cloud of smoke was her only answer.
The man thrust her down until she was completely submerged. She kicked and tried to scream but succeeded only in inhaling gulps of pond water. The hands of murdered children dragged her down toward the graveyard of mud and weeds.
Large hands gripped her shoulders and pulled her up again. Her face broke the surface and she sucked in the precious air. She kicked against her unseen foe, thrashing in the water, screaming for her father.
“Jennifer, stop fighting. Jenny, it’s me, your father.” The child ghosts sank back into their dark world as gentle arms embraced her.
“Jennifer, are you okay? What were you doing out here in the pond?” Her father held her close as he carried her to shore. She rested her chin on his shoulder and hugged his neck, eyes locked on the pond. The heads of the children reemerged and they called out to her. The strange man, suspended above the pond, sank into the muddied water.
“Did you hear them Daddy?”.
"Hear what, sweetheart?"
"Never mind." She lay her head on her father's shoulder and closed her eyes.
Jennifer's mind returned to the present. The sheriff brought her a diver’s bag from one of the crew. It contained the bones of children. At last, people would know the truth about this place. They might even discover what happened to all the children.
As she scanned the worksite, a man caught her attention. He stood on the opposite shore watching her as he exhaled twin jets of cigarette smoke from his nose. He tossed the cigarette into the pond, and Jennifer’s eyes followed its trajectory. When she looked back, the man was gone.