Copyright (c) 2015 Steve Kline
I could have killed it — at least I think I could have killed it — way back when I was 12.
It was June, just after school let out for the summer. The magical days with no homework, no early morning alarm, no despondent Sunday afternoon. Just barefoot weather and all day to hang out, poke around, laugh, run.
“Hey, I want to show you something,” said my friend Mark, who lived within walking distance of my house, which was walking distance from the woods that surrounded the Brickyard. Until that day, I had never explored that area much. It was north of a busy retail district that never held much interest for me.
We hiked across yards, busy streets, out to where the pavement ended and along the dirt road up to the Brickyard gate. The previous night’s soaking rain had turned the road to mud so we trudged through the grass and weeds on the west edge of the road, dodging puddles. Mud flew off of our heels and spattered our jeans, a mess we would not notice until hours later when we had returned to our respective homes and slipped off the jeans just before bed.
We skirted the brick-making plant, disappeared into thick woods, and trudged up a steep hill. Mark was ahead of me and when he got to the crest, he stopped, waiting for me without looking back. The hillside was covered with strata of wet, mud-slick leaves and it was hard for me to make any progress without my feet shooting backwards. My knees broke my falls, along with my right hand grasping nearby saplings. By the time I pulled up even with Mark, each pantleg wore a wet dark muddy oval over each knee.
“I call this place Blue Waters,” Mark said.
I sort of gasped and stepped back, stumbling and steadying myself by grabbing hold of the elbow on the left arm Mark had extended to prevent me from falling.
I was looking at a pond that was perhaps 200 feet around. The water was an unnatural greenish-blue color. I got the feeling that if I slipped and fell into it, I would dissolve. It looked toxic. The pond was edged by a uniform yard-wide strip of beige-whitish mud in which nothing grew.
Mark picked up a wide flat piece of soft shale and casually flipped it into the pond. It landed about 15 feet out and seemed to float for the briefest of moments before it slipped sideways and twirled and rocked its way to the bottom. The water was startlingly clear, and indeed the shale dissolved as it dropped down, leaving a watery/grainy contrail from the surface down into the depths where it at last disappeared from sight. I could not tell whether it disappeared because the water grew dark down there or because it had dissolved completely, like an evil and lifeless Fizzie that had no chance of bobbing back to the surface before it died.
“Yeah,” I said. “Cool.”
I took a step or two back from the pond.
Mark looked around for flat stones and started trying to skip them. I just wanted to go back to some place that didn’t make me so uneasy. I spied some flattened grass. Might be a path around the pond, I thought. I walked nearer to the patch of trodden grass and sure enough, a little rabbit-trail led off around to the east.
I had gone perhaps a dozen steps along this path, eyes downcast watching for mud and puddles, when I spied the brown leathery sluglike thing.
It was bigger than a thing like that should be — eight inches long or so, and fat with shiny skin. I could not tell if it had a front end, nor could I tell if the watery muddy mess in which the thing was squirming was leftover rainwater or if the liquid was oozing from within in its ugly mass.
When my eyes fell upon it, it went still for just a fraction of a second, as if it was aware it had been seen.
My immediate thought: Kill it. I wasn’t curious or even necessarily very frightened. The intent to kill it was almost involuntary, like the way I recoiled from the evil looking pond.
I looked for a weapon, a rock, a big stick . . .
Away off in the weeds I saw a weathered pile of brick, six or seven pieces of rust-colored broken baked clay. Before I could go pick one up, Mark called out:
“Hey! Let’s go over to Shopper’s Fair and get something to eat.”
We started back down the hill, jamming our heels into the moist earth to brake our descent.
I had a fleeting vague uneasy sense that something had eyes on my back. By the time we got back to a paved street, though, I had forgotten Blue Waters and the thing I did not kill. I would not think of it again until six years later on a searingly hot and terrifying July day at the Brickyard.