Paulie McGondry’s Wet Shoe Retreat.
“There’s a pike long as a flatbed there, it’ll take you down and serve you for supper with leftovers for breakfast.”
The stories were many and legendary, told and retold to every wide-eyed and open-mouthed youngster in town since the end of the Civil War. Paulie didn’t believe a one of them. He worked his way carefully between the reeds and closer to the water.
“Swim if you’ve a liking to, but watch that plug don’t get pulled while you’re splashing around without a care in the world. Next thing you’ll know you’ll be China’s first drowned Negro.”
His Momma warned him about reeds broken off under the mud. They’d stick your foot good before you even felt it. He was sure to drag his feet along the ground and to not step down hard if he could help it.
“Chiggers. If that ain’t reason enough, jump on in. Have yourself a fine time.”
The lake was black as fresh pitch and smelt like the town dump, minus the dog shit. But he’d seen kids jump and play in its waters, daring each other to swim to the centre. The centre was the only place the Lake Thing could get you. No one knew why, though everyone knew it for a fact.
“That water’s dark for a reason. That reason is that all the blood of missing children never fades. Not even in rainy season.”
The water slid into the impressions his feet had made in the sandy mud. It moved like treacle around the rubber soles of his sneakers. He’d catch hell if he stained them, so he stepped back. The water gobbled up his tracks, tumbled wetly towards him.
“You kids never pay no mind to signs any more. What’s that I should give a reason? It’s my lake and I say to keep out.”
Nearly stumbling, Paulie skittered backwards, his feet almost losing traction in the ooze around the lake. He scraped his feet through the tough grass, but the mud stuck to them like shit to a blanket. He was gonna get a whipping for this, he knew.
“Honey, I’d hate for you to get into difficulty in that filthy old lake. If you want, we can try and visit the municipal pool next weekend. They’ve got a diving board there.”
Hell, Paulie didn’t like swimming anyhow. If he was quick he could run to Jimmy Rafferty’s and spend the afternoon pitching stones at Jimmy’s old man’s tin barn.
“Fish? Fish? Boy, you got some hopes. Anything alive in there bigger than a water skimmer done drowned in scum long before you were born. You might catch a boot or two, if you’ve the luck with you.”
Paulie turned his back on the lake and ignored the rush of gooseflesh that skittered down his arms. The water lapped at the mud shore and licked between the sorry-looking plants there.
“Sammy Muller went in that lake when I was boy and he never came out. He was barely nine years old, could swim like an eel. They scoured the lake for two days. Never found him. He was a good kid, hell of a swimmer. But he went down, never came up.”
Paulie broke into a run. He knew it was only so he could get to Jimmy’s faster. He ran, and the water behind him didn’t move.