Ashley reached up and turned the metal handle on the huge door that led through the archway to the quarry garden beyond. It was seldom locked. A sign warned that trespassers would be prosecuted but Ashley didn’t read well yet. She made her way along the stony path and ducked under the prickly bush. It brought her to a high quarry wall overhung with trees and lichens the colour of soapy jade. At the base of this rock was a dip where countless years of drip had hollowed out a basin of the purest water you could ever wish for, percolated through crevices of sedimentary rock.
Ashley knelt and stared through the water onto the purple-grey floor of the pond — so clear like a fairytale land, only a few feet down — unreachable. She’d had many imagined adventures there.
Today patches of green fluffy algae floated just beneath a wafer of ice, like clouds in an alien sky. Bubbles of air were trapped, honeycombed beneath the transparent ceiling. The trickle of water from which the pond filled, had frozen into one long icicle and hung like a spear over the quarry wall. Ashley reached out to touch it and it fell and splintered into a million starlight pieces skating over the surface of the pool.
She imagined her summer friends down there, asleep in the silt; frogs, newts, water-boatmen, the larvae of damselflies — waiting to come to life with the spring. Then Ashley would be back with jam jar and net, seeking frogspawn, newts and mini-beasts. This was her favourite place — her secret world.
On a sunny day of dappled leaves in May, Ashley knelt again looking into the depths of her pond. The ice and snow were long past and sunlight plaited the surface. Shimmering ripples of camouflage teased her eyes. She dipped her jar into the pool to see what would come up.
Instead of scooping some water lightly into the jar, Ashley felt her arm get heavy.
Her sleeve was wet. Soon her whole arm was in the water, then her shoulder… It was as if the jar was full of heavy stones. She was being dragged down into the pool!
All this happened so quickly she had no chance to cry out or pull away. And now she stood looking up at the sunlit surface of the water — from beneath. This pool must be very deep. Ashley was afraid. It was one thing to gaze curiously into the pond. It was quite another to be looking out of it into the wide world and the distant sky.
“You look a little uncomfortable, my dear,” a voice behind her said. “I thought you liked our underwater world.” The speaker was a large toad and its chin moved out and in as it spoke.
“I do, that is to say — I did. I’m not meant to be here,” said Ashley.
“Really?” said the toad. “You have a more pressing engagement?”
“No? You seem to come here quite often. I thought you might like to stay a while this time… Get to know us. Chat.”
“But I can’t,” said Ashley. “It’ll soon be teatime.”
“You can feed here,” said the toad. “There’s always plenty to eat in the pond. You must have noticed…” His tongue flickered past her ear.
“But I’m meant to live up there with my friends and family.”
“And our young are meant to stay here in the pond with us — not be taken in a jar — wherever it is you take them,” said the toad. “Perhaps we could discuss that…”
Oonah V Joslin is Managing Editor at Every Day Poets. Credits include 3 Micro Horror prizes, an honorable mention in The binnacles Shorts Poetry comp 2009, inclusion in several anthologies, A Man of Few Words, The Best of Every Day Fiction 2008 and 2009 and Toe Tags. Read her at Static Movement, The Shine Journal, A View From Here, The Ranfurly Review, 10FLASH Quarterly and many other places. Other work including her Novella, A Genie in a Jam, can be found at Bewildering Stories. The list is updated in The Vaults at Parallel Oonahverse and on her Facebook. Oonah’s ambition is to have a book published.