In the Water

The carcass lay slumped where they’d dragged it, a fright of an animal, spoiled, sodden, water running out at his feet. Nathan with his brother and father and grandfather, barefoot the four of them, their eight brogans left shucked by the brim of the pond, his own the smallest pair. His hands, which had touched the carcass, felt chilled, shivery, and he was wet, feet and hands, his bare arms, all of him, up to the straps of his overalls, the cloth stiff with water and cold where it clung to him or brushed his skin, and he stood back among the others on the clean dry grass, while the water seemed to grow about the carcass and spread, as if the pond were trying to take the thing back.

He had found it, he and Ben, while out circling the brim, watching the water for the faces of turtles. Collections of stones, carefully chosen, good for throwing, bulged in their bib pockets. A turtle had a face like a wedge, almost black. It would pierce softly the skin of the pond, while it floated, breathing, barely making a ripple. It could be a black branch protruding from the water, it could be black leaves. If you moved and it saw you, it would dip below the water with a soft sound, and be gone. The skin of the pond would seal itself over, and again be flat, more fragile than glass, retelling the sky overhead. If you were fast, and you threw a fast stone gathered from the creek, which had smoothed the stone as if for this single purpose, and if your aim was straight and you struck the turtle, with not just the noise of a splash, but an incontestable pock as your stone found the shell, you were the winner. Out beyond the muddied leaves at the brim, where the shelf of the pond dropped and the shallows deepened, two pale sticks shimmered underwater. Something about them had seemed to ask for his attention, and then Ben saw him looking, and looked where he looked, and he could tell from the way Ben stood, upright and still, that Ben saw them too. He’d stepped closer along the edge of the water, Ben with him, until he saw suddenly they were not sticks and there were hooves and there was hide.

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