About three quarters of an inch in length, they looked like small, black, hairy caterpillars. The wriggling bodies congregated at the edge of Roy’s fish pond, around twenty of them. “What are they?” Mary asked.
“Don’t know. Never seen anything like that, not in water at least. Must be the larvae of something. Still, I guess the fish will soon make a meal of ‘em.”
Roy had a dozen large koi-carp. They would swim lazily among the lily pads. The majority of them he had kept in the same pond for twelve years. They had grown to quite significant size in that time.
Mary turned back to the kitchen. “Don’t stay out here too long,” she called over her shoulder. “I’m just about to make dinner.”
“I’ll be there in ten,” Roy answered before drowning any further comment from his wife with the sound of the lawn-mower engine.
* * *
Mid-morning the following day, Roy had spent an hour, carefully weeding the rockery surrounding his pond. After retirement three years ago, gardening was now his main occupation. The early summer sunshine was quite warm as he picked a few small red worms from the loose soil. Standing at the waters edge, he dropped them onto the surface and watched the multi-coloured fish devouring them. One large and juicy worm he kept for his favourite fish, the largest in the pond, coloured black and gold.
Roy waited ten minutes, but the fish did not show itself. He walked all the way around the pond looking for that fish. The fish was not in the pond. There were a few more of the little black larvae however.
Mary was drinking coffee and reading the morning newspaper. She knew her husband was not happy when he slammed the kitchen door. “What’s the matter dear?” she asked. “I’ve just made coffee if you want one.”
“That bloody cat of Mrs. Johnson’s! Only gone and eaten the best koi in the pond. I’m going to have words with her about keeping the damn animal under control!”
“It’s a cat dear. You can’t…” Mary was speaking to an empty room.
* * *
“But Mr. Arkwright, Tommy was here with me all night. How do you even know it was a cat?”
“Mrs Johnson! Cats eat fish! I have fish missing! Seems pretty clear-cut to me! I’m just telling you. If I catch him near my fish pond, he’s dead! Good-bye Mrs Johnson!” Still puffing, his cheeks red with exertion, Roy turned on his heel and stamped back down the gravelled drive, crushing the heads of a few geraniums that encroached in his path.
Staring at the fish pond on the way back to his kitchen door, he noticed that the little hairy caterpillars congregating in the shallow water had now almost circled the deeper water where the fish were. He knelt at the edge while trying to get a closer look at them, but his eyes were not good enough to deduce what they were. Perhaps his son would know, after all, Andrew had studied zoology at university. He was about to slip his hand into the water to lift one out for closer inspection when Mary called him.
“Roy. Can you take me to the shop. I need to get something for lunch.”
Roy sighed, stood up, and walked to the kitchen door.
* * *
Roy locked the car and followed Mary back to the house.
There’s Mrs. Johnson’s cat now.” Mary stood, pointing with her finger at the black and white animal sunning itself on the stones of Roy’s rockery.
Roy put the bag of shopping on the path and picked up a large pebble. He hurled it at the cat, striking the creature in its rump. The cat leaped into the air meowing and toppled into the water with a splash. Roy laughed. “That’ll teach it,” as the animal clawed at the edge to get out.
With shopping unpacked and put away, and while Mary prepared the lunch, Roy strolled out into the garden. Just to make sure the cat hadn’t caused too much damage, he thought.
There was no sign of Mrs. Johnson’s furry pet, but he could see scratch marks where it had clawed at the wooden decking of the ornamental bridge. He was about to go back to the house to eat when he noticed the small black larvae congregating around a lump of congealed slime in the water. He wrinkled his nose in disgust as he bent for a closer look.
“Lunch is ready!” Mary called from the kitchen doorway.
Roy sighed. He would need to get rid of that slimy muck as soon as possible.
* * *
As normal, Roy took an afternoon nap for an hour after they finished eating. He was awakened by Mary’s call that Andrew had arrived. The three of them went out to the pond where the wriggling black larvae were slowly starting to spread toward the deeper water.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Andrew said. “Have you got a jam-jar mum? I’ll take a few into the lab and put them under a microscope.”
He dipped the jar Mary gave him into the water. Four of the creatures were sucked into the jar and he screwed on the lid. “Strange little buggers aren’t they?” he added holding the jar up to the sunlight. “Look at those weird little suckers they’ve got for mouths. I really don’t think they’re native to this area of England. I’ll phone you if I find anything.”
Mary waved as Andrew drove away while Roy went in search of a shovel to remove the foul slime from beside the bridge. Oddly though, the slime had vanished when he got back. There was still a faint odour of something rotten, but the water was clear – apart from the hundreds of little black wriggling bodies.
* * *
As the evening cooled, Roy took a basket and a ladder out to the two cherry trees to collect the ripening fruit. Mary had some washing on the clothes line that was now dry. As she passed the pond to take it into the house, she noticed two of Roy’s largest koi floating on the surface of the water. Dropping the washing on the kitchen table, she put on rubber boots and took the fishing net her husband used when he removed a dead fish.
The two koi floated near the centre of the pond. Mary waded in. The water was even deeper than she anticipated. Before she realized, the liquid poured into one of the boots. She felt tiny wriggling creatures squirming around her foot and ankle, then between her toes. She shuddered and tried to get back to the shallows at the side, but slipping in the mud on the bottom, she found herself sitting and up to her waist in the cold water. She felt tiny wriggling things on her legs. They found their way up under her skirt. She screamed when deep red swirls and eddies of water rose up around her.
Roy was carrying a filled basket of fruit into the kitchen when he heard Mary screaming. It only took a moment to realize the screams came from the garden. Then the telephone started ringing. Roy looked toward the phone, then at the door. Damn! The answer-phone would have to take care of the caller.
He ran outside to where Mary’s head was disappearing beneath the water that was now blood red. Without a thought, he leaped into the pond to help her.
“Dad! Dad! Are you there? Dad! Pick-up! Please!” The only sound in the earpiece was the hum of the answer machine. “Look, dad. I’m coming over. Whatever you do, don’t go near that pond. These creatures are nasty little flesh eaters from South America. The Amazon, I think. Whatever you do, don’t touch them. They’ll eat you alive!”
© 2012 – Robert A. Read