The grass around the pond was overgrown, having long been neglected. A sign, old and weather rotted, warned DANGER, NO TRESPASSING. Though the letters were worn and hard to read, Trevor knew what they meant. He knew it meant he should stay away. He hovered between the sign and the pond, debating.
“Travis, get back here!” His mother came and took him by the hand, pulling him back to where their car was sitting by the side of the road. His dad had his head stuck under the hood, trying to figure out why it had stopped running.
After making sure Travis was sitting back under the tree, where she’d told him to wait, his mother returned to the car. Travis could hear the tension in her voice when she spoke. “Michael, just call a tow truck.”
“I can fix it, Amanda, just give me time.”
“It’s hot out here and Travis keeps trying to take off for that pond over there.”
Michael looked up towards the pond and shaded his eyes. “So let him go. He knows how to swim.”
“The sign says danger.”
He shrugged. “Probably just a warning, to protect the owner, just in case someone goes in and drowns.”
“DROWNS! And you would let our son go in by himself?”
“You could take him if you want. Then he wouldn’t be by himself.”
“Very funny, Michael. I can’t swim and you know it.”
“But Travis can and he’s very good at it. For Pete’s sake, Amanda, the boy is 11 years old and you don’t let him do anything. He’s going to be a pansy when he grows up.”
“At least he’ll be alive and not dead on the bottom of some pond.” She stuck her head under the hood next to her husband’s and took a look at the engine. “Have you checked the oil?”
While his parents were distracted, Travis found himself moving once more towards the pond. He could hear someone singing there. When he reached the sign, he looked back. His mom hadn’t noticed yet that he had left the tree. He hesitated only a moment. A few steps past the sign, he was knee high in grass and cattails. There was definitely someone down by the water. He could hear her singing and caught a flash of something bright on the water.
“Hello?” He called.
“I’m over here.”
The voice was musical. He followed it and found himself by a beach. There was a woman sitting on the beach. Then when he neared, he saw that she had a tail. A FISHES TALE!
“You’re a mermaid.”
“I am. And you are a human boy. I haven’t seen one of you for a long time.”
“No one comes swimming here anymore.”
“Because of the sign?”
Travis looked confused. “Why don’t they want people to come here?”
“Because they think I am dangerous.”
There was a glint in her eye, when she said dangerous, that made Travis nervous. Still, she was a mermaid. How dangerous could she be? “Well that’s silly.”
“Would you like to sit next to me and I’ll tell you a story?”
“Sure!” Travis started to head for the beach but then stopped. He heard someone calling his name. His mother had noticed he’d left the tree. He turned to look towards the road, but he couldn’t see her because of the tall grass. “I’m sorry,” he said turning back towards the mermaid. “My mom is calling me. I have to go, or she’ll really be mad.”
“NO!” The mermaids eyes flashed red and her face changed. Just for a moment she looked like an old hag, and not the beautiful woman he first met. Travis backed away. Her face changed back and she smiled. “I mean, come sit with me for just a moment. A moment won’t hurt… I’ve been alone for a long time.”
“TRAVIS!” His mother’s voice was getting closer.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t.” He turned to leave. Behind him he heard a growl. Travis turned around. The mermaid… hag… creature, whatever she was, was coming for him, using her arms to pull herself across the sand. He turned to run and tripped over a log. Crawling backwards, he tried to get to his feet, but she was coming fast. Then she had hold of his leg and was pulling him back, towards the water.
“I haven’t eaten for a very long time, and I am not going to be denied,” the pond witch growled.
“Have you found him?” Michael Yost looked concerned when his wife returned without Travis. Next to him was the tow truck driver.
“No. I can’t find him anywhere. You don’t suppose he went into the pond?”
The tow truck driver looked up, alarmed. “The pond? That’s off limits. It’s dangerous.”
“Travis is a strong swimmer,” Michael said.
“Doesn’t matter how strong he is, there’s something evil in that pond.”
“Evil?” Amanda looked worried.
“Some say it’s a witch… disguises herself as a mermaid.” He put up his hand to ward off their skepticism. “I know what you’re thinking. Mermaids, witches… maybe it’s nothing like that. All I know is a few years ago, half the towns children disappeared. Finally someone thought to dredge the pond. They were all found then. Or what was left of them. They’d been chewed on pretty bad.”
“They were eaten?” Michael asked? “Fish maybe?”
“Twasn’t no fish. It was human teeth marks…”