2nd Place – August 2019

Snakes in the Water

By Robert Taylor

Jeff walks over to where Carl and Steven are standing at the top of a high bank, staring down into the creek below. “What you guys up to?”
Carl, his unruly red hair blowing in the wind, turns at the sound of Jeff’s voice, a look of disbelief on his face. “What’s she doing here?” he glares at Sandy, standing a few feet behind her brother.
“Mom made me let her come, nothing I could do about it.”
Steven, the shortest of the three boys, wearing a baseball cap and dark-rimmed glasses, continues to peer down into the murky water. “There must be fifteen golf balls down there. They should bring at least three dollars.”
“I don’t see any balls,” Sandy says, “just reflections.”
“You have to stare at the water for a while, ‘til your eyes adjust.”
Walking up beside her brother, Sandy continues to peer over the bank. “I bet I see them before you do.”
Carl shrugs. “This day’s gonna be a drag, having a girl tagging along. How old is she, anyway, five?”
“She’s ten, but let’s forget her,” Jeff replies, “let’s decide who’s gonna go down there and get the balls.”
“Well I’m not gonna,” Steven states matter-of-factly. “The bank’s too steep, and there’s not enough footholds. And besides, there’s snakes in the water.”
“No there isn’t. Snakes are in rivers and lakes, not creeks.”
“I don’t know where you heard that,” Carl replies, “but it’s crap.”
The boys stare at each other, waiting for a volunteer to climb down the cliff.
“Let’s forget those balls,” Steven finally says. “We can find some in the field beside the fifth fairway.”
“Carl stares down into the water with a frown on his face. “This sucks, leaving all those balls down there.”
“I see them! I see them!” Sandy yells excitedly. “My eyes have adjusted!”
The boys turn to go, but Sandy’s voice stops them in their tracks. “Ya’ll are fraidy cats. I’ll climb down there and get the balls.”
Jeff  studies the other boys faces, observing their reactions, then turns to face his sister. “You can’t make it down there, Twerp. You’ll fall and break your neck or something. And besides, you’re wearing a dress. Your legs will get all scratched up.”
“I’m going anyways. I’ll show you guys I’m not scared.” The boys look on in amazement as Sandy deftly makes her way down the embankment, and stands on the narrow strip of land beside the water. “How deep is this? I can’t swim.”
“It’s not deep,” Steven yells from the top of the cliff, “it won’t be up past your waist.”
“I’m going in, then.”  Sandy carefully steps off the bank into the creek, the murky, green water reaching halfway between her knees and her waist. Her dress floats on top, and she pushes it down with both hands. “I can’t see the balls from down here, just reflections.”
“We can see them from up here,” Steven replies. “We’ll guide you to them.”
Jeff watches his sister with a knot forming in his stomach. “Mom’s gonna be so mad. Sandy’s ruining her new yellow dress.”
Steven ignores Jeff’s remark. “You have to go out to the middle. That’s where the balls are.”
“What if there’s a drop-off? I could drown!”
“There’s no drop-offs, we can see the bottom. Just walk out to the middle and I’ll guide you to the balls.”
Sandy walks slowly into the water until it’s up just past her waist. “I can feel a ball with my foot!”
“Well, don’t just stand there, bend over and pick it up,” Carl says.
“I don’t think so, my face would go under.”
“Pick them up with your toes. That’s how I do it.”
Jeff is totally mesmerized, standing beside his friends while his sister attempts this feat. “I can’t, my toes aren’t big enough. I think I can bend and get it. I’ll hold my nose, just in case.”
The boys watch as she bends at the waist, the water coming up to less than an inch from her chin. After a few seconds she raises up, smiling triumphantly, holding the ball high for them to see.
Guided by the boys from above, Sandy continues retrieving the balls, dropping them in the over-sized pockets of her dress. Suddenly, she peers up at them with a look of sheer panic on her face. “I see a snake!”
“Come on out of there!” Jeff yells. “Hurry!”
“She still has three balls to get,” Steven says. “And besides, snakes can’t bite you in the water. They would drown when they opened their mouths.”
Sandy is torn between her fear of snakes and her desire to make her brother and his friends proud of her. “I’ll get the rest of them, don’t worry,”
***
The task completed at last, Sandy stands at the base of the cliff, staring upward. “Climbing down was easy,” she says, “climbing back up won’t be.”
“There’s no other way up,” Steven explains, “unless you wade to the other side and walk a mile to the highway.”
“No way I’m getting back in the water. I’ll make it up there.”
Jeff watches apprehensively as she begins her ascent, her body pressed against the dirt wall of the cliff as she carefully inches her way to the top. Finally, she stands facing the three boys, her face beaming with pride. She is a total mess, her yellow dress covered with mud, and torn in several places from scaling the rugged cliff. “I did it,” she proudly states, “I got all fifteen balls!”
“What are those things on her legs?” Steven asks
“Oh crap,” Carl replies, “leeches!”
The look of exuberance on Sandy’s face quickly fades at the site of the numerous  black, slimy creatures attached to her legs. Her chin starts to tremble as a salty tear escapes from her eye and cascades down her grimy cheek. “What are leeches?” She asks, her voice a high-pitched wail.
“They suck all your blood out,” Carl replies.
Jeff shoots his friend a fiery look of reprimand. “You’re  full of crap. They don’t suck all your blood out, they just suck some of it. All you have to do is pull them off.”
“I can’t touch them!” Sandy screams. “You’ll have to do it!”
Sitting his sister down on the grass, Jeff methodically removes the leeches from her legs. “There now, they’re all off. You’ll be fine,” he assures her.
“No they’re not! there’s one up high on my leg, under my dress! I feel it!”
Jeff looks over at his friends. “You’re gonna have to pull that one off yourself, Sandy. I’m not reaching up there.”
“I’ll get it off for her,” Steven volunteers.
“I’ll try to pull it off myself, but you guys have to turn around and not look.”
Turning their backs to Sandy, they wait while she attempts the task of extracting  the parasite from her thigh.
“I wonder how high up on her leg it is.”
“Just shut up. Carl,” Jeff warns, “or I’ll sock you right in your face.”
“I got it,” Sandy finally says. “I don’t see anymore, either.”
Taking his sister by the hand, Jeff helps her to her feet. “I feel weak,” she tells him, “those things must have sucked a lot of blood out of me.”
Steven stares at the bulging pockets of Sandy’s mud-spattered dress. “We need to sell the balls and divide up the money.”
“Not now we’re not,” Jeff explains. “I’m taking her home so she can get cleaned up, and put some medicine on her legs. I’ll bring the balls back tomorrow. We can sell them then.” Taking his sister’s hand, he turns and starts up the path.
“Hey, Jeff,” Carl yells after him, “if Sandy wants to come with you tomorrow it’s cool with us. She’s super.”
Over halfway to their house, Jeff still has hold of his sister’s hand, which feels so frail and small in his.
“Is it true snakes can’t bite you in the water?” Sandy asks.
“I don’t know. But since Steven said it, it’s probably a lie.”
“If you don’t want me to go with you tomorrow, I won’t.”
“I doubt either of us will be going anywhere tomorrow,” he replies, peering down into her grimy face. “We’re most likely gonna be grounded for life when Mom sees what’s left of your dress.”
After walking in silence for several minutes, Jeff once again addresses his sister. “Sandy, no matter how much trouble we’re in, I’m very proud of you. You’re a real trooper.”
“I’ve never been called a trooper,” she replies, her face beaming with pride, “and I’ve never been told I’m super. Hey, that rhymes. I made a poem! My brother  never told me he was proud of me, either.” She peers admiringly up into Jeff’s face. “This is the best day of the summer so far.”

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