Continuing The Pond People. If you missed the beginning, click here to Meet the Mirlings
Eddy and Flo.
‘I’m river mir, born and bred,’ said Grandad. ‘Had a wife and son when I were caught with some sticklebacks by the children who lived in the house then. I recall their Pa weren’t best pleased when they emptied their bucket into the pond.’
‘Are there others here from the river?’ Flash asked.
‘We were all born here,’ said Molly. ‘Our great-grandparents came with the fish that stocked the pond.’
‘Were your family in the pet shop t-too?’ Flo ventured.
He shook his head. ‘Just me.’
He’d been out swimming with the fish when men came to trawl their pond and he was caught up with the shoal. He’d had to look out for himself ever since. With nowhere for a vivid orange mirling to hide in the featureless pet shop tanks, he’d learned to swim hidden behind the fish and keep his dark side towards the outside world.
He had their full attention. ‘If staff spotted a mirling, they’d think it was a bug or a parasite and empty the tank to disinfect it. Any mir too slow to cling to a fish would be left in the tank.’
Flo’s eyes widened. ‘W-what happened to them?’
‘I never saw one again to ask.’
He relaxed against a water-iris. ‘When the tank was emptied they’d be flushed down a drain to be eaten by a rat or poisoned by sewage. Otherwise, they could cling to the empty tank and dehydrate.’
Dehydration was a slow death. The pond mirlings’ horror infused the water around them. It soothed his soul, weakening the nightmare.
A projectile plunged from above, knocking Flo into Grandad, who staggered.
‘Eddy!’ shouted Molly and Flo in unison. Eddy grinned.
‘Sorry,’ said Flo. ‘He thinks he’s funny. Are you alright, Grandad?’
‘Don’t worry, lass. Takes more than a shove to upset an old river-rat.’
And before he could continue his pet shop story, Molly said, ‘Tell Flash about your river, Grandad.’
The old mir’s eyes misted. ‘Ah, the river…. It went on forever. The water were always fresh, and the plants was thick for hiding in. They grew on the bottom too.’ All eyes went to the pond’s barren black liner.
‘Mind you, there were plenty to hide from. We was food to the bigger fish.’
Eddy frowned. ‘But the pond fish don’t eat us.’
‘That’s because they kn-now us,’ said Flo.
‘Summat like that,’ agreed Grandad. ‘Goldfish in’t wild like river fish. They’s domesticated, like dogs and cats. And they gets fed reg’lar.’
‘But they still eat the small fry,’ said Eddy, ‘and that’s their own family.’
This was news to Flash. In his home pond, new-laid spawn had been removed, and hatchlings were away from the adult fish.
He kept quiet and listened.
‘I don’t think fish realise the fry are their own hatchlings.’ Grandad watched a goldfish swim past. ‘Fish in’t very clever. If it moves, they catch it – no time to decide if it’s baby or bug.’
‘Maybe mirlings don’t taste good,’ said Molly.
‘They won’t know that till they’ve tried us,’ said Grandad. ‘The river fish never minded our taste. No more did the ducks, or the heron watching from the shallows. Nor the land creatures that swam after us. At least the cat don’t do that. Cats don’t like water.’
Flash hadn’t known that either. He wondered what else the old guy knew that might come in useful.
These pond mirlings were soft but he couldn’t afford to look stupid. Here it might be safe to display his striking colours, but he would be wise to keep his darker side hidden.