Continuing The Pond People. If you missed the beginning, click here to Meet the Mirlings
‘I’m worried about Grandad. He’s a funny colour and his breathing’s sort of… gurgly. Amber’s gasping and Walt won’t leave her.’ She pushed back wisps of hair from her troubled eyes. ‘Eddy’s trying to be tough, but he isn’t looking good either. I don’t know how long he’ll hold out if the water gets worse.’
Flo didn’t mention how she felt herself, but her usual pearly sheen had a grey tinge, and her gills were an unpleasant shade of pink. Sylva joined them with some weed she had collected.
‘I don’t suppose any of us feel like eating, but this is in case anyone gets hungry. Not as tempting as Walter’s triffic leaf patties.’ Sylva preened as if she’d taught him herself.
Flo hadn’t come to exchange pleasantries. ‘The children are busy with their new clothes and their Christmas toys. Mother is busy running around after them. Somehow we have to make them look at the tank.’
Molly greeted them. ‘Flo’s right. We have to make the humans look twice and notice something’s wrong. Any ideas?’
‘Other than dancing a jig at the front of the tank you mean?’ said Flash.
‘I don’t think they’d notice,’ Eddy looked drained.
Flash sounded angry. ‘We can show them a pile of dead fish if it goes on much longer.’ It was rare for him to display emotion.
‘Not if we’re dead M-mirlings we can’t.’ Flo echoed his anger.
Eddy put his arm around to comfort his sister, but in the next breath he was leaning on her. Flo looked from Flash to Molly. ‘We could build a pile of something though. Couldn’t we?’
Flo’s thinking was muzzy, but Molly picked up an idea. Sylva could help, and Flash, of course. She wasn’t sure about Eddy.
‘Sylva, go and get Walt; we need his help. Tell him it’s to save Amber.’
‘Help to do what?’
‘We’re going to build a mountain. At least, it’s got to be a pile big enough for one of the family to notice it. It’s got to grab their attention.’
Molly explained what she had in mind. When Sylva came back with Walt, she and Flash set off to collect leaves and stems while Walter and Flo went in the other direction. Molly raised a bump of gravel to start off their mound. When the others returned, she went with Walt to gather more.
Dragging the branches and leaves to the front of the tank took all their depleted energy. It was disheartening, on their return, to see how little their efforts had achieved. The stack was hardly noticeable to mirling eyes, yet Mother must see it with human eyes when she came to feed the fish in the morning.
‘It won’t be high enough,’ said Walter. ‘Not in time.’
Molly and Flash added their branches to the pile, and she stood back to think again. Flo had moved to the clump of weed in the corner, and was gazing out to the kitchen, her hands clasped tightly in front of her.
‘Are you all right Flo?’
Flo shook her head as if to clear it. ‘A silly idea. I thought I might be able to make Andre hear me, or at least sense something. I hoped if I c-concentrated really hard…’ Her eyes were red. ‘I’d better go check on Grandad.’
Flash considered their mound, which had already settled flatter. ‘We’ll have to make it a carpet instead, or a platform.’
A bier, thought Molly. ‘Eddy, you see those three minnows skulking at the back, behind the stones?’ Eddy nodded. ‘Do you think you’d be able to persuade them around to the front of the tank to rest on our leaves?’
Eddy’s smile curved at the prospect of being able to help. ‘I can give it a go.’
Would it be enough to make a human look twice?
Slowly the mat of leaves and filaments spread, although it was still pitifully small. A minnow drifted out from behind a stone with Eddy lying along its back, leaning to encourage it in the direction he wanted it to go. He slid off when its slender length was positioned over the leaves. Its tail overhung the green covering. Molly stretched her aching back, hands on her hips, as Flash and Sylva arrived hauling a large flat leaf.
‘That’s brilliant! Put it in front of the minnow, so it’s obvious. Eddy, the next fish will have to rest half on the gravel, or the fish will hide the leaves.’ She eyed the swaying mirling. ‘Will you be able to manage another one?’
Flo would never talk to me again, thought Molly, if she were here. Flo had thought it safe to stay with Grandad since Eddy was too weak to do more than watch and advise.
The third minnow followed the second as Eddy persuaded it out to the front of the tank. A patch of green now surrounded the first minnow. Andre passed the tank, and the mirlings froze. He glanced in.
Molly would never know if it was their greenery or the ailing minnows that caught his attention, or else the fantail above them, who was having difficulty swimming upright. Andre’s brows drew together as if trying to remember what was different the last time he looked in.
‘Dad, the p-pump isn’t working. There aren’t any b-bubbles in the aquarium.’
While he flicked the switch on and off at the wall, Molly took the opportunity to hustle the mirlings into cover. Father came and flicked the switch before pulling a white block away from the wall. He went away and returned with a long metal tool to poke the block.
‘The fuse has blown,’ he said. ‘Probably when the power came back after the power cut.’
‘Look at all the leaves under that minnow,’ said Andre. ‘Like a b-bed. Do you think the fish dragged them there?’
His mother had appeared in a long white fluffy robe and was peering into the tank, ‘I wouldn’t know, son,’ she said, ‘but they’ll need clearing out before they rot there. Those fish don’t look too healthy either. If the pump’s been off all that time you should change some of their water.’ She straightened up and added, ‘I’ve just run my bath, so I’d better not leave it to get cold.’ She left the kitchen, humming cheerfully.
Father grunted. ‘Andre, can you get that plastic vacuum tube from the shed please – oh, and half fill the black bucket with water from the pond. Bring it in to warm up before it goes in the aquarium. I’ll show you how to clean the gravel.’
‘B-b-but Dad, I’m missing the film. I only came out to get a drink while the b-break was on.’ His father’s disapproving frown prompted a rebellion. ‘I wish I’d kept quiet about the rotten old fish!’
His father grunted again and went to find the bucket.