Continuing The Pond People. If you missed the beginning, click here to Meet the Mirlings
Walt broke down then in silent tears, and Sylva hurried to comfort him. They drifted away to the side of the tank. Fish gathered, attracted by their trail of salt tears.
The fish reminded Flash there wasn’t much time. ‘We need to stay close to the fish. Look at the table, Molly.’
Father had been busy. Plastic bags lay in wait on the kitchen table next to a pudding basin and the small fishing net. The lid of the tank lifted, and a bag descended, held open at the top. As water poured into it, the wash swept two fantails into the bag, along with Walt and Sylva.
Father’s voice came from above. ‘That’s two we won’t need to chase around the tank.’ He stood the bag in the bowl on the table.’
Mother said, ‘It’ll be easier to catch the others with the plants gone.’
Mother pulled the first plant from the tank. Flash saw Molly tense. ‘We came in on the weed!’
‘They m-might not put it back in the pond.’ Flo wiped her eyes with the wrist that wasn’t across Eddy’s shoulders.
‘She’s right.’ Grandad struggled to his feet. ‘The plants are small for the pond. If the family give the tank away, they might give them the plants too.’
Molly shook herself like Mojo shaking off water. ‘Then we need to be ready when the net comes.’ Her eyes focused. ‘Flash, if you swim up with Grandad, I’ll help Flo with Eddy.’
Taking charge again.
Mother removed the bridge and the large stones. Stones might be returned to the waterfall… But how long would they be out of water ?
Mother stood by the kitchen table. ‘Ready for more fish,’ and the net was above them.
The fantails were easy to catch. Father netted three and pulled them out before the mirlings were high enough. Grandad and Eddy were too weak to cling to the net, so they would have to drop into it from above.
They all waited at the surface, against the glass walls, but this time the net came down with its mouth facing away from them. The last of the fantails left the tank with some minnows while Flash and Molly were still towing Grandad and Eddy around the net.
‘What now? Which side?’ Molly’s panic didn’t give Flash the satisfaction he would have expected.
Goldie, the fairground fish circled the tank. Flash shared his thinking with the others.
‘This fairground fish is faster than the fantails so, whether he chases her around the tank or tries to trap her, he’ll have to move the net. Stay where you are and watch.’ Flo looked as if she couldn’t move much further anyway. ‘As soon as you see the net coming your way, be ready to drop into it.’ He linked arms with Grandad and pulled him further along, so they wouldn’t all get in each other’s way.
Goldie flicked her tail angrily as the net hovered overhead. It plunged and Molly’s group dived after it, to be caught up when it rose quickly before Goldie could escape.
Flash considered grabbing the outside of the net, but if Grandad couldn’t hold on, he’d only be able to only grip one of his arms. He was afraid the frail old bones might break if they had to support Grandad’s weight out of water, swinging through the air.
Three minnows were still to be netted.
Minnows prefer to swim together; they would probably be caught together. This could be Flash’s last chance to escape the tank.
Mother’s voice was louder with the tank lid off. ‘If we take out more water, they’ll have less space to avoid the net.’
The jug was back.
‘Dive, Grandad! Don’t get washed into the jug. They won’t empty it into the pond.’
He grabbed Grandad and hurtled to the gravel where they waited with the minnows, skulking in a corner while the water’s surface came closer.
‘Don’t worry … about me, lad … you go for it. … I can look out … for myself.’
Grandad had hardly been able to pull himself upright this morning but, although gasping, he was regaining his colour. ‘I’ve been in … tight spots … before.’
It was tempting to accept Grandad’s suggestion. Individually their chances of catching the net might be better.
His certainly would.
The net was back, dragging across the gravel to drive the minnows into a corner. Flash grabbed Grandad’s hand as it reached them and rolled into it, pulling the old boy with him. The net closed in on the minnows, picking up gravel from the bottom which covered the mirlings as the net lifted.
Out of water the gravel was heavier. Flash fought himself free as the net paused over the bowl lined with the water-filled bag. Beneath the fish jostling inside, Flash saw glimpses of the mirlings on the bottom and Flo looking up at the net.
Grandad was still buried in gravel.
Father shook the minnows into the bowl. Some gravel fell with them. Flash hung onto the net.
There was Grandad, struggling to free his foot tangled in the netting.
‘Don’t empty all that gravel in there,’ said Mother. ‘It’ll weigh down the bag in the pond. Leave it in the tank with the net.’
Grandad waved him away. ‘Go, lad. Jump!’
Flash began to clamber up the net towards Grandad.
Back in the bottom of the tank, it was easy to release Grandad’s foot, now there was no reason to hurry.