Continuing The Pond People. If you missed the beginning, click here to Meet the Mirlings
Each time it appeared, the jug faced the same direction, so after Flash freed Grandad’s foot they scrambled to the far end of the tank, safely behind it. From somewhere in the kitchen, Mother said, ‘You won’t get much more out with the jug. You could try the siphon.’
‘The tank’s light enough to carry now,’ said Father. ‘Where do you want it?’
‘Out in the garden where it won’t be in the way. Keisha’s mum said she’d try and pick it up before we go.’
A thin layer of water covered the gravel. It slopped around as Father carried the tank to the garden. He left it by the shed where the ground was uneven, so the water lay deeper to one side of the tank. He came back twice, to drop the vacuum tubing into the tank and to leave the plants with their roots in the deeper water.
‘We need to get out of here, lad, or we’ll find ourselves in some other house with no hope of ever getting home.’
Flash had been sizing up the tank’s smooth glass walls, wondering how he might scale them. ‘Or else we’ll be flushed out of the tank when they clean it up and down a drain.’ They both knew that was the most likely scenario.
It began to rain, gently at first, cooling the warm layer of water in the tank. Flash breathed in the cool water with its reviving oxygen. Grandad lay with his eyes unfocused above a blissful smile. The sky lit up, and an angry crash of thunder followed, grumbling into the distance as the rain fell in earnest. The sky lightened again, flashing twice. Thunder came sooner this time, crashing overhead as rain drove into the tank. Slowly the water level rose.
Flash and Grandad exchanged a glance. Flash pulled off two filaments of weed, offering one to Grandad, and they made themselves comfortable to wait.
When the rain stopped the tank was half full.
‘Is it likely to rain again before someone comes to collect this tank?’ Grandad wondered.
‘Is someone going to collect this tank before the family go on holiday?’ added Flash. ‘Or do we have until they come back?’
‘Good question.’ Grandad nodded, looking around. The clouds had cleared since the storm passed, but the sky had darkened. A full moon lit the garden. ‘We’s all right for food. Weed’ll stay fresh, and we can reach that plant on the driftwood now there’s water in here.’
‘If the rain got to the top we could throw ourselves over,’ said Flash.
Grandad screwed up his nose. ‘It seems a risky sort of strategy to rely on,’ he said. ‘It’ll take a lot of rain and we might not get any more? What else have you got?’
Both mirlings reflected silently until Grandad shared another question.
‘Assuming you gets your rain, what happens when we gets to the top?’
‘It’s a long drop,’ Flash had to admit. ‘We could walk that rim around the top and slide down the side that’s leaning back a bit.’
The tank wasn’t leaning very much; could Grandad manage such a steep slide?
The old mirling hadn’t been daunted by the suggestion. Flash saw he was nodding to himself, so he raised another possibility. ‘Do you think you could make it to the pond from here?’
‘Hmm, maybe,’ replied Grandad, ‘but don’t let me stop you trying.’ His sharp eyes held Flash’s. ‘You could’ve been back in the pond by now if you hadn’t wasted time trying to get me outa that net.’
Flash had never been embarrassed by praise before. He’d always soaked it up as his due.
‘Flo wouldn’t have forgiven me,’ he said. Then he added, ‘Molly would have had me kicked out of the pond.’
‘You’re fond of Flo, aren’t you?’
‘I’m fond of you all,’ said Flash. ‘You’re the nearest thing I’ve got to a family.’ An unexpected thought came to him. ‘I’ve known you longer than I knew my family. You had a family in the river, didn’t you? When I came to the pond it was freedom for me, but it must have been like captivity for you.’
‘Not like the tank,’ said Grandad. ‘But yes, it was hard. I was angry for a long time. But there’s no denying I’d be fish food before now if I’d stayed in the river.’
They sat in silence, thinking about that, before Grandad added, ‘I don’t think I’d have lived much longer in that tank either.’ More silence. ‘I wouldn’t have wanted to.’
Flash nodded. ‘We were completely dependent on the humans,’ he said. ‘Whether they fed us or cleaned the tank… whether they even remembered to look at us.’
‘The pond’s dependent on ’em too,’ said Grandad, ‘only not so much.’
Flash was wondering how far it was to the river when Grandad broke into his thoughts.
‘They can muck things up in the river too, lad. There were a load of fertiliser got tipped in one time. Upstream, it were. It got watered down by the time it reached us, but dead fish washed past for days after, and we was all ill. Some of the old mirfolk didn’t make it.’
‘I’d settle for the pond right now.’ Flash gazed through the glass, where freedom called from such a short, impossible distance.
He stood and pointed at a ball lying on the grass between the tank and the pond. ‘That ball… it’s the one the dog plays with, isn’t it? With a split in it?’
The ball had been retrieved from the pond many times when the children had thrown it and Mojo didn’t catch it. Flash was up against the glass now, trying to see more clearly. He turned to Grandad. ‘Do you think you could last long enough out of water to reach that ball?’
Grandad came to see what he was looking at. ‘I reckon I could. What have you got in mind?’
‘The split’s at the top right now, so there’ll be rain in it. Enough to take a breath before we started it rolling towards the pond.’
Grandad seemed doubtful. ‘Have you ever tried moving something like that from inside?’
‘No,’ admitted Flash, but his eyes shone in the moonlight.
Grandad nodded his approval.