The Puddle Witch
Five forlorn faces stood on the fence looking down at their ball in the long grass. Barney’s stomach turned with guilt and fear, it was his clod-footed shot that caused this and he could already feel eyes turned on him to fix it.
‘I’m not going!’ he said without turning.
The expectation remained silently in place.
‘I’ll get a new ball tomorrow.’
‘What about the rest of today?’
‘Guys,’ Barney turned now. ‘Don’t make me.’
They all knew why he didn’t want to go in because they wouldn’t either. They couldn’t say it though, they were ten years old. They couldn’t believe in that stuff anymore. Except they did.
This was the Puddle Witch’s house.
The lawn was unmown, the bushes untrimmed, and the windows were broken. The outside of the old fence was ok to climb up, but the thorny bushes inside stopped anyone from going over. The only way in was through the front gates, but that was where the puddle was
The road dipped at the front and created a permanent puddle. Even in the summer, even after weeks of sunshine, it never went away. The story was that it was a trap, a bottomless pool put there by the witch inside the house. Nobody who went in, ever came out.
‘Get the ball, Barney.’
‘Get. The. Ball. Barney.’
He wanted to protest, but there was no point. The rules were clear, you kicked it, you fetched it. He’d have to leave the gang if he didn’t. He’d probably have to change schools. Barney climbed down from the fence.
The walk to where the puddle began was the longest of Barney’s life, which he now had to accept might be coming to its end. As he approached the gate, he had an idea. His heart leapt a little with hope. He didn’t need to stand in the puddle. The edge of the gate wasn’t quite in the water, if he could climb onto it and shuffle his way along he might just be able to swing it open and ride the iron rungs to the safety of the dry land inside.
Barney placed his right foot on the metal and grabbed the top of the gate with both hands. The other boys, still standing on the fence, saw what he was doing and held their breath as he jumped. It worked! Slowly, he edged his way along to the centre where he could undo the clasp and release the gate ready to swing. He was fully over the puddle now. His heart was beating so hard he could hear nothing else. Barney reached for the clasp but missed, a foot slid beneath him and all was lost. In what seemed like slow-motion, four boys watched their friend tumble backwards into the black waters of the witch’s puddle and, with a horrendous splash, he disappeared beneath.
There was a silence that seemed to last an hour.
Then, in a moment, everything changed. A soggy Barney sat up in the puddle and began shaking murky water from himself like a dog.
It took less than half a second for the dots to connect inside the boys’ heads and the laughter to begin. It took the rest of summer for it to end.