by Helena Pantsis
THE LAKE WAS full of pollutants. There were no signs to warn us, but the town knew of the neighbouring waste plant’s tendency to dump their garbage where the river flowed. It stunk of a hundred outhouses left to rot in the sun. Still, Mum let us swim there our whole lives.
We’d put on our bathers, pack up our thongs. We took our shoes off by the jagged rocks at the water’s edge. Maybe by then our skin had already started to green, it’s hard to say. Trudging across the wet slough, we bowed into the lake.
The billabong was deep, and Bim liked to dive in and see how far down he could go, see whether he could touch the bottom. We made it a competition, holding our breaths and goggling up to find what lurked below. Mum sat on the rocks and watched, shouting: don’t lose sight of each other.
Bim and I shot down into the brown goop of a lake, racing down to the bottom like a couple of sardines. It smelled of sulphur. We dodged around the smelt and the trout, finding our bearings at the bottom so we could catch sight of the thing that lived there.
It arrived, timely as ever, a creature comprised of a mutant stack of all the garbage that arrived there, melded together by time, bacteria, algae, and hot sand. It was large and sheltered in the shadow of the waters which swarmed it, only surviving with the unending pollution of the lake, consuming every piece of sewage which would come into its grasp, eating it with soft, steaming, open mouth. We would catch our glimpse of it, and shoot back up, fearful of what the thing might do if it ever caught us.
Reaching the surface my head bobbed on the water. But the splash alongside me didn’t come.
Where’s your brother? Mum shouted.
Our eyes grew wide and red as we looked through the murky surface of the lake. Mum shook with the fear of Bim’s drowning, me with the fear of what the lake might’ve done with him.
Mum stood quickly then, peeling off her clothes and diving in. I lingered, alone and waiting for her to return with Bim in hand. I grew aware of my stinging skin, a side effect of baptising one’s self in these lakes, and kicked my feet below me, pulling myself to the rock side where Mum had sat.
A shattering of the water’s surface wetted my already dripping legs, and Bim’s head rose, gasping for air. He was pale, and trembling.
Where’s Mum? I called, and he stared at me.
We both stared. Waiting. Knowing. Waiting.
Helena Pantsis (she/they) is a writer and artist from Naarm, Australia. A full-time student of creative writing, they have a fond appreciation for the gritty, the dark, and the experimental. Her works are published in Overland, Island, Going Down Swinging, and Meanjin. More can be found at hlnpnts.com.