The first meeting of the new year was on 8th February 2019. However we were given a homework topic to work on over the Christmas break. The theme was Toxic, because that was the word the Oxford English Dictionary chose for its Word of the Year. Beng a girly swot, I'd finished my story long before the end of 2018...
I was 13 years old that summer when we found the pond. It was the summer when David, the new kid, moved into the village. It was the summer when I learned that actions have consequences, and that no matter how hard you wish for it, you cant take back the things you said and did.
The school holidays were a week old when Christopher came round to see me. Someone Id never seen before was with him. "This is David," he said. "Hes new. His family only moved in to the village a month or so ago."
"Hello David," I said and David nodded shyly. I turned my attention to Christopher. "So what are we going to do?" I asked.
"David wants to go to the woods," said Christopher.
"Weve been there heaps of times," I protested. "Theres nothing to see. Just a few scrubby trees and bushes and a stagnant pond."
"It might have changed," said David. "The woods are just across from the bottom of our street and every night for the last couple of weeks Ive heard heavy lorries rumbling down the road. Theres nothing down there but the woods. I want to go and find out what theyve been doing."
I shrugged. "OK," I agreed, "but if we dont find anything worth looking at I want to go to the village green. There might be a game of cricket we can join."
"Righto," agreed Christopher, and David nodded, so we set off for the street where David lived, and we followed it all the way down into the woods.
The ground was churned up and muddy. There were tyre tracks everywhere. Clearly David hadnt been exaggerating, a lot of traffic had been coming and going through here. I began to get interested. What had been going on?
As we walked deeper into the woods I became aware of a curious chemical smell in the air. Normally the woods smelled of flowers and rotting leaves. Those smells were still there, but a cloying and quite nasty stench was lying over the top of them. When we finally reached the pond it was clear where the smell was coming from. The pond was a nasty blue-green colour, flecked with streaks of red. Corroded steel drums littered its edges and sullen currents sent thick wavelets surging across the oily surface of what had once been water. It smelled like Satans farts, and I breathed as shallowly as I could.
"So thats what the lorries were doing," said David. "Someones been dumping industrial waste here."
"Wow!" said Christopher, impressed by both the destruction and the stench. "Just look at that evil pond! I bet youd get a really awesome super power if you went swimming in there!"
Christopher read far too many comic books for his own good. He was particularly obsessed with origin stories the tales of how the super heroes first got their super powers. Every time he found a new origin story hed talk about nothing else for days.
"Do you really think so?" asked David.
"Of course," I said, playing along with Christophers obsession because suddenly it seemed like a good idea to persuade David to go for a swim in the pond. He was new and I didnt know him and so teasing him into doing something silly would be funny and fun. Maybe hed get a bit hurt, and he might end up crying. But so what? New kids deserved all they got. "Stands to reason," I said. "Something that hideous is bound to have really impressive side effects. Why dont you go for a swim and see what happens?"
David wasnt convinced. "How about you go and swim in it first?" he asked. "If you get a super power from it then Ill give it a go."
"That wont work," I said. "Christopher and I already have our super powers, and once youve got a super power you cant get another one. Everybody knows that."
Christopher gave me a peculiar look, but he played along with me. Thats why were such good friends its almost like each of us always knows just what the other one is thinking. Perhaps we really do have a super power after all! "Thats right," he said. "After I read about how Peter Parker became Spider Man I borrowed a geiger counter from school and we both went looking for a radioactive spider."
David looked interested. "Did you find one?" he asked.
"Yes," I said. "It was all furry, and when it bit me on the arm the bite tickled something terrible. My mum had to rub anti-histamine cream onto it to stop the itch."
"Wow!" said David, impressed. "So does that mean you can run up walls and shoot out silk and swing between buildings?"
"Not quite," said Christopher. "Super powers take a while to mature. Were still waiting. But I expect well be able to do all of that any day now."
"I dont think the spider was quite radioactive enough," I said, "and thats why its taking some time for everything to come together. But I dont think it will be long now. When I woke up this morning I definitely remembered hanging from the ceiling overnight."
"Are you sure that wasnt a dream?" asked David, still not quite convinced.
"Of course it wasnt," I said. "When I looked at the ceiling I could see heaps of webs." I didnt bother telling David that there were always cobwebs on my bedroom ceiling because my mum never dusted that high up.
"So," said Christopher, "are you going for a swim?"
"Wont the chemicals do terrible things to my clothes?" asked David. "My mum will kill me if my clothes get damaged." Then he was struck by a thought. "Maybe my clothes will get a super power as well," he said. "Having super clothes that would be really cool!"
"No, youll have to take your clothes off first," I said. "Clothes cant have super powers. Theyll just stop the pond chemicals from being absorbed into your body properly. You wont get any super powers if you go swimming with your clothes on."
"I cant take my clothes off," said David, horrified. "Youll look at my willy!"
"We wont look," said Christopher. "Promise!"
"Honest," I said, "we really wont look." But both Christopher and I knew that we were telling lies. Of course we would look. What use is a willy if nobody ever looks at it?
"No," protested David. "Im not doing it and thats final."
Christopher and I exchanged glances and he shrugged. Perhaps wed gone too far by suggesting that David take his clothes off before he went swimming in the pond. Oh well, it had been worth a try. Better luck next time.
I dont remember what we did for the rest of the day. Just the usual things that thirteen year old boys do when the long summer day stretches endlessly ahead of them
Christopher came round to see me the next morning and he looked a bit worried. "I went to get David," he said, "but his mum told me that when she called him for breakfast he didnt come down. When she went to check on him he wasnt in his bedroom. His mum said that he must have sneaked out early before everyone else got up, though she couldnt think why."
I looked at Christopher and Christopher looked at me and in that moment we both knew that David must have gone by himself to swim in the pond, so that he could get his super power while nobody was there to look at his willy. "Wed better go and check the pond," I said, and Christopher agreed.
The stench around the pond was even worse than it had been yesterday. Perhaps more chemicals had been dumped overnight. A neatly folded pile of clothes lay just above the waterline. Davids naked, unmoving and unresisting body floated face down in the pond, pushed hither and yon by unseen currents. I could see raw and bleeding places and brief white flashes of bone where the chemicals had eaten away his flesh. A sullen wave surged against Davids body and flipped him over onto his back.
"Well," said Christopher, "at least he wont have to worry about people looking at his willy. He hasnt got a willy to look at any more!" He turned very pale and looked as if he might be sick.
I remembered how hard I had encouraged David to go swimming, how I insisted that he really had to do it nude. I remembered all the lies that I had told him about the super powers Christopher and I were developing. Somehow it no longer seemed quite as funny as it had seemed yesterday.
I was thirteen years old that summer when we first discovered the pond. By the time the paramedics came to pull Davids body out of the water I was a hundred years old and thats how old Ive been ever since.