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When it gets hot; sticky, Mississippi delta hot; it always takes me back to that summer; the summer I turned twelve, and Clayton Sproul.
“Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out into the midday sun” or really bored twelve-year-old boys. In the shade of the maple trees that lined Spring Street, my best friend, Ed Compton and I were playing “homerun derby” using my whiffle ball bat and a ratty, old tennis ball Ed had brought. I’d just sent the ball sailing to the other end of the block for the third time and Eddie refused to get it. “Too hot,” he said and plopped down on the curb.
“Bullshit!” I protested. “I fetched for you. I’m, sure as hell, not getting it.”
“Leave it; full of dog slobber anyway; had to wrestle it from Bandit.”
Some dweeb, on a baby-blue Schwinn, dashed after the ball and came back with it. “Can I play?”
“Steady fielder,” hissed Ed.
“Meaning… I don’t get to bat?”
“You’re a genius,” said Ed, dismissively.
The dweeb started pedaling away.
“Hey, kid! My ball?”
“You didn’t want it. It’s my ball now. Finders keepers…”
Ed stood up. “Give…, or I’ll give you a fat lip.”
The kid got off his bike and tip-toed to get in Ed’s face. “Try it,” he spat.
I started roaring with laughter.
“Ballsy little prick,” tittered Ed and waved off the advance. The kid gave a smug nod and with that, our friendship began.
He name was Clayton Sproul; a year older; small and pale; an only child from Cherry Hill, New Jersey; banished to northeastern Pennsylvania to spend the summer with his aunt while his parents “worked out” some problems.
Over the next two weeks, our bond and the temperature, grew. Too hot to move, we spent most of our time flopped down somewhere in the shade swapping lies.
It was Ed who came up with the idea. “I’m bored outta my gourd. Let’s hit the Cubbies, tomorrow, early, before the sun comes up. We’ll catch some fish, then swim.”
“The Cubbies?” asked Clayton.
“Two swamps; peat bogs really; up on a mountain ‘bout eight miles away,” I explained. “First Cubby is crystal clear; good for swimming but not for fishing. Second Cubby is as black as coffee, but great for bullhead and perch.”
“We’ll fish Second Cubby first, then, when it gets too hot, we’ll mosey on down to First. If no chicks are around, we can skinny dip.”
“Smashing idea old chap,” said Clayton in a dead on British accent. We cracked up.
The following morning, we got up and pedaled our butts off. Drenched in sweat, we baited up and cast out into the black water. Four hours in, the only thing biting were the bugs. Midday, some high school kids showed up with beer and weed and started splashing around.
“We ain’t gonna catch shit now,” complained Ed.
Clayton peered into the murky water and asked, “How deep is it?”
“Deep…” I said.
Clayton climbed up onto a large rock, beat his skinny, white chest, did a half-descent Tarzan call and jumped in. Ed went next and then me. We jumped off that rock for hours.
I don’t know why we weren’t paying attention; can’t remember… but when one of the potheads said, “Man, that kid can really hold his breath a long time,” I looked around, and my heart sank.
We dove in a hundred times looking for him. The fire department sent divers in for a week. They said the lake was bottomless; nothing but mushy peat, who knows how thick, and he must have sunk in it.
Decades have gone by. The mountain is now a ski and golf resort, the second Cubby a water hazard where Clayton rests on the bottom; preserved in tannic peat; forever thirteen; pale and skinny.
Sometimes, I stop and watch the golfers. Occasionally, a ball will plunk into the black water but I’ve never seen anyone brave enough to reach in and fish it out. If they did, I wonder, would Clayton pop up and snatch it back? “You didn’t want it. It’s my ball now. Finders keepers…”
There are some who say, at just the right moment, you can steal another’s soul…
About the Author:T.C. Tereschak is a horror fiction writer and lover of history, mystery and macabre.