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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

Dirty Water
by Aaron James Shaw

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Squish squish squish.

Davie Barstok pulled the covers up to his nose. His eyes moved from side to side as he tried to look about the room. The stegosaurus night-light gave everything an orange tint, making his toys - the clown doll, the Furby, the Buzz Lightyear action figure - sinister with deep shadows.

Squish squish squish.

The sound was wet - the sound of Gollum eating fresh, wiggling fish; the footsteps of the creature from the Black Lagoon; or the sound of an axe murderer's bloody clothes as he crawls along the floor. His five year old bladder let go, and he could feel spreading warmth about his hips, down his legs, and on his backside.

He tried to call out mommy. But all that came was a whisper.

Squish squish squish.

Louder. Closer.

"Mommy..." If his mother had been in the room she would have heard. But she was not. She was downstairs, and if he wanted her to hear he would have to be louder than the music, and the laughter, and the drunken talk.

Squish squish squish.

It sounded urgent, almost eager, as if it had heard him. And this time he did scream.


Footsteps on the stairs, loud, quick, angry footsteps that made the house rattle. And then Lucy Barstok threw the bedroom door open. Her face was twisted.

Squish squish -

"You little twerp! I can't have any company with you around, can I?"

"Mommy, there's something under the bed. Something..." slimy he wanted to say, but didn't. "Listen."

Lucy Barstok crossed her meaty arms, and listened. Her broad shoulders blocked most of the light from the doorway.

The room was silent. And then a man's voice called up the stairs.

"Everything okay, Luce?"

"Fine," Lucy Barstok said, in a sickeningly cheerful voice. Then she turned to Davie with a face that was anything but cheerful. "One more word -"

"But, mom, it -"

"One more peep!" She put her forefinger to her throat and dragged it across like an imaginary knife, then closed the door.

Davie sat in silence for a moment, hoping that she'd scared it off - she was good at that, his mother.

Squish squish squish.

He pulled the sheet over his head and closed his eyes. He couldn't call her again. She was a fearful creature when she was angry; the poor man she was dating would find that out in time. Just as Larry Barstok had.

Dad, Davie thought.

Larry Barstok had been a timid man. And too gentle to fight back when Lucy Barstok had started her exercise regime - weight lifting, jogging, and kickboxing - finally he'd disappeared one night without a note. Gone to Las Vegas his mother had said.

Davie thought about running, slipping out from under the covers and going for the door. An image appeared in his mind: His leg leaving the bed, touching the floor, and then a green hand reaching out and wrapping its fingers around his ankle.

Squish squish... SQUISH.

"Who's there?" Davie whispered.

Silence for a moment and then a wet gurgling sound like a man spewing bile.

"MOMMY," he screamed. "MOMMY! MOMMY! MOMMY!"

He screamed until Lucy Barstok appeared at the door, red faced and shaking. He didn't stop until her closed fist crashed into the side of his head, and a fireworks show exploded in his vision.

"I warned you," she said. "I warned you, didn't I?" Another closed fist into his shoulder. "Didn't I warn you?" A fist into his chest, knocking the wind out of him. "Did I, or did I not, warn you?"

When his breath came back, Davie said: "Yes, but -"

"Three times, Davie. If I have to come up here a third time you'll wish you'd been born dead!"

"But, mom, please." Tears ran down his cheeks. "Please don't make me stay in here. Let me sleep with you."

Lucy Barstok's nostrils flared. "What's that smell? Don't tell me the baby wet himself again. You're a wimp just like your old man."

She gave him one last punch to his arm, and then turned to leave. She paused at the doorway.

"I'm telling you: Three times and you're out!"

The man called up the stairs again: "P'raps I should go, Lucy. You seem to have your hands full."

Lucy used the upbeat voice again. "Don't be silly, Darren. I'll be right down." She turned back to Davie. Three times, she mouthed, and closed the door.

Squish squish squish.

The tears continued for a while and then dried up. He was trapped between monsters. The question was: Which one was worst? A smell pervaded the room. It was damp and fruity, tinged with the odour of dead things; the smell of a swamp. It seemed to be getting stronger.

He imagined his father, Larry Barstok, telling him to be brave; telling him to hold on. That helped - his father was brave after all, he'd faced a monster for years before he'd given up.

Davie threw the covers back and got to his knees. He hesitated for a moment and then bent forward like a devout Muslim in afternoon prayer. He gripped the end of the mattress and lowered his head until he was looking at the space of darkness under the bed. He saw a hand.

Then he fell.

For a long time, he was dazed. He stared up at the ceiling and eventually his senses came back. The first thing he noticed was the smell, it was stronger now because he was lying in it. It was in his hair and soaked into his pyjamas. He lay in a great puddle of green-black swampy water. And it was spreading.

He scrambled to his feet and backed away from the bed.

There was definitely a hand there. A bloated, grey hand with peeling skin. It seemed to be the source of the puddle. It made a jerking movement.

Squish squish squish.

The hand came out more. Now Davie could see a thin forearm.

Squish squish squish.

Now the arm touched the frame of the bed. An elbow appeared and the arm bent with a loud creaking sound. Black finger nails dug into the floorboards and the arm was crawling, with a horrible scratching sound. More water spilled out of the floor and the puddle reached for the door. Finally a shoulder appeared and then the top of a shiny bald head.

Davie screamed.

Squish squish squish.

Another arm appeared. And now the thing was moving faster, the hard work was done. The other arm found purchase, and now the thing looked like a man hanging onto the edge of the building trying to pull himself up.

Davie screamed again.

The thing heaved, and it's bald head hit the iron bead frame with a wet splat. The bed jerked with the force. The water was pouring now. Davie lay in an inch of it. He could hear the downstairs door close. And Lucy Barstok's footsteps on the stairs.

"He's gone home because of you!" she bawled.

The thing's head came into full view. A hideous thing with one eye hanging loosely from it's socket. It's grey-green skin hung loosely from its bloated face. Its mouth opened and it bared its black teeth in a tattered smile.

It looked familiar.

The door flew open. Lucy Barstok was standing in a puddle of swamp water. "Three times..." she started, and then seemed to notice the water and the hands under the bed. Reaching out and dragging themselves forward.

Davie backed away as it came from under the bed. First the arms then the torso then the legs. Davie backed away and got to his feet until he hit the wall to the side of the door.

Lucy Barstok looked stunned. "It can't be you!" she spat. "I killed you!"

The thing which was once Larry Barstok got to its feet. It doubled over and coughed. A large jet of water came tumbling from its mouth, along with a fish that hit the floor with its tail slapping. He straightened up.

"No," Lucy said. "You're supposed to be at the bottom of the lake."

For a moment his voice was the sound of a drowning man. Then the word, "...revenge."

It came for her.

Detective Johnson had seen the body. The undeniable red marks on the throat meant strangulation. Nothing strange about that, he saw it all the time. But the smell, the water, the ragged claw marks on the floor, he didn't know what to think about those.

He went outside, to where the kid was sitting in the back of a black social services jeep. He opened the door and the kid looked up at him. He was holding a piece of paper in one hand and a pen in the other.

"How are you, David."

"I'm great," the boy said. And he sounded it too.

"I'm sorry about your mother."

"I'm not," the boy, said. He went back to his drawing.

Detective Johnson looked at the sheet of paper. The kid had drawn a misshapen green man, smiling. Underneath it was one word:


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