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Car-in-Pond-009“Come on Spacker!”

“My name’s not Spacker,” Spacker frowned so deeply his brow blacked out half of his vision. He small fist clenched around the wholly inadequate pen-knife in his pocket and, not for the first time, he fantasised about stabbing his’ friends’.

His friends, Joe and Nick, didn’t have nicknames, they were just ‘Joe’ and ‘Nick’. Nobody called them ‘Spacker’ or tripped them up at school. Nobody put dead wasp’s nests in their locker or stole their lunch. The only reason they hung out with him, it seemed, was to have a regular target for their own meanness and sometimes that appeared to be a fair trade to keep the worse bullies away.

“What was that Spacker?” Joe was always tanned from family holidays and had that particular brand of viciousness only wealthier kids could have. Ragging on other’s threadbare school uniforms, rubbing their noses in Instagram pictures of beaches, hotels and bikini girls.

“My name isn’t f-fucking Spacker!” Spacker shouted, struggling to keep up. Joe and Nick harboured fantasies of playing for a professional football team and seemed to enjoy the sweaty, wheezing mess Spacker got into trying to keep up with them.

“Yes, it fuh-fuh-fuh-fucking is, you spaz.” Nick was a more conventional arsehole, though he’d grown out of Chinese burns, pink-bellies and dead-legs and preferred vandalism and spite these days. A slight improvement.

“I’m not a fucking spaz you fucking fuckers.” Spacker could feel his face getting red now, and he was having trouble breathing. He yanked out his inhaler and dropped it onto the scrubby grass. Dropping down on his hands and knees to get it, and taking a couple of big puffs. That was better, but now he really did look like a spazz.

The boys had finally reached The Hedge. It wasn’t an original name, but all the kids at their school who spent any time on the wrong side of the tracks knew where it was. In the old days, it had been legendary as a place to find rain-smeared copies of Asian Babes or to smoke a crafty dooby. Then it was a place for illegal raves. These days it was mostly relegated to being a fly-tipping site and the venue for kids with off-road bikes to do sick jumps and get tetanus.

The boys hung out there just to get away from their parents and the other kids. To build dens out of rusty junk, fire arrows at each other, start fires, vape and to pick on Spacker without anyone interfering. Today, they were the only ones there.

Joe put on his leather gloves and pushes the brambles and dog roses out of the way so Nick could clamber through. Unhelpfully he let them go, causing them to snap back into Spacker’s face, leaving him with cuts from the thorns and little ruby-red beads of blood slowly running down his face.

He didn’t cry.

Bitter experience, since his very first day at school, told him that wasn’t something that would help at all.

Instead, he pushed his way through, unpicking the thorns from his clothes and caught up to the others.

A train rattled past at the top of the cutting, distracting him for a moment so that he all but walked into Nick’s back. He drew himself short just in time and realised they were looking at something.

“What is it?” Spacker shifted around them for a better look.

There was a ‘pond’ of sorts here, as long as anyone could remember it had been. Google and Wikipedia had informed them it was a ‘dew pond’, and it certainly looked like one when they looked it up. It was a lot deeper than it was supposed to be, and local legend was that a body had been found in it, back in the day.

Though nobody knew for sure, though generations of people who went ‘up The Hedge’ swore up and down that it was true. The boys had never found anything much past a few old bones and a drowned kitten. That had given Spacker nightmares for weeks, and he still hated the pond, blaming it somehow for the poor, bedraggled thing, rather than whoever had done it.

Today though, there was something in the pond. Something big. Something visible. Something new.

A car.

“It’s a car you dopey fuck,” Joe sneered.

“It’s a Ford Mustang Boss,” Said Nick. Then, when Spacker and Joe stared at him, “What? I know things! I’ve got old Top Trumps’ about cars. It’s a Mustang, in Grabber Blue.”

“What’s it doing here?” Spacker regretted asking the moment the question left his lips.

“Someone nicked it, didn’t they?” Nick was the master of the obvious.

It, after all, wasn’t the first time a stolen car had ended up here. The rusting, skeletal, weed-riddled remains of a couple of them were still down here, even though – time to time – the police or the council would come by and tow them away.

Looking more carefully, Spacker could see now, that it was more obvious it had been stolen. The passenger side window was smashed, little square fragments of glass glittering in the mud. There were long scrapes and dents down the same side, and the front end of the car was half submerged in the murky, brackish water of the pond.

But the running lights were still on.

“It must have been ditched not long after dawn,” Joe broke the reverent awe and curiosity with which they were staring at it and stepped forward towards the swampy car for a better look. “Keys must still be in the ignition.”

“Fuck yes! Reckon we can drive it?” Nick jogged after him, leaving Spacker still hanging back.

The pond still made Spacker think of the kitten and, even when he tried to step closer, he could barely take a single step, the toe of his shoes dragging through the grass.

“Guys,” called Spacker. “I don’t think this is a good idea. What if the police…”

“Oh fuck the police, come on!” Joe beckoned and stepped into the mud, which slurped and farted around his foot as he peered in the window. “Keys are in!”

“We don’t know how to drive!” Spacker took another, faltering step. “We’re only thirteen! Come on, leave it, we can make a fire or something.”

“I think I can drive,” Nick hurried to catch up to Joe, looking in through the shattered window. “Fuck, it stinks. I think they tried to set a fire on the back seat and then someone’s taken a piss in here or something.

Joe yanked the door open. “Here, you can get. If it starts, we can probably reverse it out.”

Joe and Nick swapped sides, Joe in the passenger seat and Nick on the driver’s side, climbing in and looking suddenly small in the adult-sized seats. Joe leaned out the broken window and shouted. “Come the fuck on Spacker! You can sit in the back while we do doughnuts.”

Spacker took another couple of dragging steps, but looking at the shore of the pond, all flint and chalk, discoloured with weird, oily shades, all he could think of was the kitten, and the memory was bringing stinging tears to his eyes. “I don’t want to.”

“Get the fuck over here, or we’ll take turns kicking you in the balls,” Nick shouted, rolling down his window to lean back and holler.

The threat got Spacker a couple more steps before he came to a halt again, startled by the gurgly, half-hearted chunter of the engine as Nick turned the key.

Joe and Nick cheered as, after a second try, the engine roared properly into life, and exhaust stained the air, the first smoke black and foul somehow. The whole car trembled and vibrated, and Spacker found himself fascinated by the way the small flints on the shore around it quivered and bounced like dust on a speaker.

There was a deafening graunch and splutter as Nick fumbled with the gears, inexpertly grinding it into reverse and – perched on the front of the seat to reach – pushed his toe against the accelerator.

Spacker’s eyes dragged back to the car as, to his surprise as much as theirs, the vehicle lurched forward – not back – and plunged into the water with a huge splash. Its back end rose into the air and began to sink straight away, bubbles of foul air breaking the surface all around it.

Everything seemed to slow down. Spacker’s heart hammered in his chest, and a sensation like pinpricks flushed back and forth across his skin. For a moment he was stunned. For another long, unworthy moment – that felt like an eternity – he found himself coldly assessing whether he even wanted to do anything. The pond still terrified him, and his friends were nothing but slightly lesser bullies. If he let them die, nobody would ever know.

No.

His legs obeyed him, finally, and he ran towards the pond. In his heightened state, it was like one of those terror-dreams, where you want to run but can’t. He felt so slow. He also noticed, in a way he was sure he wouldn’t have before, that there were no tracks from the car leading up to the pond. He waded through the noxious mud and floundered deeper, into the sludgy green water. He held his breath as best as he could, and he dived.

Beneath the water, it was like another world. Bone white flint at the bottom and the shadowy, bottomless well at the centre of the pond now obvious. Strands of algae, a film at the surface, cutting out most of the sun, while strands and clumps of the same substance stuck to his face like slimy cobwebs. The car was still lit, easy enough to find, though through the algae it seemed ephemeral and indistinct and its lights seemed red, oddly, rather than green.

He swam, weakly, lungs already burning, close to the car and reached it. Joe was inside, in a panic, hammering at the window with his fists.

Wait. Hadn’t that window been broken?

In the dim glow of the overhead light, he could see them struggling, but nothing seemed to work, and the car was sinking lower and lower. He could barely hear their screams through the windows and the water but heard a single word with clarity.

“Door!”

Spacker grabbed the handle of the door and pulled. It gave, weirdly, under his hand like plasticine or icing and to his horror he was stuck. He yanked out his little pen knife and stabbed it against the window, but it didn’t even chip, let alone crack. The pressure on his ears was getting intense, and it was getting darker, he could barely see.

Spacker couldn’t breathe well at the best of times, and now in a panic, he was sure he was going to drown. In desperation, he levered at the door handle, but it wouldn’t give. Fuck Nick, fuck Joe, now it was about him. He loosened his grip on the handle as much as he could and jammed the knife under his fingertips, pulling as hard as he could.

Spacker burst out of the water, gasping for breath and dragged his way to the shore, crying and wheezing, clutching his bleeding fingers in his armpit. He fell onto the edge and pulled himself, one-handed, as far as he could onto the dry grass.

Bloody fingers fumbled for his inhaler, shaking out the brackish filth so he could inhale, forcing his breath under control and rolling, sobbing onto his back until the stars at the edges of his vision finally went away.

His phone was soaked, broken, useless. He couldn’t call for help. All he could do, until he found his nerve, was to sit, shuddering on the shore of the pond. Even as the water washed the shore and the car – empty now – reversed up onto the edge, squatting and malevolent as red entrails and matted, drowned hair washed up at the fringes of the pond.

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