The Tracy Island Writers Forum held a recent challenge to write a story in which the plot involved one of the Tracy brothers being kissed. This is my entry.
My thanks as usual to Purupuss for proofreading, Gerry Anderson and his team for creating the original characters and Granada Ventures, as the current copyright holders, for not suing me for using them.
"OK, guys, we'll camp here for tonight."
In response to Scott's words, Alan slipped his rucksack from his shoulders and dropped it to the ground, sinking to the floor beside it with a sigh of relief. He closed his eyes and rested his weary head on his knees.
There was a thud and Gordon's voice came from beside him. "Thank Pete for that. I was beginning to wonder if we were walking all the way back to Kansas!"
Alan turned to look at his brother. "Why are you complaining? You're supposed to be the athlete of the family!"
Gordon shook his head as he reached forwards to rub his aching calf muscles. "Doing lengths in the school swimming pool is one thing. Walking through rough country with a pack on your back uses an entirely different set of muscles. Do you think someone should tell Scott this is supposed to be a vacation, not a route march?"
Alan looked round to see if their older brother was within earshot. "I think he's trying to make some sort of point this year as we haven't got Dad around to slow him down." The Tracy family had been taking annual camping trips with their father for many years. The date for this year's trip had already been arranged when a crisis had come up at one of Tracy Industries' factories, needing Jeff to attend. Now that Scott was at university and the youngest boys in their mid-teens, he had no qualms about letting them go off on their own, so Scott had flown his brothers to southern Missouri to spend a week trekking through the wild countryside of the Ozarks.
Alan raised his head, only now taking in his surroundings. They had been walking for most of the afternoon through dense woodland, and had come to a halt in a clearing that lay on the edge of a small pool.
"What are you two doing sitting around?" Alan looked up to see Scott standing over him. "John and Virgil have gone to collect firewood. I need you to draw some water from the pool, while I prepare the campfire and sort out the food."
Gordon gave a mock salute as he scrambled to his feet, taking the water container from Scott and holding out his other hand to pull Alan to his feet.
As they moved towards the edge of the pool Alan muttered, "He's not even in the Air Force yet. What's he going to be like once he starts getting paid to order people about?"
Gordon gave a laugh and slapped his brother on the back. "You've got it the wrong way round, kiddo. We're his training for the Air Force. Scott's going to be ordering them about because he's been practising all his life on his younger brothers!" He knelt at the edge of the bank and leaned over with the water container. "Don't let me fall in; it looks quite deep here."
"What? You mean there's some water that you don't want to be in? Is this the real Gordon or some phoney?"
The red-head looked across the pool. Though there was a clearing on their side, the trees overhung the water from the other side, casting dark shadows as the day drew to a close. "It doesn't look very inviting, does it? – not even to me."
Alan had to agree. "Creepy, that's what I'd call it."
Their discussion was interrupted by a shout from behind them. "Have you got that water yet? I've got the fire going!"
Gordon shot his brother a wry grin as he straightened up. "Our master's voice. Come on!"
After supper the subject of the pool came up again as the boys sat round a crackling campfire while the night grew dark.
"Alan said it was creepy," Gordon volunteered.
"Ah, well, that's because it's haunted," replied Scott with a knowing smile.
"Oh yes?" countered Virgil as they all settled themselves comfortably. The telling of tall tales – the more bizarre the better – had long been a tradition of Tracy camping trips, each boy trying to outdo the previous story.
"Yes," continued Scott, nodding wisely. "It's haunted by the spirit of a Confederate soldier, who was on his way home on leave when he was caught by a patrol from the Union forces. They killed him, weighed his body down with rocks and threw him in the pool. His bones still lie there at the bottom."
The other boys gave a delicious shudder, then Gordon spoke up. "You're wrong, Scott. The body is even older than that. It's a gold prospector who was on his way home from the California goldfields, having struck it rich in '49. He knelt on the bank to get a drink, and as he leant forward the weight of the gold nuggets in his pockets made the bank give way beneath him and he fell in. He couldn't get rid of the gold in time to make it to the surface and he drowned."
Virgil spoke next. "The ghost isn't a man, but a woman – a young girl, slighted in love. She and her lover used to meet here in secret as their families had forbidden the match. She came here one night ready to run away with him, but he never showed up, so she threw herself in the water and drowned."
This story was greeted with groans and retching noises from the younger boys.
"Feeling sentimental, are we, Virg?" asked Scott, raising an eyebrow.
"Aww, he's missing Caroline already," said John, "isn't that sweet?" Virgil blushed at the mention of his new girlfriend.
Once the laughter had died down, John took up the story. "You were nearly right, Virgil. The girl didn't drown herself – she was killed. Does anyone know what an ondine is?"
"A water sprite," replied Gordon.
John smiled. "Trust you to know. Yes, it's a water sprite that lives at the bottom of dark pools like this one. If anyone is foolish enough to sleep beside its pool it emerges during the night in the form of a young woman. It drowns its victim with its watery kiss then takes them down to its lair at the bottom of the pool."
There was a moment's silence as everyone digested this tale. "Nice one, John," said Scott with an appreciative nod.
They all turned to look at Alan, waiting for his contribution. "It's not a water sprite at the bottom of the pool but a spaceship from the Orion nebula containing eight-foot tall aliens. They catch unsuspecting travellers and take them down to their ship where they suck their brains out."
"Well, they wouldn't get much of a meal out of you then, bro," said Gordon with a grin. Alan aimed a punch at his brother in return and a scuffle broke out.
"Pack it in, guys," said Scott in a stern voice. "It's time we all got some sleep."
John stretched his arms. "I'm so tired I think I can even sleep through Virgil's snoring tonight."
"Hey, I don't snore!" cried his brother indignantly. There was laughter from the other boys as they all climbed into their sleeping bags and settled down for the night.
Alan didn't know what had awoken him. He lay there listening to the sounds of the night; the rustle of leaves as some small night creature passed through the undergrowth, the occasional cry of an owl, Virgil's snores from the other side of the clearing.
The waning moon had risen and was shining through a gap in the trees. Its light had turned the waters of the pool to silver, though the shadows under the trees were now even blacker. Alan noticed something strange. There was not a breath of wind, but the waters of the pool were starting to ripple back and forth. As he watched, the ripples seemed to congregate in one part of the pool and circle together like a whirlpool. From the centre of the whirlpool a column arose, growing until it was about five feet high. The column spun faster until it seemed to solidify into a shape – a shape that Alan realised to his amazement was the figure of a young woman. His original fascination turned to alarm as the figure turned and headed for the shore, her body and long flowing hair rippling with every step she took. As she reached dry land she hesitated for a moment before flowing up and onto the bank, heading for the spot where the boys were sleeping. Alan wanted to cry out to warn his brothers, but found he could neither move nor make a sound. To his mounting horror the creature stopped in front of him and knelt down, placing her icy wet hands on his cheeks in a macabre imitation of a caress. As she bent forward, bringing her face close to his, Alan found he couldn't look away. Her face was like a mask made out of mercury, the features in a constant state of flow. She bent her head to touch her lips against his, and Alan had a fleeting thought of what his brothers would say if they found his body floating in the pool the following morning.
"No!" The voice seemed to be coming from a person standing behind Alan's head. A golden, glowing light was coming from the same point. Though gentle, the voice was firm and spoke with the authority of someone who expected to be obeyed. "Leave him alone!"
The ondine spoke with the sound of a stream hissing over pebbles "Miiiiiinnne!"
"Wrong, lady, he's mine." Seeing the creature glance round at the other sleeping bodies, the mystery voice added quickly, "They're all mine. You're not going to have any of them, so you can go back where you came from. Go now!"
The light pulsed brighter, almost white, and was reflected in the face of the water-sprite. Alan could feel the heat it was generating.
The creature reared itself up to its full height, hesitated for a minute, then collapsed into a puddle which flowed back into the pool.
Alan felt another hand, this time warm and tender, stroke his cheek. A pair of lips brushed his forehead in a gentle kiss and a voice, soft and loving, whispered "Mine! My baby," then he remembered no more.
The following morning Alan thought back over the strange events of the night and realised the whole thing had been nothing but a crazy dream. Yet for the rest of his life, whenever he found himself gazing into deep water, he would recall this night in the woods. He had to admit that there was one small corner of his heart that wished it had been real.