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Annie searched in vain for a corner of her
dress that was dry enough to wipe her brow. Despite being early
June, the day was hot and humid - the air like a Turkish bath.
North-west Ohio had been rainless for weeks, the sky threatening
with thick air and dark clouds, but never delivering any cooling
wetness. The ten-year-old cursed, using words she dared not
say aloud. Annie had foolishly decided to spend this Saturday
collecting early raspberries rather than going to town with
her pa. Now the sun had left her feeling overheated and dizzy.
The trouble wasn't just the heat, Annie decided.
It was the dust and plain stickiness. If she could just wash
all the sweat and dirt away she was sure she'd feel better.
A cool bath, she thought, thinking of her father's farmhouse
now two miles away. But she'd need to walk all the way back.
And then pump the water into the tub. The stickiness felt unbearable
and Annie thought she'd go mad if her head couldn't get cool
this very minute. Glumly she turned to start for home.
But then she paused. There was the quarry,
less than a half-mile down the path. The old one where she'd
learned to swim the previous summer. It hadn't been used for
mining in twenty-odd years and natural springs kept it filled
with cold groundwater. Annie remembered its dark coolness with
a longing one can only feel for the forbidden. She curled her
toes in the hot dusty grass.
"Pa'll kill me if I go there alone."
But of course, he needn't know. He wouldn't
be home for hours.
Annie covered her meager berry finding and
ran down the quarry path.
"That be all today, sir?" The clerk
stood patiently as the farmer wiped his brow.
"Yup. Wait, no. Gimme two of those Coca-Colas.
My little girl loves 'em so."
"Yes, sir. Annie with you today?"
The farmer's indulgence of his only child
was well known in the small town. He'd always doted on her,
but the death of his wife in the flu epidemic five years earlier
had deepened his love. Annie was known for being sweet, but
almost spoiled in this rather austere community.
"Nope - she's out berry pickin'."
The clerk wrapped the ice-chilled sodas in
"Well, this'll keep 'em cool enough I
Annie looked down at the cool
darkness of the quarry. The water was as still and dark as
a glass. The green willow trees and blue sky it reflected
looked greener and deeper than the ones above her. No one
else was there this day, a change from the shrieking crowds
She stripped off her dress to her bloomers
and chemise and, with a running leap, jumped into the water,
remembering to let her run carry her as far from the dangerous
rocky edge as it could.
Annie's jump took her about ten feet under.
The water was at least ten degrees colder than it had been last
summer when she learned to swim. And even then it had been cold.
She kicked upwards, struggling toward the bright surface she
could barely see. Only as her lungs felt about to burst did
she realize she was swimming to the side rather than straight
Annie surfaced near the quarry's center -
alone in water a hundred feet wide and, as far as she was concerned,
bottomless. There was something creepy in the way the sound
of dripping water echoed off the sides. She treaded water, eager
suddenly to get home.
"Annie! Annie-girl? You
Arriving home at the empty farmhouse, Annie's
father put down the newly-purchased supplies and searched for
his daughter. Where could the girl be? The day was too hot for
her to still be out picking. He'd expected she'd have come home
He went out into the back garden at the edge
of his fields and pulled the rope for the old bell. Its ringing
carried across the waist-high corn and back. But there was no
answering shout of "Comin'" from Annie.
Despite there being no reason he could see
for it, Annie's father felt a cold panic in his heart.
"Annie, where are you?"
He called aloud, but the answer came inside
his head. And he ran for his truck.
Annie's strokes were slow, her
kick weak. Though she had passed her certificate swim (once
across this very quarry) with flying colours, it had been
in warmer water after two months of practice. Now she was
swimming in the cold after not having swam since last September.
Annie's head bobbed up and her teeth chattered as she gasped
for breath, still over twenty yards from the side.
She forced herself to take another stroke.
She just had to get out. Then, she couldn't. Stuck! Something
had grabbed hold of her leg and was pulling her under!
Visions of giant sea monsters flashed through
her mind as she tried to pull herself loose, arms and legs flapping
wildly. She splashed fruitlessly and screamed, catching a choking
mouthful of water. The thing holding her leg tugged harder and
her head went under again.
"Hold on, Annie!"
The words echoed over the water, calming her
slightly. There was a splash a little distance from her. Her
father swam toward her with strong strokes, diving under to
tear her bloomers from the tree branch on which they had tangled.
"Pa-pa," Annie chattered, her breath
choked and lips bluish.
"Just breathe, child, and don't struggle."
His arm across her chest, he towed her to the quarry edge and
half carried her up the rock face path as she shivered violently,
feeling cold under the warm sun.
"Just what on earth do you think you were
doing, missy? You told me you were goin' berry pickin'!"
"I was, Pa!" Annie gestured toward
the half-filled basket lying next to her dress some ten yards
from where he'd parked his pick-up. "I just got hot and
decided to go for a swim."
Annie wanted to go put on her dress, to cover
her torn bloomers and wetness. But her father's grip on her
right upper arm was very tight.
"You know better, Anne Catherine. And
you know you do. That quarry hasn't even been dragged
for trees yet this summer. And even if it had, you know you
can't swim alone."
"I - I - I didn't think -"
"That's sure clear. Maybe this'll remind
you next time."
And with that he pulled her firmly over to
a stand of willows where he broke off a flexible switch just
over two feet long. He started to strip it of leaves and twigs.
"You just take down them bloomers. They're
not good for any more than rags now anyway."
Annie's hands shook as she untied the wet
drawstring and slid them to her knees and then off. They clung
like a living thing and she stepped out of them just as he finished
stripping the switch. Without saying another word, he took a
firm hold of her right arm, raised the rod high and brought
it down sharply across the middle of her bottom, sending Annie
leaping forward and causing an angry red welt across both of
her nether cheeks.
"You could have been killed, you know."
Swish! Down came the sharp branch. Annie stumbled
in a circle, her father turning with her as the switch criss-crossed
her bottom again and again. Her crying was frantic, almost screaming.
Yet, from a distance it might have looked like a game or an
odd dance. The man turned in a circle, holding the girl with
one hand, and swung the switch in the other. The girl danced
and leapt around him.
"What would I have done then, hmm?"
Five more times the switch came down, catching
her legs, leaving interlacing red marks.
"You're never ever to come here
alone. Do you hear?"
He dropped Annie's arm and broke the switch
in two. She collapsed on her side in the grass, sobbing, her
bottom too sore to rub. He picked her up and held her by both
shoulders, shaking her slightly.
"I said, do you hear me? Never again."
Annie looked at her father's boots and choked
out an answer.
"Ye-es, Pa. Never ever."
Her father pulled her to him roughly, carrying
her and the basket to the truck. They were going back home.
Back to Mija's
Back to the treehouse