Copyright 1999 to <mijita@thetreehouse.net>. Please respect this copyright. Don't distribute or archive this story in any way except for personal use without explicit permission. No, it's not in the public domain. Ask first, okay? Thanks.

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[Image of Little Miss Naughty] The Quarry
by Mija

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.

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"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 brown paper.

"Well, this'll keep 'em cool enough I expect."

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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 of August.

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.

Cold.

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 up.

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.

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"Annie! Annie-girl? You up there?"

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 hours before.

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.

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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.

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"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.

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