by Ron Van Sweringen
Radio music drifted across the lawn on the humid air. Occasional lightning flashed in the distant swamp and rumbles of thunder could be heard rolling over the dark lake. A yellow Lab dashing near the water’s edge barked at his companion.
The boy threw an old tennis ball into the water.
“Bring it back, Skipper,” he shouted with excitement as the dog dove after it.
The swimming dog’s vibration drew it closer. With hardly a ripple on the water’s surface, the massive tail undulated.
“Good boy Skipper, now let me have it” the boy laughed as the dog bounded out of the water. Together they rolled over in the grass, the dog licking the boy’s face.
“Billy, it’s time to eat,” a woman called from the front porch of a small cottage.
“O. K. Mom,” the boy answered, turning to the wet Lab.
Billy ran quickly toward the house. It was almost dark and the soft glow of a kerosene lantern filled the windows. His Father was already at the table when he entered the small kitchen. Observing the boy, he asked,
“Your shirt’s all wet. What have you been doing?”
“I’ve been throwing the ball for Skipper,” Billy answered slowly.
His father’s eyes caught his direct gaze.”Didn’t I tell you to keep that dog out of the lake, especially toward dark?”
“Yes sir,” Billy answered, lowering his eyes.
“Zack Mullen, saw a twelve foot gator at the far end of the lake, near the railroad trestle. A ‘gator that size can take a man or a cow. You steer clear of the lake, until we hunt it down, you hear me son?”
“Yes Sir” Billy replied.
Suddenly Billy was uneasy. Where was Skipper? He should have been at the screen door by now, but there was no sight of him.
Billy ate quickly, hardly tasting anything. He could not get his mind off of Skipper. Before he excused himself, his Mother reminded him,
“Get to your homework now.”
“Yes Ma’am”, he nodded, leaving the table.
Once outside, Billy ran in darkness across the lawn toward the lake. Breathless from exertion, he called softly,
“Skipper, come on boy, where are you?”
There was no answer, except for rustling palm fronds in the stiff breeze, heralding an oncoming storm. A streak of lightning split the darkness, and coldness crept over Billy when he saw the tennis ball floating at the waters edge.
“Skipper,” he called louder, “Come to me boy.” Fear and panic seized him in the blackness and tears welled in his eyes. A clap of thunder shook the ground and brought stinging rain with it. Billy turned toward the house when suddenly something lunged, knocking him to the ground. A heavy wet form slid across him, jaws opened.
They clung together, until another streak of lightning lit the darkness. A huge alligator, the monster his father had described, its cavernous jaws distended, waited at the water’s edge.
You can find more of Ron’s short stories here in KRL’s Terrific Tales section.