"Stick it" by Rachel Hobbs
Author notes: This story is not my usual style. It's not gory or violent, or sarcastic. It's not monstrous in any way. It's simply... nice. I don't know what I was thinking. ;-) I hope it makes you smile, regardless.
The millpond glistened like a shiny gold coin as the sun beamed down onto its surface. Trevor could barely look at it.
“Almost there,” sang a tinkling voice. Trevor was drawn to the magical sound. It was Lily, and she was skipping, her new pink dress fluttering behind her as she moved. The most beautiful girl in the world.
They stopped at a tiny wooden bridge and Lily stood in the middle with her hands on her hips, posing like a brave adventurer; as though she'd conquered the troll underneath it and claimed it as her own. She giggled, face lighting up. “Well, come on then. What are you waiting for?”
Trevor stepped onto the bridge. He could hear water rushing below in a steady current.
“Want to play a game?”
“A game?” He fiddled with a loose thread on his jacket. He'd never been good at games.
“Pooh sticks. I'll show you.”
He followed Lily to the edge of the bridge, where she stopped and held her dainty hand up. “Stay here,” she said. “I'll be back.”
Trevor looked down. He watched the water charge under the bridge, following the current as it slipped around the rocks and other obstacles posing an equally feeble threat.
Lily came back with two small sticks, one in each hand. “Pick one.”
Trevor did as he was told. He reached out and took the stick from her right hand.
“Good. Now, watch this.” She leaned over one side of the bridge and dangled her stick above the water.
He watched it sway between her fingers, picturing a vanquished villain begging for their life in the hands of Lily May. Then, she let it go.
The stick hit the water with a tiny plop. It sunk, then bobbed back to the surface, snagged by the current. Lily raced to the other side of the bridge to watch.
Trevor watched the curls bounce about her shoulders, mesmerised. Lily's hair was like the centre of a strawberry cream. One day, he would tell her so, and she would smile at him.
He joined her on the other side of the bridge, just in time to see the stick emerge from underneath. It kept going, heading for the freedom of the millpond and beyond.
“Want to race?”
Trevor looked up at Lily. She was bouncing on her toes, eager to hear him say one word.
“Pooh sticks,” she added, by way of explanation.
“Okay,” he said.
She grinned, producing another stick from somewhere within the folds of her dress. “Right then. You're so going down, Miller.”
They moved back to the other side of the bridge and stood, facing each other like cowboys in a shoot-off. He held his weapon of choice out in front, studying its knobs and kinks. “So, let me see if I've got this straight. We drop our sticks and the first–”
“We drop them together, and the first stick through to the other side wins.”
“But... hang on. How will we know which is which?”
She made a thinking face, chewing on the tip of a pristine fingernail. Then, Lily held up her stick and snapped the end off one side. “There,” she said. “Mine's shorter.”
Trevor didn't know if this would give her stick an advantage in a race, but said nothing. It didn't matter if he lost. He never won games, anyway.
Side by side, they held their sticks over the side, positioned and ready to go. Trevor waited, listening to the rippling water below. He could see the bottom. No weeds, no tangly plants — just lots of rocks.
Lily held up three fingers, her lips pursed. Three. Two.
Trevor felt a flutter of nerves in his stomach and tried to ignore them.
The sticks hit the water, one plop after another. He gripped the side of the bridge, nails digging into the soft wood, and kept his eyes fixed on the twigs. They rode the current and disappeared under the bridge. Neck and neck.
“It's mine,” laughed Lily, racing to the other side.
Trevor laughed, too. “In your dreams, Lil.” Maybe he would win something, for once.
He joined her on the other side and they peered over the edge. The little snapped twig floated out from underneath, emerging victorious.
“Yesss.” Lily squealed, punching the air with a tiny fist.
Trevor frowned, cursing his bad choice of twig. Beaten by a girl. He kept watching, determined to see his stick cross the finish line.
Lily giggled and stole a sneaky glance at him. “It's okay. I won't tell anyone I beat you. It'll be our secret.” She winked for added effect.
Trevor pulled a face at her. They waited, staring down in silence at the water. And waited.
“Maybe it sank?” Lily suggested. She sounded unsure.
“Sticks don't sink, they float.” Clearly, he'd picked a dud. Or, maybe it was caught on something. “I'm going below to check it out.”
“Don't fall in.”
Trevor crossed the bridge and looked down at the stream. The water was shallow down here, knee height at most. He could paddle through and take a look under the bridge.
He sat on the grass and stripped his feet, balling up his socks and tucking them into his shoes. Lily watched him from the bridge, studying his every move with big eyes. “You're brave. Or mad,” she said. “I haven't decided which, yet.”
He wiggled his exposed toes in the fresh air. He was mad. He must be to even consider wading in after a stupid stick. Bracing himself, he climbed down and lowered himself into the rushing water.
Trevor gasped, forgetting how to breathe. The water was cold.
Lily's voice was faint. He could barely hear her against the water, rippling and rushing around him with a fierce energy. “Hold on Lil,” he called. “I'm checking it out.” He waded through the stream, sticking close to the wall. He was right. There were no plants in this part of the water.
As he followed the wall around towards the bridge, he pondered. If there were no tangly stick traps lurking at the bottom, where had his stick gone?
When he emerged around the corner, he stopped in his tracks. At that moment, Trevor realised two things: one, that he now had a spectacular side view of the bridge, and two, there was a third player in the game.
The dripping Labrador turned towards him, ears and tail pricking up at once. A knobbly stick was clamped within its jaws.
“No. Bad dog!” Trevor stepped backwards and flailed, stepping on a slippery stone beneath him.
The dog twitched, sensing its chance for a play. As it bounded through the water towards him, Trevor braced for impact.
“Trev? What's going on?”
Trevor had one thought as the dog barrelled into him, prize firmly gripped within its teeth. Sabotage.