Cut Cherries by Martha Lane

Jack’s toes stretched, pointed like a ballet dancer, aching to keep him tall enough. But the water kept creeping.


At his chin.


His nose.

He tipped his head back, grabbing one last gulp of air. The screams and yells that bit at his ears lost their sharp edges as he slipped under.

Chlorine scratched at his eyes and Jack grinned.

No way Mum would find him here, bet she didn’t even think he was brave enough for the deep end. He’d been jumping-up-and-down excited this morning when she said they could go swimming. She usually hated it, coming up with boring things to do instead, like shoe shopping or going to Uncle Richard’s.

But today, she’d agreed. She even ripped the tag off a brand-new swimming costume and slicked on thick red lipstick until her mouth glistened like cut cherries.

Jack surfaced, risking his hiding spot for another breath. He scanned the pool of human soup, but Mum wasn’t looking for him. She wasn’t even in the water. She was sitting on the edge, her feet drawing sleepy swirls. She was chatting and giggling and squeezing the shoulder of some man, waist-deep, fists digging into his hips like he was a road sign. The triangle warning with an exclamation point slicing through the middle. It was Uncle Richard. Uncle Richard, whose lips were bright like cherries.

Jack slunk below the water. He opened his mouth and roared a roar that made the pool swell, raised rapids. He used the big breaststroke sweeps that Dad taught him, shoving the water out of his way. His toes became webbed. Then lengthened. A tail. His spine rippled like a conger eel. He ran his tongue over a row of teeth, dagger-sharp and growing.

The pool roiled. Bubbled and boiled.

And there was Uncle Richard’s leg.

His stupid tanned hairy leg.

And all Jack could think of was lips smeared with red.

Lungs aching, body snaking, still roaring, he snarled his fangs free.

And then the water was cherries. Cut.

Martha Lane is a writer by the sea. Her stories have been published by Northern Gravy, Reflex Press, and Ellipsis Zine among others. Balancing too many projects is her natural state. Tweets at @poor_and_clean.