KOI POND - JEFF DOSSER
The creak of the swing’s chains and laughter of children was shattered by an explosion of gunfire. Dejuan dove from the swing, his knee smacking painfully against the hard pack earth as amid the terrified screams and the howl of screeching tires, he scanned the twilight bathed buildings for the source of the shots, a direction to flee.
The gaunt two-story apartments of Dejuan's home were arranged like broken teeth around the gaping maw of the crowded central courtyard. Dejuan bounced to his feet and dashed past rusted jungle gyms and smoking charcoal grills before sprinting through a trash-strewn breezeway and into the parking lot. In seconds, he’d hopped the fence at the rear of the complex and sprinted into the park.
Beneath a pale October moon, he raced across the short mown lawn his feet barely touching the earth as the breeze propelled him through the night. He skidded to a halt beneath the canopy of an ancient oak, the cool air burning at the back of his throat.
“What took ya so long?” a voice called from above.
Dejuan peered through the rattling fall foliage to find the face of his best friend, Konte, grinning down at him from above. Although in the same grade, Konte was thirteen, a year older than Dejuan. He'd lost that year after spending two months in juvie and being suspended for bringing drugs to school last spring. Konte reached down and grasped Dejuan’s upraised arm, his skin a light mocha against Dejuan’s ebony wrist.
From their hideout in the upper branches, the boys had a good view of the parking lot, the backyards of the homes surrounding the park and the distant skyscrapers of downtown Tulsa. Already the high-pitched warble of police sirens echoed through the park their flashing red and blues bounding across the sides of buildings as they tore into the apartments.
“Did ya see who got popped?” Dejuan asked.
The shots had come from the far end of the courtyard. Except for Marika, a cute girl with long legs and staring dark eyes, he didn’t know anyone who lived on that side of the complex.
“I don’t think anyone got hit,” Konte said pulling a handful of acorns from a branch and lobbing them one by one into the air. “It was Bloods doin’ the shooin’ though. They was after Lil’ Kee.”
“You seen it?” Dejuan asked, his eye searching Konte’s.
“Hell, yeah, I seen it.” Konte leaned into the crotch of two limbs and nonchalantly dug a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. He lit up and puffed a cottony cloud of gray into the heavens.
“Well, ain’t ya gonna tell?” Dejuan demanded.
“Tell ya what?” Konte looked at his friend his lips twisting into a wry grin, his too large front teeth peeking over his lips.
“You know what.” Dejuan slapped Konte's feet, almost knocking him from his perch.
“Whoa! Watch it, nigga,” Konte said, his eyes wide, the cigarette gripped in the corner of his mouth. “Don’t be actin’ crazy an’ shit. I’ll tell ya.” He glanced around, as if afraid someone might overhear.
“They was in a tan Taurus,” he began. He leaned back jabbing the cigarette like a pointer. “They pulled into the parkin' lot real slow, ya know, an’ stopped next to the ol’ guard house.”
Dejuan leaned closer, his eyes wide. “Yeah? Then what?”
“Then two of em’ got out an’ walked right up to the side of Kee’s apartment. I seen em’ pull out their gats,” he shaped his fingers into a gun. “Then…Bam!”
Even though he knew it was coming, Dejuan sprang back in surprise.
“Bam, bam, bam.” Konte exclaimed before breaking into peals of laughter. “Man, you shoulda seen everybody run.”
“Be quiet up there!” someone scolded from below. The voice was quavering and weak, the voice of an old woman. “Folks is tryin’ to enjoy the evenin’.”
At first, Dejuan didn’t see the old woman, bathed in shadow as she was. Then he picked her out among the pools of darkness, silvery gray hair and a faded yellow shawl draped across her shoulders. She was seated beside a small pool with a waterfall cascading down a cairn of stones.
“Why don't cha make us?” Konte shouted.
Dejuan laughed and grabbed hold of a branch. He shook it with all his might, sending a cascade of acorns raining down on the old woman’s head. They plopped into the pond and bounced along the path as she scurried for cover. Pausing at the back door, she shook a fist at the boys, “I’m callin’ the police, you best be gone by the time they get here.”
Hooting in delight, Dejuan scampered down the tree, as agile as a squirrel, and followed Konte into the darkness. They paused at the border to the complex and dropped to the ground, their backs propped against the splintered wood fence. Konte pulled out two cigarettes and handed one to Dejuan.
Dejuan sat with his friend puffing self-importantly and doing his best to stifle the coughs threatening to erupt with each inhalation. He kicked his feet out among the tall brittle grass and let his eyes rove the park like a conquering general.
“Whatcha wanna do tomorrow?” Dejuan asked. “It’s Halloween.” He drew up his legs and stood, reaching a hand out to balance himself as his stomach lurched and a wave of dizziness roiled across him. He twisted the cigarette in his fingers, thinking maybe he’d had enough. He dropped it to the earth and ground it beneath his heel.
Konte flicked away his butt, the cigarette’s cherry glow arched through the darkness and exploded on the grass in a shower of sparks. “My ma say I can’t go wit em’ to the rich part of town. She an’ my auntie is takin’ all the lil’ kids, but they say I’m too old. You wanna meet here tomorrow?” Konte asked. “Once it's dark, we can go through the neighborhood an’ knock on some doors. If we don’t get no candy, we can steal some.”
Dejuan shrugged. Knocking on some doors didn’t sound bad, but he didn’t want to steal any little kid’s candy. He knew that was Konte's plan.
“Okay,” Dejuan said. “But if we don’t get no candy, let’s go to the creek. I know where they’s a dead dog we can throw rocks at.”
Konte mounted the wall. He paused at the top and slung over a leg. “Sounds good,” he said. His face cracked into a smile before he dropped to the other side. “See ya tomorrah.”
The next night, Halloween night, Dejuan found Konte waiting for him beside the old wood fence. Strolling across the parking lot, they paused at a car full of older boys before making their way towards the street bordering their home.
“You thinkin’ ‘bout joinin’ the Crips?” Dejuan asked. He glanced back at the boys leaning against the old Chevy Coup. Their boisterous chatter and thumping rap music followed them onto the road like a promise.
“Fo’ sure,” Konte grinned. He pulled a pack of smokes from his jacket and lit up. “They do all kinds of cool stuff. Like last week, they had a gun. I even got to hold it.”
He offered the pack to Dejuan, but he waved it away. “Naw, man. I’m trin’ to cut down. I got basketball tryouts next month. “
Konte rolled his eyes before returning the cigarettes to his pocket. Dejuan glanced up the block. Here and there, houses were bathed in the anemic yellow glow of dirty porch lights, groups of costumed children flitting here and there in the darkness.
Konte took a long drag, the smoke drifting from his nostrils as he surveyed their domain. “So where ya wanna start?” he asked.
A threadbare Batman, his chipped mask cocked atop his head, and a Superman, his overlong pants rolled around his ankles, passed them on the sidewalk.
“Why don’t we tag along with those two?” Dejuan hiked a thumb towards the passing superheroes. “We’ll have more luck if people believe we’re older brothers or somethin’.”
Konte nodded, “Good idea.”
At first, the costumed boys glanced at them nervously. Batman giving them both a head to toe survey. By the time they’d hit the third house, the boys accepted them as part of the group.
“Whad’ya get?” Dejuan asked as they tromped across the lawn to house number four.
Konte emptied a pack of multi-colored bears into his mouth and dropped the wrapper to the ground. “Gummies,” he mumbled through pressed lips.
Superman stepped onto the stoop and pressed the doorbell. The porch bulb dimmed as the chime echoed inside. A moment later, the wooden door creaked open and an old woman stepped out. Her thin shoulders slumped beneath an old yellow shawl, her white hair pulled into a tight bun. In her brown, shriveled hands, she clutched a worn wooden bowl.
“Trick or treat,” the superheroes chimed.
Her raven sharp eyes studied the children, her arthritic hands digging into the bowl for a handful of sweets. When the candy hit the bottom of the boy’s white plastic sacks, they sprinted into the night. Then the old woman’s gaze fell upon Konte and Dejuan.
“Ain’t ya’ll a little old to be out Trick-or-Treatin’?” She raised a crooked finger and squinted along it with one eye. “An’ ya’ll ain’t wearin’ no costumes neither.”
Her finger drifted to her lips in thought. “You boys look awful familiar.”
Her brows rose as recognition lit her face. “You the two hoodlums what’s been throwin’ acorns inta my pond.” Her wrinkled face twisted into a scowl. “I’m callin’ the police on you boys right now. Out stealin’ on All Hallow’s Eve. I won’t stand for it.”
“Why don’t ya stand on this, ya old bitch,” Konte said. He threw up both middle fingers and pumped them in the air.
“Yeah, bite my apple,” Dejuan cried. He turned and dropped his pants, mooning her.
The old woman took a step back, spittle flying from her lips. The bowl tumbled from her fingers and hit the ground with a hollow thud.
“You boys get outta here,” she cried waving them away.
“Oh, we’re goin’,” Konte said. “But we’ll be back. Then you’ll get your trick.”
The old woman’s hands flew to her chest. “You wants to hurt my babies,” she said. “Ya’ll gonna hurt my fish.”
Dejuan backed away his eyes darting from his friend to the frightened hag on the porch. This was going too far. He didn’t want to hurt the old woman, didn’t want to steal candy from kids. All he’d planned on was a few free treats and a good time. “Come on, man,” he said. “Let’s leave this old bitch to herself.”
Konte glanced a Dejuan, then jabbed a finger at the woman. “Better not call the cops, grandma, or your fish are dead.” He turned fled down the sidewalk.
Dejuan followed, sprinting all the way to the drainage channel at the end of the block. They slid down the concrete embankment and scrambled beneath the bridge.
“You think she gonna call the po-po?” Dejuan asked.
Konte rose and peered over the lip of the bridge then dropped down beside Dejuan. “She might.” He slammed his fist into his palm, once, twice, a third time.
“Why you so mad?” Dejuan asked. “She just a harmless old woman.”
“Cuz if she rat me out to the police, then they gonna suspend my probation. I’ll have to go back to juvie an’ won’t finish seventh grade. I’ll have to repeat it all over.” He slammed his fist into his palm. “I ain’t goin’ through seventh grade again.”
The sound of a car rumbling across the bridge had Konte on his feet and staring down the road. “Damn that ol’ bitch,” he hissed.
Dejuan climbed to his feet and stared down the road. A police cruiser was parked in front of the old woman’s house, a figure briefly visible on the porch before stepping inside.
“We gotta make sure she don’t never testify on us,” Konte said.
“How we gonna do that?” Dejuan asked.
Konte rubbed at his chin for several moments, then snapped his fingers in delight. “I got it.”
“Got what?” Dejuan asked.
“We’ll send that bitch a message.” He rubbed his hands together, his eyes sparkling with malicious delight. “We’ll dump dish soap into her pond, and when she wakes up, her whole back yard will be covered in suds.”
“Won’t that kill the fish?” Dejuan asked.
“I don’t think so,” Konte said. “I don’t want to kill’em. Not yet. I want to send that old woman a message. She’ll know that if she rats on us, we’ll dump something in there that will kill her precious babies.”
“When ya want to do it?” Dejuan asked.
Konte scratched his head in thought. “Meet me here at midnight,” he said. “I’ll bring the soap.”
Shivering beneath an icy blue Oklahoma moon, Dejuan checked his watch for the third time. Konte was already ten minutes late. He wondered if his friend had changed his mind. Dejuan peered over the side of the bridge and examined the street when a clatter of stones turned his head. It was Konte, creeping along the creek bed and scrambling up the embankment.
“I thought you chickened out,” Dejuan said.
Konte slapped Dejuan on the back before climbing over the bridge railing and onto the street. “Not me, man.” He held out a hand and pulled Dejuan onto the road. “I always represent.”
They crept cautiously down the street, sticking to the lingering shadows, dashing from house to house until finally they stood at the old woman’s gate. Konte snapped down the old iron latch and with a screech of protesting hinges, eased it open.
Drifting along a worn brick path, past trimmed rose bushes, and low growing shrubs they arrived at the base of the waterfall. It's quiet patter was the only sound. As Konte scouted the yard, Dejuan crouched beside a tired wicker chair and glanced up at the branches of the overhanging Oak. He shifted back and forth wondering how the old woman spotted them the day before.
“Whatcya doin’?” Konte whispered.
“How’d that ol’ woman see us up there?” Dejuan asked. “You can’t see nothin’ thru all them leaves.”
“Forget about that,” Konte said. He'd climbed onto the lip of the pond and worked his way towards the falls. “These rocks are slippery. Hold my hand so I don’t fall in.”
The old woman’s pond was triple the size of even the largest kiddie pools the mothers and aunties dragged into the courtyard on hot summer afternoons. It was ringed with a row of moss-covered stones sloping to the water’s edge. Glinting just below the surface swam a number of gold speckled fish.
“What kinda fish you suppose those are?” Konte asked. He took a step and eased closer to the falls.
“They koi.” Dejuan said. He gripped Konte’s hand as he bent out over the water. “How many are there?”
Dejuan overheard Konte's whispered count, growing louder as he neared the end, “Eight...nine…ten…eleven. They’s eleven of em’.”
“I hope this don’t kill em’,” Dejuan said. “They just innocent fish.”
Konte pulled the dish soap from his jacket and glanced over his shoulder. “It won’t kill’em,” he said. “But they about to be a whole lot cleaner.”
A smile crossed the old woman’s face when she heard the splash, then a cry of surprise followed by a second. She ran a hand across the faded yellow pages of her book, a faint aroma of rotten eggs filling the air as she snapped the leather tome shut. Then she blew out the candles and went to bed.
“Are you sure I cain’t getcha a cup of tea,” the old woman asked.
The Tulsa cop standing in her living room towered above her, tapping at a notepad cradled in his hand. “No thank you, ma’am. I’m just here to do a follow up on a runaway report.” His eyes drifted towards the back door. “You’re sure you haven’t seen two juvenile black males? One light-skinned, the other dark. Both were wearing jeans and dark colored hoodies.”
“Not that I recall,” she said. “But they was so many children come by last night, it’s difficult for an old woman to keep track.”
“And no one’s been in your back yard?” he asked. “One of the boy’s sister overheard him tell a friend they were coming to your house to dump soap into your pond.”
“Why no, I ain’t seen no boys in my yard. All’s that’s back there is my babies.”
“Your babies?” The cop cocked a brow.
“Yes, sir. My koi. Would you care to take a look?”
“Yes, ma’am. If you don’t mind.”
She swung open the door and he followed her out. The autumn sun sparkled across the dimpled surface of the water, the moss on the rocks lush and green. Upon seeing the old woman approach, all the fish but two crowded towards the ponds edge their mouths shoved out of the water.
The cop strolled around the edge of the yard, before returning to the pond. “You’ve got a nice place here,” he said. “It must be very peaceful.” He glanced into the water at the flurry of gold and black scaled bodies splashing within.
“How many koi do you have?” he asked.
“I’s got thirteen now.” She filled her hand with fish pellets and scattered them across the surface. Her raven eyes sparkled when she looked up. “But I’s always lookin’ for more.”
Award-winning author, Jeff Dosser is an ex-Tulsa cop and current software developer living in the wilds of central Oklahoma. Jeff’s short stories can be found in magazines such as The Literary Hatchet, Tales to Terrify, and Mystery Weekly, to name a few.
His novels, Shattered and Neverland, were the 2019 & 2018 Oklahoma Writer's Federation winners for best new horror, and his sci-fi short ‘The Late Dawn of a Solar Knight’ was an L.R Hubbard Writers of the Future Honorable Mention.
When not writing, Jeff can be found prowling the woods behind his rural home communing with the denizens of the night.