We saw the big one first. It was out in the middle of the pond and we saw its back and the top of its head like you see with alligators and we stopped to watch it. We had been walking a very long time and we were tired and we were glad for something to stop for.
“What is it,” the old man said, rubbing his neck.
“Alligator,” the boy said.
“That so,” the old man said.
We were about fifty feet from the water, up a little hill. It felt good to stop. The boy sat down. The old man just stood there rubbing his neck and looking out at the water. The big one had started moving. It was nipping at a smaller one that had just come up from under the water. The smaller one moved away. The big one followed it. Then with a tremendous splash it lurched itself from the water, onto its hind legs, and it was no alligator. Its head was squared-off like a cablecutter, gigantic. It caught the little one in its jaws and shook its big head back and forth, that horrible, fantastic head, and the little one was dead.
“Don’t much move like an alligator, does it,” the old man said.
“No,” I said. “It moves like something else entirely.”
“I never seen a thing like it,” the boy said. He was still down on the ground.
“That’s so,” the old man said.
Waves from all the commotion reached the shore and rumpled the lily pads. All the frogs went quiet. They didn’t know what to make of the whole thing. Neither did we. We just stood there, sat there in the case of the boy, looking out at that thing in the water and hearing the waves pushing onto the shore. It was almost peaceful with the waves like that.
Then another joined the big one, came up from the water. It was just as big, maybe bigger, so now there were two big ones. This one didn’t even try to look like an alligator. It stood right up on its hind legs, its body glistening like oil in the sunlight, and it tore at the limp body hanging from the other’s jaws. There was a lot of blood and then the little one was gone completely and clapping their jaws together the two of them stood there monstrous and solicitous turning their heads this way and that. And then they saw us, up there on our hill.
“Get a look at this feller,” the old man said.
And they came for us. They moved together as one: oh how they moved. It was the most wonderful and the most horrible thing we’d ever seen. Their whole bodies rippled, shining and undulate, muscles rolling beneath the black hides. They made distance fast.
“Look at them come,” the old man said.
“Beautiful,” I said. “Beautiful.” And I hadn’t spoken that word in years.
“Magnificent,” the old man said.
“What do you think, boy.”
“I love them,” the boy said.
Already they had reached the shore. They came to us like pure death.
“Probably we ought to go,” I said.
“Probably so,” the old man said.
But how could we? Seeing something like that. We couldn’t get our legs to work. Sure we were tired. Maybe we were ready to give it all up. But that wasn’t it. It was how they moved: we couldn’t look away. Beautiful and terrible, sure as death. My god, how did they learn to move like that?
Derek Pfeffer’s stories have been published in BULL, Litro, and Barren. His story “Knots” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. You can find him on Twitter at @derekpfeffer.
lessons in deep breathing
they say there needs to be (at least) seven trees for each human on earth,
or we will start to suffocate.
sometimes I’m sure I feel one of my trees being cut down.
if you can hold your breath for 20 seconds
you have healthy lungs.
I do this several times each day to make sure.
when I smoke a cigarette I visualize black smoke entering
my chest burning + staining the insides before I
I’ve been told this helps people to quit.
I haven’t yet, but I still might.
sometimes, I even choke on my own words.
Olivia Zarzycki is a writer living in the city of Philadelphia with her best friends and pet ferret. She has poetry published by Toho Publishing and is a reader for Thirty West Publishing. Her writing often focuses on struggles with mental health and the experiences of transformation and heartbreak that come along with navigating young adulthood. Find her on Twitter @oliviasixsixsix.