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In a garden in Glasgow, a small boy makes a big discovery
The burn had burst its banks again. There were no words for how excited this made Jamie. He’d watched it happen from his bedroom window, overlooking the point where the burn curves away from the housing estates. The sheer exhilaration of the event had him so close to the window that his nose had been pressed against the glass. From here he could see the little rocky spot where, on occasions such as this, sometimes little fish got caught. He could only imagine what was waiting for him today. But before he could investigate, he had to stay inside until this stupid rain stopped!
While he waited, he pulled on his welly boots (tartan ones – bought by his Gran, who refused to get him the red and blue Spiderman ones he had wanted), and got his waterproof mac on, doing all the buttons up carefully. Now came the tricky part; he had to get the metal bucket from the utility room without Mum seeing. This would be a real challenge.
Glancing up at the window, Jamie noticed that, at last, the rain had stopped. Result! Time to beat it. Pounding down the stairs, he decided that if he just ran as fast as he could, he’d be gone too quick for Mum to even notice that he’d taken the bucket. Good plan, he thought.
Breezing past Mum, as she ironed tomorrow’s school uniform in the kitchen, he dived into the utility room, nearly knocking his glasses clean off his face in the process.
“Mum, I’m goin’ round t’Ben’s!” he wailed as he tried to unlock the back door as quickly as he could. Finally the snib released with a snick and he pulled the door open. The smell of a wet day grabbed him like an unexpected cuddle.
“Jamie,” Mum shouted back, her words reaching him just as he reached for the metal pail. “You better no be going anywhere near that water.” Feet stayed on the house’s side of the door. Hesitation held him for a second and he looked down at the bucket in his hand.
“I’m no!” he yelled back, cringing at his own lie. “I’m goin’ t’Ben’s!”
“Don’t get mucky then and be back in time for tea!” Mum called out, following a bit of a sigh.
“Ok!” Jamie shouted back and, with that, bolted out the back door, slamming it shut behind him.
He was free. Welly boots pounding the wet grass beneath him, he ran as fast as humanly possible for such short legs. Across the garden, through the back gate and over the stretch of grass, which the local children had quite simply named “The Grassy Bit (which had hosted a great many classic football matches, such as when Scotland humped Spain in the World Cup Final twenty-three goals to nil). There it was: the burn. At last. The uneven ground and washed up rocks in the area surrounding the bank was awash with more puddles than Jamie could ever wish for. Eyes wide and bucket in hand, the little boy descended on nature’s treasure trove.
Mud crept up his wellies as he carefully dipped his bucket into the burn’s streaming waters, filling it partly. He was as cautious as could be, all too aware that it was too close to Dad coming home to be getting into trouble. If he fell in and got manky, Mum would tell Dad for sure and he’d get his Nintendo DS taken off him again. Couldn’t have that.
Once the bucket was ready, Jamie set about investigating the muddy little rock pools the rain had left for him. Most of them were empty, but Jamie rooted around in them anyway, just to be sure. Although, in one he found a tiny grey fish. I was such a dull colour that he almost missed it amongst all the mud. Scooping it out with both hands, he lowered it gently into the bucket. The fish seemed a bit frantic at first; alarmed by its new environment. So, James added a couple of rocks (being careful not to drop them on it) and it calmed down a little.
A good few minutes were spent staring at the fish, swimming round and round. Just long enough to name is Sludge (since it was the colour of mud, obviously) and then decide to keep looking. Sludge was left to defend the bucket as Jamie continued his search. Another two puddles turned up nothing. But the third he came across…Ya beauty!
A tadpole. A real tadpole.
Perfect round, black head; snaking, squirming tail. It was amazing. Jamie had never seen a real tadpole before. Only ones he’d seen had been in a book called “British Wildlife” that he’d flicked through once at Gran and Papa’s house, while he was hiding under the stairs so that he wouldn’t have to eat the soggy fish fingers that Gran had microwaved for his lunch. This was not something to be lost. Cupping his hands around this precious find, he lifted it out and plopped it into the bucket with his now comparatively-boring fish.
Sludge didn’t seem all too happy with his new companion. The tadpole, however, seemed extremely happy and wiggled and danced around the bucket at an excited pace. In that moment, Jamie decided that no name other than Squiggles would do. Already, he was envisioning the empty coffee jar sitting with the recyclables beside the back door. A perfect home for a tadpole. And after a while, it wouldn’t be just a prized pet tadpole, but eventually would be a prized pet frog! This was it: success! Ben would raging at the next show-and-tell at school! Satisfied with his afternoon of scavenging, Jamie picked up his bucket, ready to go home. After all, nothing could top a tadpole!
As he turned to go back to the house, Jamie heard a splash, coming from one of the puddles. An unchecked puddle, actually. He looked over in the direction of the noise. In his cold grip, the bucket was feeling much heavier now that it was full of water. He really should be heading home now. The puddle splashed again. He had seen it this time, he definitely had. Bucket down, wellies shlooped through the mud towards this uncharted puddle. It wouldn’t hurt to investigate. Would it? He crossed the short distance to the puddle, stationed himself right over it and took a good look down.
Breath caught in his chest and his mouth formed an O shape. This couldn’t be real. He had to be imagining this. Eyes were wide behind his glasses. He had to be seeing things.
Gazing up at him, from the murky depths of the puddle, was a beautiful and tiny mermaid. Jamie couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Scanning his eyes over her, he took in the unusual sight once more.
A broad face with giant, brown eyes blinked up at him through the water as a wreath of dark hair fanned out around her. Little body was shapeless, marking her as only a young thing. But the most startling thing about her, the thing that had Jamie truly transfixed, was the green tapered tail which sprouted from her waist and ended with two fins.
It would appear that Jamie had found a mermaid in his puddle.
Flicking her fins happily, the mermaid smiled. Quite naturally, her cheery wee face brought a grin to Jamie’s. She was even better than a tadpole!
Abandoning her for a brief moment, Jamie grabbed his bucket. He approached the edge of the burn and carefully set free his catches of the day. They were instantly lost in the stream, meaning that Jamie missed their escape. Dumping the tadpole was a disappointment but he couldn’t risk Sludge or Squiggles harming the mermaid in any way. She was far too precious. Jamie knelt by the water’s edge and filled the bucket up again. Dirt and mud clung to the knees of his trousers; Mum was going to kill him. Didn’t matter though – the mermaid was worth it.
Carrying the bucket back, Jamie could see her little face, keeking over the edge of the puddle, waiting for him to take her home. As he reached down to scoop her up, her arms stretched up; little fingers grasping on to him. Her body was slippy, like a fish but not quite, and James had to be extra careful not to drop her. Cuddling into his thumb, she stroked her face against it. Clearly, she was as excited as he was. Gently, she was lowered into the bucket and she reluctantly let go of him to have a quick swim around her new surroundings.
Water hit Jamie’s glasses and slid down, leaving a sluggish trail behind it. The rain was coming back on. He’d have to get back home quick before he got soaked. The mermaid lifted her head above the water and opened her mouth to catch a drop of rain. A strange noise burst from her lips, which Jamie though might have been a giggle. His grin grew even wider.
Above them, the sky ripped open, unleashing a torrent of water upon the earth. Taking that as a signal to beat it, Jamie grabbed the mermaid’s bucket and bolted home, thinking that he really didn’t feel that bad about fibbing to Mum now.
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