A Chapter by Peter Rogerson

Two twelve year-old girls make a grisly discovery


Tranquility was never before so rudely shattered as it was one beautiful August day.

Sarah and Jane were out, wandering away from home along safe and familiar paths and had slowly made their way down to the canal where sleepy big boys sat with fishing rods and keep nets and old men drifted past on old barges repurposed for leisure.

It was nice down the tow-path. It was the kind of day when a girl needed to be near water because water seemed to cool the sultry day as it rolled along, placid when it wasn’t being disturbed by the keels of narrow boats.

School summer holidays were made for adventuring, for seeing what might be seen and a great deal that wasn’t there to be seen, for sauntering and dreaming up wild nonsenses that just might, in a proper world, come true, and elaborating the possibilities until the very thoughts of them became a thrill beyond all other thrills.

They were twelve years old, both of them, and being twelve they had one foot in the world they would shortly be leaving, the world of childhood, and a tentative toe reaching out for the next world, the world of adults. Two worlds on the cusp of colliding until the dreams of princesses, of dolls, of the latest teeny pop star, were replaced by the monotony of grown up life. And a macabre discovery.

They came down to this canal quite often and always did the same thing, walked slowly, ambled more like, giggled at keen-eyed boys intent on bobbing plastic floats, until they came to the bridge that carried the occasional car along Lonely Lane, climbed up onto that lane over a twisted wooden fence that was more splinters than anything, and walked back home along it, avoiding any traffic. Their entire route was two lanes, both quiet and country, joined by a stretch of the canal, forming a triangle that took them a couple of hours to complete, or longer if the weather was like today.

The bridge was in sight, old bricks, some of them crumbling and patched up with concrete, smooth pale patches on the red, when Sarah saw it first, floating in the water, trapped by something on the canal tow-path.

What’s that?” she asked, pointing.

A shop’s dummy?” suggested Jane.

Or a dead body,” teased Sarah, because dark conversations about such things as gory death sometimes formed part of their world.

A manikin,” sighed Jane, “from an underwear shop where they sell those ugly pants that some ladies think look cool.”

Maybe chased here by bandits in the night...” suggested Sarah, “Oh Christ!”.

The two girls stood, hand in hand, staring, and it crossed both of their minds at precisely that same moment that this was no manikin or shop dummy but a real dead human woman, ugly as sin and pale as a ghost.

Then, together, they screamed as though enough noise would waken the lady and put the colour back into her sallow cheeks, and at the same time, together, they slowly backed away until they could feel the brambles and briers behind them threatening to penetrate their bare legs and summer frocks with sharp needles.

What is it, lassies?” asked a voice, a landlubber in a sailor’s cap from his proud post at the stern of a fine old narrow boat where he was captain and lord of his world.

Dead lady,” yelled the two girls together. They couldn’t have been more in unison than they were with those two words.

Are you sure?” he asked, peering to where they pointed and almost seeing what had scared them “it might be an old doll lost by a child on a cold winter’s night. Something ordinary like that.

Both girls just shook their heads and turned away, making for the splinters that would lead them onto the road.

There was a woman in the water, they knew, that, and her eyes were open.

I’ll phone for help if that’s any help,” decided the man because, and he wasn’t one hundred percent sure, but there was the possibility the girls were right.

I’m going home!” declared Sarah.

And me!” decided Jane.

If it’s what you say it is then the police might want to ask you questions,” mumbled the Captain, his mind suddenly racing when the wash from his narrow boat caused the grotesque figure to dance a lonely waltz in the water.

I’ll phone them now,” he said, “they won’t be long. Will they?”

But the girls were going. They knew that, and he couldn’t blame them.

They were half way up Lonely Lane when a police car, blue lights and siren shattering the August sunshine, stopped and a uniformed man got out.

Are you the girls who found the… whatever it is?” he asked.

We’re going home,” said Sarah, and he saw that she was as white as a sheet. Almost as white as a corpse herself, he thought.

She’s dead,” added Jane, “we saw her, and she’s dead.”

It’s horrible,” Sarah filled in that detail.

A second police car raced up, the same blue lights echoing against the hedges even though the sun was bright. A man in plain clothes climbed out and spoke to the girls. He was Sergeant Stone, an officer with a reputation for getting things done, though he rarely had much of importance to get done.

Just tell me what you saw and this officer will take you home,” he said, warm, kindly, a father himself, he knew children and how sometimes shadows can come to life. Why, hadn’t he been a kid himself, not so long ago. Or too long ago. One or the other.

In the water,” said Sarah, “floating in the water and dressed in … rags.”

Not rags,” corrected Jane, “but she wore red knickers. I saw the red knickers. They were horrible.”

By the bridge,” added Sarah, “in the canal.”

With red knickers,” repeated Jane, who would probably have nightmares about the scarlet underwear for the remainder of her days, and never, through choice, wear the colour herself.

Bright red,” confirmed Sarah.

I’ll take a look then,” said sergeant Stone. “This officer will take you home, if you don’t mind, and have a word with your folks.”

We’re not in trouble, are we?” almost wept Jane.

Of course not,” he smiled, “we want to tell them how brave and helpful you are, that’s all.”

And that was, from the two girls’ perspective, an unnecessary end to what had been a lovely day. They climbed into the police car, the driver turned round as soon as he could, and they were back home in minutes, arriving just as the radio informed the driver that there was indeed a body in the canal, and that it looked quite nasty, and its underwear was red.

© Peter Rogerson 03.09.19

© 2019 Peter Rogerson

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Added on September 3, 2019
Last Updated on September 3, 2019
Tags: summer, August, canal, corpse


Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 79 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..