Frankie cut the trees in half with one sweep of his laser beam eyes as the forest zipped past him in a bright green blur. The tops halves of the trees collapsed and fell like dominoes, and startled birds fled their perches in squawking confusion.
Beside him in the back seat, entirely oblivious to the scale of destruction being wreaked all around her, Kirstie sighed and fidgeted. “When do we get there? I need the bathroom.”
Mum’s eyes grew large in the mirror. “Five minutes. Maybe longer. Not long, anyway.”
Kirstie tutted, and turned to Frankie. “Want a game of I Spy?”
“In a minute.” Frankie concentrated on his eye lasers – thin and red, like Superman’s – trying to sign his name along the crash barriers.
“But we’ll be there in a minute. Come on.” She punched him in the leg. He swung round, his beams slicing through the upholstery in the front seat, the side panelling of the door, even cutting through mum’s neck, taking her head right off. He trained his laser death onto Kirstie’s face, and punched her back. “What are you doing, you little boot?”
“Frankie!” Mum cried.
“She was annoying me,” Frankie said, “again.”
Mum tightened her grip on the steering wheel. “If you two don’t give it a rest, I am turning this car around and we’re not going.”
“It’s always you,” Frankie said to Kirstie, in a seething whisper. “God, you’re so annoying.”
“Well, you hit me! You wouldn’t do that if dad was here!”
“You hit me first, stupid.”
“I’m not stupid. Mum!”
Frankie grinned. “I spy, with my little eye… something beginning with…’S’.”
“Frankie. Kirstie. Last warning,” mum said.
For the rest of the journey Frankie switched weapons, swapping eye lasers for plasma bolts – less precise, but more powerful, and much more spectacular. They had a bigger kick and made bigger explosions, and his head recoiled with each shot. The bright power bolts were sky blue in colour and so was the fire that consumed the trees and erupted the central reservations in a hail of soil, buckling the crash barriers.
Soon the trees gave way to a car park on uneven ground, with a fine view of the lake and the mountains.
This was their second day trip in two weeks. Last time, they’d been to the seaside, and dad had come along. It had taken a long while to get there. Frankie and Kirstie had had lots of fun, and he’d even held his little sister steady while she had a ride on a donkey, giggling with every bump and jolt. Being a little too big for the donkeys, Frankie had enjoyed building the castles the most, picturing knights defending the battlements from invading barbarian hordes. Kirstie, for her part, added her own running commentary about the fairy princess who lived there with the soldiers, enjoying their protection and valour.
Dad had enjoyed the day and laughed a lot, but mum had been quiet.
This trip, to the lake, had been mum’s idea. She liked going to this particular place. In the past they’d come down with gran and all their uncles and cousins and had a smashing time. Frankie liked the lake, but without his big cousins Jamie, Tom and Davie, he didn’t think this trip would be as good. But there was a chance to keep an eye out for a monster or two.
Although they had been to the aquarium twice before, it was still a great treat to go in and look at the sharks. Frankie was thrilled by the slow gliding predators, their cruel needle teeth. How painful it would be, he thought, to get one of those teeth jammed under your fingernail.
Looking beyond his reflection in the bendy glass, he pictures himself in the chilly cobalt blue water with the predators. If mum were to drop her purse in the water, well – knife between his teeth – he would jump straight in. He would see people gasping silently on the other side of the glass, miniaturised owing to the curved glass. Frankie would stay cool, knowing that there were no maneaters in there with him, only small reef sharks and the big but harmless sand tigers.
But then, just as his hands would close around the purse in the silt at the bottom, mum would point and gesticulate through the glass towards something behind him. He’d turn around and there, rising through the gloom, would be the great white, with its lethal smile and its black eyes. The only one in captivity, and also one of the biggest ever recorded; usually these creatures were too wild to be kept in a tank. Their hearts broke and they had to be set free or they wouldn’t eat and they would die. But this one was different. This one was cunning and bided its time for a proper meal. And Frankie was that meal. Before he could even take the knife from between his teeth, the twenty-five-foot killer rolled on its side to attack –
“Boo!” Kirstie jabbed a stuffed toy shark mum had bought her into his face, and he jumped.
“What are you doing? Little ‘tard.”
“Ha ha, you jumped.”
“You don’t even like sharks. You’ll have nightmares.You’ll wake up at night. You’ll need the light on.”
“I will not.”
“You’re a ‘tard.”
“Ha ha. You jumped.”
“Don’t say that word,” mum said, “I know what you mean when you say that word.”
They went outside and got some ice creams.
“Can we get some of those frogs we saw in the tanks?” Kirstie asked. “The blue ones, not the yellow ones.”
“No, you can’t,” mum said. She was checking a message on her phone.
“Aw, please? I bet they’d be really cheap. It wouldn’t cost hardly anything to feed them.”
“They’re poisonous,” Frankie said. “If you lick them you can see things and go mad. Then you die.”
Kirstie looked down her nose at him. “And why… would anyone… want… to lick them?”
Frankie had no answer.
They strolled along the tourist zone by the waterfront. It was busy, even for a weekday during the holidays. There were little outdoor cafes and parasols, coin-operated telescopes, with boats drifting along the water beyond. It was a lovely day and as he lapped at his ice cream cone, Frankie drank in the sea and the sky, the calm, kindly mountains, the dark blue water. Of course, there was a monster in there.
Maybe a cousin of Nessie, a dinosaur that had survived the comet that killed its prehistoric relatives, then the ice age and the shifting continental shelf. Lurking in sea channels connected to the sea. A shy beast, wary of humans, rarely venturing out of the depths it called its home until the sun went down.
But still, it had to feed. Greedy anglers had fished out its natural fishy diet; now, human flesh was on the menu.
While Frankie grappled with this ghoulish scenario, two jet-skiers buzzed around the surface of the lake. It looked like they were having a race, slaloming in and out of the white-plumed wakes their machines made, passing perilously close to each other. Their lifejackets were bright orange. One rider had long matted ginger dreadlocks tied into a ponytail and wore shades.
The surface of the water bulged behind them. The two skiers hadn’t noticed this, of course; and it could simply have been a trick of the light, the water following in their wake in a lazy, greasy roll. But it was not.
The creature passed underneath them, homing in on the buzzing sound as the two strange objects moved over the surface of its domain. It turned, almost invisible as it streaked through the peaty water apart from its luminous yellow eyes, and prepared to attack.
“There’s a monster lives in there,” he told Kirstie, suddenly sure of this notion.
“No there isn’t,” Kirstie said, trying to lick a trickle of melted ice cream off the cone before it reached her fingers. “That’s Loch Ness you’re thinking about.”
“There’s one here too. Nessie’s cousin.”
“Nessie’s cousin? Does Nessie have an auntie and uncle?”
“No, not its actual cousin, stupid.”
“Why not? Nessie must have an auntie and cousins. It’s got a mum and dad. Everyone has.”
Kirstie gasped and turned to mum in protest. But mum was clicking a message into her phone, her mouth set in a firm line like whenever she was annoyed at something. Or trying not to cry.
They knew not to ask what was wrong. Kirstie turned back to Frankie. Frankie sighed and said, “Come on.”
He took her down a few steps to the beach. “What kind of monster is it?” Kirstie said, just something to say.
“A dinosaur. A plesiosaurus maybe.”
“That’s the one with a long neck,” she said.
“It is. That’s so it can eat fish. But if you get a really big one, it can eat people.”
“Maybe it’s not a dinosaur at all,” she said, nibbling at the bottom of the cone, making it last as long as she could. “Maybe it’s a dragon.”
“Dragon!” Frankie scoffed. “How could it be a dragon? They don’t live in the water.”
“Yes they do,” Kirstie said primly.
“How? They’ve got wings. They fly.”
“Fish fly,” Kirstie said.
“They aren’t dragons. Dragons are reptiles, not fish. And anyway, dragons breathe fire. So they can’t go in the water.”
“Some dragons do,” Kirstie said. “Not all dragons breathe fire.”
“You’re making this up!”
“Well, that’s where you’re wrong, Miss Barker read us a story, and she said it was a Chinese story, and there was a Chinese dragon and it lived in the water and it didn’t breathe fire or fly, but it was still a dragon because different ones live in China. So there!”
“Whatever,” Frankie said.
“And… I remember that TV show? The one about the Galapagos Islands? Well, that showed you those wee godzillas.”
“That’s what I mean. And they swim in the sea, don’t they? And what about crocodiles?”
“Whatever. They aren’t dragons, are they?”
“No, Mr Smartypants. But they’re reptiles. And dragons are reptiles, aren’t they? Like dinosaurs.”
“Whatever. It’s not a dragon if it lives in the water. It can’t be.”
“Ha. It is so. And that’s you clampered.”
“Whatever, child.” He kept his eye on the two jet-skiers; they had come close to the shore, laughing and shouting, zig-zagging across each other’s paths, turning massive arcs in the water and churning up white foam.
“Bloody nuisance, those things,” an old lady sitting on a bench said, to no-one in particular. “What a racket!”
One of the jet-skis leapt clean off the surface of the water. Frankie saw the monster breaching the surface and following the arc of descent, its fangs snapping shut in the space where the jet-ski had been just a second before. The creature tumbled over in the water and… he thought of the word… undulated. Its back was spiky with scales and its tail was forked as it flicked through the water. It was enraged now, and forgot its shyness and its reluctance to breach the surface during the daytime, thinking only of an elusive meal.
And as Frankie saw all this, he noticed something in the water.
“Hey,” he said to Kirstie, pointing. “You see that?”
“There, look.” There was something in the water, something black bobbing up and down in the spreading wake of the jet-skiers’ last pass.
“What? There’s nothing there.”
“No, there is. There’s something there, look. I mean it.” His voice rose with excitement. There was something in the water, some object. Only it wasn’t just bobbing now. It was moving, following the jet-skis.
“I see it… I think,” Kirstie said, doubtfully.
“It’s the monster, quick!” He turned towards his mum. “Mum, can I have your camera phone?”
Mum had moved a bit closer to the shore, perhaps instinctively, although her attention was still on the phone. “Not right now,” she said.
“But mum, there’s the monster! We need to take a picture.”
“What’s this, then?” said the old lady on the bench, getting to her feet. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t think it’s the monster,” said Kirstie, still dubious. The bump in the water was moving now, forming a little wake of its own. It was following the two jet-skiers, who had turned round and were heading directly towards them, and the shore.
“Get back from there anyway,” mum said, frowning at the rising burr of the jet-skis.
“But mum, we need to take a picture! It’s a monster! Please!”
“Frankie!” Perhaps she had laser beam eyes of her own; freeze rays, fixing Frankie to the spot.
“A monster? What?” The old dear shaded her eyes with her hand and squinted at the water.
“It’s not a monster,” said a smug-looking young man with his eye to one of the coin-operated telescopes. “It’s a buoy.”
“A boy?” Frankie blinked in confusion.
“Yes, a buoy, just a marker. A float in the water. It’s not a monster.” The man laughed. Frankie saw the word spelled out properly, B-U-O-Y, and coloured.
“It must have got loose of its moorings,” the man went on. “It’s following the… you see the wake? Where the two jet-skis passed?” The man gesticulated, chuckling.
The old dear laughed. “Ha ha! Well, it can’t be the monster anyway, young man. The monster lives in Loch Ness, not here.”
Kirstie was bent double with laughter. “Ha ha. Your face is so red. What an idiot.”
“Shut up!” Frankie stormed towards the water’s edge.
The jet-skis were coming very close now. The two men on them were laughing, neck-and-neck, playing chicken; it seemed inevitable that they must collide.
“Ha ha, your face is red, son,” said the old dear. Kirstie was laughing so hard she had dropped her toy shark into the sand. There was a spattering of tiny stones in its fur, studding its pink tongue. Whoever heard of a shark with fur? Frankie thought.
I hope the monster is a dragon, he thought. And I hope it takes everyone on the beach. Kirstie, the old woman, the man with the telescope. Roused from its sleep at the bottom of the loch, bigger than anything anyone had ever seen, the size of the whole lake, with immense wings, water pouring off it like a waterfall, blocking out the sun as it rose-
Mum gasped. Frankie, in looking at the water, hadn’t seen what she had seen – what had gone wrong with the jet-skiers as they zoomed towards the shore. A slight bulge in the water as they approached, something floating beneath the surface, an old log or a leaky oil drum, or perhaps even another buoy. There was sort of collision, or a deflection.
The jet-ski with the red dreadlocked man on it took off; he fell away and hit the water but the jet-ski kept going, airborne. Its engine cut out but was still turning as it cleared Frankie by a good distance, just missed the old dear and her bench and smashed into Frankie’s mum with a dull, final sound.
The jet-ski carried on down the pavement before turning over twice, red streaks scored down its white hull. A few people screamed and the man at the telescope clamped a hand to his mouth, eyes bulging as he stared at something on the ground a few feet away from where Frankie’s mum lay in a jumble of limbs.
Kirstie shrieked, the highest, loudest sound, and the old dear said: “Dear God.”
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