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  • Writer's pictureGastropoda

A Baptism by Nathaniel Spain

Follow the irrigation ditch beyond the railway line and you come to a thicket of willow trees. Between them the hem of a chain-link fence has been pulled upward, like a hand sweeping something under a rug. You can slide through this gap. The dirt beneath has been worn smooth by generations of trespassers.

Don’t mind the needles, the crushed cans. Here there’s a mud-stained traffic-cone, half a mile from the nearest road. Here there’s a bent-legged shopping trolley, five miles from the supermarket. Here there’s a stream, choked and lazy-looking, meandering through the reedbeds. An artificial culvert was built to let the waterway pass beneath the rushing A-Road further downstream, but it was made too wide. Now the stream rolls on its back listlessly. It has formed a mere where water-snails stake a shrinking claim and minnows move in faltering currents. A drowned car sits in the middle of this pond. There’s no glass in the windows. The upholstery has rotted away, its doors hanging loosely open. Water licks a canopy lined with slumbering insects.

Grace sat on the bank. It was hot. Mosquitos fell and rose like the peaks and troughs of a radio wave. She was looking at the car. ‘Lewis said the Arley gang dumped it,’ she said.

‘What?’ said Mark, drawing on the stub of a spliff.

‘Dumped it with a body in the boot.’

Mark blew out smoke. ‘Want to look?’ he asked.


‘At the car.’ He pointed the joint at it. ‘We can crank the boot open.’

Grace looked at the wreck. ‘It’s in the water,’ she protested.

‘Say if you’re scared.’


‘Don’t want to find a body, do you?’

‘Not really.’

Mark laughed. He passed her the spliff. ‘Heard it was revenge,’ he said.

Grace half-listened as he spun a story of a lover scorned, violence and property damage, a final wild and wrathful jettison of a beloved vehicle in this modest wilderness. She took a final drag on the joint and ground its measly end into the shrivelled grass. Mark stopped talking and they sat and stared at the car, wondering. The sun beat on them. Grace scratched her armpit. She was conscious of layered sweat and dust, grass-smears, mosquito-bites. The water rippled up at her. Soft trickle, with the voice of a water-sprite. If not for the car it would look inviting.

‘Alright,’ she said, and took off her sandals.


She stepped in. The water rose to her knees. It was cool. A minnow panicked away as clouds of coffee-coloured dirt spread from her feet. Water-ripples bounced up at her.

‘You’ll stand on a broken bottle or something,’ Mark said. ‘Barbed wire. Leeches.’

‘You suggested it.’

She stepped further. She felt pebbles under the silt with her toes. Water-weeds tickled at her. She saw some creature light pink and unidentifiable wriggle away. Mark stepped into the pond with a deep splash. ‘Shit,’ he said. ‘It’s cold.’

‘Gets deeper out here.’

‘My shorts’ll get soaked.’

‘Do you care?’

‘Well, yeah. Don’t you?’

Grace shook her head. ‘We’ll dry quick enough, won’t we? But go on, take them off if you’re worried.’

‘Alright,’ Mark said. He stepped back onto the bank and pulled them down his sunburned legs. He took his top off too, standing in nothing but his boxers. Grace glanced at him and then away, back to the car, the rippling water.

An intense dullness had been sitting in Grace like a seismic damper. It had been there throughout the summer. She only noticed it now the water was seeping it away. The reed-beds came sharp to her eyes; the way they moved in breezy patterns. She saw a heron lobbing its way through the air. Grace remembered a troop-carrying plane which had lumbered into the sky up from the military base – years previously, when she listened to her brother and her dad muse over wars long ended, waiting for something to grasp on to.

‘Hey, come here,’ said Mark, sloshing closer, putting his hand on her back. ‘Do you trust me?’

‘I dunno,’ Grace said, ‘do I?’

‘Give me your hands.’ He crossed them on her chest and lowered her carefully. At first she tensed. Her legs were stiff. He laughed and told her not to be boring, that she was wet enough already. She let her weight go with his hands and he brought her to the water’s surface. The pond soaked through her shorts and her vest and then flooded over her head. She squeezed her eyes. She held her breath. She worried about her hair. Muddied and filled with the spawn of frogs and other creatures. Pesticides and fertilizers all seeping from overburdened fields. But then she was up, wiping the water from her face.

‘I baptise thee Grace,’ he said.

‘Tit,’ she said, spitting out water. But she was laughing.

‘Do me now.’

She shook her head. ‘I’ll drop you.’

‘I’ll float.’

So she tried to lower him. She dropped him with a great rush of water. He surfaced spluttering and cussed her out and she laughed and laughed. There was a shuddering groan and a plop. They looked at the car. Silt billowed from beneath the chassis. Some revenant had its foot on the accelerator. A ghostly force running now through the engine, drawing power from a murky and flooded fuel tank, home only to a enormous bloated toad.

The car rolled. A sagging tyre shunted clear of the silt. The whole thing took a step forward and then another. An ancient air-pocket buoyed it half an inch from the bed. Spilled mud and reek yawed out into the pond. Mark pulled himself onto the bank and Grace after him, to stand wetly on the grass.

They watched as the flooded vehicle started a passage down-river, some stygian gondola travelling to a final demise where its parts and panels would at last fall clean from it like a nymph disrobing. Rust to rust. Bacteria would consume it whole.

‘Weird,’ said Grace.

She was drying off already.


Nathaniel is a writer based in the North East of England. His short fiction has previously been published in Carmen et Error, Provenance Journal, and The Fiction Pool, and he has released a zine of speculative fiction called Fragments. His work can be found at

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