Summer. Warm sun, cool water and childhood collided with shrill laughter as small bodies torpedoed off a long wooden dock thrust into the shallow waves of Johnson Lake. Splashes and shrieks lit the air with joy as children cannonballed into the water, sending sparkling plumes high in the air. Nixie sat on the upper platform of the two tiered deck, swinging her skinny legs and watching a lazy string of cumulus drift across the azure sky. Golden brown hair straggled in wet strings down her back and her skin glowed bronze, testifying to a summer spent racketing in the sunshine. Like the other children she was clothed in her bathing suit, glorying in the day's heat.
The upper deck of the two tiered dock sat four feet above two lower platforms where boats could be moored. It was ringed by a metal pipe rail meant to keep people from just walking off the edge. The railing had a top rail and a middle rail with eighteen inches between the wood planking and the pipe. A fall from the top deck would be painful at best. A wrong landing could lead to significant injury. In contrast, the lower platforms had no railings, sitting so close to the water. One could slip under the dock and swim back into the light, if they so desired. The children treated the whole structure as a jungle gym, flying from one deck to another and climbing like monkeys on the railings so they could hurl themselves into the wind tossed ripples of the lake. They rollicked in the sun splashed waters around the structure for hours, but muttered to each other when they looked at the greenish gray mystery under the wooden planks of the upper deck. They speculated on its depth, guessing there might be wires or nails hidden there to injure their feet should they venture into the unknown. Fear sent delicious shivers up their spines as they made up monsters that dwelt in that murky little patch of water. They dared each other to go under the dock, but terror had taken hold and the area became a sacrosanct no-kids-land.
Standing up, Nixie looked to her right as the three year old sibling of one of the children was just settling down on the edge of the upper deck, using the middle pipe to steady himself. He scooched too close to the edge and fell. It was a moment suspended in time as the toddler plunged between the top deck, striking his face on the lower deck then landing in the water under the dock with a sickening splash. The children gathered around, looking anxiously at that forbidden area and at each other, wringing hands and making distressed sounds. No one made a move to help the drowning little boy. Nixie swung down to the bottom pier, swallowing the dread that skirted up her throat and, without a word, slipped into the water under the dock. She grabbed the struggling youngster around the waist just as she realized the water was no deeper, nor more dangerous here than anywhere else they had been playing all day. Her peers murmured to each other as she stood, holding the boy above the water.
"You!" She pointed at one of her playmates. "Go get the dads! Now!" Her urgent command broke the fear-spell cast upon her comrades and the children pelted off to do as she bid. Seconds dragged by as the little boy in Nixie's arms shivered and screamed. He was heavy for a seven-year-old to prop up. The little girl hoisted him till his bottom was sat upon a submerged length of pipe. She listened with mounting concern for the pounding footsteps of the grown ups, knowing she could do little else with the struggling toddler until they came. Finally! Finally rushing footsteps echoed along the wood and metal of the dock. The fathers had arrived! What relief to pass the boy to his papa! The stress and strain evaporated as Nixie clambered out of the water onto the bleached boards of the lower dock, soaking in warm rays and listening to the distressed-parent calls of the fathers. They ignored her when she asked if the little one would be ok, rushing back toward the compound where they whisked away in a car for the nearest hospital.
"Your so brave!" crowed one of her peers, eyes round and cheeks flushed.
"I couldn't have done that!" squealed another, bouncing up and down as the children gathered round. For a moment she basked in their praise, saying any one of them would have jumped in if it hadn't been her. She hoped they would have, anyway and shied away from thinking of what might have been had she been as frozen as they.
One of the boys slid into the water under the dock, followed by another. Soon all of the children had returned to their splashing and paddling, the murky water no longer a mystery. Nixie sat at the edge, dangling her feet in the water and watched her friends. A little magic had been removed from the world today by cruel necessity. She wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not.