Under the Surface

Kierra’s obsession began under water. She was four years old, learning to swim for the first time. Her mother gave her a kickboard, told her to practice kicking and never let go. Kierra waited until no-one was looking and let go. Just to see what would happen. She drifted to the bottom, the world reduced to distant echoes. Her mother’s red swimsuit burnt into her retinas. Their last bit of data before everything went black. It was the first time she died, her first memory and her last swimming lesson.

Or maybe it went even further back, to the code imprinted in her DNA; the subtle, ancestral programming that halted the development of empathy in her young mind. Like a black hole, it pulled in experiences from Kierra’s life, sometimes instantly, sometimes waiting for them to form memories it could distort.

Kierra’s behaviour was unconsciously dictated by the code. It haunted every cell in her body, bursting out here and there in dark spasms that terrified her parents. She was always able to play nice afterwards. Convince people it was just an accident or a misunderstanding, whatever she had done. And then she knew to be more careful next time.

All these tiny things she did were meaningless to Kierra. It was mildly entertaining, toying with people. But she was easily bored. Nothing ever held her attention too long. Until one particular morning and one particular news story.

The story found her on the sofa, eating breakfast where her mother had asked her not to. It was the best spot for sun. Her mother cared too much about furniture. A couple of kids had found a dead body in a park. Kierra chewed bacon rind as she watched. They didn’t show the body.

She’d seen plenty of people get killed on the internet. But those kids had seen the real thing. Kierra sipped her juice and made a decision. She wanted to be more than just a distant witness. She wanted to be important, like those kids. She wanted to see death up close.

Kierra considered her options. She didn’t really feel like having to kill anyone. And she definitely didn’t want to be the victim. She didn’t even want to know the victim. Or the murderer. But finding a body, that was something she could do.

So Kierra’s search began.

If she had been a normal child, this endeavour would’ve been forgotten within a week or two. But Kierra was something else. Her unnatural patience persisted until the day before her 14th birthday.

Her parents were working through the weekend. They had left her alone with her four-year-old brother. For the first time ever. Usually they found a babysitter. Kierra hadn’t done anything to him for years but they still didn’t trust her.

There was a river right by their house she liked to explore. It had an island in the middle of it and lots of twists and bends. With the thick reeds and fallen trees, it seemed the perfect place to dump a body. Kierra wasn’t going to let her brother get in the way of her mission. As she walked, his little hand clasped in hers, she kept her eyes on the shallows, looking for anything unusual.

Her eyes, so used to this stretch of reality, were trained to pick up any anomalies. The red and blue lump did not belong. She paused, cocked her head, and looked back. Clothing? She took a few steps toward it, leaving the path. It was definitely clothes. Wrapped around something large and bloated. She moved closer.

There was a dark, round lump on one end of the red and blue mass. At the other end, what looked like legs. It was hard to tell because the ‘whatever-it-was’ was stuck up under a dead tree. Kierra felt the rest of the world close off around her. This was it. Twitching with adrenaline, she slid down the bank, landing on her knees at the water’s edge.

Her fingers dug through the wet sand, clenching into dirty fists. The tree blocked her view of the body even more from up close. She grabbed onto a sturdy looking root and pulled herself up onto the trunk. The bark was wet but not slippery. She crawled out to where the body lay, half submerged, half suspended between two branches. Her face twisted into a scowl.

Holding onto a nearby branch, she kicked the body, hard. She kicked and kicked at it, adrenaline fuelling her rage. The legs floated away, a sports bag, its long zipper open, filling with water, sinking. The torso tore apart. Socks clung to the branches above, the rest dipped beneath the surface and didn’t return. Only the head stayed afloat. Kierra looked around for something to puncture it with.

And then she laughed. Rage dissipating, she abandoned the football. Another false alarm was no big deal.

There was something though. Something wasn’t right. She looked at her hand. She’d been holding something before.

Icy fingers imploded and exploded through Kierra’s body at the same time. She looked around. He was nowhere. This time, instead of the world closing off, it swelled out all around her. She scanned for him as she ran back to the path. Nothing. He couldn’t have gotten far on his little legs. Without even thinking about it, perhaps out of habit, she turned and looked towards the water. She looked at the river, so familiar to her, where she had searched so long for her dream. She looked, and she saw, not far from the edge, a tiny lump floating in the water.

She wasn’t even the one to pull him out. Someone else had noticed, come running, carried his little body to the bank, tried to revive him. It was no use. She had known it wouldn’t be. She knew the moment she saw him – there was no saving him.
Kierra disconnected herself. A preservation technique. She watched herself get pushed and pulled a lot; faces in her face; voices; yelling. It all remained at a safe distance though.

Her parents blamed her. She knew they would. The police explained they thought it was an accident. Kierra hadn’t meant to let him go. The story she’d told them made sense and, besides, she was just a kid. The police believed her. They were easy. But she could read her parents eyes. Their loveless message: “I know what you are.”
They didn’t say a thing to her the whole way home. Kierra didn’t care. When she was left alone, she retreated to the only place she felt she could go: back to the river. From a distance, you wouldn’t even have noticed her tiny figure, picking a slow and solitary path along the bank.

Her tragedy hadn’t turned out the way she planned. Someone else had pulled him out.
Now she didn’t know what she was. Victim? Killer?

She didn’t like it. But sitting by the river gave her peace. When she finally stood up to go, she was calm; happy even. She smiled as she waded into the water and allowed the wet darkness to engulf her for the second time in her life. She turned her eyes to the sky, before dipping below the surface, and tried to imagine the face of the person who would find her.

Under the Surface


Brisbane, Australia

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