He couldn't help it. All morning, he'd been working with his brother and sister and their mother unpacking books and stacking them on the shelves of the library, and he must have carried a hundred empty cartons out to the barn, where he smashed them flat for the recycling center before going back for another load. And every time he looked down at the pond, winking in the sun like a million diamond eyes, and the field rising up toward the woods far beyond, he felt an urge to go. But each time he trudged back for another load. And then... he didn't. He just turned from the driveway and started out into the field, his feet brushing through the dry stubble of the hay that had been cut three days ago, two days before they had moved into the house in the country they had all dreamed about for so long. Peter could not have said just what made him head in that particular direction, other than the fact that he had been bored beyond belief and needed a break, but he had the feeling as he walked out onto the rise in the middle of the field, that it was something more. He stopped when he reached the crest of the broad mound and folded his arms over his chest. The July sun fell hot on his head and shoulders as he looked out at the field rolling away from him like an ocean covered with brown stubble. He was tall for twelve, so tall that people always assumed he was much older, which was cool, except when they also expected him to behave like he was much older. That was not cool, no matter how much he liked being five-ten. And he liked that a lot, especially since it put him two inches above Maria, who was two years older. Suddenly he felt cold. He shivered and he could feel the hairs stand up on the back of his neck as he shivered again then glanced around, looking behind him, back toward the house. The air was still and hot, the heat waves dancing and wriggling up from the dry field like mad translucent dancing worms. He couldn't hear a sound. The birds were quiet and no cars passed on the road in front of the house. Dead quiet. Peter wondered if he had ever heard such quiet, but whether he had or not, he found that just now it made him uneasy. And when a crow suddenly called from the far end of the field, he jumped as surely as if it had burst out of a dark closet and flown directly into his face. He whirled in that direction as it called again, and he spotted it sitting at the top of a tall white pine. It looked big, even for a crow, and he wondered if it was a crow. But what else could it be? Ask Brian the brain. The brain would know. If it had anything to do with nature, Brian knew about it. He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his shorts, wondering what was making him feel so strange, and maybe even a little scared. It was weird. How could you be scared of anything here? And how come he had the feeling that he didn't want to take another step toward the end of the field? What was out there? This was really stupid! He stepped boldly forward, taking one step and then another, and then he stumbled, his right foot gouging a slash in the ground. Peter stopped, and stepped back to see what he had stumbled on, feeling now as if his feet were glued to the ground. He glanced at his battered Nikes and as he started to look up, something shiny, lying where his foot had dug a slot through the grass, caught his eye, and he squatted, brushing the dirt aside. Slowly his fingers closed on a dull brass cartridge case. He turned it over in his hands looking, at the bottom of the shell. It was hard to read, but he could make out the name Winchester and the numbers forty-five and seventy. Cool. Really cool. How long had it been here? Who had stood right here and fired a rifle? And what had he been shooting at? A deer? Probably. Dad had said there were lots of deer around. He swept his hand over the stubble again and found a second case and then a third. Guy must've been a bad shot to have used three shots on a deer. Or maybe it was something else? A gunfight? Wow! He stood up quickly. A gunfight right here in their field! And then he grinned to himself. Imagination. It was just his imagination again, running off crazy the way it always did when something unexplainable came up. He turned each of the tarnished brass cases, over and over, examining each one closely, but he could not find the shiny spot that had caught his attention. Then he shrugged, dropped the empty cases into his pocket and walked back toward the house, determined to get his mother to take a break from the books so they could all go swimming in the pond. It would be tough though, because once she got into a project, she didn't like to quit until she had finished. As he walked back toward the house he thought about how neat it would be to have a dog bouncing along beside him. He hoped Mom and Dad hadn't forgotten their promise. Once they moved, they could get a dog. That was the deal. What he had in mind was a big black Labrador retriever and he was sure he could talk Brian into going along with that, but he wasn't so sure about Maria. Somehow he knew she'd have a different idea. She usually did. He trudged through the large dining room and into the hall that branched to the living room and the library in the front of the house. "Mom," he said, "I'm really, really hot. Couldn't we go swimming?" Sarah Bell looked up. "I know it's hot, Peter, but I have to finish getting these books unpacked." Peter looked at the stack of cartons and compared them to the shelves left to fill. "That's gonna take all day," he said. Sarah finished shelving another row of books. The heat and humidity had made her irritable and Peter was right. They should go swimming. Here they were with their own pond, nobody to bother them, it was almost dead in the middle of summer, and she had them corralled in a stuffy room full of books. This was something they could do after dark. She stood up. "Okay," she said, "you guys get your bathing suits on and I'll go get the towels... and don't leave your clothes in a pile on the floor. Hang them up!" They ran for the stairs, screaming and shouting as if they'd been released from prison, and in what seemed like seconds, came tumbling back down and dashed outside, the old screen door slamming shut behind them as they ran down the grassy shallow slope from the house to the narrow sandy beach at the edge of the pond. The pond covered nearly an acre, and the real estate agent had told them it was over twelve feet deep in the middle. The banks dropped off quickly, and though the water was clear, the bottom was dark, leaving you with the feeling that you couldn't see very far down, even though you could see to the bottom wherever it was light enough to reflect the sunlight. They stood in line, arranged by height, first Peter, then Maria, who was still not happy about no longer being the tallest, especially since she didn't know anyone who was fourteen and was shorter than their twelve-year-old brother, and finally Brian, who had also begun to stretch out. Pretty soon she'd be the last in line. At least she was taller than Mom. "Are you sure it's okay?" Maria asked. "Sure it is," Brian said in his deep matter-of-fact voice. "This is fresh water and it doesn't have anywhere near the kind of stuff that you get in salt water." "What about snakes?" Maria asked. "Snakes are scared of people," Brian said. Maria wanted to trust him, and she was sure he was telling her the truth about the snakes, but still, he was her younger brother. "I'm not going in if there are snakes," she said. "Jeez, Maria," Peter said. "If Brian says we don't have to worry, then there's nothing to worry about." He stepped into the water. "Look, I'll show you." He waded out, dove in, and swam out into the pond. The water was warm on the surface but just a short way down it was cool to the point of being cold. That was because of the springs in the bottom that kept the pond full. "Look," he called as he turned toward the shore. "No snakes!" "No snakes," Brian said as he followed Peter into the water, barging in, then diving through the surface and swimming with long powerful strokes out to join his brother. He couldn't run as fast as Maria, and he was no match for Peter at either basketball or baseball, but he could swim like a fish. Maria waded in. The bottom was sandy and she could see it clearly. That helped. At least she could see them coming. Or did snakes swim on the surface? Why did there have to be snakes anyway? What a dumb idea they were. Peter and Brian swam back to the shore, standing waist-deep on the sandy bottom. "Com'on, Maria," Peter said. "It's okay, really." She couldn't see any snakes, and now that she thought about it, she had only seen one snake in her whole life. But if ever she'd seen a place where there ought to be snakes, this was it. She stopped wading when the water reached her waist, looked around, and finally dove in. The temperature was perfect, warm on the surface and cool below. "This is great, Mom!" Peter shouted as Sarah walked down to the edge of the pond. "Much better than a stupid old pool. This water doesn't hurt your eyes." Oh my God!" Maria shrieked. "What's that?" She pointed to a small head sticking through the blue surface of the water. "Painted turtle," Brian said. "Do they bite?" He looked at his older sister as if she'd truly lost it. "It's a little painted turtle," he said. "They don't bite." But he couldn't stop there. She was just too vulnerable. "But you gotta watch out for snappers. Sometimes they can get up to forty pounds." "Are there snappers in here?" Peter asked as he edged closer to shore. Painted turtles he was okay on, but snappers, now snappers were something to worry about. "Every pond has snappers, but unless you step on their heads, they won't bother you," Brian said. "And they stay in thick mud in the deep parts of the pond." "What other uglies am I going to find in this pond?" Maria asked. "Frogs and fish," Brian said. A sly smile flashed across his face. Some things were too good to pass up, and besides, he owed her for all the things she'd done to him like the time on Halloween when she kept telling him about ghosts and things she wasn't afraid of. "Be careful of the eastern toe biters," he said. "They can give you a nasty pinch. And you wanna watch out for those orange spotted newts too. They've got poison on their skins." Maria rushed out of the water, throwing a bow wave the equal of a submarine coming ashore. "I'm never going in there again. I don't care if it gets so hot I melt, I'm not going in there again. I wish we had a swimming pool. I never liked swimming in ponds. I like swimming pools!" "Brian, stop that," Sarah said. "That was mean, making up something like that." "I didn't make it up," he said. "They're big bugs, about three inches long and they have a pincher in the front, and they bite toes, and they live in the mud." He smoothed the water out of his hair. "Of course you don't have to believe me...." Sarah looked doubtful. In the first place she had never heard of anything as improbable as an eastern toe biter, and, secondly, she smelled a rat. "And we have them in our pond?" "Maybe." "Just...maybe?" His mother raised her eyebrows as she looked around at him, her hands anchored on her narrow hips, sending a clear signal that her tolerance for sister baiting was at an all-time low. When he ignored her signals, she tried voice tone. "Brian?" "Well, they aren't very common," he said. "Maria, I think your little brother is settling a score," Sarah said. "I'll get you for that, dweeb," Maria said as she waded back into the water. "And don't even think about splashing me! I'll drown you like a rat!" "Maria!" Sarah said. "That's a terrible thing to say." "Mom," Peter said, "we need a raft to swim out to." "Talk to your father," she said. "SNAKE! SNAKE!" Brian shouted at the top of his lungs, and as Peter and Maria scrambled madly up onto the shore, he shouted, "NOOOOOOOOT!"