This story starts with the day I found the fish.
I was standing about with nothing to do, by the huge puddle I called a pond. Dad said it wasn't a proper pond, because the floody rain had left it there by accident, and it would disappear again soon.
I said, "What is it then? Because it's too big to be a puddle."
Dad had to agree I was right. He is quite tall, and it was as wide each way as three Dads if you laid them out head to toe, in a line.
At least, it had been that big. It had been shrinking every day since the rain had stopped, and now I realized that it had become the puddle that Dad had always said it was.
Anyway, I was standing about, as I said, with a stick in my hand poking at things, because there was nothing else to do. I couldn't swish the stick in the water because I couldn't get close enough to the edge. The mud was terrible. I had already fallen over in it three times and my clothes were covered in it. I wasn't worried about what my parents would say because they never minded, they were so busy anyway. Now that the rain had stopped, we could dry things again.
So I stood in the last patch of sticky mud before it turned into the liquid patch, and hit at some bits of green poking out of the water's edge.
All of a sudden there was a ripple and a flash, and a big fish leapt out of the brown water, making a rainbow in the spray as it flew in an arc and landed back--splash!--in the water again.
I had been feeling very gloomy a moment before. Now I stood and blinked and stared. Nothing moved. I wanted to see the fish again. The glow of the colors had flooded my eyes, like when you open the curtains on a lovely sunny day. I had a warm feeling all through, despite the mud.
I put one foot forward and tested the ground a bit further in. I had old leather sandals on and bare feet, but you wouldn't have known it. The mud had made big, oozy mud clogs around each foot.
I wanted the ground to be safe to walk on, because I so wanted to find that fish. But it wasn't safe--I knew I'd get stuck if I got any closer, and I was quite a way from the house, and maybe no one would hear me call and no one would come looking till teatime. I walked all around the edge, just in case, but it was the same everywhere.
Very slowly, because it is hard to walk in oozy mud clogs, I walked back up the rough earth path to the house.
Dad was there, because it was his turn to look after me and do the tea. He looked tired and dusty. We hadn't got much water for things like washing, in spite of all the rain.
We were a funny family--not like the ones in the books I read, which we'd brought from our own country.
That was one thing that was different about us for a start--we didn't come from the country we were living in now. Mum and Dad had brought me with them when I was little. They had come to this country to help the people, who were having a hard time.
And they were having a hard time, I can tell you.
First, it was boiling hot, but not like the summers in our home country. This hot was dusty hot, with no green growing anywhere. There had been bits of bushes and wispy dry grass in the beginning, I can remember, but after a while even that had gone. I had stroked the goats and the donkey who'd come to nibble at it. Then they stopped coming and I missed them and asked why they didn't visit anymore.
Mum had said, "Because there's no more grass and leaves." She had pushed her hands through her hair when she said this, and had looked so tired and sad, I was surprised. I didn't know she'd liked the animals visiting too.
The boiling hot had stayed for what seemed like forever. The people Mum and Dad taught, and sometimes helped with medicine, ran out of water and food. We were luckier, because our country was still looking after us with some food (not very nice food) and bottled water. I asked, Couldn't we give our food and water to the people?
Excerpted from Fish by L. S. Matthews Copyright© 2004 by L. S. Matthews. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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