It was dark, and Senatla sat at the fire watching Connie, Themba and Kagiso dance. Looking out at the black smoothness of the dam, Senatla felt a shiver. She knew there was no ‘Kloof Dam Monster’. Well, she knew it in her head at least. But it was an odd night. The moon was hidden behind clouds so that, away from the fire, little could be seen. It was still hot even though the sun had gone down hours ago. It had been a scorching day.

The song ended and Themba, Connie and Kagiso joined Senatla near the fire. They drank punch and ate chips and bits of meat. Reggie and Marike joined them and passed around a bag of marshmallows. People looked for sticks and started roasting them. Senatla’s marshmallow caught fire, as it usually did when she roasted marshmallows. She blew out the flames and ate it anyway. The moon came out from behind the clouds and the dam’s surface shivered in blue light. Shadows formed around trees.

“I think it’s time for a story,” Marike said. “Reggie you start. You’re the best storyteller.”

Reggie cleared his throat. “OK, I think I’ll tell the story of the Kloof Dam Monster. Do you know about the monster, Kagiso?”

“No,” she said.

“Well it’s not really a story, in that it’s not made up. It’s what actually happened. You see, for many years people spoke about seeing something like a big snake living in the dam. People would see either the tail or the back as it dived under the water. They’d go back into town and tell people, but no-one really believed in it. That was, until David Coetzee.”

“David Coetzee?” Kagiso asked.

“Yes. David used to come fishing out here. One day, a hot day like today, he was out fishing. The fish weren’t biting and he decided to take a swim. That was where he made a mistake. Something grabbed him under the water. It grabbed him and pulled him under. He managed to get free, but it bit off his foot. Luckily for him someone arrived at the dam just then, so he got to town in time to be saved and told people what happened. David was lucky, he lived. Since then the monster has taken five children. That’s why people don’t swim out here anymore. They’re afraid of the monster.”

“But Senatla said we might swim tonight. What about the monster?” Senatla was sure she heard Kagiso’s voice quiver. Reggie and Marike’s prank was working. They’d scared her with their story. Senatla felt bad, because Kagiso looked very frightened.

“Don’t listen to him,” Senatla said to her. “It’s all made up. There’s no monster. I’ve swum here loads of times. Everybody does. He’s just trying to scare you.”

Marike glared at Senatla. “Maybe you’re not tasty enough for the monster, Senatla. My father knew David Coetzee. He was his neighbour. It’s a true story.”

Senatla could hear the anger in Marike’s voice, so kept quiet. They all sat quietly for a while. Suddenly Reggie jumped to his feet. “Who wants to go swimming?” Everybody looked at him. “So what? You’re all scared of a story? Scared of monsters as old as you are?”

Marike stood up. “I’ll go in. I’m not afraid.”

Connie and Themba stood up. “We’re in.”

They stood looking at Senatla and Kagiso. “So? What about you two?” Reggie asked.

“I’m cold,” Senatla said. “I don’t want to swim.” Marike glared at her, but she would not give in. She had realised that they were going to scare Kagiso in the water. She didn’t want to be part of it.

“So what about you, Kagiso? I hope you’re not a coward like Senatla,” Marike said.

Kagiso stood up. “I’m in.”

When they disappeared toward the dam, Senatla went down to watch them in the moonlight. They were already a bit far out. She could see Kagiso at the back, closer to the shore, near a patch of reeds. Just then she screamed, and she was jerked under the water. Senatla knew this was part of the game. Reggie would sneak up on her underwater and then pull her down so that she might think the ‘Dam Monster’ was getting her. Pull her under for just a second, to scare her. It was just a game, but why was Senatla so anxious about it tonight?

Everyone rushed to get out of the water after Kagiso screamed. Once safely on the shore, Reggie and Marike started laughing. Senatla looked around. “Where’s Kagiso?”

“She must still be swimming,” Reggie said. The moon was hidden again and the surface of the dam was dark. Senatla searched for Kagiso. “I don’t see her.”

Reggie swam back out to where he had grabbed Kagiso’s legs. She was not there. “Maybe she got so scared she ran back to the car,” Marike said when Reggie returned. They all rushed to the car. Kagiso was not there. Senatla knew – she hadn’t come out of the water.

* * *

Tell us what you think: What should the teenagers do?