Rewrite: Mrs. Foy’s Koi

13 Jan

This short story first appeared in Through the Glass Darkly. It will be retold in Through the Glass Darkly II, which I hope to publish this spring. It is somewhat rewritten and edited.

Tell me what you think?


Art by Ray Ferrer

Art by Ray Ferrer

Mrs. Foy’s Koi

by L. Stewart Marsden


Mrs. Foy lived in a large Tudor-style brick house which sat on one of the largest lots in our small town. She had been widowed for many years, her husband passing quite suddenly of a heart attack while at work. But, he was more than adequately insured, and the business passed to his partner, who ran the firm successfully for years before cheap imports impacted the business. He retired, closed everything, and put hundreds of factory workers on the street.

Mrs. Foy had assumed her husband’s title of Chairman of the Board, and made out quite well despite the business failure at the end.

Plus, Mrs. Foy came from money − old money − which was much more important than being from new money. Especially among the wealthy in our town. She had no financial concerns at all. At least, that’s what I heard in our kitchen when Mom was on the phone.

The Foy yard was our playground. It was massive. What wasn’t meticulously manicured and landscaped had been allowed to become a feral forest of oak and elm, dogwood and magnolia and rhododendron. All rose from a thick carpet bed of ivy. Most of the tree trunks were sheathed in the ivy.

It was our South Pacific; our Guadalcanal; our Philippines. My friends and I spent hundreds of hours playing war − crawling, crashing, dashing and charging through the trees and undergrowth with our plastic rifles and machine guns and pistols blazing away.

In contrast, the cared part of her yard bore edged sidewalks, beds and beds of various flowers and bushes and other plantings along stone walls that bordered the rectangular back yard. At one end of the rectangle was the cobblestone driveway and the matching Tudor garage with its two large car bays.

At the other end was a rectangular pool. It wasn’t for swimming. It was only a few feet deep, discovered by Billy when he crashed through the ice one winter.

Lily pads covered most of the water surface, and the rough, concrete sides were coated with green slime and algae. On the bottom of the pool was a layer of blackened leaves and silt, which made the pond water always seem dark and foreboding. Mrs. Foy never had the pool cleaned.

In the center of the pool was a stone statue of a chubby angel, its tiny wings spread, attached to a pedestal by one cherub foot. During the warmer months, a stream of water spouted and arched from its mouth and splashed into the pool.

The pool was home to many live things: peepers and tadpoles, skeeter bugs and mosquitos and such.

And the Koi.

I had always thought they were goldfish that had grown enormous because they weren’t in a small space. But now I know better. I don’t know how many Koi were in the pool − there were a lot.

They hung suspended in the water a few inches below the surface, barely moving, seeming to look upward. They were all sorts of colors: orange and white, black and orange, red and electric blues. The colors were splotchy, as though each had been randomly daubed onto the bodies of the fish.

Whenever I stood a while at the edge of the pool, the Koi would slowly group and head my way, as though waiting for something. Waiting and watching, just below the surface. I wondered how I looked to them through the water.

“Are the fish in Mrs. Foy’s pool dangerous?” I asked my mom.

“I don’t think so,” she said, dropping doughy corn fritter balls into the deep fryer.

“What do you think they eat?”

“I really don’t know. I’m sure Mrs. Foy has a special food she feeds them.”

“How old do you think they are? They’re so big! I bet they’re really old.”

“I wouldn’t know. Wash your hands for supper, Dear.”

So I would think about those big fish in Mrs. Foy’s pool. Every once in a while she or her house maid would catch us hovering around the edge of the pool and shout at us.

“You boys get away from that pool! You’ll fall in and the fish will eat you!”

We’d run and jump the stone wall and disappear into the South Pacific.

I’m not sure that Mrs. Foy really minded us playing in her yard. Maybe, when she was cooling off on her screened porch, recovering from a hot July scorcher with a tall iced tea with a sprig of mint, maybe she would hear our voices drift up from the thick woods. Maybe a thin smile would spread on her lipsticked mouth across her powdered cheeks. Maybe she would stare off into the woods, remembering some other time and place and life.

* * * * *

I started feeding the Koi.

At first I would grab a piece of toast or a biscuit and cram it into my pocket, head out the back door and cut through the neighbor’s towards Mrs. Foy’s. I’d stand at the edge of the pool and wait until the Koi gathered. Then I’d take the bread out and crumble it, dropping pieces into the water.

The bread would float a while before one of the Koi, always the one with a bright red splotch on its head, would drift up to the surface and suddenly suck in the bread. The other Koi floated nearby, seeming to approve. The Koi with the red splotch grabbed piece after piece before finally disappearing to the bottom of the pool. Then the others would eat, in no particular order.

The red splotch looked like a drop of blood splatter onto his head. He seemed to be the leader, so I named him “Captain Blood.”

Over time I experimented to see what the fish would eat. They liked bread of all sorts. They didn’t like celery or cut raw carrots. They would suck it in and spew it out quickly. Some lettuce was fine.

I decided one day to see if they would eat from my hand, and lay on my stomach at the edge of the pool with bread crumbs in my hand, which I dipped slightly into the water. Captain Blood had no problem at all. He floated up to my hand, studied the bread, and suddenly sucked it in with a flick of his head. That startled me. And it tickled. My heart pounded in my head from the excitement of it.

The other fish weren’t so adventurous. I had to drop their food into the water for them to warily eat.

I began to bring other food − meat − especially for Captain Blood. It started with hot dogs. I broke off small pieces and put them into my hand, which I dipped into the water. At first, I thought Captain Blood was going to refuse the hot dog. He floated in the water for the longest time near my hand.

Then he did something totally different. He began to circle my hand — wide circles, at first. And as he circled he drew nearer, then suddenly leaped and grabbed the piece of hot dog! It scared me so I jerked my arm away from the pool and stood up, looking into the water.

Captain Blood was nowhere to be seen. Just the other fish milling about cow-like. I could see a thrashing about near the bottom of the pool, which stirred the silt and leaves into a cloudy haze, making it difficult to see anything.

I wondered had I done something wrong. Perhaps the hot dog lodged in Captain Blood’s throat! Perhaps he choked and drowned!

Can a fish drown?

I kept peering into the water. Then, I saw Captain Blood rising from the bottom of the pool. He was alive! He floated up slowly, and began to circle in a wide swathe. All the while, he seemed to peer up at me through the water. Watching me. Waiting for me.

I pulled off another piece of hot dog and put my hand into the water. Captain Blood reappeared out of the murky bottom. He was still alive! I hadn’t killed him!

This time Captain Blood made just a few passes before charging and grabbing the meat. Once again he disappeared into the depths of the pool.

“He’s gone to eat it by himself,” I thought.

The scene repeated until Captain Blood devoured all the hot dog. None of the other fish showed any interest at all. In fact, the other fish moved away from the area.

Over time I came back with different scraps of meat from the table: chuck roast, fried chicken, ham hocks, bits of steak. Each time Captain Blood feasted. He was seemingly insatiable. I fed the other fish bread, which Captain Blood now disdained.

This continued throughout the summer and into the fall.

After a time I noticed that Captain Blood seemed a bit larger than the other fish in the pool.

“Must be the meat,” I thought, and was pleased that I was the source of his growth.

When the weather turned cold I quit going to Mrs. Foy’s to feed Captain Blood. School and basketball and Boy Scouts took his place.

“What happens to fish in the winter?” I asked my mom when the days grew short.

“Not sure. I think they sort of hibernate.”

“What about the fish in Mrs. Foy’s pool?”

“Well, if they’re like frogs or snakes, then their bodies slow down. Like I said, hibernate. They’ve survived many winters, Dear. I wouldn’t worry.”

So I didn’t worry.

When it snowed three Wednesdays in a row, and got really cold, and school was cancelled, some of the guys and I went to Mrs. Foy’s pool to see what we could. Billy refused to step out onto the ice again, and I don’t blame him.

With the surface of the pond covered with snow, we went back home and grabbed a broom, then returned and swept what we could from the edge off the ice. It was dark underneath − the lily pads and all − and we couldn’t see anything. Just before we left because of the cold, I thought I saw something red flash under the ice. Captain Blood?

In the spring when the tree peepers began to sing, and when the dogwoods budded, and when the popcorn trees exploded with white blossoms, I went back to Mrs. Foy’s pool to check on Captain Blood and the other fish.

The pool was very murky, as though something had stirred the silt and the leaves at the bottom continuously.

Stare as I might, I could not see any fish. I stood with the spring sun warming my shoulders, my shadow cast across the pool’s surface. In the past, this was enough, and after a few minutes the Koi would begin to assemble.

I opened my bread bag of crusts and loaf ends, and crumbled some bread and dropped it to the into the pool. Ripples circled out and widened on the water’s surface.


Then, something moved down at the bottom of the pool. It was large. Turtle maybe? I knew snapping turtles ate fish. Maybe one had moved in when the ground had thawed. Maybe the turtle had eaten all of the Koi in Mrs. Foy’s pool. Maybe all the fish were dead, even Captain Blood.

I couldn’t see anything. It thundered overhead and a light spring rain started to fall, and I turned away to go home. At that moment I heard a loud splash in the water, and turned just in time to see something large with a bright red splotch dive to the bottom of the pool.

Captain Blood?

As I peered intently into the cloudy water, I felt watched. Something in the pool. Looked at me from the bottom. I neared the edge and bent over. The water began to move as something at the bottom moved. Circular. Slowly. Large. Shadowy. My heart beat quickly. My breath came shallow and rapidly. The rain increased, and the surface of the pool was perforated with watery bullets.

I turned and left, sighing in relief, though I wasn’t sure why. As if I had escaped something ominous, something horrific. In the back of my mind I toyed with what it might be, but shook the idea off as ridiculous and childish.

Still, the shadow in the pool stayed on my mind.

I had a terrible dream that night.

It was dark, but a full moon was out, and I was in Mrs. Foy’s back yard. Everything was bluish-black in hue. The Tudor house rose gauntly into the half-lit sky. Like mountains. It’s windows looked like black eyes, with the reflected moon for pupils. Ivy draped the walls like grisly hair.

Ahead of me was the pool, its waters black. The angel statue was spouting − but not water. Red. It was red. It was spouting red from its mouth, and the red splashed into the pool, shattering the surface. The water in the pool was dark red − almost-black red − and frothing and foaming.

I walked to the edge of the pool. All about on the grass were splotches of red foam, blowing slightly with the wind. The moon was reflected in pieces on the stirred water’s surface.

I looked into it.

A shadowy figure rose slowly from the pool bottom and hovered below the surface of the water. It was large − as large as me. At its top was a bright splotch of red that seemed to change shape as I watched. It seemed to throb − to pulse − as with a regular beat.

The figure began to circle the pool, slowly at first, and then more quickly, more frenzied. The angel statue suddenly vanished, and an eddy formed in the middle of the pool, spinning and sucking. The watery whirlpool drew me closer and closer to its center, pulling and pulling.

Spinning around the edge of the whirlpool was the shape, the bright red splotch, pulsing, spinning, pulling.

And I fell into the water.

* * * * *

At breakfast I stuffed a biscuit and a strip of bacon into my pocket. It was Saturday, and I was off and out of the back door before Mom could catch me.

“You’ve got chores to do!” she shouted behind me, but I was well on my way, cutting through the neighbor’s yard on my way to Mrs. Foy’s.

It was early morning, and the trees dripped rain from the all-night thunder-storm.

When I reached the stone wall surrounding Mrs. Foy’s back yard, I stopped. An ambulance and two police cars were parked in the drive near the house. The housekeeper was standing near the garage, weeping into a handkerchief, while a policeman questioned her.

I crept closer, trying not to be seen.

On the ground next to the pool was an oblong shape, covered with a sheet. The sheet was stained red at one end. Two men dressed in white coveralls wheeled a stretcher across the lawn, leaving wet tracks in the grass. They stopped at the oblong shape.

Another policeman was talking to a third policeman.

“Musta drowned sometime during the night, or maybe yesterday afternoon. It’s hard to tell. Maybe the coroner can tell time of death. But, what the hell chewed her leg like that?”

“Snapping turtle could do that. It’d take a few hours, I would think. Damnedest thing I’ve ever seen!”

The news said Mrs. Foy drowned in her pool. They said nothing about her chewed leg. They said nothing about the missing Koi. They said nothing about the murky pool and the large shadowy figure with the bright red splotch.

I said nothing, too.


13 Responses to “Rewrite: Mrs. Foy’s Koi”

  1. frederick anderson January 14, 2015 at 4:04 am #

    Excellent tale – thank you.

    • skipmars January 14, 2015 at 8:40 am #

      Thank you! It links with a second short story which I am also rewriting, which takes place in Mrs. Foy’s feral forest: Guadalcanal.

  2. platosgroove January 14, 2015 at 10:20 am #

    Very nice. Innocent curiosity became a secret and grew into something dangerous which left him with hidden guilt.

    • skipmars January 14, 2015 at 11:16 am #

      That’s a great capsulation of the story. May I use it?

      • platosgroove January 14, 2015 at 11:33 am #

        Of course. Thank you. I needed that today. Maybe at the end something about the hidden guilt of the bloody human stain. I just saw the loss of innocence as he crossed a line he thought didn’t matter. Now the boy has bloody hands. Or not. Either way I appreciate that you thought enough to ask. It meant something to me.

      • skipmars January 14, 2015 at 12:32 pm #

        Out, damned spot!

  3. InfiniteZip January 15, 2015 at 12:26 pm #

    What an awesome tale. I have one koi in my pond and it has a big red spot on its head….I will be wary swimming now so thanks for that…

    • skipmars January 15, 2015 at 1:20 pm #

      Take a picture of the Koi and send it to me!

      • InfiniteZip January 15, 2015 at 1:32 pm #

        I only see it in the spring, the pond is an acre and a half and currently covered with ice (minus 10 windchill yesterday)🐬

      • skipmars January 15, 2015 at 1:45 pm #

        Well, in the spring, take some bread (or hot dogs) and stand by the pond, camera in hand. Just don’t stand too close to the edge!

      • InfiniteZip January 16, 2015 at 5:17 am #

        We don’t feed him/her….it lives with a bunch of small mouth bass…they eat their own young so maybe he went from food to flesh quicker🐠🐟

      • skipmars January 15, 2015 at 1:46 pm #

        Oh, yeah — forgot. You won’t be there in the spring. So, there are ponds in Florida.

      • InfiniteZip January 16, 2015 at 5:19 am #

        We will see…but I have three cats and the one already likes to bring me catfish from the neighbors pond….its a cesspool and the old neighbor used to feed them Cheerios. There were so many things in there, when they rose for food it looked like you could walk on the water if you walked on their backs…kind of like
        Broadway on the beach in Myrtle beach🐠☺️

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