I was 13 when I first came across the lake. It was beautiful, from what I remember. The sun shimmered off the rippling surface of the clear, blue water and the warm black sand on the shore ran up between my toes. I could feel the warmth of the air on the back of my neck and I took a deep breath of the delicate forest aroma. It felt perfect, too good to be true. For a moment, I believed with a healthy amount of confidence that I was in my bed, warm under the covers and sound asleep, the whole vision of the picturesque lake a figment of my dreaming mind. It wasn’t until a few seconds later that I was forced back into the real world and shown that this was, in fact, happening.
Nelson came from behind me, emerging from the course green brush. His tennis shoes hit the sand as he pushed the long branch out of his way, peeking out at the lake ahead. I stood, oblivious to his entrance; staring gawk eyed and opened mouth at the beauty of the water. He followed my example, stopping in his tracks and looking out at the bright reflective blue. I finally managed to form a few words.
“This must be it,” I said, hardly audible. He must have heard me though, for he responded quickly.
“Maccabee Lake. Wow.” We both stared out at the vast field of shining water. Wow was probably the best word to describe the place. It had an essence, a feeling that you were just meant to be there and it was welcoming you with warm open arms. It beckoned me closer, and I took its command. Without hesitation, I put my left foot out in front of me and started to take slow steps out toward the water. The sand on the rough skin of my bare feet felt marvelous, its fine grains as soft as an otters pelt. I kept coming closer to it still. Right foot, left foot, right foot, left. I inched toward it until the tips of my toes met the shoreline. The sand was like memory foam, my feet making a visible print in the sand before disappearing into the water grains. I lifted my feet to watch this, and I smiled gleefully.
I looked out at the water, crystal clear and sky blue. I could see fish swimming just below the surface, little water striders hopping along the top. The whole image looked like something straight out of a painting, hanging in a fancy gold frame on the wall of a museum for millions of people to see.
“Let’s swim in it,” I heard him say behind me. I turned around. Nelson was already going ahead to take off his tank top and throw it over his shoulder onto a shrub behind him. He removed his shoes and placed them gently by his side. Barefoot, he began trekking up a large dune that rose about 20 feet above my position. Looking up, I could see his point of interest. Hanging from a large limb of an oak tree was a long, sturdy rope, conveniently placed at the edge of the dune plunging directly into the water below. I was quick to follow his example and, removing my tee, ran to catch up with him.
When I got to the top, he was already positioning his hands to swing out. He tugged on the rope a few times and peered up at the supporting limb.
“You think it’s safe?” he asked, his eyes locked on the oak tree. I followed his eyes and looked carefully at where the rope hung. The limb stretched out from the trunk about 10 feet off the ground and 5 feet out from the tree. It looked sturdy enough, but I could faintly see some small cracks at the base of the branch. Besides that, it did not look like a few swings would kill you.
“Yeah,” I said reassuringly. “Looks legit.” He took my word for it and grasped the rope tightly with both hands, walking back toward the tree and pulling the rope back with him.
“Alright,” he said with a smile, positioning his left foot on the tree and placing his right out. “Here I go.” Nelson took a deep breath and gathered himself before pushing off the tree with his foot, wrapping his legs around the bottom of the rope. He swung out farther, beyond the dune and right out above a deep plunge into the lake. When the rope stopped for a split second and reached its peak, he let go and fell to the water below, a loud kaploosh announcing his impact. The rope swung back toward the tree and struck it violently, making a whipping sound as it lashed back. I ran to the edge of the drop off and looked down just as his head emerged from the water, a large grin and happy eyes beaming. His mood affected me, and I too wore the same look.
“Dude!” he said, half-laughing. “You’ve got to try it!”
I didn’t hesitate to run to the rope and get straight to my turn. I did everything he did before me. I carefully positioned my left foot on the tree; put my right foot out in front of me. I grabbed the rope with both hands, and pushed out. The feeling was exhilarating, like I was a bird. I was free from any problems, from any fears. I could go wherever I wanted, do whatever I wanted to do, and no one would tell me otherwise. I zipped through the wind, putting my feet around the rope. I flew above the water, and I looked down.
My heart dropped, my stomach twisted, and the once 20 feet was now a 50 story building, and I was looking down at the bustling street below. It was at that moment that I finally realized what I was afraid of. I had a deathly fear of heights. I didn’t want to let go, wanted to swing back to land, but I couldn’t. If I did, I would hit the tree. I had no other choice but to jump. Yet, even knowing this, my grip on the rope became tighter.
“Jump!” I heard a voice echo out, calling to me from the blue below. “Juuummmmp…” Time seemed to stop in those two seconds at the peak of my swing. My fear was holding me back from letting the rope go, but my mind and body knew the consequences that came with that decision. I had two personalities pulling in two different directions, and in a mere second I had to either let go… or face serious injury. Maybe even death. I chose the former.
Closing my eyes and sucking it up, I let my fingers loosen and I started to slide down. The rope burned at my skin, leaving a red skinned trail down the palm of my hand. I let go of it completely, and my body was pulled toward the ground, the rope now escaping me and my reach. I was free falling, and I had no means of stopping myself from hitting the water. I kept my eyes closed, and I could feel the wind blowing up on me, my hair standing on end. My stomach went to my throat, giving me the sudden urge to puke. I held it in, a ghastly taste filling my mouth. Any second now, I would strike the surface. I didn’t think I would survive. I did not believe I could. Then, without me knowing, it happened.
The surface of the water was like a solid surface, knocking the wind out of me as I plunged in. I couldn’t breathe, and my mouth opened by force, gasping, trying to inhale as much air as I could get in one breath. I was underwater before I could get any. A mix of hydrogen and oxygen filled my lungs, and I could begin to notice things blurring out, distorting like a burning Polaroid picture. I sunk deeper into the depth, not floating back up, but falling farther. Bubbles, fish, rocks and other various objects flew past me as I neared the bottom. It seemed like forever I was falling, deeper and deeper. I could feel the pressure on my head building, the pounding of my heart now sounding like a large bass drum. Right before I hit the lake floor, I saw two things.
First, a silhouette of a body, swimming down to me. My savior, I would later learn.
The second was a round, shiny penny. I couldn’t make it out completely, but it caught my eye immediately. It fell with me, slightly above my current place. The small remainder of sunlight left at this depth struck it, shining into my eyes. With the remaining muscle control I had, I reached out and grasped it with my weak fingers. I could feel its rough, eroding texture and its cold metallic surface on my skin. It was last thing I’d see and feel, the last thing I had any thought about, before the water rushed straight to my head and my mind became a blur of a blackening Polaroid picture, slowly disintegrating to a soft gray ash.
© Copyright Brendan Swogger 2012
This short story came from my own prompt, which I have put off for far too long. Both Tony and David have written their versions (I’ve attached links at the end) and it was about time for me to write mine. Here’s what I said:
“A man finds a penny on the ground. What happens next?”
I know, I know! I may have tweaked it a little, but hey! It’s my prompt, I can do what I want. I was originally going to do a ghost town psychological thriller type story, but it wasn’t leading anywhere I wanted. Then, I had the spectacular idea to write a serial killer story, this being the beginning. Now, as you can see, I hit around 1.5K with just the introduction part. I didn’t want the whole thing to wind up being a novella I’d have to sell. So, I made the (I think) smart decision to just use this portion. It contains the coin, and it is effective in the detail I put into it, so I believe it should work as a story by itself. Comment and tell me what you thought. If you have any suggestions for a story you’d like to see written, send me a quick prompt by clicking on Reader’s Requests at the top and following the link. Also, visit both Tony and David‘s sites for their versions. Happy Reading! 😉