“Wade across. You can do it!” she yells.
I’m afraid of what lies beneath the murky green waters of this deep lake. I see the little island with the trees isn’t far off though, so I keep dog paddling. Swimming would be more effective but that would require me to immerse my face.
“There you go! Keep going,” she encourages me.
Stringy slime wraps itself around my right ankle. I can’t feel the bottom; my feet departed from the rocks and sand several yards back. ‘Stay calm,’ I remind myself. I paddle in place and kick my right foot about trying to dislodge whatever it is. That’s when my toes brush up against something. It felt big. But it felt alive. It felt like skin. My chin dips into the cold lake. I kick my arms and legs faster to stay afloat. This swim was a bad idea. Why did I let Shannon talk me into leaving our youth group campsite, so that we could take “a little dip” in the water during our free time? We saw the island and wanted to explore. I want to go back now.
Shannon seems to read the panic in my eyes. “C’mon, there’s not much farther to go!”
Maybe I imagined that lump of flesh. Finally, the plant strands free themselves from my leg and disappear. My heart pounds in my head. Focus on the island. Focus on the trees. Focus on Shannon. Blue skies distract me for a moment, until my left knee bumps into something cold and hard. My knee! That’s closer than my feet. Paddling more ferociously than before, I realize I’m not going anywhere. Shannon was always a better swimmer than I.
Where is Shannon? I don’t see her on the shore.
“Shaaa-non!” I scream. That allows the putrid water to creep into my mouth. I vehemently spit and tighten my lips together. Looking down, I can’t even see below my arms. It looks black down there, even though the surface shines green with the daylight sun sparkling off each little ripple.
I turn my head. Maybe I could head back to shore? Damn. The island is closer than shore. My muscles ache and my side cramps in pain. I’m getting tired. I need to quit being stubborn and use a breaststroke before I go under. As I reach each arm over my head and part the water, I gain confidence and ignore the splashing about my face.
What was that? Immediately my mind drifts to the campfire stories last night, and to the one about the missing girl who supposedly disappeared a few weeks ago while camping across the lake at the county park. Never read about it in the news, so I’m sure the girls were just making that up.
I kick harder and push these thoughts out of mind. Closing my eyes, I keep going until I smack into an obstacle.
“Ouch! Damn it, it’s me. Watch where you’re going.”
Opening my eyes, I stare straight into Shannon’s. My feet reach down to doggy paddle and then rocky sand grates between my toes.
Shannon embraces me and I realize I’d been crying.
“What happened?” she asks.
“I dunno. Something’s down there.”
“Probably just a fish.”
“Uh uh. Bigger. Harder. Cold.” I’m panting the words out in spurts. Shannon stares over my shoulder, squinting curiously into the sunlight.
We walk out of the lake and rest underneath a tree. The thought hits me that we’re going to have to swim back to shore eventually. This was such a bad idea, but I don’t want to guilt my friend.
“Maybe we should rest a bit before going back. Sorry for swimming ahead of you. I got really into it. The exercise felt great after sitting through a two-hour lecture session,” she explained. “Next time, we’ll swim together the whole way back, I promise.”
I must’ve looked quite pitiful out there. “It’s not your fault. I shouldn’t have freaked out like that.”
We didn’t say anything else. Just sat and wiggled our toes into the sand.
“I’ve got an idea. Why don’t we swim right where you thought you felt that thing. That way, you’ll know it’s not a big deal.”
I don’t want to. “Okay, but let’s head back now before we miss lunch.” I regret agreeing to her serendipitous suggestion.
“Are you ready?”
Not really. “Sure.”
“Are you gonna be okay?”
Probably not. “As long as we swim together.”
We wade in together, feeling a chilly ring around our middles until the ring reaches our necks. Shannon kicks off. I follow slightly behind, to her right.
I know we’re almost there. At that place in the still water.
Officer Scover sat down with his notepad. Even wrapped in a blanket, I shiver. As he opens his line of questioning, I glance over and watch Shannon speaking to another cop. Her eyes meet mine and instantly, I understand that our friendship will bind us together for the rest of our lives.