An eerie short story....
They think I’m crazy, that I have dementia. I know what happened in that pond but no one will listen to me.
It was a hot summer day; my friends Harry and Eddie and me had nothing to do and of course we would not admit we were bored and maybe wanted school to start soon. Being a kid isn't always so exciting and we would sit and talk about getting older, driving, working, being the adult in charge. All we wanted was for time to move faster so we could have these things. Our parents told us not to wish to grow up so fast, enjoy being a kid. They said life moves too quickly and we should enjoy the ride along the path, however slow it seemed to us at this time. We didn't want to listen to them. What did they know about the restrictions in a kid’s life; after all they were the adults in charge of what they wanted, in charge of the world. But today we were looking for kid things to do so we decided to sneak onto the old Smithburg property at the end of town. It was a spooky old three-story house with a steeple and rotting clapboard siding that hadn't had a relationship with paint in decades. That old structure seemed to dare you to come in and explore it. But that isn't what called out to us that day. It was the big pond, the perfect place to be cooling off on a hot summer day and what twelve-year-old boy could resist that.
Every kid in town had been told not to step foot on the property because it was haunted by the Smithburg’s ghosts. No one remembered the Smithsburg’s ever living there, but all knew to stay away from the cursed property. Haunted or not the hot sizzling summer day was enough for us to listen to the seductive call of the pond.
“Joe, you sure this is safe to do?” Harry asked in a scared voice as we climbed the old wooden fence. “I don’t know of anyone who has ever gone swimming in that pond.”
“Chicken. All we are going to do is swim. What can happen? Or don’t you know how to swim?” I yelled back to him as I jumped down into the old yard filled with towering, determined, weeds and scary dead trees scattered around.
We all raced as fast as we could toward the pond. Once there we took off our shirts ready for the plunge into the cool water. As we surveyed the glistening water, we remembered the spine-chilling stories the old folks told about ghosts and ghouls kidnapping children, children who were never seen again. The three of us hesitated at the edge of the pond for a moment. Harry looked at us standing there petrified and shaking, now him being the brave one. “Who’s chicken now,” he shouted and jumped in feet first.
The water started to bubble as he went down in the dark blue depths. Steam rose up and the water was boiling. A blue light exploded across the pond with a loud crack that deafened us for a second. Then all was silent. The water was still and shiny like a mirror. We stood motionless at the edge of the water afraid to even breathe.
“Do you - think he is coming back up?” I asked Eddie. “Maybe we should go in after him.” Eddie shook his head with a horrified look on his face as the water started to boil again.
“ Don’t go in - the pond is haunted. Harry is in trouble - or dead. I’m going to get help,” Eddie stuttered, and then he climbed over the fence and ran swiftly down the road back to town.
Eddie was right Harry was in trouble. I had to save him. I tried to remember everything I had learned in my life saving class. I closed my eyes. Held my breath. I jumped in head first into the dark boiling water, not even thinking what could happen to me. To my surprise the water was cool, not scalding as I thought it would be. It was dark in the water. Then I saw a dim light shining in the distance. I started to swim to it and the closer I got the farther away it got. It seemed like I was swimming toward that light for hours. The strangest thing of all, I was breathing under water. Finally I reached the light at the mouth of a cave. To my surprise it was an entryway into a town.
This was an amazing place. There were buildings and streets. It looked much like home but also like pictures in a fairy-tale book my mother read to me when I was younger. I couldn’t believe this was in a cave under the water. It was bright with daylight, but I saw no sun only a bright reflection from a mirror-like sky above. I walked along the streets, which sparkled from the bright “sunlight” as if they were paved in crystals, blue, pink, yellow crystals. The buildings were wooden structures, painted bright whites and pale yellows and blues, all trimmed with colorful designs like I had once seen in another book of an alpine village. I knew this could not be real, I must have died and this was heaven. I continued along the road lined with perfect shaped maple, oak, cypress and cedar trees. Every tree that had every existed grew in this place. I neared a curve in the road and I could hear faint whimsical music in the distance. As I made the turn, there before me were large beautiful wisteria vines embracing an entrance to a park. Beyond the gate there was a circus underway with hundreds of people enjoying themselves in the picturesque atmosphere. I stopped in amazement looking at the sight before me, partly wanting to wake up from this dream and part of me wanting to stay forever and explore this new found wonder.
As I drank in this unbelievable sight a man, about my dad’s age, came running up to me smiling and calling my name. “Joe, glad to see you,” he embraced me. I stood dumbfounded, my arms dangling at my sides wondering who was this man and how did he know my name.
“Joe, it’s me Harry. Come on over and meet my family,” he then guided my stiff confused self over to a woman and three kids. “This is Mattie my wife. The twins Jodie and Jamie. And the little guy is Joey, he’s named after you.” The little freckle faced redheaded boy looked up at me with a smile showing off the space where his two front teeth had fallen out. “Hello thir,” he lisped through the tooth-space as he held out his pint-sized hand to shake mine. I looked at him then over at the two pre-teen girls snapping their chewing gum looking at me with silly smiles giggling and whispering to each other. They were my age and Harry was my dad’s age. This made no sense at all.
“I’m sorry Joe I know this is confusing. It was for me in the beginning too. Mattie why don’t you take the kids over to the concession and get them something to eat. I’ll take Joe over to our place and let him rest a little. Give him a moment to take all this in.”
I watched his perfect little wife shepherd the kids and disappear in the crowd of people who seemed to be celebrating some holiday. This was getting way too eerie. Maybe this wasn't heaven. Maybe I hit my head and was in some sort of coma. This had to be a dream. I only hoped it didn't turn into a nightmare.
I followed Harry out of the park and back down through the sparkly town I first entered. We walked for a short time then entered a picture perfect neighborhood filled with white clapboard sided houses, all with yards enclosed by little picket fences. Apple trees and flowerbeds, overflowing with brightly colored blooms, swing sets and picnic tables, and brick barbecues were in every backyard. Harry stopped at the last house on the block and swung opened the little gate and motioned me to enter. I hesitated a moment then entered cautiously, now trying to will myself awake wanting this to be a dream. This was scaring me too much to be heaven.
“Sit. I’ll get us something to drink,” he disappeared into the house as I sat down in the over-sized Adirondack chair. Bees buzzed around from flower to flower, lured by the sweet nectar to pollinate and increase the fragrant backyard arboretum. I heard a thump behind me. Turning I saw an apple fall and a chattering squirrel wildly run to his nest high in the tree.
“Here we are Joe some of Mattie’s famous homemade lemonade. This will refresh you.” He handed me a glass filled with pale yellow liquid with crystal clear ice sparkling like everything else in this town. “I know you need an explanation. This has to seem unreal to you,” Harry said has he sat down in the chair opposite me, “but I am not sure how to explain it. I've never really figured it out myself,” he took a sip of his lemonade and looked around the yard.
He told me about the day he was with Eddie and me and jumped into the pond, finding the town the same way I did. An elderly man and woman took him into their home and raised him as their own son. He grew up, became a doctor, got married and had his family. Now we were both together again.
“I love this place Joe, seems nothing ever goes wrong. It’s always sunny and never stormy or overly hot like the day we went swimming in the pond. This is the ideal place for me to live and raise my family, my home forever.”
That’s what I couldn't understand, how could Harry be grown up with a family. Just an hour ago he was a kid like me just looking to cool off on a hot summer day. Neither of us knew why or how this happened.
“I don’t know who you are, or how you know my name. I do know there is no way you are my friend Harry.” I got up to leave, but wasn't sure where I would go.
Harry got up and put his hands on my shoulders. “I know this is hard to understand. You see, here time is different. It is fast, but yet it is normal, some sort of time travel maybe. I don’t know. No one ever questions it they just accept it. It’s our life and we just accept it for what it is. You will too Joe, everyone does. You will get older, have a life and be happy like all of us. Just wait and see.”
“What if I leave right now, the same way I came here?” I stood tall and defiant and stared at him.
He laughed, shook his head and sat back down in the lawn chair. “I don’t know, no one has ever left, and no one ever wants to,” he took a sip of his lemonade and stared into the distance, “no one ever wants to.”
Well I stayed. He was right; it was the perfect place to live. He took me into his home to live with him and his family. I went to school, a great school I really loved with more sports than academics. No bullies to pick on a scrawny kid, everyone was scrawny and all got along. Everything I wanted to do happened. Everyday was sunny never any rain or cold. Trees grew, flowers grew There was always enough food and snacks. I don’t know how it all happened, but it did and like everyone else I never questioned. I just enjoyed my life.
I grew older and decided to become an architect, designing impossible to build buildings that of course never were built. I didn't care. I was happy.
Love also entered my life. I married Jodie one of the twins who had always been like my sister, but that suddenly changed and no one cared. Actually everyone in town pretty much stayed within their own household. Jodie and me had two kids, Randy and Sally. Two perfect kids, they couldn't have been better if I had designed them myself. Funny thing, life was perfect, everyone was perfect, but some restlessness lived inside of me and I wasn't sure what it was.
My kids grew older, they got married, and I became a grandfather. Life went on at a steady pace. I started to notice changes in town, changes no one else saw. I went one day to visit Harry. When I got to the end of the block I stopped quick and stared in disbelief, his house wasn't there. Instead of the neat little house with the picket fenced yard where I grew up, there now stood a park with large shade trees, swing sets and children happily playing.
“Where’s the house? Where’s Harry?” I shouted out as the children froze in their play and the mothers hurriedly pulled their babies away from the crazed old man. A young woman came over and put her arm around me and spoke to me as if I hadn't a brain cell alive.
“Get away from me,” I yelled pushing her to the ground, “don’t you see it’s gone. My old home, he’s gone, my father, my old playmate.” I sank to the ground my hands to my face sobbing, tears wetting my face and cascading through my fingers. “Gone – where – why?”
I let them take me home. Jodie put me to bed and called Sally to come help her take care of me, telling her I had some sort of break down. I couldn't get anyone to listen to me about Harry. Jodie thought I was crazy when I told her. I thought she was crazy when she said she had no idea who I was talking about. How could she say that? Harry was her father, my stepfather, and my old childhood buddy. But as far as she was concerned, and everyone else, there was no Harry, she wasn't a twin but an only child. There was never a house on that spot. I just let them take care of me. Let them think what they wanted. I never said anything more about Harry. Only I knew that he was real.
I lived a lifetime in that underground town. Seventy years to be exact. Life didn't seem as fun anymore. It was hard to get around the way I did once before. I started to doubt if anything was real. I started to notice more people disappearing and buildings gone with nothing but empty barren lots where trees and parks once stood. I thought I should try getting out. I remembered the way I entered and headed one day toward that spot. It was a weed filled dark wicked looking forest. Not sure this was the answer for me, and I didn't have enough nerve to enter that place, I returned home. I walked past the place day after day, it becoming more of a daily ritual than a real plan of escape. It must have been the fear of the unknown that was stopping me, after all no one ever left, no one ever tried.
My doubt about my life here got stronger each day. As I lay in bed one morning I noticed there was no sunlight streaming through my bedroom window, no shimming golden light beams dancing on the dresser mirror as every other morning. A strange sound quietly erupted in the distance, with each eruption it became louder and louder. What could it be, it sounded vaguely familiar but I couldn't get my thoughts to define it. Then I jumped up from bed. It was thunder! I hadn't heard thunder since I was a kid living above the pond. How could this be it never was cloudy, never rained all the years I lived here.
“Jodie,” I called but she didn't answer. I went through the house calling her name looking in every room but she was nowhere to be found. I hurried outside into the pouring rainstorm with booming thunder and flashing lighting. Half the neighborhood was gone. Barren land surrounded me. The more I fled the more things crumbled around me. My only thought now was to get away from here. I headed to the forest, by instinct I guess, survival was the thought in my mind and the portal in the forest my savior. I didn't hesitate when reaching the entrance as I had before. Moving fast I entered the darkness with on huge leap.
It was very dark and damp. The air smelled of rotted wood and moss. I heard noises above in the trees. Eyes focused to the darkness ahead of me, not wanting to know what was in those trees watching me, waiting for me to fall so they could consume my limp body. The ground was muddy, the farther I moved ahead the more like quicksand it became. I keep my forward trek to get away from the crashing and crumbling behind me. Home was on my mind. I needed to get back to my real home. A loud explosion sounded directly behind me. Glancing back I saw the ground disappear into nothing but a black hole. The quicksand and my advanced age slowed me, but my spirit to survive kept me going. My heart pounded so hard I thought it would explode and I would be left dying here in this paradise that suddenly turned into a hellhole. The scent in the air now smelled like dead rotted fish in the hot sun. The horrible odor made me want to vomit. Holding back the choking and gagging I willed my legs to move faster.
Thinking I could go no farther, I was ready to give up to the consuming blackness around me. Then there appeared in the distance a light, very far off but to me a fragment of hope. Now all my concentration was focused on the light, the white pinpoint ahead, the sign to me that life could still exist. It seemed familiar to me. Then I remembered following a similar light when I jumped into the pond those many years ago trying to save Harry. It seemed liked it took hours, days, maybe even years before I finally reached this light. The bright sparkle shimmered and called me to embrace the warmth that it radiated. It looked like my mother assuring me all would be fine if I only would come to her. With one final burst of energy I jumped right into the blinding brightness. All went black.
I opened my eyes squinting into the brightness. I was soaking wet. When my eyes started to adjust I heard the muffled sounds around me soon turn into voices.
“He’s coming around,” I heard a man’s voice say, “where do you think he came from?”
“Not sure,” another voice said, “here we are looking for some boys and find a second old man floating in the pond today. I don’t know where these old people come from. At least it looks like this one will make it. Kid over there doesn't know who they are. He still insists his two friends jumped in and never came out.”
As they put me on a stretcher I looked around seeing ambulances, police, and divers all congregated around the pond. A covered form was being put into one of the ambulances. Was that Harry I wondered? I tried to get up.
“Settle down old-timer, we got to get you to the hospital to get checked out,” the emergency tech said as he strapped me down. Over at the far end I saw twelve-year old Eddie looking at the water. He was crying. I tried to shout out to him. He just looked up, bewildered and shivering, huge tears running down his cheeks as they took me away,
This nursing home is now my home. There is nothing to do but think of the past. Time passes differently for everyone. Do we control our lives? I think we are in control of much of it. All I know is Eddie lived a terrifying afternoon that he would never forget the rest of his life, but he would have time to get over it. One day it would be only a memory, an old mysterious story to tell his kids and grandkids. At some point he wouldn't know if it was true or just a fantasy story he was told as a kid. But he would have a long life, the way it should be. Life is too short to wish for it to hurry. Enjoying the long road with every bump and curve is how it should be. I lived a full lifetime in a short seventy years that one afternoon. Not what I would wish for now.
Ó 2012 Eileen A Partak