A Drowning in Reverse
by Yvonne Horton
(Note to the reader: My neighbor told this story one night as we sat around our neighborhood campfire. I have only embellished it with description for writing purposes. He swears it really happened. I will let you decide.)
It was one of those unbearable hot August days with temperatures in the nineties and the air so thick with humidity that it was a chore just to get a good breath. On Jamie’s suggestion we decided to take a walk around sunset along the three-quarter mile strip of Lake Ontario’s shore that bordered our small community. A group of five or six teenagers, who had the same idea as we did, walked along the shore a few feet behind us. Their pace was as sluggish as ours.
The light of day was fading fast. The sky over the lake was taking on the color of grey as a fog settled atop the water. Without a breeze to stir it, the water was still and smooth like glass. There was an unusual lack of sound, no birds chirping or insects buzzing, only a gentle intermittent watery lap as the water floated to shore.
“It’s so quiet,” Jamie said, as if reading my mind.
“I was thinking the same thing,” I said. “It’s strange, isn’t it?”
As if noticing our comments, the lake began to stir. Slowly, at first, the water rolled small waves to the shore, breaking the silence.
“Must be a speed boat out on the lake,” l said, looking out across the water. However, the fog was so dense now that I could not see too far. There still was no breeze, yet the waves were increasing.
“Or maybe there’s a storm coming in,” Jamie said. She sounded worried.
“Well, let’s head back to the house, just in case,” I said.
We quickened our pace and the teenagers were now closer behind us. They must have had the same idea. As we moved faster, the lake began to churn sending white capped waves crashing to the shore. The sound was deafening. Yet still there was no wind. Ahead of us, about 20 feet away, I could see a good sized piece of drift wood rocking in the waves. It was floating half in and half out of the water. But, as we got closer I realized, and a chill went through me.
Jamie stopped walking. I was a few steps ahead of her and I stopped and turned to her. The teenagers were caught up to us now, and they stopped, too. They were all staring straight ahead, all with the same shocked frightened look on their faces.
“Bob, is that a...?” Jamie started her tone tremulous.
“Yeah, I think it is,” I said. “Let’s go. Maybe we can help.”
We all reached the body at the same time. We could tell that it was a man even though he was lying face down. He was dressed in plaid shorts and a dark tee shirt. The bottom half of his body was in the water while his upper body was on the shore, and his face was embedded in the sand to his hairline. The waves, still crashing to shore, moved to enclose him to the shoulders.
“Maybe we should turn him over,” one of the teens yelled above the cacophony of the lake’s turmoil. They all had their phones out now and were snapping pictures.
“No, this might be a crime scene,” I yelled back. “Stay here! I’m going to go call the police!”
I knew I had to walk back a few feet away from the shore or I wouldn’t be able to hear while on the phone. I prayed my phone would have reception. It did, and I made the call.
“There’s a body on the beach!” I yelled into the phone.
“Did someone drown?” the dispatcher asked.
“I don’t know! We just found him!” I continued. The phone was crackling in and out. I knew the connection was going to break. I yelled our location into the phone, hoping the dispatcher could hear me. As soon as I finished speaking the phone went dead.
I looked back to the shore. Jamie was looking in my direction waving her arms in the air. She was yelling something, but I couldn’t make out her words. The teenagers were yelling, too, and pointing out towards the water. I ran to shore.
“We’re losing him!” Jamie was shouting. I looked toward the water.
“He’s getting away!” One of the teens yelled, as if the body were an escaped prisoner or something.
They were right. The man’s body was moving quickly against the tide of waves. We could see it clearly as it was now encased in a sickly green colored cloud that glowed bright within the grey fog. It was at least twenty feet from the shore. I looked around and found what I needed. I picked up the long fallen tree branch and headed into the water.
“Bob, what are you doing?” Jamie yelled.
“I’m going to try and snag it,” I yelled back. “Stay there! The police should be here soon!”
I started moving. I knew I could wade quite a ways out before I hit deep water. This was a good thing as there was no way that I could not swim against the tide of waves that crashed against me. Even so, the body was steadily moving out ahead of me and I kept thinking how unnatural it was. It was all I could do to keep my feet against the force of the rolling waves.
The water was getting deeper. The water was up to my shoulders now, and the waves were splashing into my face. At times, I could feel the sandy bottom giving way beneath my feet. Soon I would lose the safety of the sandbar and I would be in deep water. Still, the body surrounded by its green cloud remained moving ahead of me. I vaguely wondered if it was luring me to my death.
Just as this thought crossed my mind, everything stopped. The lake was suddenly still and the silence and the dense fog seemed to enclose me. I felt a sense of claustrophobia setting into my bones. About ten feet ahead of me the body stopped moving and lay motionless floating face down in the water. The green light that enclosed it was gone. It was just a body. I was about to move forward to see if I could catch hold of it with the tree branch when it sunk beneath the water. I stopped moving and the thought occurred to me that the body might be near me under the water, getting ready to drag me down with it. It was then that the whirlpool started to churn directly above the spot where the body disappeared.
I stood there and I watched motionless as the man’s body began to rise slowly out of the center of the whirlpool. He was in a standing position now. Again, he was encased in the light of the green misty cloud. I thought that maybe he was going to rise into the sky, but then is assent stopped so that the water swirled at his waist. Only his head and torso were above the water. It was as though beneath the water he was standing on some sort of platform. I could only stare as he raised his arms out from his sides. He turned his head to gaze deep into my eyes through deep dark sockets where his eyes once were. Then he opened his mouth and spoke.
“I have to go back to my friends now,” he said His voice was deep, guttural, an almost liquid sound, that echoed through the fog over the still black water. Yet in a tone that matter-of-fact yet almost apologetic. Then, as slowly as he had risen he descended beneath the water. For a few seconds, the glowing green mist remained above the spot where he disappeared and then it began to meld to nothingness into the grey fog.
I stood there a moment stunned by what I had seen and heard. I took a step back and almost fell over. Then shaken by the thought of sinking beneath the water, I released the tree branch and turned to half swim, half wade back to shore.
Jamie and all the teenagers were clamoring as I reached solid ground.
“What happened? Are you okay? Thank God your back!” Their questions and comments came in a jumble.
“Did you see it? Did you hear it?” I asked anxiously as I struggled to catch my breath.
“No, no we couldn’t see you or anything because of the fog,” Jamie said. “And we couldn’t hear anything above the noise of the waves.”
“Well, I...it went too far out. I couldn’t catch it. It just disappeared,” I explained simply. Jamie looked so stressed that I didn’t want to freak her out by telling her what I had seen and heard.
A few minutes later the police arrived and since there was no physical body to show them, the teenagers pulled out their phones to show the police the pictures they took. But, every picture only showed a green mist and as they looked the green mist faded to black until all the pictures were blank. There was no proof, but, even so, the police alerted the coast guard. Yet, no body was ever found.
A few days later I told Jamie what I saw and heard while out in the water that night. As I related the story to her I realized that what I had witnessed was a drowning in reverse. As well, I knew that I would never forget the drowning man for the rest of my life.