Thursday, March 25, 2010


True story:

As a teenager, I lived in Stoneburg, Texas, a town so tiny it isn't on some maps. Two miles to the southwest was Bowie Lake, a small reed-bordered lake where I had learned to swim on visits to my grandmother in the summers. Bowie Lake was created as a reservoir during the early 1900s by placing a dam across a tributary of Middle Belknap creek, backing up its waters and that of a natural springs into a low-lying Crosstimbers area. Originally intended as a reservoir, it had been superceded by other reservoirs in the county. It was narrow and shallow except near the dam where it was rumored to be 40 feet deep. It held catfish, crappie, and bass of no great size. And aside from what happened to me, I never heard any strange stories about it.

My friends and I practically lived there during the dog days of summer. I could reach it on my bicycle, though usually a friend collected us in a battered ranch pick-up -- teenagers began driving at 13 on the dirt roads of that rural county. The spillway across its northwest corner was almost always above water, sandy and open, perfect for bonfires and hanging out. Occasionally we had to move to one side of the boatramp, to allow entry of a single-horsepower aluminum boat, but mostly we were away from adult supervision.

In the middle of the lake and about thirty feet from the dam was a concrete platform extending ten feet above the water. It had once held a valve mechanism for the reservoir, and had a rusting rebar ladder built along one of its pylons. The older teenagers used it as their gathering place, parking on the dam and pushing through snaky scrub there to reach the water. They'd swim out to the platform, sometimes in old tractor inner tubes, and we'd listen to their shouts and laughter with envy.

Until finally, the summer between sophomore and junior year, we decided we were old enough to claim the platform. I found it terrifying to break through the underbrush at damside and dive into deep, dark water, but the platform itself felt like golden territory. We could see the length of the lake, we could watch the occasional water-skier (I eventually learned to water-ski myself on that lake), and every now and then a fisherman would putt by, offering us a soda or Coors from his cooler. The drinking age was as lax as the driving age then.

At some point I discovered that the metal rungs on the side of the concrete pylon extended not only up to the platform, but also beneath the surface for an undetermined distance. Someone, perhaps me, issued the dare that we follow the ladder down as far as it went: Maybe it extended all the way to lake bottom, a terrifying prospect.

With the immortal stupidity of teenagers, I accepted the challenge, took and deep breath, and started down, rung over rung. I looked upward, watching ripples of light on the surface, until they were faded by navy shadows and then utter darkness. It became unbelievably cold, and I started to get uneasy. I kept going, though, until tendrils of waving vegetation wrapped around one ankle. I panicked then, shooting upward, my lungs yearning to scream, until I burst to the surface, gasping.

My friends laughed at me but decided, with feigned nonchalance, they didn't want to take the dare and go down the ladder for themselves. One of them said the weeds that grew on the lake bottom reached upward only ten feet, which meant I had gone down 30 feet. I have no idea now if this could be accurate, but at the time it was an impressive fact repeated about me. In light of what happened later, that descent is a terrifyingly foolhardy memory.

Sometime later, either that summer or the next, we were again at the platform on a brilliant day. Virgil and a couple of others were horsing around south of the platform. Dale had climbed out and was sitting on the north edge, facing me as I treaded water in the center of the lake. We were talking animatedly, Dale and I, when I suddenly felt something solid rise up beneath my paddling feet -- something smooth and cool but clearly living tissue, flat against the soles of my feet. I stopped moving but did not sink, because whatever it was held me up.

I stopped in mid-sentence, confusion slowly giving way to horror inside me. Dale said "What's wrong with you?" Looking at his quizzical grin, I was able to lunge forward, flailing to the ladder and scrambling up to the platform. I was shivering and gibbering, staring down into the water, trying to locate whatever it had been. Dale said he'd seen nothing around me. Our other friends joined us, and Virgil openly scoffed at me, saying anything big enough to hold me up like that would be too massive for this lake. I swore I wasn't making it up.

They finally believed I wasn't hoaxing them when I began begging them to go find someone with a boat to retrieve me because I was not getting back in that water. They still thought I'd imagined it, however. The fun was over and we couldn't come up with a rescue plan. so after an hour of sitting chilled under broiling sun, I found the courage to descend that ladder -- no way was I diving in -- and swim in frantic strokes to the dam.

I never returned to the platform again. My mother, who probably thought I imagined it as well, was kind enough to float some possible theories, such as a giant catfish or turtle, whose smooth backs might correspond with what I felt beneath me feet. No such creature was ever reported by anyone else, however.

Your guess is as good as mine.

1 comment:

Blue said...

Holy crap. Or carp, possibly.

That is one scary story.