It’s been 8 years and I’m finally ready to talk about what happened at the lake. I won’t use the name of the lake, because I know it’s a big tourist attraction for the area because of its history and depth, and if I get too specific, I’m sure this will be deleted and I’ll be silenced. Let’s just say it’s a large, man-made lake in western WI, surrounded by a beautiful yet isolating pine forest.
Being stupid and reckless teen girls, Chrissy and I decided it would be a great idea to take a raft out to explore the lake. It didn’t matter that neither of us knew how to use a paddle, or that we had no life vests, the only thing that mattered was wasting another summer day before getting wasted at night. So we loaded Chrissy’s ’98 Lumina and headed out, no real plan in mind.
“Should we just park by the beach?”
“No, keep following the road. Around the bend is a cool spot. The water looks almost tropical and then we won’t have to worry about the lifeguard trying to stop us,” I told her. So down the road we went.
We found the spot and parked. It only took us 25 minutes in the hot summer sun to blow up the ever-so-classy PBR inflatable raft, alternating turns. What’s a little spit and stale breath between friends? Anyway, we crept down the steep embankment and slid into the warm, almost blue water.
“We should stop here and climb in, there’s a huge drop a few feet ahead, and it’d be as bitch to get in if we couldn’t touch the bottom.”
In we climbed and away we went. Or, something like that. At first, our attempts at rowing were like watching a monkey try to fuck a football; try as we might, it wasn’t going to work. We went in circles, diagonally, almost tipped. Don’t forget, we were 17 and stupid. Anyway, we finally got it figured out and we were soon gliding along the water, laughing at our jokes and memories, not having to worry about offending old people or pissing off parents, like we probably would have done at the beach.
For a while, we brought the paddles in and just drifted across the surface, watching the slight ripples from our pathetic excuse for a boat break the otherwise immaculate water on that hot, still day. Eventually, we started talking about the odd things that happened at the lake.
The deaths and missing people cases were a bit eerie to talk about while we were so far from everyone else, but that was also to fun of it. Plus, all the ones we knew about were either from the undertow near the beach or divers. Since we weren’t at The beach and we sure as hell weren’t scuba diving, we were sure we’d be fine.
As normal, goofy conversation resumed, we suddenly realized we were near some buoys for divers and boats alike. Looking down from right next to one buoy, it was mesmerizing; the buoy was attached to a thick yellow rope. Down, down, down it went. The rope changed from yellow to green to blue green as the water got deeper and darker. It seemed to go on forever, even the velvety blackness that ate the rope seemed endless, like we were looking into the maw of eternity, ready to suck us in. Suddenly, the trance had broken. Chrissy and I stared at each other.
“What the fuck was that?” She asked, followed by a nervous laugh.
“I’m not sure, probably just the breeze through the pine.” At least that’s what I was hoping.
“In case you haven’t noticed, Maria, it’s as still as it has been all day. I don’t know what kind of fuckery this is, but I think we should go in.”
“Yeah, that’s probably not a bad idea, my fat ass is starving!” I said laughing, my 120 pound body turning golden under the summer sun.
The boat ramp was visible. It wasn’t as close as either of us would have liked, but we could see it. We started to row, this time better than before. We actually had the motion right and started to move towards shore. Suddenly, we stopped. I’m still not sure if it was our minds playing tricks on us or if it was the lake, but the shore seemed blurry, almost as if it was behind a veil.
We looked at each other when suddenly, our raft tipped. We were dumped into the water, which seemed almost thick around our bodies. I fought my way to the raft, while Chrissy fought her way to the buoy. She clung to it for dear life, as she wasn’t the greatest swimmer. Quite the flaw in our plan, I realized.
I gained hold of the rope around the boat and kicked my way to Chrissy. As I reached out to grab her hand, she went down. Hell, the buoy went down. After a moment of shock and realizing just how much force must have pulled the rope, the rope she thought was a sign of safety, I dove. At least if I died, it would be trying to save my best friend.
I saw her, black hair swirling, in the blue green depths of the lake. Her eyes bulged with panic and lack of oxygen. Thank God she was smart enough to hold her breath.
I did my best impression of a frog swimming through muck as I struggled to reach her. I was starting to get lightheaded, but I had to go on. I grabbed her hand and pulled upward, expecting her to be tangled or for something to pull back. However, she moved with surprising ease, as I dragged her to the surface. This time, I kept her with me when I went to fetch the “boat”. As we climbed in and finally caught our breath, we saw the buoy pop back up almost violently. Funny, I never saw it when I was underwater.
Sufficiently terrified and pumped full of adrenaline, we needed to get the hell to land. So as to not turn ourselves in circles like we did when we first got in the raft, we made slow, deliberate strokes in hopes of going in a straight line. The sound we heard before started again. This time, it went from the almost natural sound to a whisper, slowly increasing in volume. It was like we had awoken something in the lake. More sounds joined until it was a cacophony of voices speaking a language unknown to us as we tries to reach shore and pierce the veil that seemed to separate us from safety.
We were almost there; I could see the signs that I knew were about boating and fishing guidelines, like at so many other docks and ramps. I looked back to the buoys, the place where this all started. They were in place and the lake looked as serene as it had before, still as glass. I knew better, the voices ringing in my ears wouldn’t let me forget. Under us, pallid forms swirled, almost like vultures circling their prey.
The shore was becoming more clear, but we still couldn’t see sand beneath us. We had to keep going in our stupid PBR raft. Closer and closer we got, goosebumps all over our skin, despite the forecast calling for temperatures nearing 110°, ears ringing with the eerie sounds that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere.
Something hit the back of the boat, right near me. Chrissy looked back, having felt it, too. “Keep paddling, we’re almost there.”
Shit. That sputtering hiss was undeniable. We were losing air.
“Ok, listen to me. Keep fucking paddling until I say. We’re losing air fast but we’re almost there. If we limp it to the shallows, I think well be fine.”
We kept paddling for the ramp, despite the raft quickly becoming limp and water starting to fill the ass end. My end. Looking back, the forms underwater seemed to be falling back and drifting apart, seeming like less of an imminent danger, but threatening nonetheless.
“Ok, I can see bottom but I don’t know if we can stand in it. We have to go. Swim. Do not stop until you can stand, then run until you are totally out of the water. On my count. One…two…GO!” I shout to Chrissy, who was no doubt still in shock, but who did as I said.
As we swam, her a few yards ahead, the sound started to get louder, more angry, as if it, they, whatever, was being cheated out of a great prize. Something grazed my foot, and I prayed to whoever was listening that it was just one of the fish. As we reached a point where we could stand, the sound reached a crescendo.
As soon as we hit the shore, it instantly cut off, leaving only the sounds of the birds in the surrounding pines. We sat on the shore, shaking, was we watched the still, placid water suck down the raft we had been on minutes before.
Slowly, we rose up and walked in silence down the thin, winding road to the car.
“What in the actual fuck just happened?” Chrissy asked, breaking the silence.
“I…I have no clue.” I sputtered. “But I think we pissed something off.”
“Yeah, I think so, too. I mean, those voices…” she trailed off.
“I think we angered something ancient. And I don’t think the sheriff’s department is honest about the causes of death here. At least not some of them.”
We finally reached the car. We could see across the lake, over to the beach where kids slashed and raced, where mothers tanned, occasionally sitting up to make sure all their kids were present and behaving. They knew nothing.
“Are you still hungry?” Chrissy asked as she opened her door.
“Yeah, sort of. I mean, somewhere under the terror, nausea, and my heart going 1,000 miles per hour.”
“I know what you mean. McDonald’s?”
“Ehhh, why not?”
We have never talked about what happened out there since then. When her dad asked where the raft was, we said it blew off the roof on the highway because we were too lazy to deflate it and didn’t tie it down well. We also haven’t been out there since.
I decided to break my silence because there were 2 deaths there this year. The drowning of a young boy near the beach, and another idiot teenager, like we had been, except her body was never found.