I slept, I dreamt…
At the estate that Candace`s family owns and lives on (only in my imagination), I see the Matthew of the distant future. He and his family partaking of the familiar kinship of some sort of family get-together. Cooking out. A radio is blasting classic rock while inside a television is blaring some sort of sporting event. It`s a beautiful summer day in my dream…
At the edge of a ride, the land falls away to the north and the creek makes a turn following the slope of the ground. In high waters, this sudden turn becomes a grinding whirlpool. The violent currents and torrents have, over several thousand years, carved out a deep hole in the canyon wall and riverbed. The much harder granite outcrops form a perfect swimming hole about twenty feet deep. Above are boulders, good places to sunbathe and dive into the cold clear spring water.
Candace and Matthew stretched out on a warm granite boulder and watched Israel splashing in the center of the creek upstream from the deeper part of the swimming hole. He was a thin and long-limbed boy of five or six years with freckles on his shoulders and nose. He wore red canvas sneakers and red swimming trunks as he faced the current, kneeling in the shallow limestone creek bed. He slugged the water with a bony fist and shouted all manner of insults at the imaginary adversaries of child`s play. The water ran cold, fast and clear, whirling around the soft, giggling obstruction.
Rising to a half crouch, grappling momentarily with his adversary, he fell forward into the fast-running water. Recovering, he sat up, sputtering and shaking water out of his long brown hair. “Bring me my broadsword,” he shouted to his elder sister Gaelynn, clamping his dark eyes shut and wiping his lean ruddy face. His sister, sitting on a blanket and reading, just shook her head and continued with her book.
Matthew watched as the boy pounced on another invisible adversary, dragging him down to cold, wet justice in the tumultuous creek. Standing and dusting off his small hands, hooking his thumbs in the waistband of the red swimsuit, Israel searched with his large round eyes for an as yet unimagined horror.
“Come on, men. We`re finished here.” Israel bellowed before he trudged upstream, leaving fully administered justice in his wake, a serious but satisfied look on his face.
“You hear this kid?” Matthew said smiling, as he turned and nudged Candace.
“Hmm?” Candace said as she turned away from the sun and opened her eyes. “Where is he? Israel?!”
“He`s up that way.” He pointed upstream, his gaze following his arm, but Israel Elias Kirk was not where Matthew`s finger pointed.
“Where?” Candace`s voice began to waver.
Matthew looked along both banks; Israel had disappeared. Vanished.
Matthew cursed and leapt feet first off the high boulder. Hitting the water, Matthew had misjudged his jump, skinning his leg on the upstream edge of the creek. But the long leap had put him closer to the spot where he`d last seen the boy, and hitting the shallow edge kept his head above water; he never lost sight of the dark water he reasoned had swallowed Israel.
“Israel! Israel!! Israel!!!”
Dashing up the creek bed against the fast shallow current, Matthew heard Candace screaming somewhere in his mind, but all he saw was the dark water hole. The crystal-clear water turned to glue; the creek`s force increased; each step seemed interminable. Don’t panic, he told himself, checking his landmarks to make certain he was heading for the right hole. Stumbling against a rock, Matthew slipped and fell down. Quickly he scrambled back to his feet. The force of the creek was eroding his balance, his control, his strength, his courage. For an eternal moment, the struggle seemed a stalemate, and then Matthew broke free and staggered to the dark hole. The rushing water clutched at him like fear. He fought for control, pausing again, checking his landmarks. Make certain. He stepped back and studied the dark hole, the shoreline, the oak tree and the rock. Was this the place?
Candace, was running all about, looking, slipping and falling; calling out her son`s name repeatedly. She was the shriek of the storm while Matthew kept looking and thinking. His mind started to fray and he began to realize that this was his one loss. This was to be the Thing Most Cherished that he would lose Forever. His greatest fear.
Trying to remember his emergency training, Matthew recalled only what to do for vomiting old ladies and emphysemic drunks.
Don’t panic; he hasn’t been under too long. Make sure this is the right hole.
Matthew looked into the dark green hole, searching for forms, shapes, colors. His son.
Calling the boys name repeatedly, Candace`s terrified cries turned into a pulsing, keening animal wail. Her family members heard it over the din of the ballgame on television and revelry of the gathering. Most of the people in the house started to walk outside and look while Candace`s father and brothers bounded down the short hill towards the creek.
Matthew decided that he had found the hole that Israel had fallen into. He carefully studied it, sticking his head into the water and looking, walking along the edge of the green water, concentrating, considering, knowing once he made his move into the hole that there was no second choice. No second guess. No excuse. Fear clawed at his mind but he kept moving, letting the terror flow through him. He must take control, put the adrenaline to work for him, let it push him. Discipline. Execution. Concentration. Speed.
It was a deep hole, ground by water and time out of an up thrust limestone block. The boy had stepped off an underwater cliff, dropping fifty feet into the eroded hole.
Matthew could feel his mind starting to unravel. He knew that this was to be his punishment for being happy, for loving his son. Israel would be his Isaac and control was again and again revealed to be a futile reaction.
Matthew moved back, changing angles for the sun, continuing to look into the hole, trying to find a ray to the bottom; years of sediment waited to stir once he went down.
He began to breathe deeper – filling, stretching his lungs, and gorging his blood with oxygen. He had one dive to find the boy. One lungful of air. He breathed deeper; the sound of his respiration echoed off the rocks, waiting, searching the dark green void. One chance.
A flash of red?! The water bobbled and the red was gone. Was that a red shoe? A red suit?!
Matthew made his decisions and sucked in his final breath of air. He would search all the way to the bottom, and then scour the bottom. Finally, oxygen exhausted, he would not quit, he would search until failure brought Death. One trip.
As he dove, Matthew saw clouds of black sediment billowing up toward him. The boy was down there and judging by the size of the dark plume growing toward the surface, he was putting up a hell of a fight. Matthew swam straight down into the dark cloud. It burned his eyes and blurred his vision; he barely glimpsed his own hands in front of him. The water rippled and swirled from below – the force of the boy`s desperate fight to survive. Matthew swam straight down towards the eye of the struggle. Faster. Faster.
He never saw Israel, just a red blur as a rubber-soled shoe kicked at his face. Matthew grabbed at the small ankle, but the boy kicked away, terrified and Lost without the guide of gravity in the black swirling depths. The boy was swimming down, heading deeper, thinking he was swimming up.
Matthew swam after him, thirty feet deep or more, catching glimpses of red as the water turned colder. His ears throbbed. Matthew kicked and clawed, digging deeper into the cold water, searching into the black.
He lost the red; he felt nothing, no turmoil or struggle. Deathly still.
Matthew stopped, turned in the black cloud, spread out his arms and legs and waited. And hoped.
Israel Elias Kirk was motionless and weightless in the water. The small boy had given up the struggle for Life and had settled for Peace.
After a ten-second eternity, the boy`s head bumped gently into Matthew`s foot. Another two inches and they would not have touched, floating inches apart in the cold black forever.
Matthew stuck the cold, thin body under his arm and kicked toward what he hoped was the surface and not some refraction of the sunlight in the churning black water, drawing them ever deeper. His lungs ached and he began to slowly exhale, relieving the pressure of the carbon dioxide buildup but also losing any residual oxygen left in his lungs.
The boy did not move. Matthew clutched him tightly. Faster!
Matthew had exhausted completely, his lungs exhausted; the surface seemed no closer. No matter how hard he kicked, the light seemed further away. Out of reach, feeling a sharp pain in his chest and tasting blood in his mouth, Matthew kicked and reached out desperately toward the fading light.
He kicked one last time.
He couldn`t keep the water out of his lungs.
The light faded. All black. Dead.
As Matthew`s hand broke the surface of the water, Candace`s father Sam grabbed it firmly, snatching the man and the little boy out of the water like rag dolls and dragging them onto the shallow creek bed.
Prying Israel loose from Matthew`s grip, Sam carried the boy in his arm, cradling his head in his large hand. Quickly laying him on the creek bed as Candace`s aunt, a nurse, began trying to resuscitate him.
Matthew was on his chest, half-conscious and gulping air.
Suddenly Israel belched forth a large amount of water, choking and coughing it out. “Hi, Paw-paw,” the little boy croaked. “My stomach hurts.” Then he saw his mother sobbing and he began to cry too.
“We have to get him to a hospital,” Candace`s aunt said.
Candace picked him up, with her father supporting her, and the group of them started up the hill as Candace`s elder brother ran ahead of them to get his truck.
Matthew stood up, wobbly in the shallow creek bed. Candace’s younger brother helped him to his feet. Matthew took one last look at the dark hole, now a churning mass of sediment, a cloud of Death.
Matthew, gasping for air, gazed into the swirling black green. Then vomited bright-red blood into the creek.
“Best day`s work you`ll ever do,” said Candace`s younger brother grinning.
“There just aren`t a lot of jobs open for Super Heroes.” Matthew spat up some more blood, grimacing at the taste of his own vital fluid.
“Mortality, you confronted mortality,” Candace`s brother said, “And it looks like it scared you.”
“Mortality doesn`t scare me, I can`t think about being mortal, I have too much to do and too little Time.”
Matthew licked bloody residue off the sides of his mouth.
…and then I woke up.