Ladder in the Lake
January 6, 1994
*** Please Note: This is simply a *fast* re-write of this story, which I originally wrote in the early to mid 90s and then re-vamped in a completely different way for the second chapter of my second novel. This version is not great writing. I just wanted to put the story out there so that I could write a post which relates to this story. ***

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David simply stared at the other boys as they argued and smacked each other and grinned through it all - even through the black eye Kyle gave Mikey while they were debating Wii versus Playstation 3 vs. Xbox 360. (Yeah, it was like that. Stupid strap on the Wii controller broke, smacked Mikey in the eye, proving that Mikey was right: the Wii was shoddily conceived even if a nice concept.)

He slid open the back door of the cabin and wandered outside. The others would follow soon. David was far more interested in the dock and the lake than in who could beat who in Madden '07. He'd known Kyle and Mikey and the rest his whole life, but he still didn't think any of them thought of him as a friend. They just kind of knew each other. Really, it was their folks who assumed they were all best friends. That made sure David was invited to all the events. The other boys, they could really care less ... except that if David wasn't there, they'd have to find someone else to pick on.

He walked past the firepit where Kyle's dad was cursing as he wrestled logs into place. Past the tents set up so the adults could have the cabin in peace tonight. Down the path to the dock, keeping his eyes on the water instead of the path, the trees. Eye on the prize, not the path to get there.

And sitting with his legs dangling off the edge of the pier, he sat to watch as the wind played with the calm glassy surface of the water. To watch the light play across the small waves. To feel the wind on his face and watch the waterbugs flying across the surface of their world, effortless and alone, dancing to a music only they could feel.

He missed the call to dinner again that evening. As he did almost every time he camped with the guys.

He lasted on the pier only a few minutes before shucking out of the t-shirt and jeans and diving into the water, the warm blue-greens of the lake surrounding him, holding him. Breaking the plane of the underwater world, treading water to gather his bearings, and then flipping to his back to float. Watching the stars pop in and out of the clouds, a late hawk flapping back to its nest. He picked out Orion, Cygnus the swan, Ursa Major and Minor.

Let the lake's small ripples lap at his sides and wash over his face.

And then came the noise of the other boys. Kyle's dad acting as lifeguard, not realizing that David was already in the water. The other boys did, of course, which was why they all cannonballed as close to him as possible. But he'd heard them coming and dove under the water just before their ever-explosive entrances.

This was all an old story and David was grateful when the call to dinner finally came. Burgers grilled on the bonfire, hotdogs, marshmallows and smores. And then came story time. The man with the hook who attacked the couple making out in their car. Fuzzy foot. (I want my fuzzy foot back.) The "I Gotcha Where I Wantcha and Now I'm Gonna Eatcha" monkey story. Variations on Amityville Horror, Blair Witch, Halloween, Freddy Krueger. Nothing that the boys hadn't told and heard and watched a million times before.

And then the moment David hated the most. His turn. They hated his stories and it always took the prodding of the Moms present to remind the others "that David always tells such fascinating stories, let him tell one."

The moms and David were the only ones who liked his stories. The Dads always wandered off for a brewski or two. The boys rolled their eyes and kicked their feet and threw stuff into the fire.

But David dutifully told the story anyway.

"I will tell you a very old story. The Coyote is a trickster. Since the Indians came from the underworlds into this one, it has always been the same with him. It snowed early in the morning soon after the Navajo came into this world, and a man was going out to hunt. The prints of the Coyote tracks were clear in the snow. He began to follow the Coyote tracks. They led to a place where all the plants were living and green, and in their center was a pond. The Coyote tracks led right to the pond. There, barely sticking out above the water, was the top of a ladder. The hunter stepped onto the ladder and climbed down into the water. At the bottom, he stepped out onto land. Above, in the land where the hunter lived, there was snow and it was winter, but in the land beneath the pond it was summer, and everything was green and growing. In the east he saw white buildings and people. They were beautiful people, Coyote People. He stayed and ate with them and stayed overnight.

"That evening, the Coyote People assembled around the fire and taught the hunter the Coyoteway. They showed him the songs, the dances, the prayersticks, the rituals, the prayers, everything he needed to heal the Coyote sickness. They read him everything and he wrote it all on the pages of his mind. Then he walked back to the ladder and climbed back through the water and back up to this earth."

Then of course, came the usual long silence. And then the mothers wanting to know where he learned all of these things, and the mothers smacking their sons on the backs of their heads and asking the questions designed to most alienate David from the rest of the boys - "Why don't you LEARN things instead of watching that crap on television?" And the ever popular, "Why can't you be more like David?"

So he wasn't surprised when he was pelted with melty marshmallows as soon as the adults began drifting off to the cabin for the night. Mikey's Dad was tending the fire (sort of ... he was actually just tossing some sand around the edges and drinking Old Mikwaukee).

So as soon as the marshmallow pelting turned into a free-for-all, David went back to the pier.

Despite the clouds that had moved in and there was now a low rumble of thunder in the distance, David shucked shirt and shoes and dove in, swim trunks still faintly damp from before dinner. He would just rinse the marshmallows off him. The water was cool and the wind chilled his bare back. He treaded water for a second to get his bearings after an initial burst of speed. Pushed his bangs back over his head away from his face and watched the mist by the far shore move in closer. A wall of rain would meet him if he really did try to swim across the lake.

David put his face back in the water and began swimming quickly. It wasn't long before was finding it harder and harder to bring his head all the way out of the water for each breath. The waves were rocking him off his path, knocking him away from where he thought he was. He began treading water again and got a mouthful of water for his efforts. He gagged and began swimming faster towards the far shore which was now closer than the pier. He'd lost track of time. His arms felt like they were made out of lead and he wished that he had grabbed a yellow wimp jacket. Or that he'd known this was not just a little rainshower, but a full-blown storm.

He paused and treaded water. Part of a tree floated past. He fought to keep his head above the rising waves. A flash of light in the distance and another low rumble, closer, louder. No more stars, no Orion to guide him.

He was under water again. He groped for a piece of the tree he'd seen floating by, but it tore right through his fingers. He couldn't figure out how he'd gotten underwater again. He began kicking for all he was worth, trying not to breathe in half the lake. Finally, his arms broke the surface and he gasped for the air, bobbed under, and popped back up again. He managed to hold onto a new log.

And then he saw it. Just a few more feet away.

The ladder.

His arms didn't slice so cleanly through the water now. His breath came in gulps, sucking in almost as much water as air. The rain pelted him, each individual drop stinging his tired face when he'd pause and look up. His arms felt like lead weights. The lake began pulling him down, and he fought with his cramping body to drag himself forward.

To the ladder.

The lake was dark. Peaceful. Quiet.

The ladder. He had to make it to the ladder.

The lake was peaceful now, the waves rocking him to sleep, drifting with him. No longer fighting.

Rumbling thunder, rolling through the night air like a freight train at the railyard.

the ladder

Potato Creek State Park Photo
Click for the larger picture (~50kb)

Posted by Red Monkey at January 6, 1994 4:53 PM | Storytelling: She was, of course, supposed to be sleeping. | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |

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