Rivers can be deceptively calm. You’ve probably seen them before, sparkling in the sun as the surface water is smooth like glass. Some rivers have water clear enough that you could look down and see the near bottom of the riverbed.
But not in the Susquehanna river.
Its waters are quite dark, except a few feet out from the shore line. The further you go to the middle of the river, the darker the waters become.
Not only is there low visibility, but there are also powerful underwater currents that lie just beneath the smooth and calm facade. The rocks are the ones to blame for it, causing eddy currents to whirl around them. In some parts of the river, there are so many rocks, that it’s unwise to go near them without a life vest.
Even worse, are the holes.
Water is a powerful thing, and it, over millions of years, have drilled holes into the solid rock at the river bottom. Deep holes with deep eddys, sucking down anything that is caught within it’s currents. We have been told stories about the wayward fisherman who would attempt to rescue a caught line, only to be sucked down to their death. The current and the low visibility means recovering the bodies are next to impossible.
So there I was in a small boat floating over a grave of bones, trapped forever underwater in the dark.
I wasn’t quite sure if it was all true or not, but I regardless made it a point to always wear a life vest. A couple of my friends did the same, but there were always that one or two that would feel like it was too ‘wussy’. As if, wearing safety equipment was a mark against their masculinity. We were young and stupid back then. All us kids were. It was just that, one of the boys claimed he was a good enough swimmer, and we didn’t bring any extras, so off we went.
We really shouldn’t have done that.
There were four of us in the boat, Carl, Hoss, Ben, and I. It was a nice large one with room enough for a cooler and our tackle boxes. We were fixing to catch us some supper. Pollution made sure that we couldn’t eat river fish often, but when we came around the city, it was always fun to do a little fishing. Most of the time, it was just fun to drift about and talk, pretending to be vikings and pirates out on the water.
We docked along an outcrop of rocks sticking out in the middle of the water. It left us plenty of room to fish to our hearts content. It was large enough to be a mini island, with a flat surface in the middle. It was perfect to put our packed lunches on as we fished around them.
It wasn’t long before we were catching some nice fish. I personally went after catfish, the others were the more flashy types that went for walleye and bass. The fish were biting due to the cover around them. They may want to hide, but they can’t help themselves when you dangle a worm in front of their faces.
“Damn it, my line is stuck.” Hoss, cursed something fierce. He was pulling on his pole uselessly, as it was obvious the hook on the lure was caught on something down below.
“I spent ten dollars on that lure!” He was quite angry about it, and I don’t really blame him too much for that. Ten dollars was a lot of money to us kids back then.
“What, are you gonna go down and get it? You’ll never find it.” I did my best to warn him. “Ten dollars isn’t a bad deal if it means you stay alive.”
“Hah, I’m on the swim team, it’s not like I’ll have any trouble.” He began to remove his canvas vest, clearly intent on jumping in to get his lure back.
“Hoss, don’t be a damn fool,” Carl, warned. “There ain’t no man alive that can beat water if it wants you dead.”
“Shut up, at least I’m not a pussy.” Hoss stood up and eased himself off the side of the boat and into the water. “I’ll be back.”
Before we could protest any further, he dove down and out of sight.
And, we waited.
“Shit, I don’t like this.” I was getting worried. Too much time has passed to be comfortable.
“I’ll get him.” Carl removed his jacket and tied a rope around his middle. He handed the other end to Ben and I. “If you feel a tug, pull up as hard as you can!”
We both nodded, gripping the rope as the brave boy dived into the water.
It was only a short wait until we felt a tug strong enough to nearly pull us both off boat.
“Holy Hell!” We both set our feet and pulled as hard as we could. It was enough that our boats edge began to slowly dip towards the water. It got far enough that one of our tackle boxes fell into the water, sinking down in a mess of bubbles.
“We gottah get on the rocks!” Ben cried. It was the truth. If the boat flipped, we all could drown, despite our life jackets. He pulled as hard as he could, leaving just enough slack for me to loop it around a spire of rock. We made the transfer to our little island, and pulled.
It seemed like we were fighting some invisible force that wanted to keep our friends. It was strong, powerful. I didn’t know if we could beat it, but we had to try. What felt like hours were only a minute, before the line finally moved and the two boys bopped upwards like corks. We dragged them both to the rocks, grabbing them under arm and hauling them to dry land.
Carl was coughing up water, and Hoss was almost blue. Ben slapped Hoss on the back as hard as he could until Hoss began to cough up water also. Both boys laid there, gasping air on the rocks.
It was then I looked down.
And saw all the handprint shaped bruises on their bare legs.