I wake in darkness, thick and cold, moving. Suddenly I am thrust upward into dim light. Water pushes me against rocks, which are slippery with green and brown slime. Bits of broken branches and dead things bob among the slimy stones. My legs are cold, numb, but awake enough to feel the emptiness beneath them as I begin the struggle. My arms reach for the rocks as the current tries to drag me away. The surge of panic is pain that electrifies my body. I make no sound, but I can hear the thrashing of my arms in the water, my primordial urge to survive. I thrash, I kick, and I focus on the slimy rocks of the shore. When the current releases me, and my hands find purchase, I stop struggling and rest.
Behind me, in the dark water, out beyond the sudden drop-off from where I came, I feel a sense of cold satisfaction. It crawls along the murky surface to where I lay.
There is enough strength in me to pull myself away from the drop-off and into the rocky shallows. The water flows by over the deep pool so silky and inviting. It thrills me and fills me with terror all in the same moment. Then I look at the opposite shore and know that it is an important place. There are trees and a small patch of sand. It is empty, though a whisper from the passing water hints that often it is not.
Behind me, though, there is a noise. I turn, and I see movement in the shadows that drape the rocky bank. “Who is there?” I ask, my voice a painful, tortured sound that twists in the darkness. From the shadows on the shore there is a guttural noise, and the sound of rocks striking each other. Another question rises within me like the dark water flowing behind me, now becoming turbulent, angry, unsatisfied: “Why are you here?”
“You are real.” It was a hoarse whisper, terror-filled.
“I see you.”
“I can not…see…real.” Silence, not even the sound of movement. I roll over onto my back and stare at the sky. It is dark, but punctuated with stars.
“What is your name?” asks the voice from the shadows.
“Name?” I continue to stare up at the stars. There is a message trying to make its way down from the dark sky to me. I cannot capture it; it is elusive.
“How long have you been here? When did you die?”
“How long? How long?” My voice was hollow, aching, and it came up from my mouth in a rush, like a horn blast. Words disintegrated into a long howling noise, aimed at the sky. The howl echoed in the darkness as my voice suddenly sucked itself back into my mouth. “Die?” I forced the words. “Die? I don’t…”
Though it felt like an alien movement, I turned onto my stomach and looked away from the night sky. I pull myself with my arms, and try to push with my legs, moving slowly through the shallows and the slimy stones toward the darkness of the higher ground. Behind I can feel the angry water surge and froth. I do not understand. Emptiness filled me, then spewed out as my hand reached a stone that was dry.
“Help me!” Darkness comes.
The first sensation as I wake in the dark water is one of expectation. Some deep voice, maybe from inside of me, or maybe from within the dark water, is telling me that something is waiting for me. The dark water is not happy, unsatisfied.
Still it thrusts me up, and the struggle begins.
She is sitting now where I can see her, a silhouette in the dim light. I crawl up into the shallows and turn over to stare at the sky. The sky whispers to me, warns me about this…woman.
“Your name is Gary,” she says, her voice shaking. “Gary Burchard.”
I stare at the sky, but see no stars. There is water falling into my face, and the water that moves over the deep drop-off seems tentative, but not angry. “Am I real?” This question seems important, as if it has been hanging in this place for a long time.
She clears her throat. “You disappeared in nineteen sixty-three. You were swimming with some other kids in your high school class. You were about to graduate and you were having a party.” I hear her breathing again. She struggles with it. “They never found your…” She did not finish because of the eruption from my mouth, a howl of anguish so loud she covers her ears.
“Who are you?” My question thrust up with the last of the howl, a question thrown up into the wet sky.
“My name is…is Sydni Arrane.” She takes several deep breaths as if trying to expel something from her lungs. “Spelled s-y-d…” She stopped. She made a noise, a grunt. “I don’t…I don’t know why you would…” Another grunt. “I am psychic.” She laughs nervously. “A psychic.”
In the shallows I turn from my back. The deep water is now tense, ready.
“Gary, listen to me. I want to help you, but I do not know how. I’ve spent the last year investigating your case…”
Again she did not finish because I screamed, my mouth filling with water and bits of floating debris. “Year! Year! How…how long?” These words, these questions, they come from inside me, but I do not know from where, or why. All I can do is let them come out.
“You drowned in nineteen sixty-three.” Now her voice drips of panic, fear. She struggles for control, breathing hard. “Gary, listen. I think you’ve been haunting this place since then…since sixty-three.” She stopped talking, breathing hard again.
“Don’t remember…can’t remember…just dark.” The whispering from the night sky fades; the tension from the water builds.
“Gary, this has been going on for a long time, you coming back here, coming to the surface. It’s…its’…I don’t know how to say this so you understand. Do you understand haunting?”
I pull with my arms and push with my legs. The deep water gets angry.
“No, don’t do that.”
Anguish erupts. I look up at the shadows and see a person. She is covering her ears. There is long hair around her hands, there are eyes, looking at me, open wide. I see her teeth, mouth closed but no lips over them.
“I think you are not meant to leave the water,” she says when the horrible sound quits from my mouth. “You tried to pull yourself across…over to me. You wanted to come to me, but the water took you back.” She pauses, her breathing harder now. “I feel that this is where your body must be, somewhere near here.” Her arms lift up and move across the front of her. “If you can give me a sign you understand we can help you…help you go…help you cross over.”
The world is still, the water angry, silent and determined. Pain is in me and I cannot move. She looks away, her eyes look above and around, her arms fall to her sides. She breathes very hard.
The dark water is violent, and it takes me.
Something is different. The black water is aggressive, undecided, as it pushes me up. There is something else I can feel, something coursing through my body as it struggles. I am anticipating. This…this rising, this surging up from the darkness has happened before, and I remember the struggle, the dark sky with stars, the slimy rocks, though it is all just pictures behind my eyes. The pictures blacken when I am at the top of the black water.
I have been here before.
Quiet questions wiggle like worms in the darkness behind my eyes where the pictures were. I have been here before; how many times? And something else from outside of me, not behind my eyes: a person, a woman. She has been here, waiting.
She is here. And someone else stands with her, and I get a twisting sick when I look at them. Before I struggle for the rocks I cry out. She only moves a little, but the person, the man tries to run. She stops him. She says something, though I can only hear, “father.”
“This place is unholy,” the man’s voice has fear so thick I feel it as I reach for the slimy rocks.
“Father, he will not come closer.”
It is Sydni Arrane. I remember her name from…before.
“The last time he tried to crawl up out of the water he was pulled back. It is as if this place possesses him.”
“I don’t know if I can do anything…to help you.” The man speaks, his voice heavy with fear. “I’ve never felt this…much…evil before. I don’t have the experience with this kind of haunting. You said…”
“Father, I know we can do this. Even if the body is still at the bottom of this river, we can force whatever is keeping him here to give him up and let him go.”
The expecting came into me again, the echoing of memory. The water rose, threw itself over me, and her.
I hang in the dark water. I feel anger so vivid it hurts in colors that swim and flash like fish in the darkness. I hear her voice, and the memory, stronger now, no longer just an echo, tells me it is Sydni Arrane. She speaks and I am not there; speaks to something I do not see. There is no fear in her voice, only anticipation and excitement.
“We must be cautious. When last I was here, when I came with Father Emerson, we were actually attacked. It is this place, this place of unspeakable power that holds on to its secrets. There is an evil here that even my channel, Demistos, the Egyptian priest, turns away from. I came here earlier today and channeled Demistos. I asked him about this place. His answer may make you wonder why we are here, why we are attempting this cleansing. Demistos told me that the water, as it cut through this rock, opened a fissure into a place that would have been best left undisturbed. When I asked Demistos to explain, he broke our connection. I have not been able to contact him since. Undeterred, we have come here to free Gary Burchard and allow him to be free of this evil and move on”
I hear her through the water, and the water is so many brilliant colors of angry. It pushes me up and makes me float on it, staring up into the sky. And the sky whispers to me. I do not go to the shore. The dark water beneath me holds me as I feel anger, hatred, terror and…and something else, rise up around me like fog. Beyond the whisper of the sky and stars, and outside of the terrible cloud coming up through the dark water and floating above the surface…beyond that, and setting my sense of anticipation coursing through me like electric pain…there are voices. Some of the voices are loud, some high, some deep. All share in terror.
Gently the water moves me toward the rocks, toward the place where the pictures behind my eyes tell me I have seen her, Sydni Arrane, and the other; the Father. I am on the rocks and the water moves away. I feel power seethe and surge; the anger is palpable as the water moves away.
Suddenly there is bright, and with it comes pain. It burns through me and I turn away and try to pull myself back to the water.
“Wait,” she says, and I know her. It is Sydni Arrane. “We are here to help you.” There is more pain with more light. Across the water, on the place with sand, are many people and things. Arms raised are pointing at me; many voices, loud and full of fear. “Look at me, Gary. Don’t look over there. I can save you.“
The dark water rises and engulfs sand and stone. As I am pulled back I see so many vivid colors, and I hear Sydni Arrane scream.
The dark water holds me, pulls me in different directions. Its anger rubs across me like pale colors that pulse. When I am pushed up I am staring at the stars in the sky, floating in the anger bordering on hatred. The colors are fear, but are still pale.
Memories are still weak, like echoes of echoes. The space beyond the water is different. There are no trees, and trees are in my mind, my memory, the supports of the stars and the dark sky. The trees are gone, and the sandy place where there was so much terror is covered with mud and broken trees.
Voices in the water cry out from beyond the darkness below, beyond the fear and anger. I look where the sand was, and the echo of a memory passes through me like storm clouds. There were others there. Not the one, not the one who talks to me. Others that were with her, but are gone and their voices come to me from a distance up the dark water.
There is a machine there above where the sand was. Its shape strikes me as familiar, but I cannot be certain; wheels and long arms; empty large eyes. The dark is trying to tell me about the machine, but the voice is cautious, fearful. What it tells me fills me with dread, and my voice erupts as I stare again at the stars.
Near the machine is a man. I see him clearly, and he steps back when I turn toward him. He speaks to me when my own voice empties the pain inside. His voice begins in fear.
“She told me not to come out here. She told me that this place was black, black with evil. But I had to come out here. My wife was on the camera crew that she brought out here. Her and the television show; Sydni Arrane’s World Beyond. Sydni had such a following then, and mostly because of you. You were her ticket. You know she wrote her first book about you. It was called ‘The Drowned Man.’ She got famous and began channeling her Egyptian priest, and they traveled around, cleansing haunted places, getting it all on tape. That’s when my wife joined her. That’s why she was on the shore of this river when it swept everyone away. Sydni survived, because she was over there with you. They never found my wife’s body. Now they are going to build a dam. In two weeks this place will be under more than seventy feet of water. I came here because nobody else can help. They quit looking for my wife and all the others that died. I need…I need your help…I need…oh, God! I…I need to know she…she isn’t…isn’t like you.”
The dark water is quiet, thoughtful, and pulls me back under.
Anticipation, almost knowing, fills me in the darkness. It is different to me: purposeful, deliberate. It instructs me as I float in the dark, voices seeping into me from all over. I feel strong.
I see her face in the darkness.
The water is flat, with no shore when first I come up. There is no struggle now.
Before, when this place was smaller, I was…entertaining. There was…joy? No…satisfaction. Is that what they say? Joy? Watching me struggle, they say satisfied them, brought them joy. Now I have other uses, they say, no longer whispering. But, still there will be joy, satisfaction.
The water carries me to a shore where there are no rocks, no sand. I do not struggle as I crawl from the water, pulling and pushing until the sky whispers to me: “Stand and walk.” I stand, the knowing still in my legs. The sky tells me, with a voice that sounds joyful: “Follow the moon.” Looking up I see it there in the sky, surrounded by cold stars. “Follow the moon and you will find her,” the voice says, this time laughing. “The others will join you presently.”