In last week’s blog post, Writer’s Block, the Road to Hell, and DEVO, I discussed how difficult it can be to move forward when the words just won’t come, and how, when you’ve finally got something you think is pretty good, you might have to eventually accept the fact that it just ain’t working. It may even become necessary to delegate large quantities of your time and effort to the recycle bin. I’ve been there. I know what I’m talking about. Once upon a time, Cash Douglas, the hero of A Shot at Redemption, had an irrational fear of water. That was going to be his Achilles Heel. While confronting his enemy, Cash would likewise have to conquer his fear or fall victim to it once and for all. It was going to be one of those man versus man, man versus self sort of deals. I laid the groundwork in the prologue. You know; that prologue that no longer exists. Some of my discarded material didn’t quite make it all the way to that recycle bin. Here’s a portion of the scene I’d planned on using. I thought you might find it interesting since the book ended up going in an entirely different direction.
In the years that followed, no matter how often the memory of that night entered his thoughts and dreams, he was never quite sure what happened next. He might have tripped over the tackle box, snagged his foot on one of the ropes used to tie the skiff to the dock, or somehow simply lost his balance. His father reached for him but it was already too late. He was going in. He remembered the sound of a shout. He couldn’t make out the words. He didn’t even know if they’d come out of his dad’s mouth or his own. The sound ended abruptly as soon as he hit the water. The first thing he was aware of was the cold. It was shockingly cold, especially for July. He opened his eyes but could see nothing but blackness. And, although he was a good swimmer for his age, he was having a hard time getting his bearings. He’d gone in head first, and couldn’t tell which way was up. To make matters worse, the water was full of some sort of seaweed. It was slippery and disgusting, sliding through his hair, over his body and against his face. He tried not to panic. He knew the water wasn’t deep. All he needed to do was locate the bottom. If he could manage that, getting back to the surface would be as easy as standing up. He reached out and immediately found what he was looking for. It was a spongy mess of mud and silt and the most welcome thing he’d ever touched. He pushed off in the direction of safety. So he’d ruined their fishing trip. There would be others. Going home to warm blankets and hot chocolate would be a good way to spend the night too. Maybe they could even…. He never finished the thought.
Out of nowhere, rough fingers suddenly closed around his throat. At first he was merely confused. That soon changed to pure terror. He tried to scream for help, but sucked in a lungful of pond water instead. It was rancid, tasting of mud and rot. He didn’t understand what was happening; it just didn’t make any sense. Sure, he’d seen tons of movies featuring hideous sea monsters and weird creatures from the deep, but that stuff wasn’t real. It was all make believe. His parents had told him so. There were no mummies, no werewolves, no boogiemen and NO SEA MONSTERS. And this was Sandy Pond. Even if there were such thing as a Loch Ness Monster or giant sea squid, it sure as hell wouldn’t be hanging out here. There wasn’t anything down here bigger than a trout that had wandered in from the lake. Something had him though, impossible as that seemed. He tried to claw at the thing, to force it to loosen its grip. He kicked and punched and struck nothing at all. How could that be? He could feel the biting pressure around his neck. Something had him in a death grip. The skin felt rough and abrasive. Confused and terrified, he tried to strike out again, his flailing arms and legs finding only water. And still, the horrid thing squeezed tighter, pulling him down into the muck and the slime. Its icy fingers… or maybe they weren’t fingers at all. Maybe they were teeth. It had him in its teeth. He could feel the sharp points biting into his skin. Suddenly he was thankful for the darkness. At least he wouldn’t be able to see his own blood. He decided that it must be a snake. It had to be. It was a huge, monstrous sea snake that was going to drag him down, choke the life out of him and then slowly feed on his body. No one would ever know what happened to him. He was going to die down here. He was going to die at the bottom of Sandy Pond and everyone would think he’d just fallen out of the boat and drowned. They’d probably all laugh at him for being so careless and stupid. He didn’t want to die that way.
And just like that, he was free. The thing had released him. Or, was it just preparing to get a better hold? That had to be it. At any second he’d feel the mighty jaws clamp down on his chest, his throat, or maybe his whole head. He hoped the end would come quickly. He didn’t want to suffer. He waited…. For a second, nothing happened. And then the beast had him again, this time by the ankle. It was dragging him quickly toward the bottom. He tried to scream again. A silent stream of bubbles would be his swan song.
He broke the surface of the water. His father was holding him by the ankle. Using the other hand to grab him by the seat of the pants, he hauled him over the side of the boat where he lay on the bottom, coughing and spluttering.
“You okay Champ? What were you doing down there?”
That’s how the nightmare had ended. Only it hadn’t been a nightmare. It had been real. His father had explained to him how he’d fallen overboard and must have gotten momentarily tangled in the anchor line. At home in the bathroom mirror, Dad had even shown him the rope burn. That was all well and good. Let Dad think whatever he wanted; but he knew better. He knew the telltale marks on his neck had not been caused by a rope, and he knew he’d never again go fishing at night, at least not from any boat.
He never told anyone about his fears. He knew they were irrational and he was ashamed. Still, even twenty-five years later, the mere sight of water at night terrified him. He wasn’t afraid to go in the tub. Even swimming pools were all right provided they weren’t too dark or too deep. But any open body of water… that was a different story entirely. And what bothered him most was that his fear didn’t seem to exist, at least not according to an official listing of phobias he’d found in an encyclopedia. He learned about hydrophobia–the fear of water, agoraphobia–the fear of open spaces, achluophobia–the fear of darkness, and nyctophobia–the fear of dark or night. He also discovered phobias related to chopsticks, chickens, dancing, dinner conversation, wind, wine and even wet dreams. Nowhere, however, could he find anything specific to open water at night. Was he that much of a weirdo that he had this particular phobia all his own? Of course, the fact that he’d been unable to label his fear didn’t make it any less real. In time, he had admitted to himself that his dad was right about what had happened that night. He’d fallen out of the boat, gotten tangled up and panicked. That’s all there was to it. And, in daylight, that all made perfect sense. But, at night, in plain sight of a river, a lake or a pond, all the common sense in the world wasn’t worth a puddle of piss. His rational mind told him there was nothing to fear. His imagination, however, still as overactive as it was when he was seven, never failed to remind him of the dreadful thing that had grabbed him and tried to pull him down.
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