"You know that little limp she's got? Yeah, that was me."
"I don't think she hates you for that as much as you hate yourself."
Tell the story about how "she" got the limp!
#5: "The Secret Cove"
It was a bad idea from the beginning. Too bad I wasn’t man enough to say anything at the time. Sarah wasn’t the type to be denied when something piqued her interest.
“Come on!” she said, dragging me down the dock, past the slips full of motorboats and sailboats.
“Sarah...” I mumbled, but frankly, I was more concerned with keeping my footing on the uneven, bobbing planks than putting forth an actual protest.
We arrived at the slip where a small metal dinghy sat. Its rattling outboard motor that looked barely powerful enough to propel a lawnmower, and I didn’t like the way it bobbed and waggled on the mooring line.
“I think—“ I started to say, but she cut me off.
“I swear, I would not drag you all the way out here if I wasn’t absolutely telling the truth, Connor!”
She did that staring thing, the one where her eyes get real big and she holds my gaze without blinking till I have to look away. She wasn’t backing out of this.
“I saw it!” she said.
I closed my eyes and felt my pupils roll up into my skull. “Sarah, you can’t be totally sure what you—“
“Yes I can!” she fired back. “Now come on!”
Sarah wasn’t wasting time. She had already clambered into the dinghy and slipped the coil halfway off the cleat. A few minutes more, and I wouldn’t be able to come along. It was now... or never.
“Hold up!” I thrust my foot into the boat before my brain could overthink it some more. Whatever she saw, I would need to come along and see it too, if only to keep her from doing anything stupid.
I should have known it would happen anyway.
She fired up the motor, which performed only slightly better than I was expecting. At a maximum speed of seven knots, we puttered and sputtered our way out of the marina and into the bay. Sarah steered us into the open for a bit, before she veered off into a curve that I estimated would take us right back to where we started from. Instead, she adjusted the angle slightly, aiming for a tiny section of shore just beyond the marina.
As we inched closer, I wondered briefly if she was going to run us into the shore—and if so, what was the point of the marina and the boat if we could have just walked to the place?
A dense canopy of foliage created a wall. I turned back to my friend.
“Are we headed for that tree?”
“Yes,” she answered, without breaking her gaze.
“Should...” I gulped as the wall of green loomed closer. “Shouldn’t we slack off our speed a little?”
“No.” Sarah still didn’t budge from the tiller, though she did reach over and adjust the throttle—opening it as wide as it would go!
We collided with the branches at a whopping 9 knots, and even at that speed, it still felt like getting brained by a bag full of Little League softball bats. I covered my head with my arms to protect my ears.
When the clouting stopped, I lowered my arms and looked around.
We floated along in a small cove of some sort, full of thick, green foliage and golden, hazy light. I had never seen this place, and I’d been living on the bay my whole life!
“What?” I turned back to Sarah, who was looking around with a really sappy grin on her face. “Where are we?”
“Like it?” She spoke in hushed tones. “I found it when I got turned around, the first time I took this boat out... Apparently you can only get to it by going out wide and cutting back in. I’ve tried skirting the bay and getting right to this point without doing the whole sweep, but it literally only works if you do it that one way.”
The longer we sat, the more I could feel the dusty air sapping away all sound. I had to say something, just to hear the sound of my own voice again.
“So... is this what you wanted to show me?”
“No,” Sarah answered, returning her attention back to me. “Well, yes; kind of—it’s what I saw the last time I was here.”
I rotated my gaze around the entire circumference of the cove. “Which was...”
Sarah giggled. “Not out there, silly,” she said, rolling up her sleeve and plunging her hand into the water. “It was down here.”
I stared at her slender hand below the surface. She splayed her fingers, and almost immediately, my brain registered another movement just beyond her reach. I flinched, hard enough to tilt the boat a little.
Sarah jerked her hand out of the water to involuntarily grip the side of the boat. “What the heck, Connor?”
“I—“ I gulped. Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be here in what amounted to a soda can to whatever creature could cast a shadow like that.
“There’s something in the water,” I announced.
Sarah just smirked at me. "You don't say, Sherlock?” she goaded. “And now that we’ve established this fact... don’t you want to find out what’s in the water?”
I couldn’t suppress a shudder. “No thanks; this place is giving me the creeps.”
“Wuss,” she grunted, leaning over the water, as if her eyes could peer all the way to the bottom. “Just look out for any more move—“
I remember that moment vividly; it haunts my nightmares.
One second, my best friend is staring at the still, flat surface of the water.
The next, two silver-scaled arms sprout from the water and wrap around her neck, hauling her out of the boat with enough force to nearly toss me out with the ricochet. I held on to the boat with both hands and settled my center of gravity—and by then, I couldn’t see her anymore.
“SARAH!!” I shrieked, that malevolent heaviness stealing the reverberations of my voice. I felt stifled, like I couldn’t get enough breath.
Where was she? What had grabbed her? What could I do? I sat paralyzed in the middle of that dinghy, not daring to set so much as a finger over the edge of the boat. I wish I could say that my mind flew through several different outcomes and possible solutions for our situation—but I was too darn petrified with all the myriad questions to even think about anything else!
Another splash nearly sent me rocketing into the water, but when I finally located the source, Sarah lay on the grassy bank, scratched up on her face, one leg twisted sort of the wrong way, and a little bent where it wasn’t supposed to bend, but she was there! I cranked the motor and slid over to her, pulling her into the boat with me. I couldn’t detect that she was breathing, but her lips weren’t purple, and I could still feel a pulse. I knew I didn’t have enough room to do proper CPR form, but I supported her back with one hand, and thumped her abdomen with the flat of my other hand, kind of like trying to work a bellows.
“Sarah!” I hollered at her. “Come on, Sarah! BREATHE!”
A couple more pushes, and I felt her body flinch as she came to and hacked up a lungful of water. She choked and spluttered, and I supported her in trying to allow gravity to work with her in pulling the water out of her airway.
“There we go,” I rubbed and patted her back. “Easy; get it all up.”
She coughed till she could breathe again, great, raspy, heaving gasps. Her whole body began to tremble. I let her lean back against my shoulder and wrapped my arms around her.
She stared up at me as the gasps subsided into normal breathing. Her eyes sparkled, even though the blood still dripping from the cut on her forehead.
“Now do you believe me?” she whispered faintly.
“I never disbelieved, you dingbat,” I murmured back. “Now we need to get you back and to a hospital.”
So there you have it, the whole truth. Whatever that thing did to her, Sarah’s shin never healed quite right; that’s why she limps. I still can’t get over the sight of her sinking in the water, grabbed by something I couldn’t comprehend. I can’t forgive myself for panicking in the moment of danger. I haven’t been back since, and she hasn’t ever pressed the issue. Who knows how long it will be before either of us works up the courage to return to the cove in search of answers... whatever those might be?
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