My brother and I have a ritual of arriving at the pond before sun up. We gather our gear from the back of my pickup. With our rods, tackle boxes, waders, and a reliable flashlight, we start our trek. We must hike about a mile from the remote parking area. The foul odor of earthworms permeates the cool air. The sun is barely visible over the eastern sky yet the moon continues to reflect its radiance. A luminescent fog encompasses the surrounding meadow. Bullfrogs and crickets engage in a medley of primordial song. My brother and I grin at the expectations of big bass on the ends of our hooks.
A deeply rutted dirt trail doglegs to the right about a quarter mile ahead. Flying insects bombard us from all directions, but our course stays true. Our travel is sluggish, however, as we must steer a path around an occasional mud puddle. A rusty cattle gate comes into view. We slide our gear under the gate and hoist ourselves up over the top.
Our exhaustion is replaced by excitement as we arrive at our final destination. The pond is opaque with algae. Cattails line the perimeter creating yet another obstacle to the open water. Scanning the area, I notice a small concrete platform extending a few feet from the bank, surrounded by rusty iron grating. Water is pouring through the grate with extreme force. Despite the violent churning wake of water that surrounds the platform, I decide this is still a good place to begin my catch; a locale perfect for the long cast.
My brother decides on a nice spot several yards away, an area free from cattails and other obstructions. I notice him, through a copse of trees, churning his way through the muddy edges of the bank and into the water. His rubber waders conform to his legs as he moves further and further into the depths. I chuckle as his balance is compromised by the unpredictable current. He continues to move sluggishly away from the bank as the water moves higher and higher up his body. Suddenly, I feel a tug on my line.
I wrestle a nice largemouth bass out of the water and hold it up high for the fish gods to appreciate. I turn toward my brother to gloat when I hear a large splash coming from his last known position. In a nonchalant manner, I release the fish back to its watery world and take another glance over to where my brother was fishing. I feel only moderately concerned. I know he is an above average swimmer and has been known to loose his balance on many occasions; prudence suggests that I ensure that he is ok. “Hey! You ok?” No answer. I call again, louder than before, “Josh! You alright?” Still nothing.
I lay down my rod, tackle, and make a stunning leap to the bank. Taking a casual stroll toward my brother is fishing spot; my mind begins to methodically engineer morbid thoughts of my brother’s predicament. Being his clumsy self, he probably slipped and twisted an ankle. The thoughts gradually increase in intensity; my brother slipping on an algae covered rock and falling backward, moments later his head hits the bottom of the rocky bottom knocking him unconscious. My brother may also have fallen forward. With little buoyancy, the current may have swept him into deeper water. He may have become entangled in the unknown vegetation on the muddy bottom. My pace quickens.
My pulse is rapid now as I engage in a full sprint toward the open bank. I cannot shake the images of my brother’s lungs filling with water or sliding helplessly toward the dark depths of the pond. My heart feels heavy and my lungs are gasping for air when I arrive at the spot my brother was last heard from. My only thought is my brother under the surface. Any struggle for life that may have ensued appeared to quickly dissolve for the pond is placid upon my arrival.
Morbid thoughts end and primal instincts take over as I dive into the tranquil water. I enter a world of darkness and mystery. I begin my rapid decent churning my way through the torpid vegetation. Like awkward, boney fingers, submerged tree roots stretch out into the blackness. My near weightlessness allows me to meander through the ebony colored roots with relative ease.
My lungs are beginning to burn ever so slightly now. The water gets colder as I leave the warmth of the surface and continue into the dismal abyss. I pan my head frantically from side to side scanning for any sign of my brother. Despair is creeping into my mind, not only for him but for my own life as well. I fear that I’ll be unable to hold my breath for the return to the surface. My mind fills with a whirlwind of horrible thoughts, a collage that is twisting and turning into a kaleidoscope of images. I feel strangely euphoric as if my mind and body are detached, tumbling through space and time. Like a slide show, images continue to reel off depictions of my past, present, and future. I am loosing consciousness.
My trek into the depths takes an unexpected turn. A dark figure is approaching me from the depths. It is swimming with amazing agility. I can’t be sure what I’m witnessing. It is a moss green with long wiry appendages. It has what appears to be a human shape. The hands and feet are webbed and there are webs on the top of its head and on either side of its nose connected to boney, protruding cheekbones. I cannot make out any further details for the water seems to be getting murky. A green cloud is emanating from the mouth of the thing, distorting my view. My vision begins to blur. I desperately want to inhale and feel the refreshing coolness of air filling my lungs.
A moment later, the thing reaches and grabs my arm. Its flesh is cold and smooth with long pointy nails protruding from its fingers. The nails dig into my wrists. I try to wiggle free, but the things strong grip compounded by my ever-decreasing lack of energy, prevents my escape.
The creature pulls me closer; inches from its face. Its emerald, misty eyes widen as it peers into my own, as if trying to stare directly into my soul. It drops its jaw in astonishment, lets out a muffled undecipherable noise, and yanks on my arm violently in anger, as if in some sort of protest. The last thing I am concerned about is making enemies with this thing.
Water seeps in from the corners of my mouth. I try to purse my lips tighter and tighter when suddenly I take a full inhale of water. There is a strong ringing in my ears and a burning sensation in the back of my neck. My chest feels cool, undoubtedly from the water that is gradually occupying my lungs. My mind clears for a brief moment; enough to come to terms with my imminent death.
I begin to cough violently and a new sensation has taken hold. I cringe at the bitterness of grass and dirt on my lips. I open my eyes and realize I am face down on the ground. What happened? Did I die? Is this some sort of perverted representation of my afterlife, the taste of dirt and grass?
The blades of grass tantalize my skin offering a soothing return to reality. I gain the strength to pick myself up from the ground. I turn to see my brother at the bank, staring at the pond. His back is toward me as I approach him and ask, “What happened?” He doesn’t speak for a while. Finally, he shakes his head and turns to walk away, when I grab his arm in an attempt to keep him in the moment. He is obviously hiding something and I’m not going to let him close this magnificent experience whether real or not. “What’s going on, and don’t lie to me!” He turns, looks directly at me and with a deep sigh, replies, “It wasn’t supposed to attack.” My eyes widen. He continues, “It’s merely a sentry. Its purpose is to observe intentions and take the appropriate actions.” I bury my face in cupped hands for a moment, trying to regain some composure. Slicking my wet hair back, I reply, “Ok… Forget Star Trek and all the other sci-fi crap you indulge yourself in, and speak to me in laymen’s terms, starting with whatever that thing was in the water.” He walks away. I sense mixed emotions in him; however, I realize that anymore questioning on my part is futile. He seems more distant to me than ever before. I cannot begin to understand what has happened to him. I hypothesize that my brother has been in contact with these Aqua-men, as I call them, for quite some time. He has undoubtedly shared an intimate bond with them. Even now, I wonder how much of my brother do I really know. I see him now, staring at the pond. What does he feel when he looks into the mystery that lies beyond?
I realize that the peaceful isolation that is inherent in the aqua-men will soon be ending; not today or a month from now, but eventually they will need to adapt in order to survive in a world so vastly different from their own.
It is nearing dusk. I am sure my wife has been waiting patiently. What started out as a routine summer day fishing on the pond became a magnificent life-altering experience. I will soon leave this place and never return. My intuition, accompanied by a peaceful splash from the pond, is a clear indication that my brother has decided to stay. I will undoubtedly see him again; whether it is in his new world or the one he has left behind, I do not know. I believe he has found the peace he has sought. In time, he will need to decide if he wants to stand proud with his new friends from the depths. Man will someday discover them and expose them to their world and a new epoch will form for both species and most certainly end in a requiem for the aqua-men.