“Come in, come in!” The voice was shrill and taunting, like a vulture crying out as it closes in on its prey. The voice belonged to my long-time friend, Henrietta, wearing a bathing suit and standing in ankle-deep water amid the pond scum. We were in Seattle, on the shores of Lake Union, the place where all the sewage used to flow unfiltered and the garbage used to be dumped, and where hundreds of factories used to release their toxic chemicals.
“C’mon, you scaredy cat! It’s just water.” As a six-year-old boy, I certainly did not like being called a scaredy cat, but that water did not seem any better. “Scaredy cat, scaredy cat,” she began to sing. The vulture had captured the prey. Slowly, I started to move into the water. It was warm, almost hot, with layers of filth and slimy seaweed and squishy moss. My foot began to sink through the dirt, and I jumped back for a moment, back onto the muddy grass with myriad brown squishy worms crawling within. Again, the taunting began, and I stepped in once more. I moved forward, slowly, trying to ignore the sucking sound of the water’s bottom or the billions of dead insects floating on the water, brushing past my legs, latching on to me. I imagined them resurrected, crawling all over me, emerging from the depths of the semi-bog.
Suddenly, there was a huge splash of water from Henrietta. She had dived in completely. The brown stinking water with pieces of green and slime and bugs flew towards me, and my face was soon drenched in it. Unfortunately, I had opened my mouth at the same time, and just a few droplets flew right in. The first thing I noticed was the taste. It was sharply acidic, and had the texture of soft and slimy half-done Jell-O. I felt a tiny creature crawling on my tongue, but I could not tell if it was real or just imaginary. I started to cough, and a trail of the water came out of my mouth like diarrhea. Henrietta gave her shrill laugh. I looked over in her direction, and I saw she was green.
She was not actually green, of course, but the green seaweed and algae and remains of who-knows what was stuck onto her, making her look like a scaly reptile.
“Come in, come in!” I stepped in again, closed my eyes, and tried to ignore the centipede scaling up my leg and the yellow seaweed spiraling around my face. I was now almost waist deep, and I could not see the water’s bottom anymore, and I did not have any warning when the first tentacle of long, thick, slimy seaweed went around my leg. I screamed and tried to pull, and at that very moment, looking through the murk, I spotted hundreds of these tentacles rising up from the water, waiting to grab me. In panic, I tried to run to the shore, but the tangle of slime wouldn’t let go, and I tripped and fell face first into the sewage.
It was brown underwater, as far as you could see, with little tiny hard-shelled creatures swimming around next to me, circling their prey. The plants swayed in the water, gelatinous, long and thick. Suddenly, a fish swam by, a brown fish with sewage stuck onto it and cut fins and a mouth full of yellow and green gums, but no teeth. Its beady black eyes surrounded by brown fatty tissue stared at me. About then is when I threw up.
I was able to take my head out of the water first, thank goodness, but that did not make me feel any better. I retched a huge mess of yellow and green and brown lumps, both from my lunch and from the lake. It landed right on the water, floating for a second, before it dissolved into the lake, becoming yet another element of the water’s filth. Henrietta laughed, and we ran from the lake as fast as we could. That was too awful a thing for even her to swim in.
We bolted home as quickly as we could, trailing the lake’s filth behind us. I could barely find my way, with buckets of filth dripping from my soaked hair. As soon as I got home, I raced to the bathroom to take a bath, ignoring my parents’ frantic pleading about wiping my feet before entering the house. I undressed quickly, and as my pruned hands fumbled for the faucet, I reflected on the unfortunate turn of events. When the warm water first began to flow from the faucet and land on my drenched skin, it was nothing short of heaven. Before long, my body was cleaned with warm bath water and I was as clean as I had ever been, but I could never seem to get the acidic taste of the murky water out of my mouth, or forget the look of the Fish from the Dead.
Now, I have finally overcome my fear, and I often jump gleefully into Lake Union on a hot summer day with a now-teenage Henrietta by my side. But even so, I cannot feel the stray seaweed floating the water’s murk without remembering my experience with the pond scum.
Samuel Wolf, Age 14, Grade 8, Packer Collegiate Institute, Gold Key