It was one of those things that was so totally unexpected that the very idea of something even remotely like it ever happening to anybody never occurs to you. I think you know pretty much what I mean. I'm sure that things like it happen all the time.
But it happened to me. And I was all alone. It was a living nightmare, something that will stay with me forever. It started innocently enough. Hell, I'd done it a hundred times before. I don't know. I lived in Burlington, Vermont at the time, and there was this killer on the loose. It was like nothing I or my small city had ever seen before.
Anyway, I just had to get away from it all. It was summer, June to be exact, and University was out until September. I had Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and half of Tuesday off from work-a very rare occurrence, and an event which merited some celebration.
So I decided to have one. A mini-vacation. Plus, as I said, I had to get away from the headlines detailing everything the local paper could find out about that goddamn killer. So I decided to go to the cottage. My family was away that month, visiting relatives in Pennsylvania. I had to stay in Burlington to work so that I'd be able to afford to buy books in September. Well, I had the family house in Burlington all to myself. And I'd have the family cottage all to myself as well. I debated whether or not to ask my girlfriend over, too, but I decided to do the long weekend all alone.
So on Saturday morning, I threw all my supplies into the trunk of the car and set off for three and a half days of Utopia. The cottage was, and still is, set on Vermont's largest lake, Lake Champlain, and one of the United State's largest as well (go ahead and look it up!). The cottage is in Alburg Springs, a summer and farm community with few year-round residents.
The Springs is a border town, if it could be called a town at all. Canada is clearly visible from most of it, as it is about a mile from the cottage via Route Two, the area "thoroughfare" that passes right in front of the cottage's large front yard.
Most of Vermont's west side is bordered by the lake, which flows from south to north to the Richelieu River in Canada. A piece of the lake is actually in Quebec, but it is only a small bay. In the middle of the lake are a group of three large islands and a number of smaller ones. They make up Grande Isle County. Part of this county is the Alburg Tongue, the only peninsula west of Seattle that juts into the US from Canada. It is on the east side of this tongue where the Springs sit. Well, enough description. I've procrastinated enough, so let's get back to my story.
I drove to the cottage, arriving at about ten o'clock after an hour's drive. The cottage is part of a small beachfront community of about fifteen cottages, each with a fair amount of land plus lake access. My family's cottage, or, for the purposes of storytelling, the cottage, is near the Canadian side of the community, with about three other cottages and a farm in between.
I get along well with the neighbors, but everybody pretty much keeps to themselves. Visiting is always cordial and every one knows when someone has a barbecue or a party in their back yard because the noise and smells travel quickly.
The facilities are good in the cottage. Three bedrooms, bath, kitchen/dining room, and living room. Also an enclosed porch that's been changed and re-designed about four times. The lake is directly in my back yard, about thirty feet from the cottage and a twelve foot drop down. A steep concrete landing wide enough to accommodate a car or tractor to let down and pull up the boats and docks dipped down to the lake.
At the end of the landing was a dock, painted a brownish red (I always thought of it as blood red), jutting another twenty feet into the lake. On one side of the dock, bobbing in the light waves formed by a passing motor boat is the sailboat, a Siren, seventeen feet long and baby blue. It is well used and in good shape.
And on the other side of the dock is a hoist upon which rests the power boat, a fifteen foot Starcraft with a one-forty horse inboard-outboard engine. It is as orange as the setting sun.
The sky is always blue, the water always shimmering, the grass always green, here in the Springs. Unless they're not. That's what my Grandpa always used to say. And he was right. Everything here always seems better, more peaceful. Unless they aren't. That little paradox had new meaning for me by the end of my long weekend.
Well, that weekend, that fateful weekend, was as gorgeous as any other. The lake was calm and beautiful. White puffs of cloud very slowly worked their way through the blue sky. And the grass and leaves stirred ever so slightly in the almost-but-not- quite still win.
The first day, the first thing I did was get the two five- gallon gasoline tanks from out of the small cabana in the back yard. I had them filled at the only general store in the Springs. Armed with these two tanks, I drove back to the cottage and prepared for Sunday's festivities. Then, the rest of Saturday, I sat in the sun and dreamt about Paradise. Sunday morning, the neighbors were out in full force. The whole tract of land had been developed by Vermonters, but over the years, most of it had been sold to Canadians. For some reason they seemed to like spending their vacations in the United States. To tell the truth, I never thought Canada was that exciting either. The water was calm, smooth as glass. Perfect for boating....The boat just skims across the water, cutting a wake that doesn't stop until it hits land, be it the lake shore in front of the cottage, or the shore in front of the cottages on the other side of the lake, a good two miles away.
I slowly let the power boat down off of its hoist. It settled into the water and began to bob away from the hoist, and away from me. I grabbed the rope attached to the bow and pulled it to the dock, around the front and to the other side, opposite the hoist, and right in front of the sailboat. The baby blue of Li'l Bit, the sailboat, and the bright orange of the unnamed powerboat clashed violently.
I took the keys to the ignition from my pocket and hopped into the driver's seat, on the right side of the boat, as one would drive an English car. I wondered fleetingly if English boats had the driver's seat on the left. The boat started up quickly, showing none of the trouble that we'd had with it at the beginning of the season. Slowly, I backed away from the dock and into the great expanse of Lake Champlain. As I moved slowly away from the shore and from the shallower water, I slowly let the engine tilt down to running angle and when the lights showed that the motor was down, I pushed the throttle all the way down.
The feeling of the wind created by the boat moving through glassy water was intense! The top speed of the boat was about forty, and I was cruising at thirty-nine. This, I thought, is the life.
I drove out to about the middle of the lake and stopped, dead in the water. Here it was still very calm, although a very low wind kicked up ripples on the water. It was ideal skiing water. Maybe, I thought, I'll ask one of the neighbors to drive me around for a while. I popped a Nylons tape into the cassette player and turned the music down to a soft lull. I killed the engine and lifted the motor out of the water. I dropped anchor and removed my shirt. The hatch over the inboard engine was as wide as the boat, and was a perfect place to perch oneself to sunbathe, and I did just that.
I had been laying in the warm summer sun for about fifteen minutes when all of a sudden the boat moved. I almost fell off and into the water the movement was so sudden. I regained my composure and looked around, trying to discover what had happened. I looked at the bow. The anchor rope was taut. I looked at the water. No boats or dead whales had hit me. I looked into the water, thinking maybe I'd hit a reef, but I saw nothing.
The bump had spooked me. I could also feel my shoulders start to bake under the sun, so I put my shirt back on and fired the engine and made good time back to the cottage. By the time I got back, I had forgotten about the bump. I would remember it later in the worst of circumstances. Later in the day, I did ask one of the neighbors to take me skiing and Marc, from next door, happily obliged me, him driving, and his sister spotting for me. I rode behind Marc's Boston Whaler at his insistence. I didn't argue, even though I knew my Starcraft could go faster. I just wanted to ski on that water. And I tried my best, too.
I jumped over the wake, pulled myself almost next to the boat and then cut back so quickly that the rope slackened like it had never before, and when the boat's speed pulled the rope taut again, my arms almost got ripped out of their sockets. But I recovered and gave Marc the OK sign and the Return Home signals, one after the other. The skiing was as good as I had thought it would be. I'm no world-class skiier, but I get by.
That night, I ate cereal for dinner and watched the ABC Sunday Night Movie. I turned in a little early and could hear families packing up their belongings to leave. I knew that by morning, I would be the only one left. Maybe eben the only person on this part of the lake. I looked forward to it.
Now, however, I won't even go near a pool alone. I slept well that night and I didn't awake the next morning until eleven. It was a nice looking day from inside. The sun was shining through a sky full of clouds. And it wasn't too warm, wasn't too cool. But when I stepped outside, the wind hit me. It was a very strong, steady wind, with forceful gusts.
A large smile made its way to my mouth. It was a perfect day for a nice long sail.
I ate breakfast quickly and began to get everything set for the sail. I took the mainsail and jib out of the bag and unfurled them. I put the sails in the boat and made sure all my battens were in and all my ropes and shrouds were ready. I checked my fuel tank and engine. Everything checked out okay.
I checked my life jacket and debated whether or not I should wear it or not. I decided to wear it, as the wind had picked up a little bit more. I made sure the rudder was all set and that I was all bailed out. There were two oars in the cabin, an extra precaution.
I quickly dove into the water to get myself ready for a really nice sail and then jumped right back into the boat and shoved off. The water was about sixty-five degrees by this time of year. It would get warmer by September, but after it passed sixty, I had no qualms about swimming in it. I pulled the starter cord on the small 7.5 Johnson engine and it started quickly, with a puff of grey smoke. I motored about half a mile from the dock and lifted the motor out of the water. It was time to let nature take its course.
I put the rudder into its slots and shoved the holding pin home. I then walked carefully up to the bow. The wind was hitting the boat on its side, and this boat has a relatively large profile. The side was catching the wind and pushing me slowly through the water. The tiller was shoved and locked all the way to one side, forcing the boat into a circle. That way, I would have plenty of time to set up the sails. First came the jib, the small sail on the bow. The wind began to catch this as well, but since I didn't pull its halyards tight, it just flapped in the wind.
Then I pulled the bottom of the Marconi-style mainsail into the boom and fastened it at the end. I then began to quickly but carefully hoist the sail to the top of the boom, taking hold of the tiller as soon as I had the stays all tied down. I released the boom support rope and quickly tied it down too. I was in business.
The wind began to catch the sails and I was really whipping along. At one point, the boat heeled so far at an angle that water almost poured into the boat, but I quickly fixed that by heading into the wind a tad.
I had almost slipped into the water when the angle had become so great and my heart was pumping a mile a minute. I took a spare rope and tied one end through a cleat and the other through a loop in my life jacket. Once, last year, the boat had been heeling much like it had just been, and one of my brothers had slipped and fallen overboard. Had he been alone in the boat, he would have had no chance of swimming to the boat because it would have been going much too fast. I didn't want that to happen to me. Had I been at home that day, I might have tuned into The Weather Channel, and, in the local forecast, I might have noted that there was a small craft warning on all of Lake Champlain for that Monday. There weren't any rainstorms expected, but the winds were expected to be very high. Very high. I didn't think I had ever seen the wind this nice. Actually, it was pretty brisk, but I hadn't been out sailing in weather like this in a year or two, so it seemed to be wonderful. The intense wind kept me moving at great speeds, and the waves crashing against the bow sent spray flying into my face. It was as exhilarating as all get out. I marveled at my speed and at the force of the tack of the sail when I came about. Had someone's head been in the way of that boom when it whipped from one side of the boat to the other, he surely would have been knocked unconscious.
Fun. One word describes what was taking place. Pure, unadulterated fun. Man versus nature.
Nature won. Records showed that the winds gusted up to sixty miles an hour-unusually fast for winds that were not whipped up by a thunderstorm. There had been some storms that season with high winds like these, but they were accompanied by thunder and lightning. As I said before, the sun still peeked through a cloudy, but not a stormy, sky. A strong gust of wind hit the sails and I heard a loud crack. I looked with horror over to the cradle which held the mast. The bolts which held the cradle to the fiberglass cabin roof were bending out of the fiberglass and the fiberglass itself was cracking out and away. I tried to move the rudder so as to turn the boat into the wind, but it was too late. A larger gust caught the sail and pushed the crippled boat over onto its side. at that point, the fiberglass finally gave way. The mast lay in the water, and water was pouring into the boat.
The keel quickly began to upright the demasted boat and I was whipped around as a result, bumping my head somewhere. I was dazed and dizzy. I dimly surveyed the damage. One of the guy wires apparently had snapped under pressure, allowing the mast to fall. The mainsail and jib were both in the water, as was the boom and mast, all held to the boat by various shrouds and halyards. It looked like I'd still be able to make it home. The gas can had been stowed and was in place. The engine was quite firmly bolted to the aft and if I could get all the pieces on board, I'd be able to motor home.
But then, something bumped the boat. It was a familiar bump, and I suddenly remembered the bump in the Starcraft the day before. There have always been stories of a monster or monsters in Lake Champlain, all the way back to the sixteen hundreds, when Samuel de Champlain himself reported seeing a giant snake in the lake during his explorations. Since then, many sightings have been recorded, and almost any book about the lake will show a chart marking these places. Several lake side communities have claimed their area to be Champ's (that's the monster's name) hunting grounds. Hunting for fish.
Many lakes have monsters, not the least famous being Nessie in Scotland. There are many others, but they are basically the same. They are benevolent, rarely seen and always snake- or dinosaur-like. Champ is no exception. At the pier in Burlington, in fact, is a monument to Champ, and it gives a fully scientific name, making word Champlain sound Latin.
Besides Champ, however, there had been no reports of monsters in the lake. Imagine how I felt, sitting out there in a heavily damaged boat, in high winds, out in the middle of the lake, land at least a mile or even two in either direction, getting bumped by something.
How would you feel? I was petrified. It, whatever It was, bumped once again. This time, though, It didn't just bump and pass. It hit the bow and turned the boat around. I was sitting in the outside of the cabin, listening intently, unmoving, eyes open wide, hands at my side, grasping for something. Maybe it was sanity. You know what I mean, don't you? Monsters are supposed to go away when one grows older. I was older, and here, in the water with me, was a monster.
At least, that's what I thought. I hadn't actually seen it, just felt it. But my mind was running away with me, caught up in the hysteria. Understandable.
When the bow stopped turning, I thought it out a little bit. This is all imagination. There is no monster. There's no such thing as monsters. Then my mind snapped back to reality, and my eyes focused on the motor, fastened to the hull. Just start the engine, stupid, I thought. Start it and get out of here.
It fired up after three pulls. I slowly pushed the gear lever into forward and gave the engine a little gas. I started to move, the mast and sails trailing beside me. I breathed a sigh of relief and pointed the bow towards home.
It obviously did not want me to go.
I saw movement in the waves, a disturbance, like a push in the water, the kind of disturbance a flipper would make. A kind of calmness in the water. And I saw a dark shape swimming next to the boat. It was long, maybe twenty feet, and about four feet wide. I looked like a giant seal.
It swam parallel to the boat for a moment then veered off incredibly fast. I gunned the engine.
A minute later, I saw the shadow again-coming at me at a right angle. And very fast. Incredibly fast. It jumped out of the water just before It would have hit the bow, and landed on the bow. It was obviously very heavy because the aft section lifted out of the water and the engine roared as it began to push on air instead of liquid.
It sat there as the boat settled and the bow, now very heavy, plowed through the water. Then the motor began to spit and sputter. It died unceremoniously, and the boat quickly slowed to a stop, the wake giving the boat one final push as it caught up with us.
I took my first look at The Thing now, as it appeared that It had won this round. The skin looked very rough, like chain mail armour-very tough. It had a tail not unlike that of a whale and side flippers which flipped every now and then. And eyes black as tar. Its head was turned to me, and I could see both eyes very clearly-black as tar, and deep as a well. My heart jumped when I realized exactly what I was looking at.
Then It opened its mouth and I saw rows and rows of teeth, sharp, pointed teeth, and a throat that seemed to go on forever. It looked like It was smiling. With one movement of its huge body, only a tiny portion of which was on the boat, It slipped into the water and began to circle the boat. The L'il Bit. For this thing, it would be a l'il bite.
It circled and circled and circled. And I watched. I watched its every move. A memory about how sharks circle a victim before attacking hit me. And that threw me out of the hypnotizing effect produced by The Thing's circling, scared me out of it.
I tried to start the engine again. It sputtered, but would not start. The Thing moved a little closer. I searched my mind quickly, frantically, searching for the reason, any reason, why the goddamn motor wouldn't start. If water had gotten inside the casing, there wasn't much I could do. If it was mechanical, there wasn't much I could do. If I was out of gas, there wasn't much I could do. Gas. GasGasGas. Something about the gas stuck in my mind.
Of course! I had closed the air intake valve on the tank, and if the suction became great enough inside the tank, the engine would not start. I quickly opened the hatch in which I had put the tank, and tried to open the valve. It was slick from the gasoline and my hands were wet as well. I washed my hands quickly in the water to rid them of the gasoline and then wiped them dry on my leg.
At that very moment, I don't know why, I noticed that the wind had died down considerably, and that the water was half as rough as it had been fifteen minutes earlier. I also noticed that every time The Thing circled the Bit, It came a little closer. I shook the thought out of my head and concentrated on the engine.
I succeeded in opening the valve, and there was a great hiss as the air from outside the can rushed in to equalize the pressure. I yelped loudly in a combination of relief, pleasure and triumph. Then I yelled, "I got it, you son of a bitch!"
It must have heard me.
It had circled around to the aft side and sat there, probably watching me. I saw It after I had called It an SOB, saw It sitting, waiting. With a swish of its tail, It started for the boat. I didn't know exactly what It was going to do, but I knew I wouldn't like it. I pulled the starting cord and nothing happened. I pulled again and the engine sputtered as the gas began to course into it with each pull.
Had I been able to pull once more, I may have gotten away. But I didn't have the chance.
It pulled its head out of the water, twisted ninety degrees. Its great jaws were open and rows of teeth gleamed. The jaws clamped shut on the engine.
The bow rose out of the water as The Thing began to struggle with the fasteners which held the motor to the hull. I jumped back from It as far as I could. The hull began to creak and strain. Something had to give. I hoped it would be The Thing's teeth and not the hull.
It was the hull.
The fiberglass couldn't take the strain of The Thing's grip, and a sharp crack rang out as the hull broke, releasing the motor. The head, about as large as my torso, sank under the water, the white casing of the Johnson firmly in its grip. It surfaced a second later, with nothing in its mouth but teeth. It slowly began to circle again. It is a pretty well known fact that in cases where a subject is under extreme stress, and/or under extreme emotional strain, that shock can set in. If the shock is great enough, then death has been known to occur. The cause is not really known, but it is thought to be a failure of the circulation of blood, leading to heart failure and brain death. Shock is brought on by certain feelings--the thought that you are soon going to die, or extreme and prolonged fright or depression.
There is also delirium in which the subject suffers from hallucinations and delusions. The subject is incoherent and disoriented.
Well, as that day wore on, I was on the verge of shock and was deep in the state of delirium. I once thought I saw my mother about ten feet from the boat and almost walked over to her. I also dreamt, or rather, hallucinated, that I was back at the dock and that I had just hit my head and that this whole episode was merely a dream. I dreamt a dream.
Well, as night began to fall, and the winds began to slow, I started to get more and more tired. I watched The Thing circle my boat incessantly. And, like counting sheep, I slowly became bored, and boredom led to fatigue, and fatigue led to sleep. I woke with a start. The sun was shining and it was warm. A light wind blew over the lake and the boat lolled gently in the light waves. I was very rested, though still tired, and the delusions I had suffered the night before were gone. I looked to see if The Thing was still in the water, and It was, swimming circles. I began to wonder if It had slept, too.
I had dreamt of Burlington, of my bed, of my tape deck, of Big Macs and of icy Cokes. I dreamt, also, of Cindy, my girl. A gorgeous woman, we got along very well together. I was even hazarding thoughts of marriage. I began to wish that I had asked her to come with me.
The Thing bumped the boat, knocking hard, and making me scramble to grab onto something. I was still attached to the cleat I had fastened my jacket the day before. Though I no longer had to worry about falling out of the boat because of a too large heel, I still needed that little piece of security.
The Thing bumped again with the same force, in about the same place. It was up to something.
I scanned the lake and saw that I was either being held equidistant from all shores either by nature or by force. I didn't like to give It that much intelligence, but I decided it wasn't Nature that was holding me here. It was obviously smart. It had stopped me when I had the engine running, and ripped away when It had the chance.
I looked at the sun. It was very early, probably around six. If anyone was going to come along in a boat, it would be some of the year-round residents' kids from around here. But they would be up for hours. Plus, the blue of this boat blended in well with the sky and lake. Without the sail or the mast, the Bit really didn't stick out, not like the Starcraft would have.
It bumped again, and I leaned over the side and called into the water, "I don't know what the hell you're trying to do down there, but it's not going to work, you bastard!" I kind of knew It wouldn't hear me, but yelling at It made me feel better all the same. And again It bumped.
I looked into the water and watched It. It was hitting the bow about a foot back, in the same place every time, turning the boat quite a bit every time it did. I had swung around four times, and I think it began to realize that the boat was moving when it hit the bow, and before it came to hit again, it nudged the bow a bit to stop the momentum.
Then a line from a comic book I had read years ago came back to me. "The Thing," a member of the Fantastic Four, was trying to get out of a room the Army had put him. The Thing is this big huge orange guy whose skin was like rock. Well, the Thing was strong. Very strong. And they put him in a room that they thought was stronger than he was. But the Thing knew that no matter how strong something is, if you hit it long enough, it'll give.
If you hit something long enough, it'll give.
This Thing, my Thing, was smart. It knew what it was doing, I thought as It hit again, a little harder. It was trying to breech the hull. And I knew the hull would not stand up to the pounding The Thing was giving it.
I looked into the cabin and saw a bulge in the floor. I waited, watching, and saw the bulge grow when It hit again. It was trying to sink me.
But why not just jump up onto the boat and take me?
Why does a man hunt deer when he could just as easily buy steak at a store? The sport. This creature was hunting me down, and it was going to use its cunning and power to get me. Not dirty tricks. Suffer. It was going to make me suffer.
My heart missed a beat as it hit again and a trickle of water came through a small crack as the force opened the fissure. It closed immediately, but I knew the hull would open up soon.
The next time It hit, the fissure opened and stayed open, a small but steady stream of water flowing through it. The time after that, the crack opened more and water began to pour in. It hit once more and left a small hole through which water gushed into the boat. Let me tell you about this boat I was on. As I have said, it was a seventeen footer, and it had a cabin. It also had an ice chest and a toilet that we never used. The seats in the cabin were moulded into the boat, leaving a space which water couldn't enter into unless there was a hole. The buoyancy of these seats was comforting for a moment, but only for a moment.
Besides the seats in the cabin, there was no other way to give the boat positive buoyancy. I didn't think that they would be able to keep me afloat. The seats of the outside cabin were formed by the open space between the cabin and the hold.
I was definitely going to sink. The cabin filled up slowly, but steadily. I watched the water rise to the hole. I lifted the cover of the aft hold and peered in. The gas can was floating now. The water was getting deeper quickly. I thought quickly and got an idea. I took the sail bag and stuffed it in the hole in the cabin. The water slowed to a trickle.
I looked triumphantly out to the lake and spotted The Thing off to the starboard side, the side where the hole was. Its nostrils were sticking up into the air, its eyes peering at me. "There, you bastard!" I yelled at it. Mistake.
It didn't hear me yell, I don't think, but It did notice that I wasn't getting any lower in the water. It came at the Bit with a swish of its tail and with amazing accuracy, it hit the spot again, this time leaving a hole about three inches in diameter. I was dismayed: My moment of triumph was turning out to be just that: A moment.
I thought about bailing out the water, but I knew that at the rate it was coming in, the water would win the race. And The Thing could always just make the hole bigger.
I had lost.
The whole episode had taken less than a half an hour. I figured that the Bit would be submerged long before anyone was out on the water, if any one would be coming out at all.
So I had to think. Quickly. There was very little in the boat that could help me in any way. I checked the straps on my life jacket to make sure they were tight. I took one of the oars out of the cabin and held it in my hands. This added a sense of security to replace that given by the rope tied to the cleat. I had to untie the rope so that the boat wouldn't pull me into the water with it.
I thought of using the gasoline in some way, but I had no matches to light it with, and even if I had some, they would have been wet by now. The rudder was pretty much useless as were all the rope and the sails.
There was now two feet of water in the cabin and the Bit was getting lower every second, and the water kept pouring in.
The Thing lay off to the starboard side, waiting. It didn't take long for the water to rise to the door of the cabin. It began to spill into the outside cabin, filling my refuge for the past day slowly but surely. I climbed to the roof of the cabin and watched the water rise even more. It got up to the seats. There were now three inches of hull between the lake and the cabin. Two inches. One. Then water began to pour into the boat from the lake. The Bit began to sink like a rock.
Then something stopped it. The boat had fallen about five feet into the water, and the keel had hit the bottom. There was about a foot between me and the lake. But, unfortunately, the keel wasn't a fixed keel, and once the angles were right, the keel collapsed and folded into the boat, allowing the boat to sink further. Within five seconds, the boat was under water, and I was in the water with that Thing.
But It didn't move. It just sat there. Watching me. I sat in the water, frazzled, hungry, exhausted, heart pumping, lungs straining for air to keep up with my heart. I sat there in my bright orange life jacket, holding an oar in my hand, treading water. Almost a comic sight. But I wasn't laughing.
Then it moved, quickly, making my heart skip a beat. It was about fifty feet away when It started and if It stayed on Its course, It would soon be near me.
Forty feet. The eyes became discernible against Its black skin.
Thirty feet. I saw that strange disturbance where Its tail was moving under the water.
Twenty feet. I saw the wake The Thing's head made as It moved toward me, much faster now.
Ten feet. I saw the mouth start to open, the white teeth gleaming in the sun.
At five feet, the mouth was fully open and I could see into The Thing's throat, and now, it looked deeper than it had before.
As It came within two feet of me, I kicked my feet upwards with as much strength as I could muster and swung the broadside of the oar at The Thing's open mouth. Perhaps by instinct, the mouth automatically closed around the oar, immediately breaking the broad section off, leaving a jagged point. I had about four feet of wood in my hands.
The tail passed me and I was pushed aside by its powerful swish. I turned with The Thing and watched as It opened Its mouth slightly, allowing the oar piece to float out. It turned to me about sixty or sixty-five feet away and, as if angry, splashed the water with its tail, pushing itself off towards me again.
It came at me quickly, apparently not wanting to play anymore games with me. I looked at it and then at the sky. The sun was gorgeous. But, blocking it partly was something even more beautiful: The jagged point of the broken oar.
I watched The Thing approach me again, and a massive amount of bravery shot through my brain. I focused on the head of the beast and took the wood in one hand, holding it like those movie murderers do a knife.
When The Thing was no more than three feet from me, I dodged and slammed the sharp edge of the oar into The Thing's left eye. It was an easy target, about two inches in diameter, and set far back from The Thing's gaping mouth. A black liquid spurted from the wound and filled the socket. Some of the stuff landed on me and as I looked at it I vomited, the bile floating in one spot in front of me. The wounded Thing continued on Its course for a moment and then turned on me, looking at me with Its right eye. The destroyed left one, open and oozing, was useless.
It came at me, and I would swear on a stack of Bibles that that eye gleamed with pure hatred for the hunted which was slowly becoming the hunter. It had turned suddenly, not giving me much time to react. As I did, my right foot remained in the path of Its open mouth. I saw what was about to happen as I looked back in horror and pulled my foot out of The Thing's mouth. I was quick, but not quite quick enough. It caught the skin and those damned teeth ripped inch deep gashes into both sides of my foot.
I screamed in pain but as adrenalin began to course through my system, the pain subsided to a dull throb. I turned to The Thing and now it was my turn to have eyes filled with hatred. Fear transformed into hatred.
The Thing turned again, though this time It gave me more warning. I was ready with my oar/spear again, and I drove it into the skin behind its right eye, a place where one might expect an ear. The mouth of The Thing opened in what must have been pain, and, as I yanked the oar from the new wound, red blood began to fill the green-brown water.
The most dangerous animal is a wounded one and this one was badly wounded. Also, in a fight-to-the-death battle such as this, there is only one victor. I was determined to beat this bastard.
I became bold and began to swim towards The Thing. It would have me beat in a race, but It wanted me as much as I wanted It, and so instead of retreating, It turned again. This time It came by me on its blind side, for a reason I can't understand, giving me a good shot. I hit It where I had hit I the last time, but on the left side. Again, red blood darkened the water.
My eyes followed The Thing as It swam away once again. I felt Its tail swish by again, but its power was now greatly lessened. As my eyes watched The Thing, something else caught my eye, not far from The Thing itself. I strained to see it, noticing that it was orange, bobbing in the water. It was a good hundred and fifty feet away, and I had to know what it was.
I began to kick over to it, my eyes quickly switching between my goal and my opponent. It moved toward me again, and I stopped dead in the water. It came by me on my right, not making the same mistake of turning its blind side to me again, and tried to get me in Its great jaws. It was lumbering, losing much energy from its wounds, and it passed me relatively slowly. I stuck the oar into its body, near what I guess you could call the neck. Again the blood and the weak swish.
I looked to the orange object and saw that I was still about a hundred feet away. I went into a free style swim, looking back every few strokes to check on The Thing. It was stationary in the water. As I came closer and closer to the orange thing, I began to realize what it was. About twenty feet away, I confirmed that it was the gas can from the boat. I swam to it and thought quickly. How could I use this to my advantage?
My thoughts were broken by a particularly painful throb from my foot that made me look back at The Thing. It was turned to me, about a hundred feet away. And it came for me again. Where was it getting its energy? I asked myself. I wish I could get some of it, too, I thought.
When It was about thirty feet away, It opened Its jaws. Jaws. Jaws. What in the hell did they do to that bastard shark in that movie? They had blown up an air tank. Hey! This thing is full of gasoline! I remembered the reflex action the jaw had performed when I hit it with the oar, and decided the same thing would happen with the gas can.
When it was about ten feet away, I positioned the tank in front of me. The Thing was moving pretty slowly and I saw that I would be able to shove the tank into its mouth and get out of the way in time. And so I did. The great teeth punctured the tank and for a split second, I could see the gasoline jet out of the tank. Hopefully, It would ingest it all.
After about ten seconds, the jaws opened slowly, and the tank went up with the top jaw, stuck to one of Its teeth. The Thing shook its head quickly and the tank fell off, and slowly, it sank into the water. It turned on me quickly, once It realized that what It had caught was not flesh, and it came at me once again. It was crawling now, however.
By the time It reached me, I could not see any disturbances in the water. It was no longer coming for me. It was floating in my direction. As I really didn't trust my instincts, I moved away from Its path and watched. A lid had closed half way over Its good right eye, and the nostrils no longer flared. It slowed to a stop, its body floating there in the water. The wounds I could see were not bleeding profusely now, although some blood did still trickle from them.
I worked my way over to It. At one point, Its tail moved up and out of the water, splashing quickly back down. After waiting about three minutes, I convinced myself that it was just a reflex, and I approached again. I poked at It with my oar and there was no reaction. I was distracted every few seconds by my wounded foot, but I was bound and determined to make sure the goddamn Thing was dead.
I slammed the oar into the carcass ten or fifteen times, some blows glancing off The Thing's tough skin, some penetrating at just the right angle, sinking into the creature. Then I spit on it vehemently, as a feeble sign of victory, and began to swim away. I swam back to the cottage. It was Tuesday, I realized. It was about ten o'clock by the time I got back. I called the farmers up the road and told them that my sailboat had sunk and that I was hurt, and asked if they could come get me.
At the hospital later that day, the doctor took the towel off from around my foot and gasped when he saw the wounds.
"Son," he said, "how in the hell did this happen? No boating accident caused this."
"You would never believe me, sir. You would never believe me." They say those were my last words before I passed out. They said I mumbled in my unconscious state about teeth and eyes, but they couldn't make anything out. I live in New Mexico now, and won't go near a lake. I was exaggerating when I said I wouldn't even swim in a pool. I will, as long as there are plenty of other people and the water is nice and clear. My foot had over two hundred stitches in it. I still limp on it a little and can't feel some parts where the nerves were severed, but all told, I think I was pretty lucky.
I warn you. If you're ever out in a boat and feel a little bump, get out of the water. Get to shore. And don't go sailing the next day, especially if the winds are bad. You never know what may be waiting in the water. And you may not be as lucky as I was.
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Last Modified: 10 Mar 1999
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