Laughter abounded as close friends sat together near a flickering fire that was purely for show in the summer heat. Above them hung a night sky that was open and still and a flurry of stars like a celestial snowstorm. Beyond their circle, on the edges of dancing yellow light, the waters of Lake Powell sat still and quiet. No wind pushed down the canyons to disturb its surface, and it mirrored the beauty of the heavens above with deceptive ease.
Memories were shared, jokes and anecdotes exchanged. From time to time a worried mother would glance back at the houseboat safely tethered to the shore. Even in her inebriated state and with her young son asleep, a small piece of her remained on guard.
Fears have a way of clinging.
The night took a warm turn down memory lane. Anecdotes morphed into favorite stories while alcohol flowed from a seemingly endless ice chest. The fire cycled from roaring rage to dwindling flame as it consumed its wooden feasts.
The hours sped by, and the group found pleasant calm. The fire was allowed to rest, and they took their eyes to the skies above, cloudless and speckled with the infinite forever. Yawns snuck into the circle and leapt from mouth to mouth. Dulling eyes stared into embers. Silence settled in with the early morning hours. From behind the canyon, a full moon broke free from cover and shone its brilliant blue light onto the silent world. The still lake took on perfect reflection.
The first member stood in the silence, stretched, and prepared to say good night, but the moment was broken by a distinct sound.
The faces basking in the bright moonlight took a peculiar look. All save for one.
“Andy?” said Catherine. Her eyes bucked their sleepiness and went wide. “Was that Andy?”
Bob, the one standing, saw the fear in her eyes. Right or wrong, it mattered not. He sprinted toward the houseboat. “Bring a flashlight!” he yelled as his feet dug into the sand in furious steps. Behind him came the others, toppling their chairs and spilling remaining beers.
Bob was up the landing of the boat in two steps and hurrying down its center aisle. He rushed into the small cabin where Andy had been put to bed. A small electric lantern gave just enough light to show an empty mattress with a shrugged off sheet. Bob continued aft in a frenzy with heavy footsteps following.
“Is he in there?” Catherine screamed.
Bob didn’t speak. His continued running was answer enough.
When he reached the stern of the houseboat, another had caught up. “Shine the light!” Bob yelled, but he already knew is his heart. Concentric rings of disruption were scattering across the stillness of the lake.
For whatever reason, the boy had fallen in.
The flashlight scanned the surface, and Bob directed. “Over here,” he said, rushing to the starboard corner. “Shine here!” And there it was. Ripples in the water fled from the small spotlight. Tiny bubbles wiggled their way to the surface. “Keep shining so I can see!” Bob ordered.
He dove. Before he broke the surface, he heard Catherine’s shrill scream fill the night.
Under the surface, the water was warm and calm. It felt as if the fun of the day had happened only a moment ago. He opened his eyes to his biggest fear.
Though a timid glow came from behind, there was no chance at seeing in front of him. There was only the depths of that great lake, only the dark. Already he felt his chest tighten. In his panicked state, he had forgotten to breathe. He charged to the surface and broke through.
“—is he!? Where is he!?” Catherine screamed. Another splash broke the night as a second person dove to attempt rescue. Bob took the biggest gasp of air in his life, and went back under.
Into the darkness.
Into that warm water that had once been such an enjoyable place.
His mind played the afternoon in small flashes. The barbecue on the beach. A drink and trick competition off the water slide (only minor scrapes and bruises). Watching the shadows of the setting sun climb the canyon walls. The clear sky and the promise of a windless night. Horseshoes. A small bit of Frisbee.
Pulling little Andy behind the boat.
No, God. No, he thought. Not here. Not like this. He flailed his arms as he swam, groping in endless black. The glow of the flashlight was gone. The moon’s beautiful radiance was forgotten. Just fluid and darkness and fear and a growing pain in his lungs that begged more and more for fresh air.
Time went on.
I’ll come back, he prayed with sincerity. Let me find him, and I’ll find you. I’ll renounce everything I’ve said about faith and religion and falsehoods. I’ll make no claim at being perfect, but I will find you. I swear it. Give me his hand, and I’ll take yours.
Time went on.
Unsure of which way to swim, he dove deeper. The warm temperatures of the surface gave way to chill. Pressure pushed like needles into his ears. The black before him seemed endless. The squeeze in his chest felt like an iron fist.
I’ll drown then, he prayed. I won’t go back at all. I won’t see what you’re willing to do to Catherine. Condemn this boy and condemn me as well.
Take me back.
Bob’s hand snapped onto a wrist. He yanked, pulled the boy’s body to his chest, and kicked for the surface. With eyes open on the journey up, Bob watched and waited for the light. It finally came into blurred view.
Man and boy broke through. Air quenched the fire in his lungs, and he held the small frame upward. Arms reached from the boat and took the boy on deck.
Bob, still in the water, clung to the houseboat and chased his breath. He heard CPR being conducted. He heard Catherine’s hysterics. He looked up to the moon, it full and wide and blue like a watching eye, and waited. Behind him, the other diver came to the surface.
“Did you find him?” Brian shouted, gasping.
“We got him,” said Bob.
Brian looked on deck. CPR continued. Someone was holding Catherine down now as she screamed for her child. The flashlight was held steady on a five-year-old boy who looked fearfully white. Chest compressions bobbed his lean frame. Deep breaths pushed his lungs.
And then miracle.
The boy lurched and rolled and flung fluids from his system in a violent retch. Catherine clutched her son and disintegrated into fear and remorse and absolute joy. Those on the houseboat huddled around each other. Someone handed down a towel and sat Andy up.
The scene now settling, Brian swam to Bob. “You found him?”
“Nice save,” said Brian, still without breath.
Bob clung to the houseboat still. Water and tears poured from his face like a baby after baptism. He wanted to say something like thanks or you too, but this throat clenched and choked. No words came through. Brian drew near and put a hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“You did good, man,” said Brian. “You found him.”
Bob broke down into tears.