The rescue truck ground to a halt and I bolted from the cab with my partner Bill right behind me. I was humping two hundred feet of rescue rope and Bill had the blankets.
I crashed through the last shrub and ran to the screamers on their cell phones pointing frantically out at the lake. In the middle of the white ice sat a black bull’s eye where the kid had gone through. His red hat bobbed as he tried to claw his way back onto the ice.
“Just like the Jenkins boy,” Bill said, huffing as he came up beside me. I shot him a look. I tossed him the rope and tied the other end around the waist of my survival suit.
The Jenkins boy. Fell in at just this spot last winter. I was ten feet from him when his eyes rolled back and he sank like a bowling ball. His orange ski jacket faded into the black depths of the frigid water.
Hypothermia, most likely. We never found the body.
That wasn’t going to happen again. Not this time. I tugged twice on the line, testing Bill’s grip.
“Whatever happens, don’t let go.” Bill nodded. I made my way onto the ice. I covered the thickest part in five seconds and then got down on my hands and knees, finally crawling on my belly as I neared the hole. The boy was screaming.
“Hold on!” I called. I unhooked the rescue pole from my belt and extended it toward the boy, crawling closer. “Grab the loop and put it over your head, under your arms,” I told him. But he was too frantic to understand. He screamed louder. I crawled closer.
“Grab the pole!” I yelled. He clutched at it, just out of reach. I inched forward, and he caught it. I pulled, but his dead weight was more than my leverage could manage. I slid toward the open hole.
The ice gave way and I gasped as I hit the water. I swam over and put the loop of the rescue pole around him and tugged the rope twice for Bill to reel us in. The boy clung to my neck so tightly I could hear my joints cracking. We moved toward the shore.
Bill was pulling us in, hand over hand. The ladder truck and the ambulance swarmed into the parking lot behind him. I clutched the kid as we hit the edge of the ice hole. I could feel him shaking under his coat. He was going into shock.
Then we snagged on something. We were going backwards, back out into the hole. I took hold of the rope but it was going backwards too.
“My feet,” the kid chattered. “Something’s got my feet.” In a shot we were dragged under the water, spiraling down. I felt along the kid’s leg to try to untangle whatever we were caught on.
It was a hand. Two hands, actually. One around each ankle. Beneath us ballooned an orange ski jacket, and grinning up at me was the face of the Jenkins boy. He was pulling us to the bottom. I kicked at his head and hands but couldn’t connect. He snarled and we sank faster. I let go of the kid and floated free like a cork, hanging on to the rescue pole to slow our descent.
The Jenkins boy let loose an underwater howl and flashed an impossibly large grin. He swam up and with one chomp severed the rescue loop under the kid’s arms. They fell away from me, the orange jacket and the red hat, inside a column of bubbles that had to be the kid’s final scream.
I shot to the surface, pulled up by Bill. They—it was more than Bill now—dragged me ashore and wrapped me in blankets and took me to the hospital. My supervisor stopped by and asked me a few questions. I didn’t have much to say, except that it was an ice job gone bad.
What else could I say? That I saw a dead boy pull a kid to the bottom so he’d have someone to play with?
I learned later that the divers found no body. At the inquest it was ruled that I had acted in the finest traditions of the Department. I was cited for heroism and extraordinary achievement.
The medals rust in a tin box I keep inside my toilet tank.
The only thing heroic about me is that I don’t suck on the business end of my .45 automatic. I keep it around just in case Ol’ Jenky and his buddy care to drop by.
"Boy in the Water"
Copyright: © 2011 Robert Meade
Robert Meade is a transplanted Bostonian now firmly rooted in Mohegan Lake, in Westchester County, NY, with his wife and three children. He teaches at Loyola School in Manhattan. He won the Wordweaving Award for Excellence for his book, Daily Bread: Seven Days to a Healthier Soul. A published author of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, his recent work has appeared in Angels on Earth magazine and online at Guideposts and Apollo’s Lyre.