You can’t see the danger, but it’s there. It’s not hiding. This water isn’t murky. It doesn’t look dangerous. It looks clean and cool and welcoming.
And that’s how it gets you.
You can’t resist the call of the water. It’s a hot day – a humid, sticky day. You got out to get some air and exercise, to stretch your legs and give your mind a break. But the heat wears on you, slowly at first. It drains you until you’re panting like a dog and begging for relief.
And there’s the river, ready to welcome you. You’ll just stick your toes in, that’s all. Just stay for a moment and sit in the shade. It’s breezy by the river, under the trees. Quiet. Calming.
You can’t resist. You take off your shoes and socks, set them on the bank and dip your feet in.
Ah. It’s so cool. You sigh at the simple pleasure of it. It’s so nice and cool. You feel better already, hiding from the heat in this peaceful place. Your busy mind is quiet. Work is far away. There’s no trouble, no worry here at the river. You think you’ll stay for a while.
Your mind drifts tranquilly. Your body slowly relaxes – toes, feet, legs. You didn’t realize you were so tense. It becomes normal, after a while, for your muscles to knot and feel like rocks, like gravel has been shoved under your skin. But your legs are relaxed now – the water helped there. Your back, though, your shoulders, your arms – God, they hurt. They’re tight and tense, and it’s suddenly unbearable.
You could use a swim – just a quick dip, a little treat for your body. You deserve it. You’ve been working hard – 50-hour weeks at the office, more at home, plus the cooking and the cleaning. You’ll take a little moment for yourself here by the river, under the trees with a nice cool breeze coming off the water. It’s a perfect place, and you deserve a break.
You shrug off your shirt, your pants, fold them neatly and lay them on the bank by your shoes. You wade in slowly. The water flows around your ankles, your calves, your thighs, caressing you gently. You take your time. You’re waist-deep now. The water tickles your belly.
You take a breath – a pause – and then dive. You arrow through the water, your hands reaching out, the cool washing over your body and calming your mind. You burst through the surface of the water and gasp. It’s cool – cold, almost, and shocking after the sticky heat. But it feels so good. You can’t resist ducking under again and again.
Soon, you’re swimming out farther, kicking and splashing like a child. You feel young again, free from the burdens of life. The water is so nice, the trees so tall and shady. This is a different world – a refuge, a paradise.
You linger in the water. Just a bit longer. Just a few more minutes. You’ve got time, after all. You’ve been working hard – you can take some time for this, for yourself and your pleasure. You’ve earned it, after all.
So you stay and play in the water, swimming, frolicking and splashing, diving and soaring. You feel better than you have in years. You can’t remember when you last felt so free and refreshed.
You don’t want this feeling to end. Time slips away as you play. You don’t know how long you’ve been in the water. Minutes, hours. You don’t know. You don’t really care.
You’re a bit tired now. You’re not used to such exertion. You flip onto your back and float. Sunlight trickles down through the leaves above. You squint against the brightness. It’s beautiful, golden-green light. It warms your face, and you close your eyes and sigh.
You drift to the bank, by your shoes. Spotting your clothes, you remember life. It’s time to go. Time to work again. You’ve lingered too long. You don’t regret it, though.
With a guilty smile, you clamber up the riverbank.
Don’t turn your back on the water.
You turn, startled. You don’t see anything – no ducks, no turtles, no fish or birds. Rings spread out from the center of the river, but you don’t see what caused the disturbance.
Shrugging, you reach for your pants.
Splash. It’s louder this time. Closer.
You wheel around. But nothing is there – just ripples coming your way. There’s nothing beneath the surface of the clear, blue water.
You know you’re not alone here. The rest of the world feels far away, and the place that was peaceful just moments before feels dangerous and isolated now.
Your heart is pounding as you pull on your pants. Your hands are shaking, and you can’t get the button done up. You zip your fly and abandon the button.
You have to go. You reach for your shoes.
You feel the water on your back this time. What could have made such a terrible noise, such a large splash?
You don’t see what kills you. No one does. You don’t even have time to scream. It’s hours before anyone finds your shirt, and just one shoe. They never find your body. It’s assumed you drowned and were washed downstream. No one knows any better.
You’re not the first to vanish on the riverbanks. You won’t be the last.
Don’t turn your back on the water. Death swims there.