Johnny America


From a Hole in the Ice


I drove my pick­up out to the reser­voir and parked in the beach park­ing lot. I liked this area bet­ter in the win­ter, when it was al­most com­plete­ly ab­sent of noise. In the sum­mer the lake is full of mo­tor-boats and drunk col­lege stu­dents. At this time it was Jan­u­ary and I was alone for at least a cou­ple of miles in every di­rec­tion. Every­thing was shroud­ed in a silent blan­ket of fresh pow­der, the wind was still.

I start­ed to walk down the beach for no par­tic­u­lar rea­son, the pack­ing snow be­neath my boots the on­ly noise. The great si­lence of the world was a sharp con­trast to the tu­mult that’d been rag­ing in my head since I don’t re­mem­ber when; months, maybe years. God, I won­dered, what hap­pened to this? Where did I go? What did I do? What had I be­come? When was the last time I was hap­py, even content?

I stepped out on­to the frozen lake, and walked a few feet. I stood still for a minute to see if the ice was thick enough to car­ry my weight, and that si­lence again en­veloped me. I start­ed walk­ing slow­ly out over the ice, feel­ing heavy, new­ly aware of some weight that I’d been car­ry­ing for God knows how long. Faint­ly I thought I’d heard a crack­ing noise and stood still, mo­men­tar­i­ly struck with fear. Every time I stopped all I heard was si­lence, a deep si­lence the kind you can feel on your skin. I took a few more steps, and heard the noise again, but now I was sure it was on­ly an echo of the new snow crunch­ing un­der my feet. I set my sights on the far shore, and walked on with mea­sured steps. The chalky ap­pear­ance of the tim­ber and the ex­posed rocks, un­der a gray sky above the white fore­ground all swad­dled in that glo­ri­ous si­lence gave the scene a heavy, sleepy feel­ing, like a heart­en­ing dream.

That sim­ple beau­ty was mak­ing me ter­ri­bly sad, and I won­dered how life had be­come so un­sat­is­fy­ing. I should’ve been the hap­pi­est man alive. I had a good job, a con­do, a new truck, lots of friends, a beau­ti­ful girl­friend that I was pret­ty sure I was in love with. But it was those very things as much as any­thing else that were the essence of my dis­con­tent. I had a sub­con­scious feel­ing that every­thing I’d ever ac­com­plished in my life had come at the ex­pense of some­thing else, some­thing im­por­tant, some­thing that I lost a long time ago with­out ever know­ing I’d had it. I thought about my life; a life I’d worked so hard to make for my­self that I could no longer stand to live in. I’d do any­thing if I could just start over, erase it all and be­gin from noth­ing. Hope­less­ness cov­ered me like snow, like silence.

Then I stopped sud­den­ly, not com­plete­ly sure why, some­thing had brought me out of my thoughts; a sound. A crack in the ice? I bare­ly formed the ques­tion in my mind when a sound like a gun­shot split the af­ter­noon fol­lowed by a deaf­en­ing, ter­ri­fy­ing groan as the snow caved in un­der my hik­ing boots.

I tried in­stinc­tive­ly to fall on all fours, but the ice opened up and I was swal­lowed by the lake. The wa­ter un­der the ice was pitch dark and so cold it sent pain to every nerve end­ing in my body. I vague­ly re­mem­ber flail­ing and gasp­ing, strug­gling in no par­tic­u­lar di­rec­tion un­able to even de­ter­mine which way was up. When the oxy­gen of my falling gasp had been ab­sorbed, my lungs burned and a feel­ing of hot ter­ri­fy­ing pain spread out across my body. I in­vol­un­tar­i­ly gulped a mouth­ful of the dirty wa­ter. It chilled me to the bone and at about that point, my mind be­gan to wres­tle con­trol back from my pan­ick­ing body and I re­al­ized that I was go­ing to die. Af­ter that re­al­iza­tion I was com­plete­ly lu­cid, I fig­ured I had maybe a minute of con­scious­ness left. I closed my eyes and at­tempt­ed to ori­ent my­self in the wa­ter mak­ing my best guess as to which di­rec­tion was up. Then, feel­ing ex­haust­ed, drunk with fear and hop­ing for some kind of a mir­a­cle, I buoyed my­self up­ward. I was sur­prised when I hit the ice about a sec­ond lat­er. I was filled with hope, and with des­per­a­tion I bobbed up again, feel­ing around with my hands on the un­der­side of the ice pack, search­ing des­per­ate­ly for the hole through which I’d fallen.

Then I was above the wa­ter. With a gasp of cold air, my body filled with new life and I be­came de­ter­mined to sur­vive. I bobbed up and down a cou­ple times tak­ing gi­ant gasp­ing breaths. The light re­flect­ing off the snowy land­scape was near­ly blind­ing. I found the edge of the ice and at­tempt­ed to pull my­self up to it. Each time I put my weight on it, more of the ice broke off. Af­ter four or five at­tempts, the ice be­came thick enough to sup­port me and I drew my up­per body out of the wa­ter and on­to the surface.

For a long time I lay on the ice that way, ex­haust­ed, sick, cough­ing up dirty wa­ter and cry­ing in­ter­mit­tent­ly, some­times for joy, some­times for fear, some­times for hope­less­ness. For some strange rea­son, right then, ly­ing on that ice, freez­ing to death, know­ing that hy­pother­mia was prob­a­bly set­ting in, I felt such an in­cred­i­ble feel­ing that I couldn’t tell if it was ac­tu­al­ly hap­pen­ing. It felt like be­ing alive, and it was the first time in my life I’d ever felt it. At that point I didn’t know if I was go­ing to sur­vive, but dy­ing no longer scared me. My lids be­came so heavy and I felt so won­der­ful­ly ex­haust­ed and hap­py that the thought of eter­nal slum­ber sound­ed al­right. Be­tween long blinks of my eyes, fight­ing not to fall in­to a sleep I knew I wouldn’t wake up from, my mind be­gan to reel. Im­ages of my life and all the peo­ple I loved came to my mind. I had a vi­sion of my own fu­ner­al and of the world with­out me in it, and when I re­al­ized that life would go on with­out me, some­thing like con­tent­ed­ness swept over me, and it was warm.

Then I snapped back to full con­scious­ness and re­al­ized that I had been star­ing out across the snowy land­scape at my foot­prints lead­ing back to the beach, my truck parked on shore, and the gray for­est be­yond. I felt a well­spring of en­er­gy come forth from some­place deep down with­in me. I was no longer tired, not re­al­ly even aware of feel­ing cold. I looked out over the ice with a feel­ing of clarity.

Very care­ful­ly I pulled my­self out of the lake so as not to up­set too much of the snow around the chasm. I beat my legs and rubbed them through my soaked jeans un­til at last I felt a dull, deep ache, like my bones were be­ing ham­mered on, then an ex­cru­ci­at­ing burn­ing fol­lowed short­ly af­ter. That pain I em­braced like moth­ers milk, I loved and held on­to it like no feel­ing I’d ever had. That pain was my life.

With ex­treme cau­tion I stepped back­wards plac­ing my right boot in the near­est ex­ist­ing prints that led up from the beach, then I did the same with my left. I re­peat­ed this process painstak­ing­ly, walk­ing back­ward one step at a time un­til I was back in the plowed park­ing lot near my truck. My heart was pound­ing in my chest and my ears as I ap­proached the ve­hi­cle. I was reach­ing out to open the door to see if there was any­thing in­side I might need, but saw my­self in the re­flec­tion on the win­dow and drew my hand back re­flex­ive­ly. I took one last look at my truck, looked out at the frozen lake and the boot prints lead­ing in on­ly one di­rec­tion, to a hole in the ice, then turned and walked away.

Filed under Fiction on September 3rd, 2007

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Reader Comments

monica wrote:

“C”. I re­al­ly liked this sto­ry, I could to­tal­ly feel like it was hap­pen­ing. The end­ing was shock­ing to me and hor­ri­bly sad.

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