Games of the Mist
Coming toward him through the eerie veil of the early morning mist was the vague and shadowy shape of a soundless aboriginal vessel that may have emerged from some distant and forgotten past. Paddling silently yet menacingly was a solitary figure that kept a firm yet fluid posture. Each stroke seemed more designed as a passage through the fabric of time rather than a passage through the still water. The vapour-like apparition was coming straight at him with the seemingly dangerous intent of a hungry black bear on the prowl. And then the slight breeze wafting over the warm lake waters swallowed the image as if it had never existed at all. The mist caved in upon itself and time once again was the here and now.
Did it happen? Emerson turned and looked across the bow of the boat at his quiet wife, Luna. She appeared oblivious to even being out upon the lake let alone to eerie apparitions manifesting themselves out of the games of the mist. She was sitting on the plastic lawn chair on the teak deck and might have been asleep. Her head was tilted back, the skin of her cheeks swallowing voraciously the early morning sunlight. She seemed to be sleeping a lot lately. The doctor back in the city said that it wasn’t chronic fatigue syndrome as Emerson suspected. He had to question that diagnosis. Luna used to be so filled with energy when they first met seven years ago. She was a regular dynamo, a workaholic at work and a zesty imbiber of pleasure when not at work. But ever since New Year’s, she just could not muster enough vitality and enthusiasm to excite a puppy let alone keep up a pretense in being interested in making their marriage work.
“Did you see that?” Emerson called out to his wife. He could have sworn that what he saw was a young Indian brave in a canoe. Not a modern member of the indigenous people but some age-old relic from a pristine and etchy distant past tranquilly paddling his birchbark vessel over familiar waters.
“See what?” Luna groaned from a disturbed slumber.
Knowing her mood, Emerson decided that he would not elaborate on what he saw. She would snap at him and for what purpose? Just because his eyes allowed the mists to play a trick on them did not warrant that he might accidentally open up some marital wound and have to be on the defensive the rest of the day. Best let her sleep. He could continue to find a relative peace on this fine Kawartha morning. “Never mind” he sighed as he gazed at her as she fitfully moved to re-establish some lost comfort she might have had earlier before he interrupted it with his hallucination. She never liked this boat, she thought that it was ugly, and had protested vehemently when he announced that he had bought it last winter.
The boat, a thirty-foot Georgian steel, hardly moved at all on the glazed surface of this lake. It was as stationary tethered to its anchor as any of the myriad of islands that dotted the waterscape although Emerson was sure that Luna would never see this almost haphazard conglomeration of sheet metal as anything near as picturesque as an island. As a joke, Emerson had renamed the boat, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” even though all of his boating cronies had pointed out that it was bad luck to rechristen a vessel. But he knew that Luna would never accept a boat with the name, “Can’t Afford It” as the boat was originally called. As a vice president for a profitable investment group, Luna was well able to afford such an anachronistic salvaged hull as this Georgian steel. Especially when she coupled her income with the hefty dollars Emerson made as a top rate cabinet-maker back in the west-end of the city.
His touch for wood had not translated well to his touch for metal. “The Ugly” as he nicknamed the boat was a work in progress and thus far he had not progressed very far in that work. Outside of the change of name not much had changed on “The Ugly” since he bought it off the back lot of an industrial park marina back in the city far away from any waterfront. Something about that chipped paint hull resting on a series of car tires next to the fence where a vocal German shepherd was penned had awakened some primitive feelings within him. Before he allowed his conscience to talk him out of it, he was handing over a cheque to the man who ran this business.
Maybe it was his unilateral purchase of this vessel without consulting with Luna that was at the root of her malaise. Or maybe his purchase of “The Ugly” was a symptom of an already diseased relationship he could not be sure. Yet he had to give credit to Luna for coming along with him on this his maiden voyage on the Georgian steel. She had wanted to holiday on some Prince Edward Island beach but in the end relented to his vision of the perfect holiday lazily cruising the Trent-Severn Waterway System.
And even Luna would have to admit that so far it has been an almost perfect holiday. The Trent-Severn with all of its lakes and locks and ports was an idyllic place to reacquaint yourself with your inner self and see that there was more to Ontario than the cosmopolitan charms of the big city and the casinos in Rama and Niagara Falls. It seemed to him that Luna had been enjoying herself as much as she could. She still was not the same woman that he had married but Emerson had thought that she had come some of the distance back to herself.
Then came last night when he decided to put up anchor in the middle of a lily-padded bay where he thought that the bass would be plentiful. The only things that were plentiful were the mosquitoes. Luna hardly complained but Emerson knew that she was mad especially when she resigned herself to the cabin an hour before sunset and would not come back out again. Even when he called out to her that there was a dazzling display of the Aurora Borealis did she not stir. He knew that she was awake because he could hear her fingers tapping away at the laptop he had wished she would not had brought along with her. Yet she preferred the artificial lights of her Compaq to the celestial countenance of the great Northern Lights that blazed overhead of her cheery eyed husband. She was asleep when he did come into the cabin in the wee hours of the morning. The only thing that greeted him was the screensaver on the laptop that oddly enough was a graphic artist’s depiction of the Aurora Borealis over some polar landscape.
With the first whispers of dawn, Emerson emerged from his bed. He quietly started up the engine of “The Ugly” to get themselves out of this miserable backwater anchorage and into some open lake area where hopefully when Luna awoke, she would not be filled with the morose feelings that had sent her to bed so early last night.
And then he happened upon this inlet between rising evergreen covered hillocks where the chilling mist captured some primordial yesteryear and he hoped that it would stir within his wife a taste for a brand new start. The Earth was young again. Within the swirling slips of the misty veil anything could be possible. Luna could find strength and vitality again, she could find that that love of hers for him was still alive and could still be a driving force in her life and could be her ballast as she moved into the uncertainty of the future.
But when Luna did emerge from the cabin, she did not acknowledge him or the mystical backdrop. She had moved with purpose to the chair and had slipped into a catatonia within its cool plastic arms.
Emerson grunted and wondered if he was not projecting his own failing feelings for her onto her. He was thirty-three now and finding that he was not near as complacent as he believed that he was. Millions of people move on past marriages and careers concocted when in their twenties to new existential planes that they would never have dreamed of going to when they said, “I do.” When he had married Luna a life on a boat was the furthest thing from his mind. The only outdoor scenery that attracted him was a golf course. The rest of the time he preferred the indoors of the assembly space that he rented in another industrial park on the west end of the city where he could ply his skills in cabinet making. But somewhere in the last seven years his eyes were opened to other things in life other than cabinet making, golf and marriage to Luna. Yet to procure these other things meant to sacrifice some of the things that he already had. His business was busier than ever. With all of the new housing projects going up around the city, there was a high demand for cabinets. He still golfed quite regularly. The only sacrifice that he made was his commitment to his wife. Perhaps she sensed this growing chasm between the two of them and had grown weary of trying to devise agendas that would keep them together.
He had wanted her to take the Power Squadron course with him over the winter after he had bought “The Ugly” but she showed no interest. So on Tuesdays nights and Thursday nights while he sat in classes with other water enthusiasts, Luna stayed home and … did what? Emerson had to admit to himself that he had no idea what Luna did on those nights. As far as he knew, he never even asked her. Now, he had to wonder if he was even interested. Maybe the fault in the dying marriage sat with him after all. Perhaps there was some truth to the seven-year itch myth.
“Will you stop staring at me like I was a stranger!” Luna’s voice unraveled his tightly composed line of thought.
“I’m sorry, was I staring?” He noticed that Luna was looking directly at him. Suddenly, he realized that the face in his field of vision was one of a stranger. It felt like he did not even know this woman.
“Yes, you were staring. You are making me feel very uncomfortable. What are you doing up so bloody early for anyway?”
“Enjoying the morning, honey.” He found the term of endearment did not flow naturally from his throat. It almost got stuck there. Maybe that was a sign that this marriage was over after all.
“Well, you didn’t have to get me up!”
“I never got you up.”
“How do you expect me to sleep with all that noise of the engine? Not to mention that putrid smell of gasoline pouring into the cabin!”
“I thought that I would get us out of that bay we anchored at last night. You hated that place.”
“I hate every place on this trip. At least I can get away from it when I’m asleep. But no, you even take that away from me!”
Luna was in one ugly mood this morning. Normally Emerson would try to acquiesce to what she wanted. But this day was different. He no longer wanted to cede to her dictatorial demands. He did not want to listen to her complaints. Rather than try to fumble over some words of appeasement, he turned the other way and focused on the inlet with its undulating dances of the mist. He wondered if that apparition that he imagined earlier had marital problems. Maybe the brave was paddling away from his nagging mate and her screaming baby in the papoose. How he wished that he could just paddle away right now!
The sound of the chair grinding across the deck told him that Luna had got up and headed back inside of the cabin. “Get your precious sleep, you bitch!” he mumbled and added, “I hope that you never get up again.” They were vile words, words that he never even thought let alone said to his wife before. What was going on with him today? He had woken up believing that he was still madly in love with her but now all of a sudden that love did not seem to exist any more. Something was not right about this.
The mists rising from the water started to engulf “The Ugly”. The early rising sun was failing miserably at its task of burning off the fog. The damp air was cool against his skin and he started to even feel a chill. He had a windbreaker on board but to get at it would mean having to go into the cabin and possibly facing Luna again. It was better to just endure the cold air than endure her cold stare. He started to rub his arms hoping that the friction would warm him up.
There was the lapping, dripping resonation of purposeful movement upon the water. In the vague shadowy eddies of the vapours, Emerson saw the turgidly slow materialization of something that he had seen earlier, something that he had accredited to his imagination rather than to his perceptions. The cold clamminess of his skin was now being mated with an even colder emanation inside his spirit.
A lone and solitary brave was maneuvering his birchbark canoe around some bramble that had broken the water’s surface. The vessel moved silently and threateningly. The only sound was the barely audible paddle as it slipped through the lake giving direction to the long sleek shaped canoe.
Emerson ran to the front of the bow to make sure that his eyes were not playing tricks on him. If you want to you can see almost anything in clouds. The same must be true of the early morning mist, Emerson reasoned. Yet as he propped himself against the chrome railing, that vision that he had believed emanated from his imagination did not falter. The canoe was truly there. There even was some turbulence in the water to verify its presence. This was not his imagination and if it was he must have been stricken with a severe case of overnight onset psychosis.
He could even now see the face of the man who helmed the birchbark vessel. The man’s face was painted red with ocher. He had broad cheeks and a determination on his brow that made the whites of his eyes barely visible. But through the slits that were exposed, Emerson could see that the man appeared to be looking right through him and the Ugly as if he were not there at all, as if he were the apparition. Lying on the ribbed floor of the canoe was some Neolithic looking flint tools and a knife fashioned out of some animal bone. There was also a leather pouch where could be seen the tops of some vegetation propping out. Herbs no doubt. This man, if he was trying to get away from some nagging wife, was preparing to be gone for some time.
There was something altogether ancient and timeless about this figure gliding through the mist and Emerson’s fascination with him outweighed any latent fear that he might have been experiencing. The Indian was drawing near to the Georgian steel and did nothing to slow himself down or do anything to compensate for his direction.
It grew painfully clear to the cabinet-maker that a collision was imminent. Or was the man planning to board the Ugly and lay skirmish upon its passengers. Drawing from chilly tales from his European biased history of the nation, Emerson suddenly began to wonder if the Indian was going to massacre him and his wife and take their scalps as sacred prizes.
He had nothing on board the Ugly that could be even remotely construe d as a weapon to use in defense. Only the long aluminum hooked pole that he had to use in making sure that the Ugly did not drift while going through the windswept lock in Bobcaygeon was readily available to him. Perhaps, he could use it as a jousting implement and knock the oncoming canoe and its mysterious rider back away from the boat.
Quickly snatching the pole, Emerson reached over the side of the Ugly and called out to the invader who was only feet away, “You had better get back or I will put you in the water!” His voice sounded frantic and scared to his own ears and he imagined that he would not seem like any threat at all to the Indian.
There was no reaction at all from the man. He kept stroking his paddle in a regular cadence and appeared oblivious to the Ugly. Emerson could feel the adrenaline surge through him as he realized that this situation was not going to resolve itself verbally. He prodded the pole directly into the chest of the Indian and thought that he must have missed for he felt no kickback in his weapon.
And then to his amazement and disbelief, he saw the invader’s form slide through the pole and then integrate itself into the hull of the Georgian steel. Slowly the entire length of the canoe disappeared into the sheet metal siding of the Ugly.
“This has got to be a trick!” Emerson cried out. Either he had gone insane or his eyes had fell victim to the games of the mist. Nothing of any substance could truly do what he had just seen. In a rational world this kind of thing just does not happen.
There came the sound of a paddle working its well-chiseled course through the water. It emanated from the other side of the Ugly. Emerson dashed across the bow from starboard to port. In his hurry to see what was there, he crashed into Luna’s lawn chair and sent it hurtling into the lake with a sharp and a very real splash ensuing afterward. Some of the spraying water slapped across Emerson’s face to emphasize its certainty and its definitive existence. But to the man equally certain was what he saw on the portside of the Ugly.
The canoe with its occupant was now paddling away from the boat. Its course had taken it right through the Georgian Steel as if the welded hull were not there at all. But Emerson realized that it had to be the canoe and its wraith-like paddler that was not there at all. This had to be an elaborate hallucination. Maybe his stress about his failing marriage coupled with some inexplicable cerebral effect that the Aurora Borealis cast upon him the night before had produced an incidental psychotic reaction within him.
A shimmering caught his eye in the crystal clear waveless water below him. There on the rocky bottom of the lake not more than twenty feet down was the distinct form of a white plastic lawn chair. It had landed upright and was sitting there as if it had been purposefully placed in that spot by some sun idolater. Several sunfish were intrepidly exploring the new addition to their watery environs.
At that moment a lonesome loon call broke the early morning silence. As Emerson lifted his head he saw the mysterious canoe work its way into the mists again. Just before it entirely vanished, the Indian turned around and looked directly at him as if he truly saw him. In that very instant, Emerson experienced the most charged sensation that ever visited upon him in his life. It was not a moment of insight, nor a moment of understanding or perception. It was not an oceanic feeling or any other type of religious affect. It was just a charged moment as if he had crossed some asymptotic line in his life where everything that had happened before would forever be delineated from everything that would happen afterwards along this defining moment.
Then that moment was gone and with it the apparition. He squinted his eyes to see if he could still make out the form of the ghostly canoe in the swaying mists but he could not distinguish anything out there at all. Everything had returned to as it was. If this were some interstitial joining point between alternate realities, the weave that had bound them together had come undone. Everything was back to normal. The sun was slowly triumphing in its task to burn away the fog. Already the shoreline on the opposite side of the lake was gaining clarity and definition.
What had happened? Had he been visited upon by a ghost? A phantom visitation from someone who had known these waters centuries before? Or was he just the victim of an episodic schizophrenic incident? Neither scenario rested easy on him. He was never given to the paranormal nor had he ever had any mental problems. He never imagined when he climbed out of bed in the early dawn that he would have to seriously address either prospect today.
He felt unsettled and did not know what to do. Should he go tell Luna what he had just experienced or remain on the deck and try to re-achieve whatever he had been thinking about before this strange incident?
What was he thinking about before it happened? He did not have the remotest notion. That stream of consciousness had dried up and dissipated in the cognitive landscape. It would never be found again.
A part of him wanted to fire up the Ugly’s engine and race away from this eerie spot. To do so might run the risk of sparking Luna’s wrath. She may have gone back to sleep and would hate him forever if he dared intrude upon her slumbers again. Of course, he was already in deep trouble with her in regards to the chair. Outside of the bed, it was the only spot that she seemed to have any affinity for onboard the Ugly. When she discovers that it had fallen overboard, he was certain that that would be the definitive end to their marriage. He was no longer sure if he wanted his relationship with her to fail. His thinking was so muddled; he knew that he should not be making any life impacting decisions this morning. Maybe it was best to try and see if he could retrieve the chair. If it could be recovered, Luna may be none the wiser about where it had been while she was in the cabin.
Emerson’s first choice of plans was to use the aluminum pole. Leaning over the railing, he speared the pole into the water where the chair was still visible in the depths. His efforts were fruitless. The pole was not long enough. It did not even penetrate the lake to half the depth that was needed although it took him several tries to realize this. There was an optical illusion at work here that he had to deal with.
His alternate tactic was to use the fishing rod. If he could hook it right, the chair would return to the surface and he could quickly dry it off and set it back in its spot just in time for Luna to engage in her morning sunbathing ritual. That time could not be too far off for the July sun had climbed a significant distance into the sky and it would soon be radiating a tremendous heat that would summon all of its worshippers to commence basking.
So feeling some time related pressure, Emerson rigged his fishing line with the largest lure he had in his tackle box. It was a guaranteed musky killer according to the teenaged kid at the bait shop back in the city. Even as he purchased the twenty dollar lure, he was already experiencing regrets. What would a city punk know about the dietary habits of the top carnivore below the Kawartha waves? Yet, he had always wanted to pit himself against a muskellunge. They were part of the great Canadian mythos of angling. You were not part of the exclusive club until you had reeled in an enraged oversized lunker. His friends laughed at him when he showed them the lure. “The only thing that that will catch is somebody’s sunken garbage!” they scoffed.
Well, that somebody’s sunken garbage was going to be his own garbage. He tossed the lure into the water and watched it sink like a rock about ten feet past the chair. His plan was to reel the lure into the chair and hopefully have it snag it at one of the edges. He started reeling in, his eyes fixated on the course of his lure. It was following a perfect path that would lead it right into the chair.
Just as the musky killer was about to glide into the crook of the chair’s armrest something hit it. Emerson’s line started peeling out with a zipping, burning haste. “What in hell!” he said out loud. A fish had taken his bait. Judging by the speed that his line was flying out, it had to be a pretty big fish at that.
Emerson heaved on his rod, setting the hook just the way Bob Izumi did on those fishing shows. A few moments later crashing through the surface twenty feet away from the Ugly was the biggest fish that Emerson had ever laid eyes upon. It was a musky. That pimply-faced brat back in the city was right. The lure was dynamite!
What ensued had to be at least a half an hour battle between Emerson and the musky. It seemed that Emerson was winning the skirmish for the musky was slowly and surely being drawn closer to the Ugly. It had jumped and dived half a dozen times yet the man was able to counter its ploys and keep the hook firmly lodged in the fish’s mouth all the time reeling in.
Then just when the musky’s muscles could not contain any more lactic acid and it was floating on its side waiting for Emerson to lift it onto the boat, the line suddenly went slack. The fish flicked its tail and disappeared under the water. The man let loose his scorn with a yowl and as he did so, his eyes thought that they had caught sight of a smiling aboriginal figure in a canoe. In the figure’s hand was a knife made of animal bone. In the bright sunshine could be seen some frayed remnants of fishing line along the knife’s edge. Then the apparition was gone.
The battle with the musky had taken away all of Emerson’s earlier woes. But all of them came cascading back with the sight of that ghost. Emerson’s knees became wobbly and his stomach felt like it had turned over. In the glint of the sun, Luna’s chair stood out like a diamond in a coal pit. The fishing rod fell from his trembling hands. It clunked on the deck and its end snapped off. In a fit of rage, Emerson kicked the expensive rod over the side of the Georgian Steel. He cursed himself afterwards for not only was that a needless thing to do, he had just lost his only means of retrieving Luna’s chair.
Where was Luna anyway? She should have been out by now. The sun was nice and high overhead. She had plenty of sleep the night before. If she were awake and was trying to avoid him, he still should have been able to hear the pitter patter tapping of her fingers on the laptop. That is what she would have been doing if she had decided to forgo sun tanning. But no such muffled sound issued from the cabin. In fact no sound at all emanated from the living quarters of the Ugly.
Perhaps, he should go look inside to see what she was doing. If she were awake, he did not know how to face her. After his over the top treatment of her earlier in the morning, it was going to take a gargantuan amount of apologizing to get her out of her snit. He did not feel up to the task of eating crow. He was too shaken by everything. It was perhaps best to just let her be for the time being. Sooner or later he would see her and then he might have available in his behavioural repertoire the suitable frame of mind and the appropriate words to appease her.
Besides, this might give him a chance to do something about that submerged chair. The only option he had left available was to go swim for it. The air was certainly warm enough and even though the lake had not heated up much this year, he was sure that he would be able to sustain its biting temperatures long enough to retrieve his sunken artifact.
His swimming shorts were in the cabin and were thus off limits. Emerson had no recourse but to strip down to his underwear and take the dive. There was not enough fog remaining to conceal his antics and he was very aware that he could very easily be the victim of a pair of snooping binoculars. He was not an exhibitionist at heart and he was painfully aware that he did not have the kind of body that would be admired by artists or voyeurs. There did not seem to be any cottages or boats in the area and it could be quite possible that his modesty was making too much ado out of an entirely harmless situation.
Still just in case there happened to be some one who might see him, he rushed in taking his clothes off so that he would not be above the visual horizon for too long. In his haste, he recklessly tossed his jacket, shirt, shoes, socks and pants without any real concern where they landed. Had he paid attention, he would have seen that although his jacket, shirt, shoes and socks had come to a rest near the center of the deck, his pants had wrapped themselves around a support pole for the chrome railing that followed the starboard perimeter of the Ugly’s hull. In fact, the bulk of his pants were hanging over the edge, the only part keeping them from falling into the lake was one leg that had a very lackadaisical hold on the pole. It would not take much to wash them overboard.
Just as he was about to jump in after the chair, he felt that he was safe enough to shed his underpants. Nobody was around. Why get them wet? Emerson yanked them off and chucked them onto the deck. There was enough momentum in the underwear to knock his pants into the lake and still enough for his skivvies to slide overboard as well. Their owner was unaware of his dilemma. His attention was focused on his dive.
He realized that the water was going to be deep and he would require to hold his breath long enough to not only get to the bottom but to bring the chair back to the surface. Emerson was never good at this and he prayed that the amount of air that he gulped would be enough to sustain him on his mission.
The railing was twenty-four inches above the deck. It was practically flush with the hull and there was not enough room on the other side of it for him to take his plunge from there. He could have went to the stern and easily gained access to the water from the swim platform but that would mean that he would have all that extra stroking to do in the lake before he would be above the chair. It was best to take his dive from here where he could see his goal. Taking several steps back he made a run at the railing. It had been some time since he had jumped anything and he imagined that the last time he ever tried jumping anything naked was before his family jewels came to their final resting spot. He was so concerned over them that at the last moment he came to a stop. But Emerson’s forward motion could not completely come to a halt. It was abetted by his slippery contact with his shirt that caused him to skid onwards and over the railing and into the frigid Kawartha lake. It was a most ignominious and ungainly dive.
Not only were his family jewels hurting when he hit the water, his knees and ankles ached as well from their collision with the chrome. Even while the pain throbbed through him, he still had enough cognitive energy remaining to question his motives. What was he trying to do? How did he end up in a cold body of water so early on a foggy morning where a leviathan-like muskellunge was known to be lurking about? To get a chair? He could buy a dozen of them at the nearest store within the hour. This was ludicrous. But he was in the water now and he might as well retrieve the one that got lost.
Taking his bearings, he lowered himself beneath the surface and realized that he could not see anything. His eyes were closed. They needed to be open. He hated having his eyes open underwater. He was not only afraid of what he might see but also despised the plain feeling of unfiltered biologically infested lake water against his eyeballs. This was the toilet for that musky and untold thousands of other fish. Their excrement most assuredly would make contact with his pupils.
Stop thinking thoughts like that, he told himself. Get the chair and then get out. He forced his eyes open and was amazed at the visual clarity he was receiving underwater. Luna’s chair came in sharp definition from below. He started swimming towards it. He allowed nothing else in his mind. If he started thinking about that musky, he knew that he would give up on his quest. But to his amazement, he was able to shut out such thoughts and kept on track to the chair.
As he drew near to it, he was even starting to enjoy the icy feeling of the water against his body and the sheer elegant beauty of the underwater terrain. His lungs were in fine shape and were not hurting for any lack of oxygen. Everything was going fine. His hand landed on the back of the chair. His fingers quickly found a grip and with his arms he gave the chair a hoist. These chairs were light in the air; under water they were practically weightless.
But as he pulled the chair out, the water suddenly grew murky and very tangible. The lake bottom was not rock, it was silt and little tiny particles that had been lying to rest for hundreds of years had now taken flight. What was a perceptual feast now became a dank, fetid submarinal sandstorm taking stinging aim at his open eyes. Instinctively and reactively, he shut them and could still feel the burning sensation of the grit against the mucus lining of his eyeballs. With his free hand he started rubbing at them but all this was doing was pushing the sharp matter deeper into his pupils. It was best to get out of here as fast as possible. His feet started kicking with a fevered intensity.
The chair with its high drag coefficient in the water was slowing his progress to the surface. He thought of letting it go but if he did that it would mean that everything he did had been for naught. It was better to hold onto it. The surface could not be that much further. However with his eyes shut, Emerson could not be absolutely certain that he was going upwards. His propriocentric sense was somewhat akilter and it seemed that he might not be moving to the lake top.
Opening his eyes for a brief interval, his fears were confirmed. The opaque sheen of the surface was still more than a dozen feet above him. He had been swimming horizontally along the lake’s bottom. His lungs were starting to grow agitated with the build up of carbon dioxide within them. Was there going to be enough oxygen to get him up top?
Just as he started to panic about what had happened to him, he felt the chair suddenly writhe in his hand. Its smooth texture now had a slimy leathery quality to it. Quickly looking down at his hand, he was horrified to see that he had a musky by the tail. The fish did not like being held and was arching its back to strike at that that held it. Emerson let go and dashed madly to the surface but before his air was out, he beheld another strange vision. The musky had drifted downward to a white plastic chair. On that chair was a smiling Indian waving at him. The hallucination was wearing pants. Emerson’s pants!
He burst through the surface with a wild terror coursing through his veins. This was madness, utter madness! What the hell was going on! His imagination had gone overboard and was now swimming the feral waters of lunacy. All that he wished was that he and Luna had gone to Prince Edward Island. Anne of Green Gables and Summerside Beach was what the sane people sought. This Kawartha adventure was a way beyond what he had expected.
The Ugly was twenty yards away. Its chunky design made it appear monolithic against its background. It was like an ugly sore on the fabric of nature. Maybe he had given the Georgian Steel a name well befitting its form. But it still was a welcome sight to Emerson. On its deck, he would find warmth and perhaps an explanation as to what had stricken him.
As he began to swim towards his boat, he could feel the cold biting at every inch of him. Maybe he was suffering from hypothermia and it was at the root of his delusions. Delusions they would all have to be. None of this kind of stuff ever really happens. Not even in the Kawarthas.
It seemed like an endless swim to get to the Ugly but finally he was approaching the much welcome sight of the boat’s swim platform. He had hardly enough energy left in himself to hoist himself on the wooden structure. He should have thought before he went in to have set the ladder into place. As he pulled himself up, he noticed that there was another boat anchored yards away on the starboard side. He could only see its stern but what was boldly emblazoned upon it was the letters, “O.P.P.”
Emerson quickly dropped himself back into the water. He was as naked as a jaybird and knew that the Ontario Provincial Police would not look too kindly about his attire.
“Ahoy there! You in the water, get onto the boat!” A commanding feminine voice bellowed from the police marine cruiser.
“No, I’m fine in the water.” Emerson replied meekly, realizing that that was not what the police officer wanted to hear.
“Get out of the water!” the police officer snapped.
“But I have no clothes on!” Emerson retorted.
“That is why we are here! There are laws of public decency that have to be upheld.”
All of a sudden Emerson realized that Luna was still not on the deck. How could she still be sleeping through all of this commotion? “Luna!” he called out to his wife. “Could you get me my clothes?”
“Who are you talking to?” the policewoman asked.
“My wife, she is sleeping onboard.”
But Luna did not answer. Only a silence emanated from within the cabin.
“There doesn’t seem to be anybody answering you,” the policewoman said at length. “Get out of the water right this moment.”
“That is strange. My wife should be onboard.” Emerson muttered.
“Out of the water, now!” the police officer thundered.
“Maybe you can get me my clothes. They are on deck.”
He did not need any further command. He had seen too many reality TV shows to know how far constables of the law could be pushed. With a struggling effort, Emerson wriggled himself up onto the swim platform. He was painfully aware that his bare buttocks were in plain view of the female police officer.
“Luna!” he called out again. “Could you toss me my clothes!” He felt very prone and very unwilling to stand up in front of the officer.
After a silent moment, the policewoman said, “It doesn’t seem like anybody is answering you. Get yourself dressed and provide me with some identification.”
With one hand shielding his front side and the other covering the rear, Emerson scampered up the ladder between the swim platform and the Ugly’s main deck. His mind was in a state of shock wondering how this could have befallen him. He found his shirt but there was no sign of any clothing that could cover his lower half. The image of the smiling underwater Indian in his pants now took on a deeper level of significance to him. Could it have been real?
“Get dressed!” the policewoman barked.
“I’ll have to go inside to get some clothes.” Emerson mumbled.
“You stay where you are!” the O.P.P. officer snapped. She had pulled her cruiser alongside the Ugly and proceeded to tie it to the Georgian Steel. Apparently, she must have thought that Emerson might resort to something drastic if he was to disappear from her line of sight.
He froze on the spot as the policewoman came onboard and studied him with a well-trained eye. He was very aware of his nudity and did everything that he could do to keep himself concealed. He saw that the officer had a name on her badge. It read Constable Nanabush. He thought that it was both an odd yet familiar name.
“Put your shirt on” Constable Nanabush said, kicking Emerson’s sweatshirt to him. He quickly pulled it over his head and tried to tug it down as far as possible to hide what he had exposed.
“You say that there is somebody else onboard?” she asked.
“Yes, my wife. She must be sleeping.”
“What’s her name?”
The policewoman called out Emerson’s wife’s name. There was no reply.
“Luna, you had better come out this very moment with your hands in the air” Constable Nanabush re-iterated.
Still, there was no response. The policewoman pulled out her gun. “You lie down on the deck with your hands and legs spread and don’t move!” she said to Emerson.
He was being treated like a common criminal much to his dismay. But he was not going to provide any trouble. He was going to be compliant and sprawled down on the deck on his stomach while with drawn gun, the police officer rapped at the door to the cabin. She then cautiously opened it and slowly walked in.
A moment later, Constable Nanabush emerged from the cabin with the slight hint of dismay on her stony face. “What are you trying to pull here?”
Confused, Emerson did not know what to say. “What’s the matter? Isn’t she in there?”
“There’s nobody in there except for a three foot long musky flopping up and down on the bed.”
“A what?” Emerson started to climb up to his feet.
The policewoman pointed her pistol at him. “Get down now!” she hoarsed.
Emerson collapsed to the floor. What was the woman talking about, a musky flopping on his bed? It made no sense to him at all. Nothing of the morning made sense. But what made the least sense of all was that Luna was not to be found.
“Where’s your wife?” Constable Nanabush rasped. It was clear that she was agitated by the disappearance as well. Perhaps she was afraid that Luna was going to launch a surprise ambush on her.
“I told you that she is in the cabin. At least that is where she was when I jumped into the lake.”
“Get up onto your feet, now!” Nanabush ordered and Emerson obeyed. “I don’t know what kind of business you are trying to pull on me, Mister, but I am sure a trip to the station will make you see things differently.”
“You are arresting me?” Emerson gasped with surprise. “On what grounds?”
The policewoman produced a pair of handcuffs and snapped them onto the flabbergasted man’s wrists. She did not answer his question. He suddenly became aware that the mist from earlier in the morning had reappeared and was beginning to envelope the Ugly in its unsettling atmosphere.
He felt a shove at his back as he was being prodded forward towards the swim platform. As he unwillingly took his first steps, he could see through the crack of the door into the cabin. Just as the officer had said, there was a very familiar muskellunge flicking its tail up and down on his bed. Even though the bedcovers were in a jumbled heap, there was no sign that anybody was sleeping there. Where was Luna?
Constable Nanabush pushed him again and he was no longer able to see inside of the cabin. The fog was growing intense. He could no longer even see the O.P.P. cruiser alongside of the Ugly. But docked at the end of the swim platform was an ancient dugout canoe.
A hand came onto his shoulder. From his peripheral vision, Emerson could see that it was not the hand one would expect to belong to a woman. Turning his head, Emerson looked directly into the masculine face of a smiling aboriginal. It was the face of that Indian spirit that had been harassing him all morning. He quickly realized that Constable Nanabush had never been there. It had been this trickster all along.
In a quick burst of energy, Emerson pushed the Indian aside and he dashed for the cabin crying out his wife’s name in a sheer panic. “Luna! Luna! Luna!”
He burst into the room and saw his wife typing and clicking away at her laptop. The musky was no longer on the bed. It no longer existed at all. There was a complete air of normalcy in the room as if nothing of the extraordinary had occurred on this strange morning.
“What do you want?” Luna asked. She was displaying a mood that showed that she did not want to be disturbed.
“You’re here!” Emerson gasped.
“Of course, I’m here. Where do you expect me to be? At the bottom of the lake?”
Turning towards the cabin door, Emerson could see that there was no Indian pursuing him. All that he could see was the sunny rays of a glorious Kawartha day. For some reason at that moment, he felt fabric rub against his legs. He was wearing his pants. They were dry as were his underwear beneath them. What was going on?
“You were pretty nasty to me this morning.” Luna commented as she returned her attention to her laptop.
“I think that I am going crazy Luna. You wouldn’t believe what I’ve been going through.” Emerson felt as if he were like he was Dorothy returned to Kansas after her adventure over the rainbow. Everything she had experienced in Oz was real to her. Everything that he had experienced this morning was real to him.
Luna seemed disinterested in what he was trying to say. She continued her focusing on whatever she was typing on her computer.
“Luna, you have got to listen to me! I think I have gone nuts!” he reached out to her, laying his hand on her shoulder. She brushed it aside sending his hand into a collision course with a pamphlet lying on the table. His fingers instinctively picked it up. On the cover of this brochure was the title “Nanabush, the Ojibway Trickster”. It was the same name as that of the policewoman that he had dreamed up. No wonder it seemed familiar.
His eyes then caught hold of the words Luna was typing onto her laptop. They read, “As he looked upon his wife, she had shapeshifted into the form of an Indian prince who stared back at him with a cunning and malice in his eyes. The mist crept through the room, stretching its tantalizing fingers across Emerson’s brow and seeping insidiously into his mind. The last traces of his consciousness before he lapsed into the mist were embe dded in the deep horror of realizing that the computer was dictating his life.”
The Indian stood up from the computer table. He drew in a large breath. The mist that had clogged the cabin room was sucked up into his lungs. When he exhaled, a shadow was released into the fog where it quickly burnt up in the warming rays of a morning sun.