“When was the last time you felt something? I don’t mean the last time you got cut off in traffic and swore at the other driver. I don’t mean the last time you went on a date and waited anxiously afterwards for a phone call that didn’t come. I mean really felt something. I mean had your blood pressure spike so high that you felt like you were going to pass out. I mean you seriously questioned if you were going to die. I mean really felt something. You can’t answer can you? Go to the end of the street and walk into the woods. There will be an old man waiting there. He will show you another way.”
This letter had come sandwiched between a note from my bank summarizing the last month’s activity, and the phone bill. There was no return address, and no name listed anywhere. I wanted to brush it off and trash the letter. It was probably some prank by a neighborhood kid who had learned to open my mailbox. Except it was right. I couldn’t remember the last time I had really felt something. There was probably nothing waiting for me in the woods, except maybe a kid with a squirt gun, but I was willing to risk it.
I grab a jacket and head outside. It’s getting cold out. There is snow forecasted for tomorrow. I feel a biting chill from the wind, and grab some gloves and a hat too. As I head down the street I really hope there isn’t some kid with a water balloon. You could get hypothermia from getting wet in this weather.
I reach the edge of the woods, and grit my teeth as I walk through. I expect a cold splash on the back of my at any moment. At least for the first few steps I do. Then I develop a sense of wonder at the woods. I’ve driven past them countless times on my way to work, but I’ve never actually set foot inside them before. I wonder what’s back here.
I here a splash and a cry for help ahead. Someone’s fallen into a lake of some sort. I run ahead and sure enough the trees give way to a lake, and an old man desperately splashing as he tries to stay afloat.
“Help!” He shouts again. I barely register the bridge he must’ve fallen from as I shed my jacket and dive in. He’s about fifty meters out and I’ve got to be quick. With his poor circulation he’s probably only got seconds before he starts losing toes to the cold.
Burn me is this water freezing! I involuntarily stop breathing as the water feels like it’s choking me, trying to force itself into my lungs, but I was a lifeguard in my youth, and resiliently begin to stroke my way out to the old man.
I’m about ten meters away when his head ducks under. Oh no, the water’s deep. If he falls very far I’ll never be able to catch him, and if he inhales any water it’ll damage his lungs for sure. I desperately close the distance to the epicenter of his ripples, and dive down. I close my eyes and blindly feel for something. My hands brush aside algae that has been growing in the stagnant water, nothing. How could he have sunk so far?
I kick with my legs to propel myself even further down. He’s been under twenty seconds at this point. Seriously, were there rocks in his pockets? Come on old man, give me something.
He’s been under almost forty seconds, and my own lungs are starting to burn. My body tries to reflexively breathe in the surrounding water and I’m choking out bubbles. I take one last searching swipe with my arms, and brush a coat. The old man!
I loop an arm under his shoulder and start stroking furiously. He’s been under almost a full minute, and I can’t tell if he’s unconscious and therefore drowning. He’s limp in my arms. It doesn’t look good.
We break the surface and I kick like crazy for the shore. I tilt his head back and out of the water. His eyes are closed and there’s water dripping from his mouth. Not good signs.
I pull him onto the shore. Okay, ABCs. Airway, breathing circulates, clearly his airway is blocked by water. I find his sternum and start compressing. Water starts ejecting from his mouth in spurts. Clearly still clogged, keep compressing. I think I feel something crack. He’s going to have some broken ribs.
He coughs violently and sits up. Oh thank god. I thought I had just pulled a corpse out of the water. I grab my phone and dial 911. As I’m informing the dispatcher where I am and what I need the old man reaches into his jacket and pulls out a letter that appears to be water proofed somehow. What on earth?
I thank the dispatcher and hang up.
“Ambulance is coming. You’re going to be fine.” I tell the old man. He continues to cough and gestures for me to open the letter. Really confused, I open the letter. Inside is a piece of paper with a single sentence.
“Well done, await further instructions.”