Nokken Pond

Behind my childhood home, deep within the thick tress and overgrown foliage that protected my neighborhood from the sounds of the city, was a large pond that my friends and I would play at when the weather was warm and school was out.

That pond was the setting for most of my fond childhood memories.  Late nights spent telling ghost stories beneath the protection of the trees, early mornings with homemade fishing lines in one hand and a PB&J in the other, and everything in between.

The pond was called Nokken Pond.  Officially on maps and stuff, the pond didn’t actually exist, so the name must have been invented by some other kids, years before we found it, but it was what it was.  We tried to change the name on a few occasions, even came up with a mock council of neighborhood kids to give it another name, but nothing ever stuck.  In our hearts and in our minds, it would always be Nokken Pond.

Going up to the pond for the first time was a rite of passage for the younger kids.  Just as I was introduced to the pond by the older kids in the neighborhood, when the time was right I showed it to my little brother.

He knew about it and had even asked to go several times before I thought the time was right, but it wasn’t until his seventh birthday when I finally decided it was time.

We hiked up the half-mile or so to the pond in the hot July weather.  I’d never thought about just how far it was for his little legs to carry him, but when we got to the clearing where the pond was finally visible, his face glistened with sweat and his chest heaved to catch his breath.  He didn’t say a word to me about being tired though, not once, and I immediately respected him for it.

“Now there are three rules,” I told him.  “Don’t go in the water without telling someone.  Don’t drink any of the water.  And don’t look at your own reflection in the water.”

The last one, I had to admit, was silly, but they were the laws of the land.  Just like the name, nobody knew who came up with the rules, but it was what it was and none of us thought to change them.  It was just as natural as the pond itself to follow the rules.

I brought up a fishing pole that I’d bought earlier that summer, and I’d given my brother the one I’d made with a large stick and a fishing line.  We sat on the bank, eating the sandwiches we’d packed and hoping to maybe catch something.  Nobody ever caught anything, but every once in a while there was a nibble on one of the lines.  The first kid to catch a fish in the pond would be a legend, and naturally we all wanted to earn that immortality.

My brother asked to go into the water, and I nodded.

He put his pole down and kicked off his sandals and began to wade into the cool water.  He splashed around a little bit, but mostly just stood there with the water up to his knees, looking out at the majesty of the picturesque pond.  I understood, because I often did the same thing.

I saw a little flutter in the surface of the water.  One of the fish which resided in the pond had breached and my brother turned around to look at me with excitement in his eyes.

“I told you they were there!” I called at him.  “You just have to be really patient and eventually you’ll catch one.”

He waded deeper into the water, just past his thighs now, and stood still with his eyes fixed on the surface of the water where we’d seen the fish.

We saw another flutter, closer this time, and I saw his back arch in anticipation.  I knew what he was going to try.  He was going to catch that fish with his bare hands.  At one point or another we’d all tried it.

I watched as his eyes followed the fish below the surface of the water, and he traced it’s path to his knees.  He stared at the water right in front of him, and I was just about to call out a warning to avoid his reflection when, to my horror, I saw a hand, gray and thin, reach out from the surface of the water and grab him by the back of the neck.

I screamed, and he screamed, but his was cut off as soon as the hand drug him down into the water.

I stood up and launched myself into the water.  He’d only been ten feet away, but every foot felt like it took an hour.  When I was where he’d been standing, I stuck my face under the surface and opened my eyes.  I could only see a few fee away before the sunlight failed to illuminate the deeper water, but I was sure that I’d just seen movement.

I took a few steps forward, then dove into the deeper part of the pond. As far as I was aware, nobody had ever found out how deep the pond actually went, but goddammit I would find out if I had to.

I followed the direction of the movement, plunging myself further and further into the darkness.  My eyes adjusted and I began to make out faint shapes, and in the distance I found him.  He was drifting downward.  The bubbles he’d been making as he screamed had stopped by now, and I had only a few precious moments before this would be forever logged in the annals of my memory as the worst day of my life.

My chest burned and my lungs begged for oxygen, but I kicked my legs further down into the water, which got noticeably cooler as I went deeper.

I kicked my legs as hard as I could, but he fell faster than I could swim.  That didn’t seem even possible until I saw something that forced the air from my lungs in the form of a scream.  He wasn’t drifting down, he was being dragged down.  That hand which had grabbed him was attached to a creature that would forever haunt my nightmares.  It was thin and gray and I could just barely make out thin but long strands of hair coming from the top of its scalp, swirling around its head like black ink in water.

The creature turned for a moment at the sound of my scream, and for just a second I saw its face, thin and bony with a slit for a nose and long sharp teeth protruding from it’s lower jaw.  It turned back and swam even faster, pulling my brother deeper, and I knew then that he was gone.

I nearly drowned trying to save my brother.  I kicked hard, but couldn’t get back to the surface before my body took control and sucked in a lungful of water.  The liquid was cold but felt like fire in my chest and I began to cough and seize and as I broke the surface of the pond, I knew it was the last time I would see the sun.

As luck would have it, however, other neighborhood kids had made the hike up to the lake and saw my body break the surface.  The older ones dragged me to shore and two of the younger ones ran home to call an ambulance.  I owe them my life.

I told my story and was diagnosed with shock-induced psychosis.  The pond was searched but my brother’s body was never found, however it was discovered that this pond was fed by an underground river connecting a small number of other bodies of water throughout the city, so it was entirely possible his remains would turn up in one of the neighboring lakes or ponds.

They never did.

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