01 Feb I’ve been a search and rescue diver for 12 years
I’ve been involved with water search and rescue for twelve years now. I’ve seen a lot of upsetting and even unexplainable things in my time, but those pale in comparison to what I saw recently. Water search and rescue is often a depressing job. When someone gets lost in a forest, they can still be found alive days later. But when we get a call, it’s almost always body recovery. People don’t last long in the water.
I can’t tell you exactly where, but I live in a northern territory known for its water sports. Fishing, kayaking, diving – whatever it is, our waters probably have a solid reputation for it. Despite that, this area isn’t some kind of resort. The waters here are cold and oftentimes vicious. Search and rescue operations here can be grueling and not many stick with it. There are a few older guys who have been doing it longer than me, but I’m one of the most experienced around.
Like I said before, this job is more body recovery than anything, especially here. We save more live moose from the water than live humans. And when we get a call about a missing child…well we’d be better off just giving our condolences. That’s just how the waters are here. Our small town has one of the highest drowning rates in the country. But we look anyway, and usually we find a body.
I’ve considered quitting many times in my career. Most people quit after their first recovery. In training, we try to emphasize just how much water can distort a corpse, but nothing can prepare you for the harsh reality. It’s not uncommon for us to find bodies bloated beyond recognition. Sometimes they barely even seem human. A lot of divers don’t last long after seeing something like that. But I continued to do it after all these years. I figured if I didn’t then no one would.
However, the things I saw last week have made me reconsider that decision.
I got the call around 11 A.M. A father had taken his ten-year-old son fly fishing. At one point, the father managed to stab a hook all the way through his finger. He went back up to his truck to get a first-aid kit. The boy was gone when he returned a few minutes later.
When I first heard the story, I hung my head in silence for a moment. It had been raining heavily for almost a month now, and the waters were running faster than ever. To make things worse, it was unusually cold for the season. A number of people had gone missing in recent weeks. Many of them had yet to be found. I had little hope of finding the boy alive.
Me and a couple of other divers were at the site where the boy went missing within an hour, and a larger search and rescue team located a few towns over was headed our way. We talked with the father and even searched the forest for a bit, hoping that he had just wandered off. But eventually we realized that we would have to begin searching in the river.
The moment I got in the water I knew the boy was gone. The current was worse than it had ever been, and even I had difficulty navigating the icy river. We looked for hours in the surrounding areas, and even expanded our search once the larger team had arrived. The boy was nowhere to be found.
I was surprised. I hadn’t expected to find him alive, but I had at least anticipated finding a body. However, there was no trace of him. The sun got low and the air grew colder. We were considering calling it off as nightfall approached and resuming the search the next day when I discovered something.
There’s a lot of creek beds around the river. Many of them have dried up as a result of encroaching vegetation or manmade efforts to divert the water. We usually don’t pay any attention to them. However, with all of the recent rain, I noticed that one of the larger creek beds had begun flowing again. A surprising amount of water crashed through it, easily enough to carry a young boy.
The creek ran directly across a bend in the river, connecting it at two points. I followed it and realized that the boy could be located outside of our initial search area. As I approached where the creek reconnected with the main river, I felt a sinking feeling in my gut.
There’s a place in the river where not even search and rescue divers are supposed to go. It’s known as Badwater. This area lies on one half of the river and runs for about 100 yards. It’s near a densely vegetated area, so we don’t often have to worry about people swimming there. But a lot of disappearances occur in the surrounding waters. Despite that, I’ve been warned not to dive there since I began doing search and rescue. Supposedly the undercurrent is so strong that even the most experienced swimmer would be swept away in an instant. “Don’t go near Badwater.” It was a mantra of the older divers.
The creek ended exactly in the center of the Badwater region. As I reached it, I stopped and chewed my lip thoughtfully. If I went back and reported this to the other divers, they would tell me to let it go. They wouldn’t let me dive there. But deep down I felt like the boy’s body must be tangled up in some weeds nearby. If only I could find it. I hated the idea of that kid being stuck down there, slowly bloating and rotting away while his parents sat at home wondering where their boy had gone.
Badwater didn’t seem to be that bad. I’d seen rougher waters before, but I knew looks could be deceiving. Just below the surface it could be flowing faster than I ever imagined. And I’d be swept away in an instant. Besides, I wasn’t supposed to dive alone. I almost turned back, but something made me stay. I stared into the river for a moment, thinking about the boy. Then I put on my gear and dropped into the icy waters.
The first thing I noticed was that the current actually seemed pretty weak. As a matter of fact, it was weaker than the rest of the river. The water was extremely deep there, and I could see only blackness below as I dove. I kicked deeper and deeper, thinking that the current might pick up lower down, but the opposite seemed to be true. The water was almost completely still.
I went even deeper until finally green shapes began to materialize in front of me. I thought I’d finally reached a bed of weeds. But, as I kicked lower, the truth came into full view. I felt vomit come up at the sight, an odd and dangerous sensation when you’re wearing a scuba mask.
Countless arms stuck up from the ground below. I thought I had come upon a trove of bodies, but the disgusting reality became even more apparent only a moment later. The arms grew directly into the ground. They even had roots that spread out from the base. It was as if someone had cut off hundreds of arms at the shoulder and planted them there. They were green, and I watched as they clutched at the water around them. They varied in size and seemingly age. Grotesque baby hands sprouted near the bottom, and they opened and closed their fists hungrily.
It was then that I saw the boy. His eyes stared sightlessly ahead as those grotesque arms pulled his dead body downward. It seemed they had just gotten ahold of him. The arms yanked at him, burying him in the surrounding sediment. They pushed and writhed and squirmed until he was securely buried up to the chest. I stared in mesmerized horror.
That was when the other bodies came into focus. There must have been at least four more, all in varying stages of decay. Some were bloated beyond recognition, only bulky, white masses that protruded loosely from the riverbed. I once again felt vomit rising in my throat and swallowed it back down. The fucking hands were feeding off the bodies, using them as fertilizer.
The moment I clambered out of the water I tore my mask off and retched. I couldn’t stop thinking about those disgusting bodies, those grasping hands. They were like some sort of carnivorous plant, yet they were so humanoid. I vomited again at the thought.
I frantically ran back to our base camp and pulled one of the other divers aside. Moose was the most experienced person on our team. He’d been diving for over twenty years ever since moving here. I told him about what I saw. When I finished, he stared at me in cold silence.
“I told you never to go near Badwater.” His voice contained an iciness that even his thick Louisiana accent couldn’t conceal.
“That’s what you’re concerned about?” I was incredulous.
He placed a hand on my shoulder and squeezed tightly. “Don’t tell anyone else about this. If the others find out you went into Badwater…” He trailed off and thought for a moment. “Well, it won’t be good.” He shook his head like a disappointed father.
“But what about those things?” I tried to keep my voice down, hoping no one would hear us. “How many people have died because of those fucking things?”
“Shut up.” Moose said. “We have an agreement. There’s a reason they only grow in Badwater. Don’t fuck this up.”
I started to say something, but the words caught in my throat. He was keeping something from me.
He sighed and I saw something like sadness behind his eyes. “Sometimes you have to decide between lesser and greater evils. Even the best possible decisions can still keep you up at night.” He went silent for a moment and only stared at me. “Don’t tell anyone about this. Maybe one day you’ll understand.”
He walked away after that and called off the day’s search. Despite what I’d told him, we continued to search for the next two days. By the third day we called it off completely and gave our condolences to the family.
I don’t know what the fuck is happening. Moose has been acting different towards me ever since. There’s an iciness to him, but every now and then he’ll shoot me a knowing glance, like we’re in on some secret together. I’ve noticed the other older divers acting strangely too. What did he mean by agreement? What the fuck were those arm things? I’m considering quitting and moving away from here. I can’t live with the knowledge that those things are down there, slowly feeding off the body of a young boy among countless others.