Story by Bryan Partridge
"Hatch!" I waited, hoping to hear the response I knew would never come. "Hatch, where are you?" I screamed again, this time waiting ten seconds for a response. Still nothing. My empty call echoed across the entire length of the lake, reminding me of how alone we were out here. It was pitch black, and I could see my breath break through the beam of my flashlight as it passed across the glassy surface of the lake. I knew where I'd found him the three previous nights, alone in the water, motionless, staring towards the northern shore of the lake. But tonight, his tall shadowed form was nowhere to be seen. "Don't do this to me buddy," I whispered to myself, asking some higher power to make everything turn out all right. "Everybody up!" I screamed over my shoulder at the sea of tents, no more than fifteen feet from the shoreline where I stood. "Bathing suits on and bring your flashlights!" At this point in the trip, the seven remaining campers went to bed knowing that they would most likely not sleep through the night. As we went to bed the three previous nights, each of us silently prayed for the madness to come to an end. It had been three long nights of confusion, with all of us desperately hoping for a peaceful sleep without distraction. Our trip had started brilliantly, but as night fell on the first night, our lives would forever be altered and the eyes though which we saw the world changed.
As I began to see the tired forms of the seven remaining campers struggling with their shoes on the way out of their tents, I dove into the water, grasping at the abyss of nothingness in front of me, desperately hoping that my hands would not find the body of Hatch. I swam until I couldn't breath, taking large sweeping strokes with my hands to cover as much ground as possible. When I needed a breath, I'd come to the surface and dive in another direction, splashing loudly to signal to the rest of the group that I wanted them to follow my lead.
Two frantic and frenzied hours later, our group sat on the shore, staring out at the empty expanse of water, disheartened by our inability to find our friend. We'd searched the water several times around the entire island, diving continuously until all of us had trouble even swimming back to shore due to exhaustion. Kelvin and Luke had also searched the full diameter of the rocky land, waking up the three groups from different campsites to help in our search.
"Bryan," Alex said softly, breaking the silence for the first time since our search came to an end. "What do we do now?" Alex and Hatch had been best friends since they were five, and had made the decision to come to summer camp together. I'm sure he had been contemplating what his life would be like without his best friend to go back to Philadelphia with. He would be the one that would have to walk through the halls at school and explain to his friends what had happened. He would have to pass Hatch's empty locker every day, wishing that it were filled with geography and algebra books. He would be the one that would see Hatch's parents around town and try desperately not to bring up what would surely be on all their minds. "Are we giving up?" he asked.
At first I didn't respond, but I knew that the longer I waited to answer, the less confident the entire group would be in finding Hatch alive. The truth is I didn't know what to do. He was my camper for god sakes. As I sat on the shore, chilled to the bone but too far in shock to care about the hypothermia which was quickly taking hold of my body, I couldn't help but ask myself the question that no counselor could ever fathom asking. "Could it be that I'd be responsible for losing the first camper in our camp's 85 year history? Was my worst nightmare unfolding before my eyes? How would I answer the endless questions his parents would frantically ask of me? How could I go back to camp with one less person? I didn't have the answers to these questions, or rather, I didn't have the heart to accept the answers that lay before me.
It had been a long four days so far on the Adirondack Lakes in New York. The first night had seemed like a fluke, nothing more than a case of sleepwalking. Hatch had never walked in his sleep back at camp, so I figured his body was just reacting differently to sleeping in a new place. I wouldn't even have known that he'd been walking in his sleep if I hadn't drank so much water that day or if the moon wasn't almost full. I had gotten up in the middle of the night, only to see the image of a person standing knee deep in the shallow water. If I hadn't already been going to the bathroom, I would have surely had an accident. The sight of a person standing in the water in the middle of the night is not something that I recommend to anybody sitting here tonight. As I crept down to the shore, I was confronted with the back of Hatch, standing knee deep in the water, staring out over the surface of the lake.
"Buddy, what the hell are you doing?" I whispered to him. "Hatch! Buddy!"
When he didn't respond, I hesitantly stepped into the chilly water and waded out to where he stood. When I touched his shoulder, he turned and looked at me. It wasn't the look of a person seeing a friend. It was a look of a person not really there. It was the look of non-recognition. For a few seconds, Hatch didn't know who I was. He just stared into my eyes. When he came out of it, he screamed, most likely thinking that I'd brought him out to the water while he was sleeping and was now preparing to dunk him or something.
The second night was a bit more peculiar, but nothing that necessitated evacuating Hatch or ending the trip early. Sure, the campers were a bit tired from being woken up by me to look for Hatch, but they had written it off as a weird experience that could happen to anyone. I didn't put two and two together when he repeatedly was found in the water, first knee deep, and then waist deep, staring absently northward. He was a little less shocked to see me when he came to in the water. It was a coincidence that even he could explain and wasn't too worried about. I'd set my alarm for three in the morning to make sure that he was all right, and when I saw his shadowed figure in the water, I quietly walked down to the shore and into the still lake.
The third night worried me beyond what I can put into words. I'd slept outside of his tent, making sure that he didn't get past me. I'd stayed awake until two in the morning, hoping that by adding some security to his sleeping patterns, he'd sleep through the night. I must have nodded off, because when I awoke, I felt that something wasn't right. I didn't have to look inside his tent. I already knew that he wasn't there. I unzipped my sleeping bag and went down to the shore. When I didn't see him in the water, I instantly woke the entire group up to search the surrounding area. They groggily walked around the campsite, shining their flashlights in every direction. It took almost a half hour to realize that Hatch was in the same general area as he had been the two previous nights, but the water was now up to his neck. My flashlight must have gone over the area where he stood ten times without seeing him. Due to the shallow lake, he was almost fifty feet out from the shore line, still staring out at the northern shore. I dove into the water, and swam out to him as fast as I could. As I got close, I could hear him speaking softly. He was repeating something over and over again in a low whisper, but I couldn't make out what he was saying. As I touched his shoulder, he once again turned to me with his empty eyes, but this time, he continued to mumble and it took twice as long for him to come out of his trance.
It wasn't until I met Bill, a local fly fisherman from Saranac, New York, on our fourth afternoon that changed my outlook on why this was taking place. I was openly frazzled by the events of the previous three nights, but we only had to make it through one more night and I already had a plan to keep Hatch in his bed.
"You folks been having a good time," he asked as I walked past the water's edge on my way to the outhouse.
"Brilliant time," I responded, trying to be polite but needing to keep moving towards the bathroom.
"Did you come up from the college?" He asked, turning away from me, most likely not seeing the desperate expression on my face.
"Yup, spent the night on Little Long Pond the first night and then at Slang Pond last night."
"Little Long Pond, huh?" Bill's voice changed tone from cordial to worried. "A Kei O Iho Wai Mahi Kahore."
"Excuse me, but I've gotta use the bathroom," I responded, not sure what the heck had just come out of his mouth. I'd heard stories about weird experiences people had had with locals in the area, from setting off fireworks in the middle of the night to whispering from the campsite edge loud enough to send the campers running into the counselor's tents. There was even a night that has only been spoken about by one counselor, and even he has trouble relaying the story without breaking down. But that's a different story entirely.
When I opened the door of the outhouse, Bill was standing on the trail, a mere two feet from the door, staring intently into my eyes. He was a large man, standing over six feet tall, with a huge belly hanging over his waiters. His arms hung at his waist, his hands clenched in fists. His fishing rod was nowhere to be seen. I contemplated screaming, but I could hear the campers yelling in the water, most likely wrestling and splashing, unaware of the fact that I was gone. I instantly began to search for an escape route from this uncomfortable situation.
"A Kei O Iho Wai Maki Kahore," he repeated once again, accentuating each syllable to get his point across."
"I'm sorry sir, but I don't understand what you're saying," I stated boldly, standing tall and pushing out my chest to look imposing. "Now if you'll excuse me, I must get back to the rest of the group. If I'm gone too long, they will surely come looking for me." Or at least I hoped they would, I thought to myself.
"Those in the woods who do not sleep," he now stated clearly, but barely above a whisper. "It's the Indian translation of what I've been saying to you. I shouldn't even have said it the second time. It is said that with each time it is repeated, the spirits are strengthened in their cause."
"A kei O Iho Wai Maki..." I repeated, but as I did, he lunged for my mouth, attempting to prevent the final words from coming out. I tried jumping to the side, but he was quicker than I'd expected. His left hand clasped tightly over my mouth and he wrapped his right arm around my head to keep me from pulling away.
"I'm not going to hurt you," he said quickly, "but please do not repeat those words again. I can promise that you'll regret it."
I stood in shock, staring at his intense eyes, a mere three inches from mine. They were bloodshot and looked as though they hadn't seen sleep in several weeks. Sweat was pouring down his face, and into his eyes, but he did not flinch to wipe it away.
"I'm going to let go now, but you need to hear me out, all right?"
I nodded my head in agreement, knowing that if I tried to run, he would surely be able to find me at some point during the rest of our trip. I figured it was best to get this over with, without involving the campers.
"You mentioned Little Long Pond," he started again, releasing his grip on my head and mouth. "That's what sparked my interest."
"You didn't have to attack me if you wanted to talk," I responded angrily, still trying to get my wits about me.
"Little Long Pond used to be the site of the Pokawana Indian burial ground. There were sixty Indians buried there in the late 1800's. The tribe owned most of the Adirondack Lakes region, traveling as they pleased, hopping from lake to lake to hunt and fish. But in 1866, an army of 500 men came into the region and claimed it as their own. Obviously, the Indians weren't going to give up their precious land and were prepared to fight to the bitter end." Bill stopped speaking, still unsure of my comfort level. "Are you still trying to figure out how to escape?" he asked.
"Please, continue with the story," I responded, slightly intrigued by this history lesson, but still wondering whether it had really necessitated a personal attack on a man trying to use the bathroom.
"The Pokawana tribe scattered across the entire region, splitting up in smaller groups to ambush the armies at night. They hid their families together in groups of sixty or so deep in the woods at various points on the larger lakes. The families had strict orders not to light fires or go near the shoreline until one of the warriors returned with news. If they heard one loud prolonged call, "Hatti Hatti Ha!" they could come out of hiding and know it was safe. If they heard it repeated twice. "Hatti Hatti Ha! Hatti Hatti Ha!", they were to remain hidden, because it meant that one of the warriors had been captured and the army were trying to weed out the rest of the tribe."
"The Chief of the Pokawana tribe, Magena which means "the coming moon", hid his family in the woods on the northern side of Little Long Pond and went off with a crew of six to fight the army. He left his eldest brother and oldest son to watch over the family. His four other children, wife, his two brother's wives and their nine children were part of the group left behind. All tolled, fifty-nine family members hid in the trees and amongst the rocks, trying their best to stay hidden and move very little. It was an easier task for the older members, but it was a difficult task to keep the younger children at bay and quiet for twenty-four hours a day. They failed to understand the dire consequences that would come from a capture by the army."
"Buddy," I interrupted, "I thank you for sharing this information with me, but I really must be getting back to the campers."
"Be patient," he responded. "I think you'll understand why I'm telling you this story when I'm through." He paused for a second; seemingly trying to remember where he'd been so rudely interrupted. "On the third day of hiding, Magena's family heard a distant call from the shoreline. 'Hattie Hatti Ha!' They waited for the second call, but when it didn't come, the children began to scream and sprinted towards the water. Magena's brother and eldest son tried to stop the children, wanting to take the necessary precautions before giving away their location. I must tell you that the children's screams didn't last more than fifteen seconds. They disappeared into the thick brush a mere fifty feet from the water's edge and then nothing. An eerie silence took control of the woods as the elder members of the family slowly walked towards the shore. They strained to hear the conversations of victory, but when none could be heard, the reality of their situation sunk in. They'd been tricked. Their hiding place had been compromised and members of the army most likely awaited them on the shore. For most people, you would expect them to run after coming to such a realization, but it was not the case here. The men ran ahead, machete's drawn and ready for a fight, but the elders continued to walk slowly with their heads held high, resigned to their fate."
"It was six days before Magena made it back to where he'd left his family. What he found would haunt him for the remainder of his days on this earth. It is said that as he searched the shoreline for signs of life, he repeated the words "A Kei O Iho Wai Maki Kahore." He was placing a curse on the region, vowing that he would wander the lakes in search of his wife, the only member of his family not accounted for. He would not rest, would not sleep and would not die until he found out what had happened to his wife and every member of the army had paid for what they had done on the northern shore of Little Long Pond."
I must admit that it was a good story that would be great to relay to the campers around the fire, but I didn't see why this man had gone to such aggressive lengths to make sure that I heard the entirety of his story.
"It is said that Magena searched the region for three winters before coming back to Little Long Pond for a final time. He'd hoped that if he waited long enough, his wife would come looking for him. When that day never came, Magena lost his will to live. It is said that on his first night back on Little Long Pond in the early days of spring, he stood knee deep in the water for three days, staring out at the Pond in some sort of trance, whispering "A Kei O Iho Wai Maki Kahore" over and over again. On the fourth day, he waded deeper in to the water, now waist deep, still repeating the curse in a low whisper. This went on for three more days. During this time, he did not move from his standing position. He did not eat, he did not sleep. His eyes looked glazed over, as if his soul had already passed into another world and only his body remained. On the night of the seventh day, Magena moved even deeper, now neck deep. Only his head could be seen above the surface of the water. Still he spoke those words without so much as a shiver or stutter. Over and over again, he continued to curse the region and the tragedy that had occurred on this shore three long winters prior. Three more days passed in this fashion until on the tenth morning, he was gone. He'd disappeared into the depths of the water, or so it was assumed, never to take a breath of air into his lungs from this world again."
Bill stopped speaking; letting his words sink into my mind. He must have noticed the shocked expression that now remained fixed on my face. How could he know about what had happened the previous two nights with Hatch? How could he come to that conclusion simply by hearing me mention Little Long Pond? I didn't believe in curses or ghosts and I certainly didn't believe the rants of an old fly fisherman on the shores of the Adirondack Lakes. But how could he have known?
"I saw one of your campers when you first paddled into shore for lunch. Looked tall, curly hair, sitting lazily in the middle. Have you looked that boy in the eyes today?"
Bill's question caught me off guard. I was still trying to make sense of how he could have known about Hatch and the last two nights of sleep walking.
"He's got the eyes of a person not truly there, if you catch my drift. He looks like he's seen something that you or I could never imagine. He doesn't have the relaxed expression that a normal teenager should have when camping with friends in the woods. You need to keep a close eye on that boy before he disappears before your eyes."
"Disappear?" I asked, now openly confused about my next move. "Where the hell is he going to go?"
"That's the thing; no one knows where they go. They vanish like Magena, never to be seen again. Richard Harris, Maggie Baines, Bobby Young. All people who came to lakes and disappeared without a trace. They had funerals, but there bodies were never found. You need to pull that boy aside and tell him that what I've just told you. You have to see if he's seen, heard or found anything while you were camping on Little Long Pond. If he has, you need to find out what it was and get him out of here. If he took something that wasn't his, he may be in more danger than you or I could ever imagine."
I didn't have a response to Bill's final comment. I simply nodded my head in agreement, stepped to the side of the narrow trail and began walking back towards where the campers were swimming. Bill moved slightly to his left, allowing me to pass with not so much as a parting word. He must have known that there was nothing more he could tell me. I had a decision to make, one that he could not help me with. I had to decide whether to take the chance of spending one more night on the Adirondack Lakes, hoping that Hatch slept through the night, or I could end the trip, forcing the campers to paddle through the night to get to our final destination. Neither option was very desirable, but I needed to decide before I made it back to the campsite.
I'm not sure when I made the decision, or if subconsciously the decision had been made for me, but by the time I returned to the campsite, I'd decided to finish out the trip as planned, sleeping here for the night and meeting our driver the following afternoon.
The sun was beginning to set over the western shore of the lake and as we all sat by the fire, eating our spaghetti, I had a feeling that everything was going to be all right. I'd decided while cooking that Hatch would sleep in my tent tonight, and I'd have one of the other counselors sleep on the grass just outside the opening of the tent. I'd also gotten a three foot piece of rope and would tie Hatch and my ankle together. If he woke up in the middle of the night, the rope would surely wake me and I could stop him from going down to the water.
Hatch took the news of sleeping in my tent as well as he could. He wanted to spend his last night on the trip huddled up with his friends, but he also understood our need to be cautious. The rope was half-inch thick climbing rope that we'd been using for a clothesline throughout the trip. I tied a tight bowling knot around my left ankle and Hatch's right. I draped my sleeping bag over my body, said good night to Hatch, assuring him that everything would be all right now, and desperately tried to fall asleep. I don't know what time it was when I awoke for the first time, but I do know that it was pitch black and I could hear the distant loons calling each other from either end of the narrow lake. My back was facing Hatch's and I strained to hear his breathing. When I didn't hear anything, I slowly gave my leg a tug towards the outer wall of the tent. For the first foot, I felt no resistance. I began pulling faster, and was happily met by the resistance of a sleeping, relaxed leg.
I must have fallen instantly back asleep, because the next thing I remember is opening my eyes with a start, and not really knowing why. I again, pulled my leg towards the outer wall of the tent. At the place where I'd met resistance the previous time, there was none. I kept pulling until my leg hit the tent wall and could go no further. Without looking, I reached down my leg to my ankle where the rope was securely knotted to my ankle. I traced my hand from the rope attached to my ankle to where it attached to Hatch's. The rope slid through my fingers, meeting no resistance whatsoever. As I came to its end, I was met with a nicely cut piece of rope, already fraying on the edges. Hatch had cut the rope to free himself, making sure not to wake me.
He was gone. The sooner I admitted it to myself, the sooner I could deal with it and help the campers work through it. Hatch, like the fly fisherman had said, had disappeared like so many others, never to be seen or heard from again. I would have to tell the camp director that I'd lost a camper, and would then have to relay the story of the Pokowana tribe to him, in hopes that he'd believe me and accept it as justification. We'd done what we could to find him. We'd searched the shoreline, the water and the entire island. He was always in the water, facing northward and we'd searched every section of water that faced northward. As we sat disheartened on the shore, still trying to process the previous two hours, our silence was interrupted by distant shouting. "Bryan! Come quick! Bryan!" The sound steadily grew louder until Pilcher, my assistant trip leader, came sprawling through the dense foliage just behind our tent site and down to the shore. At this point, we were all on our feet, expecting to see Hatch following behind, but our wishes were instantly dashed.
"I found him!" he gasped, leaning over and placing his hands on his knees. He took two deep breaths, before turning and disappearing back into the woods from where he came.
Ten of us followed behind, blindly grasping at the branches that slapped our faces as we fought through the dense forest. It wasn't a large island, but by flashlight, it felt like it took several minutes that I knew we didn't have to get to the opposite shore. Pilcher hadn't said what shape he'd found Hatch in; so as we ran, several images and possibilities were working their way in and out of my mind. As I came out of the brush on the other side of the island, my worst fears became a reality as my flashlight landed upon the form of a lifeless camper lying face up a mere three feet from the shoreline. He'd obviously been taken from the water because his clothes clung tightly to his body and his hair was pasted across his forehead. His eyes were open, but I could see that his chest wasn't rising and falling. His lips looked to be moving, but I figured it was just my flashlight playing tricks with my eyes.
"Oh my god!" was all that could be heard, as Alex repeated the words quietly to himself, paralyzed from fear of the sight that lay before him.
Instantly, I was on top of Hatch, checking his body for any signs of like. "One, two, three, four!" I shouted, pressing down on his sternum in rapid succession, before sending two long breaths down his lifeless throat. "Come on Hatch, come back to us!"
There was an eerie silence in the air. It was almost peaceful if I can actually say so without sounding insensitive. It was as if Hatch had already given in and gone to another place and was assuring us that everything would be all right.
The seven campers stood huddled around, quietly praying for some sign that their friend would come back to them. Hatch's face was dripping with moisture, and as I kept wiping it away, more would appear. I couldn't figure out what was happening, until I realized that tears were streaming down my face and dripping onto his face. As I wiped them away, more would come. I couldn't move away. I just kept wiping them away as they fell. I'd passed the point of knowing what to do. I felt helplessly alone and nothing I could do would bring my camper back to us. I kept pumping my palms down onto his chest in rapid succession, hoping for some signs of life. I looked at his face again, and saw his lips moving. I moved my ear over his mouth, but there was no sound. I checked his pulse and found nothing. His lips kept moving, mouthing the same phrase over and over again. It was impossible for this to be happening. He had no pulse for god sakes! Why were his lips moving? I moved my ear to his mouth once again, and still nothing.
It was over. I was spent both emotionally and physically. It was time to let him go. "I'm sorry buddy," I whispered, "it's time for you to go now. We'll miss you." I reached down and placed my shaking left hand over his eyes, closing them for the final time. "Goodbye my friend."
As I said these final words, I felt a hand lightly touch my shoulder, attempting to let me know that it wasn't my fault. As I stood to hug whoever it was that was closest, I turned my back on my camper one final time. As I did so, I heard the most amazing sound I'd ever heard in my life; a retching cough from the ground behind me... Hatch had come back to us.
About the Author
Bryan Partridge is an Assistant Professor at New England College
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