I was dead when they pulled me from the water, according to all witnesses. For more than fifteen minutes I had seemed to disappear without a trace.
All I can think about is how my heartbroken parents would have been. To have lost another child in the same way, at the same place.
When the infamous ‘Death Drop’ waterslide claimed my older brother’s life, plenty of people said the Danger Zone water park should close down for good.
The court disagreed, and ruled what happened as an unfortunate “freak accident”.
So they didn’t close the park, just the slide. For a while.
Three years later, when I was fifteen - the same age as my brother when he died - the Death Drop was remodelled. New and improved. Safer, but … “Hey, it isn’t called ‘the Death Drop’ for nothing!”. The risk of death and injury had apparently become a part of its edgy new marketing campaign.
My family’s grief boiled over as the callous injustice of our loss bubbled up afresh.
My parents were not alone in their outrage, but the campaign to prevent the Death Drop from reopening was a non-starter, the media value of my family’s tragedy already milked dry.
Meanwhile, all my friends were obsessed with doing the Death Drop, precisely because they were banned from going anywhere near it.
My obsession with it was growing, too, but for very different reasons from my friends. I kept having nightmares about my brother drowning. Tormented, both awake and asleep, by my visions of his last moments. I’m not entirely sure why I thought doing the Death Drop myself would help me exorcise them, but that was my plan.
It was my idea to break into Danger Zone after hours. I wanted to be there when it was dark and quiet and free of the crowds, and I knew I could enlist my friends to go with me if I framed it as an act of rebellion.
We crept into the park after midnight, deftly avoiding the security cameras and the guard. The emptiness of the park and the dim lighting on the great swirling aqua contraptions made the place seem other-worldly.
There was barely a sound. Until we heard the dog howl.
“Do you hear that?” whispered Chris, who was unquestionably the most nervous member of our posse.
It’s no secret that Danger Zone has always had a high turnover of night shift security guards. The place apparently gives off a “bad energy”, especially at night. There are no longer any farms or houses for miles around, and yet many of the park attendants have reported hearing sounds of animals “screaming” from inside the park. Sometimes a woman can also be heard crying and wailing out for help, but she can never be found.
Once this guy on night watch reported he was bailed up by a large, fierce “burnt” dog. When animal handlers arrived to collect the dog, they found the man collapsed, unconscious, just outside the main office. When they revived him he seemed physically unharmed, but a full search of the park and a review of security footage revealed absolutely no sign of the animal. That is, except for the sulphurous smell of charred hair wafting throughout the park. The security guard resigned the next day and nobody asked why.
People knew Danger Zone was “cursed” long before my brother died there. Because it was built on haunted land.
To make the reservoir that supplies the park with water, the developers needed to flood some of the land they bought. When they were purchasing the land, one of the residents was proving to be … difficult. Even when everyone around her had sold their properties, she refused to. No price offered could tempt her to relocate.
At nearly eighty years old, she felt a move to a new home was far too big a change to contemplate. Besides, there were her animals to think of. Where would she go with her five dogs, three cats, two retired dairy cows, four sheep and a duck?
The problem was solved when a highly suspicious fire ripped through her property and wiped out her whole animal family, during a rare trip away to see friends. The pungent smell of burning fat and flesh clung to the site right up to the day it was flooded.
With her home and her beloved animals gone, the old woman felt completely lost. So she walked into the newly made reservoir to be with them again.
Only weeks after Danger Zone opened, the stories began about the old woman's vengeful spirit causing havoc at the water park. Strange inexplicable events that only she could be blamed for.
A waterpump malfunction that flooded three of the slides with raw sewage.
An unrelated outbreak of gastrointestinal infections.
An escalating spate of injuries that culminated in a teenage boy’s death.
Nothing like a good supernatural scapegoat to take the credit for your negligence, I guess. “Freak accidents” can tend to happen when you skimp on engineering expertise.
“We need to find the pump first.” I announced as we neared our target.
"What?” said Chris, his eyebrows disappearing into his mop of ginger curls. “If we run the water, the noise will attract the guard.”
“We can’t ride the slide without running the water.” said his twin brother Jack. “How did you think this was going to work?”
“I thought we could do this without getting caught.” said Chris, annoyed.
“We can. For a while.” I said, spying the pump.
At the top, with the water running, I peered though the mouth of the slide. It was too dark to see anything below.
“I don’t have a good feeling about this.” Chris insisted.
I ignored him, and pushed through my own hesitation, positioning myself for launch.
A moment later came the whoosh of the world dropping away, as I was hurled in every direction through the winding tube in pitch darkness, before being plunged into the watery deep.
Unchanged. No epiphanies or shining revelations about my brother’s fate.
For a moment I just let my body float in the cool stillness of the aftermath.
Then my stomach knotted up when I realised I was not alone in the water.
As my eyes started to adjust, I saw other pairs of eyes. Glowing red, like fiery embers, out of blackened skulls through hollow eye sockets.
Patches of scorched, putrified hide clung to the grey bones of each of the gruesome skeletal creatures who were now surrounding me. Though they differed in size and shape, they seemed to have a sinister collective focus.
My heart started to race as I sensed they were slowly closing in on me.
I tried to make a desperate sprint away from them, up towards the surface, but the more I pulled myself towards it the further away the surface seemed to be.
Suddenly, I could no longer move my body, and I felt myself drifting back down to the bottom as all the glowing sets of eyes lasered onto me.
When my feet landed on silt I came face to face with a ghoulish, grey faced woman. Her black, sunken eyes were fixed on me as she reached out her rotting hand. The bones of her fingers poked right through her wafting, translucent skin.
She crushed her hand hard into my chest. The force of it made my ribs bend. I tried to scream, struggling to breathe now it was finally occurring to me that I couldn’t breathe down in this place.
The woman drew her face right in close to mine. She opened her jaws wide, as if to swallow me. I tried, in vain, to find the strength to pull away.
I felt my blood starting to freeze in my veins and my vision started to blur.
I fought to resist the water that was threatening to fill my lungs, to hold onto the last of my breath.
The woman reached for me again. She clutched my jaw between her bony fingers and peered at me.
Then she turned my head up, towards the surface.
From above, a beam of light shone down, growing brighter and brighter.
She pressed both her hands against my chest and violently pushed me away from her.
Suddenly I realised I was no longer in the water, but lying beside the pool where the Death Drop dumps its victims, at the centre of a drama besieging paramedics, police and my traumatised teenage partners in crime.
When I plunged into the water from the slide, it was the last my friends saw of me for at least the next fifteen minutes.
Their frantic scanning of the pool with the torch we’d brought along produced no sign of me, so they had to seek help from the security guard we’d all been so keen to avoid.
Even with the floodlights on, nobody could see me until my body floated to the surface.
Every person there swears that I was dead when they pulled me from that water.
I showed no signs of life for a full thirty minutes afterwards, that’s what they tell me. Though the paramedics continued their efforts to revive me, they were anticipating the physician’s formal declaration that I was deceased.
But then there was a miracle. Out of nowhere, I started coughing and spluttering and forcing the water out of my airways. Breathing. I came back to life.
I survived the Death Drop. Unharmed.
To be totally honest, I’m not sure what to make of my near death experience.
Sometimes I think maybe my encounter with the underwater woman and her creatures was my subconscious trying to process my experience of being resuscitated - the CPR that nearly broke my ribs; the mouth to mouth technique to force the air back into my lungs.
Other times I ponder over neath death accounts from others who report having had out-of-body experiences. Watching themselves from above, or going to another plane somehow. I wonder if I could really have gone to another dimension or encountered someone from beyond the grave.
One thing seems clear to me, whether the old woman was an invention of my psyche or not. In the end, she didn’t want me to share her watery grave.
Greed. Carelessness. Apathy. Profit at any price. These are the ingredients for most horror stories. Just the banal everyday kind of evil. Horror with a human face.
After her life was flooded with grief, to the point she could no longer survive it, the old woman became some kind legendary monster from another realm, the supernatural source of a deathly curse. Somehow she became the one to be feared, not those who had so little regard for life they destroyed hers.
In coming face to face with this fearful spirit at the Bottom of the Death Drop, I released myself from my own curse, forced to see that embracing recklessness will do nothing to ease the pain I feel over losing my brother. But I can now also see now that I am not doomed to eternal darkness, and I will survive this no matter how much it may sometimes seem otherwise.