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Groundwater

Fear what is underneath

By Vanessa GonzalesPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 14 min read
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Groundwater
Photo by Zach Reiner on Unsplash

Date: 11-15-00 9:03 AM

From: “Allison Oxenberg” <[email protected]>

To: “Deborah Chang” <[email protected]>

Hey Deb!

Are you and the rugrats staying cool in good old Phoenix?

I don’t miss those 115-degree days AT ALL, but I’ve got to admit I could’ve used some extra heat this week. It’s freezing here so close to the coast, and this house’s insulation is shit. I guess that's what you get when you buy a place that’s been sitting empty for ten years.

Anyway, I’m wearing two pairs of socks and I still can’t feel my toes, but we’re going outside in a few minutes to start digging up that old half-dead garden I told you about. Michael agreed to help, but he thinks it’s a waste of time. He says November’s too late in the autumn to plant anything new that’s worth looking at, and there’s no point gardening when the front door is still jammed shut and the downstairs toilet won't flush and we haven’t even found the good coffee mugs yet.

I told him he can stay inside and unpack boxes if he wants to, but those plants are going if I have to dig them out myself. The chrysanthemums and the foxgloves are overgrown, and you wouldn’t believe the size of the thorns on the rose bushes, or the way their branches are gnarled and twisted and tangled together. They look like something out of Alice in Wonderland. Off with your head!

(All the plants freak me out a little bit, if I’m honest. They’ve just been neglected so long that they’re...really big, and wild-looking, like they ought to be growing somewhere besides a garden. Not even Wonderland, some sort of alien planet. I didn’t tell Michael that part.)

OK, we’re going to head out and get the spades from the shed now. Look out, weird garden, here come the Oxenbergs.

Thinking warm thoughts,

Allie

Date: 11-17-00 5:42 PM

From: “Allison Oxenberg” <[email protected]>

To: “Deborah Chang” <[email protected]>

Hey Deb,

Eighty-two degrees isn't bad for November! Glad to hear you’re not dying of heat exhaustion at home. I’ll bet you are dying to hear about how our mission in the garden went, though.

See what I did there? Haha.

Well, you know what we're like when we play board games, and apparently that applies to gardening too, because we'd barely broken the ground before we started competing over who could dig the fastest. Stupid? Probably, but it did help us finish most of the beds around the house in a couple of hours, except for the rose bushes. It's going to take more than a spade to get rid of those. Maybe a machete, or a flamethrower.

I had to take a break once we'd got to that point, because my hands were starting to blister even through my gloves. Michael was still all right, though, so he decided he was going to go after the daisies that had migrated out into the middle of the grass. There weren’t any blooms left on them at this time of year, but you could still see that's what they were.

(They spread, you know.)

Michael pried out a clump or two, and then he said “Hey Allie, come and look at this!” I went over to see, and there was a little pool of water there in one of the holes he’d made. Then we looked into the other hole, and there was a pool forming there too, sort of oozing in from the bottom.

I thought that was strange, and so did Michael. I mean, we are near the ocean--you can smell that salty-seaweedy scent from the porch if the breeze is right--but we’re not that close. And this water couldn’t have been salt from the ocean anyway, or it would have killed the lawn. Wouldn't it?

I said to Michael, don’t you think you ought to fill the holes in, and he said that they would just turn to mud if he did, and maybe if we left them open, the water would evaporate. That made sense to me, so we went back inside to warm up, and with one thing and another, we stayed in for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

But here’s the really strange part. When I went out again yesterday morning to see how much digging we still needed to do, not only had the water not dried up, it had risen all the way to the top of the holes and spilled out into the grass. It was very still though, like a mirror. I could see my face in it when I leaned over to look, and the sky behind me. Maybe that means it’s stopped coming from wherever it’s coming from?

I hope so. Now Michael couldn’t fill the holes in with dirt even if he wanted to.

Staying dry,

Allie

Date: 11-21-00 1:31 AM

From: “Allison Oxenberg” <[email protected]>

To: “Deborah Chang” <[email protected]>

Hey Deb,

Sorry it’s taken me a while to get back to you. A lot has been happening.

I think last time I said there were two holes in the ground, right? Now there are five. Another one appeared on Wednesday afternoon, and then two more sometime overnight on Thursday. Neither of us had done any more digging, they just sort of...sank in and filled themselves up on their own.

Right after we found them, Michael had to go to work, so I spent part of Thursday searching online for anyone who would know what was going on. It absolutely sucks not having any people here to ask. I called three lawn care companies before someone told me that what I needed was a groundwater protection specialist. The more you know!

Anyway, it turns out that the closest groundwater protection specialist teaches environmental science at the college two towns over. Yesterday he came and told us that the water is from an underground aquifer, and the holes are called seeps.

I don’t know about you, Deb, but that word sounds fucking ominous to me. Seeps. It rhymes with creeps, the way the water comes up out of the ground.

I asked the groundwater protection specialist how much water was down there, really, and he said he would have to look into it. He said that it was normal for a seep to form if you dug in wet earth, and I told him that the ground hadn’t been wet when we started, and that we hadn’t been digging in all the places where the seeps were, either. He didn’t have an answer for that one. Then I asked him if it was safe for us to stay in the house, and he said it ought to be fine.

It’s a good thing he did, because I doubt Michael would be willing to leave over a few holes. You know how stubborn he is. Remember that time we all went camping and he slept under a tree because he didn’t think the tent was really roughing it?

Watching out for holes,

Allie

Date: 11-22-00 10:08 AM

From: “Allison Oxenberg” <[email protected]>

To: “Deborah Chang” <[email protected]>

Things are getting weirder by the hour here, Deb.

Last night I had a dream that I was standing outside on the back lawn, looking at the seeps. I could see the water inside them, and the moon reflected in each one, all silver and bright like coins. Then they started to spread, and their edges stretched out towards each other, until they touched and joined and became a single huge pool, and all those reflected moons turned into one moon that winked out and disappeared.

I woke up in bed, under the covers, but I was cold, Deb—so, so cold. I kicked off the blankets and the hems of my pajama bottoms were all clammy and wet, halfway up to my knees, as if I’d been standing in a pond. I had a scratch on my arm too, all the way from my wrist to my elbow, that looked like it had come from one of the thorns on those awful rose bushes. It was bleeding—oozing blood, the way the water leaked into the bottom of the first few holes—and it stung like anything.

I didn’t go outside then. I didn’t want to while it was still dark. It would have been too much like my dream. But when morning finally came and Michael was up and making coffee, I opened the back door and what do you think I saw? Three more goddamned seeps.

Were there five in my dream, or eight? I can’t remember.

We’re going to watch them today and see what happens, and if it gets any worse we’ll go and stay in a hotel for a while. I don’t care what Michael says.

Keeping a lookout,

Allie

P.S. Seeps doesn’t just rhyme with creeps. It also rhymes with sleeps. I thought of that while I was waiting for the sun to rise.

Date: 11-23-00 03:16 AM

From: “Allison Oxenberg” <[email protected]>

To: “Deborah Chang” <[email protected]>

Deb are you awake? If you are, please call me. I dont want to call you at this hour and wake up the kids, but something bad happened. Its really bad Debbie please call. Please.

Allie

Date: 11-23-00 08:37 AM

From: “Deborah Chang” <[email protected]>

To: “Allison Oxenberg” <[email protected]>

Allie,

I’ve been trying to call you for almost an hour. Are you there? What’s going on?

If I don’t hear from you within the next 15 minutes, I’m going to find a number for your town and call the police to come around and check on you and Michael. I don’t mean to overreact, but I’m worried and it’s the only thing I can do from here.

Please call or email me back.

I love you guys.

Deb

Date: 11-26-00 2:01 PM

From: “Allison Oxenberg” <[email protected]>

To: “Deborah Chang” <[email protected]>

Dear Deb,

I started to call, but I think it’s better if I write it all out while it’s fresh. That way I can read back over it later and remind myself that it was real. I hardly believe it, even now.

Before I start, though, I want to say thank you for calling the police. It’s what I would have done myself if I’d been thinking clearly, but under the circumstances…

Well, here’s what I remember.

After I told you about my dream, I said we were going to keep an eye on the seeps and make sure they weren’t getting any worse.

(I did say that, didn't I? I think I did.)

So all day long, we tried to act normal and do the things we would do on a regular Saturday, but every hour or so, one of us would get up and look out the back door to see what was happening. Nothing ever was, so in the late afternoon I called the groundwater protection man again. His name is Robert Lake--I forgot to tell you that earlier. I guess he almost had to end up working with water somehow, having a name like that.

I explained the situation to him, and said he was still going over the results of some samples he’d taken, and not to worry about it until the next day. Since he'd reassured us, Michael and I ate dinner and went to bed, but I couldn’t sleep. The scratch on my arm was all hot and sore, and every time it chafed against the sheets, it reminded me that I might go wandering again. I was pretty sure that's what I'd done the night before, even if it was in a dream.

Finally I got up and went to the window. I don't know what time it was by then, but it must have been two in the morning at least. I pulled the curtain aside and looked down into the garden, and it was like being back in my dream for an instant. There were the seeps—eight of them now—all spreading and joining together into one terrible pool, but a black pool, because there were clouds covering the moon.

I turned around and bolted for the bed, and I grabbed Michael and shook him so hard I’m surprised he didn’t have a heart attack right then.

He said “What is it?” and I pulled him over to the window and showed him what was happening. Even as I was saying it, I knew he was going to want to go outside, and of course he did, and of course I followed. He opened the back door and stepped out onto the porch with me right behind him, and then he let out a yell and grabbed one of his hands with the other one, as if something had stung him.

It was the rose bush closest to the porch, sending one of those thorn-loaded branches out like a feeler towards us. I saw it, Deb! I saw it move in the dark, searching for us, trying to slash at us again. And when it did, the pool made up of all those seeps started to seethe and boil, and to flow in our direction, until it was lapping at the very foot of the porch steps.

I don’t think being stubborn even crossed Michael’s mind at that point. We both beat it back inside as fast as we could, slammed the back door, and locked it. The front door was still warped shut, and you can imagine how much I wished by then that I'd spent my time having it repaired instead of digging up plants.

I emailed you, and then Michael said maybe we’d better go upstairs, to be safer. So I went with him, but I kept thinking about what Robert Lake had said about the aquifer and wondering what would happen if the ground under the house just liquefied completely. What good would it have done us to be on the second floor if it had? Not much, I bet.

Right then is when you started calling. I wanted to answer, I swear I did, but I’d left the handset for the phone in the kitchen, and I was too scared to go down and get it. All either of us could do was sit there on the edge of the bed and listen to it ring and ring, until it stopped and everything was dead silent for a minute or two. No wind, no neighbor's dog barking, nothing but our own breathing, fast and scared in the dark.

At last we heard a siren outside. That was the cop you sent, and I’m so glad you did, because when he came, the pool had gone...only now there were eleven seeps scattered around the lawn instead of eight.

They spread, you know. Like daisies.

We’re in a hotel now and I’m emailing you from Michael’s laptop, and I’m going to have to wrap this up soon because he needs it for work. We won’t be going back to the house; that much is decided. I’ve already arranged for the movers to repack the things we'd unpacked so far, and we’ll find someplace else to stay temporarily until we figure out if we’re coming back to Phoenix or finding another place here.

(Coming back to Phoenix doesn’t sound that bad actually. I grew up with those scorching hot days. I could get used to them again. But we’ll see what happens.)

The official story is that the ground under the property became unstable due to a previously unknown aquifer. What’s not in the official story, though, is that in the last few days they’ve found dozens and dozens of animal bones inside those seeps, rabbits and foxes and squirrels, and some bones that may be human. Years worth of bones.

I think the real story is that while they were left on their own, those wild plants had formed some sort of relationship with the aquifer, down there in the dark underground where roots grow and water flows, and together they lured things there to drown and make the soil richer.

I don’t think they liked us digging them up and cutting them down.

I think it could have been our bones in there.

Still grateful to you,

Allie

fiction
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About the Creator

Vanessa Gonzales

“Rule one, you have to write. If you don’t write, nothing will happen.” - Neil Gaiman

When I'm not writing, I take photos. You can see them here.

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