It was the last day of Summer camp, and the final group of kids had just left on the large bus. The dust and sound of its engine could be seen and heard in the distance. A bell rang across the camp, and the nearly five dozen teenage staffers let out a collective roar of exuberance. The next few hours were completely free time to relax and catch up on sleep.
Joana Halverson was 18, and had let out as Assistant Water Sports Director for the Summer. With the departure of the kids she was looking forward to a long, leisurely swim alone on the lake.
She knew that the water should be checked for moccasins, but felt no inclination since there were no longer any kids to watch over. There had been no sightings the entire Summer, and she had personally checked that morning. She disregarded the sign that read No entry unless lifeguard on duty, and dropped her towel and sandals by the beach.
At first it looked like she was alone, but then she saw John, the Water Sports Director. He was on the dock, facing away from her, holding a large rod and a two-way radio. He was bent over the dock and looking into the water, talking to someone. She briefly wondered what they were doing.
Joana waved to John, and then turned away, wading into the water. If she had stopped for just a moment, if she had looked back, she would have seen him turning and saw his frantic movement, followed by waving and shouting. But there was no time for that.
The pain came, instant, radiating, like a hot ember pierced through her body. Her right foot was on fire. The pain shot up past her leg and all the way to her spine, enveloping her neck and head. A puncture, she had stepped on something. She could feel what was best described as a pulsing throb through her veins. As a child she had stepped on a rattlesnake once, and knew something about venom and its reaction on the bloodstream. This was worse, ten times worse.
With the pain came paralysis. Her body seized up, and she gasped for breath. Joana fell over into the water, face down. That’s when she could feel something large wrapping around her leg.
A whistle blew overhead and Joana finally registered the sound of splashing and yelling coming from the dock. But it was a faint whisper. The thing, and it was a thing, something large and enveloping, pulled at her body. In an instant she was yanked backward, and then pulled along the bottom of the shallows toward the drop-off.
Lake Parabula was known as the deepest freshwater lake in Virginia. It had been a scuba diving test ground before being purchased by a local Baptist church as a Summer camp for kids.
As she was pulled down she could remember the fact that staffers relayed to each of the kids on their first day of orientation. A number stood out in her mind. 352 feet. That’s how deep the water went at its lowest point in the lake. In fact it was so deep that you could see the difference by looking at the lake on a satellite map. This thing was making a hasty retreat for its murky home in the center of lake.
The shallows disappeared under her and the deep black hole opened up. That’s when the third phase of the venom struck her. Only this time it was no longer painful. Peace came over Joana as as her paralysis combined with semi-consciousness. She couldn’t fight it, and she was strangely accepting of what lay ahead. She was going to die, and for some reason she was ok with that. She imagined her life ahead of her, gone in an instant. Thoughts flooded through her head. Thoughts of school, her career ambitions, the promise that she and John would start dating right after camp, her twin sister Jane sleeping in the cabin across the lake, her her long dead parents and her promise to them the night before they died. All of this flashed before her, and she knew that, despite being surrounded by water, tears had formed in her eyes.
That’s when she felt a sudden shift. The paralysis and pain that completely entombed her abated. It wasn’t gradual, at once she had control of her mind and body again, and the thing let go. She felt the large object slither off her leg. Terror suddenly came flooding back, drove her forward. She kicked and flailed as hard as she could, groping for the surface above her. Joana was a strong swimming, training for a triathlon in the Fall. She judged the distance above her to be no more than 20 meters, but reaching it proved difficult.
The entire event prior had taken less than ten seconds from first sting to the thing letting go of her, but the journey back to the surface took nearly a minute. If Joana hadn’t spent most of the Summer swimming she might not have been able to make it. As it was she could see black spots clouding her vision as she clambered upward against the black abyss. Her entire stroke and kicking was off, but she had no time to register why.
The surface came all at once. Joana shot upwards, gasping for breath, coughing and sputtering.
“There she is, I see her!” A voice shouted to her left.
“Grab her under her armpits.”
“Be careful, hold her head.”
She could hear a dozen voices around her, and she struggled to speak. Seconds later she was partially dragged back onto the sand. Her feet resting underneath the brackish water.
She looked up at the earnest faces and tried to yell. She wanted to warn them, wanted to get away. John was closest, and was trying to prop up her head with the towel. That’s when the screams started again.
Joana instinctively pulled up her legs to protect against that thing, whatever it was in the water. It must be coming back, it was going to try and get her again. That’s when she saw it. Her right foot was gone. It had been cleanly amputated at the calf. Only, it wasn’t some sort of rip from an animal. It had been cauterized, and smelled of burning flesh and rotting vegetation. The thing had gotten its first meal.