Wednesday, March 30, 2016

THE TRAGEDY AT BLACK ROCK

Lumen Janes walked ahead while her sisters lingered behind. They were engaged in a deep discussion on whether strappy sandals were in or out. Lumen was fourteen, two years younger than her twin sisters, and not at all interested in strappy sandals or anything else to do with fashion. She was a t-shirt and cut-off shorts kind a gal and she knew in her heart that she would remain that way.

“Come on, you guys, stop lollygagging, the day is getting away from us.”

Sara and Jean looked up.  Lumen was up ahead in the distance with her hands on her hips, leaning to the right, left toes tapping. They laughed at that stance, but it seemed to work every time and they quickly closed the distance, remembering that they were wearing their new bikinis and the Manning boys would be at Black Rock, the neighborhood swimming hole, to bear witness as to how swell they looked in their barely there bikinis.

It was the first day of summer vacation and every year since as far back as their parents and grandparents remembered, it had been a tradition for the entire community of Black Falls to gather at Black Rock to celebrate the beginning of summer.

As Sara, Jean, and Lumen entered the parking lot, they could hear their father at the podium making his annual speech regarding drinking, boating, and safety in numbers when hiking or swimming. They ran to the far side of the beach and found their mother, who had laid out a blanket for her girls. They plopped on it, giggling, and patiently waited for their father to finish his speech.

Twenty minutes later, the barbecues were lit and the local DJ was playing the usual rock summer classics like The Boys of Summer, Walking on Sunshine, and School’s Out. Five hundred people had assembled on the beach at Black Rock and summer was off to another great start. Little kids were being supervised by the community swim team and young adults gathered in small groups to play their acoustic guitars while teenaged girls like Sara and Jean were showing off newly purchased beach wear. The seniors were being served cool lemonade under the shade of a tent, while housewives exchanged recipes and the husbands tested the new barbecues. It was fine summer day.

The first big splash of the season was made by one of the Manning boys, Trevor. He and his brother were the first to climb Black Rock, which wasn’t really a rock at all, but rather a cliff in the side of a mountain with a drop of about thirty feet. No one really measured it, but it was about the same height as the platform used for competitive diving at the community swimming pool. Everyone turned to look just as Brandon leaped from the cliff and into the water. Minutes later, both boys were on the beach, high-fiving their peers, while mothers cringed and fathers proudly grinned.

Lumen watched Sara and Jean make their way to Trevor and Brandon to show off their bikinis and by the looks on their faces, those boys seemed to really like those bikinis. The smell of hot dogs filled the air and the hot summer sun was getting to Lumen so she got up to get a Coke and a hot dog. She saw her mother and father talking to the elders and decided not to bother them, so she took her hot dog and drink and went back to the blanket to enjoy the sun and bathe in the fact that she wouldn’t have to do any more homework for three whole months.

After she ate her hot dog she got out her latest Joe Hill novel and began to read. A few hours later, the bus for the senior citizens of No Lonely Hearts Retirement Village had arrived to shuttle the elderly back to their cozy apartments. Lumen watched as the bus drove off. She sat up and noticed that the crowd on the beach had diminished. At the other end of the beach, a small crowd had gathered. They were on the pedestrian bridge, looking and pointing in the water. The older teenagers were still swimming in the deep part of the river, close to the cliff, and some others were diving into the water. The little kids were having lunch at the food tent, as were most of the adults.

Lumen got up and started walking over to the bridge when a high pitched scream came from the water. Another scream came from the deep end, followed by another and another, until it seemed like they were all screaming. Immediately, the swimming hole looked like a bubbling stew of people bursting to get out of the water. The older kids who had been climbing the cliff to dive took to the trail to the bridge for safety. More screams came from the water. The DJ noticed the commotion, turned off the music, and rang the emergency bell.

Lumen’s mother ran over and grabbed her by the shoulder, and asked what was happening, but all Lumen could see were arms flailing and legs splashing. They scanned the area for Sara and Jean to no avail. Lumen’s father came over to see the panic, but nobody could see what they were screaming about. Lumen’s mother was fearful her girls were in the water possibly drowning so she made an attempt to go into the water. Lumen’s father caught her by the arm and pointed to the girls talking to the Manning boys at the edge of the woods and she stopped.

Now that everyone’s attention was on the water, the DJ stopped ringing the bell. About a hundred kids were now running out of the water with parents and relatives helping everyone out. The last of the kids to come out of the water were bloody and that’s when the screaming and running and panic really did set in and everyone stampeded toward the parking lot and toward the cars, and to where ever they could run to get off the ground. The stage where the DJ had been turning the vinyl was jammed. The tables in the food tent were buckling under the weight of the people and every car was full. There were even people on top of the cars and in the backs of the pick-up trucks. The people who had walked, or had taken their bicycles and ATVs had peeled out of there without looking back. The barbecue section was a smoking mess with meat burning, blankets and chairs were toppled over, and paper plates and cups were littered over the entire beach area.

By the time the Chief got to the scene, about two-thirds of the people had been able to escape. The others, mostly the kids who were in the water and their families, were the ones who were now piled on the stage, and were trapped on the picnic tables. Lumen and her mother and father had made it to the stage and Sara and Jean were able to get away with Trevor and Brandon.

The Chief had been notified of the crash probably near the same time the kids were getting bitten, and rushed over to cancel the festivities, but unfortunately it was too late. Now, he had to contend with the hundreds of Water Moccasin snakes that had been spilled onto Highway 101 in last night’s crash. And Highway 101 happened to be located directly above Black Rock. The swimming hole was the perfect hideaway for them.  All the water play must have provoked the mass and they were slithering all over the beach, hissing at people and wreaking havoc.  

The Chief stayed in his car, but got on the bullhorn and advised everyone to hang on and to be as silent as possible so as to not attract any snakes, and that help was on the way.

The Chief worried that the kids who had been bitten could possibly lose unconsciousness and he wasn’t sure if the poison was fatal; he did not wait to find out. He had his team use the squad cars as a bridge to the food tent and to the stage. Ambulances had arrived and were waiting to treat the injured.

In the panic to get to safety some of the children, including Lumen, had fallen off the stage. The Chief’s men rushed over in thick, fire-safe wear with their shotguns and blasted away nearby snakes. They picked up the children and got them to the waiting paramedics.

Lumen’s father, who was one of the town’s councilmen, used the bullhorn to help keep people calm while the Chief and his men helped everyone to safety. For some reason, the snakes stayed near the water and sand and were uninterested in getting on the asphalt of the parking lot.

The traffic jam that had developed during the rush to get away was now cleared up and people were heading home. The people who had been bitten were feeling the effects of the poison and were being transported to the town hospital with their families in tow. Lumen held onto her mother as the ambulance sped away. Her legs were a bloody mess from several snake bites and tears ran down her face as the pain began to increase.

Antivenin was available and was transported to the hospital. Within a few hours most of the victims improved while others seem to deteriorate. By nightfall, two of the victims, one of them being Lumen, succumbed to their injuries; their families devastated.

Days later, the whole town turned up at the funerals and mourned the loss of the two children. Exterminators removed most of the snakes and set up camp to deal with the mass. Luckily, there was paperwork regarding the transport and they knew exactly how many snakes they had to catch. It would take time and it was unsure if they would catch them all, since most of the snakes found their way back in the deep pool of the river, but they were determined.


The following year two small statuettes were erected and placed on the beach at Black Rock, but the community never again celebrated the coming of summer.