I don't normally speak of this, but Anthony Brandt's "My Grandmother: A Rite of Passage" reminds me in a most troubling way of a strange experience I had one night while walking along the banks of Nomahegan Pond. For the most part, I read through the essay without being affected, for I have never experienced death in the intimate way the author had. One line, however, stood out in the swirl of my consciousness: "What we had to face was a rapid deterioration into senile dementia and the rise from beneath the surface of this smiling, kindly, white-haired old lady of something truly ugly." This led me inescapably back to that memory of mine.
It was a lovely night, if somewhat dark, the moon hidden behind clouds, when I first noticed the disturbance in the serene surface of the pond. Curiosity led me, like the proverbial cat, to peer through the glow of light cast by the backlit fountain. This was my first mistake, for it hooked my gaze on a peculiar downward pattern of bubbling just beyond the fountain.
I inched closer. This was my second mistake, for it drew me close enough to see that something was rising from the twisting whirlpool. I could make out slick greenish-brown tentacles. One of them reached up out of the miniature maelstrom, which was growing larger by the second, and grabbed onto the mechanism of the fountain.
Finally, then, I did something right. Out of some primal fear, I whirled around and flung myself to the ground, hiding my eyes from what was emerging. This may have saved what was left of my sanity. Time stretched and seemed to tear like a pair of cheap stockings as, behind me, endless bubbling and slurping noises split the peaceful night. I wondered if I was the only one who heard them. Perhaps there had been others, and the sound was the noise their souls made as they were torn away and shoved down some unspeakable maw.
After an interminable time, the noise abated, to be replaced instead by a stench. I didn't quite recognize it at first, for I'd never truly smelled its like. Eventually, I remembered a time I'd walked through a garden, looking for the source of some awful odor, and found a sick and dying rabbit at its center. This was what death smelled like, indeed what everything in the darkness below the thin, perilous sheen of life that we think of as reality smelled like.
Then came the worst part. Something slimy and rubbery tapped me lightly on the shoulder. A scream wrenched itself from my paper-dry throat without my permission. The tentacle, for that must have been what it was, hurriedly retracted. But then a voice slid into my brain, bubbling as if just beneath my neurons.
Pardon me, it said, but is this the town of Innsmouth, in Massachusetts?
"No," I stammered, keeping my eyes shut tight even though my face was turned away from the source of the voice. "This is Cranford, New Jersey."
Oh, said the voice. I'm very sorry for disturbing you, then.
Then there was a wretched splashing noise, and the reek of death vanished. The night became once again what it had been before.
I never encountered this monstrosity again, but every so often, I pray for the people of Innsmouth, Massachusetts--if indeed they are people.