An excerpt from Chapter 3: Under the Platform
Jules found that Viola Davidson had the ability to pull him out of his funk. Of course, she had no idea that anything was wrong with him, but it was easy to forget about Grandpa Gordon when she was around. He had been so confused that first morning she had come to the house. His mom and Grandma Lillian had been reluctant to let him open the door and whispered fierce warnings not to broadcast Gordon’s disappearance to the neighborhood. Not like he needed the coaching. He didn’t want to have to talk about Grandpa anyway. But then he was chastised for being “cold” and “aloof” to the girl who freely admitted she was checking up on them for her nosy mom. He was having a hard enough time processing his own feelings about Grandpa Gordon without them telling him how to act.
But Jules was glad that Viola had decided to come back to Ingress Eaves that day with her quick wit and easy friendship. With nothing better to do and no one else their age to hang out with, they met up every day from that first swim. They had hiked in the nearby foothills, kayaked on the lake, and one night laid out on the Mannings’ back lawn, big as a soccer field, to watch a meteor shower and tell ghost stories. The second afternoon when Jules had shown Viola his bookcases, she had let out an approving sigh and said, “This is… lovely,” and started pulling her favorites from the shelves until she sat surrounded, dreamily turning pages to look at the illustrations.
Mostly, they swam. Viola was happiest in the water and Jules just liked to be around someone who didn’t remind him of Grandpa Gordon.
Jules and Viola lounged on the Mannings’ dock one afternoon, eating sandwiches and drinking lemonade that Harriet had brought down to them, when Viola looked down at her hand and gasped.
“Oh no. My ring. Jules, it’s gone!”
Jules looked at her naked right hand and vaguely recalled there being something there before. He cast his eyes quickly around the dock. He saw nothing from that vantage, so he put his head on the wet boards to try to see if the tiny object would stand out. No ring. Meanwhile, Viola shook out towels and searched the pockets of her bag.
“I think I took it off at the platform this morning,” she tilted her head back and let out a sigh of disgust. “I can’t believe I forgot to pick it up again after our first race. My fingers felt swollen and it was cutting into my skin.”
“Don’t worry, Vi. I’ll swim out there and look for it. It might still be on the platform.”
She raised her eyebrows. “I’ll come with you.”
Out of breath from the swim, they arrived at the platform, but had no luck. The ring was gone.
“It must have fallen off. We’ve gotten on and off this thing all morning,” Jules shrugged.
Viola looked crestfallen.
“It can’t have gone far, though. This is a lake, not the ocean. We can dive for it. It’ll be fun.”
“It was my mother’s ring. It’s been in the family for ages. It would be awful if I’ve lost it.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll find it.”
Jules didn’t like the idea of searching for the ring at the muddy bottom of the lake, but he put on a good face and dove. Viola came along behind him. The closer they swam to the bottom, though, the murkier it became. Jules ran his hand over the muddy lakebed, but felt nothing except silt, rocks and underwater grasses. Even with his eyes wide open, the grasses and water blurred together in a green fog. His lungs demanded fresh oxygen and forced him to kick up to the surface. Viola was just ahead of him.
“Ugh, it’s foul down there, isn’t it?” Viola huffed.
“I think we need some gear. Why don’t you catch your breath and I’ll be right back.” Jules turned and swam back to the boatshed for goggles and a pair of flippers.
When he got back, Viola had pulled herself up onto the platform and drawn her knees to her chest. She offered to help, but since there was only one set of swim-gear, they had to take turns. Since he was already in the water Jules volunteered to go first.
He plunged beneath the surface, kicked hard to the bottom, and scanned the lakebed. Nothing sparkled or shined to distinguish itself from the swirling mud and swaying weeds. His body was prone to float upwards and he had to kick hard to keep near the bottom. After breaking for air, Jules discovered on his second trip down that he could stay at the bottom by holding onto the chain that anchored the platform. He thrust his hands into the mud, kicked up again for a breath of air, and swam down to do it all over again.
“Should I have a go now?” Viola asked.
“No, I’ll give it a few more tries.”
“Ok, but just say when you’re ready to switch. I don’t mind.”
Jules took a deep breath and headed down again. He decided to look systematically, from the chain outward, and brushed mud away from bottom of the chain. It seemed the metal link attached to the lakebed itself. The anchor is probably just buried in mud, Jules thought and grasped the link with one hand while trying to clear away the muck beneath it with the other. Just as he suspected, he felt something solid underneath his hand, but was out of breath by now and needed to resurface.
“No, no… give me a few… more tries,” he panted. “I’ve got a system.”
“Alright, you be the hero.”
Jules rolled his eyes at her and took another big breath. Down again. He reached the bottom link and furiously pushed mud away from the platform anchor. Silvery metal appeared. But the metal stopped beneath his fingers, being only a few inches wide and surrounded by wood. Wood? Jules’s lungs burned, but he wouldn’t surface until he had found the edges of the anchor, uncovering a large, flat disc. He kicked to the surface again and gave a glance over his shoulder to the anchor. From that little distance, he recognized what he had uncovered.
Could it be possible? But that was too weird. What would something like that be doing there?
“Ok Viola, hop in. I want to show you something.”
She smiled. “Did you find it?”
“Um, not yet.”
“What have you been doing down there?”
“See for yourself. Here are the goggles.” He tossed them to her and they landed on the surface of the water.
Viola splashed in. She strapped the goggles around her head. “What is it?”
“Just come see.”
When they reached the bottom, Jules gestured to the disc attached to the platform’s chain. Viola swam closer to it, ran her hands around the wooden circle, and put her face just above the small metal area. After a minute, Jules needed air and swam up. Viola was right behind him.
“But Jules,” Viola said as soon as they’d gotten fresh air to their lungs, “that’s a trapdoor. Why is there a door on the bottom of a lake?”
“I know. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen,” Jules panted.