Contest #99 winner 🏆

93 comments

American Drama Friendship

                         The Men And The Lake

We could talk about the storm.

We could talk about the wind and waves.

We could talk about the boat.

We could talk about the life jackets.

We could talk about the men and the lake.

We could talk about why they went so far out from shore.   

We could talk about the beer and whisky.  

We could talk about how they ended up in the water.   

We could talk about their struggle.

We could talk about what they talked about.  

We could talk about friendship.

We could talk about luck. 

We could talk about the storm

Like often happens

In Montana, it came on fast.

The conditions went from ideal to

“I don’t know, man” in the time it took to down a tall can of Rainier. 

Dark clouds gathered on the horizon like a herd of buffalo.

With a crack of thunder, the herd stampeded.    

The storm trampled them in minutes.

Leaving them stunned.  

It left them floundering for hours. And then, it passed on.

Across the lake and over the mountains.

Leaving the two men in its wake.

Swimming for their lives.

We could talk about the wind and waves.

Blustery doesn’t cut it.

It truly went beyond bluster.

Wind blew water spray that stung like bees.

Waves grew to three feet, hurtling ever faster.  

Rain fell in sharp angles, like shards of glass from a broken sky.

Beneath them, there was action of a different kind. The fish finder on their dashboard

Showed there were monsters lurking not far below. Huge fish on the rise.  

The boat rocked in the waves, like a bronc rider.

Up and down, from crest to trough.

Did they simply wait too long?

To reel in their lines?

We could talk about the boat.

It was a small fishing boat.

Half covered with a tan canvas top.

A boat of white with black trim, named Calypso.  

Twenty-two feet long with a fish finder and 200 HP Mercury outboard motor.

Equipped with an electronic fish finder and net.

Rented for seven days – Monday, Sept. 12 through Sept. 19.

Found abandoned on Wild Horse Island.

In the boat – one life jacket, one fishing rod (line reeled in), various tackle including 

Lures and spoons, normally used when jackrigging for deep lake trout.

The boat was in working order. No engine failure.

And still with fuel.

We could talk about the life jackets.

As standard,

The boat was equipped with life jackets.

One for each person on board. Two.  

One jacket was found in the boat when it was discovered,

Washed up on Wild Horse Island. Abandoned.

Authorities speculated that both men

At some point left the vessel.

In a raging storm.

With just one

Life jacket.

Why?

We could talk about the men and the lake.

Friends since third grade,

They grew up on Wyoming Avenue, five houses apart,

Throwing rocks and snowballs and insults at other kids, and each other.

And making themselves crack up.

Two friends. One serious and competitive, the other funny and who-gives-a-shit.

Connor and Mason. Also known by many as Connie and Mace.

After high school, Connor went to college and Mason joined the Navy.

They drifted apart for a decade, then nature (or fish, or fate),

Brought them back together.

They reconnected over a shared love of angling, drinking, and sports trivia.  

It had been eight years since they last fished together,

on Great Bear Lake in Canada.

Mason wanted to catch one more big fish before he died, he said, laughing.

He wanted them to go back to the Great Bear.  

Connor said it was a brilliant idea and wondered if Mason was sober. He seemed lucid.

Mason assured him he was. Connor responded that the proposal was sound,

But Great Bear Lake was not possible. Not this year.

He flashed on an alternative instead.

How about Flathead Lake? Northwest Montana instead of Northwest Territories.

Go in mid-September when kids and fish are back in school.

There are huge lake trout in Flathead, Connor told him.  

Mason had never fished Flathead.

He bit and the trip was booked.

Flathead Lake is an

Immense, breathtaking body of water,

Just forty miles south of Glacier National Park.

Born out of the ice age from the glacial waters of ancient Lake Missoula.

Near 30 miles long and 17 miles wide, with a depth of up to 370 feet, Flathead is one of

The largest freshwater lakes in the nation. Home to millions of fish.  

Lake trout, bull trout, pike, whitefish, yellow perch.

And, according to legend,

One monster.

Sightings of a strange, undefined creature have  

Been surfacing since the late 1800s. It looks like a dark, elongated eel crossing the water,

Those who claim to have seen it say. Others think it’s something else.  

A huge, rare white sturgeon.

Never before caught.

The week Connor and Mason

Were at Flathead was sunny and warm.

Days in the low 80s. Water hovering around 60 degrees.  

Warm enough to swim in, which they did off their dock

In mid-day, when fish took a siesta.

The conditions were perfect.

Until they weren’t. 

Turns out,

The monster wasn’t in the lake.

It was in the sky.

Lurking.

We could talk about why they went so far out from shore.

They say,

If you want to catch the big ones,

Or the monster, you have to go out farther.  

Out where it’s deeper, into the heart of the lake.

On the evening of Sunday, Sept. 18, the last day of their fishing week,

Connor and Mason decided to do just that.

They went out beyond other boats,

Casting their last call.

Hoping for luck.  

We could talk about the beer and whisky.

Found in the boat,

Sitting undisturbed on the dash,

Were two open cans of Rainier beer.

One half full, the other with just a few swallows left.

Behind the captain’s seat was a cooler containing four unopened cans of the same beer.

And a pint of Bushmills, three fingers left.

Whether the two men

Were impaired,

Is unclear.

We could talk about how they ended up in the water.      

Connor saw it first.

The monster of a storm,

Forming on the horizon, coming their way.

Wind whipping, Connor yelled to Mason to reel in and hurry up.

And put on your life jacket. Connor was wearing his.

Mason looked at the storm blowing their way and said, Aww, shit! My damn luck!

They began reeling in their lines.,

Connor told Mason again to put on his life vest.

Mason said he would once he had his line in. He stood mad, disconsolate, downcast.

Suddenly, in a jolt from the blue, came a strike to Mason’s line.

A hard yank that pulled line zinging out,

Causing a startled Mason to lose his grip on the rod.

It flew into the lake ten feet from the boat. Mason, eyes wide,

Leapt into the lake and swam three strokes

To his pole and grabbed it.  

He tried to swim back,

But was too weak for the waves

And made no progress.

Connor leaned out

Over the boat

And yelled at the top of his lungs,

Drop it! Let it go! Get to the boat! Swim!

Mason paused, then let the rod and fish go and swam for the boat. The Calypso.

But it was no good. Waves carried him out farther.  

On instinct, Connor dove into the lake to save his friend.

He reached Mason in five seconds.

Told him to hang on and Connor would swim them to the boat.

But the waves were too much. Mason too heavy.

Connor realized he must swim to the boat himself.  

He gave Mason his vest.

Said he’d get the boat and come back.

Then Connie struck out for the boat,

Head down, swimming and kicking furiously.

But as he rose upon the crest of a wave and strained to see, he saw the boat,

With its canvas top acting as a sail, carried by the gale, getting further away.

Connie stopped, turned around and saw Mace,

His face white as sea foam,

Both hands holding onto the life jacket around his neck,

Bobbing in the waves, thirty feet back.

He swam to his friend and said it was no use.

Boat was gone. But rescue would be coming, he told Mace.

Search boats will find them soon.

He tried to make himself believe it.

Mason had taken on water

And was coughing.

Trying to keep his head up, treading water.

Connor struggled as well, dog paddling, facing into the waves,

Riding them like an aqua roller coaster. Neither said a word. Mason in shock,

Connie gasping, trying to grasp the enormity of the crisis.

Two men in the water in the middle of Flathead Lake.

One life jacket. Sun sinking.  

Caught in the jaws of a

Snarling storm.   

We could talk about their struggle.

The rain and wind lashed their faces.

Thunder boomed and lightning ignited the sky.  

They each held on to the life jacket and

Struggled to stay afloat.

They realized it wouldn’t hold them both up. Only one at a time.

Connor was the stronger swimmer. He let Mason have the life jacket.

He stayed within arm’s reach, treading water.

Without the life jacket, Mason would have soon sunk.

His face was a ghostly pale.

They held on,

Talking about options,

Ways they might survive this,

If they could last through the night, and be seen

The next day, when a search boat or plane would find them. Alive.

And they would be in the news, go on TV, have drinks bought for them.

Yes, it could happen. No, it will happen. They were sure of it.

Within an hour, the storm and thunder rumbled off

Across the lake and over the mountains,

Leaving in its wake two shaken,

Shivering men.

The waves had dropped a foot,

But the lake still heaved and they felt seasick.

Connor was cramping a bit in his left calf.  

He reached down and massaged it.  

It was near 8:00 p.m.

Darkness was about two hours away.

Water temperature was about 56 degrees, not low enough

To risk hypothermia, but their body temperature was dropping.

Mason couldn’t stop trembling.  

Connor tried to keep him engaged.  

Hey Mace, should we swim for it?

Nice try, Con. You know I’d never make it. You’d hold me back too much.

That’s it, buddy. Gimme some shit.  

I never shoulda listened to you. We shoulda gone to the Great Bear. How far is it to shore?

About eight miles I’d say. Piece of cake.

 I can’t do it, but you could. Swim for it, I’ll wait here.

 I’m not leaving ya. Stay together, our chances are better.

We’re dead men floating, you know that.

No, I don’t! We can survive this!

Don’t lie to me, man. Not now.

Float on your back, breathe easy.

I can’t. I never could float.

Yeah, you can.

How long?

Until they find us! Idiot!

You’re the idiot.

Am not.

We could talk about what they talked about.

At first they shouted.

Yelled back and forth as loud as they could.

Just tread, just tread, face the waves, keep your head up!

They kicked, swam, and swayed arms to stay upright.  

Then came the cursing. Then the crying. Then the apologizing.

I’m so sorry, so sorry, so sorry. It’s my fault. My bad.

Shut up, Mace!

Why did I have to do it?

Go after that damn rod and fish. You shouldn’t have come after me, Con.

Remember asshole, it was my idea that got us in this spot. My idea to come here.

Yeah! It’s all your fault. Flathead. Great idea, friend. I feel better now.

Good! It’s nobody’s fault.

But ya gotta admit it was a sweet-ass fishing rod.

They both laughed.

And cried more.

As night fell,

They talked less,

And dealt with their own feelings. Sadness. Remorse.

Connor kept looking toward the shore, searching for a light.

The water was colder, but the wind had died down for the night.

They both knew the key question and debated it.

Could they last until tomorrow?

Or would they disappear?

Out of sight. 

Forever.

True to his nature,

Mason tried to joke about their plight.   

I never would’ve guessed I’d die doing something I loved.

Who knew fishing for monsters was bad for you? I didn’t. Did you?

This wasn’t in the brochure.

 Shut up, we’re not gonna die.

I always thought it would be something boring like cancer.

Stop it. Or I’ll strangle you to death. Quit talkin’ like we’re goners.

Soon enough, my friend. Don’t worry.

I’m not gonna spout some cliché claptrap,

Like I’ll see you on the other side.

Thanks. That might kill me.

They recalled memories, old friends,

And the early days on Wyoming Avenue.

Loved ones were almost too painful to talk about.

But they did,

And made promises

To each other.

Sometime in the middle of the night,

Mason asked Connor to sing something. Anything.

When Connor asked why, Mason told him of a quote he’d read.

Something Voltaire said:  Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.

Connor thought for a moment.

Mason went on.

Sing me a song, Con.

Weakly, Connor began to sing.

It was unclear at first, but then got louder.

Let’s go bears, let’s get on the ball, let’s show them, we’re the best of all.

It was their high school fight song. Mason finished it with him.

With spirit, and with royalty, we’ll go marching on to victory.

They laughed and tried to high five.

Mason joked,   

Seriously, dude? Our fight song? God, you’re lame to the end.

The insults warmed them both.

Later, past midnight,

Over four hours in the water now,

With the moon beaming down like a flashlight,

They got a little deeper. They discussed life and death, faith and prayer.

Mason mentioned their boat, the Calypso.  

He told Connor about the name’s origin.

In Homer’s Odyssey,

He wrote of a sea princess named Calypso, a child of the gods.

She was immortal, would never die. It made her deeply sad.

She envied mere mortals who knew

They would perish.

Their lives had more meaning.

Every decision was huge.

Life was more significant because time was limited.

Calypso wanted to feel that. But she couldn’t.

Her life would never end.

Mason said he’d hate to live forever.

He said from now on he’d quit taking life for granted. Appreciate it more.

Connor said me too, buddy. Me, too.   

But I’ll miss you.  

We could talk about friendship.

Around 4:00 a.m. now.

Connor was spent. Legs cramping. Muscles burning.  

They had been in the water for over eight hours.

The moon was descending over the mountains and they could hardly see each other.

They had been trading the life jacket, to give Connor some rest, but Mason could no longer 

Keep himself afloat so he wore the vest most of the time.  

Connor tried to conserve energy floating on his back.

He knew he couldn’t last long, treading.

Not without a life jacket.

Mason was worse off.

He began to cough sharply. Over and over.

Are there sharks around? I’m spitting up blood.

Connor saw blood and mucus on the life vest. Said to hang on. Sunrise was coming.

But Mason was done. His face gray. Eyes half mast.

He knew he was dying.

You take the life vest. You can make it. I can’t.  

No, Mace! Keep it on! Just a few more hours! Sun will be up and we’ll be found!

No. I’m finished, man. Done. I want out.

Stay with me, Mace!

In the dark,

Mace began to unclip his vest.

He slipped out of it and pushed it toward Connor.

Connor yelled to put it back on. Mace began to swim, toward the mountains.

Connor swam after him and tried to put the life jacket over his friend’s head,

But Mason went under. Connor pulled him up holding him tight, the vest between them.

Mason pushed free and vigorously shook his head. Tears dropped into the water.

Love ya, man. See ya on the other side.

And with a slight grin he said,  

Sorry.

And then he closed his eyes,

And his body went under the waves,

Into the dark.

Connor could only watch.

He had no more energy. Couldn’t move.

He let his friend go and put on the life jacket.

Then, lay back, looked at the stars,

And let it all be.

We could talk about luck.

It was a fluke they say.

How he was found.

Floating almost unconscious.

In the center of a vast 200-square mile lake.

Once their fishing boat was discovered on Wild Horse Island,

A search was launched. A plane spotted his orange vest and alerted Search & Rescue.

It was late afternoon when he was pulled from the water.

Still breathing after 21 hours floating.   

He considers himself the luckiest man

On earth. And water.

When questioned, Connor said,

It wasn’t fate,

Just luck.

I had it this time.

Mason didn’t.

But my luck was because of him.

He’s the reason I’m alive.  

I don’t know

What else to say,

Other than we all have our

Fair share of bad luck and strife.

In fishing as well as

In life.

We thank him for the interview that led to this account.

June 24, 2021 22:09

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

93 comments

Ane Ryan Walker
15:25 Jul 02, 2021

I absolutely loved this story. Although tragic, the characterization was spot on. Bravo.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Shea West
14:59 Jul 02, 2021

This read like a beautifully tragic monologue.. This was beautiful Tom, and I so adore the style in which you wrote this. Congratulations seems like a silly word to use for a piece this lovely winning. Fantastic is more like it!!! Looking forward to reading your future stuff.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Amaranthine Sky
14:47 Jul 02, 2021

Wow, congratulations on your very well-deserved win! The formatting of this story and the whole general feeling of it all was pure emotion. I loved every bit of this. I read the other comments below the story and when I read that this is based on a real person/incident made me feel for these characters even more. Amazing job with this, and congratulations!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Tom D
14:31 Jul 02, 2021

Congratulations on the well-deserved win! The friendship between Connie and Mace was realised beautifully.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Ashley Cramer
14:31 Jul 02, 2021

Wow, this was amazing!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Angelina Tran
14:17 Jul 02, 2021

Congratulations on your win! It was very much deserved.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Pasupu .
14:15 Jul 02, 2021

Congratulations on the win!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Scarlet Scribe
17:47 Jul 01, 2021

Rain fell in sharp angles, like shards of glass from a broken sky. [Love this!] As an ex-Navy wife, I question why Mason could not swim better. I remember my husband telling me of his Great Lakes training and how much they stressed swimming. He almost ended his tour of duty before it really began because of his lack of swimming skill. Except for that and causing me to shed some tears, I can find nothing wrong with your story.

Reply

Tom Vandel
22:13 Jul 01, 2021

Scarlet - thank you so much for reading it. And thanks for your input on Mason being a Navy vet who's a poor swimmer. You are right. I hadn't thought of that. It's based on a real person and real incident...but I've changed it to have him join the Army (not as good a swimmers). Good idea.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Samira Echadli
22:55 Jun 30, 2021

I like it so much. The way you wrote the stroy is fantastic. It made me cry realy.

Reply

Tom Vandel
22:14 Jul 01, 2021

Thank you so much, Samira! It's written about a friend of mine who did drown in a similar incident - in the Great Bear Lake of Canada.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Jeanette Harris
05:40 Jan 29, 2022

I can picture it two men one drown, sorry to hear about lost, two friends going to lake I can see it as read.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Lore Ax Horton
18:39 Oct 31, 2021

I read this story a few days ago, and I've been thinking about it ever since. Thank you for sharing.

Reply

Show 0 replies
18:00 Sep 23, 2021

This was a great piece, and after reading the comments and noting that it was based on a true life event it deepens the appreciation for me. I can visualize the two men just talking and trying hard to be strong for each other. Thank you for writing this. I loved the weaving of the poem into the story too.

Reply

Show 0 replies
12:24 Sep 17, 2021

Man, this was INCREDIBLE. The way you structured it, the vivid descriptions, “ Rain fell in sharp angles, like shards of glass from a broken sky.” The way you kept us right with Conor and Mason with their struggle all through the night, I felt such a pang of loneliness thinking about Conor being on his own after Mason sunk below the waves, it really made me remember why I love writing and the things I wish I could do with it! Where did you learn to write, man?

Reply

Tom Vandel
20:34 Sep 18, 2021

Thanks, DS! I appreciate it. This story kinda wrote itself. It's based on a true incident that happened to a friend (I changed the location and ending). I just happened upon the format and decided to try to make the sentences into waves. I am self-taught as a writer but have written as an ad copywriter for about 30 years. Keep writing, friend!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Benjamin Bejar
13:46 Sep 06, 2021

thats cool

Reply

Show 0 replies
Writers Block
19:52 Aug 04, 2021

Moving story....good prose

Reply

Show 0 replies
S Gabriel
19:34 Jul 23, 2021

Wow. It's written as if you were present. The friendship between the two men is achingly realistic; your own emotion over the event comes out in your writing. It is written with care and respect. You have honored your friend's memory.

Reply

Show 0 replies
04:18 Jul 23, 2021

Wow, I have to admit I was hesitant to read this story as the style was so different then anything I've ever read but your writing pulled me in and kept me glued untill the end. I'm so sorry this was based on personal tragedy but thank you for sharing your story in such a beautiful and touching way.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Hadiya Rudolfo
01:11 Jul 22, 2021

Thank you very much for sharing this story. My condolences for your loss. I hope that this exercise helped in processing those emotions. Also, the chosen form was unexpected, but it lends itself nicely to the subject matter. I am glad that you won Contest #99 with this entry.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Anna Chen
20:34 Jul 19, 2021

This was lovely and sorrowful, immersive in the time and place of a lake in Montana, all the more poignant that this was drawn from reality. I had not expected the format when I first clicked on this story and thought that would throw me for a loop, but in reality it enhanced the storytelling of this moment. Wonderful writing, thank you for sharing!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Honest Poet
12:02 Jul 19, 2021

A huge piece of cake that drew tears from my eyes. I can't wait for the next one.

Reply

Show 0 replies