“Why was she naked? She didn’t have any swimmers…
Why was I naked? Because she was…
How did she drown? Look, officer, I don’t know how many times I can tell you the same story – we got really high, we went for a swim. I got out, she stayed in. Next thing I know, she was thrashing about in the water, and I was standing there, dumbfounded. I’m not proud of that. She disappeared for a while underwater, no, I don’t know how long for, then I was dragging her ashore…
Yes, I tried CPR. Yes, the ambulance took it’s time.
Are you going to call me every time something weird happens there?
I know you don’t believe me…
The truth? Yes, yes it is.”
No, no it’s not. At least, it might not be… I mean, we were really stoned and…
Her name was Adalheid, although she introduced herself as Heidi – I didn’t know her real name until the inquest. She was German, on a backpacking fruit picking adventure holiday. Her family was aristocratic, but now disgraced – or similar, her words weren’t quite right, and I didn’t want to press, you know, just in case…
We met at a youth hostel. She was heading north. I was heading north. We got along, and I had a spare seat.
The reason she didn’t have a swimming costume was that she’d lost it in a bet. With me. And so I’d looked for a good opportunity to take advantage of that – a secluded, quiet swimming hole.
Wow, it sounds creepy like that, but I can assure you that it was mutual frivolity.
Someone told me about the Silent Pool, on Nymboida River. He went on about how it was some sort of geological phenomenon – river flows underground or something… It wasn’t the detail I was after. So we packed a lunch, some booze, some weed…
We swam. Naked. I thought we were alone,so I wrapped my arm around her. She said something in German, I don’t know what, and a moment later, I don’t know, I want to say ‘singing’ but it wasn’t, just bubbles rising to the surface near the rock face.
Now Heidi was worried about crocs – we seem to lose a tourist to them every year or so, between them and the drop bears – but I’d assured her we were too far south, but right then, I had my doubts, and we both edged towards the shore.
And then a head popped out of the water. I know it’s wrong, but I want to say it appeared to be blue, translucent blue skinned, with almost clear white hair. Now you’re half imagining a Smurf, but that’s wrong too…
But she had dark hair, light skin, a Teutonic face that made Heidi’s look like a long faded copy.
She had deep blue eyes that could’ve launched the limpid pool comparison cliche if it hadn’t already been centuries old.
She spoke to us, and I noticed we were no longer moving away from her – the opposite, actually…
I don’t know what she said. I don’t think it was English, but really, it could be just that my mind was struggling to attach a body to that face – of water cascading off curves, of…
“Can you…” The words were wet, liquid, honey slipping off a golden tongue. She took Heidi’s hands in her own. “Can you… take me home?” Their fingers locked, their eyes locked.
“Back to the old country.”
“Yes.” Their hands separated.
“You’ll need a container – and you’ll need to be careful…” A smiled crested her face. “I’ve been here so long… it will be good to return home.”
“What the hell?” Even then, I wasn’t sure that my brain was processing things properly.
Heidi touched my shoulder.
“She’s an undine.”
“Like a vampire or a zombie?”
“What? No, idiot, a water spirit, a, a nymph,” she cast about, “or like the ‘Little Mermaid’.”
“So why does she have a voice?” I admit, I’m a little sketchy on the plot – I saw the Disney version, I think, ages ago. “And wait, a mermaid? So she has a tail? How does she, you know?”
She gave me a look that is hard to describe, but you don’t need me to.
“Okay, fine, if she’s undying or whatever, how did she get here?”
She was beside me, and put a hand on mine. It felt like I was melting and freezing all at once, like rain dancing over me, like…
“Some time ago, a man caught me, brought me here – you were digging holes in the ground, looking for something, and he wanted me to help him find it in the river. He was blinded by greed, he wouldn’t listen when I told him I couldn’t help him – anything that isn’t water is just ‘not water’ to me. I tried. I managed to find him gemstones though, and it was enough.”
“Why didn’t you escape?”
“He always kept a part of me in his water skin. I couldn’t go too far from it. Eventually, others killed him for the riches that I had brought him, thankfully they disposed of his body in the river. It washed down and got caught in the rocks – and slowly, oh so slowly, it broke down, and I was able to get out.”
“But not go home.”
“No. I long for home, I ache for home.” She touched me again. “You’ll help me?”
“Of course… but, well, things have probably changed since you were… last home…”
I gave her a crash course on the previous hundred and fifty years – I wanted to help her, the best way I could, I wanted to do all I could for her, and most of all, right then, I believed every word she said.
“We’ll take you back.” said Heidi, startling me. She had gotten the esky from the van. “And if it’s changed too much, we’ll find somewhere suitable for you.” She held the esky out, as if she would climb in.
She dipped it under water, and filled it with water.
The other she was gone – and I shook my head to clear it. Heidi was making her way to the shore.
“This is going to make us rich.” She said.
“We have an undine, a genuine water spirit.” She rested the esky on the reeds of the bank, took out her water bottle, emptied it, and filled it from the esky. “She can find us jewels, and gems, and I don’t know… I’ll think of something.” She shook the bottle. “Are you listening to me?” She said to the bottle. “I am your master now!”
“But…” you said you’d help her, went through my mind. Help what, the water? The talking water? The…
She tipped the esky over.
“Find me something pretty.” She said to the bottle.
The water moved around me, lapped at the shore. I spotted something in the shallow.
“Look,” I waded towards it, “a ring. Must have been lost by a kayaker or something.”
She dumped the water bottle on dry land, then came in. She bent down to look at it, reached out to pick it up.
I don’t know precisely what went through my head – but it felt wrong. Sure, bad trip sort of wrong, but wrong all the same… We’d, I’d, made a promise…
I pushed her over.
She floundered, there in the shallows. And I watched, dumbfounded, as she fought the water, as she thrashed about, as she drowned centimetres away from the surface, centimetres away from the shore line. Centimetres away from me.
She stopped moving. The water stopped moving.
I finally started moving. I carried her to the shore, pulled her from the water. She was cold and blue and empty. And I knew that she was beyond saving. At least, that’s what I knew then.
I picked up the bottle. Held it up.
“Look,” I said to the bottle, “I’m sorry, we’re not all bad, but a lot of us are. You’re probably safer here.” And I stepped into the water, opened the bottle. Emptied it. Rinsed it out until I was sure that none of the original water was in there. Did the same for the esky. It made sense then, it felt like it made sense then. “I…”
But I had no words – I still don’t.
I tried CPR.
I dragged Heidi’s body into the van, drove until I had mobile reception, called for an ambulance, the police came.
Coroner’s report showed no signs of a physical struggle, which cleared me legally, but they knew something was off about my story.
When strange things happen out there – generally a drowning, unexplained stories of being dragged under… they hassle me about it. Local legend says it’s Heidi’s ghost, angry, at the fate that she suffered. Maybe.
But I don’t think that’s true.
But I don’t know.