“We should go somewhere.”
These words very rarely proceed anything that’s a good idea. This is especially true if the speaker is:
- Drunk, or
- A teenager
In this case, the three of us were the latter. It was about midnight, we were having a (sort of) sleepover, and, with too much Silent Hill and boredom on our brains, we decided to go on an adventure.
I’ve mentioned before that I love abandoned buildings, but they had an unfortunate tendency to be a bit thin on the ground in suburban Long Island. Fortunately, spelunking was almost as fun.
And before you point out that caves are probably harder to find than abandoned buildings, I know. What there are a ton of, however, are sewers and drainage culverts. Just… Just follow me on this.
Picture it. New York, the late nineties. Three kids dodge late-night traffic, duck under a curled-up corner of a broken chain link fence, sneak into an enormous rainwater reservoir, and are immediately confronted by–
“Holy shit, that’s a lot of frogs.”
“Yeah, it is.”
“Like, a lot-lot of frogs. I’m afraid I’m going to step on — Is that part of a femur.”
I could barely make out the tiny sliver of white under the tight beam of my flashlight. It was about as long as half my forearm, broken at one end and rounded on the other in a sort of unmistakably leggy way that suddenly had me wondering if this sleepover was beginning to turn into the plot of Stand By Me. With frogs.
“Why is there a femur?”
The darkness around us replied with a soft, ominous honk.
“It’s not a femur, it’s too tiny.”
“Is so. Look at it.”
One of us, I don’t remember who, flipped their flashlight up to look around. While navigating frogs and trying to perform amateur forensics in the muddy dark, we’d managed to miss one very, very important fact. One that, considering this was a rainwater reservoir, we really should’ve seen coming.
Geese. A lot of them.
They’d formed a kind of semi-circle around us, maintaining a respectful distance while they sized us up warily. Even the smallest members of the group, sill gangly and covered in baby down, appeared to be watching us with suspicion in their beady eyes and murder in their tiny hearts. Had we intruded on some kind of goose funeral? Was the bone part of their tiny, avian memorial service? Or, as I was beginning to suspect, the remains of the last bunch of jerkwad teenagers who decided it was a rad idea to sneak into a goshcrapped rainwater reservoir in the middle of the night?
“I’m gonna go catch one,” one of my friends declared, crouching down and beginning to sneak toward the group of birds with outstretched hands.
“What? No. No, not that. That’s a really terrible id–…”
I didn’t even see my friend move. I saw a human body vanish into the feathered throng, and, just when I had begun rehearsing the explanations I was probably going to have to give to the police (for my friend’s disappearance) and my mom (to keep her from kicking my ass), saw a pair of hands thrust upward. And clutched in them, flapping furiously, was a gosling.
“I got one! I got one!” The triumphant shout echoed off of the muddy walls of the basin. The frogs, as if knowing better, began a mass exodus into the water. “I got–”
One thing I’ll say about myself, I have a very finely honed fight-or-flight response. Years of having panic attacks at absolutely nothing have primed me for the moments when a sudden burst of adrenaline and made dash for your life are truly warranted. Like, say, when your friend just kidnapped a gosling in full view of eighty or so full grown, fully enraged Branta canadensis that don’t seem particularly inclined to discriminate between which of the three teenage humans they were suddenly hell bent on beating senseless.
“Oh shit… Oh holy shit. Oh shit oh shit oh shit ohshitoshitoshitoshit!” I chanted as I ran, unsure if I was even saying the words aloud. My sneakers slipped in the mud, flecks of the stuff splashing all over my skin and clothes as I ran, arms pinwheeling wildly as I groped through the dark. The honks and flaps grew louder, turning into a crescendo of unholy fury that threatened to flatten everything in its path and what the hell were we even going to do with a baby goose if we had one, anyway?
My friend let the gosling go. It flapped awkwardly, landed in the mud a few yards away, and waddled off toward the main group ruffled, but unharmed. Somehow, even my friend had managed to escape without suffering several broken limbs and a trepanation-by-goose. Without speaking, we found ourselves ushered out of the reservoir by the ominous honks and soft hisses of eighty-odd irritated geese and decided that it was probably a much better idea to find an empty playground to haunt instead.
Days later, we returned. Try as I might, I couldn’t find the femur or any other tiny skeletal remains. Had it been stolen by a stray cat? Buried under days of accumulated mud and goose droppings? Or had the geese chosen to move their burial ground/dispose of the evidence of their crimes?