Cardon Community Pool
I kicked the door down—an act that made me feel just as badass as I’d imagined—and we filed in.
The Cardon Community Pool had been abandoned for about 20 years at the time. Back in the day, it served as a community venue, gym, and pool. The rumor was that it closed down after a drowning, but I don’t know if that’s true.
Before I go on, I’m sure you’re wondering, is this a story about a pool that’s haunted by the spirit of the kid who drowned there? God, I wish that was the case. Reality is far weirder and more horrifying than that though.
Anyway, being the bored 11 year olds that we were, we broke in, looking for some place to dick around.
I think there were five of us at the time, Bradford Reynolds included.
We explored the building, full of paint cans, theater props (for some reason), tons of trash, and broken furniture. The pool itself was quite the spectacle. Its deep end had to be at least twenty feet deep. It was insane. And it was filled up with crap.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Steve said to the group.
“That your mom’s a babe?” someone said.
“No, perv—this could be our own private swimming pool!” Steve finished.
So that’s what we did.
We spent the next four days clearing the damn thing out. The pool was covered in graffiti. Most of it was standard, indecipherable gang tags, but I remember one thing in particular. In the deep end, at the absolute deepest point, there was an odd symbol. Best I can remember, it was a triangle with an odd flare coming off it, surrounded by even more symbols. Very weird.
We connected four hoses to a spout outside the library next door and spent three days filling the thing up.
When all was said and done, it was a pretty dope setup. We had our own private, indoor pool. The water was frigid, but that was okay.
After swimming and splashing for a few minutes, Bradford quieted us down.
“Guys,” he said. “First one to touch the triangle thing at the bottom of the pool wins $5. Who’s in?”
“Who’s paying?” Steve asked.
“We each pitch in a buck, and the winner takes the prize.”
We all agreed. Why not?
“Ready?” Bradford asked. “One...Two...Three!”
We each dove down, kicking frantically toward the bottom of the pool. Through the murky water, I could see Bradford was far ahead than the rest of us. I think I made it about twelve feet before my head felt like it was gonna explode and I turned around, resurfacing quickly. Everyone else besides Bradford popped up around the same time, gasping for breath.
“I guess Bradford takes it,” I said, defeated.
Another twenty seconds passed without Bradford reemerging.
“He okay?” Steve asked.
“I’ll go down,” I said. Before I dipped my head underwater, the door to the lobby swung open. A man wearing tattered clothes and a messy beard stood in the doorway.
“Stop,” he said, taking a step forward. He looked oddly familiar.
“Can we help you?” I said, nervously.
He looked directly at me. “Corey, I know you’re about to swim after Bradford, but I’m urging you, please don’t.” He was out of breath.
I looked around to the other boys who had all gone white.
“Do I know you? And what happened to Bradford?” I said.
The man closed his eyes tight and shook his head a few times, then pulled a revolver from his pocket.
“Jesus!” someone yelled.
“I’m telling you right now. Leave this place behind—you don’t want to know what’s down there. You don’t want to go where Bradford went,” the man said.
He put the gun to his head.
“Hold on, how do you—”
He pulled the trigger, sending a splatter of blood across the wall and collapsed.
We screamed, shouting all sorts of profanities as we jumped out of the water.
And still no sign of Bradford.
“Shit, shit, shit,” I mumbled, trying to decide what to do. With Bradford gone, I became the de facto leader of the group, but I was not equipped to deal with this.
“How could he possibly have known any of that?” Steve asked, sobbing.
I scrambled to my feet, my ears still ringing from the gunshot.
“Who is that fucking guy!” Collin yelled, cupping his ears.
I stumbled to the guy’s body, blood pooled beneath his head. With some effort, I rolled him onto his stomach and pulled his wallet from his back pocket. I flipped it open and navigated through the cash and membership cards, then saw his driver’s license.
Below the man’s picture was a name: Bradford Reynolds.
“It’s him,” I whispered.
“It’s Bradford,” I said.
The others came and looked at the driver’s license. It was, in fact, Bradford. The birthday of July 12th, 1969 was correct, however, the issue date of the license was some fifty years later in 2019.
“It’s not possible,” Collin whispered.
We climbed over the dead body, got on our bikes, and rode home.
For whatever reason, no one called the cops that night.
I got straight home, went straight to my bedroom and sat at my desk. I stared at the handheld radio on my desk, picking it up then setting it down a hundred times.
Once the house quieted down—I think it was around midnight—I decided I had to do something about it. I had to go looking for Bradford.
I snuck out my window and climbed the trellis to the ground floor. I rode my bike through the eerily silent night back to the community pool. The moon cast long shadows against the lonesome community center.
I walked through the broken-down door, through the locker room and stepped over (the older) Bradford’s dead body, the blood almost dry now. The room was silent, aside from the occasional dripping sound from somewhere in the room. It smelled of mildew and copper. I took my clothes off, sure of what I needed to do. I needed to get to the bottom of the pool.
I dove into the pitch-black water and swam as fast as I could down toward the bottom. I opened my eyes but couldn’t see anything. I plugged my nose and blew, clearing the congestion in my head, allowing me to sink deeper.
After what felt like forever, I touched the bottom of the pool, at the place where I thought the giant triangle was painted. I felt around, hoping to find Bradford—the real Bradford—stuck or something, but there was nothing. After a few frantic seconds, I felt something. The bottom of the pool wasn’t the smooth surface it was just a few hours before, it was a passage. I followed the edges of the passageway and pushed myself deeper. I was running out of air, but I kept going, determined to find the real Bradford. I followed this newly-formed tunnel for another twenty seconds or so until it ended. Admitting defeat, I pushed off the ground hard, attempting to breach as quick as possible. To my surprise, I wasn’t as deep as I thought. My head popped out of water and I drew a deep breath.
But I wasn’t surrounded by the familiar abandoned pool house. I was somewhere else. I was in a cramped, dingy, brick tunnel, barely six feet in circumference. The tunnel was dimly lit by torches placed every ten feet or so. I climbed out of the water and onto the cobblestone floor. Water dripped down the walls in all directions.
“Hello?” I called, my voice echoing down the tunnel for eternity.
I walked cautiously, moving from torch to torch in the mossy, wet tunnel.
I tried turning back a few times, but it only seemed to elongate the tunnel somehow. I couldn’t seem to get anywhere meaningful. After what felt like a few hours of walking, I stepped into a room slightly bigger than the tunnel I had been sludging through. The torches were slightly brighter than the hall so I could vaguely make out what was before me. There were five bodies sitting in the center of the room in a circle, apparently dead. Each was naked, pale, and severely waterlogged. None were Bradford. There was a decrepit altar—or baptismal font—in the center of the circle, and an inscription on it that read GUARDIANS OF CUTIONJINKE PASSAGE.
“Hello?” I called nervously, awkwardly inspecting the naked, bloated bodies. How long have these bodies been here? And how are they preserved like this?
I moved toward the edge of the room, looking for an exit. “Bradford?” I called. Realizing my search to be fruitless, I moved toward the way I came, but the intense sound of rushing water stopped me. Down the hallway—the one that supposedly led to the community pool—a wave of water was flowing rapidly toward me.
I turned around, running past the altar, through the circle of bloated corpses and down a hallway that I swear wasn’t there a few minutes earlier. I ran as fast as I could on my bare feet across the mossy, cobblestone path. I was crying. As the water began splashing my legs from behind, the crushing feeling of loss—of defeat—engulfed me. This was it. I was going to die.
Then I saw my savior at the end of the hallway.
About a hundred feet ahead, there was a door. It was painted a vibrant purple with impossibly ornate, golden finishes. At that point, the mystery of Bradford’s disappearance and apparent reappearance as an adult was far from my mind. Not to mention the horror of waterlogged corpses—the guardians of the whatever passage. My only goal in that moment was survival.
“Oh god,” I said, gripping the golden doorknob and pushing it open.
I was standing outside in a field.
The grass was dead, the sky was overcast, the wind howled.
My body felt different, heavy.
I looked at my hands, but they weren’t mine. They were thicker and older.
“No,” I said in a voice much deeper than my own. “What the—”
I turned around slowly. Behind me was a familiar building, but older. It was the Cardon Community Pool.
“Impossible,” I said. I reached into my back pocket, and just like with Bradford, I found a wallet. I flipped it open with shaky hands and found a driver’s license with my name and a picture of an older version of myself.
I got to the front door and put my ear to it. I could hear boys splashing and yelling inside. I recognized the voices. It was us. I heard myself, Bradford, Steve, Collin, everyone.
Finally, the voices quieted down and someone started talking above the others. It was me.
“Guys,” the younger-me said. “First one to touch the triangle thing at the bottom of the pool wins $5. Who’s in?”
But… Bradford was the one to propose the bet in the last version...
“Ready?” younger-me asked. “One...Two...Three!”
I heard the familiar sound of splashing and kicking in the water. There were a few seconds of silence and then they reemerged. “I guess Corey takes it,” someone said.
I reached in my pocket and found a revolver.
I thought back to the image of adult-Bradford shooting himself in front of us all, just a few hours ago.
Do I intervene?
Do I run?
What the hell am I supposed to do?
“Corey? Oh shit, Corey’s gone!” someone yelled inside.
I gripped the handle of the door and began to apply pressure when a car honked behind me. I jerked around. In the worn parking lot of the abandoned community center was a silver minivan. A woman with long brown hair was in the driver’s seat. She rolled the window down.
“Corey? How the hell did you end up here?” she said.
Confused, I stepped toward the van.
“Daddy!” a little voice called from the backseat.
What the actual fuck…
“Come on honey,” she said.
I opened the passenger door and sat in the car.
“What year is it?” I said, desperately.
“Well, that’s a weird question,” she said.
“Twenty-twenty!” the little girl sang from the backseat.
I broke out in a sweat.
“I don’t know how I ended up here,” I said.
“Hm,” the woman said. “How detailed do you want to get? The universe began about 13 billion years—”
“No, I mean, where was I… I don’t know, an hour ago?”
“You were home,” she said. “Corey, what’s going on? Are you okay?”
“I’m sorry, I think I need some fresh air,” I said, stepping out of the car.
“Come on, Corey, let’s get you home. Something’s not right.”
I looked back at the dilapidated community pool building—it looked almost the exact same as it did that day…
I climbed back into the car and closed my eyes.
“You’re scaring me, Corey,” the woman said.
“Co-lee, co-lee,” the little girl in the backseat echoed.
My brain was too foggy, too heavy to string a coherent thought together. After a few minutes of driving, we pulled into a two car-garage of what looked to be a new house. It was nice. If the situation is what I thought it was, I’ve done well for myself over the years.
All my suspicions were confirmed a few minutes later when I walked into the house and was greeted by an entire wall of family pictures—me, the woman (my apparent wife), and the little girl (my apparent daughter). I smiled at this for a moment, then the horror of the situation caught up to me.
Nearly forty years had passed, in which time I had somehow gotten married, had a child, and bought a home. Yet, my last memory was of the community pool—swimming to the bottom of the deep end, searching frantically for Bradford; walking the ancient platform; finding the room of waterlogged humans; trying to outrun the tunnel of water; the purple door…
I told my wife I wasn’t feeling well, which didn’t come as a surprise to her, and I disappeared into the front study, while she put our daughter to bed. Now here I am writing this bizarre story down.
Listen, I know I’ve stumbled 40 years into the future, and I appear to have a fantastic life, but no matter what my driver’s license and the pictures on the wall tell me, this is not my life. My life is still far ahead of me, and right now, I should be swimming in the goddamn Cardon Community Pool.
Which is where I’m going next.
Now let’s see if I can drive a car.