I’ll never forget the day that Mikey and I raced to the little island in the middle of the river. As we stood on the bank, Mikey said the water was moving too fast, but I told him he was chicken. That was that. We jumped in and I swam as hard as I could. I knew I had reached the island first, but when I turned around to celebrate, I couldn’t see Mikey anywhere. He had disappeared beneath the water. I just sat there, waiting for him to come up. But he never did.
For years, I felt a crushing sense of guilt. It was only much later that I learned to forgive myself. Because eventually it turned out that Mikey hadn’t drowned at all: he had been taken away by some drifters with scuba gear.
They had gotten the gear almost accidentally, when they decided to murder the owner of a diveshop a few towns over. They started going on all kinds of aquatic raids then, and I guess eventually they decided they had enough loot to start a drifter-family. That’s when they took Mikey. He was with them for seventeen years.
So that was bad, obviously. But it wasn’t a fate worse than death, was it? Well, that’s what Mikey kept saying when we reconnected after he escaped.
“It was a fate worse than death,” he said after he had cornered me. “And you left me to it.”
That was another thing he kept saying: that I had seen what was happening and hadn’t done anything.
“It took a long time for them to subdue me, and hook me up to the extra tank, and my head kept bobbing up from under the water. And I could see you watching from the island! They tried to get you but you swung a big branch at them and that made it too hard for them to climb onto land, so they focused on me instead.”
So I just thought that was pretty annoying, the way Mikey kept harping on this stuff even though it was in the past. I guess even best friends can naturally grow apart over the years.