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Mississippi Salvage

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June 24th, 2011

Finally found a job working with Zach at his uncle’s place. A salvaging company, digging up boat parts and other junk from the river to make it safer, stuff like that. It’s not really my thing, but it’s a job and I’m grateful for it. Met his uncle earlier today, his name is Walter, really jovial and built like a concrete mixer. We got to talking for awhile, ended up liking me and gave me a position as a diver for his crew. Told him I never dived a day in my life, but he said he will give me lessons over the weekend before I start on Monday. Only weird thing is I have to keep these journals. For company purposes, Walter says. I guess it’s in order to track our work ethic and personal health on the job or something. Anyway, I haven’t done anything like this since grade school, so maybe it’ll be good for me.

June 25th, 2011

We went out on the river early in the morning, just me and him, in this small fishing boat. And before that we spent a couple hours going through equipment, making sure everything worked. We must have spent an hour on the tanks alone. He says the worst thing is having a faulty tank, and he went through a spiel of a guy he once knew who burst his lungs because he didn't check the pressure gauge of the tank. Horrible way to go, he said, just popping like a balloon. After he told this story he thought it best we get right to it. He showed me the ropes, how to fall backwards from the boat, proper swim techniques and all that. It was exhausting, but at the end of the morning he said I was a natural. I think he’s just being nice.

June 26th, 2011

This morning we worked on salvaging exercises. When we got out on the river he took out a small bright orange and threw it in the water. He told me to wait a few minutes, check through my gear again, and then dive. I spent ages looking for that damn pipe--the Mississippi is so thick with mud and sludge I don’t know how anyone can see through it. Finally I found it on the riverbed next to a submerged log and brought it back up. I didn't know he was timing me. When he showed me the stop watch he suggested I start lifting weights so I can carry heavier things back, in case the crank is broken. More work.

June 27th, 2011

First official day on the job. All meet and greet with the rest of the crew. Typical run-of-the-mill middle-aged strong-backs with mean faces but friendly spirits. They slapped me on the back, shook my hand, really welcoming. Afterward we geared up and went on the river. Nothing exciting--retrieved a few submerged logs from the communal boating sections, including a forty footer sticking up through the surface. Sent me and Zach to wrap the chain around the trunk and start the crank. At the end of the day we had some beers, overall nice start.

June 28th, 2011

More logs today, and once again I was sent to reel them up. My diving partner was Thomas. When we wrapped the chain around the log a Pike dashed out from a hole and scared the hell out of me, much to the amusement of Thomas. He gave me shit when we got back up.

June 29th, 2011

Today we found a sunken fishing boat. A few of us had to go in to push it up while someone worked the crank. When it surfaced I looked it over and saw some hard grey buildup on the motor. I asked if it was coral and they told me coral doesn't form in the Mississippi, but they weren't sure what it was.

June 30th, 2011

Slow day today. Nothing much to report, other than Thomas sending me various pictures of Pike fish. Checked over the equipment, turns out someone doodled another Pike on my tank. Ha, ha, ha.

July 1st, 2011

Last day on my first week and finally we get something more than logs and fishing boats. We got a call from the DNR saying there’s a large Runaboat on the East bank we need to haul out. I dove in and surveyed the boat, tried to find the strongest point to attach the crank (rotted wood’s a pain in the ass). The left haul had a large hole, probably tried to chance a rockbed and failed. I attached the crank and gave them the go-ahead. After we pulled it up we had to drain it, remove all the loose materials before sending it to the junkyard. As I cleaned through I found a video-camera in the cabin. There was grey material covered over it, kinda like the kind I saw on the fishing boat a couple days ago. They said they knew a guy who could salvage the files to see what was on there in order to contact the owners of the boat and fine them.

July 1st, 2011 (continued)

It was my turn for tank duty after work, so I drew a duck on Thomas’ oxygen tank to make it even.

July 4th, 2011

No work today due to the holiday. Zach, Walter and I came in anyway to finish clearing out the boat so we could have more free-time tomorrow. A duffle-bag of clothes in the storage unit, some of them in kids’ sizes. Hopefully whoever steered that boat into a rockbed didn't have a kid with them. It’s pretty stupid.

July 5th, 2011

For helping him out yesterday, Walter gave Zach and me a half-day. We laughed as the rest of the guys drove out into the river to haul off more logs.

July 6th, 2011

Thomas and I were diving partners again. He’s since let up on the stupid Pike jokes, but now whenever we are in the water he tries to mess with me by pointing behind me as I watch help him wrap the chain. Whenever I turn I see nothing but an endless shade of murky water, with a few branches poking through the distance. He finds it funny, but it freaks me out a bit to turn around and see nothing there. I hope for some fish or something, but there is just a sprawl of nothingness. Completely desolate.

July 7th, 2011

Nothing much to report. We got a call from someone saying there is another large boat on the riverbed near the Three-Corners sandbar, about a mile off from where the last boat was. He said it is a Lakeview yacht, somewhat large and would require at least two days to salvage and surface. Walter said if anyone volunteered to work it this weekend they would receive a bonus for this month. More money is always good.

July 8th, 2011

The police called saying they needed help getting a pontoon out from the Wacks. Apparently some guy got drunk and drove it right into a life dock and somehow managed to turn it over. They've been looking for the body, but in the meanwhile want us to get the thing out of the way.

July 9th, 2011

Christ, where to begin. Okay, so today we started working on the Lakeview job. It was five of us, me and Zach included. Some other guys Walter knew came in to help because of how large the thing was. We needed at least four people to stay with the yacht to salvage and drag it up, and another couple guys to explore the area for any additional wreckage. Thomas and I opted to search around for anything else. We trekked along the riverbed and saw scattered fragments of wood and metal, placed them in a sack as we went along. We followed the trail of the wreckage for about a quarter of a mile until we reached a dropoff in the floor. It was hard as hell to see, but I made out the chains of an anchor near the end of the slope, so we continued on. I reached it first and tried to pull it out. Thomas watched me for a moment, then he looked out into the abyss and suddenly pointed out. I flipped him off and continued working, but he tugged at my arm and kept pointing. I shook him off without much thought, then he swam off behind me. The anchor was dug too far in, so I gave up and looked around for Thomas. I saw his fins disappear into the cloud of muddied water, followed him. When I caught up to him I prodded his shoulder, but all he did was point, so I looked. I saw a figure standing in the open riverbed, facing us.

July 9th, 2011 (continued)

There we no logs, no fish, nothing on this vast plain of riverbed. Just this figure looking out, an arm outstretched. I panicked, took frantic breaths. Thomas noticed and calmed me down, reminded me of Walter’s popping-balloons story using his hands to mimic a burst. He looked at me and nodded, motioned towards the figure and swam out. I didn't want to be left alone so I followed. When we reached the figure it didn't move. II reached out and touched its arm. ts skin was grey, hard, rough. It was a statue. The details were intricate--every crease in the clothing sculpted, every strand of hair and lashes on its eyes. Plotted and sculpted with precision. It was so life-like. We took a flagger out from our belts, swam to the surface and marked the position of the statue before swimming back to our boat and telling the others what we found. By the time we got back they had the yacht mostly surfaced when we told Walter what we found. He was interested, but told us we wouldn't have time to bring it up today. Best mark it on the map and give it a go tomorrow. After we finish with the yacht, he reminded us.

July 10th, 2011

We rushed through the yacht work as fast as possible. Sunken boats are a dime a dozen, but a statue on the riverbed is something worth noting. Eventually Walter agreed with us, so while the others worked on getting the yacht cleared for wreckage we three went out to the flagger with another boat and went it. We wrapped the chain around its waist and cranked it up. When it got to the back of the boat I had to help push it out while Walter pulled from the stern. He grabbed onto the wrist of the statue and ended up snapping off a finger. He said he could glue it back on, then he saw the grey sludge spread over his palm. Sediment, he said, wiped it on his jeans. He told me to grab the flagger because they are expensive to replace, and I said I did. But I left it there so I knew where to come back later. There may be more to see in that area, some after-work projects to engage in. When we got back we placed the statue in the backroom, placed the broken-off finger in a tray beside it.

July 11th, 2011

The guy we sent the video-camera to said it was too damaged to salvage any of the files. In fact he told us he dropped it on his workbench and it just shattered. He also asked us how to get the grey sediment off from his clothes. All we said is place it in a basin of soda water and baking soda and hope for the best.

July 14th, 2011

The past few days I went back to the spot and dug around. I go in short intervals. It’s hard to stay in that place any longer than half an hour with that screen of muddy water blocking my view of the riverbed. On Tuesday I tried staying out for an hour to see what I could find, but the sun was going on and the last rays of light were drudging through the water and I felt exposed. Sometimes I looked out into the water and thought I saw a silver tail slithering off into the open, just out the corner of my eye. I’m started to fuck with my own mind, I guess. Watersnakes are prominent here, but aren’t they usually black? Do they stay near the surface or do they dive for their food sometimes? I wonder if fresh water is sustainable for most fish, then I remember this is the Mississippi, a complete garbage drain for the Midwest.

July 16th, 2011

I went into the backroom to look over the statue, seeing as how we haven’t done anything with it since putting it there. I took a closer look at the details in its face--it seems concerned, somewhat hesitant in posture. The arm points out to address something, but I wonder what. Getting artsy with these thoughts, it’s just a statue. When I left the backroom and sat down with the guys Zach complained I tracked mud all over the floor, and looking at my shoe there was something on the bottom. I retraced my steps and noticed a small pool of the stuff under where the statue’s arm pointed out. Some sludge dripped from where the finger was. When I asked Walter about this he guessed it was build-up from the material of the statue being submerged for so long. It sounded reasonable to me, because when I looked into the basin where the finger was the same sludge formed around the bottom of it.

July 17th, 2011

Went back to the place where we found the statue and discovered an old camera about a quarter of a mile to the east. It was coiled around the branch of a submerged tree. I brought it back with me and sent it to the guy who tried the video-camera. Hopefully something comes up.

July 18th, 2011

I realize I could cover more ground if I had someone go with me. I asked Thomas if he wanted in, and he said sure. Recently we've been getting bored at work because Walter hasn't been looking for any jobs for us. He tends to keep to himself a lot now, says his arthritis is acting up. Bad hands, getting stiffer everyday. Probably why he usually works the crank now instead of helping with salvage duty.

July 18th, 2011 (continued)

The statue looks like it is losing color. I bet it needs to be preserved or something, being out of its element for the past how many years is making it more fragile to the air.

July 21st, 2011

Walter has been taking loads of medication for his hands. Complains he can barely move them anymore, fingers too stiff to do anything. He works the phone mostly now, occasionally joins us on the boat.

July 23rd, 2011

Thomas and I have been going back to the spot the last few days. It’s always after work ends when everyone goes home, which is around 8 PM. This only leaves us with one hour of exploring, and when we stay a little later it’s too hard to see anything. We decided if we want to spread out our search efforts we need to start coming in before work at sunrise.

July 23rd, 2011 (continued)

The statue is looking rough. It’s been dripping more of the sludge from the broken finger. It looks like it is lopsided now.

July 24th, 2011

The guy managed to get something from the camera I found--said the film is mostly damaged, but he blew up a frame that was only partially exposed. The photo showed the arm of whoever was holding the camera, reaching out to run their hand from the waves of what I guessed was the back of a boat.

July 27th, 2011

The second time we managed to get out at sunrise. Everything was so much clearer thanks to the better lighting, and we could see the open plain of the riverbed clearer than our last effort. After the last few trips we searched the area until it ran dry--nothing new to report, save for a few bits of trash. But we had a couple hours until work started, so we swam out a little further. And it paid off. There was a second drop off about a third of a mile off from where we found the first statue. It dropped fifty feet, and we found ourselves in a large field of riverweed, pushed through and found old motors and the skeletons of fishing boats, torn upholstery. Tatters of clothes snagged onto submerged logs. The weed started getting longer as we swam by. After a while we reached a clearing. The water became thicker with mud. Thomas swam ahead of me, reached out for something and missed. He disappeared for a moment. Leaving me alone in the open, enshrouded in the vast cloud of muddied water. There was silence. I think something whipped away to my left, but by the time I turned all I saw was a crawling jet of grey powder.

July 27th, 2011 (continued)

When Thomas returned I could see something in his eye--anxiety or excitement, I couldn't tell. He lead me forward until I could see them through the clouds of mud. There were several of them, scattered along the riverbed, each in a different position. Each with different features and statures. As he led me forward more appeared on either side. Some were holding hands, or embracing, others stood alone with eyes closed. We were in the center of a gathering of statues. They looked modern, and just as life-like as the first statue we found a couple weeks ago. We weren't sure what we stumbled upon, and all we could think to do us set up a flagger and tell everyone at work what we found.

July 31st, 2011

We haven’t seen Walter for ages. I asked Zach where he has been, and he told me my guess is as good as his. Last he heard he went to see the doctor about his hands, but that was a week ago. When we tried phoning him we didn't get an answer, nor when we stopped by his house. Zach decided to put himself in charge while he figures this all out.

August 3rd, 2011

It’s been a week and we are still pulling statues from the water. We are running out of room in the storage area. Not a single one looks the same. Some of them are dressed in modern attire like t-shirts and blue-jeans, some are dressed in bathing suits that I remember seeing in films from the fifties. We tried to figure out where they came from, and the best conclusion we came up with was a barge losing some of its cargo. I looked for any sign of the artist’s signature on the works but none had any other markings. Zach said he’ll start calling around and seeing what he can find out. Meanwhile the rest of us need to go back out to finish fishing them out from the river.

August 4th, 2011

The storage rooms smells awful. I told Thomas to keep an eye out for any dead rats.

August 5th, 2011

We ran out of room in the storage area, and at this point we have thirty-five statues lined up. So we have some of them in front of the shop on display until we can figure out what to do with them. The storage room still smells horrible, but Thomas swears he couldn't find anything dead, and there are no holes for anything to get it. Anyway, tomorrow we are heading out on the river to fish out what we think is the last of the statues. Which is just as well, I’m starting to feel uncomfortable around them.

August 6th, 2011

We lost Thomas. I’m not even sure what happened, but we searched for hours and couldn't find him. It was all routine, go in and get the statues, crank them up, call it a day. I was working the crank while Zach went down with Thomas to chain up the statues. They were in for half an hour until they gave me the tug to pull up the chains, and this went on until we had three more statues. Then I sent the chains down and waited for another tug, after twenty minutes nothing. Another twenty minutes. I thought they were looking for more, but earlier that day they said they saw only a few more. Finally an hour passed and nothing. Just as I was about to dive in Zach surfaced with something large in his hands. He pushed it up to me, told me to grab it. It was covered in that grey sediment, and when I grabbed it I saw it was an oxygen tank. I wiped away some of the stuff and say a doodle of a duck on the base. I asked him where Thomas was, he just shook his head and told me to call the police for a diving team. In the panic I threw the oxygen tank aside and dialed the police. When I looked back I saw the oxygen tank split, one half in-tact and the other shattered into pieces. I remember wiping the sediment across my cheek to clear the sweat, I remember Zach staring down at me before I passed out.

August 9th, 2011

They haven’t found him.

August 10th, 2011

My right hand is starting to turn stiff. It hurts to write.

August 12th, 2011

This whole place smells like a slaughterhouse with spoiled meat.

August 13th, 2011

One of the new guys tipped over one of the statues. It crumbled like wet paper and red sludge seeped over the ground.

August 16th, 2011

I think about that photograph a lot.

August 20th, 2011

They found Walter in pieces.

August 22nd, 2011

Was it a gathering, or a graveyard?

August 23rd, 2011

Watersnakes are red, black, brown, or grey. Not silver.

August 27th, 2011

I can’t feel my face anymore.

Written by Spadezy
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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