When I was a boy we used to share stories around flashlights on hot summer nights. The most popular of such stories was Drowned Johnny. The origin of Johnny would often change from person to person. Johnny was a little boy said to have drowned in our very own local public pool, sometimes because the parents and lifeguards were not paying attention. Other times the story goes that he snuck into the pool late at night. The result always was the same that he died young and tragically. The story goes on to say that Johnny still remained in the pool and that he likes to play with other children. He would pull on legs and feet, holding them underwater before letting them go. Sometimes he holds on for too long and the child he is playing with drowns.
I was never one to believe such stories myself, despite my young age I did not believe in ghosts. However one summer day at the pool changed all of that. I was just at the age where I wanted to test my boundaries. Seeing how far I could go into the deep end before swimming back to the edge. My friends were practicing their cannon balls, and my parents were playing with my little sister. I swam what seemed like a river to my little body all the way out to the deep end of the pool. Amazed at my ability I then started to swim back when I felt something pull at my ankle. My head was quickly submerged under the water. I could not see what had grabbed me, but it felt like a human hand pulling me all the way to the pool floor. The feeling of drowning was an odd one. Unlike the movies I didn’t panic, I did not wave my arms in violent motions or let out big bubbles of air. My mind focused to a single point, I was underwater and I needed to be above water. Despite my best efforts however I could not get the weight on my foot to let free. I could see the kicking feet of swimmers above me but I had no method to gain their attention.
I did not know where he came from, but a man grabbed onto me. I could see his orange boxers as he started to pull me to the surface. At first it became a tug of war between my rescuer and the invisible hand pulling me down. However with another strong tug from the adult I was pulled free. The moment I reached the surface I gasped for air, before crying and calling my mom. I soon saw that he was a lifeguard who spotted me and swam out to save my life. It was an embarrassing moment as most of the pool gathered around to check on me, the lifeguards made sure I was alright and I cried for my parents. The shock of it all however left the embarrassment to come later, I was scared and truly felt I was going to die. The whole affair was described as my traveling out to the deep end, getting tired and nearly drowning. But I know there was more to it than that. Am not sure if my friends ever truly believed me, perhaps I was lying to avoid the embarrassment. However the summer after that we heard that a boy even younger than me found his way out to the deep end and drowned. We know that Johnny must of dragged the boy out there.
As the years went by the pool shut down. As backyard pools grow more popular, and attendance dropped many public pools suffered the same fate. We thought that would be the end of Drowned Johnny but the story didn’t die, it moved on. As time passed we heard similar tales coming out of public pools towns over, and even some private pools. Years later as I was finishing High School I met up with the Lifeguard that saved me life. We spoke of my incident when I was young and what he said chilled me. In a joking manner he told me something most of not wanted me saved because he felt like he had to pull me out of the hands of a monster to get me to the surface. Since then I haven’t thought of Drowned Johnny in years. Now my own children are growing up. My youngest daughter complained to me that her brother kept pulling her under water, despite her brother had already gotten out of the pool. I drained the above ground pool and put it away.