Marnie Silverman: Excerpt from “Incident Pit”

Excerpt from "Incident Pit" by Marnie Silverman

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Oakes looked up, angling the video camera so that it focused on the slowly diminishing disc of light where Jacob’s Well opened up to meet the divers jumping into it. His nostrils were burning – a few more feet down and he felt his ears pop. The four-meter-wide opening to the Well became a half-moon shape, then a sliver, hidden by a large outcropping of rock. Oakes felt the familiar, fluttery stirrings of an anxiety attack in his gut. What if we can’t make it back up? His vision swam.

Derry tapped him on the shoulder, and Oakes made the mistake of yelling in surprise. A stream of bubbles shotgunned from his mouth. Derry cocked his head and motioned up towards the mouth of the Well, and Oakes understood immediately, pushing off the closest rock with his feet and trying desperately not to hit his head on anything on the way up. His chest felt like it was caving in, his lungs straining to make air, his heart hammering as it worked overtime. Finally, he broke the surface and levered himself painfully out of the Well.

“Oakes!” Derry appeared out of the water seconds later. “You okay?”

Oakes forced himself to the closest platform of rock and sat down. His muscles were singing in pain, and he slicked his wet hair back from his forehead with hands that had started to shake violently. Most of the footage from the ascent was probably going to be unusable.

“I’m okay,” he said hoarsely, more for Derry’s benefit than his own. “I just panicked when I couldn’t see the way out. I can’t hold my breath as long as you can.”

Derry sat down next to him on the rock. “Do you want to stay up here awhile? It’ll look cool if you do some shots from above of me swimming down into the cave, right?”



“What if we can’t make it back up? His vision swam.”


Oakes kicked his feet in the water. Even though he’d been playing cameraman-slash-significant-other to Derry for a year and a half already, it was hard to keep the two roles separate, and the lingering anxiety that something was going to go terribly wrong was always there in the back of his mind. Oakes wasn’t sure he would ever understand why half a million people got such a kick out of watching Youtube videos of Derry doing stunts where one tiny error in judgment could send even a true professional to the ER. But he loved Derry, so when Derry said things like “Let’s go to Texas over your spring break so I can jump into an underwater cave system that people have died in,” Oakes said, stupidly, “Okay.”

“Come on.” Derry kissed Oakes on the cheek, and stood, ignoring the flush that spread across Oakes’ face. “I’ll go down a couple more times and then we can go back to the lodge and order a pizza or something.”

“Can’t we go now? I have hours of footage,” Oakes said. The sun was going down, and doing this kind of thing in the dark made him even more uneasy than doing it in broad daylight.

“Fifteen more minutes. I just want to swim down two more times. Please?”

Derry looked up with big, hopeful eyes, wringing water out of his cargo pants and readjusting his chest binder. He was a blurry, brown figure in Oakes’s vision, and got blurrier the farther away he became, prompting Oakes to dig his glasses out of the backpack of dry clothes they had brought with them.

Not as begrudgingly as he would have liked to, Oakes got up and tightened the camera strap around his hand. “Fine.”

He followed Derry back to the opening of Jacob’s Well, standing on the lip of the expansive hole, where the water only came up to his shins. Dipping the camera into the water, Oakes watched Derry’s body at the center of the tiny screen, growing smaller and smaller until it was only a few pixels, enveloped by the blackness of the long tunnel below.


“Did you know mountain lions are native to Wimberley?”

“I’m not going to film you wrangling a mountain lion.” Oakes stepped out of the bathroom, toweling off his hair and ducking to prevent smacking his head on the doorframe. “If you wanted to do that, we could have stayed closer to home.”

“There are no mountain lions in Indiana,” Derry said knowledgeably.

“Right.” Oakes’s lips twitched into a wry smile. He rooted around in his suitcase for a moment until he came up with his Purdue University Fort Wayne sweatshirt and a pair of flannel pajama pants, and began pulling them on as he spoke. “Are we going back to Jacob’s Well tomorrow? What time do you want to wake up?”

Derry rolled over on the bed, placing the trail guide he had been reading back on the nightstand. “I already set an alarm. I want to stop at the dive shop near there and rent some equipment so we can go deeper in the caves.”

“Deeper? You know people have died in there, right?”

Oakes turned his back to Derry, no longer feeling capable of faking a smile. Instead, he busied himself with plugging the waterproof camera into his laptop, which sat on the large wooden desk in the corner of the room. He clicked on the video files one by one, opening them and booting up the editing program he used to make their footage palatable for aspiring daredevils on YouTube.

“That’s why I want the equipment,” Derry explained. “It’s a lot easier not to die when you’ve got a tank of oxygen strapped to your back. Do you mind if I turn the light off?”

“Go ahead.” Oakes waved a hand dismissively. It was met with the room falling dark, lit only by the persistent glow of his computer screen. He heard Derry shifting on the bed, rustling the sheets.

“Don’t go to bed too late. I set the alarm for seven.”

Oakes sighed. He had been hoping to sleep in. “Okay.”


Oakes watched footage of Derry scaling rock formations and diving into Jacob’s Well until Derry began to snore, then got out his noise-cancelling headphones and began to edit the clips down into a ten minute video that he could post to the YouTube channel before they left in the morning. It was another fifteen minutes before he saw the strange anomaly in the film he had taken towards the end of the day.

In the shots he had taken from above, watching Derry descend into the Well, something else was moving around in the water. It was oval in shape, and at first Oakes mistook it for a speck of dirt on the camera lens, but it was clearly swimming. The way the bottom of it undulated provided the bare suggestion of paddling legs. It was only on screen for a few seconds, in the interim between Derry vanishing from sight and swimming back up towards the surface again.


“The way the bottom of it undulated provided the bare suggestion of paddling legs.”


“Probably a fish,” Oakes muttered to himself, and tabbed over to the next file.

It was another video of Derry swimming, taken while Oakes had been standing on a rock above the water. He pulled his chair closer to the desk and scanned the computer screen for signs of anything else but Derry moving around in the depths of the well. There was nothing. At least, nothing until Derry had resurfaced from the Well. The shot zoomed in on the mouth of the hole, and at that precise moment, something large and flat skittered over the jagged walls within, deeper into the water.

Oakes’s heart surged up into his throat, the sudden, unexpected movement making him jump. He played the clip over again, slower, to make sure his eyes hadn’t played tricks on him. The footage hadn’t lied. The creature was still there, even the second time around.

“What the fuck is that?” Oakes asked under his breath.

He paused the video and went back to look at the others, at the ones he had taken while in the Well with Derry. The creature wasn’t in any of them, not as far as he could tell, even when looking at the clips in slow-mo. None of them except the last one he had shot underwater – he had thought that the footage of his ascent from the Well would be too shaky to be used, but he had somehow managed to keep his hand fairly steady. Steady enough to reveal the underside of something looking down at him from the outcropping of rock that blocked out the sunlight from the surface, its antennae twitching, jaws opening and closing so distinctly that Oakes could almost hear the click-clack of them doing so.

How did I not see that while I was underwater? Oakes ground his teeth together. It probably wasn’t even anything to worry about. Just a crab, maybe. There were probably a lot of weird fish that lived in those caves. It was stupid, to be scared of a non-threatening fish.

Nonetheless, he shut his laptop and decided that it was time to stop editing for the night. Being tired was making him jumpy and unfocused, and neither of those were things he could afford to be tomorrow, when he and Derry would be going into the caves proper. Oakes put his glasses on the nightstand and climbed in under the covers next to Derry, who grunted and tugged him closer without waking up.

His dreams were disturbed by the memory of his chest compressing, the feeling of spindly, hooked crustacean legs latching themselves in his clothes and hair and dragging him down through cold, dark water, his body bouncing against rocks like a ragdoll.


Marnie Silverman

Marnie Silverman is a junior creative writing major at Goucher College, who also makes music and art in what little free time she has. Currently, she is doing a semester abroad in Norwich, England, which boasts such exotic wildlife as swans, hedgehogs, and an entire army of wild rabbits. She is also the author of Something Waiting, a book of original short stories, which you can find here.





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