Stridder: A Life In Furious Flow
Inspired by our previous piece on Bolton Strid, the deadliest body of water in the world, this is a fictional account from the only human to survive The Strid.
I went into The Strid. The tour guide said it was the deadliest body of water in the world. Our group stood six feet away from the slippery edges, cloaked in disposable raincoats, nervously snapping photos of innocuous looking rocks and water. They yelped as I crossed the six foot expanse and stepped into the churning water.
They yelped again when I came walking back up the path, soaking wet. I was there, but I was also here, inside a pulsing catacomb packed full of peat-tinted ancient river.
When I rejoined the tour group, they rightly regarded me as an impossibility. The only person to go into those waters and come out since the beginning of time.
The flow here is endlessly fascinating. At various points I am sucked down and down. I’m not sure I’ve ever touched “bottom” here. There are catacombs of relative calm (still unrelenting) and occasionally I’ll get pulled “up”, almost seeing light through the brown-streaked water before being inverted and dragged down and down and over and over.
I submit to the flow. It’s all I can do. I submit and observe myself, the self that stepped out instead of stayed in.
The nearby town of Bolton Abbey was naturally ready to believe I was a ghost. There were ruins there, druidic murmurings and stories of death outweighed stories of resurrection. But yet, I was alive, heart-beating in a pub with my tour group and other locals, being celebrated for surviving what centuries of missteps did not.
Yet I felt it all. I felt the adoration, enjoyed the golden Lager that I never had to pay for again. I also felt my lungs full of liquid, my bones turned in directions they didn’t want to move, until they popped and snapped.
I saw others, emboldened by my feat. I saw them drop in, leaving trails of bubbles and sometimes blood as they succumbed and didn’t exit the way I had. I still occasionally cross their remnants in the churn - their coats, their packs, their cameras and selfie sticks.
I understood flow like I never had. My dry body was constantly processing an endless stream of data related to pressure, velocity, density. I was an instrument, bobbing broken in The Strid. I knew now, as I looked to rent a home in Bolton Abbey, that “flow” is dictated as much by outside forces as it is by internal ones. The water was at the mercy of the rocks, and vice versa. I also studied patterns in detail - noticing the miniscule whorls and eddies that caught my body at regular intervals and held onto it for different periods of time, only changing as my own physical matter changed and lost density - bones that cracked, muscle that swelled and then disintegrated, limbs that detached and spun down to calmer waters, my bones lodging within beaver dams or washing up to confuse (and delight) local kids in search of adventure.
For a time, I translated this experience into movement arts. Dance and Brazlian Jiu Jitsu occupied me most, my style, called unorthodox by critics, was in fact just a direct expression of what my split self was doing underwater - crashing, spinning, resisting the flow, succumbing to it. There were belts, trophies, awards and thinkpieces. I look back fondly on my time as a professional flow artist, but I stepped down with little fanfare, moving on to other things as I often did.
I met a nice woman in Bolton Abbey. I met everyone in Bolton Abbey. I gave tours. I spoke to the local news. She was one of the presenters standing by to interview the modern marvel, her hair done big, weatherproof parka crisp down to the embroidered network logo. She didn’t mind that my speech was often punctuated with gasps of air and uninterrupted descriptions of underwater phenomena. She knew every time I saw the light. She knew that roughly every three days I would lodge into an underground cave for a relative period of calm. We would celebrate these days with a picnic in the park.
My flow dictated our flow. Her flow of work and bills and commutes and commitments became less and less interesting to her. She grew more and more intrigued, ready to submit to The Strid in a ploy to join me, to sync rhythms and live the simultaneous dry/wet life I had seemingly invented.
But she knew of the others who tried after me. She reported on the town’s efforts to enact strict guard schedules and a series of gates and rails to stop the “Stridders”, as they came to be known. Signs for suicide hotlines went up along the water. Murals and vigils. I made myself available to angry parents, veiled widows, and the very religious.
She knew this and still found herself drawn to the water. I told her I was there for her and I would not stop her. All I could do was share my knowledge of the flow that would consume her. I shared weak points, the eddies and catacombs. I drew detailed maps of where the flow was strongest, where it was the most punishing. We framed the diagrams and hung them in our home. Showing no one.
Growing old, my awareness of The Strid fades along with whatever part of me still swirls here. Long stretches of black before I find myself scraping along a rock or catching the body of a fresh Stridder. Then blackness again. On land, I have a similar experience. She has the same. She commits to closing out her time on earth by stepping in to join me. I do not stop her. I am lonely in the water.
She is with me now. Her body flows through mine while sun and moon swell and fade. We maintain in The Strid. We flow and flow again.
“I Went Into The Strid,
So I Did,
So I Did,
And She Came Wid,
So She Did,
So She Did.”
-The Rime of The Original Stridder