Monday, March 14, 2011

Underwater Breathing (Part 1 of 3)

I almost drowned when I was ten. It was out on Willow Lake. Cody Detwiller was daring everyone to jump off the end of the old dock to see who could jump the farthest.

We weren’t supposed to be out that far. The lake was deep and there were no lifeguards, but we always watched the big kids out there with their stereo and their cooler of stuff we were pretty sure wasn’t just pop, and that day they were gone, so we figured it was ours for the taking. Everyone was stoked but me.

I couldn’t swim, but I could fake it pretty good. We mostly stayed in the shallows at the lake, or floated around in inner tubes. I was okay as long as I didn’t drift out to far. When that happened, I would try to ignore the pounding in my chest, and take deep breaths like my dad taught me. I learned to wear a mask of calm, to deflect with humor, but the truth was I was terrified. And I hated it.

So when Cody announced that anyone who didn’t jump was a girl, I jumped. And then, I panicked.

Fear, real fear, is paralyzing. I knew I needed to move my arms, or kick, but in my mind I was already drowning even though I still had a chest full of air. In my mind I was dead as soon as the water covered my head.

I watched the sunlight dim as I sank. I thought, I hate Cody Detwiller. I felt the slick rocks and rough sand when I hit bottom. My lungs burned and as my thoughts became a jumble, and the world grew dark, I heard a song. It seemed somehow solid, moving straight at me with force in the midst of all that liquid. The voice was so beautiful and sad I thought maybe it was the angels, coming to take me.

Hands gripped my head and I looked up into the face of a girl about my age, with hair the color of seaweed streaming behind her. She was smiling at me, and even though her mouth was closed, I was sure the melody was coming from her.

Don’t be afraid. The words echoed inside my head, soft and high. Her mouth still hadn’t moved, but I knew it was her voice I’d heard. And just like that, I wasn’t scared anymore. She leaned forward and pressed her mouth to mine. In that moment, I forgot everything. There was just me, the music, and the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen kissing me.

When she pulled away, I reached for her and she giggled, the sound tinkled like bells inside my head. You have to swim now Ryan, it won’t last long.

Why? I thought back to her, my fear of the water already a distant memory. I want to stay with you.

She shook her head. You don’t belong here.

What’s your name?

My name can't be said with your language.

I didn’t understand. Does it have a meaning?

She thought it over. If I tell you do you promise to go?

Okay. I nodded my head, careful not to let her hear the thought that I'd be right back.

It’s Summer. Now, please, go! You’re running out of time and I can’t save you again. She pointed up with her hand, her eyes pleading with me. Kick.

She turned and swam away, flicking a tail as green as her hair behind her. I watched her until she was gone and it was only then that I realized I could breathe.

I kicked my way to the surface where a frantic crowd waited. Strong arms pulled me to shore, and the next thing I saw was my dad’s worried face. “I want to take swimming lessons,” I told him, and then I passed out.

As soon as my parents let me go near the lake again, I spent hours out there diving as deep as I could, waiting, calling to her, but she never came.

I pretty much chalked it up as an oxygen-deprived hallucination until today, when whispers started going around about a strange new girl with bright green hair and skin so pale it was like she’d never seen the sun.

I was in the hallway outside the gym when I heard it. The song that saved me all those years ago. It pushed it’s way to me through the crowd, over the chattering voices, inside my head.

I searched out the source until I spotted a flash of bright green. The closer I got to her, the louder the song became, but the pounding of my heart threatened to drown it out. She had her back to me, as she arranged books in her locker.

Summer? I said, using the voice she’d shown me in my head.

All the books in her hands crashed to the floor.

Come back Wednesday for part two from Lacey!

photo via della stock

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