Marlon piloted the motorboat at dangerous speeds. It would be nothing to a professional, but Marlon was an amateur, at best. He hardly remembered the last time he was on a boat; probably in his teens, with his father, who’d let him steer it a little, but that was twenty-something years ago. Now, in unknown waters, on a stolen boat, he had a good reason for this dangerous and daring stunt that’d cost him time in a foreign prison.
He had no choice, though. They had no choice.
Marlon’s cousin, Brandon, and Brandon’s girlfriend, Angee, were with him as they raced to where Brandon’s brother, Cameron, was last spotted two days earlier. The last anyone had seen or heard from him. That was about as much help as they’d received from the Water Tour Services on the beach. A man who’d signed Cameron up for a second scuba lesson had pointed in the direction his colleague and Cameron had sailed off to. He didn’t offer a boat to help look, though he’d at least called the authorities. But with Brandon being ultra-anxious, Marlon eye-balled an abandoned speedboat with the keys in the ignition and had decided to take matters into his own hands.
“I told him not to go. I told him.” Brandon wasn’t crying yet, but close to it.
Marlon grew up with Brandon and Cameron and had never seen either of them cry. It was a stressful situation for Marlon and Angee, too, but Brandon took it to a whole other level, acting and talking like his brother was gone forever, and they’d barely started the search. For a time, Brandon couldn’t decide if he wanted to stand or sit, talk or shut up. And when he talked, it was always the same thing over and over. And he choked on his words.
“I told him—”
“I know, I know.” Finally, Angee calmed him, hugging him and holding him as they cruised farther away, until they couldn’t see the shore anymore.
What now? Where to? The tourist guy back on shore had fucking pointed to an area out in the open ocean. Not on a map. Even so, they couldn’t read maps, at least Marlon couldn’t, and he’d already proved to be the most experienced of the three on the water.
This is stupid. Perhaps they were all thinking it.
He wanted to find his cousin, but feared they’d get themselves lost in the process. Marlon immediately wanted to turn back, wait for the authorities, and find Cameron the right way, the smart way. To hell with the consequences of taking the boat, he’d deal with that later, better than being lost. But if there was one thing he’d learned from being in the ocean with his father was that ‘navigating the waters using only your sense-of-direction is how you end up in Antarctica. You need a compass’.Marlon halfway checked the boat for a compass, only looking at the dash and the area around his feet. ‘Gotta use the stars’ his father had also said, but it was early in the morning with nothing but blue skies, no clouds. Weird. There’d been clouds, almost like it was going to rain, when they’d left the hotel this morning.
Marlon was lost, but he kept that secret to himself, especially since Brandon had settled down.
“We good?” Brandon asked.
“Mhmm,” Marlon responded. “Stay alert. I’ll keep my eyes on the north, you two take the east and west.” Poor guy didn’t know they were sailing south.
Before it got dark, he thought of coming clean, telling Brandon they were lost and that he didn’t know the way back. But it might have already been past that time, the way Brandon’s emotional state had done a full-on reverse.
The optimism in Brandon grew the farther away they drifted, saying things like, “We’re going to find him. I know it. We’re getting close.” He even went as far as to swear to God that he felt him nearby. “He’s close. Keep your eyes open,” he said. “He’s close.”
Of course, Angee stood by her man, encouraging him, but Marlon looked at the situation like Brandon did before; Cameron’s gone. He stopped looking, then turned his head away from the ocean and faced his older cousin. “Umm…” He wasn’t sure how to tell him more bad news on top of the horrible situation, but it was going to come out one way or the other.
“Look!” Brandon lunged to the front of the boat and pointed.
Marlon held his tongue and swerved around. “Well, goddamn. A fishing boat!”
The green fishing vessel with blue streaks on the side slowly approached. A young man and woman looked at them as Brandon tried to wave them down. “Hey! Hey! Can you help us? We’re looking for someone. Have you seen anyone out here?”
The boat kept on cruising past them, and the young couple kept on looking. Didn’t seem like they understood Brandon, and looked like they feared him the way they held each other by the arms.
“English? You speak English?” he screamed.
The man shook his head, then pulled his wife to the top of their ship, toward the boat’s wheel.
“What the fuck? Help us!” Brandon raised his arms as they sailed away. That hope in him faded as he plopped on the floor of the boat and buried his face in his knees.
Perfect time for Marlon to tell them it was time to turn back but…
“Hey! There! Over there!” Angee screamed.
Marlon looked, then Brandon flipped over to his hands and knees and crawled to the edge. They saw another boat, a motorboat, exactly like the one they were in. Abandoned. Marlon took them over, then Brandon and Angee hopped in and searched for clues.
“Find anything? Is it Cam’s boat?” Marlon asked from the other boat.
Brandon raised a sweater in the air and regrettably nodded.
“Fuck.” Marlon felt a tightness in his chest that he’d never felt before. A chill rose from his lower back to his brain that burned his face and watered his eyes. He dropped to the seat in front of the wheel and covered his head. This can’t be happening.
Marlon retreated into his own world, reminiscing on good times with his favorite cousin, Cameron. Mainly this entire overseas trip, the best time they’d had together. Their first day, all four of them took scuba lessons in a controlled environment. They loved it, but Cameron wanted more adventure, more excitement. Marlon was supposed to go with him on this extended, pricey, and illegal scuba lesson but he overslept. Cameron hadn’t waited, so a lot of what Marlon was feeling was guilt.
“I’m going. You’re either coming with me or not.” The thunderous tone of his cousin Brandon brought him out of his thoughts, and he poked his head above the boat’s wheel and saw Brandon clad in scuba gear.
“Babe, wait,” Angee pleaded. “He’s gone. And if you go, you’ll be gone too.”
“Gone?” For a minute, it looked like Brandon was going to strike Angee. “I don’t accept that.” He stuck the regulator in his mouth and dropped into the ocean.
“No!” Angee screamed, reaching out to him.
“What—what—why’d he do that?” Marlon stumbled out of the stolen boat onto the abandoned one.
“He’s fucking lost it,” Angee claimed, but she grabbed a package from a compartment inside and started putting on a scuba suit herself.
“What’re you doing?”
“Going after him. I’m not going to let him kill himself down there.”
“I’m going, too.”
“No. You stay up here and keep watch,” Angee said, raising a palm.
“Keep watch for what? There’s nothing out here. No one.” If they were going down, Marlon would go too, since he felt at fault for not going with Cameron in the first place.
Angee didn’t bother arguing with him, there were no more scuba suits anyway; she’d grabbed the last one. She was breaking all of the rules they’d heard days earlier, to take your time as you put your suit on, to double check your gauges, your gear, to make sure you had everything, and as she readied herself to jump in, she’d dropped her flashlight without even realizing it. So anxious to get down there.
As she jumped in, it brought him to the realization that this had turned into a rescue mission for Brandon. He couldn’t make up for the responsibility of leaving his cousin out to dry. Best he could do was make up for it back home, in his memory.
They’re crazy. Gonna get themselves killed. What the hell does Brandon expect to find down there? His brother swimming with the fish, literally? Cameron’s gone. Forever. It’s been two fucking days. No way could he survive out here alone. Right?
He felt crazy for questioning himself. And he cursed himself for the next wave of thoughts.
First, he had wanted to jump, then he didn’t, but now, with even a small chance Cameron had survived or maybe there was a clue as to what happened to him, Marlon wanted to be there.
He glanced back and forth between the two identical boats, clearly part of the same tourist organization. If the compartment had scuba suits in this boat, then the other boat should have them as well. He rushed back over to the other one, opened the compartment, and found four scuba gear suits.
He found some rope, tied the two boats together, then slipped into the gear. Please, God. Don’t let there be any snakes in here. Then, he jumped in.
Where is he? Where is he?
Angee looked around the clear warm water. Beautiful schools of small fish swayed in unison. The larger fish scattered below the smaller ones, minding their business. It was night and day from the surface to below. So quiet and empty above the surface, but down here, not two seconds into the water, seemed like a party had just commenced. Under different circumstances she would have taken in this beautiful sight and cursed herself for not bringing a camera.
Their dive a few days ago saw little to no fish and they were maybe a mile away from land. But this—this was real scuba diving. She might have smiled and lived in this rare moment, but Brandon had to find Cameron. And now, she had to find Brandon.
Five minutes hadn’t passed since she jumped in after Brandon, and he was nowhere in sight. The area on the sides of her were clear, and below was a mystery as it darkened a couple feet underneath the larger fish. So, she swam below, determined—no, convinced—that he had to be nearby. Brandon! If only she could scream his name.
A fish twice her size, with an orange body and two blue streaks down its back swam in her path. I wonder what this one is called? To her, it looked like a shark in the mouth and a humpback whale in the back. She took no caution with this mysterious beautiful creature as she stroked its scaly belly. Angee was ignorant when it came to sea creatures. Anything she hadn’t seen depicted as violent on TV and movies was safe. But she wanted nothing to do with the sharks, killer whales, giant squid, even jellyfish. The beautiful orange fish swam away and as she watched it sway, she caught a glimpse of the surface, the two motorboats in one, happy to have a point of reference. All she had to do was not lose sight of that, and she was good.
The school of fish was gone now, the big orange fish and his friends, too. And now down below seemed like up top; alone, quiet, nothing, no one. After she did another three-sixty, trying to find something, she shrugged and continued to dive.
Breathing became tougher, but she expected that. Also, her suit was getting cold, and, as she dropped, so did her body temperature. Okay. He couldn’t have gone much further down. Still diving…more darkness, more water, more nothing.
Her neck ached from all the twisting and turning she did. Her eyes watered from the constant squinting; tears she’d been holding back all morning from Brandon freaking out about his brother. The biggest problem, though, was that her heart felt tight, and she stopped diving and rubbed on the suit covering her chest.
Calm down, Angee. Stay calm. Stay calm. Then, she looked up and it was just as dark as it was below her. What—where—where is it? Where are the boats? Fuck!
She would scream now if there weren’t millions of gallons of water waiting for that lovely invite into her body. So, she mumbled and let her mind run amok. Still no sign from Brandon, and she thought of swimming back to the surface to team up with Marlon and look for him together. The cold down here was easy to get used to, so was her breathing, but she couldn’t handle the darkness; the quiet, the mystery of this—whatever this is—wherever this is. She wasn’t losing her mind. She hadn’t dived that far down, she knew that. Yet, she couldn’t see anything above her. Then she felt something brush up against her leg. She flinched, turned round and round, but she couldn’t see shit. Couldn’t see her hands, her feet. If it was a shark coming after her, she wouldn’t know it. Fuck this. She decided to swim up, regroup with Marlon, and come back for Brandon.
As she started her ascent, something grabbed her ankle and pulled her down. What the fuck? She screamed through the regulator, bubbles and all, then looked down. A light shined through her mask. Temporarily blinded for a moment, she fought and swung at whatever it was in front of her.
One of her wrists was held as a light shined on Marlon. Oh, for fuck’s sake. Thank God. She stopped her struggle and relaxed her body. She convinced herself that it was him who brushed up against her moments before. But why? She couldn’t ask him that. Couldn’t even try. They were given the crash course on how to sign under water and she’d only halfway paid attention to that.
Marlon pointed at his eyes, then to her eyes and with his flashlight, he shined below their fins.
Brandon! Oh, my God. With Marlon’s light, she could see Brandon swimming around…only ten feet below them. He had his own flashlight, shining at everything in front of him, below him, behind him, as Marlon and Angee joined from above.
He’d been below her this whole time, she should’ve seen his light, should’ve seen him. But she hadn’t. Didn’t matter. She’d found him now, and they embraced. His eyes were bloodshot, then she looked deeper and saw pain. She knew Brandon well enough to know that if they hadn’t found him, he would have died looking for Cameron.
She knew that he needed her in order to give up his senseless search. He relaxed his tense body in her arms as she took control of his flashlight.
Time to go back up. She signaled with the light, pointing up with her finger. He nodded. She flashed the light on Marlon. He nodded, too.
Behind Marlon, an orange blur zoomed past. Shit! She flinched and fumbled with the light. When she regained control of it, she shined it at Marlon again, behind him, then all around. She must’ve spun around three times before her boyfriend grabbed her and raised his arms. She pushed away from Brandon and signed that she saw a fish, doing a waving motion with her hands.
Calm down, Angee. It’s an ocean, there’s going to be fish. It’s probably that cute one I touched earlier.
She shined the light on Marlon to confirm if he saw, but he seemed preoccupied with his suit. Is he checking for holes?
Brandon swam over, touched his cousin’s shoulder and Marlon jumped back, in a defensive position. Huh? A second later, Marlon raised his arms, signaled that he was okay, still touching his suit for some reason, but gave a thumbs up to them. What the fuck is going on?
She swam over to the boys, made sure they were in arm’s length of each other, then they climbed. Her flashlight led the way, brightening the darkness above them. She couldn’t wait to see those two boats. Shouldn’t be long now.
But that orange blur was back. It wasn’t zooming past or minding its business, it was minding hers, and her friends’. Showing that shark-like head of his, opening its mouth to a thousand razors for teeth. Coming straight for them. She dropped the flashlight, spat out the regulator, screaming bubbles, and swam into Brandon’s arms.
He caught the flashlight and as it shined above them, the orange fish was gone. Disappeared.
Fuck the coldness, fuck the breathing, it felt like her head was about to explode and she was unable to tell if it was the pressure of the water or stress. Both. Yeah, both.
Let’s get the fuck out of here.
Swimming to the top, shining the light into more darkness, Brandon thought it was weird they hadn’t made it to the surface yet. Surely they hadn’t dived more than a hundred feet, but here they were, tiring themselves in the middle of the sea for what seemed like hours. What is this?
To panic would’ve been a horrible idea. Yeah, he had all the reason in the world to, his fucking brother was gone. Dead, likely. No way he survived two days in the sea. It was his sweater in the boat up top… Momma gave him that sweater, her last gift to him before she died… he wouldn’t have abandoned it. So, definitely his boat, definitely the last spot he’d been. He wouldn’t give up his search, never in a million years. He’d bring his brother back home, alive or dead. But this, right now, what was happening to Marlon and Angee, they weren’t right in the head. They weren’t cut out for a scuba diving rescue mission.
Brandon didn’t know what the hell had gotten into them. He wasn’t feeling much of anything himself, sort of numb, but he seemed to be the only capable one of the three able to lead them out of this—this dark water prison.
Without a flashlight of her own, Angee stayed close to Brandon, a few feet below him. Marlon, however, veered away from the group. Marlon? Brandon halted his climb and flashed the light on his cousin. To get his attention, he clicked the light off and on a few times. Marlon stopped and looked at him. Brandon shrugged, then signaled to an imaginary watch on his wrist, then pointed to the top.
Marlon looked up, then brought his vision back down to his cousin. His body jerked one way, then another, then he dropped the flashlight and it sank.
With Brandon’s light stuck on his cousin, Angee swam up next to him and squeezed on Brandon’s arm as he watched Marlon scratch himself. It wasn’t an itch. It was more—like—there was something in his suit.
Marlon snatched his mask off, and it, along with the regulator, went following the flashlight into the depths of the ocean.
Marlon—no! Brandon tried to lunge for his cousin, to help him, but Angee held on.
Marlon started to sink, still struggling with his suit, stripping himself of more gear. He unstrapped himself from the buoyancy compensator, the scuba pack, and the tank; basically, his lifeline in the ocean. With the weight of the tank off his back, he floated back to their eye level. He unzipped himself from the wetsuit. Then, the flippers went; the boots, too. And there he was, in his fucking underwear, deep in the ocean, still fighting something inside of him. He raked his fingers over his bare body, clawing at something until he just stopped altogether.
Brandon would go over there and give his cousin his own regulator, the suit off his damn back, but Angee had a death hold on him. He kicked, even pushed his woman, but that did nothing. He’d question her strength later, because right now, he was witnessing his cousin drown. He couldn’t turn the light away. Couldn’t turn his eyes away.
Marlon had fought off whatever attacked his body, had stripped himself to get rid of the thing, whatever the hell it was, but now, instincts had him gulping the water, his head jerking as the ocean flooded into his body. But he allowed it to happen, the way he just floated there, welcoming the sea. Then, the poor guy just sank. His arms and legs spread out, dropping, until he became part of the darkness surrounding them.
Angee’s grip loosened, and he pushed her away, harder than he’d ever done. If he could talk to her, he’d curse her out. If he could move around like he’d like to, he’d probably get more physical than just a push. But this wasn’t his neck of the woods. He had to play by the ocean’s rules, and he was a novice down here, at best. He had to focus. And that became damn hard to do.
Gotta get out. Gotta get out. He climbed. And climbed. He’d come back with professionals and the authorities for the impossible task of retrieving Marlon’s body, and Cameron’s, but it was likely his cousin was gone forever. Gone to the sea. Gotta get out. Gotta get out. Still climbing. Still darkness. Fuck returning to the boat, he didn’t care if they were lost anymore. But if physics were as simple as up and down, they’d get to the surface if they swam up, right?
Still, darkness. His heart raced, hoping to run into only friendly fish. He couldn’t see his sides, and although he didn’t want to think of it, a shark could see in this better than he could. And he was hanging out in the middle of the shark’s goddamn living room. Please no sharks, please no sharks. His patience started to fade. He had artificial air but was still out of breath. The climb felt like hours and his arms and legs were tired as shit. So tired that his composure slipped, and the cool and calmness he had hoped to attain were nowhere to be found.
What was that? He stopped swimming and turned. Sounded like a scream, Angee’s scream. But how?
She was supposed to be following him, using his light as a source, but now she was nowhere to be seen. He was pissed at her in the moment, but nothing unforgiveable. She was scared. He was scared.
He flashed the light everywhere, anywhere…still nothing, no sign of her. He wished he could scream her name. Tell her that he was sorry for pushing her, say that he loved her.
As he dropped a couple feet lower, very meticulous in his search in this strange, dark place, he saw her fly by with the speed of a dolphin. He swerved the light in the direction she went but lost sight of her. So, he swam down, flashing the light off and on to signal to her. His heart jumped in his throat, chill bumps spread throughout his body and tickled his spine. It made his body jerk and his eyes dart around his head. Angee baby. Where are you?
It wasn’t the Atlantic coming out of his eyes, flooding his mask, that’s for sure. Keep it together.
There she was. Twenty feet down. Fighting something.
He raced down, shining the light, flashing it for her to come to him. She wouldn’t respond. Looked like she was battling for her life the way she swung and kicked.
As Brandon came within feet of her, he didn’t see anyone else, anything else. She had the tank off her back, and she grasped it in front of her, using it as a weapon.
What the fuck, Ang? Still unable to get her attention, he moaned as loud as he could. Then, she took off after something. Deeper into the darkness, the tank leading her, Brandon chasing her.
Seeing her and what was ahead, he spat out his regulator and blew bubbles with a scream. Angee!
The ocean floor, a small rocky hill, and Angee went straight for it. On purpose. She had to see it—had to. Then she smacked full force into the hill. The tank exploded on impact, and it blew him away.
Thank God he didn’t black out because that would’ve been his life, too. Fuck God. Cameron. Marlon. Now, Angee. Brandon would’ve likely stripped down himself and mimicked Marlon. To hell with this. But above him…clear waters. The surface. The explosion pushed him to freedom. How—what… He could see fish, all sorts, swaying around. But more importantly, he saw the two boats.
Forget the how, the what, the why…he stripped, but only the buoyancy compensator and the tank. Then, he swam to the top—to freedom. The fish scattered so quickly that he just knew it was him they were afraid of. But coming up on his right, a large fish approached. The water was so clear, he saw the unmistakable dorsal fin of a shark. He ignored it. It’s not there. It’s not there. It had to be the water tricking him. Much like it had Marlon and Angee. Possibly his brother. And to honor their memory, to tell the world what happened to them, he pretended it wasn’t there.
So, all casual like, tired, exhausted, heartbroken, he kept on swimming to the top and didn’t even look at the thing again. Why not? Because it wasn’t there.
He pushed out of the water and pulled his upper body over the edge of one of the boats. First thing he noticed were the stars and the bright moon spotlighting the boat. It was evening time, but how? They’d dived in early morning and hadn’t been gone two hours, that much he knew. He pulled his mask off and breathed so hard that he threw up. A happy yacking. He laughed it off. Still resting…a little longer…he’d pull himself into the boat eventually, but this spot was good enough for now. Until he gathered more strength, breathed more air, calmed himself.
It felt like a pinch at first, something on his ankle. “Ow,” he said. Then, a second later, something crunched down on his thighs, crushing him, and he screamed. No more legs. Whatever had him, held on and pulled him back into the water. He looked and saw the shark.
Fuck, it’s real.
“Alone today, yeah?” Tiago asked.
“The others are too chickenshit to join me. So, yeah, alone today,” Cameron replied, feeling the salty ocean air blow across his face. Hearing the hum of the motor in the background as they moved across the water.
“That is a nice shirt you have. How do you say—uhh…hip.”
Cameron laughed. “Nah…we don’t say hip anymore. Just—just cool. You can say cool.”
“Very cool shirt.”
“Thank you. It’s a sweater though. My mom knitted it for my birthday a long, long time ago.” He pointed to the blue and green bedazzles outlining his nickname ‘Cam Man’ on the front of it. He’d never worn it before until this vacation. And he’d worn it every day since they’d arrived, not because of the weather, but in her memory. This whole trip had been her idea long ago.
Tiago smiled, nodded, then said “Better to suit up now. Be ready for diving soon.”
Cameron took off his sweater, carefully folded it and placed it under a seat on the motorboat. Then, he slipped on the bodysuit, boots, flippers, and the rest of the scuba gear like he’d done a few days ago. That was part of the training. He, Brandon, Angee, and Marlon had practiced putting on the suit and taking it off a dozen times before they’d dived in. So, suiting up was a cinch now.
“Okay. Here is the location.” Tiago stopped the boat, then started to suit up himself.
Cameron had the gear on and was ready but confused. “Here? I thought we were going out farther today. I mean—I can still see the beach from here.”
“Yes. Here.” Tiago said as he slipped his boots on. “This is as far as we go. To go beyond is forbidden.”
“Yes. Any farther and we will be in cursed waters.”
Cameron stood, annoyed, and almost slipped out of the boat. Thank God for the railing he grabbed onto to catch himself. “Look, Tiago. I paid you extra today to take me on a real dive. Not some commercial, tourist thing. I want to be in the open waters. Fuck—I want to feel like I’m lost.” He was kidding about the last part, sort of. Cameron wanted adventure. He’d had to drag his family to the first dive, which was near the shore, no different than what Tiago was trying to do now.
“So, you want to go farther? You want to go in Forbidden Water?” Tiago asked.
“Yes. Take me to the Forbidden Water.” Cameron made a mockery of it, pointing.
Tiago waited, made a face like he didn’t understand what Cameron asked of him, then looked back at the land. “Okay. I take you beyond.”
So, they went. Cameron couldn’t stop his leg from shaking, his body from rocking, his cheeks from rising. This was his moment. They had sailed far enough for them to be out of sight of anything, anyone. Only water now, in all directions, and not a cloud in sight. Yet Cameron looked around like there was much to see. And he grinned like he was a little kid.
Tiago made it a point to say that he’d been in these waters once before, but not during the season. The “Forbidden Season” he’d called it. A one-month period where it was against the law to sail these waters. Tiago couldn’t say why only one month, which only made Cameron more skeptical.
Cameron thought it was a religious or ancestral thing. His ignorant self didn’t care. He’d paid and that was enough, he thought, to override any laws, superstitions, or traditions. “Tell me more about this Forbidden Season,” he requested as they flew across the water.
“Hundreds of years ago, this time of year, a pirate ship sailed this area with stolen treasure said to be from the lost city of Atlantis. A storm came, washed the ship away—the pirates and their treasure. Legend says that the treasure dissolved into the water, cursing it.”
Cameron scoffed, but listened to the man tell the story. He’s probably trying to scare me.
“Most of the pirates died as their ship sank, but the ones who had survived the storm were stuck at sea for hours. But then they started to kill each other…and eat each other. They say the water made them do it. That they…how do you say…perceived their friends as monsters, and the others as food.”
Cameron laughed nervously. “What the fuck?”
“They also say time works differently down there. That an hour down there is like a day up here. Or something like that. I do not know much.”
Seems like you know enough. “And who are they that you keep talking about? Seems like no one survived this storm, right? So, how’d this story get out? How do you know about it?”
Tiago did a mixture of shrugging and eye-rolling. Cameron didn’t know what to make of it, but it made him laugh some more.
“Is that why there are no clouds in the sky? Because of this forbidden area or whatever?”
Tiago smiled. “Correct.” Then, he stopped the boat. “Okay. We stop here. Good enough?”
Cameron looked around, then shrugged. “I guess.” But he couldn’t get this story out of his mind. Surely Tiago would’ve denied bringing him out here if it were true. The man would’ve argued more or even returned payment if all that he just said actually happened. He doesn’t believe this shit. Then, the idea of this outrageous story vacated his mind as he focused on the adventure he’d been itching to get to since completing his first, amateur, dive.
“Ready?” Tiago asked, as he stepped on the edge of the boat.
“Mhmm,” Cameron responded.
“Remember, Mr. Cameron. Wait five seconds, then you dive.”
Tiago pulled the mask down over his eyes and stuck the regulator in his mouth, then dropped into the ocean.
Cameron stood, then stepped up to the edge. Here we go. He inhaled, exhaled, pulled the mask over his face, stuck the regulator in his mouth, and jumped in.
Fucking cold in here.
Schools of colorful fish swarmed the area immediately below his feet. Big ones, small ones, some as tiny as his pinky.
See. This is what I’m talking about. Fish. Not those fake fish that come to shore to swim with the humans. These are the real deal. The wild fish.
The fish scattered as Cameron dropped deeper into the water. But his guide had disappeared. The water animals reacted to his presence, and his presence only, the way they moved out of the way for his descent. He said five seconds. He couldn’t have gone down that far already. Yet he was nowhere to be found. So, Cameron swam deeper into the water.
It was beautiful here, and clear. He could feel the difference from his first dive—the way the water felt, the sense of adventure, danger, exotic animals and violent beasts, all in the same pool. This was his greatest moment. But as he reveled in all the awesomeness, the clear waters switched to dark like a switch. He stopped and looked up. Still darkness.
Huh? He grabbed the flashlight that was attached to his hip and flipped it on. Where the fuck is he?
Cameron loved to do crazy things, no secret. A self-made stuntman back home. But the guy was afraid of the dark. No one knew this, not even his brother, Brandon. So, the excursion immediately changed from fun to creepy. Now he was ready to go.
He shined the light below him, still dark, then above to more blackness. He swam for the surface. His heart raced, his body tingled. Hell, through the billions of gallons of water surrounding him, he felt sweat on his forehead. Nervous sweat. Time to get the hell out of here sweat. Darkness was his mortal enemy.
And he was still swimming.
Five minutes later, still at it.
How is this possible? Where the fuck is the top? Ah! Where is it? Where is it? The thoughts were turning into words. Cameron forgot he was underwater and started blowing bubbles as he screamed his way out of this hell.
The light didn’t help, but he still shined it in every direction, searching for clear waters, hoping for the surface. Where is it? Where—What the fuck? A body swam past the light above him. He stopped his climb and swerved the flashlight to his right, then his left.
It was nothing—no, wait—there was something.
“Aye, boy,” a raspy voice whispered right behind his ear. He swerved around, swung his arms and kicked his feet. But the light only shined into more nothing.
The darkness now took a back seat to something more sinister. Voices in his head, or voices in the water. Either choice would’ve been as crazy as a soup sandwich, but he knew what he heard.
“You the one took me treasure?” again, the voice said. No whisper this time. Super clear, and deep, and dark.
Cameron pointed the flashlight down and saw three bodies floating below him. None of them Tiago. None of them in scuba gear. But they were dressed like pirates. That much he knew. Also, they had no skin.
“Kill him,” one of the pirates said.
“No—no, let’s eat him,” another replied.
Cameron dropped the flashlight and swam for his life. He ditched the tank, ascending faster without the extra weight.
Finally! Clear water. The surface. He could see the sun shining through. Don’t look back. He pushed himself harder and harder. Kicked like he’d never kicked before. Swam like he was going for gold in the summer Olympics.
He broke the surface and looked for the boat, but it was gone.
Snatching his mask off, he pulled the regulator out of his mouth and screamed. “Help! Someone, help!” Not even thinking, he dropped his only way of breathing in a world of water. His only thought now was escaping those three things that were after him. With his energy sapped, he picked a random direction and used what little strength he had left to swim.
Ten minutes later, he spotted it.
A boat. Coming his way.
Not a motorboat, but a bigger one. A green fishing boat with blue streaks. The two occupants, a man and woman, pulled him onto their boat and dried him off.
“Help me. Help me,” Cameron said over and over. Out of energy. Out of strength. Out of his mind. “They’re trying to kill me. They’re after me. Three of them. Save me. Save me.” His breathing sped up, and he started to shake.
“It is okay. You are safe with us. Relax. Relax.” The man held Cameron in his arms and rubbed his shoulders with a towel. “Dear, get him some coffee,” he told the woman.
She hurried to the lower level as the man continued to warm Cameron.
My saviors. Cameron wanted to say something to thank them, but he could barely speak. He could hardly keep his eyes open and soon enough he knew his consciousness would follow. He was safe now. With these two lovely strangers.
He couldn’t see them anymore, but he heard them as they cared for his body, brought his temperature back to normal. Meanwhile, he dreamed of being back home, in the states, never doing any crazy shit like this again. Brandon would like that.
“Boat coming.” The woman’s voice drifted through his consciousness.
The husband removed Cameron from his arms and laid him gently on the boat floor. “Where?” the man asked.
“There. With three people.”
“Like the boy said.”
“What do we do?” the woman asked.
“Quick. Get him below. We will hide him until they pass.”
Wait. Boat? Three?
Then he heard another voice speak out. “Hey! Hey! Can you help us?” It wasn’t the man. It wasn’t the woman. It was…
Brandon! Cameron tried to open his eyes, tried to speak, but he blacked out.
‘Forbidden Water’ is from my book of short stories, Nothing is Natural.
Click here to learn more.