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, then 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, then felt around his suit again, but gave a thumbs up to them after. 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.
Find this story and more like it in M. Sydnor Jr.'s short story collection, Nothing is Natural.
© 2020 M. Sydnor Jr.
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