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.
Brandon 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 his 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.
Find this story and more like it in M. Sydnor Jr.'s short story collection, Nothing is Natural.
© 2020 M. Sydnor Jr.
Leave a Reply