(several months ago)
“C’mon, Jules!” Demi shouts, his cheery British enunciation bounding atop the surface of the choppy water, like a smooth, flat rock skipping across a pond.
I squint into the sun at him and Eddie, bobbing and swaying effortlessly, like tiny pieces of kelp in the distance. They are waving their arms wildly at me, beckoning me towards them, and away from the safety of the sandy shoreline.
They are only 50 yards away, but that might as well be miles.
I’m unable to swim, you see.
Not for lack of trying, of course. Every boyfriend I’ve ever had has attempted to teach me. And every lesson has ended exactly the same – with me in tears, and the boyfriend fuming at my complete and utter lack of comprehension.
I’ve just never been very… buoyant.
And of course there’s that pesky deep-seeded fear of being submerged in any liquid past eye-level.
And that whole ‘no oxygen for the foreseeable future‘ thing.
It’s a lot to contend with.
My point is – it’s hopeless.
Ignoring all of this, I forge ahead, folding under the weight of the light-hearted peer pressure.
The warm, salty water laps at my waist, crawling slowly upwards with every inch I cover. The sand is soft and grainy between my toes.
Suddenly, a tiny wave jumps upwards, and bites me right in the chin with it’s frothy teeth. A sharp hiss escapes my mouth as the fallout rains down upon me, covering me in foamy droplets that glisten in the beaming sunlight.
September 7, 2019
Hotel Room #213
I step awkwardly over the low porcelain wall of the hotel bathtub, flinching slightly as the tepid spray strikes my back.
I pause for a moment, letting my body adjust to the temperature before committing myself entirely to the growing warmth of the cascade.
I’m exhausted, yet wired. I know that I’ve slept… yet feel like I haven’t.
Why is that?
I reach absently for my loofah. As I draw circles across my naked skin with it’s soft, springy texture, my mind begins to wander.
Lunch today… I’ll bring that salad. Cut some avocado up and mix it in.
Need to fill the car up with gas on the way home tonight. Getting kind of low.
I can’t believe I watched the entire third season of Stranger Things last weekend what will I watch tonight after work–
–now I need to find a new show I could ask my coworkers but I’m pretty sure they all hate me because why wouldn’t they because I suck at my job —
–and I’m not very likeable and last night was a disaster and I felt pretty dizzy and I don’t remember driving home and why is that I still have lots of anxiety about it remember that guy that tried to kill my coworker and that mean nurse and the supervisor well I’m-certain-she-hates-me
Back in Thailand...
Beads of twinkling salt water glide down my nose as I fervently study the rhythmic pattern of the waves. My toes grip the shifting sand as I rock back and forth in perfect harmony with their beat, bracing myself for the impact of each note as it chimes, melodically through the tropical air.
Eddie and Demi are nearby, chatting animatedly with their disembodied, floating heads.
I’m barely listening. Not for lack of interest, though. It’s hard work, anticipating the next wave, and it requires nearly all of my attention.
Until I begin to feel it, that is.
An invisible force, pulling us towards the ocean, like the entire beach has just drifted dangerously close to a supermassive black hole.
It’s gravity is inescapable. Even the water level responds to it. I watch in awe as the ocean succumbs to this strange new vacuum, draining it’s bubbling contents from the shoreline, and towing all of us along for the ride.
Eddie and Demi grow quiet as they turn to face the ominous presence, which has now begun to manifest itself as a towering wall of water, barreling towards us at frightening break-neck speed.
My legs are working tirelessly, attempting to resist the inevitable collision by running, ineffectively, in place.
I have just enough time to hear Eddie’s panicked, gurgling laughter and watch Demi dive gracefully into the mountain of brine with the practiced ease of a veteran sea-otter, before it’s on top of me.
The freight train is upon me.
I watch anxiously as the images stack upon each other, growing in size by the second.
A helpless patient in an oversized hospital gown. Breathing quickly, too quickly.
A man in khaki scrubs with his arms outstretched, chest-to-chest with a wriggling, angry patient. Attempting to smother violence with proximity.
An eye roll from a nurse with thick, clumpy mascara.
Whispering. People whispering.
Whispering and Staring.
Staring at me.
Whispering. About me.
I can’t make out their words. Only the sharp hiss of the occasional ‘S’. So many S’s. Why so many?
The S’s join together in a constant, high-pitched hum.
Keening… like snakes.
So many snakes. Wriggling snakes. A nest of them, all around me.
Sssssssssssssssss…. Sssssssssssssss…. Ssssssssssss…
Getting louder. Louder. Joining with the squeal of the shower spray.
I slap my hands over my ears. Soapy water sprays from them.
It’s in my head. All around me. I can’t get away, Can’t get away.
Can’t. Get. Ah-way.
Shut up. Shut up. SHUT UP. SHUT THE FUCK UP
I sink to the floor. Leave a trail of soapy slime down the tile wall.
Leave me alone. Please. Please, stop.
Back in Thailand….
The ocean punches me mercilessly in the gut, expelling all my air before I’m even under water.
It scoops me up in it’s massive tendrils and sends me cartwheeling violently through space. No way of telling what direction I’m spinning.
Which way is the surface?
As if to answer, the ocean bottom presents itself abruptly, and painfully. My forehead erupts in agony. Although my eyes are closed, stars explode across my field of vision.
A muffled snap! announces the complete destruction of my favorite pair of sunglasses – loud enough to penetrate the deafening roar of the violent churning all around me.
My lungs begin to burn, demanding oxygen. My chest is growing tighter by the second.
I desperately need to break the surface, but I’m trapped inside this effervescent fist and it’s dragging me bodily through this weightless, alien landscape.
Am I going to die… in 5 foot-deep water?
The liquid panic burns in my belly as my chest heaves violently. I can feel it crawling upwards into my esophagus, like the mercury in a thermometer.
Steam surrounds me and thickens the air, making it impossible to breathe. My lungs are working like pistons in an engine, but no oxygen is getting in.
I’m drowning. Drowning in the heat and the moisture.
I reach out for the knob with a strangers arms. They look like my own – identical, in fact – but they feel wrong. Everything about them. Someone has transplanted my arms with someone else’s. Cadaver arms. Cadaver legs too.
I watch as the cadaver hands clamp around the knob, twist it to off. Then the strange, trembling body launches itself across the tile and crumples onto it’s knees.
It scrambles jerkily for the toilet lid and forces it upwards just in time to release the geyser of liquid from it’s stomach, heaving and retching until the poison is fully expelled.
It rests it’s head on the cold porcelain, heart racing, lungs burning, vision tunneling.
Back in Thailand…
I’m fighting the urge to let my traitorous lungs take in a large gulp of water, but slowly losing strength. Time is crawling. Seconds feel like hours.
But then, suddenly, I feel a slight release of the ocean’s vice-like grip around me. I hear the roaring overhead begin to pass by, leaving both me and a swirling trail of silt and destruction in it’s wake.
The ocean, it seems, has finally lost her interest in me.
A tickle of sensation near my toes tells me the sea-floor is near. I dig my heels into it, like a child dragging their tiny feet into the gravel below a swing-set.
Extend my knees, forcefully. And explode upwards.
Glorious, oxygen-filled air stings my face as I finally break free from the shackles of the dark abyss.
I drink in a large gasp of air with my eyes closed, and hear a voice that sounds like Eddie’s to my left.
“Another one! Another one!”
My skin is no longer damp, and the light has begun to fade, when I slowly blink open my eyes. My right top lid is cemented to the bottom. Why is that? Crying. I’ve been crying.
I look down, see my own hands. Mine.
My pulse has stopped thundering, breathing has slowed.
My ears are still ringing. But the hissing, has subdued. The snakes are gone. Finally… gone.
I ache, all over. My stomach still feels a bit dodgy.
But I’m me again. Safe and sound.
Except I’m not.
Because I was supposed to be at work, 45 minutes ago.
To be continued…