June 26, 2008
By Russell Carter, Oak Park, CA

Tom ran. Tom ran fast, right towards the water. He didn’t have the luxury of time. He just had to move. Fast.

He didn’t trip. He didn’t stumble. He didn’t slow down. Not long ago he had been sitting at his dining room table, eating breakfast with his wife. She was 6 months pregnant, and they were talking about the baby. It was a boy.

That was when Tom saw it out the window, in the ocean. Tom and his wife owned a small house on a secluded beach, and from his dining room table he had a great view of the beach out his window.

At this point Tom could no longer see what he was trying to get to. He hoped - prayed to God that that was because of his angle, not because they were gone.

Tom leapt, and hit the water. He was swimming now. Though he couldn’t see his destination, he thought if he just kept moving straight forward he would get there eventually… but hopefully not too late.

The water was cold, but his blood was hot. Burning hot. So hot that his arms and legs felt like they were on fire. He swam more though. He would not slow, and would not stop.

He was gasping for air now, but every time he did so, his lungs filled with water, and he choked.

They would probably name the baby John, like Tom’s father, but they also liked the name Stanley. Tom’s wife Charlotte had made Tom’s favorite breakfast - French toast with strawberries and maple syrup. However, that breakfast was now scattered about the table and surrounding floor, for as much as he was enjoying it, Tom had to get up from the table quite fast, and didn’t care if he made a mess.

This was Charlotte’s dream house. A nice, secluded cottage on the beach, far away from the barbaric, noisy cities that were beginning to fill up the world. It was the perfect place for their family. Tom would be able to continue his fishing, and she had the peace she needed to finally spark her modest career as a novelist.

As Tom came over a swell, he found himself staring out, over a vast, lifeless blue sea. Nothing in the water but Tom, and a complex and beautiful marine ecosystem. Nature at its finest, but nothing else.

Tom began to cry. He would have screamed in terrible frustration, but he was so tired, and needed every breath just to keep him treading water. Tom knew what he saw from his dining room, and knew what he had failed to do. Tom was blind and deaf now. He couldn’t hear his wife shouting from the beach, or the waves crashing against his face, over and over again. He couldn’t see the glistening water, with its beautiful façade, whose only purpose was to hide the unspeakable secret that lay below it.

Then he could see again, for his prize resurfaced from the murky depths, and his eyes rejoiced at the sight of a face full of hair, gasping for breath.

Tom had never been a good swimmer. As a boy, all his friends would go down to the creek, and jump in, and swim away their summer afternoons. But not Tom. Tom would never go in. He would just sit on the shore with his fishing pole, and try and catch a bass that would make even his father proud.

Tom surged forward, and grabbed the wet clothes of the drowning girl. He grabbed her up under one arm, turned around, and started to swim back. His heavy wet clothes were pulling him down into the evil depths.

Stupid old bafoon. Tom cursed himself. Didn’t even remember to take off your shoes before you jumped in. Now you’re both going to drown. Tom was sinking now, but still powering forward.

Nobody appreciated Tom’s passion for fishing. Not his friends, not his teachers, and certainly not his father. Not his 4-time Hayweather County Swimming Tournament champion father. Oh no, god forbid Tom would rather fish than swim with all the rest of his friends. The rest of his friends, who would all have made better sons for his father. “Put that little pole away son, come swim laps with me,” his dad would say.

Tom felt his arms fall off, and then they were useless. His hands slid down the girl’s back, and his grip loosened. She began to sink, so he gripped her shirt with all his might. He grabbed and pulled until he had such a good grip on the poor thing that he would never let her go. Whoever she was, she was not sinking away from him.

And that’s when Tom realized that he was holding onto her just fine. The problem was that he was sinking too. As he looked up onto the beach, he could see his wife Charlotte on the shore, waving her arms, crying. As she began to wade into the water, water filled his vision, and she disappeared.

Tom had been a fisherman for 27 years now. But out of every time he had ever cast out a line - every time he had held a fish in his arms and smiled for a picture - out of all those times, there was only one that he remembered now. Only one he would never forget.

Tom looked around, and saw particles of sand floating around everywhere. However, there was no life. There were no fish, and no eels. No jelly or starfish. No sea urchins or plankton. Just water, and sand. And everything was growing darker.

Tom was 31 years old when it happened. It was his first day on a crab-fishing boat. Before he had only done line fishing, but now he would get a chance to try working with some cages. Everything seemed to be going alright, but at some point, one of the cages must have gotten loose, for it swung across the boat, and hit a man in the head. He just fell overboard. They never found him. It all happened so quickly. Tom couldn’t do anything but just stand there. One second the man was there, the next he was gone. That day, Tom made a promise to himself. He would never have to watch somebody die. He would never have to live with that again.

But he was going down. Tom felt his heavy, wet clothes dragging him down, pulling him into the nightmarish abyss. He felt the devil underneath him, clawing for him to sink.

Then something happened. Tom felt something take over him. It moved his arms and legs, but he moved them also. He felt himself propel his body forward, and watched in amazement as his arms kept working. Tom broke through some invisible barrier, and was suddenly on the shore, gasping for air.

Tom was carrying the girl, now unconscious. He set her down on the sand. She was unconscious, but seemed to be alive. But Tom’s work was not over. He quickly began CPR. Shortly after, the girl coughed her way to consciousness.

Tom just looked up at the sky, down at the sand, and out at the water. Then he walked back up to his house, for Tom never finished breakfast, and he was still hungry.

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