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The Plunge Into Hell
“Cross your arms over your chest, keep your legs together, please do not go yet, until I say so.”
The lifeguard’s well-rehearsed, monotonous speech barely sinks into my mind. I hear the words but doubt they’ll do me any good. In fact, that lifeguard is rather tongue-in-cheek. Imagine. Pulling a joke like that. She provides us all that information to help us “stay safe.” Ha As if I really need any of that crap.
I know I’m going to die anyway.
I never imagined my death would be here, caused by foolishly sliding down fatally high water slides. At least, they’re fatal to me. Me, Lizzie the queen of cowards, about to embark down a high water slide at Knott’s Soak City? Yeah, right.
Is this a dream? It must be a dream. More like a nightmare.
I stare down at my milky pale legs – which never seem to tan naturally – and at all the rushing clear water surrounding them where I sit. The water calmly races past me toward my monstrous fate, lightly pulling my quaking body closer – so hopelessly closer – to the closed-topped tunnel’s entrance. Past the circular doorway, I hear the sound of a thousand rivers pouring down, down, down into that black abyss, down into the place of horror some refer to as hell.
Generally speaking, I don’t believe in any form of an afterlife, but judging from the situation I am in now, I’d gladly believe if it’ll only save my neck.
Goose bumps have sprouted along my limbs. All four of them. Even under my protective rash guard, I feel the little pimples crawling up and down my arms like a horde of hyperactive, blindfolded mice scurrying all at once to find the missing mouse hole. Except in this case, the goose bumps have no escape; they merely tickle my flesh, pinching beneath the surface of my skin, trying vainly to break through. I wonder if it’s possible to iron them flat without costing my skin a severe scalding.
The lifeguards mutters something to her companion, who’s in charge of emitting four victims at a time through a whitewashed gate. Beyond the gate are an additional dozen people, clad in bikinis, board shorts, and rash guards, all eagerly chatting to each other. Am I the only one who dreads this ride to hell?
My heart hollers at my brain, Leave, leave, leave Go back, go back, GO BACK , but someone has switched off the “Response” programming up there. I can’t budge my legs (the water has too strong a grip on them), and even if I could, I think my mind has lost the capacity to propel my body away, far away, a thousand light-years away in another universe.
So why am I here? I think spending a whole summer lacking adventure has finally gotten to my head, which now spins like a reckless carousel; the brakes have long vanished. I’m going to be sick, very sick, worse than any old stomach flu. I turn my head, meaning to ask the lifeguard to let someone else go before me (maybe in another half hour I’ll persuade my guilty conscience to forget the whole thing and then there won’t be any regret). Instead my searching eyes meet my cousin Mike’s daredevil ones. My throat contracts.
“Try it, Liz, just try. It’s not that bad.”
I hear his reassuring words echo in my brain. They have been spoken only minutes ago; why didn’t I back out then?
Yet here I am, sitting in the small pool of warm fluids, ready to slide down to my death, and now gazing directly into Mike’s eyes. In one minuscule moment, I try to telepathically send a frantic message: Please, don’t make me do this. Anything but this.
What a lie. If it takes all of my guts and beyond to abide this torture, nothing else that my plotting cousin can think of could possibly make me obey.
Mike senses the lie; he knows I’d never go beyond the boundaries I have already surpassed. But he can at least try and listen to the plea. Bull. What a waste of a wish. He only grins mischievously, winks like the rogue he is, and mouths exaggeratedly, “Have fun ” My look of horror only amuses him more; he twists his face in a mocking pout: You promised, the look on his face says. Whether you like it or not, you’re gonna do it.
Yes I am. And afterwards, I’ll want to kill him. If I am physically able to, that is. Somehow I doubt I’ll go far into the process of murder with missing limbs.
The lifeguard raises her arm, signaling her comrade below that all is clear. Oh God. Say something, anything, you got diarrhea and you can feel it coming on, you just remembered you have high blood pressure and need to take medication before descending down a fatally high slide, or just blubber like a baby if necessary . . . I open my mouth, only to murmur, “Oh. My. God. This is it.”
Okay. Great. I just lost my sanity.
The rusty silver contraption moves up to the lifeguard’s lips. For a minute I wonder if she really thinks she’s going to eat the thing-a-ma-jig, when a piercing noise rattles my brain. Oh yeah. The whistle. I almost forgot to name an object as simple and common as a whistle. Incredible. I can hardly believe that I transformed into a blonde and back to my brown-haired-self within a millisecond. Trying to rake out the muck in my head, I plant my gaze upon the lifeguard.
Oh, dammit. She has signaled the start of our journey. I catch a glimpse of Mike’s back vanishing down his appropriate portal. It’s my turn. Transmitting a last message to my brain, I push myself forward and slide down into hell’s gaping mouth.