Kyle slid out from under the dashboard and sat upright, his eyes wide, watching the stern of the boat.
There was a splash.
“Brie?” he said in a hush. He swallowed again, terrified of what he might see.
There was another splash. The boat rocked towards the back, the way it did when someone grabbed hold of the ladder and started climbing. His eyes grew wider and wider.
“Hi!” Briana said, climbing up onto the stern. She hopped down onto the deck, grinning at him, water pouring off of her.
He slowly rose to his feet, staring at her with a combination of shock and disbelief. There was a dark green smear of algae on her right shoulder, and a string of some kind of slimy aquatic plant was tangled in her hair.
“Oh,” she said, wiping at the algae. “I’m kind of a mess, aren’t I?”
His eyes were drawn down to her stomach. There was a puffy white line across her midsection, snaking its way from her belly button up to an inch or so under her right breast. It looked like a deep surgical scar, only without the white dots or crisscrossing marks from stitches.
She looked down at it. “Isn’t that incredible?”
“I was totally torn open, Kyle—icky stuff was hanging out everywhere! That green water is unbelievable. You’ve got to see it!” She started jumping up and down, rocking the boat back and forth. “You’ve got to see it, Kyle!”
“Brie, what hap—”
“I’m so strong,” she said, making a muscle with her right arm. “It’s like instant steroids, or something!” She giggled and spun around like a little girl. As she did, Kyle caught sight of the back of her left leg and gasped. There was an ugly gash in her thigh, maybe five inches long. A clump of shredded red meat protruded from it, with pink, watery-looking blood oozing out of it and down her calf.
“Your leg,” he said, almost in a whisper.
She turned to see what he was looking at. “Oh, I didn’t notice that.” She looked back at him and grinned sheepishly, as if she had a run in her pantyhose. “But don’t worry. The green water will fix it, too.”
All at once, Kyle understood everything. The poor girl was obviously suffering from severe shock. It was a miracle she was even alive. He tried to remember what you were supposed to do for a shock victim.
“Brie, you better lie down for a—”
“I’m fine!” she said, bouncing back up onto the stern. “You’ve got to come with me and see it! You won’t believe it!”
He noticed that her eyes seemed to have a strange green tint in them. He looked down at the gash in her leg again and tried not to show any reaction, afraid that it might upset her. But it looked bad, really bad. The tendons appeared to be cleanly severed. He couldn’t understand how she could even walk.
“Brie, honey, you have to lie down. Do you still have the boat key?”
She ignored him and grabbed a plastic water bottle that was in a cup holder mounted to the stern. “Come on!” Before he could stop her, she leaped off the boat and back into the water.
Kyle rushed over the starboard side almost fell overboard. “Brie...what are you doing...you have to get back in the boat!”
“No, you have to come with me!” she said, kicking and splashing. “I feel wonderful! It’s like the best drug you ever imagined, only even better!”
“You shouldn’t be in the water,” he said, trying to figure out how to deal with her.
“You’re wrong, Kyle. Look how strong I am!”
She swam over to the boat, not using her arms, but undulating her body like a fish. She started rocking the boat back and forth. Kyle lost his balance and almost fell overboard again, grabbing hold of the top of the hull to support himself.
“Stop it!” he yelled. “What’s the matter with you?”
“Nothing!” she answered gleefully. “Watch this!”
She started swimming around the boat in a circle with amazing speed, thrashing up water every now and then. If he hadn’t been watching her with his own eyes, he would have thought she was a porpoise or a big shark. She must have been having some kind of bizarre shock reaction—that was the only explanation. He remembered reading about a 70 year old man who, after being seriously injured in a traffic accident, had lifted the back of his Cadillac off his son.
Kyle watched her make another circle around the boat, then decided he had no choice but to get her out of the water himself. He started to jump overboard, then thought better of it and retrieved a life jacket out of a storage compartment, not letting her out of his sight. He slipped his arm through one side of the jacket and jumped in.
He expected her to resist, but she immediately swam—or thrashed—her way over to him.
“Come on, let’s go!” she said.
Kyle took her by the wrist as gently as he could. “Now, Brie, I want you to just calm down and put on this life jacket.”
“Oh, don’t be such a major snooze!” She jerked her wrist free from his grip. The next thing he knew, she had grabbed him by the wrist. Her fingers felt like steel. “Hold your breath!”
Before he could respond, she yanked him under the surface. Water roared past his ears and the life jacket was torn from his hand. He hadn’t even had a chance to close his mouth, and he inhaled some water. He coughed a few times, dazed and dimly aware that he was being dragged rapidly towards the bottom of the lake. The water was getting colder, and even though his eyes were squeezed shut, he could tell it was getting darker and darker as well. He opened his mouth to scream, inhaled more water and started coughing again. His ears felt like two ice picks had been shoved into them, and he made an effort to equalize the pressure, but it was changing too fast. He felt their direction shift and realized that they had turned around and were now moving back up towards the surface. No, they were rocketing towards the surface. A few seconds later they both shot out of the water, a good ten feet into the air, and splashed back down.
Kyle spat up water, coughing. He did a double-take when he saw the boat and the life jacket—they were now at least 100 yards away.
“You better hold your breath this time, okay?” Briana said.
Kyle coughed again, staring at her.
“Hold your breath, Kyle.”
Her grip on his wrist tightened again, and he decided that he had better do as he was told. He sucked in a big breath of air. The next thing he knew, they were shooting downward again. This time, they moved at what seemed like a 45 degree angle, what he thought to be the direction of the cliffs. He kept his eyes shut.
What’s happening to me? he thought helplessly. Am I dreaming? He wondered if he was the one who had been hit by the speedboat. Maybe he was lying face-down in water, unconscious, having some kind of crazy death-dream. But the roar of the water in his ears, the icy-coldness of the water, and Briana’s iron grip told him that if it was a dream, it was the most vivid one he had ever had in his life.
They started to slow down. It seemed almost pitch black now, but he still didn’t dare open his eyes. He desperately tried not to think about the flooded farmland and the catfish that might be lurking nearby.
They leveled off and were moving a little slower. He had been so scared he hadn’t even had time to think about holding his breath during their descent, but now, his lungs were beginning to hurt. She slowed them both down to almost a stop. Something that felt like a tentacle brushed against his legs. He jerked himself away from it, terrified. Then his foot touched a rock. They were definitely at the very bottom of the lake. She grabbed both his arms and guided him along some larger rocks—she seemed to be leading him through some kind of gap or hole. He opened his eyes a crack but immediately shut them again. It was pitch black.
His lungs felt like they were going to explode. She began pulling him faster. They started moving upwards again, more and more rapidly, but it was still pitch dark. The pain in his chest was so severe he knew he could only last a few more seconds before he opened his mouth and filled his lungs with water, with anything.
They finally splashed to the surface. He sucked in a huge breath of air, gasping.
She let go of him and waited while he gasped and choked.
“Open your eyes,” she said.
He was still hungrily sucking in air, wheezing.
“Open your eyes, Kyle.”
He was afraid of what he would see, but he slowly raised his lids.