I wrote this in the middle of the night, after reading this short comic by Fran Krause (The series is called Deep Dark Fears – I strongly recommend it). I couldn’t get this idea out of my head, so I sat and hammered it out. It’s got my usual love of YA and Lovecraftian themes, so pretty standard. I’d like to thank my brother for suggesting the inclusion of the extra bit after the ending… I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! Let me know!
Why is it swimming in PE again? I swear it’s every other week. Just because the school got a stupid grant from the government and built a state-of-the-art pool with the money doesn’t mean I need to be inflicted with the stinging water every week. They put way too much chlorine in it.
They could’ve quite easily used the money to put into the drama department you know. We’re doing this production after half-term of Macbeth – all modernised and set in a boarding school (I know, I helped draft the script, I’m a genius), and I’ve spent the last fortnight spray painting plastic baguettes silver to use a swords. I’m not even sure why the Mrs Lugo has plastic baguettes.
I look at Mary Simons’ legs and feel jealousy flourish inside me – I swear she doesn’t even grow hair on them, they’re so smooth and perfect. I look down at my own, pale and covered in more scabs and scars than Freddy Krueger’s face, and inwardly curse the universe, or fate, or whatever it is that has led to me being forced to stand, cold, damp and ashamed of my entire traitorous body. I’m not huge, I know that – I remind myself most nights, staring into the full-length mirror in my room – but something about my swimming costume highlights every bump and bulge I spend so much energy trying to forget. It’s the fabric equivalent of those big, bright lights they use during police interrogations in the movies – white and stark and revealing – not to mention perfect for making me sweat.
“Okay, everyone in!” Miss Bell shouts. Her voice, tinny and shrill, echoes in the huge pool, making the tiny PE teacher seem even smaller. I close my eyes and step off the bumpy, slimy tile and into the water. For the smallest increment of time it’s like I’m hanging in nothing, suspended in the air against every known law of physics. It’s only a single moment though, and I hit the water, an unpleasant wave of shock rippling through my skin as my body tries to cope with the freezing cold.
I’m not the only one who disagrees with the temperature, and several girls shriek as they drop into the pool.
“Get doing lengths, then! Fastest way to get warm!” the teacher yells, drowned out by the splashing and screaming. Want a group of sixteen year old girls to behave like they’re six? Just add water, apparently.
Cold water is splashed on my face, and I blink rapidly. The pristine Mary Simons is looking at me, her hair slick and sexy even in the water.
“You heard her, Ab-ee-gail,” she sneers at me, elongating every syllable of my name, a distorted mockery of my own accent. “Maybe you can drop a few pounds? Wear a bikini to swim in like a grown up?”
She splashes off in a flash of perfectly bronzed skin and vivid red material, leaving a trail of lazily widening ripples in her wake. I struggle to think of a late comeback.
“Yeah well… Your face,” I mutter into the water.
“Come on Abby, quit daydreaming!” Miss Bell shouts at me, and I realise how insane I must look, wittering under my breath in the pool. I pull myself back against the smooth wall of the pool and take a deep breath, and push off, trying to be a graceful and natural as possible, and start to work towards the deep end in a half-hearted front crawl. I take deep gulps of air as I swim, watching the pale blue tiles on the floor getting darker and darker as the depth of the water builds underneath me. I’m forced to begrudgingly admit that Miss Bell is right – I can already feel the tension in my muscles easing off as they work, warming my limbs with each pull through the water.
“Still would rather be in Starbucks with a hot chocolate, but oh well,” I gasp inbetween strokes, my words blurry and bubbling.
I’m finally settling into the rhythm of the swim, my arms pumping smoothly, my focus on pulling me forward and I let my mind wander. A little too far, in fact, and I slam into the side of the pool painfully. I hear someone laughing – and the large, pulsating paranoia that lives in my brain whispers, telling me that they’re laughing at me and my clumsy stupid existence. I picture it as this big, fat grey slug that feeds off my self-esteem and turns all my happy memories into faded spedia home movies that blur and shimmer. I can’t stand it, the heat embarrassment warming me far more than the exercise did, and so I kick off the side again to escape their snide sniggering. This time, I put my arms out over my head, making an arrowhead with my hands that angles downwards and drives me underwater instead.
The world is abruptly cut off from my senses as I plunge deeper, the water filling in the space where laughter had been just a second ago. I blink my eyes a few times, trying to adjust to the stinging chemicals they pump into the pool, but all I can really see is a wall of blue and the occasional blurry leg in the distance. Being underwater is the only good thing about swimming, I think. Everything is so quiet and peaceful under the surface, and I can just about forget about everything. It’s like how I imagine being in space must feel – isolated, sure, but I’ve felt like that my whole life. I kick in unison, pretending I have a mermaid’s tail driving me along instead of my stupid, messy, pockmarked legs. It can’t last forever though, and I can feel my lungs burning for oxygen as I start to head towards the shrieking, headache-filled world above, as though someone is inflating two balloons in my ribcage. It’s odd, isn’t it – as my air is running out, how it feels as through my chest if filled to bursting?
I break the surface with an almighty gasp, blinking rapidly to clear any water from my eyes. I always like to see how far I’ve managed to get on one breath. One time I managed to get pretty much my own body length away from the side – although I thought my lungs were going to burst afterwards. As my vision clears, my heart stops beating, my blood freezing in my veins.
I’m no longer in Coalington High School’s swimming pool. The shining, brand new chrome and white tile is all gone. I can’t see anything but blue-black inky water for miles. Forever, it seems, from one horizon to horizon. Somehow I’m in the sea, only it doesn’t look like any sea I ever paddled in as a kid. It feels wrong on my skin, thicker and more cloying than proper water should feel. Panic swells in my like a wave, forcing my heart into my throat, until my breathing becomes more like hysterical coughing.
“Hello?!” I scream. The word drifts over the calm, placid sea like a gull, and sails away into the distance. There’s nothing except me and an endless expanse of ocean, black like crude oil. The panic is spreading to my fingers and toes now, making them tingle as adrenalin floods them, begging me to do something, anything, to ensure my survival.
Only there’s nothing I can do – not a damn thing. I can’t swim that far, and there’s nowhere to swim to anyway. I look down, and my stomach lurches. My pale legs are spinning in messy circles, keeping me afloat desperately, and below them is nothing. More nothing than stretches out towards the horizon – the nothing beneath me is just miles of black, getting darker as it goes down. I strain my eyes to see if there’s anything down there, but the idea of all that crushing nothingness makes my head spin. I start to whip myself around, looking frantically at the empty universe I’ve found myself in. The sky is slate grey. Not the kind that’s thick with clouds – but as though all the colour has been drained out of it. I notice suddenly that there’s no wind blowing on my face. My hair hangs in thick, wet ropes around me, but there’s no trace of even the slightest breeze kissing my skin. The air feels as though it’s been untouched for centuries, dry and brittle and smelling faintly musty and rotten. The smell of decay.
“This is impossible…” I whimper, “This is not not NOT happening…”
Something moves in the distance. My heart leaps, hammering into the prison of my ribcage at the thought of rescue, and I squint at the shape cresting the water. At first I think it’s a sail – the sail of some ship emerging from the dark, lightless deep. But then I realise it’s no sail – it’s a fin. A gigantic, pinkish white fin, cutting through the water like a hunting knife cutting through flesh and sinew. For the second time, my heart stops. A white shark peeks from the water, easily big enough that it couldn’t turn around in the school pool. Easily big enough to swallow me whole. I only see it for a fraction of second, but that’s enough time to sear that monster onto my bones until the day I die – which might well be today. Massive, cold black eyes sit on either side of its bullet-shaped head, complete dispassionate and unnervingly calculating. Its mouth is what truly horrifies me though. Instead of rows of jagged teeth, like the sharks I’ve seen on those David Attenbrough programmes, this impossible nightmare has a gaping maw filled to bursting with writhing black tentacles, each one flailing hungry and blind. I feel bile stinging the back of my throat as the creature plunged back beneath the calm, lilting waves, its sleek body so perfectly designed for the water that it barely made a ripple as it sank. It’s almost as if it’s just a figment of my imagination. Until the first coils of a tentacle pulls me under.
Water is filling my mouth, which was open in a silent scream. White bubbles froth around me, obscuring my vision, but somehow I can still sense the shark beneath me, a mix of raw animal power, and cold, otherworldly malice spreading around me like a plume of blood in the water. A sense of despair that wills my muscles to give up, that dulling my survival instincts to little more than a sputtering flame battling against a torrential downpour of utter hopelessness. A second tentacle wraps around my other leg, and the pain of the pressure they’re squeezing with sends black spots popping in and out of my vision. They’re going to tear me apart, and feed each dismembered body part into that hideous creature’s belly. I wonder if they’d noticed me missing from the pool yet. The pull on my legs becomes so strong that my arms stopped struggling without me telling them too. I’m distantly aware, even underwater, that I can hear the popping of my joints being displaced under their powerful grasp. The world starts to fade at the edges as the last of oxygen was used up, my brain becoming sluggish as the cells began to die.
Two hands grasp me under each armpit and hoisted me out of the water. The burning fluorescent lights bleach out all other details, but I feel a hard, bumpy surface underneath my back.
“She’s breathing!” a voice yells. Miss Bell. “Stand back, give her some space you lot! Jessie, got get a bloody lifeguard will you?”
I try to speak, but life is flowing back into my blood slowly, pulling an exhaustion along with it that was so deep that I feel like I could sleep for a decade or more. My eyes start to adjust to the light, and the vibrant colours of the world came back to me. I’m lying on the hard tile of the poolside, Miss Bell’s weather beaten face looking down at me with an odd mixture of concern and annoyance. The school pool seems too sharp and vivid, making my head pound like a drum in time with my frantic heartbeat – the only part of me that doesn’t feel bone-weary.
“What… happened?” I croak finally. My throat is sore and bruised. I don’t want to ask about the infinite void I’d found myself swimming in, nor the impossible shark the colour of old bones that had stalked me through it – they’d skip a trip to the nurse’s office and take me straight to a padded cell. But it had all felt so real.
“Not a clue,” the teacher huffs, “One minute you were swimming just fine, the next you vanished under the water. It was the strangest thing – If I didn’t know better, I’d think one of the other girls pulled you under as a joke. But when you didn’t come straight back up I started to worry. When Marcy said you were lying like a stone on the bottom of the pool, I knew something was wrong – so I went in after you.”
She puts the back of her hand on my forehead and frowns, “Well your temperature’s back up. When I pulled you up you were practically sub-zero, it was the strangest thing – your skin had gone all grey and weird, your eyes were all glassy and white. You gave me quite the shock!”
She gives a little uneasy chuckle, and I try a weak smile to show her I really am okay, but the muscles around my mouth just twitch and falter.
ADDENDUM No. 062
COALINGTON HIGH SCHOOL SWIMMING POOL COLLAPSES
Brand-New State of the Art School Aquatic Centre destroyed
The Government funded swimming pool at Coalington High School collapsed yesterday, shortly before the school was set to open, causing an estimated half a million pounds in damages. Police have said there was no obvious structural damage to the pool floor, but underneath the pool was home to a large number of unusual remains which appear to belong to some kind of humanoid creatures, but which officers have confirmed are not human remains. Detective Stains commented that the bones found were “More fish-like than human, but it’s too early to tell at this stage. Forensics teams are reconstructing as we speak.”
This comes just a week after the pool’s changing rooms were witness to the attack of P.E. Teacher Rebecca Bell, who was the victim of a frenzied attack by a Year 11 student wielding a concealed craft knife. Bell is currently recovering in Friarage General Hospital, and the student – who remains unnamed for legal reasons – has been taken into psychiatric care. It’s believed a severe case of hydrophobia, or fear of water, drove the girl to a psychotic break, although she had exhibited no such fear in the past.
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