Gasp

MELANIE SCOTT

Jannette took a deep breath and stepped off the side of the boat. The salt water splashed over her, warm and sticky on her skin. She adjusted her mask, checked her buoyancy and then dove down, kicking her finned feet. Exhaling evenly into her regulator, she descended slowly. She was going to find the cave she’d seen yesterday when she’d gone out with her diving instructor, Miguel. Miguel had liquid brown eyes that made you feel like you were floating just off the ground, but he was wound pretty tight.

He had refused to let her go down and explore, shaking his head furiously and pointing up to the surface. He said she wasn’t experienced enough to go that deep, which is exactly why she’d come without him today. She had a neck-prickling kind of feeling about the cave. She was sure the black opal necklace was down there.

The story was that a Mexican mafia boss had given a vivid black opal necklace to his lover. The jewel was as big as an egg and the colour was so magnificent it looked like a raging fire. When he discovered that his lover had been unfaithful, the mafia boss went ballistic. He took her off the Yucatan Peninsula on his yacht, and threw her overboard, necklace and all, somewhere in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. Her body had been found, but the necklace was still missing. Divers had been searching for it ever since. Jannette was going to find it.

Sunlight beamed through the turquoise water. It shone like a glittering spotlight on the parrot fish ducking into patches of red-pink coral. A school of fluorescent fish swam by, then a large flat indigo one followed, opening and closing its mouth. Clusters of spindly orange coral reached for her with long fingers, and Jannette held her hand out to them as she passed. The alien beauty of the sea never got old for her.

Approaching the jagged ridge she’d explored yesterday with Miguel, she followed it down to the point where it dropped off. Just below, she spotted an opening in the rock wall: the cave. She checked her depth gage. She was almost at her maximum: 30 feet. Technically, she wasn’t allowed to descend further at her level of training, but the cave didn’t look like it was too far down.

She exhaled again, kicking her feet. This is it. If she could get her hands on that necklace, she wouldn’t have to worry about going home and facing reality. School had just ended, and the thought of a 9-5 job made her queasy. She could sell the necklace and use the money to stay in Mexico, travel South America. Peru, maybe. She’d always wanted to go to Machu Picchu. Miguel was teaching her Spanish. It was going pretty well, except for the fact that he laughed every time she tried to roll her Rs.

As she approached the cave, the sunlight began to disappear. The water felt colder. It got murky, preventing her from seeing anything that wasn’t two feet in front of her face. She felt a wave of dizziness and remembered Miguel telling her about The Martini Effect. The deeper you go, the more you’re affected by it. It feels like having a martini, or two, or three depending how deep you get. She wondered if she should really continue down, but she knew she wouldn’t find the necklace without taking a few risks. Besides, she could handle her drinks.

The narrow entrance to the cave was covered in a curtain of thick seaweed. Pushing it aside, Jannette peered in and waved her flashlight around. The good news was that the green-walled cave was wider on the inside. Still, it was pitch black, and she couldn’t see the back, didn’t know how far it went or how deep. She hesitated for a moment, wondering if her hunch about the necklace was really enough to make her swim into a black hole. Trying not to overthink it, she quickly pulled herself inside, using the sides of the wall to gain momentum. Shinning her flashlight along the rocky bottom, she scanned for the fiery shine of the black opal. It has to be in here, she thought, gliding along the bottom turning over rocks one by one with her hands. As she swam deeper into the cave, she felt that dizziness again. Her heart quickened. What if something happens, while I’m down here alone? But the dizzy feeling went away, and she suddenly felt calm. There was nothing to worry about.
Waving her hands over the bottom, she pushed away sand and rocks. She searched a small alcove, shining the light inside. Seeing movement on the bottom, she pulled back quickly. She paddled backwards, gasping as a large spotted stingray floated up towards her. She watched it, heart thumping. It swam away, flapping its big wings, whip-like tail curling behind it. It did look pretty fabulous, she thought when her heart slowed down, flying through the sea.

Jannette thought about turning around, but as she shone her light ahead, something blue caught her eye. Was it one of the many colours of the black opal? She swam towards it, pushed some rocks away and picked it up. Turning it over in her hands, she saw it was only a piece of glass, its edges dulled by time. Disappointed, she let it fall back down to the bottom.

As she shone her light ahead into the darkness, she could see that the cave descended again. She was already feeling light-headed, and not sure if she should keep going, but there seemed to be an opening at the other end. I’ve come this far, she thought. As she pushed on, she started to feel strange. Her body was light and fluffy, like pillow feathers. She waved her arms up and down. I wish I was a stingray. She giggled, bubbles flying out from her regulator. She was definitely feeling The Martini Effect.

As she came to the end of the cave, Jannette was feeling pretty drowsy. She knew she had to ascend. That was the only way to get rid of the drunken feeling. She tried to move up, but the ceiling of the cave prevented her from going anywhere. She realized with a panicky feeling that she was trapped. Just a little bit further. She propelled herself forward, trying to stay lucid. She knew she had to get out of the cave and move up, but she felt like closing her eyes, letting the ocean take her away.

When she got to the exit of the cave, her brain wasn’t working right. There was something she was supposed to do, but she’d forgotten what it was. She was so tired. Everything had slowed down. Why not take a rest on the bottom for a while? She could hear a sound like a soft lullaby, a lovely crooning, like cows talking to each other in a field.

She floated down a little further until her feet hit soft sand. What is that wonderful sound? Closing her eyes for just a moment, she listened. When she opened them again, a large shadow was moving towards her. She stood frozen as a huge blue whale emerged from the ocean fog, a smaller one behind it. Jannette’s heart jumped into her throat. A mother whale and her calf. This can’t be real, she thought.
The mother circled around her blinking one heavy giant eye. She sees me, Jannette thought. The baby followed. Jannette stayed still. Whales don’t eat people, she reassured herself as she watched them. The gigantic mother began to swim away, but the calf returned. He came so close that he brushed her with his tail. Then he swam away, came back and did it again.

He wants me to follow him. She inhaled, lifting herself off the ground, but one foot was caught. As she bent down to untangle herself, something wound around her fingers. She pulled it up, hardly believing her eyes. It was the black opal necklace. The stone shone like a campfire, sparkling with reds, oranges, blues and greens. She squealed with delight, and bubbles flew up all around her. She couldn’t believe she’d actually found it. She tucked it in the pocket of her vest, just as the calf came back to her and swam away again.

Kicking off the bottom, she swam after the calf. As she got higher, her head started to clear. She must have been crazy to stay down there like that. Then again, she’d found the necklace and seen two whales. Miguel wouldn’t believe it. She looked around. The calf was gone. Had he even been there?

Her scuba training came back to her and she checked her gages. She was surprised to see her air running low. She knew she had to get to the surface, but it was important to go slowly. One foot per second. That’s what Miguel had taught her. She kept her eyes on the gages. Inhaled and exhaled evenly as she ascended.
When she got to fifteen feet, she took a break, rested and checked her buoyancy. Taking a breath, she started to swim again, but as she went to inhale again, no air came out of her regulator. The tank was done.

She looked around wildly, not knowing what to do. If she rushed towards the surface holding her breath, she knew she risked decompression sickness. But there was no way she could stay there. She began to kick hard, propelling herself to the surface. Her chest was bursting. She had to get up there. She saw movement from the corner of her eye, saw bubbles rising towards the surface. Felt a hand pulling her down. Miguel was there, signaling with his hands for her to stay where she was. He motioned for her to watch him, then pulled out his regulator, offering it to her. She took it, placing it in her mouth and inhaling deeply.

Air, sweet air. She took a few breaths, then handed it to him, like they’d practiced. Back and forth, they passed it to each other ascending a foot at a time until they broke the surface. She gasped, catching her breath in the beaming sunlight.

Miguel was swearing in Spanish. “Are you insane?” he said. “Coming out here alone, putting yourself in danger like that? I heard you’d left the resort by yourself, and I had a feeling you’d do something like this. I saw the boat, and I knew you’d gone to the cave.”

He went on for a few minutes before Jannette stopped him.“Miguel,” she said, putting a hand on his shoulder, smiling. “I found it. I found the black opal.”

He opened and closed his mouth. “You did not.”

She nodded, reaching into her vest pocket. “I did.” Her hand closed on something. It felt soft, mushy. She pulled out a big handful of seaweed. Then went back into her pocket, digging for something more, but there was nothing else in there. She checked the other pocket. It was empty.

Miguel started to laugh really loudly. “How deep did you go, you crazy woman? You were totally narked.”

She checked her pockets again. Nothing. “No, seriously I had it. I was on the bottom and then a baby whale saved me.”

Miguel started to laugh again. “A baby whale? Narcosis girl, it was making you hallucinate. Come on, let’s get back to the boat.”

Jannette threw the seaweed at him. “I’m serious. The whale thing actually happened.”

“Sure. Sure.”

She couldn’t help it. She started to laugh too. She’d find the opal, but next time she’d probably let Miguel tag along.

Melanie Scott is a University of Western Ontario graduate. She works as a marketing and communications professional and enjoys writing adult and young adult fiction.

Advertisements