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Never Hold Your Breath

never hold your breath

Estimated reading time — 47 minutes

Part 1 – The Drop-Off

That’s what our first scuba instructor drilled into our heads. A family of 4 with underwater cameras was bound to take pictures, and most people instinctively held their breath when snapping them. But most first timers also think they can save the oxygen in their tanks if they don’t use it, and thus be able to stay down longer.

That’s not how it works.

The more you hold your breath, the more oxygen becomes trapped in your lungs. As you ascend and the pressure from the deep eases off, your lungs expand to the point of tearing or collapsing altogether. Hence,

Never hold your breath.

This is why I’m in critical condition in a remote hospital in Northern Quebec. Well, one of the reasons.

I’m currently being stabilized for the bends in a hyperbaric recom chamber, awaiting a series of operations to repair my lungs. Another half hour here, and I’ll be getting sliced open. But… There’s something else.

My older brother and I have been placed in strict isolation in separate hospitals, both of which are on red level lockdown. When we arrived, we brought in an infection… It spread to everyone we touched, and everyone they touched. I can see the same, subtle honeycomb markings spreading on the skin of my mom and the Dr’s and Nurses who first attended me.

But I’ll get to that later.


Following the surgeries, if I wake up…I can’t imagine myself ever stepping foot in water again.

My brother, Clay, has been flown to a different hospital because there’s only one of these chambers here. Our parents are split between the two, and our grandparents are flying in in the morning. Clay’s doing better than I am. Hopefully, he’ll be okay.

Please God, don’t let it all be for nothing.

I keep trying to fill in or make more sense of memories. I’m a bookworm after all. I read and apply. Read. And apply. But I can’t. It all happened. It’s all burned in there, like some midday nightmare spilling out into reality.

Four hours ago, Clay and I passed out on the shore of the cottage our family rented for the first week of summer break. Our parents found us on the beach, clinging to life. An hour later, we were in separate hospitals, decompressing.

Even though I was actually feeling worse in that recom chamber, I did have more time to think. And I needed to play it through again. One more time.

Arriving two days ago, we were disappointed that the lake, of which we were the only inhabitants, didn’t allow fishing or scuba diving. Something about heritage restrictions, keeping the lake the way it should be. They probably should have included that in the listing. All Clay and I wanted to do was jump in and explore the depths.

Mom and dad were sticklers for rules, so our scuba gear stayed inside. But I guess our parents should have seen it coming. Not from me, I played inside the lane they set out. But Clay’s lane didn’t have lines. He was eighteen and made of silver bullets. I was sixteen and made of text books.

We’d spent all morning on the beachfront backyard of our cottage, like we’d done the previous day. The lake was silent without any other cottages. The water was clear and looked like a Brita filter passed through it a few times.

Clay was a water baby, and spent more time in the lake than on the beach. He had a crazy lung capacity and was free-diving for longer and longer. I’d see him dip down for thirty seconds. A minute. Minute and a half. Two minutes. Just enough for me to get nervous… And then he’d pop back up.

But this time, he popped up and yelled my name, Jane.

He yelled something about there being a drop-off straight down.

Curious, but comfortable, I stayed put. But as always, Clay found his way back to the shore to try to pull me into whatever he was doing. He said there was a steady decline down the beach for about 30 feet, then it just drops straight down. He’d try to swim down to the bottom but it got too dark.

Jokingly, I told him to tape a couple of glow sticks to a heavy rock and chuck it over the edge.

One minute later, he came back, holding a roll of duct tape and two large glow sticks. He found a large rock down the shore and attached the glow sticks to each side of it.Clay hobbled past me lugging the large rock, a smile across his face.

Sometimes, you had to admire him. I explored with my mind. He explored with his body. He was like a Jeep, and meant to be driven off-road. I guess you could say my mind was like a Jeep. It always scratched at information I didn’t want to know about. Something pulled me to it…

Okay, fine, I thought, he’s already done all the work anyway. Let’s see this drop-off.I got up to chase after him, but he yelled for me to grab a second rock to weigh me down. I found a pretty solid twenty pounder, and hobbled down the shore to the water. Clay was waiting for me and I caught up to him where the water was hip deep.

I followed him out until the water was at my chin and his chest. We gave each other nods, and dipped under the surface. Wow, even below surface the water was clear. I could see back to shore, and about 30 feet straight ahead. We kept moving forward, and I started to see the drop-off.

Clay got to the edge first. I sided up next to him and looked down – Clay was right, it felt like a black abyss stared back up. The visibility was gone. Even without goggles, I could see pretty well under water. But there was nothing. I might as well have had my eyes closed. A chill came over me. My knees twitched. My hands clutched the rock weighing me down-
Clay’s hand reached out and grabbed my shoulder, pulling me back. I didn’t realize I’d been leaning forward and nearly let the weight of the rock carry me over…

The Call of the Void.

That’s what they call it, I’ve heard. Sailors, commercial fishers, people who work large freight liners that spend weeks or months at sea. When you’re standing on the edge of the ship, the furthermost point of the bow, looking down at the water splitting between the port and starboard… And you get that feeling, that urge to just… Step off. Even someone who’s never thought about suicide before. Or been to sea.

People with a fear of heights have something similar. But I always thought that was more the body’s defence mechanism. I think the reason people don’t like being close to that edge, whether a building or a ship, is because they don’t trust themselves. That when there’s nothing between them and an 80 foot drop straight down, they don’t trust their body not to take them over.

That was the feeling I had. The Call of the Void was like a magnet, pulling me. Thankfully Clay snapped me back to reality and now I had that burning starting in my lungs. I cracked the glow sticks on the side of the rock he held. We were washed in bright green. Clay leaned over the edge, and launched the rock as far as he could – Which wasn’t far, maybe 3 feet from our perch.

It dropped, looking like a spaceship floating through space. We watched it drop through what looked like a thick brine pool but was more of a cloud than a pool. Sediment in the water? It reminded me of thick layers of marine snow.

The glow sticks made the grey cloud turn green as they passed through and out the bottom. We could see the glow getting dimmer and dimmer… Then they stopped moving. They’d hit the bottom. Still visible, but pretty far down. And that was it for my lungs. I launched upwards to the surface, which was about 20 feet from the perch.

Air tasted so good. You don’t realize it until you need it and get it. But coming up from the perch felt different. Like I used more air in less time.

Something wrapped around my ankle and pulled me down – CLAY! He burst to the surface, laughing.

I whacked him on the side of the head pretty hard, and called him an asshole. I started swimming back to shore. Clay called out that we should go down and check it out. It looked to only be another 50 feet down.

There’s no way my lungs could make it down there, so I laughed and kept back-paddling to shore. I could tell Clay was annoyed, I’m sure he would have killed for me to have been a brother. Someone he could do all the stupid shit he thought up. But he was stuck with a brainy little sister.

Back on shore, on my towel, I let the sun beat down on me. I’d check periodically for Clay to pop up, and sooner or later he always did. He eventually swam back in, spraying me with his excess water again before continuing up to the cottage to make lunch.

I decided to go off on my own, wanting to explore the parts of the area I was allowed to. I walked along the shore for a kilometre or two. Around a bend, the lake slimmed down, coming to a pinch about 80 feet across. The lake continued on past the pinch and seemed to grow out into a much larger body of water. Who knows, it might even connect on to the St. Lawrence, and out to the ocean.

Then I noticed something on both sides of the pinch – There were large cement slabs that looked like portions of a dam or locks. They’d been grown over with foliage and shrubs and looked ancient. It struck me how out of place they looked. The beautiful, untouched forestry and lake – Then the two large, cement pillars with rusted metal. The only evidence man had ever been here. Aside from the cottage of course.

I trudged my way back to the cottage and found my parents on the back deck, huddled over Clay and his laptop. He’d found an arts&crafts fair online in the next county over, which was about a 45 minute drive. He was so obvious; I instantly figured out what he was up to. Since Clay and I wouldn’t be going with them – And we wouldn’t be – We’d be alone at the cottage for at least an hour and a half. That was more than enough time for what I imagined he wanted to do.

Our parents, God love them, half-heartedly asked if we’d like to go with them before they left.

As they drove out of sight, Clay turned to me with a smile and asked if I was ready.
It didn’t take us long to get our scuba gear out and ready, even with me trying to talk Clay out of the dive. It wasn’t that we were going against my parents that bothered me. Or even that we’d get caught or in trouble. I had that pulling feeling that I felt on the perch. The magnet in my chest. The Void.

But that wasn’t something I could explain to Clay. I couldn’t even explain it to myself. And then there was that part of my brain that wanted to know more. It’s the most powerful feeling I have. The need to know more. Even when my body didn’t.

The next thing I knew we were on the beach, geared up. We had a tank of air each, which would give us an hour under water. Aside from our suits and gear, we each had a powerful underwater torch, and Clay carried a clear bag with about a dozen glow sticks and 1 flare. Those, with our headlamps, should be enough. We triple checked our air, gauges and readings and everything came up green. We were ready to go.

We swam, following the slope, letting it guide us downward. It was eerie swimming along the bottom and not being able to see the drop off point until we were over it. We looked over the edge and saw the glowing green sticks, still pumping out light. I think they had about a 3 hour lifespan, so those two would be good for another hour maybe.

Clay cracked 2 glow sticks and let them drop over the edge. They floated down slowly, getting caught in mini currents and spinning like tops before continuing through the grey brine cloud to the bottom. After both came to rest, Clay gave me the thumbs up. Our turn.

As if on queue, there was the pull. The magnet in my chest. And over I went.

I followed Clay, staying tight to his right blind. We dropped into the brine cloud, which was about 10 feet thick. I’d read about brine pools and how they naturally form, but this seemed to be a divider, separating one salinity of water from the next. Typically, nothing could live below the brine pool. Typically.

But maybe it wasn’t a brine pool or cloud. It also reminded me of marine snow. Organic waste, though more cloud-like. We passed through the cloud and the rock and glow sticks came into clear view on the other side. The closer we got to the glowing green, the more movement I saw at the bottom. Like the ground was swirling.

I was surprised by how much visibility there was the deeper we went. The surface seemed miles away, but the ground below was clear. All the movement was coming from rows and rows of kelp stocks. Tall and swaying in the random currents. They reached up to us as we arrived at the bottom, like baskets of baby birds snapping up to be fed.

We felt the light current pushing against us as we looked around at the bottom of what appeared to be a cliff. We floated in the small inlet before the kelp took over. All we could make out were the 6 foot tall kelp stocks swaying like a dense cornfield.

Then they stopped. The current died and the stocks froze in place, like they’d turned to trees. As they did, Clay’s torch landed on something in the middle of the stocks.

A pathway.

Clay opened his bag and pulled out a glow stick. He swam towards the pathway and cracked the stick, letting it light the entrance.

I wish those sticks didn’t glow green. There’s something about the way green light underwater affect its surroundings, making colours and objects blend in to one another. It’s a perfect camouflage down here. Of course, none of that bothered Clay, who was already cracking a second glow stick and dropping it 10 feet further down the path. I quickly caught up to him, shining my torch through the stocks which seemed to get thicker and thicker. My light created unnatural shadows that danced and made the stocks look like they were moving again.

Something occurred to me. Who made this path? Was it naturally formed? Stop asking these questions, I thought. I kept following Clay as he continued along the path, dropping glow sticks. I assumed that was to help guide our way back. Like breadcrumbs.

But the problem with dropping breadcrumbs, is you’ve now left a trail for something to follow you. Stop it, Jane.

The path was growing more narrow. The stocks crowded in on both sides. I couldn’t see where we were headed. I decided to look back, and realized we weren’t on a straight path. The path curved, so much so that I only saw 1 of the 4 glow sticks Clay dropped. What if we were on a spiralling path? One that just kept curving and didn’t have an end. What if the entire bottom of this lake was a maze of these large kelp stocks? My mind kept racing.
Then Clay stopped.

Dead in his tracks. I pushed my way to his side to get a better view. But my eyes were lying to me, or was I hallucinating? Maybe too much nitrogen in my tank. Maybe not enough. There was no way what I was looking at was real. But Clay was staring at it too. That meant we both saw it. And it was real. Impossibly real.

Then it all made sense. The pathway didn’t lead through kelp stocks. That was a cornfield.
And standing there, right in front of us, 70 feet under water…

Was a house.

Part 2 – The House

I swear the chill between us made the entire lake drop a few degrees.

How was a house built down here? Who built it? It wasn’t new, it looked to be a hundred years old, even without the water damage, moss and seaweed growing around its base. Although, that being said, it didn’t look that bad. In fact, it looked pretty good. Structurally, it was all there.

The longer I looked at it, the more I felt like we were in a snow globe about to be shaken by a nightmare.

Before I could signal to Clay, he was halfway to the front door. Of course. This is the kind of thing he’d hope to find down here. He could explore further, go through people’s old things, past lives. That all made me uneasy, even though I felt the pull to follow him. I’ve never been a fan of the idea of going into previously public places underwater. Not that I’ve had many opportunities. But we’ve done scuba tours on vacations and explored old shipwrecks and things like that. Places where people have walked around, slept, lived, died.

Caving creeped me out the most. I read a story once about a family that’d gone caving, but lost their line and didn’t make it out. When retrieval divers found them in the caves, it looked like the family members had all fought over the last tank of air. I’ve never gotten that image out of my head.

The more I thought about the family that died in the caves, the further Clay was getting from me. He was at the front door now and turned back to give me the middle finger. I checked my air – We’d only been down for 10 minutes. It felt so much longer. I checked the rest of my gauges and everything was green.

When I turned my attention back to the house, it was closer. I didn’t realize but the current was gently carrying me forward. I was floating above the front lawn now a few feet off the ground. I kicked my fins and moved towards the porch.

I floated up the stairs, thinking of how many people used to walk up and down them. Clay had his knife out and was fiddling with the door. He snapped it open, and cracked another glow stick. Movement to my side brought my attention to the windows. Curtains were flowing out of them gently, like a current was coming from inside.

I followed Clay in.

A large open living room to our right. A piano sat in the back corner, surrounded by a floating stool and several floating chairs. Sheet music floated above the piano as if in frozen animation. A shelf housed dozens of music books spilling out. Clay pretended to play the piano, and I pretended to laugh.

We continued on towards the back of the house, which didn’t look better. The kitchen, which had a blown out door leading into the back yard, was devastated. The back walls were heavily damaged, like something had hit them from the outside. A tornado maybe? Or a wave? We could tell from inside because of the marks on the opposing wall. Clay circled back around me and headed towards the stairs up to the second floor.

But no. Wait… There was a door before the stairs. Clay opened it, looked in and down. Then he looked at me with the biggest grin. I knew what it was before I swam over.

The basement. Of course it was the basement.

If the rest of the house seemed dark, the basement was ink. Clay cracked a glow stick, tossed it in. It tumbled and fell and came to a stop about 20 feet below. There was a long, narrow staircase that was broken and missing halfway down. Clay swam in, cracking another glow stick as he scanned with his torch.

I floated in the hallway for a second, watching him drop down into the abyss. When he got to the floor, he turned back and waved me down.

As I passed over the broken staircase, I turned, swimming backwards to see under the stairs. I hated basement stairs and always had the image of hands grabbing me from under them. Pulling me through the slats into the dark. Somehow, not having any stairs at all made it scarier.

I got to the floor and scoped out the basement – We were in a wine cellar. A huge one. Rows and rows of shelves. Floor to ceiling. Clay was swimming along the wall, scanning through the rows. He got to the end, about 30 feet away, and stared down the row. He turned back to me, and waved for me to swim over.

I didn’t really want to go, but he pulled me over with his invite. And that curious part of my brain flared up and wanted to know what he was looking at.

I swam along the wall, looking through the rows of shelves, each one as dark as the last. I got to Clay, and followed what his torch was pointed at. In the far wall, there was a large hole broken out of the concrete. It looked to be about 4 feet high, and a foot wide. On the other side of the hole, it was even darker than the basement. It was like a series of small holes, almost like a honeycomb. I’d seen foundations broken and cracked in odd shapes, but this was a new one.

Clay floated up to it…

Suddenly, something darted out of the hole! Hitting Clay in the mask and then whipping passed me. It was a Pike I think. Northern Pike, probably. It was really big. Clay spazzed out like I’ve never seen him before, and swam backwards into a shelf, knocking it over and into… The next shelf… Which hit the next shelf.


Before I realized it, sediment was being thrown up from the shelves and bottles hitting the floor. The room was quickly turning into an underwater sandstorm while the way out was blocked from vision. I couldn’t see Clay, the flashlight in my hand, or my nose.

Shit, shit, shit. This is like what happened to that family.

I felt Clay grab my hand, and he yanked me forward. I hit the wall on our right side, and realized we just had to follow it forward. Follow it to the stairs. OH NO. The lower half of the stairs are missing. Okay, we’ll just get to the far wall, and… Wait… Was there a far wall? I couldn’t even remember seeing anything on the other side of the stairs, I only looked towards Clay.

What if there were more shelves down there on the other side? Or rooms? What if we got lost down here?

Clay yanked me upward. Up again. Up. I kept kicking and following him up. Please be leading us out, Clay. Please. He would. He’d get us out. He always got us out.

I’ll love you forever Clay, just get us out of this.

A horrifying thought popped in my head. I don’t even know where it came from, but it stuck in there. What if Clay wasn’t the one pulling me? Visions of some underwater witch pulling me down a deep, dark tunnel and away from my brother and the way out filled my mind.

And just as that thought struck my full-blown panic nerve, I was pulled through the basement door and out to the first floor hallway. OH MY GOD. We were out! It was Clay! He got us out.

Thank you, Clay. Thank you, thank you, thank you. But also fuck you for bringing us down there.

Clay turned back to me, smiling like an idiot. Of course he was. From terrified to fearless in seconds, in classic Clay form. I caught my breath and checked my breather. Only 5 minutes had passed.

I kept my eye on the front doorway out. Clay was slowly drifting away, looking around, still investigating. I didn’t care. I was just great right here. Right where I was.

And just like Clay, he started looking up the stairs. The second floor.

Come on. We just nearly died. Maybe he didn’t look at it that way, but I did. He waved and got my attention, pointing up the stairs. I shook my head, waved back “No.” He went up anyway. Now I was alone on the first floor. Which was starting to seem scarier than following him up stairs. The basement door was slowly creaking open, sediment leaking out like a poisonous vapor cloud…

Fuck it.

The upstairs looked as dark and uninviting as the downstairs. But nothing was like the basement. Clay cracked another glow stick, which I figured must be half left now.

I thought about eels a lot. I ran into one on my first night dive last summer in Hawaii. I’ve never seen anything so predatory looking. So evil. It just appeared out of a shadow in the reef, stared at me and smiled. I thought it was gonna take a bite outta my face. But it didn’t. It just stared. That was enough. The memory’s still with me. And there were lots of shadows upstairs.

The stairs opened up to a thin hallway with 3 doors to the right, and one at the end facing us.

Clay pushed opened the first door to find a small bathroom. It wasn’t big enough for both of us to go in, which was fine by me. And he didn’t spend much time inside anyways. So we were on to the next doorway.

Clay cracked another glow stick as he pushed the door open, but rushed back immediately! I looked into the doorway and saw a face staring back-


I opened my mouth to scream, but then saw the edges – The edges of the painting. The face was in the middle of a canvas, though fairly weathered away, so when the torch hit it, it made it look like… Well… An eel.

Clay nudged me, I can see the smile on his face, he’s laughing again. This whole thing has been a riot for him, I bet. I’m still shaking. I push the painting back into the room and see another dozen paintings floating around. Most of them were landscape style, but a few were profiles. The faces dissolved down. Staring out at us from the darkness. Clay pushed off, heading to the next room. What were we looking for? He was acting like there was treasure hidden somewhere. If he tried to take anything though, I wouldn’t let him. You never steal from the dead.

The next doorway didn’t have a door, though I wish it had. It was a children’s room. A crib was floating upside down in the middle. Toys floated around it. A child’s onesie floated past the door. I felt a pit in my stomach, and got more annoyed at Clay for bringing us up here. Maybe I should have just swam outside, waited in front of the house.No. Don’t leave your partner. Especially your brother.

Unless you have to. But there was no technical reason to go up. And Clay wouldn’t cut short for less than that.

The last doorway, again without a door. Clay cracked another glow stick, and swam in. I followed slowly behind him, but turned back down the hallway. Fuck! The painting had floated out of the room, and was now in the hallway. Staring at us.

This fucking house.

I turned back to Clay, and followed him into the main bedroom. It was heavily damaged. The back wall was missing a large chunk of it. Clay dropped the glow stick in the middle of the room and swam around inspecting the dressers and walls. He got to the back wall and looked out. I saw the bubbles stop coming from his breather for a moment. He leaned through the hole, squinting further forward. He turned to me and waved me over. Another smile.

I had no idea what could be out back. Frightening flashes of a family of eels swimming by as I leaned out cut through my mind. But there were no eels. Even if there were, I was so caught off guard I leaned out the hole anyways. For the second time on this dive, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

There was another house.

But not just one. A two-storey building stood beside it. And another. And more houses. And more buildings. Streets. Street signs. Street lights. And more beyond the limit of visibility.

There was an entire town.

How is this possible? And then I remembered those large metal and cement structures I found above water on my walk. Of course, that’s what they were. And like tumblers in a lock, everything fell into place. Even if the why didn’t make sense yet.

Those cement structures were part of a dam. And for whatever reason, someone blew it apart to flood the town.

Part 3 – The Town

At this depth, it was insane to think how clear and far we could see. But the marine snow cloud that hung over us seemed to be giving off a top light. It passed through the green glow of the water which gave the town an emerald look. Like Oz. The colour was the only thing that reminded me of that though. And I hoped there wouldn’t be a curtain to pull back, let alone something behind it.

The pit that made a home in my stomach turned into an anvil.

The house… Maybe… MAYBE I could see it not being listed by the renters. They could not have known about it even. But a whole town? Not mentioning that is the same as hiding it. But why? My next thought, frighteningly, was I knew for sure we’d be using our entire tanks this dive. This thought was underlined when I realized Clay was halfway out of the hole and swimming out towards the town. I quickly grabbed one of his fins and gave it a shake to get his attention. He turned back, floating outside the house now. I waved my hands, “NO” and shook my head vigorously. He shrugged, motioned for me to stay, turned, and off he went.

As he swam towards the town, a chill crept up my spine. I got the feeling something was watching that interaction. Had been watching and waiting for this moment. Hoping the moment would rise where I was left alone and vulnerable.

‘All she has is a flashlight and a knife that’s still in its sheath,’ it would think.

I instinctively pulled my knife out.

Fuck it, we only have so much air left, Clay’ll have to turn back in twenty minutes anyways. Just stick by him for twenty minutes I thought. Twenty minutes. He can’t visit every house. And you don’t have to come back down if he wants to tomorrow or the next day.

I pushed off out of the hole in the back wall, kicking my fins into high gear. But just as I was leaving the hole, I felt a strong tug on my back left fin. I kicked back violently and quickly pulled away. I turned back as I swam away and I swear – I SWEAR – I saw the face in that first painting. That eel face, lips pulled back over its teeth, staring out at me from the shadows of the bedroom. A flap of my bright blue fin in its teeth.

But then it was gone. Back into the shadows. Or maybe it wasn’t there to begin with. I kicked away from the house like it was on fire.

I caught up to Clay as he started swimming down towards the Main Street of the town. Small stores and houses lined both sides and Clay appeared to want to roll down the centre line like he was leading a parade. All the structures had impact damage on their far side, like the first house we found. Like they had been hit by a wave.

Clay cracked two glow sticks and did a little rave dance with them directed at me. His hands knocked together and he dropped one accidentally. I watched it drop to the roadway below, landing on a sewer and falling through the grate. The green glow died quickly as the stick disappeared into the depths of the sewer. It was scary to think that even down here, there was deeper and darker depths.

I felt guilty as we swam down Main Street. I should be thinking how incredible this is. I remember hearing a quote about how you could throw a rock in a lake and be the last person to touch that rock for thousands of years. Maybe for the rest of time itself. And here we were, swimming through an underwater town untouched for the last 50-100 years. And probably the last people to swim through it and see it like this. Maybe ever.

But all I could think about were all the dark, empty windows in the houses and stores. They reminded me of those old, oil canvas paintings with the baroque frames. The eyes in those paintings always follow you. Left, right. Up, down. They move where you move. I got the same feeling from the eel-faced painting in the house, and was now getting the same feeling looking at those empty, dark windows. They stared up at us like eyes. The further we swam down the Main Street, the more it felt like those open windows were watching us. Following us. And no matter where we went, they’d know.

We continued down Main Street, taking note of all the old cars that were upturned or flipped. The damage to the backs of houses and stores got worse the further we went down Main Street, like we were getting closer to the ground-zero event.

Then we saw it. It didn’t make sense that it would be here, at the bottom of a lake. But neither did the house. Or the town. Or anything.

I’d never seen anything like it in person, though our family had talked about visiting one in Belize or the Red Sea or even the Amberjack in Sarasota. But here one was. A Blue Hole at the centre of the town we found at the bottom of a lake. It looked to be about 60 feet across, with beautifully carved cement sculptures and barriers around it making it appear to be the town’s centrepiece. Clay swam right up over top of it, floating above the middle and looking down into its utter darkness. Outer space felt safer.

But I joined him floating above the circle, looking down into its mouth. I remember hearing that Blue Holes were formed back in the ice age, after sea levels rose and filled sinkholes, which was what they were. Massive sinkholes. They were safe, or safe enough. Lots of people free-dive them, testing their lung capacity and challenging themselves with new depths. But those tourist-y ones always had a bottom. They always stopped at a point. Who knows how deep this one went. Images of massive sea snakes, eels and Lovecraftian creatures flooded my mind.

Clay pulled out the bag of glow sticks, which only had two left. He pushed them aside and pulled out the flare and started fiddling with it. It sparked and lit up bright red. I was shocked with how much light it gave off, but also how it made the rest of our surroundings look so much darker. Clay let the flare drop. We watched it tumble as it caught small currents on its way down. Watching it fall, I didn’t know which was scarier – For it to land, so we would know where the bottom was and for Clay to want to adventure down to it. Or for the flare to keep falling until it got too far and the darkness swallowed it up. I watched it drop, spiralling downward methodically. Mesmerizing me. The red glow, swirling…



The magnet…



I felt a strong pain in my arm and snapped back to reality – Clay grabbed my arm, yanking me back. I hadn’t realized it, but I’d floated down several feet towards the hole. I floated back up to Clay, embarrassed, and looked back down just in time to see the flare turn into the tiniest red dot before disappearing.

I guess we wouldn’t know how deep the hole went. Clay waved his hands at me, asking what was up. I shrugged it off, no way to explain it down here, I thought.

Then Clay’s eyeline moved over my shoulder, somewhere behind me. I turned and followed his vision. On the other side of the Blue Hole, a large church faced us. Pillars and a pointed roof with a large crucifix on top reaching upwards. The front door and windows were boarded up and its roof was in shambles, but it stood there, steadily enough. Before I could grab Clay’s arm, he was swimming off towards the Church.

I checked my air – Fifteen minutes left. Which meant we had five more minutes down here before we had to start making our way back. I quickly caught up to Clay and got his attention, showing him my remaining air tank reading. He didn’t appear worried, and showed me his gauge which was two minutes less than mine. Not a surprise he was going through it faster. He signalled the number five, for “Five more minutes,” and kept swimming towards the church. I hate when he does shit like this. Not just him, but divers in general. Planning to run out of gas as the plane lands. No room for error, staying down longer and giving yourself less time at your safety stop before resurfacing. Just more of Clay thinking he was invincible. He was someone who needed dramatic intervention. It was the only way he’d learn. I’m surprised he hadn’t gotten the bends before in any of our dives.

Not wanting to go directly towards the church, I swam to the side of the Blue Hole and followed the street that led to the Church. Unfortunately, I realized I was swimming beside the previously unseen cemetery that curved out from behind the Church. Above water, I had a fear of cemeteries. Seventy to eighty feet down… This was a whole other fear. But it wasn’t just that it was a cemetery. It was that all the graves had been dug up.

All of them. Hundreds of head stones with empty, rectangular holes in front of them. I don’t think there was an untouched grave in the entire cemetery. I just prayed Clay didn’t notice it. I imagined he’d want to check every single one of the graves for something gross to bring back. But as I thought that, I looked back over to Clay and saw him now at the Church door, pulling off the planks of wood that kept it nailed shut.

What the fuck was he doing? We didn’t have time for this shit. I was officially pissed off at him now. This was getting dangerous. I swam over to him as he was pulling the last plank off the door. I whacked him in the arm, which worked well in getting his attention. He held his hands up, shrugging at me again. I motioned for us to go up, showing my air gauge. He checked his and saw where it was, pretending to be surprised. He put it down and gave me the two sign with his fingers. Two more minutes, again. He was really trying to hit the surface as his oxygen ran out. I shook my head “No.”

He shrugged, the bastard, and gave me the two sign again. Then he pushed the doors open and swam in. I want to say I watched him swim away in disbelief, but it was typically believable. And I didn’t watch him, I got visions of all the residents of those empty graves sitting on the pews, waiting for someone to let them out, and I turned away.

The town was eerie, but peaceful in a strange way. I slid down the wall of the Church and sat, letting my eyes scan across the town. I felt like I was a kid again, sitting at the bottom of the public pool while people swam above me, clueless to my existence. I thought about the flare Clay dropped down the Blue Hole. Was it still falling?

As I thought that, something caught my eye. Movement. Somewhere in the distance. But I couldn’t lock on to anything. It was like my peripherals were spasming from the movement just out of view, but when I checked, there was nothing there. I gave it a moment and realized it was the water that was moving. Something in the water. Then it clicked.

Marine snow. Organic material, floating down from that cloud thing. It actually did look like snow and I thought of us in a nightmare snow globe again. One that had just been shaken.
Wait… Marine snow was an ocean thing. It was dead animals and plants, sand, soot, all kinds of shit. But it didn’t occur in shallower waters. Especially not lakes. The ecosystem isn’t large enough. Where was this coming from? And why did it hang like a cloud? Maybe it wasn’t marine snow.

Okay, stop thinking like that. I had been aware how much I was scaring myself since Clay and I had come down. And with good reason. But Clay’s time was up. Both of our time’s were up. You couldn’t argue with oxygen. And ours was almost out.

Fuck it. I turned back to the Church and swam in through the doors.

The church was brighter than I imagined. The roof at the back was missing entirely, the arches remaining. Emerald green light poured in, creating columns of light through the interior. Marine snow, or whatever it was, was falling in and collecting in the visible pockets of light. Old Bibles floated everywhere, all opened and frozen in time. The Organ had been destroyed, with the few pipes remaining pointing in every direction. The pews had been pushed away from the pulpit, some sticking up and piled on top of others.

But there was no sign of Clay. I scanned through the massive room, hoping to see some bubbles. I figured he was probably trying to scare me, but one thing he couldn’t hide were his bubbles. Even with his carelessness, he wouldn’t hold his breath this long just to scare me. No bubbles. No sign of him.

Anger and fear were meshing inside me in frightening ways. Clay was so selfish. I had half a mind to leave him down here and swim back by myself. But that was a lot to take at the moment. The rule for diving when it comes to losing someone while you’re under, is that if you’re oxygen goes low, you are now on your own. You need to get yourself to safety. One dead body is better than two. Easy thought when that person isn’t your brother and you’re both swimming where you shouldn’t be.

Thanks for putting me in this situation, Clay. There was only one option, so there I went. I kicked and sent myself further down the aisle towards the pulpit. I looked between each of the pews that were still upright, but with no sign of him. Nothing at the front. I looked up but only saw the vaulted arches above, and that strange marine snow drifting down from the large holes in the ceiling. Where the hell was he?

Coming in here, I didn’t expect not to see him right away. But the room was empty. Did he swim up and out the back ceiling?

Shit. Where else could he be? As I scanned my flashlight back through the Church, that’s when I saw the door. It was to the back left of the Organ, ajar. I swam towards it nervously, half-expecting it to burst open and be overrun by a hoard of half decomposed villagers.

I peeked in through the crack with my torch, but it was too dark. I had to go in.

I pushed the door open and entered. Books and papers floated everywhere. But what my torch caught was the floor… There was a large hole in it. About 6 feet tall, 2 feet wide.

Similar to the one back at the first house. The hole looked like it was dug up through the rock. Again, filled with other, smaller holes. Like a honeycomb.

Suddenly, the bottom of two sets of shoes floated down in front of me! I screamed in my mask and shot backwards. I kept my torch pointed at the door, and saw the feet rotate away from me.

There was a body in the room. I could see it floating there, motionless. I moved back towards the door.

It was a man. His body was stiff and devastated by time, limbs floating in different directions. Then I noticed he was tethered to the ceiling. A rope attached to a roof support beam and looped around his neck kept the man from floating too far. As the man rotated, I saw a clergy collar under the rope. The Priest had hung himself.

It was time to go.

I checked my oxygen and saw I had less than 10 minutes left. I now had to look out for myself. Clay’s system would set off an alarm and he’d book it out. If he got the bends, that would be on him. He wouldn’t, because he’s lucky like that. But for now, I needed to go up.I swam back into the Church, double checking again that I didn’t miss Clay, but there was no sign of him. I had one last idea. I’d swim up and over the church, giving myself enough space to see both sides and the entire town. Then I’d go up.


I swam up and out through the missing ceiling at the back.

It appeared the Church had been built at the far end of the valley, with nothing behind it but the steep upslope to the dry land 70 feet above.

From this angle, the entire layout of the town made sense. The Church was at the back of the valley. The cemetery, to its left. What looked to be a hospital to the right. The Blue Hole right in front of all 3, with a Main Street on the fourth side that split the town down the middle. It was very symmetrical.

But there was no sign of Clay anywhere. No bubbles. No glowsticks. No torch. The only movement was the marine snow, drifting down like an eerie Christmas morning.

This didn’t feel right. None of it.

Clay wouldn’t go off without me for this long and he certainly wouldn’t go up by himself. He’d find me. He was my older brother and he’d find me.

Unless he couldn’t. I now had just over 5 minutes left of oxygen. Barely enough to go back up and have my safety stop before surfacing. But if that was me… Clay would already have to be up there doing his safety stop. I started to think about him up there now, floating, waiting for me to arrive and acting bewildered that I didn’t just go up when the time came. But… Maybe that’s what was happening?

Before I realized it… I had floated away from the Church… And was now above the Blue Hole.

I felt the magnet in my chest again. That little tug downward. Into the hole. But there was no way I was going down there. I wouldn’t even look down.

Then I saw them. Bubbles. They floated upwards passing me, about five feet away. They came from deep down in the Blue Hole. My eyes scanned through the dark, trying to follow the bubbles.

It was pitch. But one bit of light stood out. A green glow stick. Another fifty feet down into the hole. That was one of ours. Did it fall out of Clay’s bag? Did it float away from one of the places we dropped it?I knew I had to make a fast decision. Quickly investigate, or head up. Seconds were ticking as I thought about it. He could be hurt. In trouble. Something.

Shit. I tucked in and nose-dived, paddling down as fast and calmly as I could.

Just as I entered the Blue Hole, I felt the temperature drop. Even through my suit, it was cold. And getting colder.

I looked at the sides of the hole as I swam down. It was really just a large tunnel. And the green was getting closer. The glow stick.

My body started to chill and my ears popped again, but I kept swimming down. The glow stick was getting closer. The walls of the Blue Hole were narrowing as I swam further down. It was about twenty feet across now instead of sixty.

The glow stick. Ten feet now. Five feet. Got to it. It was stuck on a broken chunk of rock hanging out from the Blue Hole. I spun around, looking to see if there was anything more. But I was the only one down here. I fumbled the glow stick, dropping it and watching it spiral down.

It just kept falling.

Okay, I came and checked. This must have fallen down here and Clay’s probably (Better be) at the surface wondering where I am. But just as I was about to kick off… I realized I was floating in front of a large hole in the side of the wall. A hole large enough to swim into, surrounded by other, smaller holes in that honeycomb pattern. Just like the church and the first house’s basement.

And there, sitting several feet inside the large tunnel broken into the rock… Was Clay’s torch.

Part 4 – The Tunnels

I kicked inwards quickly. Okay, NOW was the last push to find him. I swam deeper, realizing I was now in a tunnel, about eight feet tall and four feet wide. The torch got closer.

I got to the light, and it was Clay’s torch. It had his initials carved into the butt of the handle. It was resting on the bottom of the tunnel. I picked it up and hooked it to my belt. So he’d been through here then. Within the last 10 minutes. I was on the right track, but was out of time. I kicked forward, instinctually without thinking, pushing through the tunnel. It looked like it came to an opening ahead. I’d just get there and turn back, I thought. Then my torch caught something. It was sticking up from a crevasse at the bottom of the tunnel.

One of Clay’s flippers. It looked chewed up.

I floated forward, coming to the end of the tunnel and out into a large caving system. Of course it was caves. But this was unlike anything I’d heard of. It looked like a honeycomb on every wall. Dozens and dozens of dark, black tunnels to go into. Or come out of.

My safety alarm was starting to ring. My oxygen was almost out. I had to get out. I had to go.

I’m sorry, Clay. I’ll come back. Whether you’re alive or dead, I’ll come back down. I promise. I kicked back through the tunnel, turning on Clay’s torch and leaving it at the entrance, pointing out into the Blue Hole. It shone out of the tunnel, which would make it easier to find on the way back. I found it last time because of the glow stick, but that was gone now.

It was slower going up than coming down, which made the ringing of the alarm in my earpiece that much more annoying. The ringing was replaced by popping as I ascended up into the town. But the water didn’t feel warmer.

I swam straight up, deciding to push through the cloud and come out the other side. Once there… I wouldn’t have time for a safety stop. All I could do was swim at the depth of one, towards the cottage, and hoped that would do enough to ward off the bends. Either way, time wouldn’t allow anything else. I’m going to have to run into the house, grab mom and dad’s air tanks and masks and rush back. Why both? I kept thinking, maybe… He’ll still somehow be alive. If I just rejected the idea he was dead, maybe that’d pause it for just a few minutes longer. Maybe we were living in between seconds. And there was still time. It made no sense, but sometimes hope doesn’t.

It was all a guess which direction to go in, as I didn’t want to hit the surface too soon, even though my air gauge was reading just under 1% left. Once it hit 0%, I’d dip up and take whatever came.

And then I saw that familiar slope of shore leading up to the cottage. There was sand under me again. I guessed the right way. I pulled my head above water just as my tank ran dry.
Air never tasted so good. But so fleeting. I kicked my way up to the shore, shedding my tank and mask on the beach. Behind me, dark storm clouds were moving in quickly.
I rushed inside, pulling aside the gear from mom and dad’s stash I needed. I got the tanks and masks. Two flares. A pocket first-aid kit. I saw an inflatable life raft. The kind that inflates itself from zero to one hundred in under two seconds flat, but packaged down into something the size of a windbreaker. Small enough to carry and, what the hell, maybe it would help. I grabbed a line. I figured I could attach it to the tunnel entrance so I could find my way out. I didn’t like the idea of glow sticks anymore. Then I saw my dad’s Drop Point six inch blade. The handle made it almost a foot long.

I grabbed the gear and marched back out to come face to face with the storm’s arrival. Rain was starting to hit the deck. The lake was already dancing with raindrops. Lightning spiderwebbed across the sky, followed by a thunderclap that shook the earth.

I suited up with my mom’s tank and mask and, carrying my dad’s gear for Clay, I rushed in. As the water rose above my knees, I gripped the handle of my dad’s Drop Point. It wasn’t just the handle now though. I had quickly duck taped a flare to it, with the burning end pointed to the butt. I had a terrible feeling I was going to need them both. This wasn’t just about bringing Clay back.

The Blue Hole was natural. But the crack in the side of it… The tunnel to the cave… All of those tunnels in that catacomb… They were made by something. Or some things. Clay’s mangled fin only supported that theory.

There was something else down there.

Growing up, I had a recurring nightmare.

There was a pond in our neighbourhood. It was a man-made pond that lots of people came to and swam in in the summer. There was a rumour that it was dug so deep, the contractors couldn’t get the construction equipment out after, so they just left them there and filled the water in. No one had ever swam to the bottom, so no one knew if it was true. Or even how deep it went.

It was always a scary thought, swimming over huge bulldozers and cranes, abandoned, fifty to a hundred feet below us. But we did swim over them. Because of the other thing about the pond.

On the other side, the side everyone always swam to… A tree stuck up out of the water. A large branch hooked upward, six feet out of the water and thick. It was strong enough for people to climb on and jump off of. And that’s what people did. They’d climb up and dive straight down, trying to get to the bottom of the tree. Word was, it got so dark and cold, it was impossible to tell how much deeper it went. Of all the people who went to the pond, only one person had ever claimed to hit the bottom. Clay.

The nightmare was short, but felt like years. Every moment stretched until time didn’t exist.

It was night. A full moon was out and I was at the pond. I was the only one there, and I was on that tree branch. I was holding it tight, my whole body clutched to it. I couldn’t remember how I got there, but I was trembling. I didn’t want to move until the sun came up. Until other swimmers arrived. Until it was safe.

Then I felt it.

A light shudder against the tree trunk at first. Then a heavier shake. Movement. Way down below. Movement coming upwards. Something was clawing its way up the tree, moving fast. I could feel its power reverberate through the main trunk. The very one I was clutching. Bubbles started to pop on the surface. Multiplying quickly. It was almost here.
I thought if I could just let go of the tree… I could make it to shore. Out swim whatever it was. But I couldn’t. My grip didn’t ease. I just kept clutching the tree, staring down into the water. Waiting. The tree shaking more violently as whatever it was got closer.

I never really saw it, the water was too dark and murky. But sometimes I thought I caught a glimpse of a face. I never knew what it was until I met that eel in Hawaii. Before then… It was just the beginning of a lifelong phobia.

And then I’d wake up.

I’d like to wake up now. In bed. Come downstairs and find Mom, Dad and Clay eating breakfast. What I’d give for that.

But instead, I’m about to launch back over the drop-off and down through the cloud. I’d decided I was going to stay up high, swim over the town until I was directly over the Blue Hole. And then drop straight down. I wasn’t doing those kelp fields or marching down Main Street again. I was keeping an eagle’s eye view of everything this time.

Fear was coursing through my bones. The only thing fighting it was hope. And that brought back something else my first scuba instructor told me, “No one’s dead, until they’re dead.” For whatever reason, something deep in my chest told me Clay was the former. There were all kinds of air pockets and above water caves in those systems that he could be in. But it was more than him being an annoyingly resilient guy. Something was pulling me towards him.

Maybe it was the Void, but it used Clay’s voice.

I pulled through the cloud and there was the town. It wasn’t shining emerald green anymore. The overhead storm took the shimmer away. The white, marine Christmas snow was replaced by something that resembled ash. The town looked dead.

I stuck just below the cloud as I swam. The lightning from the sky far above magnified down here, like the night battlefield of an old war. The cloud seemed to envelope the whole valley, like a ceiling.

Or a buffer…

I stared down at the rooftops of homes and buildings and stores. Seeing the water damage accumulate the closer I got to the end of the valley made all the sense now. It was clear the town was flooded for a reason. There were just so many personal possessions in that first house to make me think they evacuated everyone voluntarily. An infection maybe?
But what about the Priest in the Church?

Now thinking of the Church, it was getting closer which meant – I looked down. I was floating directly over the Blue Hole. The ashy marine snow fell at my sides and accumulated around the sides. I wonder if there was a thick accumulation of it at the bottom of the Blue Hole. If there was a bottom.

I was dropping down quickly into the town, my head on a swivel. I couldn’t make out any movement around me. The town seemed as quiet and dead as ever. Then the town was gone, and I was in the Blue Hole. It felt like I was being swallowed whole by a giant sea creature.

As I dropped, I searched for the light I left at the entrance to the tunnel. Shit. I couldn’t see even a hint of light down below anywhere. What if a current turned it over, or caused it to fall out? Or, or, or…

Then I saw it. Ten feet below me. The light pierced out from the entrance dimly. The large crack in the wall, large enough to fit through. Clay’s torch blazing out at me.

I took a moment, trying to mentally prepare for whatever was down here. Whatever I’d find. Whatever would find me. I conjured up the worst underwater creatures I could imagine. Anything that could make whatever actually arrived less frightening.

I hooked my dad’s pack to mine with a carabiner, then attached my line to a crevasse in the broken rock at the entrance. I tested the line, and it was a strong hold. Good to go. I held my torch in one hand, and my dad’s Deep Point/flare in the other, its safety loop around my wrist. I was ready.

I kicked forward and entered the tunnel, passing over Clay’s torch. I adjusted it, pointing it back into the tunnel to make it easier to find (if my line was to be cut). The tunnel remained quiet and dark, unaware of the storm raging overhead. Things like that didn’t matter down here. Nothing mattered down here.

The end of the tunnel was approaching, and I could see the honeycomb pattern ahead. I still wasn’t sure what my plan was once I got to the cave and all the… Options. How was I going to handle this…

The tunnel finally came to the opening, and I was back in the large, open cavern. It really appeared to be the hub for all of these tunnels. I decided to light up my backup flare. The room sparked into a bright red cathedral. There were so many more tunnel entrances than I thought. So many.

A fearful thought hit me. One of those ones that makes sense and becomes more frightening at the same time. There were enough tunnels down here for every home in the town. That crack in the wall of the basement… The church floor…

Any one of these could literally go anywhere. And probably splinter into a dozen other tunnels as well. I grew overwhelmed. I’m not sure what my plan was this whole time, I just knew I needed to come back. But now I’m here. With a hundred choices. But no decisions. I closed my eyes… What had I been thinking… No one would ever find Clay. He was lost down here. Forever. And I was the idiot kid sister who showed up with bandaids.

Tears welled up. For the first time through all of this, I started to cry. Adrenaline kept me going. But this… This moment… It all crashed back down. I cried about Clay, and what I was going to say to my parents. About them, and how crushed they’d be. I cried about the funeral. About our grandparents who loved him.

And then I cried for me… Because I didn’t ask for this. Then I felt it in my chest.

The magnet.

The Call.

The Void.

I opened my eyes, and realized I’d floated upwards in the cavern. But not just up, forward and to the left. I was directly in front of a new tunnel entrance, floating in place. That tug, in my chest, pulling me here.

I could see pretty deep into this new tunnel. It was dark, but there was light down the tunnel. A lot of light. It was a blueish, green glow.

And it was calling me.

Part 5 – The Call Of The Void

Floating in front of the new tunnel, I clutched the Deep Point grip. I looked back to see my line was still with me, and trailed back through the cave to the tunnel that would lead us out of here. I checked my air, forty minutes left. How many tunnels could I search in that time if this one didn’t lead to him?

This was the wrong kind of thinking. One step at a time. Clear this tunnel, then move on. Clear that one, then move on. And so on until I run out of air. I swam in.

I realized the tunnel started narrowing. Not height-wise, but along the sides it was getting tighter. The glowing ahead was getting closer. It was definitely some kind of bioluminescence. Probably glow worms. They could live in places like this on nothing. And this was the colourthey gave off. As I got closer, the more sure I was.

The tunnel opened up to a large cave, the majority of which was above water. I could see up through the surface and onto the dry parts. The ceiling of the cave was littered with tiny glow worms, or what looked like them. The cave glowed like nothing I’ve ever seen. It was beautiful and horrifying. I started to rise to the surface, knowing I had to be careful how quickly I peeked out. If there was anything in here, my arm was spring-loaded to jab forward with this knife.

I surfaced, slowly, taking in the vast cave as I did. The walls and ceiling were littered with other tunnel entrances, but not nearly as many as the previous honeycomb. And these entrances had thousands of glow worms surrounding each one. As I took more in, I saw there was a shore that led to a small inlet. Almost a cave, but not deep. It was above water.

It looked like an odd shaped rock was in the middle of the inlet. It was long, dark, and jagged.

But then it moved. Shifted. Like something was inside it. The dark exterior slid downward like a sheet of paper, revealing…

Clay! He was laying flat in the inlet. His mask was off.

My breath hitched and I tried not to move. I didn’t want whatever that thing was to see me. What WAS that thing?! I watched it as it slid off Clay onto the rocky surface of the inlet. Its shape was like a long, flat oval. But then it quickly rolled up like a carpet. Long and slender now, it moved like a large snake, slithering up into one of the tunnels and disappearing.

What. The fuck. Was that?

It looked like a sea blanket at first. But then the snake-like coiling up… I had no time to think further. I could only think about rushing over to Clay. But I didn’t rush. I swam over, cautiously. I scanned the tunnels. The cave. The inlet. Any sign of more of those things. Those creatures. They reminded me of manta-rays when unfurled.


I got to the inlet. I couldn’t see any other creatures like that first one. Or any others. And Christ… I didn’t want to. None of the tunnels looked occupied. And if that thing just left, now’s the time to grab him. I set a timer in my head – Thirty seconds. Get him back to the water in thirty seconds or less.

I steadied my breath and pulled myself up quickly. I rushed to Clay. He had a large, frightening bite on his neck that resembled the honeycomb pattern in the main cave. There wasn’t much blood, but that pattern was expanding across his skin and covering his neck like a bruise. I checked his pulse… Checked… Felt around more… There! A pulse!

I levelled up on his chest with my palms over each other and started CPR right away.

Pump. Pump. Pump. 30 chest compressions. Breaaaaathe.

Wake up, Clay. Come on, please wake up.

Pump. Pump. Pump. Breaaaathe. I was starting to ball now. Overwhelmed and almost done…

Cough! Clay’s eyes shot open as he sprung to life! He coughed up water. And vomited. His eyes were wide and afraid. When they found mine, he wrapped his arms around me. The coughing echoed in the cave and out into the tunnels.

That can’t be good. We had to leave. Now. I told Clay to put Dad’s tank and mask on. But Clay was dazed. His vision seemed far off, like he was looking through water. I pinched his ear hard, which seemed to snap him back.

Clay clipped off his harness and slipped on dad’s. He masked up, tested the oxygen, all green. I told him to follow me, and to swim as fast as he could.

Something felt off with him. He was looking pale and sickly. I unhooked the line and wrapped it tightly through Clay’s vest.

Then there was movement to the left. Over his shoulder. My hand wrapped around the grip. I told Clay to go…

But it was too late. The movement was the creature. Back to feed. On solid ground, it looked and moved exactly like a snake. Zig zagging quickly towards Clay’s turned back, its version of a head poised and ready to attack.

As it was almost upon Clay, I reached around him, slamming the Deep Point down. The blade caught the creature. Not entirely, but enough for the creature to shriek out in pain and spray out black blood. It darted off into one of the tunnels. The echo of the screech reverberated through the tiny cave, and out into each individual tunnel.

Then other screeches pierced out, echoing from different tunnels.There were more. Oh shit… There were more. We really had to go now. I yelled to swim and he seemed to be coming back to reality.

We jumped in, dipping under and following the line out to the tunnel. As we left the cave, I kept checking back behind us, wondering if it was coming back. When it would come back. There’s no way it would just leave. Not if I hurt it like that.

I was doing the math in my head. Two minutes out of here. My final flare will last five minutes. I’m saving it for when another of those things shows up. So it should last us until we get to the town. Hopefully. Problem is… We’re not moving very fast. Clay was not being the speedy swimmer I know. I should be in his dust right now but instead I’m on his heels.
I wanted to yell at him to go faster, but instead I’d check back behind us. I kept expecting to see that eel face. But the tunnel remained empty. All I could see was the blue light from the glow worms. No movement at all.

Finally we swam out into the large cavern. The flare was still burning, albeit dimming now.
This was taking too long. I swam in front of Clay and unhooked him from the line. I used a carabiner and attached his harness to mine, like a Baby Bjorn.

The flare below us started to die. The large cavern got darker. As we followed the line and swam towards our tunnel out, I glanced around at the other tunnels… The honeycomb was filled with eyes. They shimmered with the fading light. Like cats eyes.

We kicked forward, together, towards the entrance. Getting closer. The flare faded…


We entered the tunnel! Kicking forward furiously… Moving faster now. Clay’s torch was still there, shining back at us. Another twenty feet. Keep kicking Clay. Keep kicking!

We swam over Clay’s torch, and I checked over my shoulder… To see my nightmares spilling into reality.

The tunnel was filled with the creatures. Hundreds of faces, small and large, a writhing tangle of coiled predators, following us through the tunnel. Little eyes glinting from the light. They had all taken the snake shape. It seemed to move faster that way. The snake shape. Or was it eel…

Almost there! I felt snapping at my fins. Pulling. Now was the time for the flare. I cracked it! Filling the tunnel with red light and swinging it backwards as we swam.

The creatures darted around, blinded or burned. But didn’t retreat. They weren’t leaving.

They kept following. Snapping.

And we kept kicking. Kept getting closer.

And then we were out and into the Blue Hole!

We swam out and up, kicking violently as the creatures spilled out into the Blue Hole behind us. Hundreds of them. They kept coming, pouring out of the tunnel. Circling us.

Surrounding us. They started darting in, jabbing at us. Opening their mouths and slicing at us with their tiny teeth.

I kept swinging the flare and the blade, upward and downward, side to side. Sometimes I’d catch one, but it was quickly replaced by two more.

I looked up, but I couldn’t see out. They’d completely surrounded us. We were moving upward foot by foot… But this flare was gonna run out. I kept swinging though. And we kept kicking.

I felt the creatures get ahold of Clay. We were yanked down violently. I looked down and a few had latched onto his one fin. They wrapped around his leg and each other, forming a long rope. It was like a game of tug-of-war. He kicked at them, and they’d loosen. But they’d get back, strong, and pull us down again. We’d lost ground. We were almost back to the tunnel.

A creature hit me in the mask. I swung my blade at it, but another of the creatures caught my wrist with a deep thud. My hand went limp. Only for a second, but enough for me to drop the blade/flare. It sprayed out, floated down and away. That was the last weapon we had. They swarmed in.

That was it. We were done. There were too many and we couldn’t beat them with our hands.

Clay was getting dragged back into the tunnel, pulling me in with him. I felt our strap ripping. They were trying to separate us before pulling us inside. Then we’d never get out. We couldn’t fight them in the tunnel. We couldn’t even fight them out here.

This was it. How we’d die. Together. But apart.


Not yet. The raft! The fucking raft. My hands darted to my side. It was still there! Holding the cord tightly with one hand and the handle with the other, I pulled it open.

An explosion of plastic flooded my vision. Within a second, I felt my arm yanked upward, jettisoning Clay and I up and away from the tunnel.

It was like being attached to a jet pack. We took off, leaving the creatures in confusion at first. But they caught on, and darted upwards in pursuit. All hundreds of them.

It balanced between thrilling and horrifying. Like being on the scariest roller coaster imaginable. Only the chance of death was far higher.

Then I felt one of them. It must have held on. It was behind me, on my tank, and wrapping around my mask. I tried to grab it but couldn’t reach it.

It crawled over my mask, biting down into my neck! Pain shot through my body. My mask cracked. I took a huge breath and yanked the mask off, letting it fall to the side, water flooding my face. The creature went with the mask, confused from my breather’s burst of compressed air. It was swallowed up by the mass below, chasing us frantically.

I realized I hadn’t taken a very large breath. And my lungs were already burning.

We flew out of the Blue Hole and the town became visible again. All I could see below us were the creatures, desperately trying to get at us. But we were moving just fast enough to keep above them. The black marine snow was still falling. The dead town lighting up with every lightning bolt overhead.

Even more of those creatures started to appear from the houses. The buildings. The stores. The sewers. They were joining the ones on our heels. The intruders to their land.

My vision started getting spotty. Black dots were forming. Alarms were firing off all over my brain.

I needed air like I’ve never needed it before. My grip loosened on the raft handle. I became weak, and that weakness shot through my body. Hold on a little longer…

The strap holding Clay to my carabiner ripped and loosened further. Shit. No, not now-
Snap! The strap ripped through, Clay and I no longer attached!

My hand instinctively shot out and I grabbed for anything. I managed to catch the shoulder strap on Clay’s vest, keeping him from falling into the ferocious writhing mess in pursuit.

We kept rocketing upwards, but my grip started to wane on the raft. And on Clay.

My hand loosened on the raft.

Then Clay.

Then the raft.

Then Clay.

I was losing both of them.

One has to go.

One has to go…

No… I can’t choose. I can’t. Not now…

Hold on. Hold on!

We shot into the cloud. I lost sight of the creatures. Then we were through and almost at the surface. My eyes shut and… I caved, and breathed in-

Water shot into my lungs and panic streaked through my brain.

Splash! As we punched through the surface, I let go of Clay and the raft. I had held on just long enough. We burst up and out into the stormy waters. I landed on my back, inhaling more water but throwing it up on Clay’s head. I coughed and hacked. My eyes couldn’t stay open. I knew we had to keep moving. I knew we both needed to get to a hospital. My head dipped below the water and I saw hundreds of those little creatures peeking up at us from the cloud, but they didn’t come through. They stayed below, like there was a change in the water, separated by the cloud.

I pulled my head back up and saw flashlights in the distance. The shore. The lights of the cabin. I kicked towards it. I knew we only had a certain amount of time before the nitrogen build up would all but paralyze our movements. We needed decom chambers to release the nitrogen through our respiratory systems, or it was gonna build up in our tissue, joints and everywhere else. As it was, everything else in my body felt wrong and damaged.

Clay was still kicking. Of course he was. He probably won’t remember any of this.

I kicked and kicked, the raft abandoned far behind us now. I only opened my eyes for brief moments to see if I was still moving us toward the lights. The cottage. I always was.

Something kept pulling me in that direction.

Or maybe it was just me.

Fear crept back in my mind, thinking about those creatures down below the cloud. What if they came up? Just for a second and tried to pull us down? It wouldn’t take much. I had so little energy or fight left. But they didn’t come. They stayed on the other side of the cloud.

Voices in the distance drifted in. It was dad. That booming voice echoing over the lake.

Then mom’s smother voice. I kept kicking. Then we hit something. Or something hit us. We were on the shore! I felt my dad’s hands grab me as his voice drifted away.

It felt like I was falling asleep. Maybe that’s what dying feels like.

But not yet.

When I came to, I was here. My first thought was those creatures. Still there. Under that cloud. Filling those tunnels. But I was safe from them now.

Mom’s been communicating with me by writing on a notepad and showing me through the glass. Even though she looks sicker than I do now, since everything’s locked down, they’re letting her stay.

Apparently Clay’s out of his chamber at the other hospital. They’re shooting him full of meds for the infection from his bite, and he’s about to go in for his surgeries. I’m going to need the same stuff for my bite when I get out. Problem is… The bite’s really starting to hurt my throat. So much so it hurts to breathe.

The pain in my throat pulls me back to the flooded town, even though my mind was starting to slow. I’ve read about towns like this before. There’s dozens of them in the U.S. One article was about a town that was flooded in the 1920’s. Spanish Influenza had torn through it, and the state governor decided the town was beyond saving. So they blew a nearby dam and it became the bottom of a lake.

Is that what happened here? Did those things come up from below and infect the town, making it beyond saving? It was the best sense I could make without deep-diving on my laptop. And if I survive this, that’s the only deep-diving I’ll be doing. If I don’t survive this, that’s as close as I’ll get to understanding it.

Only ten more minutes now in this chamber, and then the surgeries start. Assuming the surgeons aren’t infected with whatever I have and are capable of performing. I need them to fix my lungs. I’m in really bad shape. I held my breath for too long, too deep.

Never hold your breath, kids.

Unless you have to.

Credit : 10 Minute Horror



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