Treading Water

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It only takes one tiny moment of clarity. An insignificant flash of time. And then that unparalleled fear gives way to the ease of release. The survival instinct apparent in all of us collapses in on itself, the preservation of your being crumbling away into nothingness. In that moment, you realize it’s easier to just let go.

Let me walk you through the stages. Because despite only taking place within a small pocket of existence, only a few minutes of time, there are stages. They play out without noticeable transition. Each stage seeming to fold itself effortlessly into the next, more like layers peeling away. As if they’re all there at the start, and one by one they vanish, leaving you with nothing left but the very core of yourself.

First, there is realization. That one solitary moment where it dawns on you: “Well, I’m done for.” It doesn’t happen the moment you slip under the surface, no, it happens when you realize you’re probably not going to slip back above it.

Realization into panic. How do you describe it? It’s as if a voice in your head whispers stories of your demise. Telling you that, yes indeed, this situation isn’t going well. Even people who claim to not fear death will panic when the reaper is at the door. Panic in the face of an eternal end is unrivaled when it’s coming at you slowly. You’ll push at yourself, pull at the water, and pray to every God that exists. Thoughts won’t register like they usually do. Only true, unequivocal fear.

The logic you sheltered yourself before this panic will cave under the pressure of uncertainty. The same pressure you’ll feel as the murky depths start to wrap around you. The flailing and kicking will cause your entire body to ache. Your lungs will scream for oxygen. Panic will give in to desperation. They say the hardest thing about saving a drowning person is the damage it’ll do to you. They’ll kick you, claw you, pull you under, and it’ll all happen without their conscious thought. That’s desperation, in its purest form.

If panic is fear, desperation is a struggle against fear, than what comes next? Hopelessness. The battle against fear becoming a fight you know you can’t win. Every fiber of your being, the very essence of what makes you, you, will weep when it realizes no amount of force can break this binding. You’re trapped. Give it up kid, you’re not going to win this one.

And that’s when you let go. The loss of hope becomes too much to bear, and you let everything drift away slowly. It’s easier to accept than it is to fight to the bitter end. Instead of mourning that which you cannot escape, you simply open your arms and let yourself become enveloped in your new fate.

You close your eyes, and you float away forever.

“…It’s an old house. Not too surprising to see a pipe burst like that. Corrosion, rust, what-have-ya. Pretty typical in neighborhoods like you live in. I managed to stop up the leak, but I’ll have to get back to you tomorrow with a pump to flush the water out. Say around five or so? See ya then.”

Beep.

“Message deleted. You have 1 more new message.”

Beep.

“Hey Geoff, it’s Dr. Farland, just calling to remind you that your prescription should be up for a refill this weekend. Make sure to get in and pick that up. Have a great day.”

Beep.

“Message deleted. You have no new messages.”

Eyes. The only way you can describe it. Like being watched, a voyeur you know is there. You may not see it, may not hear it, but you sense the eyes. Glaring. Eyes. Unblinking, staring at you with conviction, menace. Watching. Waiting. Eyes. Metaphorical eyes. Figurative eyes. The eyes on the basement door, sitting slightly ajar, peering at him, as if in judgment. Behind them, the cold, dark of water. Welling up, as if about to cry. A voyeur about to cry.

He’d only been in the house for three days, and it was already trying to run him out. Nudging open the door to the unfinished basement, he returned the stare of his voyeur. Seven creaky, cracking wooden steps leading into the murky abyss of a blown water-heater pipe’s innards. A few feet below the mirrored surface lay a concrete floor. A washer and dryer, the tops of which just barely break the surface.

There was something off about the water. Not only the way it’s near-onyx black surface tossed back his own distorted image, but something about its motion. Or lack thereof. Stillness. Motionless. Cold. He could almost feel it pull, a false sense of calm, reaching deep within his head and wrapping it’s hands around his brain. Tugging, dragging him into its waiting embrace. Deeper and deeper, a well full of nothing at all. The dark, cold nothing. Enveloping, surrounding, smothering. Drowning.

With a few quick blinks of an eye, the darkness returns to the basement where it belongs. A slight smirk found itself planted on his face as he turned back to the metropolis of boxes behind him. Boxes of various sizes, various origins. A box from his work. A few boxes from a box store. A gaggle of boxes taken from the local market. Each box clearly labeled with thick black marker-ink.

A box marked: Kitchen – Utensils. A box marked: Dining Room – China Cups FRAGILE.

In his mind, he mapped out a pathway through the labyrinth of his past. Accumulated junk gathered from the four corners of the world, or at least the four corners of his own personal world. Carefully, as if treading on thin ice, he made his way across the dining area into the kitchen.

The kitchen itself wasn’t too remarkable. Unlike the rest of the house, it seemed as if no depth was placed into developing this room. Cramped compared to the open space of the rest of the house, the kitchen was dimly lit with only a small window over the sink casting what sunlight remained after it’s tree-filtered journey through the backyard.

A few futile clicks on the fixture to the left of the doorway found the light bulb in the ceiling-mounted light-and-fan unit to be dead. Just another thing that needed to be fixed before this house became a home. Of course, getting the small pond out of the basement may take priority over a simple change of light bulb.

Grumbling from within lead him to the refrigerator. An ancient baby-shit green, straight out of a 1970’s sitcom. Geoff found it to be mercilessly empty, except for an abandoned box of baking soda. And an odd abundance of bottled water. At least two dozen bottles, about 20 ounces each, nestled in every corner of the tinted-yellow guts of the fridge. A bottle tucked in the butter compartment. A few sitting on the shelves behind the door. At least half a dozen rolling around in the vegetable crisper. If his house turned into the Mohave desert, at least he wouldn’t die of thirst.

With a heavy-hearted sigh, he returned the door to its original position and settled his sight on the corpse on the counter. Lying, three-fourths of the way consumed. It’s skin drying out, rubbery. Greasy sores shining in what little light was cast it’s way. He reached down and tore a hunk off the side of it and let his teeth sink into it, allowing it to settle on his taste buds. Salty. Vulture-like, he stood over the sink and pecked at the remains. The name of his current victim: Domino’s.

A series of burps resonating from within, the hunter worked his way towards the living room, stopping to throw another stare down the basement stairs, at his stalker waiting in the bushes. His trek away from the doorway finds itself halted, allowing for a double-take at the water.

Is it higher? No, that can’t be. Four steps? Wasn’t it seven? He supposed that he didn’t actually count, and that it’s probably just some trick of the mind. A light chuckle gave itself to walking away, but another step and another abrupt stop. Another turn of the neck.

His eyes widened. Dammit, it IS higher! The washer and dryer, now completely swallowed up by the lake. The pipes, no drips. No leak. Perhaps the leak is under the surface. The hunter blinked against the confusion. No signs of rising water. Maybe the washer and dryer weren’t there. He decided to give it a few hours, and see what happened. The hunter felt his prey working him over from the inside-out. It wanted him to sleep.

Eventually, the hunter becomes the hunted. Instead of fighting his predator, he allowed it to softly chew on him. With remote in hand, and the day old pizza in his belly, he gave himself to the couch for sustenance. Resistance was futile. Especially with his old friend TV only a few yards away. Past a few boxes, that is.

A box marked: Living Room – Video Games. A box marked: Living Room – Movies.

The strategy now? Letting the grumbling whisker-muffled voice of Dr. Phil carry him away into the ever-inviting ocean of slumber. A cat-nap or better yet a nice cat-coma.

“Welcome back, before the commercial break Lydia was telling us about her dreams. Dr. William Costner, a professional dream interpreter is now going to help Lydia figure things out. Doctor?”

“Thank you. Now, Lydia, your dream is very water-centralized. A common theme in many dreams is endless water. Be it lost in an endless sea or fighting off a flood. Water is the base of everything. We are made mostly of water. The planet is made mostly of water. So it would make sense that our psyche would also consist of water. Water can represent a wide assortment of things. Water can represent turmoil, a monsoon bashing against the walls of our safe shelter. Or it can represent peace. The warming feel of the shorelines running itself gently over your feet as you watch the sun go down…”

Watching… the sun… go down…

Down… down… down… down…

“Now, Mr. and Mrs. Volkner, if you look over here, you’ll see a very spacious walk-in closet, the shelving in here is brand new, just put in a few months ago. The organizers are great for storing clothing, shoes, accessories, whatever you want. It even has a light so you can get dressed with the door closed.”

“It sure has a lot of storage space. I love it, I can finally put everything I got from my mother away. No more boxes!”

“I know, I know you love it, but come on Mollie, we just can’t afford it…”

“Now, Geoff, can I call you Geoff? You need not worry about ‘affording it’. Payment plans are going to allow you to pay for it over time, and with the market value on this neighborhood on the up and up, this house will end up paying for itself. I’d go so far as to say it’s going to pay YOU to live in IT.”

“Here that, honey, the house is going to pay US to live in it.”

“Yeah, would the house be willing to break us a check right now? We’re just too strapped for cash right now to make any sort of commitment, you know this. It’s just too far out of our realistic price range right now, regardless of it ‘paying for itself’ and regardless of the market value. I’m sorry, but we are just going to have to pass…”

Have to pass… pass… pass…

Like the tides, consciousness ebbed and flowed, rushing back in like a wave.

“…water can also represent death. Being swept away, to drown, to sink deep into the depths never to be heard from again…”

“Never to be heard from again, kinda like you Doctor Dream.”

With a flash, the TV found itself now lying dormant. However, the remote still lie on the coffee table next to the couch. Geoff startled at the realization and sat up, slinging his legs over the side, only to find them instantly soaked.

At least an inch-deep puddle floated up over the edges of his toes. A quick glance left and right found the entire living room to be blanketed in a similar situation. The basement leak! It must have started leaking again while he was asleep, and it must have shorted out the television!

Another glance over to the TV found this not to be the case. The water wasn’t coming from below, but from above. Dripping. Drip. Drip. Drip. Right on top of the black box, trickling down the screen, in and out of the ventilation on the sides and back.

In another instant, sparks began to shoot from the back of the set. Geoff pulled himself back onto the couch, attempting to avoid all contact with the water. The lights in the room wavered, on, off, drifting like a tide itself. Geoff leaped from the couch and splashed towards the phone by the door. He had to get the plumber back in here to fix these immediately.

The number was conveniently Post-It noted to the table. He splashed his feet up and down in the water as he dialed, letting each ring push his patience into its own watery grave.

Splash. Ring. Splash. Ring.

“Hello, you’ve reached The Aqua Guys, it is past regular business hours. If you have an emergency, please call…”

As the emergency number sprinkled out of the headset, Geoff frantically scribbled it down on another yellow Post-It. A quick press of the button, and the phone was ready to be fired off again. Dialing the freshly-penned number, Geoff began to notice the water was creeping farther and farther up his leg. How could it be rising that fast?

With the phone pressed hard against his ear, he struggled to hear the ringing on the other end of the line. Struggling against the sound of… wait, struggling against the sound of what? It wasn’t there a moment ago, now it was. And loud.

Running water?

“Hello, you’ve reached Rick of The Aqua Guys, I’m afraid I’m unable to…”

Geoff hung up and sprinted across the dining room, working his way around the boxes which now floated, as if hovering, a few inches off the ground. His feet flinging water up, droplets bashing against his face, drenching his clothes. The sound was coming from the kitchen.

 

Squinting against the darkness cast over the unlit room by the now-dusk sunlight, he soon realized the source: the sink was running. Water, gushing out of the sprocket, as if turned on high. But it was coming out way too heavy for a regular sink. Geoff wrapped his hands against the old metal handles, pulling them in both directions, watching them spin endlessly, without effecting the flow at all. Suddenly, the entire faucet blasted into the air, bursting off with a geyser of water from below.

He recoiled from the sudden blast, shrugging his shoulder to wipe the water off his face with a sleeve. When he pulled his eyes away, he noticed that the sink wasn’t the only thing adding to the water. The freezer?!

The seams around the icebox, water seeping out of them. Dripping down the old green door. He stumbled over, grasping the handle of the top portion, the freezer, tearing it open. On reflex, he snapped his eyes shut, the massive blast of freezing cold water from inside the tiny box washing over him. The force shoving him back. The surprise causing him to lose his footing, tumbling backwards into the cabinets behind him. Behind his eyelids, a blinding flash as his head connected with the new marble counter top. He landed, seated, in the water.

His eyes filled with red as he felt a surge of pain rush from the back of his head. He reached a hand around and pulled it back to reveal crimson. Pulling himself back up, he stumbled out of the kitchen and headed for the front door. He had to get out of the house first.

The head injury was already taking affect, leaving him slightly off-kilter. Dizzy. Stumbling drunkenly through the dining room again, he fought his way to the front door.

He clasped frantically at the doorknob, his grip slipping from all the water. Another grasp. Another slip. He pressed his hands against his shirt in an attempt to dry them, but his shirt was already soaked through. He returned his palms to the knob, pulling, digging his nails into the brass. No matter what he did, he couldn’t turn the old rusted-over knob.

He couldn’t escape.

With an anguished grunt, he turned and pressed towards the back of the house. The sliding glass door in the living room was bound to be easier to get open. He trudged through the wooden archway that leads from the front foyer into the living room. He kicked boxes out of his way.

A box marked: Living Room – Candles. A box marked: Living Room – Hanging Pictures.

As he ran across the open space, he couldn’t help but notice the stairway to his left. Water seemed to be pouring over the edges of each step. Grabbing at the railing, he spun himself in front of the stairs and watched as water poured itself down each step, like a river rapids. The water was upstairs too?

Shaking off the surprise, he realized it didn’t matter right now. He had to get outside first, he could go to a neighbor’s house, call for help. He battled his way against what seemed to be rougher waters, slipping forwards and falling into the glass door, hands outstretched. He pushed himself away from the glass and grabbed at the handle, tugging. Pulling.

Locked. He slid a now-pruning finger behind the handle, pushing against the tiny switch to release the lock. It wouldn’t budge. He pressed harder, all the while still attempting to force open the door. A bare foot found its way out of the depths and onto the wall. Leverage for the fight for freedom. The door still wouldn’t give.

“Come on! Dammit!”

Geoff yelled against the growing noise, hoping the door would accept his negotiations. Eyes closed, head pounding, knuckles white. In an instant, his efforts stopped. He stood, standing completely still by the door, lips quivering.

“…water can also wash away evidence…”

The television was on again, the image blurred by water. The name of the dream doctor covered by a rising water line. The realization that the water was almost waist-deep now didn’t matter to him at this point. All that did matter was escaping. He turned his attention to the backyard again. Slamming his fists against the glass in a futile attempt to shatter it. He wasn’t going to break the safety glass with his hands, he needed to find something to smash it.

In what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was only a short burst of a few seconds or so, Geoff was slamming the base of an antique standing lamp against the glass door. The heavy cast-iron eagles-claw shaped base was heavy enough to shatter bone, but for some reason the glass showed no signs of breaking. A few more exhausted heaves of the heavy stand, and Geoff couldn’t help but let go of his weapon with an exhausted sigh, letting the lamp disappear beneath the flood, submerged under the surface.

How is the water rising so much, he wondered, looking around him. Where was it coming from? More pipes, in the ceiling. Looking up, he realized there were no cracks or seems, the water seemed to be rolling off the ledge that surrounded one side of the upstairs hallway. The railings dripping water into more water. The stairs a rushing waterfall, with a pace much quicker than when he made his way across the room.

He had to get to higher ground at this point.

Each step was labored against the weight of the now-stomach high water levels. Each step felt like walking with someone holding on to each leg, trying to pull him down. He continued to battle to the stairs, once upstairs he would smash the bedroom window and crawl out onto the over-hang above the garage. From there it was only a short drop to the ground. To dry land.

Standing next to the stairs, Geoff stared in disbelief at the rush of water running down the stairs, bouncing as if hitting the jagged rocks of a downhill running river. He half expected to see salmon leaping up from each step, a bear at the top snatching the fish from the air. Swinging himself around the old oak railing, he faced the ascent, readying himself for the force it would take to make it up stream.

In another step, his foot was pressed hard against the first step, the force of the water immediately washed his leg out from under him. Clawing and grabbing at the railing, he managed to regain his composure and pull himself upright again. Angling his body, he began to grab each bar on the railing and pull himself up along the side like a ladder lying on its side.

Pushing, kicking against the stairs, he began to make it up the incline with short bursts, stopping to wrap his arms around the railings to regain balance, to regain the strength needed to shove himself up one more chunk of the stairs. The water seemed to be responding to his efforts but pushing even harder. But despite its attempts at knocking him down, he eventually found himself standing at the top, back to the railing next to the stairs.

Huffing and puffing, he took a few seconds to assess the situation. It didn’t make sense. How could so much water fill the house so quickly? Why did it seem to be increasing? And why couldn’t he get any of the doors open? It seemed as if the house was keeping him there, imprisoning him. But that’s impossible, isn’t it?

Like a wet dog let in from outside during a storm, Geoff shook his head side to side rapidly, water flying off in every direction, but at this point there was water on everything anyway. Eventually, he began to make his way down the hall to the bedroom door at the end. The water levels here were barely noticeable, just a slightly deep flow drifting over the edges to the ocean that was once his living room.

The bedroom was, surprisingly, fairly dry, with only a little bit of water leaking under the door, seeping into the worn brown carpeting. He hated that carpeting, but now he was more than happy to feel his bare feet dragging across the rough texture of it. Dry. His own personal shore.

The window, next to the bed. Their bed. Or his bed, now. Placing his fingers under the bottom ledge of the window, he pushed up. Struggling against the old metal frame. Nothing. The latch had settled in the locked position. The texture rough, scratching his fingers as he fought with it to unlock. It seemed to be rusted completely in place. He continued to claw at it, like an animal attempting to get out of it’s cage. It’s prison. His fingers, bleeding, raw, couldn’t fight with the lock anymore. He’d have to break the window.

Turning to find something to break the glass, he felt a soggy wetness, heard a sloshing noise. The carpet right behind him, where it had once been dry, was now soaked through. The water was slowly dragging its way into the upstairs rooms. It was slowly eating its way up the boxes scattered around the room.

A box marked: Bedroom – Clothes. A box marked: Bedroom – Mollie’s Jewelry.

Mollie’s Jewelry? Didn’t all those boxes go to her mother? He walked past it with caution, as if it could leap out and attack him at any moment. He tried not to look, but his peripheral caught the shine of many rings and necklaces, bracelets, beaded, stones, gold. The box lay open, inviting him to remember. Sitting on top, her favorite necklace. A unremarkable golden chain with a small locket, water droplet shaped, an aqua-marine colored jewel encrusted in the shined surface.

He picked it up gently in his hand, popping it open. He knew what was inside, but it still caught him by surprise. Her face. Leaned slightly to the left, resting on his shoulder. A gentle, warming smile painted delicately on her face.

With all the water around him, dripping from every inch of his body, it was his tears that he felt the most as they pooled on the dark-purple bags under his eyes. He blinked a few times, letting them stream down his face, letting them do what he couldn’t do: escape.

He let the metal chain run between his fingers, slipping down, the weight of the locket pulling it out of his hand and falling with a light thud back into the treasure chest. He couldn’t help but fall back on his heels, letting his hands find the bed behind him. He settled himself, dazed onto the surface of the bed they once lay on. Soon, the light tears turned into a sob, which in turn worked their way into a full-force storm of tears. Rapids mimicking the rapids he could hear outside on the stairs. Head in hands, he let go.

His stomach churned, he felt sick. His head was pounding. His fingers hurt from the scrapes. He couldn’t help but lean over and vomit into the wastebasket by the side of the bed. The bin suspended in air. No, not in air, floating. On water. The water levels had reached the inch mark. He just didn’t care. He fell back on the bed, letting his head press against the cold, still-dry pillow. Probably not dry for long. In an instant, he felt sleep punctuate his very being once again.

“Ah yes, the house on Pinewood Drive. Beautiful, rustic, surrounded by very big trees. Great source of shade in both the back and front yard’s during those steamy summer months. Oh, and as an extra bonus to help stay cool, the previous owners added a decent sized swimming pool in the backyard.”

“Oh, the pool doesn’t really interest me. My wife can’t swim.”

“I see, well at least she can sit by and enjoy watching the leaves float on the water. It’s quite peaceful, quiet.”

“Yeah, that’s not going to happen. The very sight of water freaks her out, childhood accident. Fell off a boat when she was just two, almost drown. She’s had a phobia of water ever sense. She can’t take bathes. Hell, sometimes it takes her twenty minutes just to work up the nerve to take a shower.”

“Right, ok, so perhaps the Pinewood house is off the table.”

“Well, not so fast. She does want to look around. She loves the old-style look and the neighborhood. I have a feeling she’d be willing to forgive the pool in the back. Besides, I can always drain it and throw a tarp over it if she does decide she likes it.”

“Of course, we’ll set up a tour then. Say, tomorrow at three?”

“Sounds great, we’ll be there.”

“…water can be a savior. Imagine a great desert, burning heat beating down on you, it’s water that you seek naturally. Perhaps your subconscious is reaching out for that water, that safety in the otherwise burning deserts of your mind.”

The sound of the dream doctor was drifting out of the alarm clock by the side of the bed. Snapping back up, Geoff looked to the side of the bed, the water was creeping up on the edge, like the monster under the bed, waiting to snatch him up as soon as he slid his legs over the edge. He reached over to turn off the alarm, only to find it wasn’t on. Not even plugged in. And the voice was gone too.

“Jesus, I must be losing my mind…”

Glancing over at the window, he noticed the light from the sun had all but left. It was night now. The window reminded him of what he was going to do before, get something to smash open the window. He remembered he had some tools near the linen closet by the bathroom. He began walking, more like wading, down the hallway again.

The closet door was hard to open with the shin-high water pressing against it, as if trying to hold the door shut. The shelves in the closet each held their own box.

A box marked: Linen Closet – Towels. A box marked: Linen Closet – Emergency tools.

That was it. Pulling open the top of the box, he found a flashlight and a hammer. He clicked the button on the flashlight a few times, letting the beam of light flicker on and off. He let it settle on and peered down the darkened hallway back at the room. A box floated aimlessly out of the door, drifting slowly down the hallway. He moved the beam down, startled to find it to be the box of Mollie’s jewelry. The box that shouldn’t even be there.

The box seemed to quicken it’s pace, like a shark fin, drifting towards an unsuspecting diver. Ready to devour him, rip him apart and leave his entrails floating like lily pads on a pond. He made his way past the box, watching it float by, not a shark, just a box.

Pushing onward, he returned to the window, setting the flashlight down on the nightstand, he began to smash the hammer against the fogged, dirty glass. The resounding echo struck his ears like a fist, only adding to the pounding headache. Nothing. Again, he found the glass to be holding strong.

The bathroom window! He stopped thinking, letting his survival instinct kick in. He turned to run down the hallway, only to find he would have to swim. The water was rising rapidly, almost lifting him off his feet. He only had a short time before it reached the ceiling, finishing the job.

Slipping the hammer into the belt-loop of his jeans, he clawed hand-over-hand against the water, dog-paddling his way back into the hall. A few more strokes and he’d be in the bathroom, where he would have only a few more minutes to shatter the glass and pour himself out onto the lawn. As he reached the stairs, the box of jewelry sat, standing guard, motionless on the rushing water. He didn’t even stop to question how a box full of heavy objects could float so effortlessly.

Holding his breath, he dove under, planning on swimming under the box. He found it to be more difficult than he thought, as he felt a sudden pull. A whirlpool coming from the stairs, spun him around. Smashing him against the corner connecting the wall to the floor and then dragging him over the edge of the first step, slowly dragging him into the depths.

Struggling against the pain in his chest and head, he clawed at the stairs, panicking. Pushing against the water, staring at the box which seemed to be further and further away with each passing second. His lungs tightened with the water pressure, the air slowly being pushed out by the force. The box of jewelry burst open, and the locket dangled out. The light-blue jewel embedded in the top catching a light, some light, flashing under the surface. A lighthouse in the storm. He blinked against the sting of the water, the necklace wasn’t dangling from the box! It was dangling from a person!

He could clearly make out a form, a small form. A woman. Not any woman. Mollie?! The necklace was resting on her neck. At once, he felt reenergized, a second wind pulled him up the stairs rapidly, bursting out of the surface into the hallway air again. Gasping, panting, he looked around bewildered. No Mollie. Just a box, floating past him back towards the bedroom.

He placed his hands on the ceiling and used the momentum to push himself into the bathroom. He sank under, pulling the hammer from his belt loop as he did. He began to beat it against the submerged window, finding it difficult to get a good swing underwater. It was no use, this window wouldn’t break, especially considering the weak swings.

He let the hammer drop, resting on some nearly disintegrated boxes lying on the floor.

A box marked: Bathroom – Medications. A box marked: Bathroom – Soaps.

With only enough room for his head, he swam back to the bedroom. If this was how he was going to go out, he wanted to go out with Mollie. He dove under the surface of the water, grabbing at the drawer on the nightstand. The flashlight’s light shone through the water, pointing the way. Opening the drawer with what seemed like less effort than it should have taken, he found what he was looking for right there, the flashlight illuminating it perfectly.

The picture of him and Mollie.

The same one as in the locket, only full-sized. The two of them sitting on a park bench, sun shining on them. Her resting peacefully on his shoulder. Content.

He clasped it to his chest and surfaced again, letting himself float. He closed his eyes and waited for the rest of the room to fill up. He was ready to head up, through the ceiling and into the clouds.

Not the clouds! The attic!

He turned and looked towards the walk-in closet. The door lay open, and inside it , he could see the string floating on the water. It opened the hatch to the attic, he could break through the ceiling, get onto the roof!

He found the door in the ceiling to open with little resistance, allowing the old wooden ladder to fall into a watery grave with a splash. He pulled himself up the remaining steps into the dusty attic. The dry, humid air felt good against his shivering wetness. The water had just about filled the room below.

He began to make his way carefully across the floor of the attic. He hadn’t been up there, so he didn’t know how easy it would be to break through the weakened floor. His eyes tightened, grasping for any shape in the near-pitch dark room. Moonlight fluttered in through the small circular window behind him, barely casting a glow to see by.

A few boxes, not his, lined the floors. An old standing mirror reflected the moonlight back at itself. An old dresser. A few more boxes. An old movie slide projector, resting on a small table. He broke open the first box, trying to find something to break open the ceiling with. The first two were filled with old clothes, sundresses, sweaters.

Geoff allowed a gasp to escape his insides once more as he tore open the third and final box: water bottles. Dozens of water bottles like the ones in the refrigerator downstairs. Full, the water splashing around as he kicked the box away with a holler.

He turned and grabbed a drawer from the dresser, pulling it out, old sweaters falling to the floor. The wet floor! Water was slowly pouring over the floor of the attic, seeping up through the cracks. He threw the door at the mirror, the image of the moon shattering, breaking apart into a thousand pieces of various sizes.

He reached down and picked up a large, triangular piece of the mirror. Ignoring the splinters bursting through the wrinkled soles of his feet, ignoring the pain of a new hole punctured into his heel by a rusted nail, he dove at the wall. The hunter, making his return.

He stabbed his makeshift knife into the belly of the beast, the cotton-candy pink insulation lining the walls. He tore, ripped his way through it, the fallen insulation soaking up water below him, he continued to dig. Eventually, he worked his way through, reaching the outer wall. He cut at it, the mirror cutting into his palms, blood trickling down his arm. Scraping, small shivers of wood. He couldn’t get through the wall. It was no use; he wasn’t ever going to get out.

With a grunt, he pulled the shard of mirror out of his hand. He let his hand rest at his side, knowing the water would be there to wash the blood off the wound. His bleeding hand sank into the depths, blood floating up onto the surface, reflecting back rust-orange in the moonlight.

A light flickered on behind him. He turned to see the movie projector had kicked on. A static-yellow image cast onto a pile of boxes. The image of a dock, a beautiful lake spread out beyond it. A woman walking slowly across the wooden surface. Her hair pushed back by the breeze cast off the water. The sunlight reflecting off the surface. A tranquil, beautiful scene.

She approached the edge, staring down at the water. The camera, held at an unnatural angle, as if floating in the sky, caught her as she glanced back. The tears instantly returned as Geoff recognized his wife. Her warm smile replaced by a look of fear, a look of fearful determination. She turned, staring back at the lake. Shoulders sinking with a sigh, she turned to walk away.

A defining crack filled the air, the only sound on the film, as the first few boards of the dock gave way. The ground lifting up from under her, and in an instant Mollie’s image disappeared under the surface of the lake. The water, only a few feet deep, still absorbed her. Her own panic pushing her under, splashing wildly. The camera zoomed in on her face, capturing her screams of terror. A silent reminder of the moment she tried to face her fears. The painful last seconds of her life, as her flailing pulled her under what was left of the dock-edge, her head striking the wood. Rendering her unconscious, face-down in the water. In a minute or two, the water would fill her lungs. And she would die.

Geoff was on his way out, with some tea. A lake-shore vacation. Her idea. She wanted to face her fear head on. He was going to sit out there, hold her hand, help her look at the peaceful water and relax. He remembered the sound of the metal tray bouncing off the tree root below when he noticed she wasn’t standing on the dock. The way the ground felt as he pushed himself into a full sprint, diving into the water.

Turning, to find his wife already dead.

Pulling her from the water, giving her mouth to mouth. Trying in vain to save her.

Her lips were already blue. She was too far gone to save.

His mind was littered with what-if’s. What if I went out with her? What if I talked her out of it? What if it was me instead?

None of it seemed to matter now.

The image disappeared, replaced by another one. He didn’t pay much attention, as he turned to watch the picture float by. The locket resting gently on top of it. The aqua droplet covering her face. The moonlight spotlighting it as it floated away. He watched it, like a ship out to sea, ignoring the image behind him. A box floated by, as if trailing the picture, dragged by some imaginary line.

A box marked: Guilt. A box marked: Regret.

“…and sometimes, water… well, it cleanses. Washes away the past. Washes away regret. Pain. Sorrow. All of it, just washed away… washed away… washed away…”

Geoff closed his eyes as the water finished pouring into the room. He felt his last breath drop into his lungs. The words echoed in his mind as her image slowly faded with his life.

“…washed away… washed away… washed away…”

“Hello, Mr. Volkner? It’s Rick, from the Aqua Guys? I brought the pump? Mr. Volkner?”

Rick walked into the house, dropping his tools at his side.

“Mr. Volkner? Alright, I’m just going to come in and start working…”

A shiver of dread overcame Rick as he sunk down to pick up his water pump. He walked towards the open basement door. The water was at the same level as it was when he left. He set the pump at the top of the stairs and tossed one end of the hose into the water, the other leading out the front door. He lifted the plug and walked towards the socket near the kitchen. With a gasp, he let the rubber cord fall from his hand.

He shot himself forward, like a runner at the start of a race, and dropped to his knees. The blood felt warm as it sponged into his work pants. He lifted up Geoff Volkner’s wrist, slit wide open by a kitchen knife which lay nearby. Fingers on his neck, Rick couldn’t find a pulse. Geoff had been dead awhile now by the looks of it.

Sitting across his chest, Rick noticed an aqua-droplet locket. It lay open. Inside was a picture of Geoff and a beautiful young woman, looking lovingly back out of the depths of the water-blue locket. Etched in the backside of the door, the words: Mollie Volkner  R.I.P. July 9th, 2009.

Rick struggled to his feet, noticing a similar picture sitting on the kitchen counter. Dialing 9-1-1 into his phone, he let the words stumble out of him.

“Yes, hi, I need an ambulance at 1474 Pinewood Drive, police, something, please, there has been a suicide… please… come quick…”

Rick shut the phone and stared down at Geoff, who he had only met a day earlier. An almost peaceful look on his face, as if he had escaped a prison, escaped regret. He looked almost like he was afloat in a sea of his own blood, drifting peacefully in the summer sun.

In the background, he could hear someone talking in the living room. The television, he thought. A stern voice, repeating the same thing over and over…

“…washed away… washed away… washed away…”

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