I was running out of oxygen. Seawater pressed against my lips. I was drowning.
The realization crushed as hard as the tons of stone and coral above me. Lost in an underwater cave system, I swam in the direction I hoped led up to the surface. Dead end. My heart drummed a beat in my skull. Got to get out. Got to get air.
Which way had we entered? Panic erased thought. My eyes darted in every direction. Up: a ceiling of black rock. Left: a narrow passage between massive coral boulders. Right: leaning towers of coral. Down: death at the bottom of the ocean. Choose! Now!
My leg scraped against a sharp protrusion. Pain cleared my head. Any direction but down. I swam right. For a moment, the cave widened. Then I found myself in another impossible maze. Worse, a powerful current battered me. Panic returned.
Sucked in by the rush of water, I got carried through a dark passage. Glimpses of sunlight taunted me. Slender fingers of light shone through openings in the rock above, far too narrow to swim through. I fought for life. My fingers scrabbled at coral as I tried to slow myself down and find an exit.
I needed to breathe. Pins and needles raced up and down my arms and legs and into my torso. My chest contracted so hard I thought my ribs might crack. But I kept my mouth shut tight, fighting against the crazy urge to breathe anything. Even seawater. My brain began to shut down. Meanwhile, the current rushed me along to an unknown destination.
* * *
When I opened my eyes again, I floated on the ocean’s surface. But I had no clue how I got there. My head pulsed with excruciating pain.
I remembered a cave. I recalled getting tangled in something and panicking. Trying to swim to the surface. Becoming lost. I’d been with my twin sister, Alyx. But something had gone wrong. Something terrible had happened. How long had I been drifting?
“Alyx?” I called. The sound of my voice scared me. A croaking gasp, like a sea lion snagged on a shark hook. “Alyx?” No answer.
My eyes closed. I realized I might die, and my eyes snapped open again. It was too easy to slip into nothingness. A seagull flew overhead and cried.
Raindrops splattered on my forehead, draining from my face into the ocean. Needles of pain jabbed my legs. A snapped bungee cord floated next to me, apparently attached to my waist. I was too tired to check it out. Ocean coral, anemones and oysters must feel like this. Nothing to do but accept.
When the clouds burned away, the sun blasted down. Water dried from my face, and my skin grew tight and salty like beef jerky. A hungry fish bit my pinkie. I felt an odd, deep pain as I watched the wound miraculously close. What had happened to me?
Night came again, and I disappeared for a while. I didn’t dream, think, or remember. But at dawn, a throbbing whumpf whumpf whumpf woke me. A boat’s engine. Barely conscious, I got dragged up out of the water and onto a deck.
My eyes were open, but my vision was blurred, head throbbing. I could only make out colorful shapes and the rising sun. I heard distant male voices.
“Must have been floating for days…”
Strong hands gripped my shoulders. “Good, she has the necklace. Can’t believe she’s alive…”
Stink of cigarettes. A mouth on mine. Putrid air filled my lungs.
A younger male voice. “Look at her pupils. Brain damage, probably.”
The pain was too great. My brain went offline again.
I swam lengths in the outdoor Olympic-sized pool at the Aquatic Center and tried to clear my head. Today was the four-year anniversary of “the accident,” when my twin sister Alyx went missing and I was rescued. I still couldn’t really remember what the heck had happened.
People dealt with trauma in different ways. And whatever had happened to me must have been super traumatic, otherwise I’d remember more. That’s what my shrink, Dr. Jergenson, told me. But what did she know? I flipped directions at the pool end and launched off the concrete side, enjoying the water against my body.
I finished my lap and climbed out. Water dripped from my skin. I flicked drops from my hands to the green-tiled pool deck and began to stretch. For now, I had the entire pool to myself. Coach Davis had let me in early.
Tonight was the last water polo game of my senior year. We were playing against Central High, our biggest rival. There was a lot at stake. I needed time alone before my team arrived. I thought of Alyx. She’d be proud of our winning streak.
The sun hung at a low angle in the sky, and my reflection in the pool’s surface caught my eye. I looked down into the clear, blue water. For a moment, I imagined it was Alyx reflected there.
She stood with her hands on her hips, dark hair, green eyes, body lean and strong in her white and red team swimsuit. The lines of the pool lanes shimmered gently back and forth in the water like long, black snakes. I leaned closer. Suddenly, Alyx stuck her tongue out. I nearly fell in the water.
Rubbing the water from my eyes, I looked again. Now it was only me reflected in the pool, staring back with my usual anxious expression. Hurrying off the deck, I headed down the steep, concrete steps to the showers.
* * *
“Alysa!” Charlie shouted at me as she lobbed the ball to me and backstroked farther down the pool. I swam hard with the ball, swooped it behind me and passed it to Tracy at the last second.
We had a decent crowd for the girls’ team. Friends and family clustered in the bleachers on a muggy evening. I played hard, ignoring the pangs of anxiety that buzzed in my stomach. I circled around FloAnn, Central’s best player, and into a cluster of defenders. Not a strategy that made sense, but I followed instinct. Sure enough, Tracy got penned in. We made eye contact, and she threw the ball over.
I swam fast, dodging FloAnn’s elbow, which nearly smashed me in the eye. She pulled every trick she could get away with during a game. Without pause, I headed straight up the center. Only halfway across the pool, with seconds remaining, I launched the ball as hard as I could toward the net. I let out a primal whoop as the ball whipped past the goalie and into the net before the buzzer sounded.
The crowd went wild. Well, it wasn’t exactly a crowd. Our high school isn’t big, and this was water polo, not the most popular sport, even in Hawaii. But we had at least forty or fifty peeps, and they roared. We’d nailed the final game of the year 8-7 and made a school team record for most wins.
“Yeah, Alysa! You rock! Kick ass!” Dad hollered. I gave him the peace symbol, but I wished he’d chill. Embarrassing.
FloAnn scowled, her jaw clenched. I puckered my lips and blew a small kiss. Her face changed from red to mottled red and faded to white, lips pressed in a thin, straight line. As easy and dangerous as teasing a rabid pit bull.
Water polo was FloAnn’s life. When she wasn’t playing, she watched it or geeked out on Olympic fan pages. I used to respect FloAnn, even if I didn’t like her. At least the girl knew what she wanted. But without even trying, I was better than her. She hated me for that.
Tracy, our team captain, high-fived me. Sometimes, I sensed that even she felt jealous of me. If she knew that missing my sister drove me to win, to swim faster and stronger, she wouldn’t be envious.
If you don’t have a twin, you might not get what I mean when I say that losing a twin sister is losing half of yourself. If I’d lost a hand, or some other body part, after a while, life would have gone on like normal. But I live a partial life. When I played, I played for Alyx.
Our team clustered, arms around each other’s shoulders, then broke. “Knights! Knights! Knights!” we shouted.
Despite our win, my lingering feeling of unease remained. Maybe it was the full moon, maybe it was just life. Parents descended from the bleachers. Dad and his girlfriend walked toward me, holding hands. My father was dating FloAnn’s mother, May Kusumo, of all people. The horrible situation had lasted much longer than I’d expected.
FloAnn remained in the water, eyes scrunched shut. Not a good loser. May and Dad headed toward me. I ducked out of the pool deck, pretending not to see them. FloAnn opened her eyes as I passed and shot me spears of hate. I looked away.
The aquatic center where we played was old. Steep concrete steps led down to the changing rooms. I hesitated at the top, allowing my eyes to adjust from the bright pool lights. As my foot hit the first step, the door burst open behind me.
“Grey, watch your step,” FloAnn said in a hard voice just as a wet foot snagged my ankles.
I fell hard. Faceplant would be the technical term. My mouth smashed directly into the edge of the concrete steps at least six feet below me. One minute, I was anticipating a hot shower, the next, my face exploded in an ocean of pain and blood. My front teeth buckled back at a sickening angle, and my lip split open in multiple directions. I tumbled down the rest of the steps and landed in a wet, bloody heap.
Tracy opened the door. “Oh, my god, what the hell?” she screamed, as I staggered to my feet at the bottom. Pain sliced across my mouth, my hip throbbed, and I must have looked a real mess.
“She tripped!” FloAnn said.
To my horror, I felt the healing begin. I had to find somewhere private. Fast. My heart pounded as I ran down the hallway, leaving a trail of blood and pool water. Bypassing the main bathroom, I took a left to a private unisex restroom.
I surveyed the damage in the dirty, cracked mirror. Four front teeth bent in, gums purple and swollen. I spat a gob of blood into the sink. My mouth was all puffed up. An ugly black bruise surrounded my lips, which oozed blood from several cuts. But as I watched, the damage lessened with every passing second.
This was the worst injury I’d had since I learned that I had this… gift, if that’s what it was. I healed fast. At first, only bumps, bruises and scratches miraculously disappeared. I’d kind of ignored it; too much to take in. I even thought it was my imagination. Then, one day, I broke my ankle scrambling over rocks at Lonesome Beach. The bone set itself beneath my skin while I held my foot straight. I realized something much bigger was happening.
This evening, more proof presented itself in the mirror. My wounds healed, but the pain was excruciating. Ten times more painful than the injury. It burned. My blood felt like it had been replaced with boiling water.
The bruise around my mouth faded from black to purple and the swelling disappeared. My gums tightened and healed. But—and this was a big but—my teeth did not straighten. In under a minute, my face was normal, but my teeth stayed stuck angled back toward my throat. I might have been one of those poor people in a 1930s circus freak show. Panic welled up in my gut. Eating would be impossible. And Daniel would never ask me to the prom.
I shut my mouth. My lips sunk in over my teeth like I was a hundred years old. I put my hand over my mouth. How would I sneak out of the Aquatic Center? My pocket buzzed. Dad had texted me, wondering where I’d gone.
I knew what I needed to do, but the thought filled me with dread. Each second that passed made me want to do it even less. If I waited longer, I would lose my nerve. “Do it,” I said. “Stop thinking.” If Alyx were here, that’s what she would say.
I braced myself, grasped my front teeth with both hands and used my thumbs to force them back toward the mirror. I pushed hard. My muscles shook with effort. Gum tissue tore with a horrible cracking sound as the roots of my front teeth separated from bone.
I let out a muffled howl of pain. The pain grew worse when my teeth healed themselves, back in their correct position. And then it was over, as if FloAnn never sent me flying down the stairway. That I healed like this was miraculous. I hadn’t realized my full ability. I smiled. If I could heal like this, I bet my twin could as well. Whatever had happened to us, I felt she must be out there, alive somewhere. I was more certain of this now than ever.
The last twinges of pain were fading when I saw FloAnn and Tracy in the mirror. I guess they’d been watching for a while, because Tracy’s mouth gaped in horror, while FloAnn looked at me, eyes narrowed. My smile faded. FloAnn left. Tracy ran to the toilet and puked. I walked to her and put my hand on her back.
“Don’t touch me!” she shrieked, her voice echoing in the porcelain. I should have felt offended, but I didn’t care. Not then. I knew everything would change. And it did, but not in the way I thought.
Saturday morning, I woke up and went straight to the mirror on the back of my closet door. I ran my tongue over my teeth and pressed my fingers to my lips. With my dad’s green eyes and Mom’s dark hair and complexion, I didn’t look bad for someone who’d fallen down a flight of stairs the night before. I was totally healed. I high-fived my reflection and imagined it was Alyx high-fiving me back. The illusion was nearly perfect except for the smeared palm print I left on the mirror.
You’ll be home soon, Alyx. I know it.
Saying it filled my stomach with a golden glow of happiness. But when I tried to remember the fun we’d had, only scraps came. Bits of memory closer to emotions than events: laughing fits, dyeing Beach Barbie’s blond hair brown. It frustrated me that school came easily. Yup, I remembered all the boring stuff, but when it came to Alyx, virtually nothing.
“Morning!” May said as I practically skipped out of my bedroom. Lately she’d been staying over more and more often. The sound of her voice was a major buzz-kill. It reminded me of FloAnn, who sometimes stayed over with her mom.
“Is FloAnn here?” I asked, afraid to hear the answer.
“She’s with her dad. Did I show you my masterpiece? Meet Donatella.”
She presented one of her horrible dolls. I could not believe people on Etsy ordered the creatures she cobbled together. May bought broken vintage dolls, those creepy porcelain things with eyes that opened and shut. Then she restored them, moving body parts from one to another. Frankenbabies, I called them. She’d fixed one that cried when you turned it over, but now it sounded more like a dying pelican. That reminded me… I had better things to do.
“I’ve gotta feed Alabaster,” I said and hurried out as Dad entered.
“Watch out! Your gull lunged at May this morning,” Dad warned.
I smiled. Good for you, Alabaster. Mama’s little girl.
Outside, Alabaster stared at me from her cage with a cold, black eye.
Her wing was still damaged. She hid it under herself, as if it hurt even for someone to look at it. I’d read everything I could about gulls and learned they make horrible pets. Not that I wanted to keep her as a pet. I mean, if you’d ever watched a gull follow a wind current, you’d know it would be cruel to keep one in our crappy neighborhood.
Let me set the scene. Unless you’re rich, the houses on this side of The Island look the same. Single-level homes with concrete walls and chain-link fences. We have a double-driveway for the second car we don’t own and a field of weeds and grass that almost never gets cut. Thank God, we have a palm tree and tropical wildflowers.
Dad wouldn’t let me keep Alabaster in the house, so I put her in my old guinea pig cage under the awning to the left of the tool shed, where he kept his broken metal detectors and other treasure-hunting junk.
My cat, Clawsome, crouched low and wiggled his butt when he first saw Alabaster. I tapped him on his pink-and-black nose and shooed him away. But Clawsome didn’t spook Alabaster at all. She opened her beak wide and raised her uninjured wing as if to say “Don’t screw with me.”
Almost anyone you talk to will say you should never, ever try to rescue a wounded seagull. But two weeks ago, Alabaster followed me along the beach. I had to do something, didn’t I? The poor thing couldn’t fly. Then I found out that seagulls don’t breed in Hawaii; they’re only visitors, trying to get home. It must be horrible to get sick away from home, just passing through somewhere. So, I rescued her. She likes Alpo Gravy Cravers dog food and sardines I nab from Dad’s Armageddon pantry—the one he stocked in case the world ends. I thought pot smokers were supposed to be chill?
I came inside to an empty kitchen and poured a bowl of cornflakes. In the next room, I tried not to hear Dad kiss May. Then they kissed again, a big wet one. I turned on the blender, even though it didn’t have anything in it. Dad blushed when he entered and turned it off.
“What were you trying to make?” May asked as she walked in, a goofy smile on her face. “An air shake?”
I fake smiled and pretended to look at my phone.
“Like a new diet. Get it? Zero calories, just air!” She chuckled.
She was one of those peeps who didn’t know when to let things go.
“You could have different flavors. Strawberry air, vanilla air…” May babbled.
I blew air out between my lips. “Raspberry air. That is definitely your flavor.” I know, childish. She brought out the worst in me.
Dad frowned at me, and I smiled innocently.
“Yum, raspberry. Do we have any berries, snookie?” May asked Dad.
May is the skinniest, greediest, junk-food-loving stoner I’ve ever met. She’s thirty-five, ten years younger than Dad, and recently divorced. Last month, she ate all Dad’s leftover birthday cake, which I baked, and didn’t apologize. Hate. Her. And that was before I found out she was FloAnn’s mom. The best you could say about her was that she wasn’t ugly. Nice complexion, shoulder-length hair and regular-sized breasts that were still bigger than mine, but I’m seventeen, so there’s time.
My birth mom was Japanese-American, and so was Ama, our stepmother. Ama raised Alyx and me after Mom died. Every girlfriend Dad has had since has been some version of Mom or Ama. Jeong was Korean and barely spoke English. She got deported when Dad wouldn’t marry her. Daisy, whose real name was Dung—and no, I’m not joking, but maybe you detect a theme—dumped my dad and I never found out why. May is Indonesian.
“I can scramble eggs, or we have toast,” Dad said to May.
They’d been dating for a couple of months, and he still made an effort, which freaked me out big time. A long scar ran from his left cheek to chin and the other day, he’d talked about having it fixed. Dad have plastic surgery? Wrong on so many levels.
“You still hungry?” Dad asked me.
“Nah, I’m good. Think I’ll go for a swim.”
“Okay, no diving at the beach though. Promise?”
I dodged out of the kitchen and then snuck into Dad’s bedroom. On his bookshelf, a cheesy Hawaiian snow globe sat on top of a vintage hardcover copy of Treasure Island. The book cover had a hilarious drawing of a one-legged pirate next to a boy in baggy pants. I pried up the book’s secret compartment. Skunk filled my nostrils, and I shut it quick. Yup, Dad had replenished. He would get stoned with May, and I could stay out as long as I pleased. Perfect.
I couldn’t help give the snow globe a quick shake. Silver glitter filled the orb. Inside were two dancing hula girls, arms upraised with leis around their necks. They were nearly identical. Dad told me Alyx and I called them the Hula Twins.
As I put the snow globe back, something on the shelf below threw me into a deja-vu so intense that I knelt on the floor. Had it always been here and I never noticed? I slid it out. Even the cardboard cover with the photo of the dolphin glued to the front felt like a tip-of-the-tongue memory. Alyx’s old journal. But when I opened it, there was nothing but big, black words scrawled in marker: HA HA SCREW YOU - NOTHING HERE TO SEE. BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME. All the pages were torn out. Only the cover remained. I took a quick look under the bed to see if I could find the missing pages.
“You still home, Alysa?” Dad called from the kitchen.
I dashed out of his room and down the hall to the bathroom, where I took a few deep breaths. I blew my nose and splashed cold water on my face to hide my tears. Without saying goodbye to anyone, I escaped out the back door and headed downtown.
Diving is like riding a bike. Even though I remembered nothing of my life before the rescue, I remembered how to dive. Deep. Dad told me Mom was a diver and my grandma dove for pearls. My stepmother, Ama, also loved the water. She carried on the tradition.
I have photos of Alyx and me swimming when we were three. It wasn’t long before we were diving as well. Last month, I was underwater at the pool so long that the lifeguard chewed me out. Said I was risking my life. Whatevs. Diving was the only way I still felt close to Alyx, and I wouldn’t let anyone stop me for any reason.
Most times, I headed for Lonesome Beach, which is just rocks and water. No lifeguard. Another good thing about Lonesome is that the main police precinct for Mahina is on the way.
I was downtown when I spotted Daniel getting out of his car. He looked athletic, tanned and sexy as always. I lifted my hand to wave. What to say? “Hi, Daniel?” “Hey?” Last week, I’d finally gotten the nerve to talk to him, and I hoped he’d ask me to our prom. But when he saw me, he gaped and looked down at his phone. I was left stuck with my arm in the air.
I patted my hair back as if it were natural to raise my hand up in the middle of the street like a loopy game show contestant. “Ooh, pick me, pick me!” Anyway, my hair was sticky with sweat. If I had been smart, I would have leapt in front of a garbage truck.
Daniel crossed to the passenger door and opened it for Tracy as I hurried past, head down. Guess they were an item now. Perfect.
I continued up the street to an ugly, squat brick building with rusting metal grates over the windows. Mo, the security guy, didn’t even make me go through the metal detector anymore.
“Mahalo, Al,” he said. “Haven’t seen you in a while.”
“Hey, Al!” I said back. No one has ever called me Al in my entire life. I mean, what kind of nickname is that? But when he found out my name was Alysa, he’d started calling me Al. Because he wears a gun, I let it slide.
Inside the precinct, an old man and woman ahead of me argued with the clerk about their speeding ticket. On the wall, a TV show droned on about what people were calling “The Glitter.” Bizarre, glittering sea-life was appearing in the water and everyone was in a tizzy.
“Oxygen levels are declining worldwide,” the reporter said. “Temperatures are rising. Why?”
The news cut to a suited woman from Island Inc.
“Up to eighty-five percent of the earth’s oxygen is generated in our oceans. But something is killing the ocean’s phytoplankton,” the woman said.
“Is terrorism suspected?” the reporter asked.
“This may be the most advanced bioterrorist attack the world has faced,” she answered.
Another woman, a biologist, weighed in. “I disagree. This is Mother Earth’s way of saying enough. We’ve abused our oceans to the point that the entire system is breaking down—”
I tuned out as they argued. Island Inc. had become the world’s most loved company, and they started in Hawaii. They were the reason we changed our name from the Big Island to The Island. Two years ago, terrorists seeded the East Coast of the United States with a genetically engineered one-two punch that combined influenza and Anthrax. Five-thousand people died, and it could have been worse, but Island Inc. found a cure.
Finally, it was my turn.
“Hi, I’m here about Alyx Grey…”
“Your sister. Yes, I recognize you.” Detective Patterson finished my question for me, face deadpan.
“Do you have any updates?” I asked.
“Yes, I do.”
“I’m sorry, but that case has been closed.”
If he had taken off one of his socks, put a rock in it and slugged me in the face, I would have felt less stunned.
“Closed? But, it can’t be,” I stammered.
“But she’s still missing!” My voice rose. “You can’t close her case!” With end-of-year finals and water polo, it had been several weeks since I’d checked in. A woman cop and her colleague behind the desk stopped their conversation and turned toward us.
“Calm down, now,” he said.
“So, you’re not doing anything more?”
“If new evidence comes in, we’ll consider re-opening it. That’s all the information I can give.”
“You have to reopen her case!” I shouted as I slapped my hand on the counter.
“Keep your voice down. If and when there’s new evidence, we will consider it. I’ll need to ask you to leave. Now.”
* * *
I sat on the street outside, leaning up against the wall of the precinct, bricks warm from the sun. Early Saturday traffic drifted along. Tears wet my cheeks, and a chubby woman pushing a baby stroller stared and then looked away. I couldn’t believe they’d closed Alyx’s case. It was my fault.
“Hey, you okay?” Al crouched next to me. Unlike the cop inside, his face brimmed with sympathy. I nodded and rubbed my cheeks awkwardly, but I was far from okay.
“You know, I lost someone years ago. My son. Rough times.”
I shook my head. “My sister’s still alive.”
He sighed and nodded.
“If I had come more often to check, maybe they wouldn’t have closed the case,” I said.
“No, no. Don’t torture yourself for nothin’.” Al put his hand on my shoulder. “Trust me, comin’ from a cop. That’s not why they close cases. Don’t work like that. Ain’t ever seen anyone come as regular as you. Trust me on that, ‘kay?”
“Sure.” He gave me some Kleenex, and I blew my nose. “Thanks.”
“It gets easier. Even if it don’t feel that way now.”
I thanked him, because I didn’t want to be rude. But it wouldn’t get easier. Not until I found her.
Sweat trickled down my back and itched my skin where the strap of my bra rubbed. I removed my backpack and carried it by my side. After the downpour yesterday, it felt like a hundred, even though it was only ninety. It seemed like there was less oxygen in the air, though it was subtle.
I held my breath and counted to see how many blocks I could walk before needing to breathe. It was a game I played to help increase the time I could stay underwater. Half a block, one block. Sometimes, breath holding showed the way the world really looked, for better or worse.
Humidity and heat had kept most people inside today, and I had the side-streets to myself. Water sat stagnant by the curbs and lawns lay squishy-brown and bloated. From the corner of my eye, I saw a taunting face reflected in a dark puddle. An old man with a gaping fish mouth. I quit holding my breath early and ran.
Lonesome Beach is a small thumbprint of sand that dips in and covers the harsh, rocky volcanic shore. It’s surrounded by a narrower strip of courser sand bordered by giant slabs of menacing black rock. I walked past a few lost tourists taking pictures and headed to my right, where the shore narrowed. I took off my shoes, put them in my backpack and traded them for a pair of Tevas I needed to scale the barnacle and seaweed-encrusted rocks. I’d learned the hard way by falling once already. No need to keep testing my wacky abilities.
My sister could walk on barnacles in her bare feet. I wasn’t sure if it was a memory or something I made up, but the closer I got to the ocean, the closer I got to my twin.
Fifteen minutes later, drenched in sweat, I had the ocean to myself. I stood panting on a rocky outcropping of black basalt, not a grain of sand anywhere. Sand? Who needed it? Sand on a beach was for tourists.
I took off my Tevas and enjoyed the spiky, hot rocks as they dug into the soles of my feet. Far to my right, a surfer paddled out into the deep water. Strange, most often no one was here. But a few hundred feet away, a spinner dolphin surfaced, jumped high toward the sun and splashed back into blue. This was a good omen that I’d picked the right spot.
Today, I planned to beat my prior record and go deeper than ever. I owed Alyx that much. I ducked behind a rock and changed. Sun and wind dried my skin. Uncertain if the surfer could see me from his vantage point, I quickly wriggled into my wetsuit and put on my goggles and dive watch.
I stashed everything land-related behind a rock, careful to place it high enough that the tide wouldn’t come and slurp it away. I took a deep breath and dove in. Cool water washed away salt from my sweat. I smiled as I thought of Daniel pretending not to see me. Suddenly, it was all no big deal.
I floated over islands of black stone surrounded by lakes of white sand. Some of the Glitter was evident here. The mysterious, sparkling organisms were spreading. A school of blue-white needlefish swam at the surface. I couldn’t make out what was ripple and what was fish. Soon the bottom dropped away by ten, fifteen, thirty feet and even deeper. I swam over a bottom that I could no longer see. I stopped and looked back toward shore, which was now far away. I began my prep.
Free diving is easy once you know how. No equipment to worry about, just you and the ocean. Most of it came naturally to me, and some of it I’d learned from YouTube videos. If you want to go deep, really deep, you need to flood your blood with oxygen on the surface and totally relax when you go down. I’m not talking about your everyday relax while you watch TV or some crap like that. I’m talking about muscles so relaxed you can’t tell where muscle starts and water ends. Where you’re so relaxed that you have to remember to breathe and sometimes almost forget.
I huffed air on the surface, hyperventilating until rainbow dots danced behind my eyes. Then I flipped up and went down, head first. The first twenty feet are tough. It’s a battle between land and ocean. You are a land creature. Then after twenty feet, you get to what they call neutral buoyancy—sometimes I’ve lain on my back and floated there, looking up at the sky reflected in the surface.
Today I shot right through neutral buoyancy and headed deeper, thirty feet, then forty and onward to fifty. According to my dive watch, I’d been under for ninety seconds, but it felt longer. After neutral buoyancy, you get pulled down like a magnet. I let it happen. I didn’t kick or use my arms. I became an arrow.
I’d learned that even using your eyes or thinking too hard uses more oxygen. Now I kept my eyes shut as much as I could. At seventy feet, I was about ten feet shy of my record. An octopus darted out from between two large rocks and hung in the water, observing me, before slipping back into a colorful grotto of coral.
Are you there?
I heard her voice faintly. I sank a bit deeper, but the pressure was immense.