Friday, September 7, 2012

Thirty-Nine and Counting

Sam nudges his shoulder against mine. “Are you gonna do it?”

I take shuddering breath and poke my head over the edge of the cliff. I don’t say anything. I don’t think I can say anything. My voice is frozen in my throat like wad of gum.

“Come on, Suze,” Sam says, shrugging his shoulders like he always does. “It’s just water.”

“Then why don’t you jump in?” I ask, stepping away from the edge of the cliff. I turn and walk back towards my jeep, licking away the salt that’s settled on my lips from the heavy, humid air.

I walk quickly, but it only takes seconds for Sam’s long stride to catch up to mine. He gently grabs my arm and brings his lips down to my ear. “You promised,” he whispers. His breath tickles my neck in a way that pulls my focus from the matter at hand.

I stop walking. My feet sink into the sand, and the heat from the July sun has warmed the sand crystals so much that I can feel them burning through my shoes. We really shouldn’t be out here. It’s not safe this time of year.

I gaze up at Sam. A slight huff of wind dances through his hair, making his curls change shapes. Ugh. Why? Why do I have to be the one to save his mom?

Because someone has to take care of her while she recovers, and it should be her own son, right? Right.

“Close your eyes,” I grumble.

The biggest of smiles lights up his face, and he crushes me into his arms. I breathe in his scent one last time—red roses and pine trees—before I push myself away from him. I can’t let him get to me like this. He doesn’t notice my contempt, though, and he turns away from me as I start to strip off my clothes.

When I’m standing in nothing but my white slip, I walk over to the edge of the man-made cliff again. I peer down at the water below me, where a single white steeple protrudes through the black rippling water. It used to be a city before the flood—a city built with homemade magic and voodoo, and the water swirls with it now. Legend says that if one person jumps into the water, he or she can choose a dying person to save.

No one speaks of the costs, though. This is what I’m afraid of.

Another small gust of hot air whips my hair around my shoulders, and I’m frozen, despite the horrible heat. Sam’s lips suddenly brush against my bare shoulder, and I close my eyes and lock that feeling into my memory.

“Thank you,” he murmurs against my skin.

And I then I jump.


So far, I’ve died thirty-six times.

Water wraps around my body like a choking hand. It fills my mouth, nose, eyes, and ears, and I hate how it’s a part of me now.

For thirty-six days, I’ve been trying to get myself out of this house. The day I jumped was the day I died the first time. The angry waves instantly pulled me under the surface and claimed me for their own.

The second day, I opened my eyes to find myself floating inside an ancient Victorian house. I’d seen pictures of houses like these in my history lessons, but I never knew they would be so perfectly preserved under the soggy weight of the water. Yet, a crystal chandelier glinted in the filtered sunlight, throwing rainbows on my arms. I wasn’t very good at holding my breath that day.

I hope Sam is happy with his mother.

I swear that today I’m going to make it out of this house. I just know that if I can get out, I can make it to the top and survive for good. Maybe that’s the key—I just have to make it back to the surface and Sam and I can be happy again.

I push my hands through the water and kick my feet, so that I’m face to face with the front door. I grab the brass handle and turn it, yanking it with every ounce of strength in my bones.
 A string of fire inside me races from my heart to my veins, making my pulse thrum harder as my body tries to push more oxygen to my brain.

Yanking on the door does me no good. I know this, yet I keep trying it. It always seems like the best option until I remember that it won’t open. Dying over and over makes you forget things.

I start to feel dizzy and the reflex to breathe is so impossibly overwhelming that I don’t think I can hold my breath for a millisecond longer. My white slip billows around me as I pump my legs and swim over to the window beside the door. I’ve only got 42 seconds before I die again.

I kick my foot into the glass, not caring when a string of red liquid slithers up through the water and into my hair. Who cares if I cut my leg as long as I get out?

28 seconds.

I kick the windowpane again, trying to make a hole big enough for my body to fit through, but the black spots dancing in front of my eyes make it difficult to focus on what I’m doing.


So far, I’ve died 37 times.

I open my eyes and my first instinct is to breathe, but I know better by now.
But why should I even bother? I have no family. Sam was more worried about his mom than me, so would he even be happy if I made it back?
The worst part of drowning isn’t even the water choking your entire body. Or the terrible headache you get from the lack of oxygen. Or the feeling that your lungs are going to jump out of your throat. It’s the silence. It’s just so damn quiet down here.

 I take a breath.

So far, I’ve died thirty-eight times.

I don’t how many times this is going to happen, but I swear, this time, I’m going to Get. Out. Of. This. House.

I kick the window over and over until I’m certain the hole is big enough for my body to fit through. A billowy cloud of blood surrounds me, and I’m sure this isn’t good for my survival rate, but hell. What’s a girl supposed to do? I squeeze myself through the jagged hole.

The burn in my chest is starting to grow too intense, so close my eyes and kick for the surface. I don’t know how long I swim upwards, but the sudden burst of exertion makes me start to fade after a few moments. I can’t die this time. I can’t.

I open my eyes and plead with the water to let me go. I know the sky is near, I can feel it. The light is growing brighter, but I can’t hold my breath any longer.

I have to.

But I can’t.

The cotton candy color blue of the sky is so close—SO CLOSE, that I know I’m going to make it.

 I KNOW it.


So far, I’ve died thirty-nine times.

I hope Sam is happy with his mother.

Photo posted with permission by artist, Phoebo Rudomino

(And thanks to Wryn Parker for lending me the story idea. :-)


  1. I think we can go on with this one. I don't know. Water is flowing toward me anyway.

  2. Really great idea and awesome how it came together! Hope against hope to want to do good and selflessness for love can be quite costly! I agree with Amy, I can definitely see this as a longer piece or even the subject of a novel.