NaNoWriMo: Posted November 15@10:24
“Naji,” Jaith screamed, his voice raw with terror. Jaith couldn’t concentrate on anything other than the fact that the only woman he loved just submerged in the lagoon’s water. Instead of allowing himself a large inhale and exhale before a final held breath, he sucked in a breath and plunged into the water after her without any real plan. His feet were over his head in an instant as his hand pushed away the water and propelled him forward, down into the lagoon’s depths.
On his first dive, he saw Naji. At first, she was intensely clear. Her body strangely rigid, sinking in the water like an oversized boulder was tied to her ankles. It was like she couldn’t move her legs as she struggled to swim.
Jaith found himself thinking about how vividly detailed her face was to him in that water considering all the factors that should have made recognition difficult – air bubbles and turbulence from the fight survival, the debris and the loss of lighting sources. Jaith chased after her as she fell into the seaweed. With two strong kicks, his fingertips brushed her skin. He knew the seaweed’s debris would become quickly overwhelming if he didn’t make complete contact, but he refused to abandon Naji. He kicked again, his body surging with an energy he didn’t understand, and clutched his hand around her wrist.
His chest burned, begging for air, and his body starting to heave instinctual. He needed air, but he had the woman he loved. He pulled her to him, dragging himself deeper into the water, and tried to kick them to the surface.
They didn’t move.
It was like some sort of nightmare. Jaith yearned for nothing more than forward momentum; he did everything he could do get it…but failed.
The panic in Naji’s eyes deadened as she accepted her fate. Her lips turned up in her last smile before she mouthed “It’s okay. I love you.” to Jaith and pulled his hands away.
Without the extra weight, Jaith separated from her, clawing the seawater and nothing else as he tried to grab her again. Then she was gone, and Jaith’s breath ran out. He hated to surface again, but it was that or risk drowning with her. She was still alive. He could try again.
He tilted upward and began what felt like the slowest climb to the surface. When he hit the open air, he exhaled hard. The fresh taste of the lagoon air never felt so good and so bitter at the same time. His body felt heavy from his loss and from the natural consequences of diving like that. He had a debt to repay his body. It wanted oxygen, but Jaith snubbed his responsibility.
He dove again. This time his concentration and surrounding awareness improved. Two schools of fish watched him scuffle and labor through their peaceful home. They scattered and reformed every time a part of his body got too close. His muscles sang with a new energy. He controlled his breathing better this time and was able to stay submerged longer, but on his second dive, Naji was nowhere to be found. Instead Jaith found himself entranced by a hole shimmering with a brightness he couldn’t explain but was drawn to. He dove there, ignoring his body’s natural response the extreme sensation of confronting his need to hold his breath. In the end, his mind won, and Jaith resurfaced.
On his final dive, the shimmering hole vanished, and Jaith saw Naji again. Her body now hung in the water limp, her eyes as tightly shut as anyone could unconsciously force them. She looked like she had been scared. Jaith was determined to not let her from his sight. As he passed through the kelp it caressed his legs like Naji’s hands did whenever she glided her fingers down his skin. His kicks slowed as he experienced her hands on him again. Then the memory broke, and Jaith felt a resistance in the water. A resistance that forced him away from her. Jaith kept himself mindful of his actions as he kicked with purpose and reached her, wrapping his arms around her body.
Her limbs floated, draping his skin and then undoing its deceptive touch. Just feeling her dying body against his pushed him into the initial urge to breath. His diaphragm constricted, a powerful disconcerting reminder of his predicament. Jaith endured the misery of the experience by envisioning himself back on the sand with Naji. They’d be alright. He kicked hard but went nowhere. Together their weight was too much for him. His body had nothing left.
His body panicked, and his legs lashed in the water, wishing he had a rock or anything solid to push away from to help him get back to the surface. The excessive movements devoured the last of his energy reserves. Still, the instinct to not breathe in the lagoon’s water was stronger than the agony in Jaith’s lungs.
Darkness encroached around the rims of Jaith’s eyes like a moonless night was enclosing in on him. Jaith had never felt more awkward in his life. His body seemed excited and terrified all in the same moment.
He couldn’t help to think to him, “I’m dying. This is how I’m going to die. This is what it feels like…is what Naji felt like.”
Jaith wouldn’t get back.
Daksh knew the lagoon would take his son, just like this, before he ever made the lagoon. This was Jaith’s father’s gamble, and it was Jaith’s gamble. He had been warned.
They had been to the lagoon so many other times.
Eventually, he swallowed an involuntary breath that in turn caused him to cough and ingest more water. Jaith felt like crying in his panic; this wasn’t how the day was to end. Naji had just taken her necklace off. They were supposed to have an entire life together. He pressed her body as close to his as he could, burying his face into her skin even as his throat spasmed, trying to seal off the water’s path to his lungs. It was then that his fear and pain left.
“That’s all there is,” Bankim announced, tossing Naji’s necklace on a square table no wider across than Bankim’s outstretched arms. Toivo sat in one of the table’s wooden chairs with his hands folded in his lap, his shoulders hunched forward and his head bowed. Kalle sat in a matching wooden chair to Bankim’s left with his arms crossed over his chest. The back of the chair pushed against the wall of Nom’s upstairs bedroom. Kalle and Toivo never sat together like this.
“There has to be more,” Kalle insisted.
Bankim’s jaw never clenched. He wasn’t one of those guys. His eyes never rolled.
He stared. He sucked in a half breath and stared. It didn’t matter at what. In this moment he stared at Kalle and his crossed arms. Kalle never crossed his arms. And Kalle was a doctor.
Bankim bobbed his head left and right as he thought.
Or would have been a doctor – and a good one – if he hadn’t broken the law.
Now he was just Kalle…with medical knowledge. Who healed people. He didn’t investigate. No one sent Kalle out to the lagoon to search for evidence or death bodies.
No, that was Bankim’s job.
Bankim stopped staring and lifted a single brow as he always did. “Well there’s not,” he told Kalle, his tone sounding cocky and annoyed, and unapologetic. “Be my guest if you want to go back and check the water.”
He knew Kalle never would.
If Toivo wasn’t rocking himself to avoid accepting his emotions.
Jaith remembered feeling his skin grow cold again Naji’s. He remembered finding the shimmering hole again. He remembered Naji’s body removed from his when he woke up, as if rising for a nightmare, only to find himself still submerged underwater. He blinked confused, but with lungs still filled with enough air to make it to the unmarred surface. With a solid stroke, his body lurched upward toward the sun, the single beam that reached like a helping hand for him to grab onto. As he made his was out of the water, he scanned it for Naji. He only found fish.
Jaith cracked the water’s surface and unnecessarily hyperventilated. His eyes slammed shut protectively. The sun seemed so much brighter than what he remembered. How long had he been in the dark of the water? His pupils felt so sensitive.
As his mind cleared and settled, Jaith slowed his breath, and he realized he felt so dizzy that he worried he might pass out in the water before truly capturing this second chance.
Before he reopened his eyes, Jaith blew water clear from his nose and sucked in a final calming breath. He wasn’t at the lagoon; that vegetation was gone. He smelled…different air, unlike anything in Loches, Port el’Reathsen, Lynthia, Ethantine, Thurm. Unlike anywhere else on Atala. His eyes scanned his surroundings. Not far in front of him, maybe twenty feet, was a long stretch of beach, flawless white beach.
Well, flawless except for that…what was that?
Jaith kicked again, beginning to swim. His stroke was stronger than he expected. It was like his body was renewed. Like he had gotten a do-over. As he neared the beach line, Jaith recognized a form of a naked female body. His jaw shivered in the water. His arms pushed the naraka he floated in behind him.
And Jaith stumbled with his first footsteps on the Earthen sand.
The fine grains of sand accepted his fall and didn’t scratch the surface of his water-logged, pruned skin like Lynthia’s would have. He didn’t bother standing again, Jaith knew he’d just fall. His muscles were not ready for this new environment, but Jaith’s heart summoned the energy he needed to drag his pathetic body to Naji. Her skin looked pink. And he swore her chest rose.
He crawled, suffering through the pain of exhaustion with each rotation of his hip, with each second his knee hit sand and rolled for the process to repeat itself on the other side of his body. When he got the chance to tell this story to his friends they’d laugh at him for being overly dramatic. What little distance between the two lovers seemed keep them infinitely apart.
Jaith half-pulled Naji’s body against his when he finally reached her. She was warm. She breathed.
And Jaith let himself cry.
He didn’t feel safe lying his head on her body so he laid with his body pressed against hers, his legs curled around hers and fell to sleep.
WORD COUNT: 1782
Copyright ©2010-2014 by Kristine A. Strauss, Amara SuraShakta. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Text, graphics, and HTML code are protected by US and International Copyright Laws, and may not be copied, reprinted, published, translated, hosted, or otherwise distributed by any means without explicit permission.