Authors: Steve Alten
See, you're not such a genius, you can be wrong. Now lighten up. As Lisa would say, enjoy the ride.
David's voice blared over the radio. "Dr. Wallace, you still with us?" Hank swung his camera around, but I pushed the lens away. "Dr. Wallace? Hello? Say something so we know you're alive."
600 feet… 520 feet… 440 feet…
The ocean melded from a deep purple into a royal blue as we passed the deepest depths a human had ever ventured on a single breath.
The second deepest point, only a few feet higher, had resulted in death.
Good… keep going, the water's weight subsiding every foot, the cracks slowing now.
I wiped away tears, my face breaking into a broad smile. Hank slapped me on the back and I giggled.
Maybe we were going to make it.
, divers are in the water, standing by. Welcome back, team."
Lacombe winked at Hank. "Hey, Control, wait until you see what we've got on film."
Life is so fragile. One moment you're alive, the next, a semi-tractor trailer plows into you and it's all over, no warning, no final words or thoughts, everything gone.
At 233 feet, the bubble exploded inward, the Sargasso roaring through our sanctuary like a freight train, blinding us in its suffocating fury.
I saw the pilot's face explode like a ripe tomato as shards of acrylic glass riddled his harnessed body like machine gun fire. Hank appeared out of the corner of my eye, and then the Atlantic Ocean lifted me from my perch and bashed me sideways against the rear wall. Only the sudden change in pressure kept me conscious, squeezing my skull in its vise. Buried beneath this howling avalanche, I lashed out blindly in the darkness, my muscles lead, my hands groping… my mind recognizing the rear hatch even as it ordered my spent arms to turn its wheel.
I felt the surface ship's support cable
beneath the weight of the sea. My hands held on desperately to the hatch as the freed submersible tumbled backward, falling once more toward the abyss.
The sudden loss of pressure tore at my eardrums.
And then, miraculously, the hatch yawned open.
My kids… I can't wait to hug them again …
The left side of my brain screamed at me to get out, my chances of making it to the surface already less than 10 percent, but it was my right brain that took command, suddenly endowing me with the courage of Sir William Wallace himself.
I groped for Hank. Grabbed him from behind his shirt collar, then pushed his inert 195-pound body out the hatch, into the Sargasso's warm embrace.
A laborious twenty-five seconds had passed, and I was struggling to haul an unconscious man topside through 245 feet of water.
Get to the light …
I kicked and paddled, forcing myself into a cadence so as not to excessively burn away those precious molecules of air.
You'll never make it, not with Hank. Let him go, or you'll both drown.
But I didn't let go, not because I wanted to be a hero, not because I actually believed we would make it, but because, at that moment, I knew in my heart that his life was more important than mine.
My lungs seemed on fire, my beating heart the only sound I could hear.
Was I even making progress? My legs were lead… were they even kicking?
Scenes from my adolescence flashed before my eyes. My inner voice took over the play-by-play:
This should be the last play, Princeton down by four. Here's the snap, the quarterback pitching to Wallace. He escapes one tackle, then another, and he's heading for daylight.
The light… so precious.
Get to the light.
He's across mid-field… he's at the forty…
Get… to… the… light…
Wallace's at the thirty… the twenty …
He's at the ten, with just one defender to beat …
Shadows closed in on my peripheral vision. I saw death's dark hand reach for me… reach for Hank.
Oh, no! Wallace's tackled at the goal line as time expires.
Out of air, out of strength, out of heartbeats, my willpower gone, I slipped out of my body, and drowned.
It is hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head.
Just float to the light …
Mmmmmm. So soothing, when all of life's pain and stress and fears finally wash away. In the vacuum of existence, the soul floats …floats along heaven's silky stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream …
Was my life a dream?
More like a bridled storm, its fury long overdue to be unleashed.
My winds of despair could be traced back to Loch Ness and my ninth birthday—the day of my first drowning. That's right, I'd died once before, dead as a doorknob… until my savior had come in the form of my best friend's father, Alban MacDonald, the only man I knew who could scare death away. Since the moment I'd been revived, my mind had harbored a dark secret, bottling it for my own protection. It was always there, following my existence like a shadow, but since my child's mind had created this false reality, how could I have known it was all a lie?
Seventeen years later, everything was about to unravel.
* * *
I never actually felt the jolts of electricity delivered by the medic's paddles, only the thunder that roared in my ears and throttled my nerves with an excruciating pain that welcomed me back to the living. Every cell in my body burned with pins and needles, and each breath hurt, my chest feeling as if it had caved in upon my internal organs. A fish out of water, I convulsed upon the
frigid deck, vomiting seawater, alone and insane as the medic worked me over.
He shot a clear solution into my trembling veins and once more, I recoiled into blackness.
Upon arriving in the province of the Picts, Saint Columba had to cross the River Ness. Reaching its bank, he saw a poor fellow being buried by other inhabitants, who reported that, while swimming not long before, the victim had been seized and most savagely bitten by a water beast. When Saint Columba heard this, he ordered that one of his companions should swim out and bring back to him a boat that stood on the opposite bank. Hearing this order of the holy and memorable man, Lugne mocu-Min obeyed without delay, and putting off his clothes, excepting his tunic, plunged into the water. But the monster, whose appetite had earlier been not so much sated as whetted for prey, lurked in the depths. Feeling the water above disturbed by Lugne's swimming, it suddenly swam up to the surface, and with gaping mouth and with great roaring rushed towards the man swimming in the middle of the Ness. While all that were there, barbarians and even the brothers, were struck down with extreme terror, Saint Columba raised his holy hand and drew the saving sign of the cross in the empty air; and then, invoking the name of God, he commanded the savage beast, and said: "You will go no farther. Do not touch the man; turn back speedily." Hearing this command, the beast, as if pulled back with ropes, fled terrified into Loch Ness in swift retreat. The pagan barbarians, impelled by the magnitude of this miracle, magnified the God of the Christians.
DAMNAN'S BIOGRAPHY OF
St. Mary's Hospital
West Palm Beach, Florida
ain and confusion greeted me that first morning after escaping my second drowning. It was bright wherever I was, and I forced open my eyes, then thrashed wildly, panicking, when I discovered I couldn't move.
Several frightening moments passed before I realized I was in a hospital room. Tubes were embedded in my veins, my wrists and ankles strapped to the sides of the bed.
The change in vital signs must have alerted the nurses' station. A Jamaican woman entered, her dialect like a child's nursery rhyme. "So, you've decided to wake. I was sure we'd lost you, heaven's sake."
I tried to speak, but something was obstructing my parched throat.
"Try not to move, Mr. Wallace. You've a badly bruised sternum and two cracked ribs, all from the CPR. You saved that other man you know."
Hank? Did she mean Hank?
"Don't know his name, but he's two doors down. So I guess that makes you a hero."
"Harghra longre hag eye—" Frustrated, I gestured at the tube as best I could with my still strapped hands.
The nurse unbuckled the leather harness. "Now don't move about, the doctor's on his way, he'll remove the tube in a few minutes. Your fiancée's outside. Pretty little thing. Shall I send her in?"
Lisa, my angel of mercy. I nodded an emphatic "yes," my heart pounding with joy.
I had met Lisa Belaski during my first year at FAU, she, an undergrad struggling to make it as a biology major; me, the school's youngest associate professor. By day, we pretended not to know each other as I dazzled her and seventy-five other underclassmen at the lectern; by night, we were in bed together, her slender, tan legs wrapped around my waist, her hazel-green eyes glassy with infatuation and lust.
It wasn't long before Lisa was talking about marriage, her sorority wanting to throw her a candle-lighting ceremony or some other nonsense upon our engagement, how she wanted to start a family as soon as she graduated, and live in a gated community with good schools. I told her a family would be fine, as long as she was prepared to do most of the parenting while I worked.
Feeling pressured, I finally proposed on Thanksgiving Day, but refused to set a date until after returning from my voyage.
Now I was back, and my latest near-death experience had given me a whole new perspective on what was really important. I couldn't wait to hug Lisa, to tell her how much I needed her. I'd set aside my career, help her with the wedding plans. I'd accept the tenured position the university was offering me, just so we could stay in south Florida. Hell, I'd even start picking out baby names.
Let's see… how about Drew Wallace? Or Michael? Mike Wallace… nah, sounded too
"Gosh, Zack, you look awful."
Not quite the tearful greeting I had anticipated.
"They said you saved that cameraman. They also said you drowned. Did you know you were actually dead? That's got to be a bit freaky, huh? But hey, you're doing better now, right?"
Better than dead? Okay, so she wasn't the swiftest fish in the sea, but she was my fish.
I reached out for her, squeezing her hand. "Risa, rye rove roo."
She squeezed me back, then pulled away. "Maybe you shouldn't talk with that thing in your mouth. In fact, it might be better you just listen. See, while you were away, I was doing some serious thinking, and—"
"I realize this probably isn't a good time for you, but I'm going away tomorrow on winter break, and before I leave, I wanted to tell you that… well, I think we should postpone the wedding. Indefinitely."
She was breaking up now? Now! Wasn't there some kind of mandatory non-breaking-up grace period after one's fiancé came back from the dead?
"Face it, Zack, you don't really need me, in fact, you don't need anybody, and me… I'm someone who needs to feel needed."
"Risa, rye reed roo!" Sounding ridiculous, I struggled to rip out the cursed tube.
"Be honest, you were never crazy about the whole commitment thing. You have your career, and God knows nothing can stand in its way."
"Risa, rye'll range."
"… plus you hate going out with my friends. Honestly, other than sex, I wonder if you even enjoyed spending time with me."
She broke eye contact then, and even an emotional dunce like me knew what was coming next.
"The truth is, I met someone while you were gone."
While I was gone? I was gone four days! You'd think I was Ernest Shackleton, lost in Antarctica.
"… and he's fun and he makes me laugh. You even know him, he's in our biology class."
Tell me his name! Tell me and I'll flunk the bastard.
"Anyway, I'm sorry, but the way I see it, if I'm having doubts now, it's best we just break away clean. Here's the key to your apartment. Oh, I, uh, I sort of sold the engagement ring. I know that was rotten, but Drew and I needed the money to go to Cancun on winter break."
Drew? But we were going to name our firstborn Drew!
"I'll send you a check or something next semester, promise."
She left the key on my nightstand, leaned over and kissed me on the forehead, told me to "feel better," then helped herself to the orange juice from my breakfast tray and left.
* * *
David Caldwell visited me later that day, his turn at "cheering me up." He told me Hank was doing better, that our pilot never made it, and that the submersible had been recovered but no body was ever found.
The thought of those creatures devouring Donald Lacombe's remains made me queasy.
David wasted little time in dropping his next "cluster bomb."
"Despite your heroics, Zack, everything's canceled. The pilot's death, combined with the loss of a $12 million submersible… Jesus, it's a fucking disaster. While you've been lying here sleeping, I've had to deal with one helluva mess. Plus we lost all that great squid footage Hank took—"