The Thin Black Line

“Fat floats, Eugene! Fat floats!”

With each stroke, Eugene’s head dipped below, drowning out the shrieks and taunts from the bleachers. His stomach hurt, his arms and legs felt like flabby sacks of sand, but it was better down there. Cool. Blue. Nothing to mark his passage but the thin black line along the bottom of the pool.

And then, Eugene would break the surface, and let the swimming carnival come rushing back into his ears and eyes.

“Loooser! Looooser!”

Flailing for a moment, Eugene could see clear across the pool. The rest of the boys in his category had long since finished and were now sitting on the blocks, laughing and pointing, their legs reaching for the water like thirsty gazelles. Even Mr. Merton was smirking at him, sharing a laugh with Miss Gormly.

Stupid school. Stupid swimming carnival. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Eugene’s face dipped back under and the black line swung into view. Through his goggles, misty and leaking water, he could see it. Comforting, dependable. So black as to look infinitely  deep. And as his arms slapped the water above, he almost see movement in the black. Shadowy filaments like distant eels or dorsal fins, rolling playfully about in the abyss. It looked so very calm down there. No taunts. No lessons. No stupid Mr. Merton.

Eugene reached back up and took a great lungful of air. He was only halfway across the pool.

“You can do it, Potts”, yelled Mr. Merton, his laughter barely suppressed, “you’re nearly there”.

He plodded on, arms rotating like broken windmills, legs pumping, body twisting. Below him the thin black line seemed to widen and flex, as the goggle-water leaked into his eyes. Down in the deep calm, his mind could wander, and he could picture the fissure, below him, lined with craggy coral and cliffside caves. Morays and cuttlefish crawling in and out, and other things, darker things, black things, with the tails like monstrous oarfish, and spindly human fingers. Or maybe kind faces like Miss Gormly. And naked torsos like Miss Gormly.

He swore he could see them now, through the wet, plastic blur, reaching out their fingers through the thin black line, twisting up and out through the absurdly narrow crack. Their hair, swirling around their faces in the water, alluding to a mysterious beauty, or perhaps an unbearable cruelty. It didn’t matter. It was the ocean. There was no morality, no intelligence. Just hunger, lust and infinite freedom.

Their arms encircling him, their mouths pressing against his, feeling their cold tongues against his lips, and the jagged enamel prick of rows and rows of razor sharp teeth. He would give them his air, his warmth, the flesh from his ribs and face, anything to be able to swim with them, twist around them with his own oarfish tail, back into the crack of the thin black line and leave the school and its stupid swimming carnival behind forever.

Slowly the taunts died down into a low mutter and shocked silence. Mr. Merton dived heroically into the pool, but all he could find was Eugene’s goggles and an oversized pair of swimming trunks. The boy hadn’t just failed to resurface, he’d completely disappeared, somewhere below the thin black line.

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