This is an edited piece from another group’s prompt: “Water gives life. It also takes it away. Write a short piece – fiction or non-fiction – inspired by one or both of these statements.” So, without further ado, this is Drifting.
The sun dimmed ever so slowly. The summer day’s brightness was replaced by a hazy, darkening sky. He accepted the feeling—listened to the distant sounds echoing through the water around him.
Trips to the lake house always brought with them exuberance. The wonton, carefree air washed over the twins. School had turned it’s final page, ending that chapter. Summer opened it’s first and greeted them with a warming kiss and hugged them full of excitement. They had what seemed like an eternity of guilt-free, heedless exploration before them.
As they had every year, they aired the cabin out. The white sheets once covering the furniture now hung on the line, waving lazily in the breeze. Their belongings were stowed away. The grill now emitted the smell of freedom.
It didn’t take long before the gauntlet was cast down.
“I’m going to win this year.”
“Like, hell, you piss-ant. You think those swimming lessons are really going to get you anywhere? You’re going to lose. Just like every other year.”
“It’s gonna happen this time.”
The race was always the culmination of a year’s worth of one-uppance. Who had the better grades—who the prettier girlfriend. Regardless, it always seemed to come down to this.
They could see the long-abandoned buoy bouncing playfully at the turnaround point. It called to them. Out a quarter-mile from the shore, it pleaded for a visit.
“You want to get your ass kicked now or in the morning?”
“Let’s do this. You are going to lose this time, I’m telling you.”
After shucking their clothes down to their trunks, they stood at the edge of the water, poised, full of determination. One of the teens had always been a stronger swimmer, but it wasn’t truly about the win, it was about the race. The water brought them both to life. They chuckled in the mirror still, remembering checking their necks as children, looking for the gills their father said they were going to grow one day.
The shimmering surface of the lake exploded into a million glittering droplets as the boys hit the water full-forced. Arms flailed. Legs kicked at a violent pace.
He glanced to the side. He was ahead of the stronger brother, but not by much.
The buoy was only a short distance away, but the teen’s lungs were aflame, his muscles swelling, numb, heavy—spent. He looked around frantically. He was alone. He reached for the buoy, but it was much too far yet. Panic, instead, reached back out for him. His limbs cemented themselves. They had no other option.
The sun dimmed ever so slowly. The summer day’s brightness was replaced by a hazy, darkening sky. He accepted the feeling—listened to the distant sounds echo through the water around him. There was beautiful tranquility that followed the panic. A divine calmness enveloped him as he released all remorse for not allowing himself anything to return to shore on.
An instant before he lost his vision completely, he saw a white form glide toward him. It was saying something to him, but he couldn’t make out the voice. The form grabbed him and shot upward, pushing him above it. He smiled internally, knowing which “way” he was going. The light disappeared as he lost consciousness.
The stronger brother dragged his limp body as quickly as he could toward shore, where their panicked father took over. That would be the last Summer they raced to the buoy. In fact, that would be the last time they competed over anything.
Years later and irregardless of being separated by jobs, distance, or life, they all gathered each Summer to relax at the lake house. Though they never spoke of that year’s incident, at some point they all looked at each other, then out over the crystalline water at the buoy, safely from their place on shore. In silent reverence, they thanked God that the former teen’s life was spared that day.