Night Dive – Pick Your Poison

This is a story with an alternate ending. Which do you prefer? Comment below! 

George took in a deep breath of the cool tropical evening air. “What am I doing here,” he thought. Against all principles of scuba diving, he was about to explore the famous Peskwa Caves at night and alone. Sitting at the edge of the boat, he kicked the water with one flipper, causing a big surge of eye-catching color from millions of tiny fluorescent ocean algae. It felt so good to be alone, to be free, to do his own thing, dependent only on himself. No back-up, just man against the elements.

“Well, here it goes!” he said aloud as he stood up and rolled backward off the anchored boat. It was exhilarating to glide over the moonlit reefs below. He felt as if he was flying, like a soaring bird.

Looking down along his thrusting light beam, he saw the beginning of the caves. He depressed air button on his buoyancy regulator, and then made a graceful downturn and gently kicked his joint flippers like a fish’s tail, these disappearing below the surface with only the smallest ripple. He took pride in his fluid entrance into the undersea world.

The cave entrance was fairly large, and he entered with no difficulty. He propelled himself with measured flipper strokes, his jet fins giving him great control and power. He paused then and swung his light in all directions. A large amphitheater with the moon’s light showing the entrance. How lovely to be able to float like this. A small kick and he went up, or down, or sideways, or in a circle. He let himself go. Upside down was the best, with his light on the roof. His play had made him frisky, but now it was time to do some serious exploring. He would have to remember what he was doing and not lose track of his direction or time.

There was a fairly narrow tunnel straight ahead. He could see a slight flow of sediment in his light, maybe indicating a little currant. As he looked it over, he decided to take off his double tanks and hold them in front of him as he swam through the tunnel. He would put them back on when he got into the room beyond.

Thus, he was stroking forward with his arms extended and holding the tanks, when an amazing thing happened. There seemed to be an explosion and then a collision. Tremendous turbulence turned into a suffocating crushing. Never had he felt such force on his body. His light lay on the tunnel floor, somehow shining upward. Somehow, he still had his regulator in his mouth, but could barely breathe because of the huge pressure against his body and chest. It took a moment to fully comprehend his predicament. A 200lb grouper had been in the cave and had tried to make a frightened exit as George had entered. There wasn’t enough room and the huge fish had wedged between George and the tunnel wall. The more it forced, the tighter the wedge. Its scales and fins and gills would only let it go forward, and the thickest part of its body was still not in the tightest area.

George’s weight belt and shoulders were wedged in such a way that he couldn’t go backward. There they were, head to tail and wedged together for eternity, at least for his eternity, as far as George could fathom.

Time was running out. There was nothing George could do. He felt cold terror suddenly seize him as he noted the first indication of his air being difficult to suck in. That meant only ten to fifteen more breaths at most. His experience and coolness had carried him this far, having remained calm to conserve his air while he tried to figure something out. He couldn’t get his arms back to release his weight belt. He had tried huge forceful lunges forward and backward, but there’d be absolutely no give. Now he was going to die, and he wasn’t prepared.

“Oh god! What a stupid situation! How could this have happened?!”

The panic rose. He couldn’t stop it. Then he suddenly remembered the J-valve. How could he have been so stupid? There was still a small air reserve. He was just able to reach and relieve the lever, an unbelievably delicious cloud of air came out. He took deep gulps, like a person dying of thirst suddenly being offered water. He was overcome by a warm, almost sensuous feeling. He felt delightful.

It was no use struggling. He had five minutes left and he would never get out. His perception changed then, as if a veil was lifted from his consciousness allowing him to compress into seconds what had taken Buddhists and others centuries to learn. He could now understand his life in a much clearer fashion. The good things, the merging of body and nature, the pureness-no-holiness of life. This great fish beside him was as important as he. His life was no more important than his death. His molecules had always existed and always would exist.

As his air disappeared, he found that filling his lungs with saltwater was as easy as filling them with air. It was almost a comforting feeling, no choking. Just a pleasant heaviness as his mind droned on. First feeling new warmth and fullness, finally nothing.

The panic rose. His eyes turned wild, and then suddenly he had a recollection. He had once been in a similar situation. How had he survived then? Maybe there was some clue? He remembered. He was fifteen years old, and with some other boy scouts had toured Alcatraz. They had been shown a closed tunnel that some convicts at once dug to the ocean shore, and they had never been heard of again—probably tried to swim and drowned, or had been eaten by sharks. He had sneaked back and pried a board loose, and had crawled quite a way when he dropped into a little enlarged room, and couldn’t get back. He then decided to try and get all the way out to the shore. It was so hot and so close. He had gotten almost wedged in and had to literally dig out some extra earth with his hand until his fingers were raw and bleeding. He had been so frightened, then he had felt cool air, and forced himself further until he was totally wedged in and unable to move. He had panicked with claustrophobia and struggled to exhaustion. At that moment, water appeared in the tunnel and rose around his chest and neck. He held his head up. Finally, after he had taken his last breath and was holding it, the water started to cover his upheld face. It had seemed an impossible situation.

Now George was holding his last labored breath under a watery tomb. How had he escaped before? How would he escape it now? As his mind struggled with these questions, the answer came in a flash.

He awoke with a start.

Night Dive or Close Call? Which compels my faithful readers the most? Perhaps your choice will make it into my forthcoming fiction book, which I’m working toward publishing later this year…

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