Across the Void
1 Bournemouth, UK
“You’ve gone too far.”
Eve stood at the edge of the garden pond in the fading summer light. The worry lines on her young face were put there by her daredevil daughter, ten-year-old May, who was splashing in the green water wearing her favorite lemon-colored swimming cap and matching goggles. She smiled when she saw her mom’s look of concern, a confirmation that what she was doing truly did present a risk. Eve was not an overprotective parent, but swimming the length of the murky pond—underwater the entire way—did not strike her as either fun or smart. She held up May’s towel.
“It’s nearly time for dinner, anyway, so please climb out of that muck and—”
“Meet me on the other side!” May cried out, and plunged in.
“Shit,” Eve said.
Under the surface, May was thrilled at the sound of her mother’s muffled exasperation and further driven to prove she was up to the task. She kicked along energetically for what she thought was a great distance and rose to snatch a quick look at her progress. She was dismayed to find that she was already feeling exhausted after having made it only a third of the way across. The cold pond water was stiffening her muscles, and her breathing was increasingly shallow. To make matters worse, her brief rise to the surface elicited angry calls from Eve to do as she said and get out of the pond before she drowned.
From an early age, May had been an excellent swimmer, talented and strong beyond her years. The idea of dying in a world in which she felt so at home and confident, perhaps even more so than on land, had been absurd . . . until that day in the pond. With every stroke, her limbs felt
heavier and her lungs ached more. She’d taken a quick gulp of air when she surfaced before, but its benefits had quickly dissipated. Somewhere in the back of her mind, her mother’s warnings about swimming in the garden pond began to resonate. The water was always cold, even in summer, and the weather never offered enough sun to warm it more than a few inches below the cloudy, nonreflective surface.
But I am extraordinary, May thought firmly. I am exceptional.
Her inner cheerleader had been effective in motivating her before, but it all sounded hollow in her achingly cold little ears. Throwing pride to the wind, she surfaced again for a breath, but found she still had the final third of the way to go to make it to the other side, a distance that seemed as vast as the English Channel. She gulped air and attempted to catch her breath by treading water, but the exhaustion she felt was spreading numbness over her entire body.
With limbs weakly fluttering, expending their last measure of strength to keep her mouth above water, she felt a wooden rage at her stupidity in ignoring Mom’s warnings. She tried to lay eyes on Eve one last time, hoping she would understand her silent call for help in lieu of the yell for which her shivering chest held no breath. She saw nothing but the iron-gray sky hinged against a dull, mocking landscape, and then she sank like a stone. Holding her last breath was all she could manage, and she could feel her ability to do that slipping as well. Her body felt blue with freezing death, like a hand plunged into snow, and the darkness of the weedy depths enveloped her. Then she felt a sharp pain in her chest and heard a commanding voice call out, pulling her from the abyss.