« There, there! Stop! »
The rover’s tires screeched as Jaime hit the brakes. Luke, Rob and Chuck jumped off the trunk, and swiftly went to investigate the area. The small group of friends had been driving on narrow paths through the pines for almost half an hour, looking for a spot to spend the rest of the afternoon.
“How is it?” hailed Jaime from the truck.
Luke’s head appeared as he climbed from downhill. Jaime’s best friend was a tall guy with shaggy brown hair and mischievous eyes. He looked at Jaime with a wide smile: “It’s perfect. Come check it out!”
Jaime stopped the engine and jumped off the rover. A slope went down a couple of meters, and at the bottom, an opening between two pine trees gave out a glimpse of clear sand.
Jaime carefully went down the slope and followed Luke through the opening. Behind the trees, a tiny beach was facing the water. Most of the beach was protected by the shadows of the trees behind them; in the distance, they could see tourists on canoes and paddles, coming from the other side of the lake. Around them, the only noise came from the crickets in the trees, the wind through their leaves, and the small waves of the lake lapping on the shore.
The quiet atmosphere was interrupted by Chuck and Rob racing to the water, splashing water all around them, laughing. Jaime smiled; they had indeed found the perfect spot.
The four boys unloaded the truck and placed towels on the sand, complete with snacks, fresh drinks in a cooler, and various nautical gear. Tubas, masks, an inflatable ball, and Jaime’s favorite, a black paddle board with fluorescent green stripes.
They went for a swim in the lake. On the shore, the water was slightly yellow, which turned to brown when it got deeper. Further towards the center of the lake, the water was blue again, although much deeper and colder.
The four of them came back to the shore after a while and opened a beer to sip on while drying in the breeze. Halfway through his beer, Jaime decided to explore the blue waters of the lake.
He grabbed the striped paddle board, a paddle in the sand, and headed towards the water. Jaime set the board in shallow waters, and carefully climbed on it. He gave a couple of strokes forward before standing up and used the paddle to give more powerful strokes in the water.
Jaime was a swimmer; his strong back and shoulders allowed him to efficiently roam and the paddle board was gliding on the surface of the water.
After leisurely paddling for a few minutes, Jaime reached the center of the lake. At last, the water was blue, still impenetrable though. Jaime sat down on the paddle board and dipped his feet and legs in the water; it was much colder than on the shore, but this was welcome when the air was so warm. Now that he was far from the shade of the trees, Jaime could feel the declining sun rays hitting his shoulders.
He undid the scratch around his left ankle that kept him tied to the paddle board; he wasn’t worried about the board floating away as he was more than capable of swimming back to shore.
Tilting forward, he dove head first. The cold water sent shivers down his spine as he stretched his arms in front of him to swim deeper. He opened his eyes, admiring how beams of sunlight were penetrating the deep blue waters of the lake. Around him, small fishes were swimming away, hurrying to disappear in the blurry depths of green and blue.
Jaime swam deeper, letting the sun light his way, although it did less and less. His eyes were adjusting to the darker water, allowing him to see further. He could distinguish rocks and logs littering the bottom of the lake, that was only reached by a faint light.
Jaime loved to dive; he could hold his breath for several minutes, allowing him to explore places most people wouldn’t dare approach without diving gear; he could go anywhere in relatively shallow waters with just his swimming shorts and sometimes his paddle board.
He was almost at the bottom of the lake; the sandy ground was littered with stones and tree branches. A gleam caught Jaime’s eye: down there, something was shining on a large sunken tree trunk. Jaime swam down, intrigued.
He reached the trunk and grabbed a thick branch to inspect the shiny object; it seemed to be a small stone. It was glowing red, like it caught every faint ray of sunlight reaching the ground.
The stone was stuck to the wood. Jaime tried to grab it between his fingers and pull it, but it kept slipping away. He noticed that the stone was on a short, thick branch sprouting from the larger trunk. He grabbed it with both hands and tried to pull; he didn’t have enough strength.
Jaime leaned his feet on the trunk to gain leverage, firmly grabbed the branch and pulled hard. A crackling sound came from the trunk in the water; he pulled harder, and as his left foot sunk into the wood beneath him, the piece of wood came loose with the stone on it.
He held it between his fingers, observing his newfound treasure. The stone was shining, still embedded in the small piece of wood around it.
Jaime propelled himself upwards to go back to the surface but got brutally stopped. Struck by a sharp pain, he let out a silent cry, losing large bubbles of air. He looked down to see that his foot was stuck in a hole in the trunk he had leaned on. A shard was stuck deep in his skin, and filaments of blood were dancing in the water around his left ankle.
He bent down and tried to free his foot from the tight hole. The shard was hurting him at every tentative to move his foot upwards. Jaime tried to get the wood around his foot to come loose, but he could barely fit a couple of fingers where both hands would have been necessary.
Jaime felt dizzy; his effort earlier and his involuntary scream had made him loose a lot of air, and he was running out. He squirmed and tried to let out as small amounts of air as possible as he tried to free his foot again. The pain was becoming unbearable as the shard was digging in his flesh. Jaime’s throat tightened, he was almost out of air and still trapped.
He felt a huge pressure in his throat and chest, as if his body was begging him to inhale. Jaime held his breath for a few more seconds that felt like an eternity; he was going to drown. His vision became blurry and he felt himself loosing control of his body.
Jaime felt cold water entering his mouth and nose. The water was burning his nose and everything inside him, and his throat was so tight he couldn’t swallow nor scream. Panic took over; powerless, he felt his limbs flailing uncontrollably in a desperate tentative to get free, and back to the surface. A sharp pain coming from his foot contracted every nerve in his body; the pressure and pain were overwhelming, and as Jaime felt his foot move freely, a black veil came before his eyes.
Jaime opened his eyes wide. In front of him, no more black veil. Instead, a pair of green eyes, surrounded by fiery red hair.
A pale girl was staring at him. Jaime looked down and saw his ankle floating freely, bloody and swollen. He was still underwater, but he could swim again. The girl in front of him had long, red hair floating all around her like a million of small tentacles. She had a worn-out grey t-shirt and jean shorts. Her lips stretched out in a smile when she saw that Jaime was fully awake.
“You found my stone! Thank you!”
She had not moved her lips, yet he had heard her voice clear as crystal. As he took his glance away from her glistening green eyes, he noticed a rusty necklace chain around the girl’s neck. At the center was a metal piece that was certainly supposed to hold something shiny.
She turned around swam away, inviting Jaime to come along with a glance.
Jaime stretched his arms to follow her, ignoring his ankle. The water seemed to have washed the blood and pain away as he swam behind the girl.
They both glided upwards, where more rays of light were piercing the water. A white light was casting a ghostly aura around the girl as she extended a hand towards him.
Jaime grabbed her hand, and they swam together, swirling around each other. The water was just the right temperature, and in that moment, he felt that he didn’t need anything more than holding this girl’s hand and dancing in the water.
On the surface of the lake, near the shore, the cold light of the moon on the water was disturbed by flashes of red and blue light cast from the sandy beach.