Only Bubbles (Writing Contest Entry)

I lay on the deck, listening to the boat rock in the waves; the late summer sun warming my skin. Behind us, the anchor line slowly tightened as we drifted towards our dive site. I’d been looking forward to the dive; it wasn’t often new reefs were found in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but our dive master, Patrice, had found one.

In the background I heard a loud sneeze, and then the blowing of a nose; my dive partner’s allergies had kicked up overnight. I also heard Patrice speaking with the other divers and soon enough a shadow fell over me.

Patrice wanted to know if I’d dive with Vincent. I said no: Vincent had abandoned me on a previous dive to chase after a woman, and I had no intention of trusting my life to him again. After Patrice had conceded the point, the boat captain called him to the bridge.

As Patrice headed over, I slowly stretched and headed for the stern. As I approached, Patrice called all the divers in for a briefing. Sonar had measured the depth of the water to be 18.5m; I was then partnered with Candice, while Patrice partnered the others up, including himself with Vincent. Finally Patrice sent us to check our gear and to remember the Golden Rules of diving:

“Plan your dive and dive your plan; take only pictures, leave only bubbles,” everyone but Vincent recited reflexively.

I walked over to my air tank, and checked its pressure: 3000 psi. At this point Candice joined me and handed me my dive log; we spent the next several minutes running the numbers to determine our bottom times. In the end we used my bottom time of 14.5 minutes.

As we did the final checks, Candice handed me a can of shark repellent; more sharks had been spotted in recent months than normal. I felt bad for any sharks; the spray made me sick and I didn’t have their keen senses. Vincent had sprayed some once as a ‘prank;’ it took a week of cleaning to remove the stench.

With the checks complete we changed into our wetsuits and got the rest of our gear on, save for our flippers and masks. We walked over to a bucket full of water, spat in our masks, rubbed the saliva around and rinsed them off. It was disgusting, but it prevented them from fogging up. We then sat on the gunnel, put on our flippers, inflated our buoyancy compensators, held our gear to stop it from falling off, and fell backwards into the water.

Once in the water, we swam away from the boat and back to the surface. Breaching the surface, we signaled ‘okay’ to the boat and each other. We then swam to the dive line, grasped it as we deflated our buoyancy compensators slightly, and slowly sank beneath the waves.

As we drifted down, I squeezed my nose and inflated my sinuses. Around us was the blue of the ocean; below us, a murky black void. The light faded as we descended, as did the colours: first red, then yellow, and so on. At the bottom only the blues and greens remained, save for a circle around the dive line’s chemlights.

As we floated, I looked around us. Before us were a plethora of shells, corals, clams, and other creatures; something was wrong though. After a few seconds, I realised there wasn’t any current; this concerned me, but it wasn’t enough for us to turn back.

I turned to Candice and signaled I was okay; she replied that she was okay too. She pointed to her right and signaled to follow; I signaled my agreement.

As we swam I kept a close eye on my air supply and the water around us; something was still bothering me about it. As a barracuda swam by, it dawned on me that barracuda shouldn’t be in Canadian waters; even with the warming oceans, they couldn’t be here. Taking a good look around, I couldn’t recognise most of the species of fish, and the ones I did, didn’t belong.

Candice tapped on my shoulder, and I turned to see her holding her underwater sign.

‘This doesn’t feel right,’ she had written.

I nodded and asked if she wanted to return; she agreed. We ascended a few meters above the bottom and headed back towards the dive line. I felt my heart pounding in my chest; I tried to calm myself, to conserve oxygen. I checked my air supply: 7 minutes left.

As we headed back, we passed the others. Nearing the line, I noticed Vincent rummaging around on the bottom, dive knife out and on his own. I pointed him out to Candice, who shrugged. As we watched, Vincent hit something with his knife, black liquid spreading around him.

Suddenly a large creature leapt from the bottom and grabbed Vincent. Several others grabbed the other divers. All I could see were fins and tentacles.

I was grabbed from behind, tentacles grabbing my neck, choking me. I panicked and thrashed about, trying to escape its grasp. As consciousness faded, the grip released.

I gasped in air and looked around. Candice was floating there, shark repellent in hand. The water surrounding me was awash with blood. I checked my air supply: it was falling before my eyes. I looked up and saw bubbles rising to the surface.

I emphatically signaled to Candice to ascend; she nodded. I dropped my weight belts and inflated my buoyancy compensator. I shot towards the surface.

As I rose, I tried to empty my lungs. I went to take a breathe and got nothing. I tried to remain calm, but my heart was pounding too hard. I tried to focus on the light of the surface, struggling to reach it.

My vision started to fade.

Soon all I could see were my bubbles floating away from me.

Only bubbles.