Leo disappeared underwater.
He closed his mouth to stop the questionable water from getting in. He wasn’t prepared to taste that earthy latte. It was pitch black, blacker than black, with no sign of light. The water got deep enough that his feet couldn’t touch the ground.
He came up for air, gasping for breath and treading water.
“Leo–” someone called out.
And then he dove.
Eyes closed, mouth closed, wishing he could close every orifice, Leo swam toward the bottom of the pond. His hands and feet were so cold now that they hurt in little sharp points, like pieces of glass were sticking into him from all sides.
More than anything, he wanted to give up, to leave, to swim back to the surface and give his friends an embarrassed and rueful grin.
But he didn’t.
How many times in his life had other people pulled him back from stepping into water? How many times had he been rescued from zoo enclosures and mall fountains full of wish pennies? Too many times to count. His parents loved bringing it up at family reunions, though he knew that in private they were concerned about him.
This was the first time he’d actually done it. He’d actually succeeded in bending to the will of the water, to the urge to bury himself in it.
Leo expected to hit the bottom of the pond after six or seven good paddles. He’d been on the swim team in middle school for a hot minute and could really pick up speed.
But it didn’t happen. The water seemed to be endless. Leo’s chest grew tight, burning, his hands numb, his paddling weak.
Was he going to die here?
Was he literally going to die here, in some random pond in the middle of inhabited suburbia in the midwest?
The water around him grew warm. A weak, teal-white light started to glow beneath him. He was too tired to move. His eyelids fluttered open, his throat begging to open up.
Yep. This must be what dying felt like.
He closed his eyes. At the very moment he decided to give up, to breathe in the water, a warm and slippery hand clutched his.
“Let us help you,” a wavering, underwater-y voice said, somehow in his head and not. “Will you let us?”