By Lauryn K. Powell
It wasn’t what Raven was expecting. The tales that she had listened to so often about riptides taking people under and drowning were not even comparable to the act itself. It burned her lungs like hellfire, like hot air she could not get to, like boiling water. It filled her nose and mouth as it slowly compiled into her lungs. The salt was scalding her tongue every time that it crossed into the back of her throat, searing the lips that were quickly becoming puckered from it. When she tried to hold her breath, the water that was present in her diaphragm only made her cough and inhale, drawing more of the salty sea into her windpipe. Her vision was already blurred when black slowly crept around the edges of her vision while spots danced across her eyes. Her lungs wept for oxygen and her esophagus constricted, a noose-like feeling that wrapped its way around her throat; but soon, her head felt like the air she could no longer breathe, and her eyes fluttered shut as she let the black engulf her.
The riptide pulled her out further and further into the sea, and the distant sirens of an alarm on the beach made could not be heard above the waves. Her body drifted silently along the top of the strong tides, the foam coming up and covering her face. It would be difficult to identify her at this point; Max, the lifeguard on duty, knew this. He threw himself into the waves, swimming toward the dim outline of the girl he had seen go under. The water hit his face harshly, salty sea water splashing in his eyes, the sound of the tide behind him and the plunk of his feet into the water ahead of him.
His heart was pounding, eyebrows pushed together and mouth set into a firm line. He ran through the standard procedure of a drowning person in his head: bring them back to shore. Perform CPR. Revive them.
About fifty yards out, he found her. He had to push foam off of her head to get a clear look at her; and once he did, he was thoroughly unnerved. Her face was relaxed, almost peaceful; her eyes were closed, mouth slightly ajar, and eyebrows set in their default position. This was not the face of a drowning person.
This was the face of a drowned person.
He quickly pulled her onto his rescue buoy and safely pulled them out of the riptide. Her chest was not rising, her face had not changed, and she was deadweight. Max’s mouth twisted into a frown at the girl’s unresponsiveness, and pumped his arms harder and faster toward the shore, the muscles underneath his tanned skin rippling from exertion.
They soon found the coastline, and people gathered around them immediately.
I swear. Anything macabre and it’s like vultures to a corpse.
He laid her down and positioned himself properly over her still body, clasping his right hand over his left and beginning to do his compresses, just like he had learned in training.
… Twenty-nine, thirty.
He released his hands quickly and checked her pulse. Her heart was still, the thumping that was supposed to have been never showing. He leaned down and pressed his mouth against hers, pinching her nose closed and blowing hot air into her lungs. Still nothing.
He continued this cycle for the next five minutes with no response.
What a shame. Such a pretty face, and to think that I could save her. His thoughts grew more and more of this likeness as time went on with no response. After about ten minutes, he checked her pulse and finally, finally, got a faint heartbeat. He released a breath out into the air as she spat up water to her side, curling her body into fetal position. He leaned back on his knees, wiping the sweat off his brow.
After she had gagged up the water onto the sand and finished rubbing the salt out of her eyes, she turned her head to the side and looked up at what appeared to be an angel, his smile glowing as luminous as the sun behind him. He had brown hair, warm eyes and a small beard, the bronzed skin that he beheld making him look like Uranus.
“God?” she asked quietly, her eyes wide and jaw slack. He smiled and shook his head.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you had seen him, but I’m nowhere close. I’m glad you’re okay,” he said as he got up. He leaned his hand down to her in both a gesture of greeting and an aid to get her up.
“My name is Max, nice to meet you.”
Photograph “Washed Up” by Emily McCormick