By Josh Roseman
“This is a really bad idea, Elle,” Barry says.
“You didn’t have to come.”
“Don’t be stupid,” he snaps. “Phil would kill me if I didn’t come with you.”
Barry is fiftyish, portly and gray-haired. Seeing him take off his shirt is an experience I wish I’d never had.
“I have friends with certifications,” I say. “It’s not like I couldn’t have asked one of them.”
“How many of them have actually been down there?” It’s almost a growl, and I’m actually cowed a little. “That’s what I thought.”
I sit on the hard bench, wood planks covered in thin, all-weather carpet, and fiddle with my regulator.
“How far away do you think we are?” he asks.
“Don’t know. Ask the captain.”
Barry looks up at the bridge, where Al — the captain — stands, driving the boat. Al is even older than Barry, narrow and hard and tanned almost leathery with decades of exposure to the sun. Instead of going up to talk to him, though, Barry goes around the cabin to stand by the bow, leaving me bouncing up and down on the bench as the boat zips across the water. The light chop makes the horizon rise and fall faster than is comfortable. I can take it, though, and if I get sick enough to throw up, at least I know enough to do it over the side.
My guess is that we’re ten minutes from the dive site. Maybe fifteen.
After waiting seven years to get my answers, fifteen minutes isn’t much of a wait at all.
I was seven when I first realized my dad was doing more than just studying the life cycle of coral reefs. I’d been in the ocean with Grandpa; I knew what they looked like. I knew there were natural ones and artificial ones; I knew that if you touched a reef, part of it could die, and that if you touched fire coral, you’d burn.
The big tank at Dad’s office had plenty of coral inside. I separated myself from him — it was easy; he was so focused on his work that when I said I had to go to the bathroom he didn’t even notice — and went off on my own.
No one watched me climb up on a chair. No one noticed my nose was so close to the water that all I could smell was salt. No one saw me reach in and brush the back of my hand on the bright-orange coral flower.
The scream made Dad come running. He picked me up as I cried and shouted, carried me to a chair, and told me to hold out my arm. Then he poured clear liquid over my skin: vinegar, like what Mom used to clean the floor. It didn’t make the burn stop hurting, but it helped, and after a few minutes I started to calm down.
When I looked at Dad, it was through a blur of tears. “I reached in the tank,” I said. “I touched the coral.”
“Oh, come on!” Dad said — almost yelled. “I’ve told you before: this isn’t a game! It’s not a place to play! This is my job, and if you can’t behave, you can stay home with your brother next time. You got that?”
I stared at him for a second, then burst into fresh tears. Dad shook his head and crouched in front of me. “I’m sorry, Eleanora. I didn’t mean to shout. You just… worried me. And you know you shouldn’t have touched something that was going to hurt you, right?”
“I…” A hiccup. “I’m… I’m sorry, Daddy…”
He leaned forward and hugged me, rubbing my back. “Come on. I’ll get my things, and we can go home.”
He asked me to sit in his desk chair and wait while he called Mom. He’d left his computer turned on, and I read some of what was on the screen. I didn’t understand all the big words, but I was pretty sure it didn’t have anything to do with coral reefs.
I come out of the cabin after exchanging my t-shirt and shorts for a wetsuit. Barry’s on the bench, buckling his vest. Al is by the ladder to the bridge. “How long will we be out here?”
“We brought enough air for two dives,” I tell him, checking my watch. “Figure a couple of hours.”
“It’s more than 100 feet down,” Barry says. “Be real, Elle. How long do you think we’ll be able to stay?”
I glare at him. “You can stay up here. I’ll dive alone if I have to.”
He mouths something nasty before going to work on his fins; I sit across from him and do the same. I’m faster than him, though; before he’s even finished buckling on his vest I’m already on my feet, hanging onto the railing at the stern. I hold my mask to my face and, as the boat rises on a small wave, I step off and into the water.
I was ten the first time I got into Dad’s files. He got fired the summer after second grade; we had to move, and I had to change schools. But Dad got a new job, and Mom did too, and we were doing okay. I was aware, I suppose, that our circumstances had changed, that we didn’t have enough money to live like we used to, but I was a kid. I didn’t really care about it the way an adult might.
Jason noticed. He was fifteen, moody and broody. My parents yelled at him a lot, and he yelled back. I tried to stay out of the way.
I also tried to stay out of sight when Mom and Dad went out and Jason had someone over. It wasn’t hard; they’d sit in the living room and watch one of my parents’ R-rated tapes, and I hid in my bedroom from the explosions and the adult stuff.
Dad usually locked his office door, but he must have forgotten this time. I always tried the door, just in case, just out of curiosity, and when it opened I couldn’t help but go inside. Jason and I were never allowed in there when he wasn’t around.
I clicked on the lamp and sat in Dad’s big leather chair. The desk was very neat, very organized, and I made sure to put his folders back when I finished reading them. Or, I should say, skimming them: I might have been good in school, but there were some big words — like “transdimensionality” — that I didn’t understand. I stuck to sentences that said things like “portal”, “rift”, “coordinates”, and so on.
Dad had been doing this research for a long time; there were notes dated before I was born. I remembered times when he’d been away for a week or longer, times he’d come home from those long trips with his arm in a sling, or limping, or bruised. How dangerous was this stuff?
The noises from the living room stopped after an hour, and I quickly cleaned up and ducked out, locking the door behind me and stealing off to my room to try and make sense of what I’d read. From what I could understand, Dad believed there were portals somewhere in the ocean. One was close to where we lived. He used to work for the government. He had a hypothesis — I knew that word, thanks to Science Fair — that the portals were “beyond our current level of technology.” Dad’s notes had wondered who made the portals. And, over and over, he’d written “where do they go?”
That had given me chills, enough that I’d tucked myself into bed and tried not to think about it.
Mom and Dad got home around midnight, and when Mom came to check on me, her touch on my shoulder was so reassuring that I “woke up” so I could get a hug.
Whatever it was Dad thought was at 113 feet, it gave me the creeps.
Barry leads the way, one hand around the line, a spiral of blue and white stripes. I follow his bubbles. The water grows cool at 30 feet, then colder at 60 and 90. I wish I’d gone with the dry suit, but they always make me feel clumsy. The wetsuit is thin and black and easy to move in, and I can handle the chill.
It’s dimmer when we get to the bottom, the line attached to the wreck by a heavy metal ring. The tips of my fins touch the boat and I float there, taking a moment to turn on my mask-mounted light and another, brighter one in my vest pocket. Barry fiddles with his own light, looking at me.
I check my computer, then hold it up. We’re only at 93 feet, and I’ve got plenty of air. Mark always said I seem to come up with more air than I bring down with me, and if I’m going to do this right, I’m going to need to regulate my breathing more strictly than ever.
Barry, on the other hand, has used a surprising amount of his supply. I want to pull out my slate and berate him, but that’ll just waste time. Besides, he’s already looking around, getting his bearings. He turns back to me and motions that I should follow. He’s been down here before; he’s the expert.
I was twelve when I got my dive license. Dad had been away more and more through third and fourth grade, long weekends and unexplained trips, and I guess when he saw how much I liked snorkeling during a family trip to the Keys, he tried to buy my forgiveness.
It worked, too. When I opened the long white envelope, I nearly hugged him to death.
The classes were held at a dive shop half an hour from home. After dinner, Mom drove me and I did boring school homework in the backseat. Naturally, I already would’ve finished my dive class homework the day it was assigned. I spent a month learning the rules, the equipment, how to clear my mask, how to put together and break down and clean a dive kit, buddy breathing, sign language, and moving while carrying a third of my weight in equipment.
My first dive wasn’t much; we went down about 30 feet, knelt in a circle on the sand, and covered the basics. But it got better, and soon I had my PADI Open Water certification. The real problem was finding someone who would dive with me; I wanted to go every weekend, but Mom worked Saturdays and Dad wasn’t home half the time. After months of just showing up and hoping there would be someone who needed a buddy, jumping into the water while Dad sat on the boat, reading or doing research or whatever, I finally found a good partner. Mark was a year older than me, but shy as a first-grader. Most divers weren’t as young as us, and that didn’t help him either.
Still, even though we didn’t talk much about anything except diving, it was nice to have a friend my age on the boat. We dove together dozens of times, and though we didn’t go to the same school, in ninth grade I asked him to Homecoming. He blushed and stammered and accepted. Of course, we spent most of the night just sitting at a table and talking about getting my advanced certification so I could join him on deeper dives. It beat the heck out of pretending I could dance.
The wreck is nothing like I’ve ever been in before. The boat looks like it was 300 feet long before it sank. Most of it is down another 60 feet or so, on its side, but there’s a good 50 feet standing vertically, the bow just below a sandy shelf.
Barry has his slate out. He’s written something. 10 mins left. Hurry up. I nod; he jams the slate back into his pocket and steps over the edge. I follow him down.
There’s a hole at 125 feet; Barry catches the edge of it and shines his light in, then swims through. I’m close behind.
I’ve never been inside a wreck like this. It’s a constant effort to stay vertical without getting confused. Barry’s looking back at me, waiting to catch my eye; when he does, he waves his light upward at a doorway. I have to turn my body sideways and roll up through it, but Barry stays outside, shaking his head and pointing to his stomach.
I probably don’t have much more time than he does, not at this depth, but I spend a few precious seconds writing him a message. Which way? He points his light toward an even-narrower opening at the far end of the compartment. I clip my big light to my wrist; I’ll need both hands to navigate. I take a deep breath, blow it out, and, regulator clenched tight in my teeth, I make for the doorway.
I was a week away from my fifteenth birthday when I ran into Dad on a dive boat. Mark had driven me to the dock — he was going to do a wreck dive, then I would do a deep reef, then we’d all do a shallow reef. When we left my house, I’d noticed Dad’s car already gone, but that was nothing new, and anyway, I didn’t care. One more week and I could dive wrecks with Mark — who I’d come to realize was actually pretty attractive. Those two things crowded Dad out of my mind.
Three years of lugging a dive kit had made me stronger than most girls my age; I rarely had to put my stuff down between the car and the boat. But everyone within fifty feet heard my scuffed red tanks clang on the pavement.
My father was on the boat, talking animatedly to a short, fat man about his own age. But when he looked my way, he merely gave me a half-wave, suddenly all serious, before going back to his conversation.
He was wearing a wetsuit.
“Your dad dives?”
I dropped my bag and went after my tanks. “He never told me.”
Mark shrugged and followed me onto the dock; we handed our equipment over the side and, as another diver stowed it, we crossed the threshold. I dropped one of my tanks into the storage area in the middle of the deck, then bungeed the other along the side. My bag went under the bench for now; I’d put my equipment together once we were out on the water.
Mark had gone up to the dive shop, probably to go to the bathroom — he had a thing about going in the ocean — and I went up to the bow.
“Dad, what are you doing here?”
“Diving,” he said, his voice flat. “This is Barry Katz,” he added. “Barry and I have been working together since… well, for a long time.”
I remembered Barry’s name from Dad’s ever-more-detailed notes — Mom had a spare key to his office, and it’d been easy to borrow it and make a copy. I held out my hand and he shook it. “Hello, Barry.”
“Hello.” His voice was mild, not as deep as Dad’s.
There was a heavy silence. Dad turned to me. “We have some things to discuss.”
“You bet we do,” I said. “When did you–”
He cut me off. “I meant with Barry. I’ll talk to you later, if you want.”
I didn’t stomp off in a huff. I definitely wanted to, but stomping was immature, and Mark would be on his way back to the boat soon. I didn’t want him to see that.
Twenty minutes later, we left the dock. Mark and I stood on the port side, watching the other boats as we passed them. Eventually we made it out to the open water; the boat sped up, bouncing only slightly on the clear, smooth ocean. I separated from Mark and tried to eavesdrop on Dad, but every time I got close, he frowned at me and moved away. I could tell he was trying to hide his excitement, but he only let his guard down with Barry, and that more than anything else pissed me off.
I did manage to grab his arm just before he began his dive. “Later, Eleanora,” he said, smiling, and then was in and under and gone.
Mark gave me an apologetic look as he joined up with a couple of guys and followed Dad and Barry into the water.
I’d never been on a three-dive trip, and was unprepared for the sheer boredom of waiting for the advanced divers to get back. I put together my dive kit. Tested my air. Pored over my log book. Did calculations in my head to figure out when the others would get back. I even talked to one of the other divers still aboard until I realized all he was interested in was staring at my chest.
Clouds started gathering about ten minutes before the first of the advanced divers was set to surface. I climbed up to the bridge.
“What’s going on, Elle?”
Steve owned the boat; he and I didn’t talk much anymore now that Mark was around, but I’d been diving from this boat for years, and we were friendly enough. “This weather,” I said. “Did they get the forecast wrong?”
“Not that I know of.” Steve flipped on the little radio mounted behind the throttle levers. Nothing on the news station about severe storms. Still, the wind was whipping up and the boat was starting to rock, not so much that we were in any danger but it was a little worrying nonetheless.
I checked my watch again. Eight minutes left in the advanced dive.
Lightning flashed out of a sky that was suddenly dark; it hit close enough to the boat that I heard the snap of electricity.
“Shit!” Steve shouted, the word half-covered by a blast of thunder. “Get down!” he ordered. “Help anyone who comes up. They’ll need it.”
The boat was rocking more as I dropped down to the main deck, and I almost rolled my ankle trying to keep my feet. But I held onto the tanks, secured in place, until I was at the stern. I grabbed a rope out of one of the buckets on the deck, tied it to the railing, then tied it around my waist. I didn’t plan to fall in, but better safe.
Rain began to fall, lightly at first but soon enough pouring onto the boat, the decking slippery under my sandals, clothes plastered to my body, hair in my eyes.
The next flash cut through the storm. I saw two heads bobbing in the choppy water, two hands waving.
It wasn’t the okay sign.
It was the trouble sign.
One of the other junior divers, Shawn, joined me at the other ladder, mask around his neck, rope around his arm. “What the hell is going on?”
“No idea!” I pointed out over the water, yelling over the roaring of the storm. “Do we go help them?”
“I’ll go! You stay here, hang onto the rope!” Shawn pulled up his mask and dove in, snorkel barely visible after only a few seconds. I braced my feet and fed rough plastic rope out through my hands. More heads broke the surface; I called Shawn’s name, but he couldn’t hear me.
A few seconds later Shawn waved to me; I began hauling in the rope, helping the divers make their way back to the boat. “What’s going on?” I asked, still yelling, but a snap of lightning and another rolling boom smashed down the words. I shook my head to clear it and reached out, grabbing the first diver by the wrist and pulling him onto the rocking, bouncing deck. “Are you okay?”
He spat out his regulator. “I’m fine! But someone’s missing!”
I nearly dropped the next diver, but recovered and pulled him onto the deck. “Who’s missing?” I asked him, gasping.
The boat bounced up, then slapped down; I looked out, saw Shawn swimming toward a trio — thank God, Mark was okay, I could breathe again. “Who’s missing?” I shouted.
The diver wasn’t listening. He and his partner were crawling along the deck, trying to get to a bench.
Mark and his partners were close enough now that I could help them aboard. More divers were with me now, working together to get everyone onto the boat.
Mark flopped onto the deck. I pushed him past, but not before I heard him try to tell me something.
He yanked his mask down and heaved up onto a bench; one of the divers lunged across and bungeed Mark’s tank in place. “Your dad!” Mark shouted over the wind. “That Barry guy, he can’t find your dad!”
I dropped to my knees, nauseous. Barry was at the end of the ladder, and he was alone.
“Where’s my dad?” I screamed in his face. “Where’s my dad!”
Barry clung to the ladder; it rose in the water, smacking him in the face, knocking out his regulator. Two of us grabbed his arms and hauled; Barry’s bulk splatted to the deck between us. “Where’s my dad? Where’s Phil Raymond?”
Barry couldn’t catch his breath, but he could point, eyes wide behind the thick glass of his mask.
He was pointing at the water.
The doorway is too narrow even for me, and I only weigh 125 pounds. I try a few angles, but time and air is bubbling away, and I have to make a decision.
I unbuckle my vest, fully aware that it’s a stupid thing to do, but I get through the opening, pulling the gear in behind me. I hold up the big light in my hand and look around: down, left, right, straight ahead, but I see nothing.
Then I look up.
At first I think it’s just an air pocket. I’ve seen them on wreck dives: air collects in hollows and sealed places. But I notice after a few seconds that my air bubbles aren’t collecting.
I check my gauge. 116 feet.
All of Dad’s notes say that, whatever these portals are, they’re all at exactly 113 feet. Three feet above me.
I take a deep breath, then give a gentle kick and float toward the silver surface. But a loud clanging makes me snap my head around.
Barry’s banging his knife on his tank. He has his hand around his neck.
He’s running out of air.
I check my computer, cursing. I could probably stay another five or six minutes before I’m in trouble, but Barry is already there.
I have no choice. I pull back and make my way through the narrow doorway, spitting out my regulator so I can swim into my vest. I shove the regulator back into my mouth and purge it, teeth digging into the rubber grips, glaring at Barry as I move past him.
I feel him behind me as we head to the line. The current is picking up, and I snag Barry as he’s nearly pulled away. I clip both of us together, then to the line; we empty our vests and begin swimming upward.
The trip takes longer in this direction; we have to stop twice to decompress. The line is jolting around during the second stop, and Barry’s dark eyes are ringed with white. I pull out my slate. Whats wrong?
He takes it out of my hand, holding the pencil the way a two-year-old might hold a crayon. Storm. Like B4.
I’ve dived in bad weather before — rain and wind just means a little adventure getting back on the boat. But I look up and realize with a jolt that the sun isn’t out anymore.
I take the pencil. Let go b4 surface. Come up away from boat.
I can handle it.
My computer ticks down the seconds, then beeps when it’s safe to continue. I unhook from the line and begin kicking, the muscles in my legs fighting the weight of my equipment. I glance back; Barry is behind me, but his kicks aren’t going to be strong enough. I grab him by the tank valve and estimate the distance to the surface.
I mumble another curse around my regulator and inflate my vest halfway, feeling it pull us upward. I know it’s a risk, but I can’t carry both of us.
We break the surface and inflate the rest of the way. A wave slaps me in the face, separating me from Barry; I turn and kick back toward him, legs burning. I get a hold of his vest, pull him close, and shout “swim!” around my regulator.
The next wave knocks his mask askew and, with a hand I can see shaking even as we’re tossed around, he pushes it back in place.
It takes everything I have left to make it to the boat. Al’s thrown out a life preserver; I make sure Barry’s holding it before grabbing the ladder and dragging myself up onto the deck.
Al helps me up onto a bench, stringy muscular arms keeping me from crashing across the deck and into the cabin wall. I get myself bungeed and undo my fins, shoving them into an empty tank holder before unbuckling the vest and lurching to my feet. Together we pull Barry up onto the deck; he coughs and sputters and spits out his regulator, but he’s able to let us help him to a bench. We get him secured and he yanks his mask down.
“It’s happening again! Just like last time!”
“What happened last time?” Al says, his voice sharp through the wind.
“Seven years ago,” Barry says, a little stronger, “we were here! Her dad… we were on that wreck… we found… and her dad…”
“Shut up, Barry!” I yell. “He’s not dead!”
“Goddammit, Eleanora!” He’s hanging onto bungees on either side and I’m clutching the bridge ladder, but Al somehow is still on his feet, eyes narrowed. “Phil’s dead! Phil’s dead and this is insane! What the hell are you trying to prove?”
“He’s not dead!” It’s a scream to the sky, to the storm, to the rain and wind and lightning and thunder. They rip the words away but I just keep screaming it. “He’s not dead! He’s not dead!”
I was almost sixteen when they told me Dad was dead. Steve got us away from the storm, and the Coast Guard came, but I only remembered it in flashes. Mom met me at the dock, eyes red and puffy, and I threw myself into her arms, crying along with her. “They’ll find him,” I forced out between sobs. “They’ll find him.”
Mark drove us home. Mom and I huddled on the couch, watching the phone, waiting.
The call never came.
Mom and I kept checking with the Coast Guard, but they kept saying they hadn’t found him. Mark stopped returning my calls; he’d had enough of me begging him to dive that wreck with me. But I never gave up, not even when a Coast Guard lieutenant came to our house, sat down in our living room, and told Mom and Jason and me that they’d officially declared my father dead.
Mom lost it, but I didn’t react.
My father wasn’t dead. Until I had proof, he wasn’t dead.
Rain pours down. I loop my arm through a bungee and start changing my vest to my second tank.
“What the hell are you doing?” Al glares at me, holding the cabin doorway.
“I’m going back down there!” I get the vest off the first tank, then scoot down to the second. It nearly crashes to the deck when I unhook it, but I yank the vest onto it and bungee it back in place.
“No way!” Barry yells. “No way am I going down there again!” He points to Al. “Get us out of here!”
“No!” It’s a scream, enough to make Al stop, halfway up the ladder. “I paid you,” I snarl. “I paid you, and this is my boat for the day. We’re not leaving!”
“She’s crazy!” The boat rocks, slams Barry against his empty tank, and he clutches his shoulder. It’s a mistake; the boat skews back in the other direction and pitches him to the deck. “Elle, this is nuts!”
“He’s not dead!” I screw my regulator onto the tank. “One hour! Then we’re going again!”
Barry shakes his head, face white with pain, barely holding onto the railing in the middle of the deck. “I can’t do it again, Elle,” he says. I barely hear him over the storm. “I can’t do it.”
“Then I’ll go alone.”
I was seventeen when I stole Grandpa’s boat and took it out to the wreck where I’d last seen my father. The radio squawked at me the whole way: Grandpa yelling at me to come back, to bring the boat back so we could talk about this.
I stayed there for hours, snorkeling along the smooth surface of the water, staring into the depths, trying to make out the wreck that I knew was down there. Dad’s notes, his log book, everything in his computer said there was something down there. Barry Katz wouldn’t talk about it no matter how hard I pushed him.
I would’ve gone down to the wreck, but there’d been no way for me to sneak my dive stuff onto the boat. I tried, though, swimming as far down as I could, until my lungs burned and my eyes were blurry with tears and fatigue.
There was no way I could get there. Not without air. Not without equipment.
Grandpa’s voice on the radio kept yelling at me as I leaned over the side, the sun low on the horizon. “I love you, Dad,” I whispered. “I’m not giving up.”
That night I came up with a plan.
Barry is greenish-pale after twenty minutes in the wildly-rocking boat. Al’s on the upper deck, strapped in, waiting. I manage to get to my cooler, stowed in the cabin, and down a bottle of water and a bag of mini-muffins.
Instantly I realize my mistake. Fortunately there’s Dramamine in the cooler, as well as ginger ale. I dry-swallow the pills and bring the soda out to the deck, looping my arm through the ladder to stay upright. Barry’s still on the bench, good arm threaded through a bungee. He hasn’t moved since Al and I put him back up there. The sound of the storm is just background noise now, and though Barry keeps getting bumped against the empty tank holders, his voice is calm through the cacophony.
“I hate this.”
I drink more of my soda, then lunge to where he’s sitting and press the can into his hand.
He shakes his head. “I’m gonna lose it,” he says.
“If you barf, you barf.”
“Not that.” He looks down.
I nod. “Want some privacy?”
He doesn’t answer, just turns away. I get back to the ladder, then move to the side of the boat, facing the bow, letting Barry pee himself in relative peace. At least the rain — still coming down in sheets — will wash it away.
My watch eventually beeps. Only ten minutes until I can go back. The adrenaline suddenly gives out; I lean over the side and throw up. The current carries it away and waves wash the side of the boat, as if it never happened.
I stare at the sky, breathing slow and deep. “I’m not leaving,” I say quietly, ignoring the salt spray that makes my eyes burn and itch. “I’m going back, and I’m going to find my father.
I stay starboard until my watch beeps again, then work my way to the rear deck and struggle into my gear.
“I’m not going,” Barry says. “I can’t go back again.”
I shrug as best I can with the vest tightened across my shoulders. “Then I’m going alone.” I stare across the middle of the deck at Barry. “If…” I swallow hard. “If something happens…”
Barry sees that I can’t finish. “You’re crazy, Elle,” he says. “Please don’t do this.”
I reach back and undo the bungee. The boat rocks; I plant my fins and slide to the end of the bench. “I have to, Barry. I have to know.”
I look up to the bridge, see Al leaning over the railing. “Don’t do it, girl,” he calls.
I shake my head, then pull my regulator into my mouth. Normally I’d take a giant stride into the water, but in this weather, I just hold my mask and regulator to my face, twist around, and fall backward with a splash that I’m sure neither Al nor Barry can hear over the storm.
Ten feet down the line, the silence is louder than the noise on the surface. I block it out and, hand over hand, pull myself toward the ocean floor.
I was eighteen when I gave up on my plans to become a marine biologist — like Dad. For two years I was a lackluster community college student, but I didn’t care. I worked in a dive shop and as a lifeguard, saving money. I’d need the best equipment — and I’d have to buy it myself — and I’d also need to charter a boat.
Right after I turned twenty, I ran into Mark at the dive shop and convinced him to have dinner with me. But when I told him what I was planning, he shut down.
“I don’t dive anymore,” he said.
“You’re crazy,” I told him. “You love diving.”
“I loved it.” Past tense.
“It was a one-in-a-million accident!” I snapped. “Come on, Mark. We used to… I mean…”
He shook his head. “I just… I can’t. I’m sorry, Elle.”
I slept with him that night, hoping it would change his mind, but even after that he still said no.
I left the next morning and didn’t look back. Soon after, I got my two-year degree, then gave up on school and threw myself into my work and my plan. Mom and Jason confronted me, said I was obsessed, and I moved out. I spent more hours at the dive shop and on the beach. I even started teaching swim classes. Guys hit on me and I turned them down. Girls tried to befriend me but I played the bitch card. Parents hired me to babysit or give private lessons, and I did it for the money, but I detached myself from the people.
I had one purpose: find out what happened to my dad. Nothing was going to get in my way.
I stop at the end of the line and check my computer, noting the maximum safe depth and time — depressingly short on the latter, depressingly shallow on the former — and set my watch. I won’t give up until I know the truth, but I don’t want to die down here either.
I drop over the side of the wreck and swim into the dark opening. This time, without Barry to slow me down, I’m out of my vest and inches from 113 feet in no time.
I pull out my knife. The tip grazes the silvery surface.
A blinding flash knocks me back. My regulator falls out of my mouth and I grope for it blindly, holding my breath, my eyes a wall of blue afterimages. I finally shove it in my mouth and blow, purging the seawater. My second exhalation clears it completely and I dig my teeth into the grips. My jaw is tired, lips stretched and sore, but I’m not stopping.
I take a minute to think — and to let my heart rate slow to normal — then lock the knife back in its holster. No metal: seems simple enough.
I pull open the Velcro that holds my left glove closed and tug it off. My skin is very white in the glow from the lamp. I reach for the silvery surface and, in a quick motion, push through.
There’s air on the other side. Cold, dry air. My hand starts to shake and I pull it back.
My skin looks okay. I check the sleeve of my wetsuit: no damage there. Whatever it is, it’s safe to pass through.
I close my eyes tightly, looking away as I do, and extend my entire arm through the portal.
Nothing happens. Nothing bad, anyway.
I open my eyes, then check my air and my watch. Seven minutes to the point of no return, until I have no choice but to ascend.
But I have no choice in what I’m about to do now, either.
As quickly as I can, I strip off my dive equipment. I stick my watch into a vest pocket, hook my fins to the shoulder straps, then unzip my boots and tuck them into the fins’ foot holes.
Zippers. I consider for a couple of seconds, then open my wetsuit. I have to release the regulator to wiggle completely out of it. If the air I touched is any indication, I’m going to freeze my ass off on the other side — my one-piece isn’t made for warmth — but I don’t care. Besides, the coldness of the water is already numbing my fingers. It can’t get much worse.
One more look at the computer. Five minutes. 113 feet. I’ll never get all this stuff back on in time; I’ll be lucky to get into my fins and drag my air supply back to the line. There’s coral everywhere and I know it’ll to rip me to pieces when I get out of here.
But I’ll live.
A final check: no metal anywhere. I point myself toward the silver surface of the portal and pull my mask off, pushing it into a pocket in my vest. Seawater and particles tear at my eyes.
I take five deep breaths and, on the last one, release the regulator and kick forward, through the portal, and toward my father.
I was twenty-two when I found my father. He was declared dead by the Coast Guard when I was fifteen, but I never believed it. They never found a body. I spent seven years trying to get back to where he was lost, seven years trying to find him.
And fewer than seven minutes on the other side.
I found out what happened at 113 feet the moment I swam through that silver surface and landed hard on a metal platform, shivering in icy, dry air.
“Doctor Raymond! Doctor Raymond, you’d better get out here!”
I blinked hard and tried to stand, but I was so cold that I couldn’t do more than wrap my arms around my chest.
I heard clanging, felt the metal vibrate, and then the lights above me were blocked off. Someone draped a light sheet of cloth over my body and I was instantly so warm that I almost passed out. Someone else pulled me to my feet.
“Doc…” I cleared my throat and spat out a gob of saltwater-tinged phlegm. “Doctor… Raymond?” I blinked a couple more times, but I wasn’t hallucinating.
“Dad?” He wasn’t dead. I was staring right at him. “Dad!”
I was on him in an instant, arms around him, and he was hugging me back. But tentatively, almost as if he was afraid of me. “I missed you, Eleanora.”
I looked up at him. He seemed older than he should have been, as if more than seven years had passed. “What happened, Dad?”
Instead of answering, he looked over my head. “How long?” he called.
The answer came through a P.A. System. “Four minutes, Doctor.”
Dad nodded, then guided me to a bench. “Here. Sit.”
I did as he said, wrapping the sheet around my body. My ears and toes were freezing, but I didn’t care. He was alive. My father was alive.
“I only have a little time to explain,” he said, his arm around me.
“Explain what? Aren’t you coming back?”
He laughed. Not angry, not exasperated, just amused. “I’ve been here almost forty years. Why leave now? Besides, how would I come back?” He raised an eyebrow. “Do you have enough air in your tank to get me to the surface? I haven’t been diving in…” His voice faltered, and he smiled. “Well, it’s been a while.”
“Don’t they have tanks here?” I looked around, but didn’t recognize anything except the silver oval of the portal. “Where the hell are we, Dad?”
“Actually, Elle, the right question is ‘when are we’.”
“Damn it, Dad, stop wasting time!” I pushed his arm off and glared at him. “If I only have a few minutes, then tell me what happened!” My throat went tight, but I wouldn’t cry. There wasn’t time to cry. “Dad, please!”
He sighed. “The short version is this: about 150 years in your future, scientists discovered a way to go back in time. The system is overpowered in case something goes wrong, and that energy has to go somewhere.”
“Yes. The storms. At least, over the ocean, fewer people are at risk.” A young woman in a blue jumpsuit gave Dad a handheld computer. He scanned it, nodded, and handed it back. “Time’s running out. Come on.” We went back to the portal, standing in front of it. “It takes about an hour for the storms to clear when someone goes through. They tried it closer to sea level, but the storms were so strong that the man they sent through was ripped apart.”
“But how come they started when I got close? I didn’t touch the… portal?” He nodded, and I continued. “I didn’t come through.”
Dad gave me a look I remembered perfectly, a look that said I should’ve figured it out for myself. “How do you think we knew you were coming?”
I had no response to that, and even if I had, Dad was already watching a technician aim something at the portal. “Anyone there?”
“No, Doctor.” Like everyone else except Dad, the technician was wearing a blue jumpsuit. Dad looked normal: slacks and a burgundy sweater. “Mr. Katz will arrive in 81 seconds.”
Dad nodded. “Come on, Eleanora. It’s almost time.”
I slung the cloth to the floor. Somehow I was dry, and though it was still chilly in the lab or hangar or whatever this place was, I could handle it for another minute. Besides, I didn’t care. I had to ask before it was too late.
“Why didn’t you come back, Dad?”
He didn’t answer; he just pulled me into a hug.
“Sixty seconds.” It was the person on the P.A.
“Dad, please! Why didn’t you come back?”
He was smiling again. I wanted to wipe it off his face, but I couldn’t. Not when I saw tears in his eyes. “I’m a scientist, Elle. How could I turn down an opportunity like this?”
My fists balled and I wrenched away. I wanted to hit him. Hard. “How dare you! How dare you leave us for that?”
“How could I not? It was the chance of a lifetime! The chance to study history by actually being there. Things you only know in books… I’ve seen them!” His bright blue eyes were wide.
“Then let me stay with you,” I pleaded. “I’ve got nothing back home! Please, Dad, let me stay!”
But he shook his head. “I can’t, Elle. Things have changed these past few years. We have to be careful, or…” He cleared his throat. “I’m breaking all kinds of rules by even talking to you, and when you get there, you can’t tell anyone.”
I stared at him. “You’ve got to be kidding. I’m not keeping this a secret.”
“Fifteen seconds.” Red lights began to glow around the portal.
“Come on, Elle.” He reached out as if to hug me again, but I moved closer to the portal. “Promise me!”
I shook my head. The technicians were already well back. Dad took a couple of steps away, his eyes sad. I could barely bear to look at him.
“Good-bye Eleanora. I love you.”
“Fuck you, Dad.”
A sharp beep. I took a deep breath and jumped through the portal.
I’m warm, and I’m on my back.
I’m warm, and I’m on my back, and I’m laying on something hard.
I open my eyes, blinking against the harsh brightness of the sun.
“You made it.”
I wheeze, then start coughing. He cradles my head in his arm, brings a bottle of water to my lips. I sip some of it. “Barry?”
My vision starts to clear. His hair is as wild as mine is after a dive. He smiles. “Glad you’re back.”
“Couple of minutes after you left, Al helped me get my stuff on. I followed you.”
The smile goes away. “I couldn’t leave you alone down there. Not after… not after Phil…”
I feel my eyes well up with tears, but I fight them down. I have to know. “How long until the storm ended?”
“About an hour after I got to you. Why?”
A category-one hurricane blew through two weeks later. I spent the day at Mom’s. When I got back to my apartment that night, I found an envelope on my pillow. My name was on it. The handwriting was my father’s.
I threw it away unopened.
Mark’s living in Virginia now. It takes me almost a whole day to drive to his house.
I slide past him, into the living room, and drop onto the couch. He sits in a chair beside me.
“I’m not diving. Ever again.”
He leans forward, touches my knee. I cover his hand with mine. I know my face is blank.
“I found him.”
Mark blinks. “You…”
I nod. “I found my father.” A pause. “He’s not dead.”
I meet Mark’s eyes. “He left me. Me, and Jason, and Mom. I’m done with him.”
“But where is he?”
I shake my head. “It doesn’t matter. And I don’t care.”
Mark pushes me for more, but I don’t tell him. To the rest of the world, my father’s been dead for seven years.
Time for me to join the rest of the world.
About the Author
Josh Roseman has been published in Asimov’s and on Escape Pod, among other places, and his reviews appear regularly at Escapepod.org (he’s on the forums as Listener). His most recent fiction sale was “Secret Santa”, which appeared on The Dunesteef last December, and he is currently seeking a publisher for his new superhero novel. He’s in the midst of a Buffy re-watch on his blog, Listener.
About the Narrator
Mur Lafferty is the co-editor and sometime-host of Escape Pod.
She is an American podcaster and writer based in Durham, North Carolina. She is the host and creator of the podcasts I Should Be Writing and Ditch Diggers. Her books have been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Philip K. Dick, and Scribe Awards. In the past decade she has been the co-founder/co-editor of PseudoPod, founding editor of Mothership Zeta, and the editor or co-editor of Escape Pod (where she is currently).
She is fond of Escape Artists, in other words.
Mur won the 2013 Astounding Award for Best New Writer (formerly the John W. Campbell Award), and the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Fancast for Ditch Diggers. She’s been nominated for numerous other awards and is always doing new things, so check her website for the latest.