This story is by Katie Gelshenen and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The average person can survive three minutes without air. If you are underwater and have no air, the first thing you do is try to find something that does; anything, a waterproof backpack, your hands, a coin purse. Survival is a choice; one you make every day without even knowing it.-
My family and I took a trip to The Great Barrier Reef. We went scuba diving in the most vibrantly colored area I had ever seen. The coral moved in sequence, back and forth back and forth. I couldn’t resist getting a closer look and decided to go further down than instructed. The coral seemed to be going down a path, urging you to follow. The farther I swam, the more the coral seemed to die. I followed it for about a minute. Every second, my lungs grew heavier. –
Suddenly, the path stopped. I looked up but could not see my family anymore. I decided to keep swimming though. At the end of the coral was a cave painted in bright, vibrant colors, more beautiful than the coral. –
Drawn in by the exquisite paintings, I continued to swim. The cave was curvy and then, suddenly was dark. I could not see a thing as I searched for something to hold on to. A chill swept over my body and all at once I realized the severity of my lung pains. My head pulsed. All feeling in my body was gone. With the last of my energy, I pushed up and banged my head against the cave ceiling. The temperature of the wall froze my brain and my mind went blank. –
For one second, just one second, I would see light, a bright shining white light urging me to come in. I had a choice though; I could keep fighting in this hell hole called life or I could go to the light and be in peace forever. –
Every night I would wake up before I had to make this decision. Every five minutes after that, I would forget the dream. This recurring dream plagued my childhood. I formed an unexplainable fear of coral reefs and water in general. No one understood how this happened because I did not remember any life or death situation involving water. In fact, I actually had never been to The Great Barrier Reef. –
This morning, I suddenly remember. Everything I did, every choice I made, somehow all relates to this dream. Because of my fear of water, I have taken many survival and scuba diving classes, but instead of participating, I just listened to the instruction and safety lesson. This is where I learned the water bubble trick. Supposedly, you can create an air bubble to breath in underwater by opening something that contains large amounts of air, like a waterproof backpack.-
There is no use for this knowledge anymore. A recent move to northern Alaska was the best decision I have made in years. I no longer have to worry about the dangers of being under water because it is too cold to swim here. In fact, the snow can stop you from ever going outside, for there is no need anyway. As an aspiring artist, I feel that seclusion from the world, with only my dog, is just what I need. For the whole winter, I have decided to grow my own food in a basement greenhouse, have no contact with other humans and only go outside when my dog needs a walk.-
The heat of the fire blows on my back, the sensation of sun beating down, lifting my mood. It is four o’clock again, time to walk the dog, the sometimes dreary exercise that breaks up the crazy and normal in my isolation. Curious is his name, one eye blue, the other pitch black. He is one of the most handsome huskies I have ever seen, like one of those dogs that should be on the cover of some dog food.-
His barking echoes in the room, reminding me that the fire can wait. The snow is soft; the storm had finally passed and now a fresh new coat of white covers the last. Curious sprints around falling head first into the snow. He is still getting used to the weather, as am I. Suddenly, he starts taking off, he only ever stays in my yard, but now he is headed straight for the woods. The woods I have never been in; the woods where a dog like mine would get lost. “Curious!”, I yell. He is running too fast. “Curious!” I continue to scream. It does nothing, he keeps sprinting. We are in the woods now. I probably will not be able to find my way back, but I need my dog. Trees shining with icicles sparkle. They are all leading in one direction. The farther I go, the fewer icicles seem to be in the trees. Or maybe I am just running too fast to notice. Snow in my boots brushes up against the many layers of pants I have on. There is a howl in the distance, his howl.-
Just as I am about to give up, I sprint. Come on dog, where are you.? A clearing appears ahead, flat land with just snow. “Curious,” I sigh in relief. He is standing right in the middle, looking straight at me. Relieved, I start to run, the snow lifting out of my boots, all my worries falling out of me. The floor seems like it is dropping right under me. All my worries… The floor is not metaphorically falling. No, I am literally sinking! I hear a snap, bend down and brush some of the snow away, hoping to see more snow. No, it’s ice.-
I start to sprint, the ice falling under me. Curious is now at the end of the clearing, waiting for me patiently, like I will somehow get there. The cold surrounds my boots, freezing my inside out. I continue to fall, it’s too fast to try to reach for something. My water bottle flies out of my hand, and along with it, my only chance for a bubble of air. This cannot be happening. My whole body is now submerged, the ice surrounding me. l reach for the hole where I fell. I continue to fall down, my body too frigid to move. Light disappears. My lungs sag, begging me for air. Sorry lungs, there is none. This is not how I am going to die, this cannot be how I die. My body flails, fighting, trying to swim. I forget how to swim. That is what I should have been worried about, swimming. God. With all my preparation, this is how I go!-
Color fills my eyes. Suddenly, I am in the Great Barrier Reef, the cave. Is this my cave? My dog painted onto the cave walls, the icicles. I am hallucinating. My eyes sting now, no longer am I seeing the colors of the walls but a black darkness. No! I scream. Who knew that was possible under water, the sound echoing under the ice. No! One final push up. If lucky, maybe, just maybe, this could save my life. My head bangs against the ice, freezing my brain. Everything stops, the white light appears in my eyes. No, I continue to fight. No, the white light is there again, I want to go, I really want to go. You know, this would make one hell of a painting. No! I choose to live, please let me live! The fighting continues, the white light is there again clouding my eyes, blurring my vision. It tells me to relax, to open my eyes. I lift my hand to the ice, everything is blurry now. I am light headed, blood is dripping from my nose, turning everything around me red. Suddenly, there it is, right in front of me, a glowing light shining down into the deeps of the lake. Every inch I move, the pain grows unbearable. Knives stab into my heart, stopping my life. Nevertheless, I continue, the light growing closer. The white appears again, my time is up. No! I sprint up, I am running under water, maybe that will work. The light shines, I look up, there is my hole. Yes! My frozen, shriveled hand grasps the ice. With all I have got, I give one final push, one push to save my life. My head reaches air, gasping for breath. Large amounts of water and other unknown substances are thrown up. I made it. A swirling colliding show, a black panic.-
I found my inspiration as an isolated artist. The anticipation of fighting death that built up inside of me is finally gone. My three minutes are up and I survived. I found the ending of my fear, and now my life shall begin.