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The Night Dive
By Lisa Criss Griffin
The sun was shining brightly overhead by the time Wes and Kari finished setting up their campsite close to the clear, sparkling water. Naturally spring-fed, the old abandoned limestone quarry was now only open to certified scuba divers. Divemasters used it regularly to teach PADI certification classes, from novices to various specialties. Other divers used it recreationally, as various objects of interest peppered the bottom. Wes and Kari had logged many dives, but felt a need for some time underwater before their upcoming dive trip to the Bahamas.
They noticed a group of fellow divers on the other side of the quarry, laughing and generally having a good time. The couple waved to the group and enjoyed their lunch on a lovely red bench next to their campsite.
“What the heck was that?”
The group across the way burst into laughter and began to pull on their dive equipment in preparation for their next dive. The couple scanned the hillside beyond the other divers. A group of small white goats made a sudden appearance, calling to each other as they stood on top of the hill overlooking the lake. There was one goat making a pitifully mutant sound, and it was almost impossible not to laugh when the poor old thing bellowed!
Kari tried not to choke on her sandwich as she stifled a laugh. Wes pounded her gently on her back, while he struggled to keep Pepsi from spraying out of his nostrils all over the pretty red bench. The ridiculous bleating faded back over the hillside, offering them a respite from further culinary disaster.
The mystery of the mutant goat bellow solved, Wes and Kari prepared for their first dive. They checked and rechecked their equipment, as was their habit. Safety had been solidly drummed into their diving skills by their instructors. Each had a bungee-corded plastic knocker around their air tank. When pulled and released against the air tank, the knocker made a loud sound underwater, and easily drew the attention of the other dive partner. They always stayed within eyesight of each other while underwater.
Wes took a giant stride from the rocky edge of the quarry and disappeared into a splash of cerulean blue water. He popped up like a cork and gave Kari the required okay signal. She stepped off the edge, enjoying the instant relief of the cool, clear water as she sank and then felt herself rising quickly back to the surface. She let Wes know she was okay before they let the air out of their buoyancy compensators and sank into the relative quiet of the stunningly beautiful underwater world.
Colorful bluegill darted playfully around the stone walls, easily avoiding the intrusion of the divers. Large bass calmly watched Wes and Kari’s progress to the bottom of the quarry, their dark round eyes following the rising trail of silver bubbles wiggling their way towards the surface of the lake.
A submerged cabin cruiser lay upright, but listed slightly to the starboard side on the bottom of the quarry. It was just one of the large items of interest scattered about the lake for the divers. Schools of tiny fish fry flicked quickly into the shelter of the boat cabin as they approached the sunken craft. The two divers adjusted their equipment and became buoyantly neutral, allowing them to hover in place effortlessly.
Kari loved scuba diving the moment she discovered she could breathe underwater. It was a calmer, quieter world, unless something large was feeding. She had seen feeding frenzies during ocean dives, but even then, it was the speed of the strikes that amazed her, not the sound. Sounds were different underwater. It was almost impossible to hear what direction a sound was coming from, and sound carried a long way underwater. However, the closer a sound was, the louder it became. In the ocean, she could usually hear the generator of the dive boat before she could see the vessel’s dark underbelly silhouetted against the surface of the saltwater.
Wes caught her eye and they finned lazily over to the small airplane around the corner. The plane was tilted at an odd angle, resting on the tip of one wing and the edge of the lower main fuselage. Kari had never seen an airplane underwater. It felt slightly eerie to see it interred in such an unexpected final resting place.
She shook off her otherworldly impression and twirled in slow motion under the wing, surprising several small fish resting in the shadows under the metal. Kari came out from underneath the wing and swam over the cockpit, enjoying the gadgetry that had been left intact for divers to view. She had heard the visibility in this place was outstanding. It was. She could see clearly for at least one hundred feet before objects began fading into the blue haze of the water.
The sound of a loud metallic clank drew her attention. Wes pointed to his dive computer and signaled it was time to return to their entrance site. Kari checked her air pressure on her dive computer, noting she had used most of the air in her tank also.
They swam back past the sunken boat and began a slow ascent to the surface. The pair leveled off around fifteen feet and hung effortlessly in the water by the rocky wall. They always took a five minute safety stop at the end of a dive in order to prevent the bends.
A curious bluegill swam up to Kari’s face mask. It looked her boldly in the eyes before it unexpectedly rushed up and pecked her mask directly in front of her left eye. Surprised, she sucked in her breath, then began laughing as the fish devoted itself to thoroughly pecking the front of her mask. Silver bubbles wobbled their way upwards every time she laughed.
Bluegill could be aggressive little creatures, but she was impressed that her relative size meant nothing to the persistent little fellow. She could hear Wes laughing at the antics of the persistent perch as it rammed her face mask, over and over. She checked her dive computer, noting it was time to surface. The bluegill circled in front of his territory in triumph as they slowly kicked their way to the surface.
They removed their regulators from their mouths and climbed out of the clear blue water, still laughing at the audacity of the peckish bluegill. The pair shed their equipment, changed out their tanks and spent a few minutes soaking up the late afternoon sun.
“I’m so hungry!” Wes finally admitted.
“Oh my gosh, me too!!!”
Kari opened the cooler and the pair ate several sandwiches, Fritos and apples. They washed it all down with a couple bottles of water. One of the nice perks of scuba diving was an increase in body metabolism. Kari could eat anything she wanted when she was diving and never gain a pound. There were a lot of great perks to scuba diving in her opinion. She was already looking forward to gorging herself on S’mores tonight after their night dive! She unwrapped a stray Hershey bar, savoring every delightful bite of the delicious chocolate. Wes smiled at her, knowing she had brought more chocolate than she could possibly eat. And then again…maybe not.
Wes gathered some twigs and stacked a small pile of firewood next to their campsite fire pit for use after their night dive. They passed the necessary time between their two dives talking about their previous dive experiences and laughing at the random bellowing of the poor old mutant goat across the lake.
The other group of divers were well into a night dive as the pair began to suit up for their own night dive. The moon had come up, casting an ethereal glow over the landscape. A light breeze wafted by, carrying a faint aroma of smelly goat along with it.
“It is obviously time to get in the water and away from this pungent goat odor for awhile!” Wes laughed as he did his first equipment check.
“Ooooo…phew! I agree. But I have to say those goats have presented a singular memory for me to record in my dive log later!” Kari giggled.
They did their second equipment check and performed a mutual check of each other’s dive equipment.
“Where do you want to go on this dive?” Wes asked as he clicked on his powerful dive light.
“Let’s go the other way along the quarry wall until we see the sunken caboose. That should be interesting, and I think there is also a fun obstacle course to swim through close by the train.”
“Sounds like a plan!”
Wes splashed into the silvery surface of the water and reappeared, waiting for Kari. She stepped off the rocky ledge, the memory of the insistent little bluegill causing her to smile as she rose back to the surface. They dropped down the side of the quarry wall together and leveled off about thirty feet down. Ambient light from the full moon still illuminated the crystal clear water at that depth. The intensity of their dive lights brought clarity to interesting details.
Kari was following Wes, enjoying the serenity of the night dive when her light ran across something unusual. It had an unnaturally pale cast to it and was barely visible from under a protruding rock ledge below them. Her curiosity peaked, she dropped farther down the quarry wall to see what it could possibly be. The overhang appeared to be the top of a shallow cave. The moonlight disappeared at this depth, and she could only see what was illuminated within the cone of light from her dive light. Except for the sound of her breathing through her respirator, the underwater silence was deafening.
She could still see Wes’ dive light a little above and in front of her. Her light slid down the rocky overhang and paused on the pale thing protruding from beneath the ledge. She swam closer, and then closer to it, her mind not wanting to make sense out of what she was seeing. Kari quickly stopped, gasping in horrified disbelief at the sight in front of her. Waves of sheer panic washed over her as she struggled to maintain her composure!
Ten feet in front of her, an unnaturally pale, bare human leg rested on the floor of the rock ledge. Loose rocks covered everything above the calf, suggesting an unexpected rock slide. Kari’s eyes dilated as she reached back and clanked her tank to draw Wes’ attention. She began to hyperventilate and realized she needed to get to the surface. She continued to clank her tank as she carefully made her way up to the smooth moonlit surface of the lake. She spit out her regulator as her head broke the water.
“Shit!!! Holy shit!!! Oh my gaaaaaawd! Oh…my…gaaaaaawd!!!”
Kari thrashed in the water as something tickled her leg.
“What the HELL!!”
Kari tried to calm down as she realized bubbles from Wes’ regulator were rising underneath her and tickling her legs. She could see his light as he made his way to the surface next to her. She was still hyperventilating as he pulled the regulator from his mouth in concern.
“What’s the matter, Kari? What is wrong? Are you hurt?”
Kari shook her head no. She could see the concern in his eyes, but she couldn’t seem to talk.
“Okay…take some slow, deep breaths. In….out….in…..out…. That is better. Start slow. Tell me what is wrong.”
“Dead guy…dead guy down there!!!”
“What???” Wes replied incredulously.
“His leg…sticking out…rock slide!”
“Can you show me?”
“What? No! Are you fricking kidding me?”
“Kari, if that is what you saw, we need to get some help. Please, we need to be sure. I will be right there with you. We don’t have to get too close to know. You don’t need to be afraid with me there. Wouldn’t you want somebody to be sure if it was one of us?”
Kari took several deep, cleansing breaths as Wes reached out and put her trembling hand between his two warm, steady hands.
“You’re right, Wes. We need to be sure. It is almost directly below us. But, you go down in front of me. It is about forty-five feet down…I think.”
Wes and Kari checked their dive computers even though they had only been down less than fifteen minutes. Everything checked out.
“Alright Kari. No matter what we see, we will come back up and do a five-minute safety stop at fifteen feet before we surface. Agreed?”
“Yes. Yes, of course.”
“Okay then. Let’s go do the right thing. Ready?”
Kari nodded, put her regulator back in her mouth and let the air out of her BC. They allowed themselves to sink back down into the grayish moonlit depths, descending closer and closer to the unthinkable horror that awaited them in the darkness below.
Wes saw it about the same time Kari clanked her tank, illuminating the rocky overhang with her light. The foot and leg were still there, motionless in the still, black water of the old quarry. She could hear Wes utter some muffled expletives as he dropped down a little closer to see what it was for himself. She hung back, not wanting to add to the visual carnage already burned into her brain.
Wes looked up at her and signaled for them to go up. They did their safety stop, grateful for almost full tanks since they were both sucking their air quickly. Kari found herself shivering, even though the water was pleasantly warm. They surfaced together.
“Holy shit, Kari! We need to get some help. Come on.”
The two horrified divers climbed out of the silent, silvery water, removed their dive gear and changed into dry clothes. The other group of divers across the way were sitting around a roaring bonfire. Their unintelligible conversations and laughter drifted over the lake through the cool night air.
Wes folded Kari into his strong, protective arms and kissed the top of her damp head lovingly. He felt her arms squeeze him lightly before she stepped back. Wes grabbed her hand. They used a bright flashlight to pick their way around the quarry’s limestone perimeter towards the group of divers.
“Hello…fellow divers!” Wes called before they reached the group.
“Hey! Come join us!” a deep, jovial voice boomed.
Wes turned off the flashlight as they stepped into the warm glow of the bright firelight. Orange sparks exploded into the night sky as someone tossed another piece of wood onto the bonfire.
“Want a beer?”
“Yes!!!” Kari exclaimed.
Two cold beers were quickly pressed into the couple’s hands and introductions were made all around. The booming voice belonged to Big Sal, who was the divemaster of the group.
“Soooo…do you know what all the excitement was about earlier? We thought we heard someone have a bit of a meltdown,” Big Sal confided.
Kari walked up to Big Sal and looked him straight in the eye.
“There is a dead guy down there in the quarry.”
“What? What are you saying?”
“I’m telling you we saw a dead guy down there! His foot and leg are sticking out from under a ledge. It looks like the rest of him is buried under a rockslide.”
There was a moment of horrified silence before Big Sal burst out laughing.
“Ooooooh shit! Bahahahaha!!! I’ll be danged! She found your missing leg, Gregory!”
Big Sal doubled over in laughter as the rest of the group hooted and laughed with him.
“What the hell, man! This isn’t funny! There is a dead guy down there! What the hell is wrong with you people!” Wes shouted.
“I’m sorry…I’m so sorry, man!” Big Sal choked out between guffaws. “We are rescue divers doing our certification training this weekend. You found one of the props we were using that SOMEBODY couldn’t find! Oh man….”
Big Sal exploded into laughter once again as a sheepish Gregory walked over to the couple, apologizing profusely.
“Well, thank goodness!” Kari breathed in relief. “No offense, but I don’t think this particular dive specialty is something I want to pursue, folks! That was freaking creepy!!!”
“Well, Kari…Wes. If you ever change your mind about rescue diving, I will be happy to teach you both at a discounted rate. We really are sorry to have unintentionally ruined your night dive. Say, would you like some burgers? Or some S’mores? We were about to toast some marshmallows,” Big Sal offered.
“S’mores, you say?” Kari asked with enormous interest.
Gregory pulled up a set of lawn chairs next to the fire for Wes and Kari.
“All the S’mores you want, honey….” promised a repentant Gregory.
Wes smiled to himself. When it came to Kari and S’mores, the rescue divers would find themselves unable to keep up with this girl. It was a small price to pay for losing a leg.
Copyright © 2020 Lisa Criss Griffin
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