A NIGHTMARE IN PARADISE

Over the purr of prop jet engines, Idit leaned close and gently kissed Kevin from sleep. “I love you. How did I get so lucky?”


“Lucky?” Kevin smiled. Yawned. Pulled aside his Covid mask. “Honey, you’re Irish. It’s as simple as that. But a kiss is a great way to wake from a nap. Usually, it’s the damn bing, bing of fasten your seat belt - ”


“BING. BING.” Echoed through the cabin.


"C'est votre capitaine qui parle. Nous avons commencé notre descente et nous atterrirons à Rangiora dans dix minutes.


“This is your captain speaking. We have begun our descent and will be landing on Rangiora in ten minutes.”


“Kev, it’s weird how you do that?” Idit said.


“How, I do what?”


“You’ll make a comment and seconds later something happens that coincides almost exactly with what you said. It’s eerie. Like you can predict the future.”


“I don’t understand.”


Idit turned in her seat. “You said bing, bing and sure enough we immediately got bing, binged. It’s weird.”


“We’re both weird,” Kevin smiled.


“For sure. Weird we be.” Idit laughed, paused and took a long breath. “Honey, for most of my life, I’ve had two dreams. Swim the 1500 meter freestyle in the Olympics and stay in a thatched roofed bungalow over a lagoon in French Polynesia. And not just any bungalow. The furthest bungalow from shore with someone I love. Sure, I missed the Olympics. Though, I gave it good run. But here we are in Tahiti.” She took his hand, “Happy Anniversary. I love you. And I sorry about the hissy fit. Alise is conniving. It was an adolescent reaction. I thought she might be. . . ”


“Idit, please, give Alise and all of it, a rest.” Kevin said. “It’s done. This is our anniversary.”


“Sorry,” Idit avoided his look and peered out the port hole. The plane banked. “I think I see our bungalow,” she pointed to the lagoon below.


———


Kevin opened the bungalow door, and in a smooth movement lifted Idit in his arms and carried her across the threshold.


“Dreams really do come true.” Idit threw her hands in the air and sighed.


A short, squat table occupied the center of the living area. The top was glass. Eight feet down beckoned the clear waters of the lagoon.


Idit tapped a finger nail on the glass. Instantly, fish gathered below. “We have company,” she laughed.


Kevin pointed to hinges. “I think this table opens.”


It did.


He lifted the glass. More fish appeared. “They think we’re a snack bar.”


“We are.” Idit popped the lid on a complimentary tin of almonds and dropped a handful through the opening. “Who ordered hors d’oeuvres?”


A dozen fish became four dozen. Instantly every shard of almond disappeared.


“Unbelievable! We get to feed fish in the biggest aquarium on the planet. This is fun.” Idit put the lid on the almonds. “I’ll save the rest for sharks.”


“Sharks like. . .” Kevin eyed Idit up and down “Bite size morsels.”


“At ease, Marine.” Idit lifted a bottle of Champagne from an ice bucket. “What do you think? Too early in the day? Save it for later?” Kevin nuzzled her neck. Idit shivered.


“What are you up too?” she sighed.


“Are you complaining?”


“Nope.”


“I’m Fish Nibbling.”


“Fish Nibbling?”


“Yes, It’s an ancient stimulation technique. Tiny bites. Nips really. On various body parts. Today the art is taught only in a hidden cellar at the Lanamaka School of Lasciviousness. And then, only to straight A graduate students.”


“When did you go to Lanamaka? Or become a graduate student?

Or… ever get straight A’s?”


“I don’t tell you everything. Besides, I can’t my degree until I pass Fish Nibblin’ 100. And despite what you might think, it’s hard to find volunteers to be Fish Nibbled.”


“Well I wouldn’t want to stifle your education.” Idit offered her neck. “Please, Fish Nibble away.”


They made love slowly. With familiarity— no rush. Both savoring the intimacy.


_ _ _


Later, on their private deck, Kevin said. “I know the water is calling. I’ll finish unpacking — go explore the reef. He pointed to a single palm on a sand bar in the distance. “Think you can swim that far?”


“Sure. Underwater. One breath each way.”


Kevin pulled her close. “I expect to hear about some high adventure. Shark encounters, arm wrestling with a giant squid. Something exciting. Okay?

Besides, I want to check you out in your new bikini and florescent yellow snorkel and fins. Bet I can see you a mile away.”


“Maybe I should wait for you.”


“Honey, I can’t keep up with you in the water. . . Hell, I have a hard time keeping up on land. Go. Enjoy. I’ll join you in a bit. Go. Go.”


_ _ _


In her element, Idit swam. Warm salt water washed away the jet-lag. She swam. Quickly lost in remembrances of old competitions. Old competitors. Helen Purcell. Joan Kerr. She swam. Smooth, perfect strokes. Freestyle.


In here mind, Idit pictured her idols Katie Ledecky and Kate Ziegler. She remembered the words of her favorite swim coach Macaffery. “Idit, you’re good. Could be great. One of the best. But until you improve your flip at each side of the pool you won’t be able to compete with the big kids. Get back in the pool.


Idit smiled. Salt water poured into her mask. She paused. ‘Never crack a smile when snorkeling,’ she admonished herself. ‘Breaks the seal.’


Floating on her back, she spit on the glass, smeared it around, rinsed the lens and swam.


She recalled finally mastering the ‘flip-turn’ at each end of the pool. She swam further. Over coral heads. Around a sandbar. Above a school of yellow tang. Lost in her past. Loving the present. And with a short intake of breath she dove. Dolphin fin kicked downward. Past raspberry- red elk-horn coral. Pairs of striped Moorish idols. Parrot fish. Idit swam over leaves of fire coral. Through a family of butterfly fish and then slowly drifted upward breaking the surface with an out stretched arm. A technique she and Kevin learned getting certified to SCUBA dive. She exhaled a puff of breath to clear her snorkel. ‘The world is wonderful.’


In the distance, a motorboat engine rumbled on and off.


Idit took in another breath and dove into a kaleidoscope of light and colors. A long string of wobbly bubbles rose slowly from under an outcropping of rock and coral. She kicked downward and swam sideways past several spotted Toby's and almost smack into the nose of a unicorn fish emerging from a slit in a patch of violet corral. Under the reef, she almost giggled. ‘A hawk bill,’ she sighed. The turtle opened one sleepy eye. ‘Beautiful,’ she thought and finned her way further along the bottom of the reef.


From a distance came the roar of an outboard. Closer. Louder. Then a roar and a wake of white water as it passed over her head and faded. ‘Damn kids.’ She thought. ‘Going too fast to spot my fins or snorkel. Maybe I need to strap a bicycle beacon to my head.’

Arm out-stretched she rose slowly to the surface. Clearing her snorkel she looked at the string of bungalows. They were a long way off. Behind her she heard the outboard motor rev. Idit turned.


Fifty yards away an aluminum boat bobbed in the water. The bow drifted to her left. The side was riddled with indentations and scars of paint. The engine revved again. Something large sat on the rear gunwales clothed in a grey raincoat and a Sou’wester rain cap. It pulled the brim over it’s face.


‘Odd,’ Idit thought. ‘Whatever that is. . . It looks like the old guy on the tuna fish can. Complete with raincoat and those stupid rain caps.’


The bow of the boat drifted to her right. The dark figure gunned the throttle several times then stood up in the stern and made flailing swimming motions with its arms. It reached for the throttle and gunned the motor impatiently.


Idit threaded water. ‘What the . . .?


It stood again and made more swimming motions. The motor whined in neutral.


‘A race? Some kind of game?’


Slowly, the bow turned back toward Idit. The engine roared. The bow lifted off the water. The boat torpedoed straight at her.


“Son of a ­-- ”


Idit gulped air and dove. Her left leg jerked spasmodically as the propeller blade sliced off the tip of her left fin. “Shit!”


Above, the boat growled pass. Idit stared up at the wake. Finally the pounding grind of the motor diminished. She held her breath until she couldn’t, then kicked to the surface.


Disoriented, she struggled to get her bearings, but her mask fogged over. ‘Damn it. Never breathe through you nose. . . I can barely see. She tilted her mask backward, spit onto the lens and smeared the spittle. With a quick rinse, she spotted the bungalows in the distance. ‘Damn, they’re further away. Current’s dragging me. . .’ From her right came the soft pop-pop of an idling motor. She jerked around.


Nearer still the THING in the stern jiggled the throttle. ‘IT’s keying in on the neon snorkel and fins,’ she thought.


IT made a ‘hitch-hiker’ motion with it’s thumb. The boat came about. The outboard accelerated. Subsided. Taunted. Suddenly the motor surged with power. The bow rose. A dark grey prow. A battering ram. A twenty foot aluminum spear aimed at her forehead. Above the roar, Idit could hear gears engage.


‘Asshole is toying.’ Eye on the bow Idit treaded backward. ‘Can’t tell if that THING is a he or a she.’ Idit glanced quickly to her left. ‘Damn, the bungalows are at least eight hundred yards away. No sign of Kevin. Hell, I can’t even tell which bungalow is ours.’


The motorboat engine revved. The bow reared. Descended. Pounded the surf, bucked and inched forward. Spurted in stops and starts. Closer. Fifty yards. Thirty.


Idit kicked high out of the water. Raised her arm. Extended a middle finger and yelled, “Fuck You.”


IT twisted the throttle. The sixty-horse power engine bellowed. The bow rose high. Higher. Gears engaged. The boat plummeted down and tore through the water at Idit.


She was ready. Idit dove directly at the speeding craft. A shallow dive. Her ears roared from the motor. Momentum sucked her upward. Thick strands of hair where drawn into the propeller. Her head yanked backward. A tuff of hair clipped by the propeller.


She rose immediately. The boat disappeared then reappeared in the distance making a long slow curve. ‘Going too fast to put on the brakes. Time to move. ‘IT likes neon fins. IT gets neon fins.’ Idit slipped them off. Filled both foot holes with air and shoved them heel first into the water. Where they dangled a few feet below the surface. ‘Let the asshole stare at those for a while. Didn’t need fins in a pool, don’t need them now.’


Idit could hear the boat returning slowly. She unsnapped the snorkel from her mask and eased it between the bra cups of her swim suit. ‘Let’s play hide and seek.’ She got as low in the water as possible. Tilted her head until only one side of her face was visible. She covered her cheek and ear with her dark hair. Waited. Not far off the motorboat slowed and went to idle. The THING in the stern stood. Looked in her direction.


‘IT can’t see me.’ Behind her a new sound. Loud. Whining motors. She jerked her head and saw two kids on jet skis. They were upon her before she could react. “HELP! HELP!” She screamed. Her pleas were drowned out by the engines. Plumes of water rooster-tailed from the rear of the jet skis as they flew past. Idit could hear shrieks of laughter. ‘They didn’t hear me.’


Not far away the aluminum boat moved slowly in her direction. ‘Shit. Maybe that prick did. Got to disappear.’


Idit took a longing look at the bungalows, sucked in air and dove. She

swam breaststroke. Long, strong pulls. She tapped the neon snorkel on her chest, ‘I’ve a special plan for you.’ For ten minutes, Idit rose and dove. She breathed in air sideways. Never more than a few inches of her head appeared on the surface. She dove. Rose and dove again. At the surface, the bungalows were still far away, but closer. Idit treaded water in a slow circle. Rose a bit higher. There was no sign of the boat or the THING inside.


‘Time to kick it up a notch,’ she thought. ‘If I keep my kicks underwater and arms close to the surface.’ She swam. Gathering rhythm. Remembering the voice of coach Macaffery. ‘Most efficient is the scissor kick take an under shoulder breath every third stroke. If you want to turn up the speed, breath every second stroke. As you swim use a slight torso roll toward your pulling arm. Don’t let your arms cross in front of your head. Keep them parallel to your body.’ Idit swam. Each stroke stronger. Each stroke more confident. ‘Draw through each motion. Feel the grove.’ Coach Mac said.


‘Pull,’ She told herself. ‘Draw each breath deep. This is what you trained for. Swim out of this nightmare. Pull. Stroke. Swim Idit. Swim like you’ve never swum before.’


Finally the bungalows drew closer. A few football fields away. She could see the one on the end. Theirs.


The sound was dull. A motor. Far off. Closer. Then further again. With one lazy kick she came out of the water. ‘Shit.’ IT was there. Trawling in a zig-zag pattern between Idit and the bungalows. The THING stood near the motor. Looking. . .’fuck! Damn THING has binoculars. IT’s done this before.’


She eased under the surface. Immediately her mask filled with water. She checked for leaks. ‘Damn, it. I’m crying. Can’t believe it. I’m crying.’ Above the motor grew stronger then faded. ‘IT’s stalking.’ All sound stopped. She waited. ‘Counted. One thousand one. One thousand two.’ Idit rose. Gulped air and descended immediately. Listened. Nothing.


‘Sound travels a lot faster in water than air.‘ Coach Mac told the swim team. ‘When you’re in a long distance race listen. Often you’ll hear your opponents gurgling or gasping. . .That’s when to step on the gas. Extra effort. Beat them mentally.’ Coach Mac held up a quarter. ‘All of you take a breath and sit on the bottom of the shallow end. To prove my point, I’m going to toss a quarter into the deep end of the pool.’ Moments later the team heard a “THUNK” as the coin hit bottom.


Idit listened. The lagoon was silent. She raised her arm and slowly rose to the surface. The bungalows were closer.


A few hundred yards away the aluminum boat waited.


‘IT has no idea where I am. IT can’t let me survive. IT won’t. Idit froze. No movement. No breath. She listened. THING’s turned off the outboard. How close can I get?

‘Do I try to swim past that damn THING? Try to make it to the bungalow?

Get to Kev for help, or. . .’ The outboard motor growled to life.


Inhaling deeply, she dove. The reef below was alive. Fish darted. Prisms of color bounced off the reef. Idit ignored everything. She stroked forward. Determined. Paused. Listened. IT lurked out there. Somewhere straight ahead. Not moving. Hunting. Hunting me.’


Idit returned to the surface on her back, took in air and without a making a ripple flipped backward into the water. She returned to breast stroke. Moving silently across coral and sand. Never kicking or exhaling. Never sending bubbles to the surface.


With the boat closer, she came to the surface. IT stood in the middle of the boat. Searching the water with binoculars. She sunk under the surface. ‘Come into my parlor said the spider to the fly. This is the final lap. Don’t rush. Focus. ’


She closed. A few strokes and the hull of the boat appeared overhead.

She rose silently. Head bent backward she took in air from the two inch gap in the vee of the hull. Lungs full she floated to the stern.


‘No time to be shy.’ Idit grab the neon snorkel. Took off her bra top, tied the straps and cups to the drive shaft and propeller blades. Above the boat rocked. The THING moved from side to side. ‘Getting’ anxious, asshole?’ She lifted her head quietly between the stern and drive shaft and breathed in. Silently. Deeply. Then jammed the snorkel between the bra straps and cups, and twisted. Increasing the torque with each twist. ‘Now the last part.’ She shoved both metal swimsuit hooks from the bra strap into the lynch pin that held the propeller to the drive shaft. Along with a quick swallow of air, Idit twisted the snorkel one last time. ‘A homemade bra and snorkel propeller- remover,’ she thought. ‘And now the games begin. Twenty feet is all I need.’ She eased deeper. ‘This better work. Plan B. sucks.’


She swam out from under the shadow of the boat and twenty feet away shot out of the water. Binoculars to ITS eye the THING faced the other way. “Hey, asshole, over here. IT turned. IT waved maniacally then sat and pulled the starter chord. The outboard sputtered. IT pulled again. The outboard sputtered.


Idit shouted. ‘DOESN’T THAT PISS YOU OFF DICK HEAD?’


IT pulled the chord violently. A plume of smoke poured from the exhaust. The outboard purred to life. Idit cupped her hands to her mouth ‘DON’T PUT IT IN GEAR.


The THING waved and repeated the damn swimming motion. Idit swam toward the boat. ‘Here I am.’ She heard the ‘clunk’ as the gear engaged. The boat shot forward. But only few feet. The ‘SNAP’ was like a clap of thunder. Omnipresent. There. Everywhere. Loud. Then gone in a moment. The motor whined. Struggled. The THING continued to gun the throttle. The sixty-horse power motor bellowed. “MAYBE YOU’RE OUT OF GAS,” Idit screamed and dove.


Moments later she rose under the boat. The drive shaft spun. There was no sign of her swimsuit top, the neon snorkel or the boats propeller. ‘Bingo.’ She thought and pounded the bottom of the boat. A rhythmic, kettle drum sound. She dove and popped out of the water ten feet away. ‘Eh, Captain Tuna how’s your day so far?”


She dove and rose under the boat. Extending both arms she rocked it back and forth. She flipped over and kicked the aluminum hull with both feet. ‘Like reggae?’


Next to the whirling drive shaft she grabbed a breath of air. Idit sensed the THING above her. “Yoo Hoo,” she shouted. The boat shook as the THING rose and moved to the middle. She could see IT’s shadow. Left side. She took in more air and went to the right side. “Over here. . .”


IT was big. Dressed in a thick grey rain coat. But it was fast. Idit ducked as the oar blade came down with a THUD.


‘Damn! Don’t get too cute,’ she warned herself. She

stroked under the keel and surfaced on the right side of the boat; gulped air and shouted, “over here.” She gave IT the finger.


IT lumbered to the gunwales. Lifted the oar. Idit waved. Treaded closer. “Catch me if you can,” she taunted. The oar descended. A hammer. Vicious. “Missed. No Whack-A-Mole points for you.”


The oar came down again. Closer. “Much better. Much better. The Olympic committee gives that a six. Let’s try the other side.’ She dove. When she surfaced IT was waiting. “Little stick getting heavy?”


Idit moved closer. “Come on. Show me what you’ve got, big boy.” She bobbed her head like a prize fighter. “Make it a. . .” The THING made a subtle move forward and swung. The oar blade came down fast. Sideways. Splitting the water like the blade of a guillotine.


Idit pounced. Grabbed the shaft of the oar and pulled. Forward momentum carried the THING over the gunwales and into the lagoon. IT floundered. Idit pulled in air, seized IT’s pant leg and dove.


‘Let’s see who can hold their breath longest.’ Down she swam. “Raincoats are heavy underwater.’ Down she swam. IT struggled. It tried to kick her loose. ‘How’s your air supply, Captain Tuna?’


Finally, the struggling subsided. Then stopped. Idit released IT’s leg and started to the surface.


Instantly the THING reached, seized her hair and yanked her backward.


‘Have it your way.’ Idit’s body buckled as she kicked and rocketed head first into the THING’S face. There was a crack. Dark blood gushed from under the rain cap.


IT released her hair. Idit flipped, coming down from above. She used both hands to push IT’S head downward. Further and further. IT’S air bubbles shrank. Then ceased completely. ‘Die you bastard. Die.’


The strap from the Sou’wester rain cap slipped from under IT’S chin. IT’S head flopped backward and Idit stared into Kevin’s dead eyes. Idit screamed a scream that went nowhere in the water. Slowly her husband’s body drifted out of her hands and sank into the depths of the lagoon.


Idit extended one arm and rose to the surface. ‘I wonder how long that bitch, Alise can hold her breath?’ She thought.


______________ alternative ending



Idit shouted. ‘DOESN’T THAT PISS YOU OFF DICK HEAD?’

IT pulled the chord violently. A plume of smoke poured from the exhaust. The outboard purred to life. Idit cupped her hands to her mouth ‘DON’T PUT IT IN GEAR.

The THING waved and repeated the damn swimming motion. Idit swam toward the boat. ‘Here I am.’ She heard the ‘clunk’ as the gear engaged. The boat shot forward. But only few feet. The ‘SNAP’ was like a clap of thunder. Omnipresent. There. Everywhere. Loud. Then gone in a moment. The motor whined. Struggled. The THING continued to gun the throttle. The sixty-horse power motor bellowed. “MAYBE YOU’RE OUT OF GAS,” Idit screamed and dove deep.

Moments later she rose under the boat. The drive shaft spun. There was no sign of her swimsuit top, the neon snorkel or the boats propeller. ‘Bingo.’ She thought and pounded the bottom of the boat. A rhythmic, kettle drum sound. She dove and popped out of the water ten feet away. ‘Eh, Captain Tuna how’s your day so far?”

She dove and rose under the boat. Extending both arms she rocked it back and forth. She flipped over and kicked the aluminum hull with both feet. ‘Like reggae?’

Next to the whirling drive shaft she grabbed a breath of air. Idit sensed the THING above her. “Yoo Hoo,” she shouted. The boat shook as the THING rose and moved to the middle. She could see IT’s shadow. Left side. She took in more air and went to the right side. “Over here. . .”

IT was big. Dressed in a thick grey rain coat. But it was fast. Idit ducked as the oar blade came down with a THUD.

‘Damn! Don’t get to cute,’ she admonished herself as she stroked under the keel and surfaced on the right side of the boat; gulped air and shouted, “over here.” She gave IT the finger.

IT lumbered to the gunwales. Lifted the oar. Idit waved. Treaded closer. “Catch me if you can,” she taunted. The oar descended. A hammer. Vicious. “Missed. No Whack-A-Mole points for you.”

The oar came down again. Closer. “Much better. Much better. The Olympic committee gives that a six. Let’s try the other side.’ She dove. When she surfaced IT was waiting. “Little stick getting heavy?”

Idit moved closer. “Come on. Show me what you’ve got, big boy.” She bobbed her head like a prize fighter. “Make it a. . .” The THING made a subtle move forward and swung. The oar blade came down sideways. Like the blade of a guillotine and split the water. Idit pounced. Grabbed the shaft of the oar and pulled. Forward momentum carried the THING over the gunwales and into the lagoon. IT floundered. Idit pulled in air, seized IT’s leg and dove.

‘Let’s see who can hold their breath longest.’ Down she swam. “Raincoats are heavy underwater.’ Down she swam. IT tried to kick her loose. ‘How’s your air supply, Captain Tuna?’ Finally, the struggling subsided. Idit released IT’s leg and started to the surface.

Instantly the THING reached, seized her hair and yanked her backward.

‘Have it your way.’ Idit’s body buckled as she kicked and rocketed head first into the THING’S face. There was a crack. Dark blood gushed from under the rain cap.

IT released her hair. Idit flipped, coming down from above. She used both hands to push IT’S head downward. Further and further. IT’S air bubbles shrank. ‘Die bastard. Die.’ The body drifted out of her hands and sank into the depths of the lagoon.

Idit never remembered returning to the surface. She never remembered starting to swim. She did remember the sound of a jet ski. Lifting her head and seeing Kevin wave. She remembered his smile. She remembered him lifting her on to the back the jet ski. She remembered his first comment.


"Honey, are you seeing someone else?"


"What?" Idit replied with an exhausted sigh.

“What happened to your top?”

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