Chat-your-own-Adventure #11: Sink, Sink, Swim

Author’s Note: This story was written live on stream with the audience bidding tokens (earned while watching) to determine the path of the story.  The underlined phrases in the choice of three were the winning pathways.  Stop by if you’d ever like to participate in our interactive fiction.

Blizzard                                                Tsunami                                               Tornado

Jessica was just joking. She wanted to walk up to the water, dip her toes in it, and pretend that she was afraid to go deeper. She had five friends already out in the swells, jumping on each other and spitting wildly whenever they got dunked. She wanted them to look at her, to wave her in, to just give her a moment of attention.

She deserved it. Of the three girls in the group she hogged the least of it, took the fewest selfies, and made the fewest joking advances. They’d only been on vacation for two and a half car rides and one night in a cheap hotel. Everyone else had already gotten drunk at least once. She just wanted to remind them that she was there. Why they invited her in the first place she didn’t know, but she wouldn’t waste the week in the background of every photo.

She watched her toes as she approached the water, but she had to keep chasing it. The edge of the foam pulled further and further back. She broke into a jog. Wasn’t it supposed to come back? She was never very good in science, her mind always pushed and pulled away on the rope swing of poetry, but she had a basic understanding of the tide. It came and went, and it did so frequently. She chased the retreating water another twenty feet before finally looking up.

Her friends stood there, the water suddenly down to their knees. They weren’t looking at Jessica. Their eyes followed the sinking waves, the calming blue, the coiling blue. The beach was full of people, but all their noise died away for a few moments as the sea reclaimed what they’d toyed with. Jessica wasn’t good in science, but she remembered things that scared her. They had a professor who always dropped his voice an octave or two when discussing the lethal parts of the world.

Always remember,” he’d said darkly, like a shriveled blind man giving a prophecy in a fantasy film, “that an earthquake is not the only disaster caused by an earthquake. Those deep beneath the sea, those strong enough, can move the ocean and create a tsunami. Be wary of water that seems to instantly vanish. It’s building up. It will reclaim its beach and then some. You could be part of that reclamation if you’re not careful.”

She opened her mouth to yell something, but she didn’t know what exactly. A step backward. A heel in the scoop of a plastic yellow shovel. She nearly tripped, as did her friends as they frantically ran towards her. They told her to run. It seemed nearly everyone remembered that. Perhaps they all had the same dark and cautious professor.

Her friends were nearly on her and she still had her foot in that shovel. The water swelled in the distance. She couldn’t even hear it yet, but already it was a terrifying wall. What could they do to such a thing? Was it better to simply bask in it and savor whatever poetic imagery she could muster? Perhaps, but her feet had other plans. They turned and bolted, just as her friends caught up. All six ran for the boardwalk, which was overrun by people and traffic crossing paths.

A shadow grew behind them. They could hear it now, even though the crowd did its best to scare it away with their noise. Jessica saw people behind the windows of a seafood restaurant. They fell from their tables and poured into the kitchen, leaving behind fish, oysters, and crab legs. All of it was about to return to its natural habitat.

The water broke against the road’s guardrail just as the teenagers hurdled it. It paid no attention to right-of-way, and no attentiont o Jessica. The wave swallowed her and her friends up and broke through the restaurant windows to season them with whatever sauces swirled around.

Jessica Dies                               The Boys Die                                         The Girls Die

All of them were thrown into the restaurant and mixed in with its debris and the beach’s. Part of the window, wickedly sharp, swam by Jessica’s neck. She wanted a nice poetic image, but she couldn’t see anything in the chaos of the raging water. She barely felt the blood draining from her neck, the boiled crab legs poking at her sides, or the soggy hush puppies hiding in her clothes. She was gone from that beach before her body slammed above the restaurant’s back door.

Jaxon caught a glimpse of her before a splinter lodged under his eyelid. He had invited her. She could’ve been anywhere else if not for his invitation. He did it because he liked her hair. He knew almost nothing else about her. She was dead because he liked her blonde hair. He wondered if there would be time later to feel the guilt. The water pushed him out the restaurant’s back door and smashed his head into the side of a postbox.

Uckh! Ehhh…. Ackuhh…. Jaxon struggled to breath. He was flat on his back and things crawled around under his shirt. He tried to open his eyes, but that worsened the angle of the splinter and drove it both through his eyelid and deeper into his eye. The incredible pain gave him the strength to sit up. Reflexively, he grabbed the splinter and pulled, but it would not come loose. He would’ve screamed, but there was too much water in the way. Instead he vomited it everywhere.

The other eye still worked, and it was forced to absorb the surrounding horrors. Bodies everywhere, people and vehicles. Dead fish. Racks and racks of thin island clothing and plastic sunglasses. He lifted his shirt. Five brittle stars were plastered to his skin, their thin arms waving across his body and investigating his bloody navel. One by one he pulled them off and left them to the brown murk of the street.

Someone pulled him to his feet. It was Rose-lynn. He had invited her too, for her gorgeous dark eyes, which were now full of tears and smeared with some kind of grease from the restaurant. She had a burn on her left arm. How could she possibly get that? A stove top left going in the restaurant? Had the tsunami thrown her onto the grill before ripping her away? Neither of them had any words. They still had three friends around there somewhere, if the water hadn’t pulled their bodies away.

She pulled him away. Maybe she knew where she was going. They stepped over bodies. They crawled over a streetcar and looked out into the next street. Water still raged through it: a temporary river furious at its own short lifespan. There were people in it, their heads pulled below the flow, but their arms and fingers wriggling above it for purchase.

Help me,” Rose-lynn finally said. She leaned over the side of the streetcar and tried to snag people’s hands. Only the car being lodged between two buildings had allowed their street to drain. They could perhaps save a few before the wicked glass and the angry rusty shrapnel bit them in the tumult below, leaving them bleeding like a shark that had merely sated its curiosity.

Jaxon pulled himself next to her. He had to help. He’d already gotten one person killed. There were so many hands. They missed three because they didn’t coordinate. He had to call out which pair of hands to grab beforehand. There were so many…

Jaxon Dies                       Grab Small hands                        Grab Wrinkled Hands

They each grabbed separate pairs and then tried to cross over to the other’s. A new pair grabbed them both by the wrist and pulled them in. Jaxon didn’t even have time to take a breath. The filthy water leaked into his eye once again. The hands let go.

The current was so fast, so vicious, and his probing only earned him cuts and bruises. Jaxon tried to think. Whoever grabbed him was gone already. They knew he could be no help in the water. Why’d they have to do that? Pull him in and then just leave him alone? His mind swirled. He thought of Jessica, Rose-lynn, and the others. Wasn’t that what he had done? Pulled them all into the situation just to be less alone. He hoped the others were still out there, still alive.

Jaxon was forced into the trunk of a car, slowly spinning on the bottom of the drowned street. The water flipped it and closed the compartment. Jaxon beat against the top when he couldn’t feel the current anymore, but there was no way out. He took his final breaths in complete darkness.

Rose-lynn had a few more in her yet. She was on the swim team, she’d been snorkeling enough to realize how polluted the oceans actually were, and she’d stared down a barracuda more than once. Her head was in it now: survival mode. The surface of the water was her goal, her ground. She kept her head above it. She kept her breathing rhythmic. When the current pulled her under she balled up and waited it out until she could unfurl and find the sun once more.

Eventually, the water could go no further. It had its tantrum, but now it was time for the land to assert itself. The drains drank what they could. Rose was pushed into a ditch, a temporary lake, when she finally had enough control to swim to drenched ground and get on her feet. She pulled herself out and ignored the throbbing of her burn and all the tiny cuts and scrapes.

A siren. An ambulance came over the hill, but then stopped. She waved to it. It seemed frozen. She couldn’t make out the driver through the glare. She yelled. Nothing. She yelled again, her voice already hoarse even though she’d barely used it that day. Why weren’t they getting out?

Are you afraid?” she yelled at the ambulance. Suddenly she was extremely angry. They had their choice of who to help, yet they just sat there. First to respond or not, they had to get in there and get their hands dirty. She marched up the hill towards it, slipping back down every ten feet or so until she finally managed to pull herself out onto the road.

Black and red spots popped in her vision. She’d moved too fast and was out of energy. She sucked on the air as fast as she could, ignoring the smells of salt, sewage, and corrosion. When her eyes cleared she rose to her wobbly legs and searched for the ambulance. They should’ve been right there, a cold compress against her forehead and an IV of fluids poking around one of her veins.

Rose-lynn Dies                      Ambulance Crashes                   Ambulance Leaves

It was in front of her; she reached out her hand. As soon as they gave her fluids, bandages, and whatever else she needed, they would get an earful. Delaying in a situation like this… If they were so afraid they shouldn’t have become paramedics in the first place. She blinked. The ambulance was smaller. That couldn’t be right. She blinked again. Smaller still. They were leaving! Backing up as if she was a stupid cow blocking the road.

Hey! Hey! Get your asses back here! People need you! My friends…” They weren’t listening. The ambulance backed up faster, until it found part of the road wide enough to turn around on. Then it sped away. Rose-lynn couldn’t believe her eyes. It had to be an illusion ground into them by the filth of the waves. She rubbed them, but while they were closed Jaxon’s face flashed in her mind. She saw the red splinter poking out of his eye. Even if he was alive somewhere, surely he would lose it.

She had to find somebody to help, anybody. She couldn’t do it on her own. If she walked the road someone had to come along eventually, so she started along the shoulder. The tsunami’s grasp had barely reached the ditch, so all the initial debris gathered in huge draining piles next to her. People were heavier than umbrellas, scarves, and bags of popcorn, so she thanked the stars that she saw less of the former and more of the latter.

Her friends. They’d all gone to the beach to celebrate just one week off thanks to some management changes at the school. Their principal had been convicted of misusing the showers while students used them. He had recommended half the teachers, and most of them had to go too. That left the students with one week to let the sun bake the filth of the old administration off them.

Now they had this. Nothing could wash or bake this off. Rose-lynn started to weep as she walked. Her thoughts were selfish. She at least had this. The others… the tsunami had them. They might not even get the chance to reclaim happiness. She stopped and considered running back to the boardwalk. She had no supplies, but she had her breath. Maybe every second was the life of someone she could resuscitate.

Something glinted. Her wet hair whipped around. A headlight. There was another car around the corner. She ran for it, but heard tires groaning as she approached. They couldn’t leave as well. There couldn’t be that many cowards on the road. Rose-lynn ran as fast as she could. She would throw herself on the hood if she had to.

She did. It was a small dark sedan this time, but it was just as skittish as the ambulance. It tried to crawl away, to shake her off, but all her strength was in her bruised knuckles. She ripped off one of the windshield wipers and bashed the glass with it. She screamed and howled for them to stop. She saw the woman inside. She was middle-aged, chubby,and wearing a striped bathing suit like some sort of spearmint candy. It looked like she was ready for a day at the beach. Rose-lynn snorted. The poor woman wouldn’t be able to get her tan.

Rose gets in                    Rose breaks windshield                   Rose is Threatened

Rose-lynn tossed the wiper away and instead used the tip of her finger. She pressed it against the windshield as if it was a laser sight. She aimed her ire right at the plump woman’s heart. She stared with an intensity that could only be mustered by someone who’d just been drowned three or four times over.

She kept her finger trained on the woman even as she slid off the windshield and walked around to the passenger side door. It was locked. She jabbed the window five times, and the woman flinched like she’d been shot. She hit the switch and the door unlocked. Rose pulled it open and sat down on the cheap fabric and crumbs. A map crumpled underneath her, a map to a place that had just been wiped off it.

What is everyone’s problem?” she asked after a few quiet moments, staring through the windshield and surveying the destruction they could see around the corner of a hill.

I don’t… I don’t follow,” the woman said. Her hands were glued to the steering wheel. “I was just leaving… we should really leave…”

Stop. If you put your foot on the gas, I’ll strangle you with whatever sunhat cord is sitting in the back. What’s going on? People need help. You saw the water. Why aren’t you helping?”

The radio,” the woman said. She reached over and switched it on before her hand shot back to its assigned position on the wheel. A voice droned on, listing safety tips: boil water, stay indoors, etc… “They told everyone to get away from the beach. There’s a… safety issue.”

Yeah,” she balked. “There was a safety issue. There was a tsunami. It’s gone now. We need help now. My friends are still in there. Drive us forward.”

No, you don’t understand,” the woman said, cheeks wiggling as she shook her head. “It’s not just the tsunami. There was something in that water, something weird about it. They said everybody needs to stay away from it. You’re covered in it. You’re getting it all over my car. I want you to get out.”

What’s in the water? Radiation? A chemical spill?”

Get out of my car!” the woman hooted. “Get out!” Rose-lynn’s lips curled. She wasn’t taking this shit. She reached out both her hands, across the divider, and wiggled them in the woman’s face like spiders. She touched her arm. The striped lady panicked and threw off her seat belt. She abandoned the vehicle and rushed back the way she’d arrived.

Rose-lynn moved into the driver’s seat and clicked the belt into place. She didn’t have a license yet, she’d dawdled on that front, but there weren’t going to be any police. She listened to the radio.

Contact causes numerous symptoms: skin discoloration, shortness of breath, feelings of hopelessness or dread, a burning or freezing sensation on thin skin…” It went on like that for a while. She remembered tsunamis were caused by earthquakes, but apparently not this one. There was something in every drop of the water that attacked them, making it fiercer.

She took a deep breath and looked down at her knuckles. They were bruised, yes, but the purple color was spreading up her wrists. Skin discoloration. She was screwed. Somebody screwed her over: a chemical company, a government, or a lone wackjob. This was something thrown on her like a bucket of cold water. Rose-lynn squeezed the steering wheel, crying and hissing while she worked wrinkles into its leather.

Drive to the Beach                        Drive Away                               Find Ambulance

It wasn’t just the leather. The flesh on her fingers was moving back and forth with her wringing. It felt loose. There was something very wrong. Wherever Jaxon was, it was in his eye. Wherever Jessica was, well, it had hit her like a wall of trucks. No wonder the ambulance ran. What were they going to do about purple skin and feelings of hopelessness?

Did she have those? Yes, she felt them now, creeping along the inside of her skull. If she wanted to resist whatever this was, perhaps she had to resist those. Maybe those feelings were the pathogen and her resolve was the catalyst for a cure. That meant she had to do something against it, in its face. She had to face the tsunami once more and not crumple under its force.

She had to use her fingers, her feet, and all her muscles to convince them to stay in one piece. Rose-lynn put her foot on the gas and drove forward. The road onto the boardwalk was only partly blocked. She could get back in there and find the rest of her friends. If she was going to be fine, if her resolve kept the symptoms down, then it wouldn’t matter if she touched more of the water. Pulling people out of it would strengthen her weapons.

She went as far as she could and then got out. Two random people, purple in the face and wild-eyed, took her place and drove away. Cowards. They would surely die. Rose-lynn found a filthy puddle and dropped into it. The water clung to her clothes, but it couldn’t touch her any more than it already had. If her friends were in there, alive, she would find them, and finding them would save her.

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