The Deep End

“I hate to do this to you, because you seem like a sweet, young person,” the woman said as she walked up to Amber’s lifeguard station and set a manila envelope at her feet.

From her perch on the elevated lifeguard chair, Amber giggled. “Ma’am, I really can’t talk while I’m on duty.”

The woman turned to her son and daughter playing catch with a beach ball in the shallow end.

“Children, it’s time.” Her children stopped their game and climbed the ladder out of the pool, leaving the beach ball bobbing in the water.

Amber leaned forward in her seat on the lifeguard stand. After a wild weekend of debauchery–the grain and the grape had been thoroughly mixed–she needed a quiet day. So far, Monday was off to a great start; it was almost noon, the temperature was hovering at 100 degrees, and the radio station was killing itwith classic 70s rock. A young couple sunbathed in chaise lounges in a prime tanning location on the far side of the pool. The woman and her two kids were the only other customers.  

Dressed in a long, linen skirt, black blouse, and heavy, black construction boots, she had just cast a cloud of awkward over Amber’s day.

Whatever floats your boat, Amber thought. She scanned the pool; it was empty except for the purple beach ball.

Amber leaned forward in her chair. “Is something wrong?”

“No. Not with you. That’s why I’m apologizing in advance. I hope you find peace,” the woman said and turned toward her children. “Come with me,” she said,and wrapped an arm around each child. Together, they walked by the young couple sunbathing and made their way to the diving well.

“If the music’s too loud, I can turn it down,” Amber said.

“The music’s fine,” the woman said. “Actually, it would be nice if you could turn it up a bit.”

“Okay,” Amber sighed. A parent finally requested the music be turned up and she had a hangover. She turned towards the pool office and yelled, “Pepper, turn the music up!”

No response. “Dammit,” Amber said and climbed off of her lifeguard platform, kicking the envelope to the pool deck. She ignored it for the moment and jogged towards the office. 

“Hey, Pep!”

A tall, redheaded teenager peeked out of the office. 

“Turn up the radio a little bit.” Pepper nodded and soon Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song blared from the pool’s tinny, all-weather speakers.

Amber turned back to the diving well and saw the woman kneeling and whispering to her children. She picked up the manila envelope and bent the clasp back. From the envelope she pulled out a piece of heavy parchment. Across the top were four symbols–representations of four mountains in four colors: blue, yellow, black, and white. Below the symbols were a rudimentary map of a craggy canyon with rough markings of landmarks and one giant red X high up on a large column in the canyon.

Amber turned back towards the woman and her family. The woman stood, clutched her son and daughter tightly to her side, and stepped to the edge of the pool. She took another step.

“No, no, no, no!” Amber yelledgrabbing her rescue pole.  The woman and children plunged into the pool and sank.

“Pepper! Help!” Amber yelled and ran around the diving well. She thrust the pole into the water, but the woman avoided the pole. Amber could see the kids squirming in their mother’s arms.

Pepper bounced out of the office.

“What’s going on?”

“This woman just jumped in the water with her two kids! She’s drowning them.”

“What kids?” Pepper said and scanned the pool area. He only saw the sunbathers who were sitting up, watching Amber slash at the pool with a rescue hook.

“The lady with the two kids,” Amber shouted. Pepper looked confused, but ran to assist his co-worker.

When Amber shuffled around the edge of the pool to get closer to the woman she noticed several people standing outside the pool’s fence looking in. All had long faces and wore black suits and formal dresses. On their feet they all wore heavy black construction boots.
“What the hell?” Amber muttered.

Her kids’ bodies limp, the woman stared up through the water at Amber.

“Oh, my God, don’t do that to your kids!” Amber shrieked.

Pepper ran up to Amber. He looked around and saw nothing. Amber was clearly hallucinating.

“What are you looking at?” he yelled.

“Can’t you see them? A mother and two kids!”

Pepper looked around and saw nothing. The two sunbathers from the chaise lounge ran over.

“Dude,” Pepper said, “your brain is baked. There’s no one in the pool.”

“Save them!” yelled a man’s voice. Amber looked up and saw an older couple standing outside the chain link fence that encircled the pool. The man held his hands up to his mouth like a megaphone and hollered, “They’re dying!” His companion shook her head. 

“What do you think I’m trying to do, old man,” Amber muttered under her breath. She looked from the older couple to the pool and back up. She could see dozens of people running through the park to get to the pool.

“Pepper call 9-1-1!” Amber pleaded.

A young boy ran up to the fence and grasped the chain link in his hands.“Jump in and save them!” he yelled.

“But they’re drowning!” a woman yelled.

Fear shook Amber’s body as she watched hundreds of people arrive at the fence. 

“Okay, I’ll go in!” Amber screamed at the fence.

“Who are you yelling at?” Pepper said, grabbing Amber by the shoulders.

“I’ve got to save them!”

Spectators, all wearing black construction boots, arrived and lined upfive, six, seven people deepto watch the tragedy play out. Three wispy clouds drifted across the sky.

As Pepper tried to calm Amber, she looked around at all the faces staring at her.

A young boy pounded at the fence in frustration and then gripped the chain link, found a toehold and began climbing. Other boys and girls followed. Soon, dozens of children were scaling the fence, which was over ten feet high. Some made it up and over safely; others fell and landed hard on the pool’s concrete deck. 

The adults remained outside the fence. They clucked and argued with each other about the dangers of swimming pools, lifeguard qualifications, and eating before you swim. They shouted advice to Amber: “Jump in! Call the police! Drain the pool!” A few people scolded her. Others threatened her life. 

Once inside the pool area, children ran to the deep end. They rushed past Amber and kicked off their shoes.

“Wait, you can’t go in there!” she yelled

The children ignored her and dove in. Boys, girls, older, younger jumped in,swam to the bottom, and attempted to pull the woman and her children to the surface. 

“What is going on? Are you stoned?” Pepper asked.

Amber looked into the pool and saw the woman staring back up at her. As more children swam to the bottom, she released her children’s bodies, and grabbed and clutched at others. Kids became tangled in each other’s arms, legs, and clothes. The lesser swimmers struggled and dipped under the surface, pulling others with them. 

Amber saw the fear in their eyes. She jumped in and swam towards the woman, but two children got in her way. She pushed the kids out of the way and reached for a heavy black boot. A strong swimmer, she clutched and began dragging the woman to the surface. A hand grabbed her leg pulled her back down. She saw the woman and kicked at her head.  Then Amber put the woman in a headlock and tried to pull her to the surface, but she weighed too much and Amber released her.

Amber surfaced, gasping for air. 

The sunbathers helped Amber out of the water and stood away. 

Amber looked around and saw the crowd had grown into a frenzy. With the ripples and splashes and bodies flailing, there was too much going on to see what was happening below the surface. Amber started crying and sat down on the diving board.

Insults and threats erupted from the crowd outside the fence. Tears streaked down Amber’s face as anonymous people shouted vile insults about her, her family, and her friends. She covered her face, but could not block the full hell that was being unleashed on her.

“You’re a drunken whore,” a woman’s voice blared over all other voices.

Amber wiped the tears from her eyes and caught sight of the manila envelope.She look from the map to the crowd. To find peace, do nothing, was printed in large letters across the bottom.

The male sunbather approached Amber but kept his distance.

“I just want you to know that we called the police,” he said. 

“That’s a good idea. I need to talk to them about this,” she said, holding up the map.
“What are you talking about? 

“You seriously can’t see this?”

“Nopers,” he said. “And I’m afraid I’m going to have to turn you in.”

Amber looked from the map to the pool. She couldn’t save anyone. The threats and chants for her own demise had left her disinterested in being a lifeguard. She held up the map and the crowd outside the fence became quiet.

“What is this map?” Amber yelled to the crowd. The sunbathers saw Amber speaking to the fence.

“It’s the map to El Dorado,” a woman in the crowd said. “And we’ve all been searching for it for a long time.”

“Who’s the woman in the pool?” 

“That’s Helen Von Gerrity. Her father found the treasure and created the map.”

“What about the children?”

Another men volunteered, “Those are her kids…or were. She’s free now to do as she pleases.”

“What do you mean?” Amber said.

“She was in a transformative state. That’s where you are now. Alive with the ability to see dead and the living…of course, it’s a shame about your friend.”

“What do you mean?”

Amber turned and saw Pepper’s body floating in the pool.

“We’ll be seeing you around, Amber,” said the woman on the other side of the fence. The crowd began to disperse.

Amber could hear sirens as the police drew near. From the back of a patrol car, she watched as Helen Von Gerrity, dressed in Pepper’s jacket and sweat pants, exited the pool and blew her a kiss. 

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