Part 1 (75 Marks)
Write a short story of 1500 words that includes some use of time shift and some dialogue.
Bugger, I think I really am stuck. I am about 30 metres down on my first scuba dive and I have managed to get myself wedged into a crevice. Shit.
Even half asleep Emily (my wife of three days) looks beautiful. My friends always told me that I was a jammy git and I think they may be right. She stirs, smiles sleepily and I am more than half tempted to slip back into bed and forget the whole diving thing. She speaks dreamily:
“Morning sweetheart, are you off?”
“I was about to go – unless I got a better offer…”
She smiles again and waves her hand.
“Go on, Jacques Cousteau, go and bring me treasures from the sea.”
I catch and kiss her hand, then along her arm and find her lips. We kiss. I love the taste and smell of her. Finally she says:
“Away with you, Romeo. What time will you be back?”
I stand and adjust the new-found tightness in my shorts.
“About lunch time I reckon – see you by the pool bar?”
Emily smiles, closes her eyes and turns back to sleep. It is agreed.
I am alone underwater. The sound of my breathing fills my head. Every time I exhale the bubbles rush past my face and stream towards the surface, expanding as they go. I wish I could follow them. Try to relax. Breath in, hold the cold air for as long as I can, breath out. Noise and rushing bubbles. I am sure that the instructor will have realised that one of his flock is missing by now and will be swimming back to find me.
A voice next to me:
“You here for the dive?”
The instructor’s girlfriend: small, athletic, hair sun-bleached blonde, blue eyes and a beautiful face tanned and freckled by a life spent in the sun.
“Err, yeah, sorry I’m a bit late.”
“S’no problem – find yourself a wetsuit in there,” she jerks a thumb towards the building “get yourself changed and back out here to get kitted up.”
Something flits into view– a shoal of small, brightly coloured fish turning first one way then the other as one. I suppose this is what I came down here to see. I watch them for a moment before they are gone. They don’t seem to notice me. I expect that Emily will be by the pool now or on the beach; perhaps she has saved me a sun bed for this afternoon. She will be adjusting towels, applying sun tan lotion and settling down to read for the morning. Waiting to meet me by the pool bar at lunch time. Water has started to leak into my mask and get into my nose and eyes. It stings like hell.
The bright orange dive boat is bobbing in the shallows being held by a local boy with a rope. Some of the beach traders are setting up their stalls and dusting off their carvings but they are not interested in the gaggle of novice divers; they know we will be back on the beach later with partners and money. The instructor trots across the beach with his kit slung casually over one shoulder. Without a pause he wades into the sea, flings his kit into the boat and leaps in.
“Now, each of you, take off your jackets and weights, pass them up to me and climb aboard.”
It is easier said than done but after about 10 minutes of heaving and jumping we are all squeezed aboard. The boy pushes us backwards and shoves the nose around so that it faces out to sea. The instructor starts up the two huge outboard motors and shouts over his shoulder: “Hang on tight!”
My mask is entirely full of water. I am blind and getting very scared. I have no idea of how much air I have left. I can hear nothing but my own breathing and feel nothing but rising panic and rock walls. I reach down to unfasten the weightbelt. I have no idea whether it will help but I just want to dump anything which might be holding me underwater, away from the air, the sun and Emily. My fingers fumble with the unfamiliar buckle and then – yes – it lifts and opens. The belt slides down my legs and away! With the weights gone I feel my body lift slightly and – the pressure of the rocks increasing and squeezing me tighter on all sides. I have moved upwards about two inches even further and deeper into the crevice. Fuck. What about taking off the jacket to which the cylinder is attached? If I undo the straps I may be able to turn my body enough to free myself from the cylinder and then…what? This plan is not flawless: if I leave the cylinder behind then I will have no air. I am going to be a blind man holding his breath trying to find his way out of an airless maze.
Everyone is now in the sea and we are treading water. The instructor points to the first two divers and the gives them the signal to show that they should start their descent. In a matter of seconds the water has closed over them and they turn into vague shapes descending into the green darkness. The instructor watches them with his mask just below the surface and is obviously satisfied with their progress as he lifts his head out of the water, points at my buddy and I and us gives the signal.
I can’t die here, not now, not like this. I have just got married. I can’t send Emily home a widow. There may be a paragraph at the bottom of page 8 of the local newspaper telling the story of the “Honeymoon Tragedy” and that will be that. People will see it, perhaps be sad for a moment, and then move on. But I will be dead. It is not supposed to be like this! Calm down. You will die if you panic. I breath in and hold my breath for a moment. I breath out, the bubbles rush away. I breath…the mouthpiece clicks but nothing is coming through. I suck harder – no air, nothing – this is it.
We slowly gather on the sea bed at the bottom of the line. The instructor indicates we are to follow him as he starts to swim away. One by one we follow – I really am scuba diving now – I need to absorb every feeling, every sight and detail to share with Emily when I get back. The feeling of weightlessness is amazing – since I was a child I had always dreamed of being able to fly – just deciding to fly, jumping up to catch the wind and then riding the air currents without effort or fear – this is it – this is me flying around a beautiful alien world whose brightly coloured inhabitants are darting all around. We are now swimming in a long line and I am at the back. I am not concerned – I can still see my buddy and I presume that he can see the diver in front of him and so on until the instructor. My buddy signals something to me – he points first to his right, then down and finally that I should follow him. We go deeper. It gets darker and colder as we swim down and away from the sun. For the first time I am looking forward to the dive being over so that I can join Emily at the pool bar and tell her my tales from the sea. But for now I am here. Without warning I find myself in a forest of sea weed and can see nothing at all – I pull myself forward slowly by grasping hold of the thick trunks – the sea weed is so dense that I can’t kick my legs. After a minute or two I am about to break all the rules by inflating my jacket to lift me out of this nightmare when the jungle comes to an end and I am moving through water again. But something is different – there are sheer rock walls on either side – I am swimming in a crevice between the rocks. I catch sight of something that may be my buddy’s fins ahead of me and swim up quickly in relief. I feel my cylinder scrapping first one side, then the other and then both. It sticks. I’m stuck. Fuck.
I have no air in my lungs – they are already burning – I scrabble desperately to find the buckles holding me into the jacket. I was only going to do this when the air ran out but I thought, somehow, that I would have some warning and be able to hold my breath – instead I have let my breath go and there was nothing to replace it. The first, small, buckle across my chest clicks free…burning deep inside…I grope blindly for the larger clip around my waist…red black clouds inside my head…I spit the useless mouthpiece out and scream silently. My fingers can’t find how to release the second clip. Emily, I’m so sorry. I have a furnace in my chest. The red black clouds give way to blackness. I stop struggling.
Something is being forced into my mouth. Rubber. I open my eyes and can just make out the dark shape of another diver. I drag deeply on the clean cold air.
Part 2 (25 Marks)
In about 300 words describe and give reasons for your choice of:
- The narrative points of view
- The tense
- Any particular genre it might be written in
- The point at which your story begins
- The particular emotion or overall mood you are trying to convey.
I thought it would be interesting to tell this story in the first person, present tense because it is a situation of immediate, personal, danger and to have it told by either another person (perhaps Emily, waiting anxiously by the pool, or the dive buddy searching for his partner) or in the past tense would, in my view, lessen the immediacy. If this were intended to be a longer piece then I may well have switched to these alternate points of view to give the reader a wider view of the story but I thought that this would introduce too many element for a short piece.
I also told in the story using two parallel time lines which start with the protagonist getting stuck and with him leaving to go diving, with the two converging at the climax. Both of these time lines were intentionally told in the present tense as the protagonist is not “remembering” the events which lead up to him being stuck but, rather, the “back story” is being told at the same time. I could have told the whole thing in chronological order, starting in the bedroom and then step by step to him being stuck and trying to get free but I thought it makes more interesting reading to be able to compare the anticipation and early enjoyment of the experience simultaneously with the crisis.
The overall mood is probably intended to be one of suspense – will he or won’t he get free? I’m still not sure about the ending and part of me was tempted to either leave it ambiguous or to switch back to Emily at the hotel, with the hotel manager knocking on her door. This was not written with a “genre” in mind.
Lastly, a disclaimer. This story is not in based on or influenced by the current film Open Water. I actually first wrote a longer version of this story in 2001 and decided to produce an edited version for this TMA – therefore imagine my surprise when I saw the publicity for the film!