The following short-story was adapted from an assignment in First-Year Composition at Arizona State University under Dr. Valerie Finn.
I joined the sea of five-foot-eleven goofy footed quazi-swimmers marching towards the commanding general known as the swimming instructor. The midafternoon sun began to hide in the shadow of the swimming instructor as he rose and began to call off names. I froze on the cold connecting concrete and forget my name. I thought “who am I again?” He called out, “Zion Basque! Number 127.” I remembered that I am number 127. I circled to the end of the army submerging one by one into the icy artificial ocean. The wind howled and a stomach morphed shiver ran up my spine and spun out in my shoulders. I heard the clock lose a second and instantly the line cut in half, leaving clones to take the place of the now emptied lanes. I, nearly shaking, approached my lane as the instructor called, “number 127 begin.”
The burning smell of chlorine hit me before the water. The student counters at the edge of every lane continued to take tally of the surpassing swimmer’s laps. My counter stared at my immobile legs and wondered why I had not begun, so I kicked off the pool wall and made paddling motions with my arms like the kid in the lane next to me. He had the same colored shorts as me, gray. He looked like he knew what he was doing, taking long strokes, moving parallel to the line, head under water. He had perfect technique. I tried to keep up with him as I dipped my head down and then to the right and back, grasping for air as he picked up speed. He quickly left me behind to join the others in their speedy escape. I continued to slap the water with my flailing arms to get to the other side of the pool and gain ground by pushing off the wall again. I knew I made it to the other end of the pool when I hit my head on the edge. No one noticed, not even my counter. I continued my journey of return to find myself back at the start faster than I had left. One. I only had to complete 12 full laps to pass. I turned around and began again. I kept my face low in the water, keeping sight of the ever-flowing lines of the pool floor. The water around me was cold but my body was warm. Heat filled my shoulders and spread through my chest as oxygen continued to leave. Two. I pushed and pulled water to levitate myself from sinking into the oblivion.
My weight did not help me as I lopsided my body; I only stayed afloat due to my speed of thrashing. The water around me began to shutter with the movement of the other one-hundred and twenty-seven faceless follower’s completing laps in record time. I am not like them. I break my laps at my own pace. Four. The laps felt like they were getting harder now. I lost all the original stamina with which I entered. I heard a robotic student voice call, “127, you have 10 laps remaining.” My brain struggled to verify basic arithmetic for a moment but then I counted four. Maybe the counter would realize the error in its math. I pushed forth onto the next lap.
I carried my body above the water and watched the earlier rigid lines become slippery like a snake. The pool lines whipped and hissed as I drew closer and closer to sinking. I thrashed a little harder to see if anyone would notice my good effort like all the other kids. Once I got to the wall again I looked around. Seven. There were only four swimmers left in the pool. I thought “what happen to the army?” My body struggled to respond to triggers in my tendons to move. I forced a flop out of my arm and a kick out of my leg—enough for me to get away from the wall and submerge my head into the darkness of the water. The red and blue floating lines flashed at me like lights down a tunnel. One flashed for me to go, and one told me to stop. They flashed in perfect unison until I took my eyes off the lane for a second to check on the snake below me. He struggled around the floor of the pool looking for any victims to pull into his chocking grasp. He slithered away because he only found me. Seven. Radio static phased the words “127, only 11 laps left.” I stopped believing the hard-boiled machine blurting fake commands to me. Eight. I struggled a little more in the grasping water and its venomous clutches around my body and I wondered when I would be done with the next lap, but if I could stop for breath because I was starting to lose full use of my lungs causing my head to go light, then I could swim faster and escape this eternal hell. I was out of breath. I breathed heavy. I coughed water into my lungs and received new oxygen. The darkness at the bottom of the pool saturating the sun slowly wrapped its grasp around me and begun to dictate where I swam. I swam into oblivion. I swam forever. Whispers from the void asked me “what’s your number.”
I remembered. I’m number 127. The next in line and the last to leave. I dragged my legs looking for motion but the murky water kept me still in the movement and carried me from one wall to another. Ten. I felt the slashing lights of the lane screaming for me to stay focused on where I was going. The void wanted me to stay here forever. Alone. I screamed for help, but water rushed my mouth and filled my lungs with pain. I thrashed harder and faster. I kicked my legs towards the sky and looked for an end goal. The sun emerged a little more and fought the darkness log enough for me to see a wall. The wall. I remembered why I was here. I fought the pain in my arms and legs to reach something I could hold. I grabbed for the wall with the last strength in my arms and pulled myself towards it. Eleven. I only had one more. I aligned myself to kick off the wall when an arm grabbed my wrist and pulled me above water. He was brown and poorly designed. He already broke protocol. His static voice changed to clear words as he said, “BOY who was your counter?!?” I didn’t know what he was talking about until I realized he and I were the only ones in the entire pool. I stuttered to try answer but the lack of air made me jumbled. He stated, “you’re done. you must have completed over 20 laps by now.” All I wanted to do was finish my last lap. I stumbled out of the water and wobbled to my knees on the concrete grasping for air as the world faded around me.