Famous Last Words(7)By: Katie Alender
The temperature was about forty-five degrees, and my skin was instantly blanketed with goose bumps. Under my feet, the patio tiles were so cold they practically burned.
The backyard was amazing, truly befitting a Hollywood legend. Tucked throughout were pristine white loungers and comfy-looking chairs surrounding squat clay chimneys. To my right was a charming little cottage — a guesthouse? — with a miniature front porch and a pair of small windows like curious, watchful eyes. The landscape was shady and rambling and lovely.
But I only had eyes for the pool. It was huge and gorgeous, with gentle curving edges and a rock waterfall, and it glowed an otherworldly pale aqua in the moonlight.
A breeze ruffled the leaves in the trees and sent me hurrying for the water. I figured someone like Jonathan — who was so pool-proud he’d given us a mind-numbing tour of the entire chlorine-free filtration system — had to keep his pool heated, even in March. And I was right — instantly, luxuriant warmth shrouded my body. It drew me down the steps like a siren’s call.
I ducked under, the water covering me in a second skin. For a few minutes, I floated on my back and stared up into the inky night sky, the cold air on my face and the sound of my own breathing echoing in my ears. Then I flipped over and swam as far across the pool as I could without coming up for air. I felt clarified and cleansed, like the tension had been wrung out of me.
I bobbed up at the deep end, taking a big breath. I prepared to plunge under again and swim back to the shallow end. I could almost imagine that I was Diana Del Mar, a movie star, and this house was all mine — no stepfathers or headaches or new school to worry about — just me, beautiful and adored, gliding like a water nymph through my fabulous swimming pool.
Then something brushed my ankle.
I yelped in surprise and spun around, treading water as I searched for whatever had touched me.
Nothing — there was nothing.
It must have been bubbles, a random current — maybe a sunken palm frond.
But then I felt it again.
This time it took hold and pulled me under.
Fear and adrenaline burst through me in a massive, soul-shaking pulse. My heart slammed around in my chest like it was trying to break out of my rib cage.
Then something grabbed my other foot.
For a moment, I didn’t even process it as something that was really happening. Because it couldn’t be happening — it wasn’t happening —
Only it was.
I tried to kick free, but my legs were held fast.
I managed to flail above the surface of the water and gasp in an enormous breath before being yanked back down toward the blue-tiled bottom of the pool.
My brain was on red alert, acting on pure animal instinct.
THIS IS NOT OKAY.
I thrashed and groped at my ankles in an attempt to pry off whatever had wrapped around them. But I couldn’t free myself. In fact, as far as I could see, there was nothing to free myself from — not another person. Not a rope or piece of plastic. Not even a nightmarish monster.
Only the sharp outline of my own body as I flipped and struggled.
I was rapidly running out of air. Panicked, I looked up toward the sky — and saw another person in the water.
For the briefest second I thought it was someone else swimming, and I wondered wildly why they wouldn’t help me.
But then it hit me with ironclad certainty — this person wasn’t swimming.
They were floating.
And it wasn’t a person….
It was a corpse.
I stared in terrified stillness at the body floating overhead like an abandoned ship adrift on a calm sea.
The corpse was female, wearing a knee-length skirt and a gauzy blouse that formed a translucent border around her rib cage, like the body of a jellyfish. She was barefoot, and her hair hovered in a thick halo around her head, silhouetted against the night so that I couldn’t tell what color it was, or how long.
I couldn’t see her face….
I was so glad I couldn’t see her face.
Suddenly, whatever had been holding my ankles let go.
My lungs burned. But as badly as I wanted to reach the surface, I didn’t want to float upward and collide with a dead body. I fought my way toward the shallow end. In what felt like a year but was probably just five seconds, I was finally able to stand up and gulp in air. My eyes locked on the deep end of the pool … which was empty.