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Piñatas From Space!: Crazy Games With Cards And Dice

Jeromy Henry
CHRONON--Time Travel

Harris Tobias
The Wizard's House

Jeromy Henry
Against a Diamond

Michele Dutcher

The Last Dive


Jessica Baumgartner

“The water’s a little rough today.” The scuba guide told Julie and Collin as he led them out onto the beach with the other divers. “Nothing we can’t handle. Once you get down there you won’t notice it at all.”


Julie was a bit nervous as they walked on the weathered dock that led to the boat. Collin grabbed her hand and squeezed it. “You’ll be fine, you’re P.A.D.I. certified and I’m here with you.”


“Thanks,” Julie said as they found their seats in the boat.


She had loved water ever since she was a little kid, swimming and boating every summer with her family until she was eleven years old. Julie couldn’t help but think of her parents when the engine roared and the boat started cutting through the clear blue water. Her parents had loved scuba diving themselves. Julie remembered how mad she would get that she was too young to go with. It made her so jealous when her mom and dad would get to see the underwater world without her. Julie would never forget their last trip. She had yelled about how unfair it was that someone so good at swimming was still too young to scuba dive.


Her mother told her, “You can go snorkeling with us on the next trip honey, but your father and I just need a little time to ourselves. We love you very much and can’t wait until you can get your scuba certification. You only have a year left, and it’ll be here in no time.”


But Julie was so mad that she wouldn’t talk to her parents and refused to give them a hug before they left. Imagining all of the colorful fish, sea urchins, and sharks that she wouldn’t get to see left her so angry that she couldn’t think of anything else. “I’m not a baby; I know how to take care of myself in the water!”


Julie sulked as soon as her parents had left that day. Brooding over this the whole time they were gone gave Julie’s aunt Melissa some trouble. But her parents had promised to call and smooth things over. When the phone rang Julie jumped and all of her anger melted away. She ran past her aunt and grabbed the receiver, “Mom! Dad! I’m sorry I was so mean to you! I miss you guys so much! You have to take as many pictures as you can…”


But Julie was cut off by an unfamiliar voice that said, “May I please speak to your guardian?”


She had a sinking feeling wash over her as she handed the phone to her aunt Melissa. Seeing the expression on her face made it all too clear that something was very wrong. When she hung up, her aunt Melissa hugged her tight as she cried, “Your parents are gone.” That one little sentence was all that she could get out before the tears flooded her eyes as she held her sister’s only daughter. After that, Julie’s love of scuba diving was the least of her worries.


“Julie, Earth to Julie.” Collin said as he pulled her back to reality. He leaned close and kissed her. “Look if you’re not ready for this I totally understand…”


“No!” she cut him off “I have to do this; if not for them, then for me. I can’t let what happened to my parents hold me back.”


Collin stared into Julie’s dark brown eyes, “I know you wish you knew what happened to them, but your parents are not here,” he said as he looked out at the crystal blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. “They’re here.” He said pointing towards the heart in Julie’s chest.


The other divers in the boat were trying not to listen, but the scene going on in front of them was too dramatically entrancing. Julie seemed to notice the quiet that settled on the others and blushed as she whispered, “I’m fine. I’ve wanted to dive since I was a little girl.”


Collin shook his head, “I never should have agreed to this. I mean allowing you to go scuba diving in the very spot where your parents vanished…..” Before he could finish, their guide stopped the boat and set anchor.


Grinning he looked up and said, “Alright, let’s see what the water has to offer today.”


Julie and Collin waited for the other couples to get into the water. She looked down at the salty waves as the other divers splashed into the deep blue. Collin waited patiently, and then said “we can always just stay in the boat and relax.”


Hearing this Julie walked to the edge of the boat, stepped one foot out, and plunged in. Bobbing up and down with the waves, the other divers gasped while Collin smiled at her. Confused, he looked around to see what all the fuss was about and saw that she was surrounded by a hundred tiny fish. Nobody had ever seen anything like it before. Julie was engulfed in a ring of colorful scaly bodies.                                                                                                                               


“Are you okay?” Collin asked after he jumped in.


“Of course I’m okay. Look, it’s like they’re protecting me,” she said through a smile.


It took the scuba guide a few moments to adjust to what he was seeing. “You can’t argue with that” he laughed a little nervously. “Well as long as the fish are studying us, why don’t we head down for some more excitement.”


At that moment everyone secured their gear and slowly sank down. Julie laughed as Collin had to shoo away some fish to get close to her. Being her dive buddy, he had learned that something as simple as holding her hand underwater helped ease her mind. It may have seemed silly at the bottom of a pool in training but here in deeper waters it felt kind of nice.


Julie had feared this moment for so long but actually felt safer than she had ever been. Poor Collin had to battle the miraculous school of fish just to keep near her but she enjoyed the endless world of water that seemed like a blanket of comfort and security. As she got used to her scaly barricade Julie started to play with the fish.


Collin was in awe, he loved her, but he had never seen her like this. She smiled at him as she held out her hand while a fish danced in her palm. The sight was entrancing and a couple other divers gave her the okay sign as they clicked away with their underwater cameras. The scuba guide had trouble keeping the group’s attention and did his best to lead them around the calm, sandy floor. Pointing out the endless array of underwater life, he did his best to lead everyone around the watery bottom. Julie was starting to feel that she was finally moving on with her life and felt that there had been no need to worry about finally fulfilling this life long dream.


Then out of nowhere, a huge shark came barreling towards her and Collin. Before anyone could react, more and more fish started swimming toward her and Collin. The other divers couldn’t help backing away as larger sea creatures moved in to surround the couple. Barracudas, nurse sharks, lionfish, dolphins, and squid were now swarming around Julie and Collin from all angles.


The scuba guide directed the other divers as best he could while a school of large jellyfish floated safely around the separated couple. Julie couldn’t believe this, more and more fish seemed to swell in large circle around them as Collin held onto her with all his might. It seemed as if they were being pushed directly toward the shark while the onlookers watched with horror.


Not knowing what to do Collin panicked and started trying to fight off the creatures. But in doing so he was knocked unconscious, terrifying Julie in the middle of a massive ring surrounded by numerous underwater creatures. She lost it and started having an underwater panic attack that was sucking in so much of her air supply, her tank was emptying fast.


To the other divers in the group the sight was so frightening that no one could move. The scuba guide swam after Julie and Collin but a giant squid cut him off and squirted a thick black ink that blinded the group. When the water cleared, the distressed couple was gone. Their guide sent the other divers to the surface as he swam about trying to find some clue as to where his missing party members were.


Julie opened her eyes and realized that her gear was gone. Thinking she was dead or dreaming, she started to look around and found that she was in a room made of solid white crystal. Just as she spotted Collin, his eyes met hers and they both leapt up to reach each other until each noticed that they were floating. Realizing that they were still in the water, Collin and Julie were beyond comprehension and spoke in a stupor.


“Are you breathing?” Collin asked Julie.


“Uh yeah, and we’re still underwater right?” Julie asked amazed.


“Yep.” Collin couldn’t believe it, he reached his hand out to hers. “So I know this is crazy, but you’re in a bubble. Am I in a bubble?”


“Yeah, great we’re breathing in bubbles in the Gulf of Mexico after having a bunch of fish throw us to a shark.”


Collin laughed, “Maybe they thought the shark would leave them alone if it ate us.”


“He would never have eaten you” came a friendly voice nearby.


Julie turned and spotted her mother in the doorway. “Mom!” she shrieked half frightened that this was a dream and she would soon wake up. Julie and her mother embraced so tightly that no fish could swim between them. Collin was pretty sure they were dead now but that was the last thing on his girlfriend’s mind. “Who cares if we’re dead, alive, or breathing in bubbles; Collin, I want you to meet…my Mom.”


“Please to meet you, wait, what?” He wrinkled his brow, “So um, not to be too, what in the world is going on in the middle of your reunion but, what is going on?”


“I can answer that.” A deep male voice answered as a tall, bronze, muscular man floated into the room. To look at him you wouldn’t notice that his legs were actually two separate fins that swam in perfect strides. “You are guests here in my home, and all the waters beyond. For this is my kingdom, and that beautiful young woman is my granddaughter.” The fish man said as he pointed to Julie.


Collin couldn’t help but stare at all three of them.


Julie laughed. “Now I know I’m dead, and this is some kind of afterlife prank. Really funny God, or Buddha, or whoever’s in charge of this lack of reality.”


Julie’s mom touched her shoulder gently. “It’s true honey. I didn’t believe it myself, but apparently the reason that your grandmother never told me about your grandfather, was because she didn’t know how to explain my origins. You see this man is my dad, and also a water God.”


At this point Collin started to really take in his surroundings. Every corner was adorned with pearls of all hues and sea plants the likes of which he’d never seen. Staring at the strange sea man standing next to Julie’s mother, Collin didn’t doubt a word of what was said. He pulled Julie to him and held her. “I know this is hard for you after so many years of mourning. You’re afraid to want this to be true, but we’re here. It doesn’t matter why, or how we got here. Just enjoy it.”


Hearing his encouraging words, Julie felt a small sense of normalcy. “Thank you,” she said as she kissed him.


“So where’s dad?” she asked, automatically looking around expecting to be reunited with him as well.


Her mother bowed her head. “He wanted to see you so badly; it broke his heart that he couldn’t make it. Your father held on as long as he could, but his body wasn’t made like ours, he had heart problems, and the pressure was eventually too much for him.


“You mean he’s dead?” Julie asked devastated.


Her mother whispered, “Yes.”


Collin rubbed Julie’s shoulders as she raised her voice. “So I got sucked into this….wherever we are to find you alive and well, just to lose my father all over again?” It was like Julie was reliving her parents’ funeral, but her mother was there this time. She grew angry and pushed Collin’s hands away from her as swam up. Staring into her mom’s amber eyes she shouted “And you’ve been alive this whole time? Did it even occur to you that I might want to see you, or talk to you?  Damn it, I would’ve settled for a letter!”


“Please don’t be angry, but this is not the world you were born into. I was reluctant to have my ladies go and fetch you.”


As she said this, Julie saw the fish who had danced in her hand swim out from under her mother’s seaweed skirt, only to dive back under.


“You have no idea how hard the past ten years of my life have been. What about Aunt Melissa, she went through just as much as I did.” Julie’s mind was a whirl of confused thoughts. “Doesn’t she deserve to know where she came from?”


“Your aunt Melissa and I do not share the same father, she is human. I’m sorry that you two have suffered, I wanted to be there. I really did, but once you’ve entered this realm, there is no way back.” Julie’s mother had been reluctant to mention this fact so soon despite knowing that the truth would come out eventually.


Collin interjected, “Wait, what? So, you’re telling us that we’re stuck here forever.”


“There is more to this world than you can ever imagine," the water God bellowed. “This decision was not made easily; you think that we would disrupt the balance between worlds for a family reunion.”


“Father!” Julie’s mother stopped him.


She swam over to her daughter. “Julie” she said stroking her daughter’s sun dyed hair, “Your world is ending; we wouldn’t have brought you here if there was some hope. But you must have seen the signs. The reefs are dying, the waters are so polluted that there are islands of trash, polar bears are drowning because they have no ice plains. Our worlds may be different, but they are ever connected. We have done all that we can to save yours, now it is time to let nature take its course.”


Julie swam into Collin’s arms. “What do we do now?”


He stared at the king of the water world, “What do you mean you’ve done all you can?”


“We have made contacts in your world, trying to heal what’s been broken. My kingdom and I have worked tirelessly to try and stop your people’s mindless destruction. But we were met with resistance at every turn. When I helped to heal one reef, another was destroyed. When I saved stranded boaters they returned home only to pollute my seas once more. There is little time, we must sever the ties between worlds altogether before your mistakes ruin this realm as well.”


The grace and poise with which the great water God gave this speech was of the most sincere tone. Collin knew that what he said was true. It was a hard truth to digest, but being a marine biologist he had often times felt fed up with the world himself. Julie had sensed it as well. “So what now?” Collin asked.


Julie’s mother spoke to him with the utmost gracious loyalty, “You are welcome to live here with us. This world has brought me so much joy, as much as a mother can have when torn from her daughter.”


“Yes but what about the people in our world?” Julie asked.


The water God shook his head, “I have vowed not to interfere any further. Very soon there will be storms so strong that entire cities will be wiped out, leading to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, destruction, and then peace.”


Just then the large great white shark that Julie and Collin had seen on their dive swam into the room. The water God turned  and glared at it, “I told you not to interrupt me today!”


Her grandfather fell silent as he watched Julie glide toward the captain of his armies entranced while she reached out her hand. Collin gazed with wonder as the woman he loved came into contact with the creature she had once feared. Julie stared in amazement as the shark captain bowed his head and happily allowed her to touch his brow.


“Let me introduce you.” Her mother finally said. “This is your grandfather’s most trusted warrior; he is one of our finest.”


Collin couldn’t help but move toward the creature. “I am a big fan.”


“Collin here has spent much of his life working to preserve the oceans for your kind, ever since he was a little boy.” Julie sang the praises of her boyfriend, feeling that he would fit right in to their new world.


“You are unique then and I weep for your people as of this day.” The shark bowed and then turned to his king. “It’s beginning your majesty.”


“Already? I had hoped there was still time,” the sea God answered.


Julie’s mother hugged her daughter. “We were almost too late.”


“What do you mean?” Julie asked. “The world, our world, is ending right now?”


Collin’s mouth went dry, “And there’s nothing that can be done? What about all of those people?” he asked, trying to find some shred of comfort. “What about all of those animals, we can’t save any of them?”                                            


Julie stared at her new shark friend, and then she looked at her mother and grandfather. Grabbing Collin’s hand she said, “Worlds are like people, aren’t they? They’re born, they live, and then they die.”


Julie’s mother cupped her daughter’s face in her hands and said, “Now you understand.”

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