The Runners: Chapter 35
Jacob found a long dry twig that was lying on top of a lightly vegetated section of the swamp right next to him. He pulled it up and broke it in to two pieces. In the process, he kept one piece at about two ft in length. He brought one end to his lips and gave it a strong blow of air. It sent whatever particles were inside it, producing a hollow tube or stem. Placing one end to his mouth after taking a deep breath, he submerged under the swamp water. Because the twig was not flexible enough, he had to position himself in such a way that his back would be underneath, facing towards the bottom of the swamp, while directly looking upward. To prevent from floating back up to the surface, he held on to the stems of vegetation that were rooted under the swamp floor.
Unfortunately, he was left with no other option, but to close his eyes to prevent the slimy swamp liquid from entering his eyes. As a consequence, he was left with no visuals of in or outside of the murky water.
Luckily, Jacob’s ability to camouflage hasn’t gotten rusty at all. His movements weren’t detected by Johansen even when he had approached very close. Jacob breathed extremely slowly so that there wouldn’t be any sudden stir of the surrounding elements. He kept motionless to the point of mimicking a dead body with the breathing apparatus perfectly blending in with the swampy environment.
Johansen, standing on the ground now just a few yards away from Jacob, scanned the area from where he stood only by moving his eyes. It was a surveying technique that he was trained on way back during his military years. By keeping his head still, he could detect even the minute changes that might have occurred relative to his vantage point. Yet, he did not see anything unusual.
“Hmm,” Johansen hesitated for a second. He knew that he had heard something earlier and he wasn’t satisfied with the visual inspection of the area alone. He bent down to pick up several stones, all in sizes of baseball. He cast the first stone about 30 yards directly over Jacob, the second stone at 15 yards, and finally, the 3rd stone right on top of where Jacob was.
Jacob heard the reverberating sounds of the rocks entering the swamp and felt them getting closer. Finally, the 3rd one landed directly on top of his abdomen. However much surprised he was, Jacob had managed to absorb the shock by recoiling and lowering his body towards the floor of the swamp. This motion caused the breathing apparatus that was above the swamp surface to move down and up for a moment as he fought to stay submerged. As the thick swamp water entered his mouth through the tube, Jacob struggled to breathe properly at the same time.
Johansen looked to where the rocks had landed. He didn’t find anything unusual even to his trained eyes. The only things that he could see were muddy swamp water splashing in every direction and some shaking of vegetation as the splashing gooey liquid had disturbed the swamp. Fortunately, the twig that was channeling air into Jacob’s lungs moved along with other vegetation around it, avoiding Johansen’s suspicion. However, Jacob wasn’t sure what to expect so he braced himself for another impact.
After one more scanning, Johansen said, “nothing here.” He appeared to be satisfied with his investigation and headed back to the beach. Jacob, however, stayed under water for another minute longer, holding his breath. With his lungs expanding, Jacob was feeling dizzy.
“Whew!” Jacob blew out mud from his mouth thru the twig. At the same time, not having enough air in his lungs, he rose out of the swamp.
“Whew! Whew! Whew!” now, panting for air, he attempted to remain low to the surface of the swamp. Fortunately, by this time, Johansen was already on the main passage way of the forest.
As Johansen neared the beach, he was greeted by two men in holiday attires. Johansen reached for his sunglasses from his shirt pocket and placed them over his eyes as he walked right past the two men as if they were strangers. Unnoticeable to others, he whispered certain instructions to the men as he walked past them. Then, he casually strolled back to the hotel while the two men disappeared into the forest.
With Jason taking a dip in the pool to cool off, Cathy kept herself occupied by people watching and studying how they were enjoying this amazing place. She looked at the grandeur of the ivory hotel and its tall walls of windows reflecting the sun light back into the pool area, creating an effect of high intensity spot lights similar to those in theaters. To her backside, palm trees formed a tall wall that screened her from the direct morning sun. However, she thought there were enough sun light to feel the warmth and brightness to afford a great looking tan. Of course, she was taking full advantage of it.
“Jane!” Cathy found Jane walking back to the hotel and hollered at her.
Jane stopped and turned then lowered her sunglasses to get a clear view of the pool area and searched for the owner of the voice.
“Jane! Over here!” This time, Cathy waived her hands tall so Jane couldn’t miss seeing her.
Jane couldn’t miss Cathy this time. She placed the sunglasses back on and walked towards Cathy. Jane welcomed some distractions after her encounter with the old man at the swamp.
“Hi, Cathy!” Jane greeted as she got close to her friend.
“Sit here!” Pointing to an empty chaise to her right, Cathy followed, “did you have a good walk?”
“I did. The white sand beach was amazingly soft and warm. There was some breeze before the sun came up, too. So, it was a great walk!” Jane responded in a bubbly fashion to shake off the morning rendezvous with Johansen. And, it helped her to forget about the pain in her back.
As soon as Jane sat down, like a hawk watching at its prey, a waiter appeared from nowhere and asked if Jane would like to have something to drink. Jane ordered her favorite pina-coladas with a cherry on top. She didn’t particularly like alcoholic beverages and it was way too early for alcohol, anyhow.
“Did you see anything interesting?” Cathy asked as Jane found a comfortable position on the chaise.
“Down the beach, there is a cool forest. Quite a bit of contrast from this area,” responded Jane casually.
“Part of the resort?” After asking this, Cathy laughed thinking how silly the question was and said, “silly me, it has to be. We are in a virtual world. It’s all part of the set up, right?”
The word virtual was something that Jane had difficulty relating to. After all, the pain that she felt wasn’t, virtual at all. It was all so real. And, she was still feeling the after effects of it.
“Maybe, the tourists weren’t meant to be there. It’s just there to be blended in to complete this dream world to fool us all.” Jane said a bit reserved.
“Nevertheless, this is the most ideal place to relax. Wouldn’t you agree?” Cathy replied
“Sure…by the way, where is Jason?” Jane turned to look at Cathy.
It dawned on Cathy that she has lost track of Jason. So, she looked around and to the opposite end of the pool, where she found him standing on a lower diving board.
“There, he is!” Cathy pointed in Jason’s direction as she waived, to which Jason responded in the same manner. With both his hands up, he gave big waves.
“I see him. Is he going to do a dive? Does he even know how to do a proper dive?” Jane thought that Jason would hurt himself from the board.
“I’m sure he knows what he is—-,” before Cathy could finish her sentence, Jason who was standing on the edge of the board pushed off the board and went airborne. He attempted to touch his toes with his hands in the air, but got as far as his knees. Then, on the way down, he was fighting to pull his lower body up as hard and fast as he could for a proper vertical entry into the water.
However, Jason’s form in the air became unstable and didn’t quite get the legs pulled up sufficiently high enough. At the same time, his attempt to stretch his arms towards the water failed in great fashion. Instead, he raised his head and made contact with the surface of the water in outstretched flat X position, ending in a fantastic belly flop. He disappeared into the water with large splash, baptizing the people around him with water. This in turn, caused the people to turn their heads away from Jason.
“But then, he may not…,” said Cathy, her voice dying out.
Both Cathy and Jane looked at the point of the entry where Jason had disappeared. They sat up on the edge of their chaises, raising their shades above their foreheads and exchanged looks with each other, not knowing exactly whether to laugh or cry. Other vacationers on the pool deck, who saw Jason dive broke out into great laughter however.
“Perfect ten for the form!” A kid in his pre-teens yelled out laughing.
“Nine for the entry, not enough water splashed!” said another boy from the opposite end of the pool from the first kid who had scored the dive. As people laughed, Jane and Cathy held their breaths because Jason hadn’t resurfaced yet. Then, he appeared from the water with great puff of air and he screamed his lungs out “AUGH!” which generated even bigger laughter.
“Ten for the exit!” A freckled girl with brown hair, looking about ten years old, stood up and declared loudly.
Cathy and Jane eased their posture somewhat, a bit relieved now that their friend has reemerged. Jason looked over to Cathy as he wiped water off from his face. Then, he slowly turned and swam over to the edge of the pool near the diving board and exited the water. He bent over and began massaging his abdomen where it turned bright red from the contact with the hard surface of the water. Putting a towel over his head, he walked towards Cathy and Jane. By now, nearly everyone by the pool couldn’t help, but laugh, including the familiar old ladies, who had pushed Jason into the transport bubble on the way to the resort.
After seeing all the attention that Jason was receiving from the crowd, Cathy shook her head and gave a small laughter of relief, as did Jane.
“Well, at least he is OK,” said Jane.
“By the way, did you see Jacob? I saw him walking behind you after you went for a walk.” Cathy, feeling more lighthearted after witnessing the unsolicited water show, she asked very casually.
“Jacob? He went for a walk behind me?” Looking concerned, Jane turned to face Cathy.
“Yeah, he went out from the pool area and I saw him walk towards the same general direction that you said you were going to.”
“When was that?”
“I would say about five minutes after you had left.”
“Did you see him come back?” Jane asked.
“Nope, haven’t seen him since. I thought he was with you.” Cathy answered.
“Hi! Girls!” Jason returned and greeted, feeling a bit nauseated from the pain and embarrassment. Then, he sat deep into his chaise on the left side of Cathy. He felt like he was being everyone’s focal point since the dire dive while walking all the way around the pool. His face turned red as well not from hitting the water, but from feeling mortified by all the attention he was receiving.
“Can I get you anything, sir?” Again, the same waiter appeared from nowhere, ready to serve.
“Ahh, cold ice water please. Thank you!” Looking sheepish, Jason ordered.
“That was a super dive! I’ve never seen anything like it before!” Cathy greeted Jason, doing her best to hold back her laughter.
“Not, you too…” Jason placed a towel over his head and sank deeper into his lounging chair.
Suddenly, Jane said, “hey, guys, I will be back!” Then, she got up and turned to say, “by the way, that was the best dive I’ve ever seen!” And, she headed back to the beach without waiting for any responses from her friends.
As Jane was walking back to the beach, she couldn’t help, but think about someone’s presence that she had felt at the swamp besides Johansen.
“Was it Jacob?” She kept wondering. Should it have been Jacob, it was very possible that he could be in danger. She had to ensure that he was all right. When Jane reached the beach, she began running back towards the forest as fast as she could and not even the pain in her back could slow her down.