Tommy Dean Each Death Gets Us Closer Cycle 5 Intrepidus Ink Feb 28, 2024

Literary Speculative Fiction


flipped boat, he clings to the metal bench seat slick with mossy water, his feet spasming in the unknown depths below him. Because at sixteen, there’s something fucked up about not knowing how to float or tread water. He had skipped swimming lessons because he couldn’t imagine a world where he wouldn’t know how to save himself. If not, then what was the point of all those video games and action movies, scraping through the woods armed with paintballs?

        His shoulders burn with tension and embarrassment. He’s not afraid to admit it. Red-faced and sputtering. He told that lifeguard he’d be fine. She wouldn’t have to watch out for him unless she wanted to. He actually winked, ran his hand through his hair. She had blown her whistle at him or a bratty kid, he couldn’t be sure, so he walked away, boat dragging behind him, the edges catching in the clumps of sand until his feet found the cold slickness of the lake.

        If she could see him now, what would she think? At home, this was an easy fix. He’d just boot up a different filter, some kind of AI, an app he could click on. His phone was gone, resting somewhere at the bottom of this muddy lake. Beaming some kind of signal into fishy brains. Then there’s the screams of children splashing in the shallow ends of the beach, skipping across the waves and bumping against his chin, inviting themselves into his mouth, through his nostrils.

        He dips below the surface, arms dropping to his sides, his eyes closed, afraid of what he might see in the murky water. The percussion of the blood rushes to his ears. And he’s fucked. Knew he couldn’t code out his own rescue. Only in video games was each death a way to start over. Maybe if he hadn’t been such an asshole to that lifeguard, if he had kept his eyes on the lenses of her sunglasses instead of drifting down.

        But he breaks the surface, arms grabbing again for the boat seat. It’s slippery and cold, a reminder of how function depends on the situation. Like how he shouldn’t have grabbed Sydney around the waist, shouldn’t have spidered his hands up her shirt, felt the elastic of her bra break. Words weren’t getting him anywhere. He needed her to know that. Beautiful was a word used against him, too. He was sorry. That should matter somehow.

        Help is a word he hated, a weakness of the body to call out. To need was his father sitting in his rotting recliner, throttled by diabetes, nagged by his wife to turn down the damn tv, to quit yelling at the reporters, and drink a goddamn bottle of water for once. He could tell the man a thing or two about water, now, couldn’t he?

        He gives in to the images of his own death and the effect on his family. The funeral with the lazy hymns played by the old woman who always missed a note in the beginning. His father walking down the aisle, cane in hand, ass hitting the edge of every third pew, his mother wearing scrubs, no doubt going in to the hospital for another shift directly after the burial. Sydney, won’t be there, won’t be crying. She’ll post a snarky remake on his feed. Guess he won’t get it up this time.

        Help, he screams, his voice pinging against the boat bottom. Goddammit, he threatens, but there is only his voice, cracked and garbled by the lick of lake water entering his lips, the taste brackish with fear. He listens for the shriek of whistles, of the startle of sirens, for the change in the waves, promising the arrival of a rescue boat, relying on kids his own age, lifeguards by title, their phones sweating in their hands, their whistles hanging limply from their necks. He doesn’t even know her name. Can’t think of what to call out, what the password is for near drowning, for escaping.

        Somewhere between breath and water, a membrane he crosses as his arms tire, a voice, melodic in its serenade.

        Let go.

        There’s knowing in our darkness.

        He doesn’t know how long he is unconscious, how long the waters called to him, before he feels an arm around him, lithe but steely, lifting him to an equilibrium; he remembers from childhood, his mother teaching him to float, holding him above water. The lifeguard’s sunglasses are gone, as well as the whistle, but she’s there, solid and ambitious, pushing them back to shore.

        “Your name?” he asks. But she’s too busy or uninterested to tell him.

        Whatever else he hoped to say, he swallows. The feel of the water a weight he’ll never shed.

        There is only the soft bush of silken hair guiding him beneath the touch of the sun.


Author Bio

Tommy Dean Each Death Gets Us Closer Intrepidus Ink Cycle 5, 2024

Tommy Dean is the author of two flash fiction chapbooks and a full flash collection, Hollows (Alternating Current Press 2022). He is the Editor of Fractured Lit and Uncharted Magazine. His writing can be found in Best Microfiction 2019, 2020, 2023, Best Small Fictions 2019 and 2022, Harpur Palate, and elsewhere. Find him at and on Twitter @TommyDeanWriter.

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