#74 Musketeer Challenge

a writing by Susanne Rowell

'He was a solitary figure standing on the shore, gazing at the horizon. It was a grey morning in May. The weather had been unseasonably cold. Spring was late. I was only seven at the time, a boy spending his holidays away from the city. I loved the wide, open space of the seaside. Each morning, I would sneak out of the house while everybody was still asleep, run through the dunes, onto the beach. The strange man, standing on the shore, was dressed in an old-fashioned way, with a tuxedo and a top hat. He was leaning on a walking stick; his silhouette reminded me of Abraham Lincoln. Carefully, I approached the spot where he stood, but he kept glancing out at the sea, although, by now, he must have realized, that there was somebody by his side. As I got close, I noticed, that he didn't look like Lincoln at all; he didn't even look human when it came to that. Not really and truly. There was something wax-like about his face and something almost mechanical about his demeanor. It spooked me in a serious way, and I stared at his features, open-mouthed. Nevertheless, he just kept glancing at the horizon. I coughed slightly to attract his attention. He turned his head. 'You're late boy!' he scolded me. What was that supposed to mean? Had he actually been waiting for me? 'Late boy, late', he repeated, 'but never mind.' He bent down to pick something up from the ground. At first I couldn't see what it was, but soon I realized that it was a thick rope. It must have been buried in the sand. The man stood up, holding on to the rope with both hands. He was wearing black, tight fitting leather gloves, the sight of which, for some reason mesmerized me. He was now walking toward the incoming waves, still holding on to the rope which seemed to extend way out, into the open sea. I watched him, as the water reached his knees. Suddenly, he turned around, beckoning me to follow. A nervous laugh escaped my throat. He couldn't be serious, could he? 'Come on boy!' he yelled. My heart was beating fast. Was I to follow a strange, mysterious creature into the open sea? Fear and curiosity were waging a war within my chest. He kept yelling at me. By now his torso was almost completely covered by water. I grabbed the rope and started to walk. The man was way ahead by then, being swallowed up by the sea completely now, leaving only his top hat to ride the ocean's crest. It was an alarming sight! I would have turned round at that point, but a sudden jolt of the rope pulled me further in, and to my great horror, I found it impossible to let go. I screamed, a feeling of unbearable panic rising up in me; the water was reaching to my shoulders now. I stretched my head, lifted my face toward the sky, eyes clinging to the clouds, as if they could attach themselves to keep me afloat. But the inevitable happened, and I felt the gurgling water in my nose, throat and lungs. I was in complete shock, holding my breath, squinting my eyes as the salty seawater stung them, when suddenly, I heard a voice in my head. 'No need for that.' I opened my eyes, just to see the man standing before me on the oceans floor, straightening his tuxedo as if it was the most normal thing in the world. He was even wearing his top hat again. I gaped at him, open-mouthed. How was this possible? 'You can breath normal', he assured me. And I could. 'Come on', he said, and we walked side by side through his underwater world. It was a strange feeling, for I know we should have floated, or at least swam, but we just walked normally, as if we were on land; if anything, I felt somewhat lighter, but not much. My companion swung his walking stick in a carefree, almost cheerful fashion. Colourful fish swam by, eyeing us with great curiosity. 'Where are we going?', I inquired. 'Once around the world' he said, and so we did; we actually walked once around the world, underwater that is. When we returned back to my stretch of beach, I had been missing for over three months! The man left me there, exhausted, on the shore. He just walked on, landward, without a single backward glance. He never gave me an explanation, nobody believed my story, and how could I expect them to? After all, I could hardly believe it myself!'

- That was, what my father told me on his death bed. They say, the pain killers gave him delusions. I don't know. All I know is, that my father could hold his breath underwater forever. I have never ever, in my entire life, met anybody who was able to hold his breath for such a long time. -

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