Deepest Dive by
(92 Stories)

Prompted By Close Calls

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Marine bio students loading up for a dive. Holly is on the right.

(Writing the first story on this prompt reminded me of the incident in this one, which occurred about 18 months later. Looking back, I really was lucky to survive my diving days! I also think that if adolescence is hard, transitioning out of it might be harder.

"If I left her, if I followed my dark muse into the deep sea, there was a good chance that, one way or the other, Holly would die."

If it’s not kosher here to publish two stories on one prompt, let me know and I’ll pull one.)

We landed on white coral sand at one hundred and sixty feet.

Holly and I had dropped down through a sort of slot in the reef face, a rectangular vertical groove lined with sponges and corals. Shoals of small fish circulated among the outcrops, trying to avoid the notice of the less numerous but larger predators that frequented these rich hunting grounds. The subtropical sun brought out all the myriad colors in the shallow waters when we began our descent, but as we went deeper and the water progressively filtered out the shorter wavelengths, everything faded into a purplish-blue. The spiky corals nearer the sun gradually gave way to flatter, palmate species more able to gather the fading light.

Where we landed was not the bottom. We stood at the base of the reef wall, and at the edge of infinity. From here, the world sloped downward, at fourty-five degrees or more, into infinity. St. Croix is a mountaintop, and the valley to the north of the island is nearly three miles deep. Between us and Vieques, twenty miles away, there was nothing but an abyssal plain.

Air goes fast at these depths. Time was short; we took in the view.

I could see small, isolated outcrops of coral scattered across the sandy slope that led down and down and down. These patch reefs, as we called them, were little islands of abundant life in the relatively sterile sea of sand. Lobsters, reef fish whose gaudy colors would be revealed by my flashlight, moray eels and the occasional patrolling shark or ‘cuda could be found on the patch reefs.

I could feel that my thoughts were fuzzy, muddled, slow. I had above average sensitivity to the narcotic effects of nitrogen at depth, and were were deep enough that we’d have to fake our log book entries again to avoid the wrath of the lab’s dive master. Last time it had been the fear and paranoia of a “cold narc.” This time it was the good kind, the classic “warm narc” that Cousteau wrote of years back. A befuddled sense of well being and benevolence filled my mind.

The first patch reef was close, only a few dozen yards away. And down, always down. There I would be able to see many fish. Maybe a shark. Past that there would be more reefs, more fish to watch, more fascinating sea life. It seemed so beautiful down there, and calm. Peaceful. I wanted to go see and learn.

Somewhere in my nitrogen-befuddled mind there was also the dim realization that if I went any further, I would not come back from this dive. It had happened before. A narcotized diver would just keep going down, past his companions and past any hope of rescue. One had actually been tracked by dive boat sonar going past 200’ and still descending. Most were never recovered; it was deemed too dangerous to try.

But that really didn’t bother me. Maria had finished with me last year, after we had shared so much, fought so hard not the be separated. A couple of other relationships had failed quickly after that. I was obviously destined to be alone, so why not swim away and learn what the Deep had to teach me? It seemed like the best plan, maybe the greatest idea ever. If I had hit my peak at 21, why not keep swimming?

Something touched me on the shoulder. I looked over; it was Holly. Her blue eyes were wide behind the glass of her dive mask. She looked nervous, afraid. Her long blond hair had come undone and drifted Medusa-like around her head. In this light it looked much darker than it was, almost brown. She shrugged her shoulders as she made the “up” signal. She wanted to surface. This annoyed me a bit; I wanted to keep exploring!

And then through my euphoria I realized that if I went out there into the nothing, Holly would almost certainly follow me. Dive partners stay together, look out for each other. We were each other’s only hope in case of a problem. Even if she didn’t follow, the long ascent alone, upset and afraid and needing at least a safety decompression stop, was in itself dangerous. Moreover, I was what we called at the lab an “A-list” diver, one of the ones with a lot of experience and training. Holly was B-list; relatively inexperienced. For their safety, B-list divers were always paired with A-listers. I was responsible for Holly’s life. If I left her, if I followed my dark muse into the deep sea, there was a good chance that, one way or the other, Holly would die.

I nodded and returned her “up” signal. We started toward the surface, slowly. It was time that we both returned to the sunlight.

Profile photo of Dave Ventre Dave Ventre
A hyper-annuated wannabee scientist with a lovely wife and a mountain biking problem.

Tags: danger, diving, death, suicide, responsibility
Characterizations: well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Dave, this elicits another “wow!” from me. You have had quite the exciting life! It’s fine to write more than one story on a prompt, in fact I wrote two stories on the Close Calls prompt myself. However, you might want to limit the number of stories you post each week, as it can be hard for readers to keep up.

    • Dave Ventre says:

      Good point about the pacing. I used to write a lot, but have been blocked for at least five years, probably more. I joined Retrospect in hopes that it would inspire me to try again. It seems to have had that effect!

      Adrenaline junkies can acquire some cool stories. At 57 I took up mountain biking, which has the advantage that, while injuries are common, life-altering (or ending) injuries, at the recreational level, are quite rare. The drive to the trails is much more perilous.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    I join Suzy with “Wow”. You stopped me in my tracks with “air goes fast at these depths.” It was informative, but also a warning of what was coming. Having read your letter to your younger self, I suspected, as I read further along that this might be your attempt to go to Davy Jones’ Locker. My concern proved correct. Thank goodness Holly was there to pull you back, so you can share this gripping tale with us today.

  3. I love how you sway back and forth from the practical to the dreamy. Colorfully descriptive with scientific accents, I can just imagine things I never thought to imagine. Thanks for taking us on this deep dive.

  4. Marian says:

    Whoa (instead of “wow,” I guess), Dave. I love snorkeling on reefs, but my claustrophobia has always won over my desire to do scuba and go deeper. Your dramatic story will keep me less deep!

  5. Thanx Dave, trying not to be so unoriginal and say WOW, but WOW!

    Is it too late for this land-lubber Boomer to dive in?

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