Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Breathe (08/19/10)
TITLE: Kiss of Life
By Beth Muehlhausen
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Shannon Fairchild celebrated her fourth birthday two days before she and her parents headed to a nearby lake for a week of summer vacation. While packing for the trip, she insisted on taking a favorite birthday gift from Grandmother Fairchild: a pink cardigan sweater with a sparkly sequin-and-bead mermaid stitched on one side.
At the lake Shannon proudly wore her mermaid sweater over a tank top as the family headed out in a rented pontoon boat to scout the area. In accordance with state law they brought along one lifejacket per person plus a buoyant throw-cushion with straps on either side.
“Look, Daddy! Fishies!” Shannon leaned against the boat’s back railing as she pointed. “Fishies, Daddy! And I’m a mermaid, ‘member?” Blonde curls bobbed in the summer sun as her head swung back and forth between her father and the school of curious minnows following the idling boat.
“Alright, honey. Next time we’ll bring a net, huh?!” Her father, Roy, a focused skipper, busily steered the boat. Shannon’s mother, Kay, sat in the very front: a classic figurehead peering ahead, pointing the way to nautical sights yet unseen.
Shannon continued to squeal with delight. “Fishies, fishies, fishies!” she chanted, dancing up and down while holding the aluminum side rails. “FISHIES!”
The boat chugged along slowly in the choppy water, its outboard motor whirring rhythmically. Seagulls chimed from overhead, and a powerful blue heron pounded its wings as it headed for the marsh.
Without warning there was a loud splash. Then the engine stalled.
“Wha - ?” Roy peered backward over his shoulder.
Shannon was gone.
Roy raced to the back of the boat and peered into the water where Shannon’s legs thrashed wildly beneath the surface. He wasted no time, but kicked off his shoes and jumped in.
Kay gasped as she realized Shannon’s plight. Her face blanched, stifling a scream.
As adrenaline coursed through his body, Roy wrestled underwater with Shannon’s writhing body until he found both of her shoulders. Feeling his touch, Shannon desperately grasped his head and tried to push herself up. But her mermaid sweater had become tightly tangled in the propeller, making it impossible to slip her arms out. Roy sealed his pursed lips tightly against hers and breathed out, forcing her to breathe in the shared air.
Their eyes met in the blur of the underwater world. She understood.
Roy returned to the surface for more air. “Kay! Find something sharp! Anything!” He took a deep breath and submerged.
Shannon was waiting. She received his kiss of life as he again placed his lips over hers and breathed.
On the next trip to the surface Roy found Kay leaning over the railing holding a belt buckle with square edges. “Here! It’s all I can find!”
Roy grabbed it, filled his lungs to the fullest, and went back down.
Despite her age, Shannon seemed to understand the gravity of her situation. Although not injured, she was trapped. She received Roy’s air as before and held very still as he slashed at the sweater with the corner of the silver buckle.
When Roy surfaced this time, Kay’s panic had escalated to a fever pitch. “She’s not moving! Roy! She’s’ NOT MOVING!”
There was no time to explain. Roy took another deep breath and ducked back underwater where he breathed into Shannon’s mouth, tore the sweater bit by bit, and pleaded with God.
He repeated this cycle several more times and finally wrested his daughter’s body from the remains of the sweater. At the water’s surface she lay like a limp rag, eyes closed. “Breathe!” Roy commanded. “Shannon, BREATHE!”
Kay’s voice screeched from above. “S-H-A-N-N-O-N!” She threw the red cushion; it landed on the water with a slap. Roy slipped it beneath Shannon’s head as he wiped wet hair from her face.
“Please, baby - BREATHE!”
Roy paddled his daughter’s limp body to the edge of the boat; Kay knelt and reached down to hoist Shannon on board. “Breathe! Lord, help her BREATHE,” Kay pleaded.
As if in answer, Shannon sputtered and coughed. Her blue eyes opened wide. “I don’t want … to be a mermaid … anymore,” she stammered.
A flock of seagulls squealed their approval from lofty sidelines while Shannon’s minnows wriggled through the seaweed and patches of her pink mermaid sweater floated away.
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