Chlorine flooded Sarah’s senses.
She snorted, coughed, then spluttered as she held onto the side of the pool to steady herself.
After nearly ten years of swimming, she knew she should be able to resurface without breathing in half the pool. And yet, without fail, it always happened at least once.
That moment of suffocation almost felt like part of the routine.
Once the water was out of her system Sarah pushed her goggles onto her head, taking a moment to grab her water bottle and take a few gulps before leaning back to stare at the ceiling. Her locker key was strapped to her ankle, tapping her skin lightly.
The leisure centre was silent.
She knew she wasn’t alone, as she’d met one of the cleaners when coming in, but it had still been strange having to unlock so many doors, switch on the lights and remove the pool cover all by herself. Having worked here for so long she had experience setting things up for the public, but that had always been with at least one other person much closer to opening time. When she’d asked her boss if there was any chance that she could use the pool privately, she’d expected maybe half an hour after closing. But he’d suggested instead that she come in early, on the condition that she stick around to help with the morning shift. It was nice to know he trusted her unsupervised, and that he wanted to support her training.
Sarah replaced the goggles over her eyes then kicked off from the wall. Starting with a few paces of backstroke, she then allowed her limbs to spread out, drifting along the surface with only the occasional kick to keep moving.
The competition was in a few weeks, and it would be her first. She didn’t really have any interest in becoming a professional swimmer, as while she swam a lot it was just for fun, but there was a part of her that thought it would be a good challenge to see if she could win. And there was a decent cash prize, which she already had earmarked for another scuba diving holiday. That was what she was excited for, another chance to see all the strange sights of the underwater world.
A loud, wet, slapping sound echoed.
She tilted her head up.
The room was empty.
Not so much as a shadow.
She shook her head and resumed her floating, but when her ears sunk beneath the water the same sound occurred. Heavier now, like someone had dropped a pile of wet clothing onto the ground. Sarah forced herself to a stop, looking again.
Her only thought was that it was the cleaner. However, they had already done the pool area before she arrived, so it didn’t make sense for them to be here. But noise did travel strangely in the water; maybe they weren’t as close as they sounded.
Sarah wasn’t entirely convinced by this logic and soon she twisted into a front crawl, finishing the length quickly and stopping at the pools edge. She looked, and she waited, but there was no one there. The sound didn’t repeat, there was no sign of movement, and Sarah began to doubt she had heard anything in the first place. Even as she looked out of the large window to the darkened car park, she couldn’t see anybody.
Clearly, she’d been pushing herself too hard; exhaustion must be making her paranoid.
As she thought this she looked up to where the large clock hung. It was just after 6am, she’d already been here an hour and her colleagues would be arriving soon. It was time to think about getting out and showered.
Sarah considered the ladder not far from her, but instead found herself looking down to tiled floor, decorated in mosaic dolphins.
The corners of her lips turned upwards; she could still have a little fun before she left.
Checking her goggles were in place, Sarah turned her back to the wall and stretched her arms out behind her, clutching the edge tightly until her knuckles turned white. She drew up her legs, feeling the soles of her feet slid along the tiles while she positioned herself.
Sarah took a deep breath… and kicked.
The force propelled her down into the water like a missile, enhanced by the kicking of her legs while her arms pointed forward. She kept swimming down, pulling up just enough so that her belly scraped one of the dolphins. Without resurfacing she moved upward, idly breast-stroking in a circuit round and round the pool. At one point she turned onto her back, watching the shimmering patterns of the lights on the surface.
Her mind went blank and she nearly opened her mouth to scream, feeling the chlorine-laden fluid try to push its way in. Keeps her lips pressed tightly together she hastily scrambled upwards, breaking the surface with an uncontrolled splash as she fought back to the side. Her body trembled; it was all she could do to remember to keep her legs moving so she didn’t sink.
Meanwhile her brain tried to make sense of what she’d seen.
There had been… something leaning over the edge of the pool. She tried to recall a shape or a feature, anything she could recognise and understand. But all she remembered was the colour.
Coldness pressed against her hand.
She instinctively kicked back from the wall, stopping near the centre as her heart started to pound painfully.
The sounds were back. Heavy, wet, pacing sounds. They travelled from ear to ear, and she twisted this way and that to try and keep up, to spot what was causing them. A few droplets of water launched into the air. Her water bottle was knocked over, rolling towards the changing rooms. And the sounds were becoming more frequent; not like they were getting faster, but like they were multiplying.
She saw nothing.
The ladder nearest to her began to shake, the same way they would if someone was climbing into the pool.
Sarah flinched, turning to the ladder at the other end only to see that shaking too. Her gut told her that there was something here and that she had get out; there She had no choice but to climb onto the side. That was the one thing she had always struggled with, but if she dipped down and kicked off from the bottom then she’d get an extra lift.
That might be enough to help her escape.
Sarah forced herself to breath in as much as she could, holding it as she dropped, drawing her limbs straight to help her sink faster.
Purple entered her vision.
The colour formed into a round, bulbous shape that undulated up and down in the motion of a jellyfish, multiple legs protruding from it and curling around each rung of the ladder. But the legs… they were thick, segmented, insect legs. And when it finally detached itself from the ladder, they curled and kicked in a manner that reminded her of stop-motion; smooth and jerky all at once.
Sarah turned away, only to see another creature moving towards her from the opposite ladder. Despite her rising panic she stuck to her plan, forcing herself down to the bottom. She aimed at the nearest wall and kicked upwards with all her strength. It worked, and she was able to launch herself above the water, gripping the sides of the pool and hauling herself onto her elbows. The sudden weight of being out of the water made her pause and she nearly let go when she felt something slide between her fingers.
Something cold and malleable.
Gritting her teeth to ignore the feeling while she dragged her body out of the water and onto her knees. Crawling a few paces before forcing her jelly legs to stand, she then began to run. More of that cold sensation hit her feet, creating lumps that sunk and lifted alternately. She stumbled and skidded more than once, even feeling her toes getting tangled in something long. This had to be caused by more of the purple creatures, but she couldn’t see them anymore. All around her was bare ground, even when she dared a glance at the water there were only ripples on the surface.
Still she kept going, aiming for the changing rooms so she could get her phone and call the police, or get her keys and lock the monsters inside.
Her foot twisted and she slipped, Sarah landing hard on her knees with a vicious jolt of pain. Tears sprung to her eyes and she tried to keep somewhat upright, only succeeding in sliding quickly to the ground, hitting her hip right where the ground dipped to allow water to drain away. Her body was tired from swimming, and the complaints of pain only made it more desperate to stop.
To lie still.
A cartoon man, in the process of falling onto his back, stared down at her from the wall, taunting her with the words ‘No Running by The Pool’.
Something wrapped around her leg.
Sarah’s eyes widened, seeing her skin indent with invisible coils growing tighter. Her other leg soon felt the same, and then her arm. There was nothing to stop the screams now, twisting around and trying to grab whatever it was that held her. But more things touched her, yanking her down into their cold embrace. The invisible appendages soon began to slip across her face, into her nose, and down her throat. Her airways protested, and she all but swallowed the invading obstruction in a desperate attempt to avoid suffocation. But they pressed deeper, hitting her gag reflex but blocking any vomit from coming out.
The harder it became to breath… the clearer she could see.
Dozens… no, hundreds of the purple creatures everywhere. Covering every inch of the damp floor. They moved sluggishly but their grip was strong. More and more of them gathered around her. And one of them dragged itself onto her torso, pressing the tips of two of its legs against her chest.
Sharpness pierced her swimsuit.
In a final burst of adrenaline, Sarah managed to free one hand, wrenching the limbs out of her mouth. It felt awful, dregs of vomit dragged out with them, but she was able to gasp in a lungful of oxygen. The moment she could breathe the creatures began to fade, but she didn’t hesitate. She knew they were there. And her hand instantly went for the one on her chest. Somehow, she found the strength to drag it off, her body spasming as she kicked, yanked and fought to remove the rest of the disgusting creatures. They started striking back, trying to pin her down once more and forcing her to roll away from their grip.
She rolled too hard.
The world began to spin uncontrollably.
Then then ground disappeared.
And she hit the water.
The impact of her splash had made the creatures release her, but it also sent her body into shock. Her mouth opened of its own accord, liquid eagerly pushing inside. Some part of her, the part that had spent all this time building her into a strong swimmer so she wouldn’t be in this situation, clamped her lips together and held her breath. The water was already inside, but she still fought to keep going just that bit longer. Sarah knew she had to swim, to kick, to move before the surface got too far away.
But her limbs were numb.
And purple was consuming her sight once more.
She saw them gathering closer, saw them binding her unprotesting body as another once again moved on top of her. Details became clearer, now she could make out veins and tendrils, all in different shades of purple, moving within the undulating mass. There was no face, but she was certain it was staring at her.
Two legs pushed sharply against her chest, more aggressive than before.
And they slammed down.
Sarah’s cheeks ballooned with the effort of keeping her mouth closed, feeling pain with every layer that was pierced.
There was no blood. Or if there was, then the red was lost in the sea of purple. But she saw the impaling instruments begin to contract and expand repeatedly. Her cheeks deflated, and her lips parted. Water flooded inside but it didn’t matter; her oxygen was already being sucked away.
Sarah’s vision blurred and as consciousness abandoned her, all she knew was purple.
Also available on itch.io – https://anmanarrative.itch.io/breathless-purple
This idea has been playing in my head for ages but for a while I couldn’t figure out how to build a proper story for a long time, I’m so happy that it’s finally come together. It’s also shorter than what I normally write but more in line with the kind of short horror I like; almost straight into the action with little to no explanation.