She coloured in a final patch of deep blue sea, capped her pen, and gave herself a satisfied nod. She had to admit she felt calmer. The worries that had plagued her all day long were now distant thoughts buzzing around softly at the back of her mind. Maybe there was something in this stress-relief colouring book, after all.
She admired her work. It was an underwater scene filled with colourful coral, snazzy-looking tropical fish, a long-tentacled octopus and a treasure chest spilling over with gold coins and ruby jewels. She was proud of how she’d coloured in the ocean water; she’d layered a variety of blues and greens to create a sense of dimension. It looked impressively real. She could almost see the undercurrents of water move before her very eyes.
No. Not almost. They were moving. The water was ebbing and flowing, she was sure of it. She screwed up her eyes for a few seconds and then opened them again. The fish were swimming, flitting back and forth across the page. The fine tendrils of the coral quivered against the movement of the ocean. The octopus waved its tentacles at her.
She slowly reached out and placed the tip of a finger against the page. It was cool and wet. She reached further and her finger slipped through the paper and right into the seawater. With another push she dunked her entire hand and wiggled her fingers in the salty tropical ocean.
Something grabbed her — something invisible and powerful. It yanked her down, dragging her arm right into the picture, and then her shoulder, and then her head, and in an instant the rest of her was swallowed up.
Water roared in her ears. Her eyes stung against the salty sea. She thrashed around and saw dark blue ocean on every side of her. Fish frolicked in the distance, having skittered away from her flailing form. She looked down to see golden coins shimmering enticingly on the ocean floor. When she looked up again there was the octopus, huge and purple and far too close for comfort. Its tentacles writhed as it watched her, suckers twitching.
She let out a scream. Nothing but bubbles emerged from her mouth. Her chest tightened, telling her that she needed air. She kicked her legs and looked up, noticing the pale haze of daylight soaking into the water’s surface. It was impossible to gauge the distance. She dragged her arms through the water and kicked, kicked, kicked.
Something wrapped itself around her ankle. A tentacle. The octopus wanted her to stay in the depths with him.
More bubbles escaped from between her lips and her chest burned. The urge to suck in air was unbearable. Her head throbbed.
She reached down to her ankle and pried the tentacle away from her skin, digging her nails into the slimy octopus arm until the creature released her and cringed away. She kicked off again and let her legs drive her up toward the light.
A shoal of pretty green fish swarmed above her and she careened right through them, wincing as they slid over her skin. The water was growing brighter and warmer — she was close, ever so close.
She risked a glance below and saw the octopus hot on her heels, its legs pulsing as it powered itself toward her. With a shake of her head she focused once more on the surface, willing herself to kick harder, swim faster.
Finally her head broke the surface and she sucked in a desperate lungful of air. Her shoulders left the water, then her torso and her legs, as though invisible arms were lifting her to safety. She rose ten feet in the air above the water’s surface and there she hovered for a split second. Then she was dropped, wailing, yelling, screaming. She closed her eyes and prepared to plunge back through the waves and into the deep.
She landed with a thump on something solid. When she opened her eyes she saw white. Her ceiling.
She scrambled to her feet and found herself standing in her living room, dripping wet and clothes soaked through, her eyes burning and throat feeling red raw.
Something tickled her chest. She yelped as she discovered that a little green fish had trapped itself beneath the strap of her vest. It flapped away frantically, mouth gaping as it gasped for water. She scooped it into her hands and dashed to the kitchen where she laid it in the sink, plugged the drain and set the water running.
Her wet feet slap-slap-slapped on the laminate floor as she wandered back into the living and to the coffee table, where her pens and colouring book lay. The underwater ocean scene was just as it should be — a static image, coloured to perfection, only with a small drop of water seeping into the middle of the page and creating a halo in the ink.
She slammed the book closed and glared at the cover.
“Stress relief my arse,” she muttered.
But she opened the book again and flicked through its pages, taking in urban cityscapes, epic mountain ranges, pretty flower-packed gardens and more. She stopped when one particular line drawing caught her eye — a rainforest.
Monkeys peered out from the thick canopy, huge butterflies perched on even bigger leaves, snakes wound like coils around the boughs of trees, and a sleek jaguar strutted along the forest floor, eyes wide and ready to hunt.
She grabbed a pen and set to work on her next adventure.