Frank and Leslie Sims were Brian’s parents. Frank owned a successful architectural firm over in San Marcos, the nearest city. Leslie taught special education students. Frank had made friends with Malcolm Levine, one of the officers at San Marcos Family Bank, who helped to arrange loans and mortgages for some of Frank’s clients.
One summer the Sims decided to go on a vacation up to Canada and they invited the Levines to share the expenses of a two family house on the shore. Malcolm and Gladys Levine’s daughter Marion was the same age as the Sims’ daughter, Louise, who was 12. So the Sims family, Mom,. Pop, Brian and Louise along with Mr. and Mrs. Levine and Marion went off to what they hoped would be a pleasant few weeks, sun bathing on the beach, splashing in the Atlantic Ocean and exploring the town.
Because it was a public beach, the town had hired a life guard, a big muscular, stern, quiet, African fellow named Ajax. He kept a good watch on everyone, especially the children, and everyone trusted him.
Louise was a curious and adventuresome girl and one day she and Marion went off exploring. After a while Louise and Marion were nowhere to be seen and Leslie Simms was a bit worried. She asked Brian if he could find her. So Brian went to ask Ajax if he knew where she was. Since she was not on the beach Ajax didn’t know. But he said “Tell her not to go into the cave. High tide it fills with water. She could drown.”
Brian knew his sister and “into the cave” is exactly where Louise was most like to go. “Where’s the cave?” Brian asked. “Behind those rocks.” said Ajax, pointing.
In the distance Brian could se a large granite dike which spilled out into the ocean. At low tide one could easily walk around it. But now the tide was coming in.
Brian ran down the beach to the dike, plunged into the water and made his way around to the other side. When he came up onto land there was the entrance to a cave. He went to the mouth of the cave and called for his sister. There was no answer.
Brian looked around him at the rocky ledges hoping the girls were climbing on them. This was igneous rock left over from the retreat of the glaciers. Slowly the sea and the wind had eroded away the ofter rock changing it to sand, creating a beach but also carving out caverns from the softer inclusions within the metamorphosed glacial remains. Good rocks for climbing, Brian thought, but he didn’t see them.
Brian waded into the cave, knee deep in water. His feet felt something strange on the bottom. He reached down and pulled up some fish net which he wound up and put up on a small ledge. After several yards the cave bottom dipped and he had to swim. He came out into an open space. There was a small beam of light coming into the cave from somewhere. He looked around but there was no sign of Louise or Marion. He called to them.. No answer.
Then Brian noticed another opening further down in the water. He plunged into it and swam occasionally bumping his head on the top of the passageway. He was underwater now, for a long time, and his lungs were hurting him. He kept feeling above him for a place to pop up and breathe. There was none.
Finally, at the moment when he had pushed himself beyond a comfortable limit he came up out of the water into an open space. It was totally dark. Brian could tell from the echoes of the water and his breathing that it was a cavern. Gasping for breath he called out for Louise once more.
A surprised and cheerful voice answered from some place not too far away, “Brian! We’re over here on a ledge. We’re waiting for the water to go down. This is fun.”
Still trying to catch his breath, Brian said, “NO! The water won’t go down. High tide this will fill up. You’ll drown. Come over here, fast!”
He heard a splashing sound and a moment later one of them was holding on to him. “Where?” It was from Marion’s helpless voice. “Here.” He said. A few seconds later she was also holding on to him.
Not sure he was going to be able to do it himself, Brian told them they would have to swim under water for a long distance. “We’ll have to swim against the waves. It’ll be hard. So take a deep breath and follow me” he said.
Brian ducked down into the passageway and felt the hands on his legs and feet gradually let go as they started to swim. Brian was now glad he had taught Louise how to swim, but he didn’t know about Marion. He wondered if she could make it through and if she would get into Louise’s way if she couldn’t. It was too dark to see anything. He had no choice but to keep going and hope that the girls were following him and that they wouldn’t run out of breath.
But now he began to worry about himself. His lungs were already hurting. He wished he had taken more time to recover his breath. He was too anxious to get the girls out. The incoming waves were pushing him back as he struggled to keep going. His whole body was in pain. His head was getting light from lack of oxygen. He was now in a panic. He knew that at any moment he would have to let go of the wasted air in his lungs and that his body would automatically gasp expecting air but only filling up with sea water. And he and the girls would drown in the bowels of this river of darkness. Oh God, he thought, I’m not going to make it.
At that moment a strong wave pushed him backwards. He felt a hand on his foot and that startled him into realizing what he had to do. Even if I die, he thought, I have to get these girls out. He knew now that at least one of them was still behind him swimming. Hopefully they both were. He grabbed the side of the tunnel to propel himself forward. He couldn’t hold his breath. He let some of the air out of his lungs which bubbled around his face. The ebbing wave helped pull him forward. More bad air forced its way out of him and he felt it bubble up and away from him. He looked up and saw a faint glimmer of light above him. With the last bit of energy he pushed his way towards it. He emerged from the water into the first cavern and let the rest of the air out of his lungs with a scream and took in fresh air with a whining gasp.
There was still a beam of light coming through though not as bright as before. But it was enough to see Marion come up out of the water and a few seconds later, Louise, both gasping for breath.. The water level had risen and there was barely enough room for their heads above it. But it was enough for them to breathe again and rest. Brian could still stand on the bottom but it was too far down for the girls and they kept sinking and flailing back to the surface. So Brian held out his hand and they took hold of his arm to support themselves.
They had to hold their breath when the waves flowed into the cavern but then when it ebbed they could breathe again.
Soon this cavern too would be completely under water but Brian let several moments go by while they all recovered before he told them that there was still some underwater swimming to do. “But it’s not so far,” he explained. “Not as far as we just came. Let me know when you’re ready.”
“Let’s go.” said Louise. So Brian ducked down into the tunnel with Marion on his heels and Louise behind her.
It wasn’t too long before Brian saw the daylight and came gratefully up out of the water at last. A few seconds later Marion surfaced, but not Louise. Brian waited anxious and hoping, but Louise did not appear.
Brian frantically dove down into the tunnel and swam back. When he reached Louise she wasn’t moving and there was some strange thing around her. Then he realized that she was tangled up in the fishing net that must have come loose from the ledge while they were swimming. Brian grabbed Louise and the net and, kicking furiously, tried to pull them out of the tunnel and into the daylight. He was swimming backwards now, grabbing the stone wall of the tunnel and kicking his legs. He scraped his knees against the stone. But eventually he came out of the tunnel. He hoisted Louise up onto some flat rock and told Marion to get Ajax while he desperately tried to get the fishing net off which was wrapped around her throat. Marion climbed over the rocks as best as she could, but she instantly reappeared and said “He’s here.”
At once Ajax was at the top of the granite dike looking like the ancient Greek hero he was named for. He jumped down and looked at Louise. He reached down, dug his fingers under the fishing net, pulled it from her with two swift moves, and threw it over the rocks. Then, kneeling down, he opened her mouth and started breathing into it. “The kiss of desperation.” Brian thought to himself.
There was a bubbling sound coming from Louise. Ajax stood up, picked her up by her ankles, held her upside down and shook her the way you would shake something out of a sack. The top of her bathing suit fell off and into the water. “I’ll get it.” said Marion who jumped in and retrieved it. While she was doing that Louise uttered a great hacking noise, a sound Brian never expected to hear from his 12 year old sister, and a clump of water came out of her mouth, splashed down across her face and into her hair. Ajax put her down and breathed into her mouth again. Soon her insides erupted again, with sea water and a partially digested hot dog. Then she coughed and started breathing. Brian cheered. “Ya” said Ajax, “that’s a good thing.” But she was still unconscious.
Ajax scooped her up in his arms and stepped up over the granite dike. Brian struggled to follow, and after him, Marion, still holding the top of Louise’s bathing suit.
When they saw Ajax carrying her, Leslie and Frank ran toward them. “What happened to her?” she cried out.
Ajax just said “Where’s her bed?” “This way.” said Frank and they all followed Frank and Ajax into the house where he placed her on her bed. Brian grabbed a sheet from the other bed and spread over his sister, tucking it under her chin. Ajax said “He went to find her. When he not come back I go looking. That’s a good thing. .If she burps up more water, that’s a good thing.” Then he turned and walked back to his post on the beach.
Leslie Sims sat on the edge of the bed, felt under the sheet for Louise’s hand, took it in both of her hands and held it. The others stood around watching. After a few tense moments she coughed a gentle young girl type cough and opened her eyes. She looked around at all the people watching her, wrinkled up her nose and said “What happened?”
Brian felt a surge of love and gratitude swell up inside him like a wave crashing on a rocky wall, and with a big smile on his face, simply said “Nothing. You drowned.”