It took a moment for Vincent to get his bearings. The water wanted to float him upwards and he had to lift his hands to the bright ceiling of the ice, holding himself in place as he adjusted to the newly muffled universe of sight and sound. The light here was very different to what he had expected. Sitting above the water, Vincent had been unable to see his feet, but now that he was underneath he could look down the entire length of his body and further again. The bright slice of the chain dropped away for several yards before fading to nothing. That dull green light pulsed steadily below. Much deeper than it had appeared when seen through the ice.
Vincent stayed in place for a moment, monitoring his body as it swayed and bobbed within the water’s gentle buffeting. Except for the moderate burn of the ice against his palms, he did not feel in the least bit cold. He had absolutely no notion of needing to breathe. For a moment he entertained the lunatic idea of inhaling a lungful of water – just to see what would happen – but he quickly discarded this as an experiment more suited to another time. Besides, he did not much like the idea of this water intruding into his body that way. Its touch was … clammy? Could one use such a word in relation to water? Regardless, that is how it felt: clammy. No wonder the lake had never featured much in the leisure pursuits of the manor. Thinking back, it had never factored much in anything – not in their thoughts, nor in their conversations, nothing. How strange. It was as if, in all the time they had been here, the lake had existed only vaguely and on the periphery of their lives, its existence acknowledged but neglected by the human occupants of this place.
He glanced up. Luke’s shadow paced above, the great arch of the tripod spanning him. The safety line curled lazily from Vincent’s shoulder to disappear from sight at the corner of the ice-hole. The brassier chains cut off dead at the shivering surface of the water. It was as though the world ended at that bright plane, and Vincent felt all alone.
Cornelius’ voice sounded in his mind. This is folly. Come back.
Vincent turned, head over heels, and dived, following the brassier chain down.
He descended and descended, pulling himself yard after yard into deepening black. He waited for his eyes to adjust, as they would have underground, but they never did and soon he was dragging himself along in total darkness, his own hands invisible to him as they hauled him down, only the feel of the chains and the dull green pulse of that distant light to guide him. The old terrible, illogical panic began to overcome him, his fear of small spaces gnawing its familiar hole into his chest.
You are not confined, he told himself. You are surrounded by space – it is simply space that you cannot see. Down and down he went, and the water began pressing itself against him like a vice. He must be imagining it, the crushing pressure on his head and chest. He must be. This water was not nearly deep enough. But it is. It is. I am being crushed. I am going to die! I cannot breathe!
Vincent came to a sudden halt. Clinging, childlike, to the cold security of the chains, staring desperately into the endless dark. Chains and darkness. The dull, dead press of the water. He was trapped. He was trapped. He had been confined.
It was all he could do not to breathe in a lungful of cadaverous water and scream for help.
Then he looked up, and high above him, for as far as he could see, stretched the shining vault of the ice. All was space, all was light. Vincent clung to the chains, gazing upwards in wonder as the hammering of his heart subsided. He had been staring blindly down into blackness while overhead, such beauty glowed in silence.
The carved and runnelled under-face of the ice rippled with pearlescence. Arching pathways curved away into the distance – the passageway of those violent currents that had borne the magician to the machine, and brought him back again. Vincent had purposely chosen to dive far from those currents, in the calm water that lay between their opposing streams. If he listened, he could hear the vast, mutinous rush of their progress through the stillness of the lake. Now that he had calmed himself, he could almost feel the steady vibration that the boy had described as being the throb of an engine. Vincent thought it felt more like the beating of a heart. It was coming from below, that much was certain; it was coming from the source of that light. He looked down again, into pitch, into fear.
He would do this.
He began again to pull himself down. Steady and sure and with his mind blank of all but his purpose, he pulled himself down. When he was nearing the brassier – he could see its silhouette swaying against the light – a disturbance on the chain caused him to pause and look back.
The ice was very far away now, the point of his entry barely more than a hand-spread of light on the surface. Vincent watched, unsure, then smiled as the starfish shape of a person spread briefly against the brightness before jack-knifing down into a dive. There came the subtle tug and shiver of someone making their way down the chain.
It gets dark down here, little magician. But I have yet to feel the need to take a breath.
There was a hesitation in the movement on the line. Then a tapping: one, two, three.
The boy had heard him.
If you begin to feel closed in, Vincent thought, look up and the light will comfort you.
Again a tapping. Then came the tug and shiver again, and he knew the boy was on his way down. Vincent smiled, descended the small distance remaining to the brassier, then launched himself towards the bottom.
END OF EXTRACT
you can read the related short story The Risk of Tuppence HERE.